Christmas wonderland

blogIMG_9801That calendar on my wall tells me it’s December already. I know it sounds so very trite, but honestly, where DID the year 2019 go?

Regardless of my incredulousness at it being the last month of the year, that calendar also shows me there are only 19 days until Christmas.  Yikes! This empty nest Mama needs to get her Christmas preparations jump-started.  

The empty nest will be filled to the brim with three grown up offspring, their spouses, three adorable grandchildren, and a grand-doggy for several days over the Christmas holiday. And my heart is so very happy about that!

But there is MUCH to do – hauling out the holly, illuminating the outside of our country home, decking out the halls, adorning the Christmas tree, menu planning for meals (carefully due to one family member with celiac disease who must eat gluten-free), grocery shopping, gift wrapping, and devising Christmas fun activities for the family to enjoy.

Thankfully, three items are already checked off my list – the Christmas cards have been signed, sealed, and are in the mail to be delivered, gifts have been purchased, and Papa handled the majority of the outside decorations.

Yet Mama’s plate is full of plans to make our home this year a Christmas wonderland, especially for the grandchildren.

But while I embrace this blessed season, I still have a couple more stories and pictures to share about our autumn trip to Michigan. Appropriately, the subject is Christmas, “the most wonderful time of the year.”

When we stopped at the quaint town of Frankenmuth, MI, our goal was to visit the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, which has been in business since 1945.

blogIMG_9802And what a wonderland it truly is! The store is open 361 days a year and is gigantic (they claim it’s the size of one and a half football fields!) and filled with everything you can imagine that has to do with the Christmas holiday.

I’ve shopped in many Christmas shops, but I’ve never been anywhere that comes close to Bronner’s with 50,000 decorations and gifts in 15 store sections.

The half-mile lane leading into this huge store is lined with thousands of lights and outdoor Christmas displays everywhere you look. We arrived in the morning as the store opened, so I can only imagine what a spectacular sight it would be to view the lights at night (dusk until midnight).

Onsite adjacent to the Christmas store is the Silent Night Chapel, a replica of the original chapel in Austria where, on Christmas Eve in 1818, the well-known Christmas hymn Silent Night was first sung.  (I’ll highlight that in an upcoming post.)

Papa and I spent at least three hours just browsing, being amazed, and purchasing some gifts and special ornaments to add to our Christmas tree.

Tree ornaments are grouped by categories in some sections, by colors in other areas, and by country in yet others. And there is a large area with ornaments that can be personalized (free while you wait).

Looking for Christmas jewelry? It’s there. Nativity sets? For certain. Nutcrackers? They’ve got them. Advent calendars, wreaths, Christmas trees, stockings, garlands, ribbon, cards, angels, lighted village sets, books, linens, snow globes, figurines, lights and displays, Santa suits….you name it, Bronner’s has it.  

It’s a Christmas treasure trove and certainly puts shoppers in a merry spirit for the season no matter what time of year you visit.

Even though I have a checklist a mile long to prepare for Christmas with my family, I pause for a moment to remember our visit to that Christmas store, admire the ornaments we purchased there, and smile as we enter into the “hap-happiest season of all.”

“Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles.” ~E. C. McKenzie


As autumn’s journey ends

blogIMG_9838.jpgIf you’ve been following Mama’s Empty Nest the last few weeks, you’ve been reading about Papa’s and my autumn journey to Michigan.

Our trip proved to be just what we needed – a getaway from home and the sameness of routine. It also provided me with lots of blog fodder in the form of posts and photographs.

We came back from our road trip refreshed and renewed. A change of pace and scenery will do that, thankfully.

As I near the end of our journey story and head into the Christmas season, I want to highlight one more spot we visited in Michigan on our way back home. We’d heard a lot about a place called Frankenmuth and friends who had visited there told us we must put it on our itinerary. We’re glad we did.

Frankenmuth’s nickname is Michigan’s Little Bavaria and rightly so. This quaint town is filled with Bavarian-style architecture in shops, restaurants, inns, and homes. As you drive into town, a welcome sign in German greets you and as you leave, another sign bids you farewell.


Enjoy just a few examples of Frankenmuth sights I captured with my camera.

blogIMG_9823blogIMG_9827blogIMG_9831blogIMG_9833blogIMG_9836The town itself is lovely and we relished a delicious family style lunch and visit to an amazing on-site bakery at Zehnder’s Restaurant.

There’s plenty to do and see, but our foremost reason for a stop in Frankenmuth was to experience the largest Christmas store in the world – Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.

Tomorrow I’ll feature that amazing place.

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~ Seneca


Red flag warning?


Photo by Redrecords on Pexels

A short while ago I witnessed something that I just can’t erase from my mind. What I saw bothered me when it occurred and it resurfaces from time to time to make me wonder if I gauged a situation correctly or not. 

Let me tell you the story and then you tell me what you think.

After running some errands, Papa and I decided to grab lunch at a fast-food restaurant. I know what you’re thinking – not the healthiest choice. But it was quick and we had other things to accomplish that day.

And actually, the setting of this scene really had no significance.

Seated behind Papa was a young mother with three little children – the littlest a baby, the oldest around five or six years old. I had a clear view of her as she cleaned up their refuse from eating and walked over to the nearby exit where a stroller was parked.

As she was getting the baby strapped into the stroller and corralling her other two little ones, a man (I’d guess in his late 20’s) suddenly walked past our table to the young mother and offered her a ride home. She seemed a little startled by his offer and I could tell she did not know him, that he was a stranger to her.

She politely said, “No, thank you. We ride the bus.”

The man hesitated, offered yet again, to which she replied once more,  “No, thank you.” Then he walked back to a table behind me, reluctantly it seemed.

Papa looked at me (I think I had a puzzled look on my face) and remarked, “That was nice of him.” I shrugged my shoulders, but just couldn’t agree. Something caused me to be dubious of that man.

A red flag kind of flared up in my thoughts.

Within seconds, the man returned to the young woman offering her a ride yet again and being a little more insistent.

“I just hate to see you have to ride the bus with your kids,” he said. “We – my wife is over there –  have lots of room because we have a van. We’ll take you home.”

Call me distrustful. Call me too guarded. Call me whatever, but my red flag started waving crazily and warning bells started ringing in my ears.

“Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” Like the robot in Lost in Space.

I was relieved to hear the mother rebuff his offer once more,  “No, really, I’m fine. Thank you, but no.” Finally, he walked back to his table and that young mom gathered up her belongings and left with her children to catch the bus.

Why did I feel like we should keep our eye on her to make sure she got to the bus stop and boarded safely?

I expressed my fears to Papa and he seemed a little surprised that I had been so suspicious of the man’s intentions. 

Since he had a direct view of the man, I asked Papa to keep his eye on him after the mom and children left. He told me when the man first entered the restaurant, there was an older couple, a younger woman, and a baby with him. But the older couple sat down with another man and woman already there. 

When all of this occurred, we were finishing up our lunch. As we were leaving, we walked by the man’s table where only he and a baby sat with no food. And there was no one in line at the counter. I looked.

Maybe his wife was in the restroom. Maybe the older couple was with him, although they didn’t appear to be still in the restaurant,  or maybe they just happened to walk in at the same time as the man.

Maybe he just had good intentions of aiding that young woman. Maybe the man really was trying to perform a good deed, give a helping hand, but his insistence is what made me so suspicious of him – especially the last time he offered when he had been refused twice already. 

When we got in our car, I told Papa that if, indeed, three adults and a toddler were with this man, how did they have room for another adult and three more children in their vehicle? Outside in the parking lot, the only van we saw was a minivan, hardly capable of holding that many adults and children safely.

It’s sad when perhaps a charitable act has to be eyed suspiciously. But with all the reports of sex trafficking and crazy, perverted people abducting young women and children,  one should be cautious, especially a young, attractive woman alone with adorable children.

Obviously, the entire ordeal has bothered me for some time. My reaction also troubled me. Did I overreact? I usually have pretty good intuition about people, but perhaps I was dead wrong. What would you have thought? I’m honestly interested in hearing your opinion.

“To be suspicious is not a fault. To be suspicious all the time without coming to a conclusion is the defect.” ~ Lu Xun


Thanksgiving blessing

blogIMG_9898On this day we set aside to give thanks for all of our blessings, I’m counting you, my readers and blogging friends, among the many gifts I treasure.

May you be blessed not just this day, but each day, with those things that cause you to pause and whisper in sincere gratitude to the God of all creation, “Thank you.”

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

“He who thanks but with the lips thanks but in part; The full, the true Thanksgiving comes from the heart.” ~ J.A. Shedd


Challenge or crazy?

blogIMG_9767Maybe it was a challenge. But there didn’t appear to be anyone witnessing it…except us.

If you’ve been reading my posts in the last few weeks, you’ve journeyed along with me as I recalled the autumn trip Papa and I took back in October to Michigan. At several gift shops, I noticed this saying about that state on souvenir items: “Smitten by the Mitten.”

Of course, Michigan is shaped just like a mitten if you look at it on a map. And in a snap of really cold weather, including a snow fall, Papa and I had to go in search of some ‘mittens’ to keep us warm while on our trip in the Upper Peninsula.

But we actually were smitten by the mitten as we enjoyed our trip immensely to this state we hadn’t really visited before (spending time in the Detroit airport didn’t count in our book).

We were smitten by the two Great Lakes we got to view – Lake Huron and Lake Superior – and intend to someday travel to the west side of the state and view Lake Michigan. 

We were smitten by Mackinac Island and all of the lighthouses we visited. I think we managed to see five in Michigan alone and five or six more in Ohio along Lake Erie.

We were smitten by the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn. And we were smitten by our last stop on our way home in Frankenmuth, which I will feature in posts next week.

Much in Michigan garnered our interest, but one unusual sight also captured our curiosity. Strolling through the park-like setting at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse on the south side of the Mackinac Bridge in Mackinaw City, we noticed something odd.

First let me tell you that it was very cold and we were bundled up as best we could be complete with hat and gloves since the wind was robust and nippy. Next let me tell you that since we live in a northern state, we are very accustomed to cold weather and I’m usually toasty warm no matter the temperature. So when I say it was cold, it WAS.

Since it was late in the day and (I know I’m repeating myself) so very chilly, there were no other people in the area except us. Once I captured some photos of the bridge and the lighthouse, Papa and I eagerly began to return to our vehicle to blast some heat, defrost ourselves, and continue our trip. 

We noticed a man walking in the park who stopped at a park bench, laid something down (which turned out to be a towel), and then stripped off his clothes to reveal swim trunks. We stopped because we wondered what in the world he was doing since it certainly wasn’t warm enough to swim.

He walked down to the lake’s edge and proceeded into the water. He didn’t swim, he just stayed in place in chest-high water, jumping over the waves brought in by the wind.

With my telephoto lens, I snapped a few photos while we stood and shivered in the frosty air. We shook our heads at his bravado and hurried to our car.

Was he completing a dare? There was no one with him to validate his challenge and he didn’t appear to be taking any selfies with a cell phone.

Did he just want to say he’d been in the waters of the Great Lakes?

Or was he just a little crazy?

My shivering self thought the latter as we cranked up the heat in the car and I held by frozen fingers in front of the vent.

“Some fish love to swim upstream. Some people love to overcome challenges.” ~ Amit Ray


Both Sides


The Mighty Mac – Mackinac Bridge

I’m not a fence straddler – really. But I do manage to often see both sides of an argument. Or an issue. I can see your point and I can see another’s as well. Both sides of the coin.

Sometimes that puts me in a quandary because seeing both sides can tend to make me a little indecisive. (Just ask Papa about how vacillating I become when we discuss where to grab a bite to eat.)

But often, I think there’s an advantage seeing both sides because it helps me understand the issue better. It gives me perspective as to why people choose one way or another to follow, to support, to believe.

I’m not convinced that a lot of folks look at both sides anymore. It seems we, as a society, are polarized and don’t want to calmly discuss our different points of view. And the media…well, don’t get me started on that. I truly do not believe they tell both sides of a story.

As happens more often than not, a photograph leads me to thinking about all of this. Pictures I captured on our autumn trip to Michigan did just that, giving me the inspiration for this post.

To get to the Upper Peninsula from the Lower Peninsula, Papa and I traveled across the Mackinac Bridge from Mackinaw City to St. Ignace. Unfortunately, that crossing occurred in the dark, so I didn’t get any photographs.

But upon leaving the UP, we once again crossed that amazing structure – daylight this time –  stopping at spots on either side of the toll bridge so I could capture some images of this eye-catching structure. 


Notice how massive it is by the size of the trucks and cars

The Mackinac Bridge is touted as being the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world (the suspension is 8,614 feet long) and has a total span of about five miles. What’s truly awe inspiring is the engineering it took to construct this bridge sometimes called the “Mighty Mac.”

Because there are high winds over the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron, as well as significant temperature and weight changes, the bridge was designed to accommodate those aspects.

I’m not an engineering expert but the fact that the bridge’s center span deck can move up to 35 feet east or west because of the force and direction of severe high winds amazes me.

And windy it is as you drive across this bridge; that’s why the maximum speed limit is 45 mph for automobiles, 20 mph for trucks, and there is also a weight limit. Over-sized vehicles must have a bridge escort. If you fear driving across, a Mackinac Bridge Authority employee will drive you.

As we approached the Mighty Mac from the north, we noticed Bridge View Park, so we stopped there. It proved to be a marvelous spot to photograph the bridge. Windy, yes. Chilly, certainly. But so very worth the stop.


Mackinac Bridge from north in Bridge View Park

Once we crossed the bridge, we again found another area to visit to view the bridge from the south side at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.


Mackinac Bridge from south at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse

Two views. Two perspectives. It reminds me to always listen to both sides of a story.

“In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.” ~ Walter Cronkite



Autumn with a touch of winter

blogIMG_9359 (3).jpgThere’s no denying it. That glorious burst of color that blazes from the trees in the fall season soon turns into bare branches covered with snow as winter settles itself in for the long haul.

As much as I love autumn, I become absolutely giddy when the first snow of the next arriving season carpets the earth. Glistening snow turns the world into a fairy-like land full of gleaming white billows and glittering sparkles.

And there’s something even more magical – at least to my eye – when the two seasons mesh together overlapping the flashiness of fall with a wafting of winter.

One autumn season several years ago, we experienced our first snowfall here in our home state in October. Leaves had not yet performed their final floating dance from the trees when snow blanketed the ground.

It made an outstanding photo opportunity right in my own back yard as shown by the picture below.

blogDSCN8107 (3).jpg

First snow in October several years ago in our own back yard

I experienced a similar occasion on our October journey to Michigan.

While driving northward from the edge of Lake Huron to a southern side of Lake Superior, outside temperatures continued in a downward spiral. Soon the raindrops hitting our windshield became icy pellets and then….snow!

Snow flurries – the first ones we saw in this last quarter of the year. Right smack dab in the middle of the fall season. (Since then, we’ve had our own first snow fall right here at home but not until this month of November.)

But back in October in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,  a magical kind of photo op presented itself before my eyes. Spying a scene that I just HAD to capture on the side of the less traveled blue highway, I squealed at my trusty driver, Papa, to turn the car around and go back.

As always, my husband honored my request.  I stepped outside of our vehicle into a fresh coating of snow on the ground and focused my camera on the lovely display of autumn with a touch of winter in the photo you see at the beginning of this post and a closer view below. 

blogIMG_9358 (2)I think it’s one of those special captures I will always remember – one of those ‘Thank you, Lord, for showing me such beauty’ kind of days, memorialized by a photograph.

A way of saying goodbye to autumn and welcome to winter all in one photo.

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.” ~ William Cullent Bryant


Eating like a yooper


Trying something different in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Part of the fun in traveling is not just seeing the worthwhile sights but also partaking  tasty regional food as well. It’s all about experiencing something different.

If you ever venture to our neck of the woods, I’d suggest you try pierogies, a kind of unleavened dough dumpling stuffed with savory fillings like potato, cheese, or sauerkraut.

Pierogie dough is rolled out, cut in circles, filled, and then folded over in half with the ends pinched together to seal them. They are boiled in water until they float and served in melted butter with sautéed onions and/or bacon.

Or I might steer you toward a Primanti Brothers sandwich consisting of your choice of grilled meat, melted cheese, coleslaw, tomato slices, and French fries all piled up between two very thick slices of Italian bread.   Yum, yum.

Click here for a photo and to read more about this one of a kind, ‘almost famous’ sandwich. 

When Papa and I traveled to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan last month, I wanted to try something the local Yoopers (for those of us who aren’t familiar with that term, it’s what those who live in the Upper Pennisula call themselves) eat – pasties.

Pasties are pronounced PAST-tees – that is past as in not the future but the past and tees as in tee-shirts. Fortunately, the clerk at our hotel informed us about how to correctly order these goodies because mispronouncing them could cause some embarrassment when you inadvertently order paste-tees if you get my drift.

So while Papa enjoyed his fish dishes, Mama tried a pasty. Our Australian friends told us about meat pasties, although the U.P. Michigan version might not be the same, but I had never actually eaten one before.

I was so excited to dig into it that I actually took a bite before I snapped the photo above.

For those of you who haven’t heard of a pasty, it’s basically a meat pie but entirely different from anything I’ve eaten before.

It’s like a turnover with a crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside crust, filled with small chunks of ground meat (mine was beef, but not hamburger), cubed potatoes, cubed carrots, and finely chopped onions. My pasty also was served with beef gravy over it and a side of cole slaw.

I’ve gleaned the internet for meat pasty recipes and several of them used lard for the dough. That’s probably what made the crust taste so good. Some of the recipes also used rutabagas in addition to the potatoes and carrots.

Since I relished my pasty in a small but quaint café on Mackinac Island, I can’t be sure what the recipe was but I can tell you this — that pasty was filling and delicious!

“Food is not just eating energy. It’s an experience.” ~ Guy Fieri



A treasured island


View of the Grand Hotel lawn

In a 2005 mystery novel, The Lighthouse, penned by P.D. James, the author writes, “Every island to a child is a treasure island.”

I can honestly say an island is not just a treasure for children but adults as well. At least for this adult.

As far as islands go, I’m not a seasoned authority. My list of visited islands is fairly brief: those across Puget Sound from Seattle, Washington years ago; Maryland’s Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay back in June; and Michigan’s Mackinac Island in Lake Huron just last month.

Out of the short list, Mackinac Island ranks the number one spot for the place that enchanted me most. For me, it just might have been my treasure island (although I haven’t made it to Hawaii or any other tropical island yet!).

From the first glimpse of the island while still aboard the ferry to the last sight of it as we departed, my eyes and my camera lens soaked up the atmosphere of Mackinac Island.

It was like stepping back in time and into another world – one less hectic and hassled. And I find I’m not yet ready to leave it behind.

So indulge me, please, as I give you a photographic tour of this gem of an island. If you’ve never visited there, put it on your bucket list. I think you’ll enjoy a trip to ‘another world.’

 “… everyone knew that all islands were worlds unto themselves, that to come to an island was to come to another world.” ~ Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana


Quiet places to relax on a crisp fall day


Just a side view of part of the Grand Hotel


Looking out into Lake Huron from Mackinac Island


Another view from Arch Rock


No motorized vehicles anywhere!


But plenty of horses, wagons, and carriages


And bicycles. This just happens to be The Grand Hotel Parking Lot!


Just one of the lovely churches – The Little Stone Church


Quiet and peaceful streets


Hitch your horse or your bicycle


America’s first grocery store


A view to the lake


The only way to travel on the island: horse, bicycle, or on foot


You can’t go home without entering one of the fudge shops (and buying).


View from the lakefront


Words for Wednesday: Mackinac Island horses

blogIMG_9554They are everywhere you look on Mackinac Island – the powerful, strong horses. They pull buggies loaded with sightseers; wagons loaded with supplies; shuttle carriages with hotel guests settled behind glass; they even haul the street cleaner.

Take a look at the various shots I captured of these beautiful creatures hard at work during our autumn journey to this quaint and picturesque island in Lake Huron, Michigan.

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“Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,

Friendship without envy,

Or beauty without vanity?

Here, where grace is served with muscle

And strength by gentleness confined…” 

~ Ronald Duncan, “The Horse,” 1954