Kicking shadows to the curb

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Just me and my shadow strolling down the avenue.

When I read last week’s photo challenge theme, that song lyric instantly popped into my head.  You guessed it, the theme is shadow.

At the mere mention of certain words, my music synapses fire up overtime and lines from songs immediately sing through my mind.  Honestly, does anyone else do that? I once had a co-worker who experienced the same thing and we used to try to stump one another with words that we couldn’t think of songs to.  It made for interesting car rides anyhow.

Although Judy Garland sang the song, “Me and My Shadow,” in the late ‘50’s, it’s the Frank Sinatra/Sammy Davis Jr duet that I mostly remember from the 1960’s. If you’re not sure of the song I’m talking about, you can hear/watch their version here:

“Me and my shadow,  all alone and feeling blue.”  Aren’t those lyrics the truth sometimes? Often when you are all alone in the middle of a difficult circumstance, you tend to feel bluer than blue (cue the Bobby Vinton song: Blue on blue, heartache on heartache) because you have no one to talk to, no one to confide in, no one to ask advice from, no one to commiserate with. And you just feel sorry for yourself enough to have a pity party and cry. (Cue the song: It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to).

When you’re in that shade of blue, it seems the shadows just envelop you. Everywhere you look, you’re surrounded by them.  I’ve felt that way enough times, not really in the throes of depression but just in the shadows of feeling a tad blue. Like a little dark cloud keeps following me around and parking itself over my head, casting its shadow over me.

But you know what sends the shadows where they belong? Behind you? The sun. Oh boy, more song lyrics just fired up in my brain: here comes the sun…sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy…I could go on and on…on the sunny side of my street.

Seriously though, being an optimist means you’re always looking at the bright side and that’s what I strive for. Even when one unfortunate happenstance after another befalls me, I keep looking for the sunshine.

And it’s there. Maybe not physically because we are in the gray, bleak last days of winter. And maybe not circumstantially either because mishaps continue to come our way.  (Ask me about the three-hour ordeal hubby and daughter went through in the dead of night on a snowy, unplowed country road when daughter’s car got stuck while driving home from her late night hospital shift and Papa went to rescue her.)

It’s a  continuous story called, “that’s life.” Cue the Frank Sinatra song lyrics again: That’s life, that’s what people say; you’re riding high in April, shot down in May.

But like that song says: I’ve been up and down and over and out, and I know one thing. Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race.

How? Because spiritually, I seek the light. And that light shines brightest and best in my Savior, Jesus. The Son. Because when I am all alone and feeling blue and life knocks my feet out from under me, I do have someone to talk to. Jesus. He always listens.  Always hears. Always promises to be by my side. Always gives me hope.

My faith, my prayers, my reading of God’s Word – those are the rays of light that kick my shadows to the curb.

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.” ~  Walt Whitman

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Solitude’s good for the soul

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“I’m not anti-social. I’m pro-solitude.” ~ unknown 

I’m killing two birds with one stone today.

You know, accomplishing two things at the same time because it’s convenient to do both.

It just so happens that the weekly photo challenge theme and also Day 6’s theme in Developing Your Eye photography workshop (that I’m determined to finish) was “solitude.”

Two birds exactly the same and I’m going to hurl my stone and put them both to rest.

But for a minute, I’m going to digress, and I’m hopeful it will bring me back around to this theme. The mental picture I get of hurling a stone at two birds causes me to remember a funny story. And maybe I can somehow relate it to solitude. 

Many years ago when I was just a teen, my mother was continually disgusted by a solitary skunk who frequented our yard. We lived in the country where pesky animals like rabbits and deer liked to use my mom’s garden as a one-stop salad bar.

But the skunk really didn’t fall into that category.  Mom just didn’t like the stinky thing in our yard and I believe she also worried that our tom cat would tangle with it and come back to the house smelling to high heaven one day.

So one summer evening, the skunk appeared in our yard yet again.  Since it was after dinner, Dad was home from work and the three of us were sitting on the side porch looking out at the majority of our expansive nearly four acre yard.

Mom spied the skunk and said to Dad, “Go get your shotgun and shoot that skunk. I don’t want him in the yard.”

Dad replied, “He’s not hurting anything. Actually, skunks eat the grubs in the grass, so he’s a good thing.”

Dad didn’t budge, so Mom decided to take matters in her own hands.  She grabbed a brick that was lying around in the garage, and with that in hand, walked towards the skunk while Dad and I watched.  

“She’s going to get sprayed,” Dad commented shaking his head.  I nodded agreement, yet watched fascinated as my mom exhibited enough courage to head towards a skunk with only a brick for a weapon.

She got within a few feet of that skunk, wound up her brick-toting arm and hurled that brick at the critter with all her might, hitting him smack dab on the head.  He fell right over, instantly dead, while Dad and I stood amazed and speechless.

From then on, my Dad teasingly called my mom “dead-eye.”

My mother was one of a kind. She was an only child, born to older parents, so I imagine she had her fair share of being alone in life. And that brings my thoughts back around to that theme of solitude – the state of being alone.

When her elderly parents both reached the point where they no longer could live unassisted, Mom didn’t have any siblings to rely on for help. So we moved into the larger house where my grandparents lived in order for Mom to take care of them. By herself.

When they both passed away the same year, even though she had my dad, my sisters and their husbands, and me as family, I know she felt that sense of solitude again. 

My mother enjoyed anything she could create with her hands and many of her hobbies involved moments of solitude like quilting, sewing, crocheting, even cooking and baking, which she liked to do by herself. She usually rejected any offers of help in the kitchen because I think she did enjoy her moments of being alone.

Often we think of solitude as a lonely way of life, but I don’t believe it is. Sometimes we need a period of being apart from others. Being alone. In solitude. To think. To pray. To mull things over. To heal.

A bit of solitude can do wonders for your soul. I’m pretty sure my mother knew that too.

“Solitude is not a way of running away from life … from our feelings. On the contrary. This is the time we sort them out, air them, get over them, and go on without the burden of yesterday.” ~Joan Chittister (The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Connected

blogimg_8342Are you feeling connected?

Last summer, I just couldn’t get connected enough to participate in a Developing Your Eye photography workshop, even though I wanted to do so. I’m many months late to the challenge but I’ve chosen to post my take on each day’s theme until I’ve worked my way through all 10 days, even if it takes 10 weeks.

Today I’m posting Day 5’s theme – connect. I’ve chosen a photo of my oldest daughter connecting with her niece (my granddaughter) last summer on a zoo excursion because I enjoyed watching them connect in a loving way. 

As humans, we have connections with anyone with whom we associate. And if we don’t have those connections, we try to make them. Ask any job seeker. Connections are important in the business world, not only to secure a job, but often to get ahead or gain entry into an organization.

Of course, connections are also essential in technology.  I confess I’m not the most technologically savvy person, but without my electronics and yours being connected to the internet, I know I couldn’t publish my blog online and you couldn’t read it. For simplicity’s sake, connections are fasteners linking one thing to another.

We also have our family connections, belonging to or being associated with a group of relatives. I know what you may be thinking – sometimes we have family members who we would rather not be associated with, but for the most part, we do want to belong to a family, be it native or adopted, blood-relations or not.

Connection takes on an even more important role in our personal lives. We humans have an inner desire to be bonded or linked with someone, but it seems to me that often we just don’t know how to achieve that connection very well. 

I’m reminded of a time years ago that I attended a family reunion picnic.  It’s an annual thing but I had never attended in the past, partly because I lived far away and partly because I didn’t really feel like I belonged.   

Technically, I am a part of this “family” because my grandfather possessed this last name and reunion attendees are all descendants of his 12 brothers and sisters. But honestly, I don’t have real connections with this extended family.  Matter of fact, most of them I do not even know.

My grandfather with this family name died in 1964 at the age of 88.  His only child, my mother,  would turn 98 this year if she were still alive. Most of the family members that she knew are deceased as well. So as Yoda of Star Wars fame would say, far removed I am.  I just don’t have a close connection to these distant relatives.

Connections have become part of our daily lives though. We truly are inundated with connectivity more than ever because of technology. Pick up the cell phone and you’re connected. 24-7.  

Whether you text, tweet, or scroll through social media sites, you’re connected. Then why is it that some people feel the exact opposite?  Why do we feel disconnected? 

I speak for myself.  For all the ways I am connected to others, I still feel disconnected too frequently.  Is it just our society? Is it the time we live in now? Is it that our lives are too filled with busyness? I don’t know.

I do know that two things remain constantly connected in my life.  My family, even though our children don’t all live in the same state as we do, is still very much connected to one another. And I am so filled with thankfulness for that. 

The second connection I’m grateful for is my faith in God. I believe that the Lord God created us to be connected. He instilled in us a need to be linked, to be joined, to be loved, and it is He who fulfills that desire by providing a connection to Himself.

God didn’t fashion us to be completely solitary, disconnected from our fellow human beings or from Him.  That’s why He bridged the gap of disconnectedness between His holiness and our sinfulness, by sending His Son, Jesus Christ into this world to provide that vital connectivity link.  Without that, the disconnection I sometimes feel would be unbearable.

And it occurs to me that there is one more connection I’m grateful for – friends I’ve acquired by writing this blog. Some of my readers have become dear friends and I’m so appreciative for our connection.

It’s what gives me encouragement to continue writing and hope that my words in these posts touch your life in a good, meaningful way just as your words, whether they be in a blog of your own or just by your comments, touch mine.

Thank you for that connection.

“The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.” – Frederick Buechner

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

 

Blissful appreciation

blogimg_8245I saw a sign one day somewhere – possibly on Pinterest – that read “Expect nothing. Appreciate everything.”

And of course, it caused me to stop and ponder as I tend to do when something profound hits me.  So often in life, don’t we do the exact opposite of that sign though?  Expect everything. Appreciate nothing.

Seems like we’ve been conditioned in our culture to expect everything. Expect that things will always go the way we want. Expect that everyone will believe the way we do.  Expect to fall madly in love while you’re on a reality television show. Expect that your candidate will win political office.Expect that a new job will be the best one ever. Matter of fact, expect that you will get a hefty raise in salary while you’re at it.

Even in faith circles, there are so-called ‘prosperity preachers’ who tell us to expect God to give us what we want, expect to have our best life now, expect a miracle, expect healing, expect, expect, expect.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having high expectations and our omnipotent God could easily give us those provisions if He chooses. But, truth be told,  our expectations often go unmet. And we find God doesn’t give us what we want. He’s not Santa Claus. But I do believe He gives us what we need.

We, however, are like spoiled, overindulged children who, when given everything because it is expected, appreciate absolutely nothing.

Isn’t that why we are so very disappointed when things go awry? Not according to our plan. Because we do too much expecting and not enough appreciating?

I think we’d be happier people if we awakened each day expecting nothing.  I imagine we would appreciate each and every thing that comes our way then.

Like a beautiful sunset, appearing as a hand painted canvas stretching out as far as the eye can see.  An unexpected sight to behold at the end of a long well-lived day.

Sunsets are just one of the things I appreciate about life but don’t expect to see a breathtaking one every day.  Living out here in the country where I can view them unobstructed is just one aspect of my daily life I do appreciate. Holding my beloved grandchildren, embracing my husband and children, sunshine-filled days, and time to worship and pray are just a few more simple joys that I appreciate so very much.

And I find I’m a happier person when I’m appreciative.  You might say appreciation for life provides my bliss – perfect happiness, great joy.

So I want to embrace these words each and every day: Expect nothing. Appreciate everything.  Appreciate bliss when I experience it.

(I’ve written this post and published this photo, which I snapped one July evening,  to continue the online photography workshop – Developing Your Eye – that I missed participating in last summer. The theme for Day 4 was ‘bliss.’)

“Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss.” ~ Alexandre Dumas

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com
 

Repurposing me

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My father-in-law’s childhood wooden puzzle repurposed.

This week’s Photo Challenge just happens to be ‘repurpose.’ Well, what better way to fulfill that theme than to actually do some repurposing? So the following is a blog post (complete with photos) that I published back in 2014. Some of my faithful readers may remember this one. But voila! Repurposed. 

Repurposing appears to be all the rage now days. 

What today’s savvy crafter or decorator calls repurposing – using something old or that could  be discarded for an entirely new purpose – is what we used to call just reusing what we had lying around the house or garage.  My parents were experts at reusing.  Both of them grew up during the Great Depression and money was not just tight, in some instances it was practically non-existent, so they learned from their parents to reuse everything possible.

Maybe that’s why my father had an over-sized two-car garage full of all kinds of bits and pieces:  old electrical wiring and plugs, any kind of old screws, nuts, bolts, or nails, jars, pieces of lumber/tile/whatever, string/rope/twine, parts for this and parts from that, and on and on and on.  My parents only threw something away when it was totally unusable.  And many times that whatsit that Dad had saved in the garage came handy for fixing or fabricating something else.

Fast forward to current times.  Everyone is ‘repurposing.’  You can find scads of ideas on Pinterest and there are entire websites dedicated to reusing, remaking, and repurposing all kinds of things.  I noticed some really great ideas and some incredulous ones as well (like turning an old baby Grand piano into a fountain) on this Twisted Sifter site. And I regularly check out interesting reusing ideas on the Facebook page Hometalk.

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My mother’s childhood toy cabinet repurposed

I’ve repurposed a number of things right here at Mama’s Empty Nest now that I have more time on my hands.  After my mom passed away, I inherited one of her toys – a child-sized wooden cabinet that she put her play dishes in as a little girl.  It gathered dust in my basement for several years because I just didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. 

One day I brought it upstairs, cleaned and polished it and found a spot in my dining room for it.   I repurposed it by adorning it with some vintage doilies and various tea-related items in addition to special tea cups and saucers and my mother-in-law’s antique cream pitchers and was happy with the result.  I especially like that it reminds me not only of my mom and my mother-in-law but also the friends and family who gave me the gifts it now holds.

Repurpose Win #1.

After my father passed, my sisters and I faced the monumental task of cleaning out our parents’ home and garage – not an easy job in lots of ways.  In the garage, I found the old insulated dairy box that used to stand on our porch for the milkman to deposit our weekly bottles of milk in when I was a kid.  It was still in relatively decent shape, and since neither one of my sisters wanted it, it came home with me.  Of course, it too found a dusty spot in my basement to hide.  This summer, I repurposed it into a flower pot container for pretty red geraniums on my front porch.

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My parents’ milk box repurposed

Repurpose Win #2.

For years, my hubby has kept a wooden puzzle in an old cardboard stationary box of his mother’s.  The puzzle is most unique in that it is printed on both sides – one side is the face of a clock in Roman numerals, the other gives the seasons of the year, names of the months, and how many days each month has.  The puzzle is special to us because it was a boyhood toy for my father-in-law who was born in 1898 (yes, you read that right!).  Instead of being hidden away in a box, this little bit of family history now rests inside a glass frame and hangs on my husband’s study wall (see photo at top).

Repurpose Win #3.

So repurposing – I’ve been up for it.  I’ve managed it.  There are still some items in my home that I have plans to reuse in one way or another.  That’s the easy aspect of repurposing.  Just go online, look up ideas, scan a few magazines, voila! You’ve got an idea what to do and how to do it.

But when it comes to life?  How do you repurpose that?  Not so easy.  That’s something I’ve been struggling with for over a year now.  Altering your life is so much more difficult than altering an object.  Finding a new purpose for yourself proves harder than finding a new purpose for an old, dusty thing.

This passage of scripture from 2 Timothy 2:20-21 which I read in The Message the other day encouraged me:   “In a well-furnished kitchen there are not only crystal goblets and silver platters, but waste cans and compost buckets—some containers used to serve fine meals, others to take out the garbage. Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to his guests for their blessing.”

With God’s guidance and according to His purpose, I believe He’s repurposing me, altering my container so I can be used to bless others.

And I’m hoping.  And praying.  And waiting for Repurpose Win #4.

“Living involves tearing up one rough draft after another.” ~Author Unknown

©2014 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

In the neighborhood

blogimg_9115It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Not in my neighborhood though. Instead, we visited a fictional one represented by a traveling exhibit at our city’s Children’s Museum.  Earlier this month,  we spent a day taking our Little One to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: A Grr-ific Exhibit before it moved on to the next city.

Little One is enthralled with Daniel Tiger. If you’re not familiar with him, he is an animated character on his own television show on PBS. Both Daniel and his friends are based on the characters created by the late Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood fame.

By far, the “grr-ific” (one of Daniel Tiger’s favorite expressions) exhibit captured Little One’s attention according to the smiles and busy activity she demonstrated there although she did enjoy other areas of the museum too, especially the water floor, where she got to play all she wanted with running water in various ways.

Thinking of neighborhoods, wouldn’t it be nice if all neighborhoods were ones of good will, kindness, and sensible values like the ones in Daniel Tiger’s? But that’s not real life, is it?

Singing that iconic Mr. Rogers’ song lyric ‘won’t you be my neighbor?’ at our house led me to think about neighbors, particularly about next-door neighbors.

I recently heard about an app you can download entitled Nextdoor, that calls itself “the private social network for your neighborhood.”

The website I referenced said this: “Nextdoor is the best way to stay in the know about what’s going on in your neighborhood—whether it’s finding a last-minute babysitter, learning about an upcoming block party, or hearing about a rash of car break-ins. There are so many ways our neighbors can help us, we just need an easier way to connect with them.”

Really? So we have to depend on an app to communicate with our neighbors? What ever happened to just leaving your house (and preferably your cell phone also) and walking across the street to actually talk face to face with a neighbor?

Over the years, our family has been pretty blessed with good next-door neighbors for the most part. When I was a kid, we knew all of our neighbors and their children were my best friends.  Neighbors talked to one another back then in person, face to face.

When Papa and I were a young married couple living in an apartment complex, we didn’t really know any of our neighbors because people moved in and out regularly as we lived in fairly transient town outside an Army post.

But later while residing in quarters on that same base, we had great next door neighbors who became very good friends. Even though our ways parted over 30 years ago and we live in different states, we still keep in touch. But back then we talked to one another, face to face, and spent time together.

After leaving military life and purchasing our first home in a suburb of Kansas City, we had wonderful neighbors. We looked out for each other, watched each other’s homes, and again became good friends. 

Since Papa and I lived several hundred miles from our closest family at the time and we were expecting our second child, one of our neighbors took care of our oldest while I was in labor and giving birth at the hospital. We exchanged child care often and to this day, she is a dear friend even though we live in completely different areas of the country. But back then, we talked to one another, face to face, and spent time together.

When we moved into a new housing neighborhood, our neighbors welcomed us and we became a part of a community group that enjoyed socializing together – having progressive dinners and parties often. We talked to one another, face to face, and spent time together.

Then Papa’s job promotion took us to the Pacific Northwest where once again we moved into a new developing neighborhood. Neighbors there were friendly, our children all played together, and the entire subdivision would celebrate Independence Day with a huge block party. We talked to one another, face to face, and spent time together.

Neighbors doing the neighborly thing. We helped one another, we looked out for each other and our children, often we celebrated holidays together, and we sat out on the front porch stoop enjoying lots of conversations.

It was life in the suburbs but the best aspect of it was having good neighbors who were blessings.And even if, as neighbors, we didn’t become the best of friends, we still knew each other and treated each other with kindness and concern. They were folks you could talk to, face to face.

Papa and I have lived in our home here for 17 years.  Right here on this 2.25 acre farmer’s field where we built our house. Rural land. Out in the country. Far enough away from the hustle and bustle of a city and even from the ‘burbs.

But we still have neighbors within walking distance.  And you would think that living in the country, neighbors would be…well…downright neighborly. Not so.

The other homes near us are all occupied yet I rarely see any of the people who live in them. I wouldn’t recognize any of them, except for one young couple who we knew before they moved into our neighborhood, if my path crossed theirs at Wal-Mart or the grocery store or even taking a walk down our country road.

We do have one fellow – our next door neighbor guy – who we know by name.  He’s a nice person who ventures across the tall grass right-a-way between our homes to chew the fat with Papa often – face to face.  He’s even helped my hubby fix our lawn tractor. We keep tabs on each other’s homes and have shared our gardens’ bounty with each other.

One neighborly neighbor.

I fear this is not unusual in this day and age no matter where you live.  Is it because people just don’t want to be neighborly or friendly let alone hospitable or helpful?  I don’t know. I experienced that unfriendliness here one day when I tried to be helpful to a neighbor and was treated with extreme coldness, practically having a door slammed in my face.

And that brings me sadness because the people in my neighborhood aren’t anything like Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood. Maybe that’s why children gravitate to this TV show.  It exudes kindness, consideration, and genuine caring for the people who live in your neighborhood.

Perhaps we all need to tune into a PBS television station and take a lesson from Daniel Tiger.

“The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor.” ~Hubert H. Humphrey

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com