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


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


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


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“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


Stepping back in time


Mackinac Island, Michigan

One of the most compelling reasons Papa and I had for our autumn journey to Michigan was to visit Mackinac Island, an island in Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes.

I first heard of it back in the early 80’s when the island’s Grand Hotel was featured in scenes from the movie, Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.

I don’t think the movie did very well at the box office, but I still remember the haunting music from it and the time-traveling romantic aspect of the film. And the scenes from the Grand Hotel.

Mackinac Island is a bit like stepping back in time because no motorized vehicles are permitted on the island. You must travel either by your own impetus (by foot), or by bicycle, horse drawn taxis, or carriage tours, although electric scooters are allowed for those with disabilities.

Even supplies to everything on the island are brought by ferry from the mainland and then distributed to locations by horse-drawn wagons. So there are horses everywhere.

We boarded a ferry in St. Ignace, Michigan on a chilly, crisp morning for the short voyage (about 15 minutes) out into Lake Huron and after a side trip under the Mackinac Bridge, we set foot on Mackinac Island and its quaint hamlet.

Restaurants, bed and breakfasts, inns, cottages, homes, and gift shops galore line the village streets, including several fudge stores for some reason.

We soon learned that island tourists are called “fudgies” by the locals because sightseers  indulge in so much fudge buying. (And yes, we also succumbed to the lure of freshly made fudge, namely peanut butter, chocolate mint, and Papa’s favorite, German chocolate cake fudge.)

The island sports many hiking and biking trails and plenty to see and do for the outdoor enthusiast. You can rent bicycles or bring your own. You may go golfing, kayaking, horseback riding, sailing and parasailing, fishing, and enjoy other outdoor activities if you want to step out of time in the hustle bustle world and step into nature.

If cultural activities are more your thing, there are museums and art galleries to visit and history buffs will enjoy Fort Holmes, as well as Fort Mackinac inside the Mackinac State Historic Park and old cemeteries.   

Papa and I opted for a carriage tour lasting about an hour and 45 minutes, which transported us to all the major scenic sites on the island. The driver/tour guide was personable and we enjoyed her narration during the ride.

By far, my favorite spots to see were the Grand Hotel and Arch Rock.

After winding our way through the village and into more wooded areas, our carriage stopped at Arch Rock, so we could leave the carriage and walk to view this amazing 50-foot wide rock formation which towers above the gorgeous lake water.


Arch Rock on Mackinac Island

Near the end of our carriage ride the last stop was the Grand Hotel, a majestic and pristine white landmark, which opened in 1887.  I’d claim it the showcase of the island with its 600-foot front porch looking out onto the lake. Picturesque? Definitely!

The historic hotel with 393 guest rooms is only open May through October. Overnight stays include breakfasts and dinners but it is quite spendy. So this Mama and Papa just hopped off the carriage after our tour, took a look at that beautiful place, and went on our merry way on foot.


The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

On our walk-about, we stopped at a lovely stone chapel, walked along the lakefront, and enjoyed the sights and sounds (the steady clip-clop of horses’ hooves) of Mackinac Island.

Thankful that we had changed our plans due to inclement weather (all day rain and sleet), we visited the island on a Monday rather than our originally scheduled weekend day, Sunday.  

Our day there was blessed with sunshine even though it was brisk and a bit windy, and the island wasn’t terribly crowded, which is always a plus in my book.

Mackinac Island is a place I’ll remember with fondness, a reminder of that somewhere in time when Papa and I enjoyed a splendid autumn journey.

“Memories are timeless treasures of the heart.” ~ unknown



Words for Wednesday: a room with a view


Night time view of Lake Huron

Little did I realize what was behind that curtain.

It was dark and rainy when we checked into our hotel in the town of St. Ignace, Michigan. Tired from our day of sightseeing in Dearborn and then the hours-long drive to the Upper Peninsula, we were more than ready to just relax and unwind.

After settling in a bit, I went to the hotel window like I usually do on our journeys to see what kind of view there was. I absolutely did not expect to see what I saw.

First of all, I was just a bit concerned as I drew open the drapery to find the window was actually a sliding glass door which opened to a small patio. Not that disconcerting unless you were on the lower level, which we were. 

Then I wondered why it was so very dark outside. I knew it was nighttime and raining but it was really pitch dark, no lights to be seen from the view whatsoever. I expected some lights from houses or perhaps other hotels or businesses, but what greeted me was sheer inkiness.

So I switched the porch light on and voilà! There it was – a view of one of the Great Lakes – Lake Huron to be exact. And our lower level room in the center of that hotel wing had a perfect view.

Nothing else in sight but the lake and a string of lawn chairs facing it. What a nice spot to sit and just relax, think, rest, ponder.

But of course, it was nighttime and raining…and did I mention it was a bit on the chilly side?


My husband viewing the sunrise on Lake Huron

On our second morning at this hotel, I awakened early and then it dawned on me that a new day was also dawning outside and I could probably catch the sunrise on the lake.

Again, I pulled open that curtain, stepped outside, and took in the spectacular view as the sun was just beginning to rise in the east.

By mid-morning, there was yet another lovely view outside that room.

blogIMG_9524A room with a view. What more could we have asked for? And what a view it was. I’m so thankful I opened that curtain.

My experience is a bit like life isn’t it? We travel along on our life journey but don’t know what surprises await us just around the corner or just within our reach if we open ourselves up to the experience.

Open the curtain and enjoy the view. I think I learned a valuable lesson on the shore of Lake Huron.

“Somewhere on your journey, don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the view.” ~ unknown


Onward and upward

blogIMG_9448Onward and upward. That was our goal on our October road trip to Michigan.

After being awed and inspired by our day-long (which wasn’t ample enough time) visit to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, we traveled north.

Our next stop for the night would be St. Ignace, a small Upper Peninsula town on the shores of Lake Huron, just across the famous Mackinac Bridge (more about that later).  

As day turned to dusk, the view outside our vehicle’s windshield still continued to cause me to keep my camera handy. The further north we traveled on a highway not busy with traffic, trees displayed their autumn glory in rich color.

Having been deprived of such beautiful fall displays in our home state for the last couple of years, I reveled in the sights. Fall, after all, is my most favorite season of the year. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

We crossed into the Upper Peninsula via the Mackinac Bridge in the dark so we couldn’t see much of that amazing five-mile long suspension structure that connects the two peninsulas.

But we could tell it was pretty windy as we crossed and rain was falling. Unfortunately, by the time we reached our hotel destination, the weather forecast wasn’t promising as rain continued steadily during the night.

We scrubbed our plans for the next day – visiting Mackinac Island – because the forecast called for 90-100% rain all day long. Instead, we decided to just go with the flow. Get in our car and drive even farther north just to see what we could see. An adventure on less traveled ‘blue highways.’

blogIMG_9372 (2)And we found some treasure troves that day like the photo above. As temperatures plummeted during our unplanned day trip, the air became crisper and sharper and the scenery became even more beautiful. And then snowflakes flurried through the air.

On more than one occasion, Papa had to stop the car or find a place to turn around after I would exclaim, “OHHH, look at that!” and wanted to capture a photo. (He patiently supports and understands how much I enjoy taking pictures and I’m so thankful for him.)  

We wandered as far north as Lake Superior and found lighthouses to visit and the site of the wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, an American freighter which sank during a storm on Lake Superior in November 1975. The entire crew of 29 was lost in the lake and if you’re older mature like me you may remember a song recorded by Gordon Lightfoot about that tragedy.

Finally, to wind up our random day trip excursion, we found ourselves in the northeastern end of the Upper Peninsula at the St. Mary’s River in Sault Ste.Marie.

There we stood for over an hour with 20 or so other folks on an outside observation deck, shivering in the cold, but determined to watch a 740-foot long Canadian freighter  travel through the St. Mary’s Falls Canal (called the Soo Locks) connecting Lake Superior with Lake Huron, which is actually 21 feet lower. 


Canadian vessel moving through the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie

Had we driven any further, we would have crossed a bridge into Canada. But since we didn’t have passports with us to get back into our own country, we just waved to our neighboring country from the American side of the river.

We traveled a lot of miles that day but the sights we observed and visited made even a cold, almost wintry day well worth a few shivers. And we also realized what a small world this truly is.

While waiting for the freighter to travel through the Soo Locks, we began chatting with another couple, who were also tourists. The gentleman had a distinguishable southern accent but we could tell from our discussion he had been in the military.

As we conversed, he asked us where we were from. Since we hail from a rural area outside a small town that most folks have never heard of, we usually just answer with the name of our nearest city because it is ‘just down the road’ from us.

Of course, this gentleman wanted to know what part of the city we lived in, so we had to explain that we actually reside outside the city near a small town. He was persistent in asking what the name of that was, so we finally told him.

His face lit up and he said, “I’ve been there!” And he proceeded to name the little village across the river from our hometown. Why on earth had he visited our neck of the woods? He once had a military buddy from our hometown.

There are so many big sights to see in this seemingly big world, but as Papa and I have discovered, we can travel for hundreds of miles yet meet up with someone who has something in common with us. 

Taking a detour from our itinerary showed us it just might be a small world after all.

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” ~ G.K. Chesterton