Posted in Life, travel

Tuesday Tour: cancelled flight plans

Since Papa and I are a bit grounded right now with no specific travel plans in mind, I visited the cache of my Mama’s Empty Nest posts from years ago, Maybe, I thought, I could resurrect one of those that highlighted a trip we embarked upon during the early years of blogging for today’s Tuesday Tour.

The following is a post I wrote in April 2011, so if it seems a bit dated, well…it is. But my thoughts from over a decade ago remain the same for the most part.

Airline tickets for $39.  That ad attracted my attention for about a nano-second.

I used to love to travel by plane; now I’d rather pull out my own toenails.  In the past, I thought there was no better way to travel than flying.

Jump on an airplane on one coast of the country, be on the other coast in six hours, as opposed to driving for six days? No better way to go, I used to think.  I know because I’ve done both.

Flying used to be enjoyable, an adventure I willingly embarked upon even with three small children in tow. 

I loved the sensation of lifting off into the air, peering out jet windows to catch glimpses of wispy, cotton candy clouds floating beside me, observing the patchwork of fields, mountain tops, or rambling threads of rivers and roads beneath us thousands of feet down. 

Equally enthralling was catching the breath-taking view of a city all aglow in brilliant lights outlined in the dark of an inky black night sky.  Glorious.

Landing thrilled me even more!  I loved the sensation of gradually making the descent, feeling your ears pop, watching the ground get closer, closer, closer until you felt the bump of the plane’s tires touching down. 

Then came the amazing part for me….flying on the ground, traveling at such a high rate of speed you wondered if the plane would ever be able to stop, but finally brakes grabbed hold and the plane came to a halt.  Exhilarating!

For certain, flying used to be fun.  Now I’d rather avoid it at all costs.  Unless there’s a dire emergency, you’d have to pay me to fly.  I’m not afraid of flying; instead I fear and loathe everything prior to and in between the actual flights.

“If God had really intended men to fly, he’d make it easier to get to the airport,” someone named George Winters apparently once said.  Well, Mr. Winters, times have changed.  Now I believe it’s actually easier getting to the airport than it is getting through the airport.

I understand the necessity for security; really in today’s unsafe world, I get that.  But given the choice, after my last flying experience, I’m done with that mode of transportation. (However, I did fly two more times since I wrote this post – both trips to Arizona without any issues.)

My last venture by airplane occurred before the rash of outrageously crazy TSA screening stories that you watch on internet videos or hear about from a neighbor. You know, the ones about 3-year-olds getting stripped and frisked and people having to remove prosthetics or endure some humiliating ordeal.

Flying just isn’t in my plans; I don’t care how low air fares drop.  I’ve got my own crazy story which sealed the deal when it comes to my disdain for air travel, and I haven’t flown since then. (But we did fly in 2018 and then again in 2020 right as the you know what hit.)

A few years ago, I flew south with oldest daughter for a weekend.  Her career necessitated a move there, and we embarked upon an apartment finding quest.

Our flight departed late in the afternoon, and we had no time for dinner.  The only sustenance we received on our short flight to our next lay-over was a glass of water.  No individual bottle of water.  (This was, of course, before the pandemic.)

The flight attendant rolled down the aisle with a large communal bottle from which she poured water into a plastic cup for those of us thirsty travelers.  No food, of course – not even a tiny little bag of peanuts.

We ran to our next flight at our layover.  Again no time for food; and again, no food on the plane.  Arriving at our destination close to midnight, we were starving when we checked into our downtown hotel, where the only hot meal we could find was a vending machine Hot Pocket warmed up in a microwave.

Our trip on the ground was successful – she found a great apartment, we explored the city a bit, enjoyed our meals and one delight for me was sipping Southern sweet tea.

Because of all the waiting in line necessary for security screening and because we needed to turn in our rental car, we arrived at the airport very early Sunday morning for the airline’s first flight out to our home destination.  That Sunday unfolded as one of the longest and most aggravating, weary days of my life causing me to vow not to fly again.

(But you’ll have to tune in again next week for the Tuesday Tour that tells that story.)

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” ~ J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2023

Posted in empty nest, Life

Words for Wednesday: projects in progress

Retirement. You can look at it from two perspectives: you have all this time on your hands, and you have all this time on your hands.

No, I didn’t just become redundant and repeat myself. Here’s what I mean.

When you’re retired, you have time to do whatever you want whenever you want – all that time on your hands.

But then again, when you’re retired, you have all that time on your hands – free time that you sometimes wonder how to fill, especially in the winter season.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining because since Papa and I retired, we do enjoy having free time, freedom from the stress of a career, freedom to come and go as we please.

We like not having a set schedule to our days, not watching the clock, not worrying about whether we can get something accomplished today or not. There’s always tomorrow and some free time on our hands.

Right now, free time seems to be over abundant though. It’s winter. It’s cold and dreary outside. Some days rainy, some days foggy, some days with a flurry of snow. So even having a desire to go outside is pretty close to nil at the moment. Even setting off on a road trip doesn’t sound too enticing.

So, we’re inside this empty nest…a lot. Which means in between watching our school-aged grandchild a couple evenings a week, our schedule is just about as empty as our nest.

And we might be getting a touch of cabin fever. Sure, we both pass time reading and trips to the library provide a stack of books for that purpose. But we can only read for so long when we start feeling a bit restless from sitting in one spot.

So, Papa grabs the remote control and surfs and surfs and surfs, but seldom finds a show that isn’t cringe-worthy to watch on the television, even with streaming capabilities.

Me? Very few television shows make me sit up and take notice, although I did succumb to some binge-watching Doc Martin episodes with Papa the last few days.

But for the most part, we’ve turned to projects we can complete inside the house. Papa began cleaning up the basement and painting its concrete block walls back in the fall, but now that the weather is too cold to keep the basement ventilated, painting has come to a standstill.

Hence, Papa needed a new project to occupy himself. Luckily, he received some jigsaw puzzles as Christmas gifts, so you can find him at the dining room table with a 1000-piece puzzle depicting the history of trains. Right up his tracks! He turns on some music and away he puzzles.

I occasionally wander in and see one piece that goes right there, insert it, and head back out of the room. Mostly, I don’t help him because I am in the throes of too many projects that I’ve initiated over the last year or so but haven’t completed yet.

In order not to go stir crazy, I dusted off a couple and am working on those in between the way-too-much time I waste spend on the desktop computer (although a couple of these projects warrant that) or my iPad coloring app.

The doldrums of wintry January weather are the perfect time to get some inside projects checked off the to-do list. At least, the work in progress that I am is hoping so.

How about you? Are you accomplishing any projects in this slowed down season or are you still too busy with not enough time on your hands?

“You can’t finish what you don’t start, and you should never start what you’re not committed to finish.” ~ Gary Ryan Blair

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2023

Posted in inspiration, Life

Words for Wednesday: sunshine for a January soul

The doldrums. Do you experience them? After all the busyness of holiday celebrations and activities during the previous months, a letdown feeling can infect us in January.

As much as I do enjoy distinct four seasons we experience here at Mama’s Empty Nest, I will have to admit that sometimes winter, especially in the long month of January, causes me to feel blah, unmotivated, and lethargic.

It’s truly not the colder temperatures that bother me so much because I usually find cold weather to be invigorating, honestly. But the lack of sunshine affects me especially when we must contend with days and days turning into weeks of gray skies.

I don’t believe my sluggishness is serious enough to make me a victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), although residing in western Pennsylvania, we’re told that we only receive an average total of nine days of sunshine during the month of January.

Some years it does seem like bleak January is sunless and lasts forever. And even though this is a brand-new year, we’ve had more than our fair share of dreary, overcast days with little to no sunshine so far.

When the sun appears, even briefly, it totally lifts my spirit. Sunshine. Blue skies. Even a blanket of glittering white snow across the landscape with sunshine causing it to sparkle like diamonds causes me to rise out of my January doldrums.

Those things make me smile. And smiling more is what I desire for this new year of 2023.

I want to find an aspect – no matter how small or trivial it may seem – each day that lifts me out of my wintry blue funk and causes my face to brighten with an ear-to-ear smile.

Perhaps I should chronicle those things that produce smiles so I remember them better on those not-so-sunny days.  Occurrences like:

Greeting my fellow believers at our church with a warm hello, a handshake, or a hug.

Accepting an invitation to friends’ home for a pizza dinner and an evening of games.

Noticing the beautiful birds who flock to our outside bird feeder on the backyard deck.

Finally finishing projects that have accumulated and waited for completion way too long.

Clearing out the flotsam and jetsam that are still useable but not needed and donating them to charity.

Hearing that someone we know is recovering from illness or an accident.

And just this past week, a smile-worthy comment randomly spoken by our oldest granddaughter.

While riding in our vehicle, that little voice from the back seat called, “Nana? Papa?”  We answered, “Yes, honey?”

Her response, totally out of the blue: “I love you both!”

How could that not only cause a smile to appear on my face but also touch and warm my heart in the deepest fashion? Like sunshine for my wintry soul.

During the bleakness of winter, what brings sunshine to your face?

“A smile is the same as sunshine; it banishes winter from the human countenance.” ~ Victor Hugo

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2023

Posted in empty nest, Life, road trips

Wordless Wednesday: on our way to Christmas

We weren’t exactly dashing through the snow. For much of the time, we were inching through the snow.

This past Christmas, Papa and I experienced one of a different nature than usual.

Since our far-away grown children and two of our little grandchildren would not be coming “home” for the holiday, our nearby daughter, the hospital nurse, had to work on Christmas, and our nearby grandchild would be visiting her other relatives, we expected to have a very quiet and uneventful time in our empty nest.

But our oldest daughter and son-in-law posed a question to us early in the week. Did we want to travel south to their home for Christmas?

We jumped at the chance because as many of my readers already know, we’re road trippers. And who wouldn’t want to celebrate Christ’s birth with some dear family members instead of by our lonely selves?

Before departing though, nearby daughter asked us to join her, our grandchild, and daughter’s significant other for a pre-Christmas get-together on December 23, complete with gift opening and a delicious turkey lunch. Sounded great to us.

We awakened that day to snow, not just falling but blowing wildly sideways. Near white-out conditions. And to top it all off, a blast of arctic air had arrived with subzero temperatures and wind chills in the negative 20 °F range.

Should we cancel our out of state trip for Christmas because we were scheduled to leave shortly after lunch at nearby daughter’s? Nah, we thought.

After all, we’re hardy Northerners used to snow and ice with plenty of experience driving in those conditions.  Papa, during his sales rep career, drove through dicey, wintry conditions often in the Midwest, Oregon mountains, and here in Pennsylvania, our home state.

You might say we thought of ourselves as being like Elsa from our grandchildren’s favorite animated film Frozen: “Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway.”  

So, we loaded up our SUV. Gloves, hats, scarves, winter coats and boots. Check. Blankets in case our car heater couldn’t keep us warm. Check. A thermos of water and a few snacks for the trip. Check. Hot tea for me; hot coffee for Papa. Check.

By the time we departed right after lunch, the snowstorm had ceased. We were on our merry way. The highways were already cleared off…for a while.

Then east of Columbus, Ohio, conditions changed. Roads appeared as if they’d never been plowed let alone cleared of snow. We found bumpy, snowy, extremely windy, slow-going conditions, some of the worst we’ve encountered.

And those persisted for miles and miles, slowing us down significantly. Papa found himself avoiding drivers who either drove too fast or too slowly, both hazardous in the circumstances. Then we began noticing cars and trucks abandoned on sides of the highway – something we haven’t seen since we left Portland 25 years ago.

At one point, the entrance to a highway we usually travel on was blocked off by a police vehicle. No passage due to an accident or maybe even more. So, we were forced to detour another way, which took us through some small towns.  (For those of you who read yesterday’s post, that’s how I found the nutcrackers by accident.)

As the drive became lengthier in the pitch blackness of night and the intense wind blowing snow, we realized we hadn’t eaten any dinner. Stomachs growling, we searched for an open restaurant. Anywhere, any kind. All closed due to inclement weather and the bitter cold temperatures.

We crunched on our snacks and continued until Papa remarked that we were running out of windshield wiper fluid. We pulled over at the next open truck stop which luckily had not only a very expensive gallon of washer fluid but also a fast-food restaurant still miraculously open.

Papa braved the frigid cold to fill the washer fluid tank under the hood while I waited for our to-go meal of burgers inside. Just me and some snow battle-weary truck drivers. One of them struck up a conversation with me.

He declared he had been driving in snow for three solid days. And yet, the worst road conditions he had experienced during that time was right there in Ohio. He was astonished at how nasty the major highway was and even exclaimed, “Good grief, Iowa roads were way better than this! Even Indiana and Illinois!”

I commiserated with him and told him our Pennsylvania roads were better too unbelievably, then wished him a safe journey, silently said a prayer for him, and stepped out into the piercing cold for the short walk to our vehicle.

We ate our burgers and fries sitting inside our car with the heater running full blast while parked at the truck stop. And Papa still shook from braving the raw, wind-chilled below zero weather to fill up both our gas tank and washer fluid reservoir.

On we endured updating our worried daughter by text every so often. What a trip it had been so far!  Cincinnati, Ohio seemed better, roads clearer. Freezing cold yet, but at least no blowing snow.

Then we entered Kentucky. At first, it appeared quite drivable but soon the highway became an obstacle course. Not only did the temperature plummet again but the area had received rain which rapidly turned to ice. And that was underneath blowing and accumulating snow. Simply put, that highway was in horrible condition.

Cars were positioned every which way as well as trucks. Both Papa and I were on high alert because you never knew when we suddenly would come upon a stopped vehicle or huge tractor trailer truck stopped dead on the highway. Not on the side of the road but right in a traffic lane. And Papa would carefully pass them.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. On an uphill section, two trailer trucks were completely stopped side by side in northbound lanes of this major highway. Strung along behind them were two solid lanes of stopped traffic for at least five miles.

You can’t imagine how relieved we were to be traveling in southbound lanes, even though they were extremely slow-going, and the road was a mess. On we inched, up and down hills, passing stopped vehicles who just couldn’t go any further. How thankful we were for our four-wheel drive SUV and Papa’s confident but cautious driving.

I couldn’t erase the sight we’d seen from my mind. In all our years driving in and through snowy, icy, and terrible road conditions due to weather, I’d never seen a highway become totally impassable as that one was.

I remarked to Papa, “This is why you always keep your gas tank full in winter and carry winter gear with you. You never know when the weather will find you stuck.”

I started thinking how frightened I’d be if we had been traveling north and trapped like all those vehicles for who knew how long. How many hours would you be delayed? What if your heater stopped working? You could easily freeze to death in the frigid temperatures. What if you ran out of gas? How on earth do any rescuers even begin to get traffic moving in that kind of conditions?

We finally arrived safely and soundly at our daughter and son-in-law’s home just before midnight. A trip that normally would have taken us around seven hours instead took us over 10. But we made it and were thankful God provided us a safe even though perilous journey.

I didn’t capture any photos of this eye-opening event because take your pick:

  1. It was too dark since we drove many hours at night.
  2. The snow was blowing like crazy making visibility difficult.
  3. My eyes were glued on the road ahead to help Papa spy stopped or spinning out of control vehicles.
  4. I was too busy praying.
  5. All the above.

The answer of course is 5.

Despite the nerve-wracking drive, we thoroughly enjoyed our Christmas celebration away from this empty nest with our eldest, her spouse, and Jack the cat. Even though the bitter cold continued, we stayed in, played games, ate yummy food, including a delicious Christmas Day dinner, snacked, and even had a noisy but entertaining evening of karaoke singing.

It was a Christmas to remember in more ways than one. We’re thankful we spent it with 2/3 of our family and even enjoyed our traditional Christmas Eve sundaes at both our daughters’ homes.

And blessedly, even though it was still frosty cold, our trip home was completely clear sailing with no snowstorms. For that we were so grateful. I don’t want to be insensitive to those who truly suffered in a snowstorm, especially those who lost loved ones in Buffalo, New York. My prayers are with them.

“Snow brings a special quality with it—the power to stop life as you know it dead in its tracks.” ~ Nancy Hatch Woodward

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2023

Posted in Life, photography

Words for Wednesday: by design

The power went out one day a few months ago, and the outage lasted into the late night. We rounded up candles, flashlights, a battery-operated lantern, and also our two oil burning lamps.

No electricity meant no television (that’s just fine by me) and no desktop computer. No  iPad, kindle, or cell phone use either because we didn’t want to wear down the batteries since there would be no charging for who knew how many hours.

So, Papa and I settled down by sitting at the kitchen table reading real hard-backed printed books by oil lamp light.

As the evening grew later and bedtime approached, I stopped reading and happened to look up at the ceiling.

Why? I have no clue. But what I saw there intrigued me so of course, I had to grab my camera and snap a photo or two.

A design was created on our kitchen ceiling. A design made by light from the oil lamp filtering through the unilluminated Tiffany-style glass light fixture that hangs over our kitchen table.

Design. Not of anything particular. Yet still a design. And it occurred to me that there are designs everywhere we look, it’s just that we don’t always notice. We’re too occupied with other things we deem important to observe design.

Who created all those designs throughout this earth and the universe? Why, of course. A Master Designer. He who created the stars in the sky, majestic mountains, vast oceans, rushing rivers, all vegetation, and finally us – mankind.

Naturally, my filing cabinet mind brought forth a musical file – an old 1960’s song called Master Designer by Kurt Kaiser: “All of this beauty both near and afar can’t just have happened, the odds are too great. There must be a plan, we’re not left to fate.”

Fate may have caused a power outage, but fate had nothing to do with my glance upward to notice that design.

“Everything is design. Everything!” ~ Paul Rand, American designer

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022

Posted in Christmas, Life

Words for Wednesday: catch a falling star

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

On cold, clear winter evenings in December, I often gaze at the sky and those stars shining brightly in the dark nightscape.

And I wonder what might it have been like to see THE STAR? You know, the star that shined over that little place where the newborn Christ-child lay. That star that appeared so brightly causing wisemen from a far distance to travel where it led them.

I make my own journeys during the Christmas season when my mind takes me back into memories long past. I feel blessed and grateful for so many of those pleasant and joyful reminisces.

Today I’m taking my readers back to a blog post I wrote about another star in December 2014. I hope you enjoy it, even if my long-time readers have read it before.

Christmas songs from the radio filled the silence as we drove along enveloped in darkness only broken by headlights of sparse oncoming traffic on the four-lane highway and the occasional red brake lights of vehicles far ahead of us.

On our way back home after accomplishing some Christmas shopping at a nearby mall, we were tired and ready to call it a night.  Traveling along a blank stretch of highway from the more populated area to our rural place, there wasn’t much to see. 

Cloud cover even obscured the brightness of the moon and its supporting cast of shining stars.  Suddenly, ahead of us a burst of brilliance filled the dark firmament then left a trail of luminescence downward toward the ground.

We both exclaimed, “Did you see THAT?” at the same time. 

A falling star.  A shooting star. 

A radiant spot of brightness in an otherwise dull and mundane night. Despite the song emanating from the radio – “just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too” – my mind immediately launched into an old Perry Como song from the 1950’s.

“Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away.”

Back once more in our own reveries, I mulled over what I had just witnessed.  Catch a falling star.  Catch a falling star.  Put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day.  The lyrics to that song kept playing in my mind drowning out the secular Christmas songs still coming from the car radio.

And I thought of that one star.  That star unlike any other.  The one that suddenly appeared in the sky over 2000 years ago to show that something remarkable had occurred. 

Something that would totally change our world.  The birth of a baby boy named Jesus.  That boy who became Savior, God in the flesh of mankind:   “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~ John 1:14-15 (NIV)

I pondered how fitting that I should see this shooting star to remind me what Christmas is really about, celebrating the birth of my Savior – the Messiah, Emmanuel, the long-awaited One.  The very One we sing about during this Advent season in “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

One shooting star blazing across the night sky reminded me of all of this. 

Yes, I’ll catch a falling star and put it in my pocket to keep. 

And then every time I get caught up in the Christmas madness of shopping for gifts and decorating, of Christmas dinner menus and seasonal songs about everything but Jesus, of tinsel and mistletoe, of sleigh bells and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, I’ll pull that star out of my pocket to remind me of the true meaning of Christmas and I won’t let it fade away.

“Christmas in Bethlehem. The ancient dream: a cold, clear night made brilliant by a glorious star, the smell of incense, shepherds and wise men falling to their knees in adoration of the sweet baby, the incarnation of perfect love.” ~Lucinda Franks

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022

Posted in Faith, family, Life

Words for Wednesday: happiness or joy?

(Photo by Taylor Heery on Unsplash)

What makes you happy? What brings you joy? Do you equate the two as the same? Or is joy different from happiness?

Search the internet and you’ll find countless articles about happiness and/or joy. Here are just a couple examples:

  • “What is joy? It is not mere happiness, but it is also not devoid of it. Joy is a core human experience, but we often don’t understand the true depth of its meaning in our lives.” (Jamie D. Aten Ph.D. in Psychology Today)
  • “Although happiness and joy can be present at the same time, happiness is based on material things or events, such as when a person is given a gift, graduates from college or celebrates a birthday. Joy, on the other hand, is from God and runs deeper — it can be present even during unhappy times.” (Focus on the Family)  

I’ve often pondered the difference between happiness and joy and yes, I do believe those two emotions we humans experience are not the same.

My example is simplistic: Savoring a piece of delectable chocolate makes me happy, but providing a delicious treat for members of my family gives me joy.

The difference? A piece of chocolate brings a fleeting moment of happiness for me but making my family members happy delivers a deeper and longer lasting sense of emotion – joy.

And because many miles separate most of them from Papa and me, spending time with them is very special providing much happiness at the time. But joy lasts longer.

Joy is deeper. I can’t recall where I found these worthwhile tidbits, but the difference between joy and happiness is described in a variety of ways:

  • Joy is in the heart; happiness is on the face.
  • Joy is of the soul; happiness is of the moment.
  • Joy transcends; happiness reacts.
  • Joy is an inner feeling; happiness is an outward expression.

I think the feeling of happiness comes along from time to time due to pleasant circumstances or occurrences we experience but joy? We must intentionally choose joy for ourselves and actively practice it. And that “ain’t easy.”

“Feelings are involuntary reactions, so God does not say, ‘Feel joy.’ He says, ‘Rejoice!’ It’s a choice.” ~ George Foster

Joy is deep, profound, and for people like me, who actively practice our faith, joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23

All too often I’ve found that during hardships, trials, and life’s difficulties, I must endeavor to choose joy. That sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? Choosing joy when you’re undergoing adversities?

But long ago, I claimed a particular Bible passage for my life verses: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

So many times since then, I’ve found I must put my faith into action not just words. Be a doer of the Word, not just a hearer.

And over the Thanksgiving holiday, once again I needed to rejoice – choose joy – amidst a disappointing circumstance. Papa and I were so happy that our entire family traveled to our house for Thanksgiving and to spend several days with us.

Not only did we plan a holiday feast and meals for all 11 of us but also arranged outings, activities, and games to enjoy together. And we did get to experience some of those until…one family member began experiencing what we thought were cold symptoms.

But then a fever ensued causing us to test for that nasty virus that just keeps circulating around. Disappointment set in as that cursed positive result showed up. The family member immediately went into bedroom quarantine and the rest of the family were informed of exposure.

Suddenly, our happy times turned into concern. Since our Christmas gift exchange also was planned for the weekend, we hurriedly accomplished that while the infected family member Face-timed from the quarantined room.

Shortly afterwards, the far-away contingencies of our family decided to pack up and leave for their homes. Our smiles turned upside down into frowns, and I will confess this Mama/Nana shed a few tears after they departed.

Happiness flew right out the door with them.

But that verse – that verse that bids me to give thanks in all circumstances.  Wasn’t thankfulness just what we celebrated? Wasn’t I thankful that we gathered as a family at all?

That verse – that verse that bids me to rejoice always – even when life doesn’t proceed as planned. Rejoice, not hang my head in disappointment.

Joy. I must choose it. Even when three other family members, including me, also tested positive.

Joy. It’s there deep down in that place within me that endures trials because God promises He will fill us with comfort and wrap us in the peace only He can give.

Joy. The blessing that’s present through difficult circumstances because it transforms heartache into gratitude, gives meaning to life through contentment, replaces fleeting happiness with deep constancy.  

In spite of disappointment over the Thanksgiving weekend ending too soon, many blessings could be counted as joy: a family celebration of love, giggles and excitement from our grandchildren, recovery of all those affected by illness, and a deeper appreciation for moments we shared.

As we celebrate this season of Christmas, I choose joy. But I vow to choose it not just for this moment, for today, or for this holiday.

I choose joy for each day for the rest of my life. I will pray continually, giving thanks to my God in all circumstances, even the not-so-great ones, because my family and I are loved and cared for by the Savior of the world and His name is Jesus.

And dear readers, He cares for you the same.

“Deep, contended joy comes from a place of complete security and confidence [in God] – even in the midst of trial.” ~ Charles R. Swindoll

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022

Posted in Christmas memories, inspiration, Life

Words for Wednesday: the real Santa Claus

Photo by Jesson Mata on Unsplash

[Spoiler alert: If you are one of those who still believe in Santa Claus, you may not want to read my post today.] 😉

I’ve seen a lot of Santas in my day. I still vividly recall sitting as a wee mite on jolly ol’ Saint Nicholas’ lap in the now defunct Montgomery Ward department store once located in my hometown.

That same year I distinctly heard jingle bells outside my bedroom window on Christmas Eve. Shortly afterwards, my mother came into the room to tell me someone special waited in the living room to see me.

And there he was! Santa Claus standing right there as big as bold next to our real Christmas pine tree all decked out with big light bulbs (not mini twinkling ones), shiny glass ornaments, and plenty of shimmering icicles.  (It was the late 1950’s after all.)

Santa Claus gave me a gift – and not just a material one but a fond memory – on that very special night. Many years later, my parents informed me that I was a keen observer as a little girl.

After Santa left our house that particular Christmas Eve, I remarked to them that Santa looked awfully thin since the last time I saw him at Montgomery Ward just a few days before Christmas. And on top of that, his boots were brown and before they were black!

So, who was that Santa imposter? Our well-meaning and kind neighbor Mabel, who sought to delight me with a “magical” visit that Christmas.

She was the same dear soul who phoned us one Easter, asked to speak to me, and told me she saw the Easter bunny in our yard hiding something by the massive oak tree in our front yard. (Whoops, another spoiler alert! Mabel was the Easter Bunny too that year.)

After Papa and I married and were blessed with children of our own, visits to Santa Claus were the norm, often with a photo taken of that special day. And now that we are grandparents of three delightful little ones, that red-suited jolly fellow is special once again!

During our family Thanksgiving, we all visited a special Christmas Land (if you missed that post yesterday, click here), where our three sweet ones got to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what good little girls they had been and what they wanted for Christmas.

A cute photo of them ensued and it is a treasure for certain. But what I will not soon forget about that special visit, besides the fact that all our grandchildren visited Santa together for the first time, is that this Santa Claus was no novice. Nor did he seem like just an imposter.

He seemed real! He was, by far, the BEST Santa Claus I think I’ve ever seen.

He was so endearing with the children, so kind, so interested in what they had to say (and they said a lot!). He took his time with all three of them posing for the camera and then individually took each one on his lap and spoke to them singly, even though the waiting line was long.

What an amazing Santa he truly was for our little sweeties. But then, after each of our grandchildren individually gave him a hug goodbye, Santa leaped to his feet.

What on earth? “Wait,” he exclaimed. “There’s one more person in your family that needs a hug from Santa!”

I was so astonished I almost missed getting that shot with my camera, so it’s not the best. But what Santa did that day not only warmed my heart for how he treated our beloved grandchildren, but for his recognition and kind appreciation for Papa!

You see, Papa had worn his baseball cap that day – the one he wears often. The one that proudly displays an emblem for the United States Army, the military my husband served in. Santa noticed.

As he shook my shocked husband’s hand and said, “Thank you, sir, for your service,” Santa enveloped him with a giant bear hug in front of a crowd of people.

Santa Claus. The epitome of a giving soul, whether you believe in him or not. His actions and caring personality really shined that day in the middle of a crowded retail store. And it warmed my heart and moved me quite close to tears.

Hmm…maybe he does exist. Maybe there’s a little bit of Santa Claus in each of us if we just let it show.

“The greatest thing is not to believe in Santa Claus; it is to be Santa Claus.” ~ Pat Boone

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022

Posted in gratitude, Life

Words for Wednesday: empty pages

(Life has been a little busy here at Mama’s Empty Nest lately, and I’ve found myself without words to write. The words are there…somewhere milling around in this cluttered brain of mine, but they just aren’t surfacing for the moment. So, excuse me while I repost something I wrote way back in November 2010, the first year of my Mama’s Empty Nest blog.)

Often friends encourage me without them even knowing they’ve done so, and sometimes they humble me as well.

Today a friend told me she keeps a gratitude list. She’s been keeping it for four years.

I started a gratitude journal way back in 1998. Want to guess how many pages I wrote in it?  Nine and a half. 

What’s odd is that I enjoy writing tremendously, so why couldn’t I fill all the pages of that journal full of words of thanksgiving and gratefulness and start another one? Actually, I should have an entire bookshelf of gratitude journals by now. But I don’t.

So I’m feeling humbled by this friend who has so much more faithfulness than me at being grateful and documenting her thankful thoughts. It’s obviously something I need to improve or at least attempt.

I rummaged through my desk drawer and dug out my lovely 1998 gratitude journal, a gift from a good friend. On the first page, she wrote this:  “Take a moment each day and write down five things you are grateful for.  It could be a moment, event, or just something that brought a smile to you today.  Let me start by sharing how much I appreciate your support and friendship.  You are truly ‘a very best friend’!”

This friend and I became acquainted through our children’s elementary school when we both served as PTA officers. I laughingly told her when we met that we would become “best friends” as we would work so closely together on school functions. 

We joked about that a lot, but we really did become close friends and even now, so many years later, we still sign our Christmas cards “from your very best friend!”

I noted that her entry in my journal was dated April 5, 1998. I wrote this three days later:  “I am so thankful for friends like K [she gave me the journal] who brighten my day; friends like KL who can give me godly and wise advice; that Mom is experiencing God’s power and peace while she’s dealing with her cancer diagnosis; that our gracious and loving Lord not only hears our prayers but answers them; for my children’s, husband’s, and my good health.”

I continued to write a paragraph or two from April through June. And then the writing stopped. Is it mere coincidence that I discontinued writing the day after my family and I moved back to the homeland? I don’t know. 

Life was extremely unsettled then and my mother was dying of cancer. I spent a lot of time in prayer during that time, but maybe my feelings and emotions were just too raw to put into ink on paper.

Over the years, I’ve picked up this small bound book with the floral design on the front, read what I previously wrote, and closed the book again without writing one paragraph. 

I could excuse myself by saying I was too busy planning my new home, raising my children, running to sports events, getting involved in church and school volunteering, but I know I was thankful for many, many occurrences, large and small, in my life.  So why didn’t I take a moment to chronicle them?  It’s a puzzle to me.

Perhaps it is a lack of discipline on my part. I failed to note over 10 years (now 24 years!) of thankfulness in written form, but looking back over those years, I can recall much for which my heart is grateful. 

But the day-to-day items, the usual but not insignificant blessings I’ve experienced, those are tucked away in my mind’s memory bank like old, faded mementos buried in a dusty trunk in the attic and forgotten.

Still, there’s so much to be thankful for, even if I don’t write those moments down on an empty page. ©2010 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

“It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness.” ~ unknown

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022

Posted in Life, thankfulness

The 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month

Here in my country today is Veterans Day. It’s not just a federal holiday when banks and government offices are closed. It’s not just a day off work for many or a day with no school in session for some. It’s a day for gratitude.

And gratitude of the deepest kind. Every year, Veterans Day is commemorated in America on November 11. There’s a reason for that, a very important historical reason. November 11 was the day when an armistice was signed between Allied nations and Germany ending World War I.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, that peacemaking document went into effect. The next year Armistice Day (as it was known then) was celebrated for the first time. In many places, people reflected during minutes of silence at 11 o’clock on November 11th.

Then President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that day in 1919 would be a day “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.”

At some point in time, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a day to honor all veterans of military service to our country. Sometimes it seems our veterans are forgotten heroes and don’t receive the respect they deserve. Many of them suffer from long-lasting effects of their service during war times.

That’s why it makes my heart happy to see businesses and individuals giving honor and recognition to our country’s vets.

The least we can do for them is thank them sincerely for serving not just our country but us – its citizens who live in freedom because of our vets’ sacrifices.

So, thank a veteran on this special day. But even better than that, thank them every time you see or meet a veteran. And then go one step further, give your support to organizations who help our courageous warriors and their families.

“The willingness of America’s veterans to sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude.” ~ Jeff Miller, U.S. Representative

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2022