Forest or trees?

blogIMG_8321Sometimes you really can’t see the forest for the trees.

One of the many truly amazing sights our family encountered while living in the Pacific Northwest was the dense, thick forests there. 

Moving from the mostly plains of the Midwest to that area of the country, I remember well how awestruck I was the first time I saw the size of the massive trees there.

After stepping off the plane on my first trip to the Pacific Northwest for a house-hunting mission, I vividly recall marveling at the colossal Douglas fir trees we saw as Papa and I ventured around the area in search of our new home.  

Once we moved there and settled in, we took our children on many excursions to explore our new domicile and again I marveled at the density of the forests.

As a native northeasterner, forests were nothing new to me. In my childhood, my family spent a lot of time in our modest “camp” near one of the national forest areas of our home state. So I’d seen thick forests. But not like the giants of the Pacific Northwest or the immense Redwoods of Northern California, which we also visited.

I wish now that I had taken the time to photograph those dense forests we visited, but after looking through all of my pictures taken with old-school film (long before digital cameras), I don’t have a shot that I feel does enough justice for this week’s photo challenge – dense.   

So the more recent photo above (a stand of bamboo at a zoo last summer) will have to do, although it is nothing like the thickness of the Pacific Northwest forests. This picture does show density, but not like the almost impenetrable forests ensconced in my memory. Those trees simply take your breath away.

But it’s true you can’t really see the forest for the trees. The trees capture your attention in such a way that you might miss a less commanding sight right there in the forest.

Sometimes things are so dense that you just can’t see your way through, just like those thick, concentrated forests. And often I feel like I’m just as dense.

Like when I just can’t see a solution to a problem even when it’s staring me in the face. Is it really because I’m dumber than a box of rocks? Or is just a case of stubbornness? Not wanting to face the problem or the solution? Maybe even pride?

I’m not sure but I know one thing for certain. When I can’t see the forest for the trees, I need to stop looking at the trees, no matter how glorious they may seem. The answer may just be on the forest floor right in front of me.

“Pride works frequently under a dense mask, and will often assume the garb of humility.”  ~ Adam Clarke (1760 or 1762-1832), British theologian and Biblical scholar


King of the hill

blogIMG_8315When you were a kid, did you ever play the game, King of the Hill?

If you’re not familiar with this rough and tumble playground game, let me enlighten you. The object is to be the one person who is able to say atop a “hill,” whether it be an actual mound of dirt or just a large pile of objects. In order to stay atop, you need to be strong and be capable of warding off those who try to push or shove you off the hill.

That game was always just a bit too physical for me. I didn’t particularly like getting pushed or shoved around (still don’t), and I was a scrawny little kid who just couldn’t fend for myself enough to keep a kingdom long. I was much happier playing hopscotch or jumping rope on the school playground than being in a shoving free for all.

King of the Hill.  In addition to being a childhood game, it’s also a metaphor for being the winner of any kind of competition or activity where you actually displace the previous winner.

Although I can be just as competitive as the next guy, I’m not exactly a king of the hill kind of person.  To me, it just seems like being a bully, or at least a pushy enough person to get your way, even when it comes to a physical altercation. Not my idea of winning. 

But you can be a king of the hill in other ways. You can experience those mountain top feelings by achieving your goals.  Or finally finishing something you always wanted to do. Reaching a new plateau in your personal life, your travels, or even in your faith can be one of those king of the hill moments.

Or it just might be that feeling of being in love like the old Carpenters’ song from the 1970’s:

I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation
And the only explanation I can find
Is the love that I’ve found ever since you’ve been around
Your love’s put me at the top of the world.

This week’s photo challenge theme is ‘atop.’ And as usual, my mind starts to wander over a myriad of thoughts about that word.

I haven’t been atop that many high places. I’ve taken plenty of trips by airplane, so in essence I’ve been atop in terms of altitude. And I’ve been to the top of a few high spots like Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi River, in North Carolina at 6,683 feet.

I’ve even visited one of the highest towns in the United States. Silverton, Colorado in the San Juan Mountain range of the Rocky Mountains, has an elevation of 9,308 feet, although it’s not the tallest spot in the Rockies.

I’ve climbed the steps to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty but didn’t make it to the top of her crown. Several times I’ve enjoyed the magnificent view of our fair city Pittsburgh both during the day and at night from atop Mount Washington, which isn’t really a mountain but a steep hill.

Still the view is amazing atop. And isn’t that the thing about being atop a mountain or a hill or a wonderful feeling? It’s amazing.

My oldest daughter and son-in-law made a week-long trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa a couple years ago. The journey up the mountain through several climate zones wasn’t easy and the altitude at 19,341 feet was a bit disorienting but the few minutes they were able to bask in the surrounding view at daybreak from atop the summit of that mountain was unforgettable.

Since then, they’ve made a bucket list to visit the highest point in every state of the United States. So far, I think they’ve completed 13 of those. For them, it’s a goal worthy of achieving. That feeling of reaching and accomplishing that which you set out to do.

It’s a King of the Hill kind of moment.

And that makes me consider what makes me feel like I’m king of the hill? Often times, it’s an experience I encounter as I worship my God or read His Word. Other times, I feel like the king of the hill when I’m happily surrounded by my family and loved ones. Or when I encounter something new and exciting, visit someplace I’ve never been before.

Simple things, really. But those are the things that make me feel atop of the world. How about you?

“Any road followed precisely to its end leads precisely nowhere. Climb the mountain just a little bit to test that it’s a mountain. From the top of the mountain, you cannot see the mountain.” ~ Frank Herbert


Kicking shadows to the curb


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


Solitude’s good for the soul


“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


We wait

blogimg_6827-2This week’s WordPress photo challenge, “anticipation,” is appropriate for the week leading up to Christmas.

Anticipation.  Something we look forward to. Something we wait for.

Anticipation. We wait. 

When you’re a child and your family follows the custom of jolly old St. Nick visiting your house via the chimney on Christmas Eve to fill your stockings and load up the floor beneath the tree with gifts, this photo definitely personifies ‘anticipation,’ especially when that plate is loaded with homemade cookies and that mug is filled with milk.

Anticipation. We wait.

It’s what we believers in Christ do as we celebrate the Advent Season leading up to Christmas Day. We wait. We anticipate that holy day to celebrate the most miraculous gift of all to all. A Savior born into this world named Jesus Christ.

Anticipation. We wait.

And even though our Savior came to earth as a wee babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a lowly manger long ago, we still wait.

With anticipation. We wait. Why? Because someday He’s coming back to this earth in all His glory. That will be a day worth waiting for. 

“Anticipation is a gift. Perhaps there is none greater. Anticipation is born of hope. Indeed it is hope’s finest expression.” ~ Steven L. Peck


That’s easy for you to say

FBIMG_0313Way to go Word Press photo challenge! Just as the Christmas season starts ramping up big time, you announce that this week’s challenge is relax.

Relax, you say. Just mosey around looking for a photo to capture that encapsulates the word relax. Uh-huh. In December. The busiest month of the year. Three weeks before Christmas. The crazy rush season.

Relax.  You only have a to-do list a mile long. Shopping to finish. Gift wrapping to ensue. Christmas cards to get in the mail. But first stand in the long line at the post office to purchase stamps.  And oh, yes, finish writing that annual Christmas letter to insert in the cards.

But relax, you say. When there’s holly to haul out and Christmas storage bins littering the house. When the greenery and twinkle lights must deck the halls inside and outside must also be spruced up with strings of tangled and probably non-working lights as well as holiday finery.

Relax.  While the Christmas tree stands naked in the living room and scads of ornaments await to adorn it. And each ornament invokes memories from this place or that.  From this child or that one. From this family vacation or that trip.  And you want to take the time to savor it all but….

Relax, you say. There’s only the Christmas dinner menu to decide upon. And major grocery shopping list to make. And then to brave the crowds at the supermarket.  And oh, yes, cookie baking days to plan.

Relax. Chase after a nearly two year-old. Keep her entertained with Christmas stories and playtime. Chase her away from the Christmas tree which she tries to re-decorate. Follow her around the house plugging in all the lights she wants to see just because when they’re off, she cries with dismay, “Oh, no!!”

Relax, you say. When the spaces fill up on your calendar faster than you can utter the words of Tiny Tim, “And God bless us, everyone!”  When you’re anything but relaxed, and that’s why there’s now a doctor appointment in the works.  And somehow, someway, you have to attempt to squeeze in a hair appointment because really, the mop on top of your head that resembles hair is way, way out of control.

Relax. When you’re on pins and needles awaiting that phone call from your son and daughter-in-love saying they’re heading to labor and delivery  because your second grandbaby is making her arrival. And you must determine when you can gather the family together to make the long distance trip to meet the little miss and cradle this beloved one in your arms for the first time.

Relax, you say. Find time to capture a photograph of relaxation? Really? Maybe if it was in the middle of summer or spring or even fall, you could do so.  But now?

Not happening. So my way of coping right now with this photo challenge is to delve back into my photo archives for the one photo I can think of that encourages everyone to just relax – especially this time of year. Unfortunately, I’ve published the photo above here in my blog before, but maybe, just maybe, Mama’s Empty Nest readers won’t remember it.

Relax.  I want to. I need to. I should de-stress and not frazzle my last nerve. I want to be calm and collected as we enter the Christmas season.

Relax, you say. Okay, I’ve admitted it.  I want to relax. Because my focus this season should be on the reason my family celebrates Christmas. Because of a Savior. Because of God’s greatest gift to us.

Because the world won’t collapse if I don’t accomplish every single thing on my Christmas to-do list. But I would collapse into utter despair without hope if it weren’t for my faith in Jesus.

So I will relax and trust in Him.

I will relax and spend time with Him in prayer and reading of His Word.

I will relax and enjoy my family and friends, not the trappings of a ‘perfect’ Christmas.

And I will toss my to-do list. (Okay, at least I’m going to try!)

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” ~ Sydney J. Harris


Magical moments




First snowfall of the season

Back in the day before playlists on cell phones, before iTunes and Pandora, before ipods and MP3 players, even before portable CD players, this Mama and Papa listened to music on the radio and on our home stereo.  

We had quite a collection of LPs (for those of you too young to know what we’re talking about, they were long-playing vinyl record albums). 

That record collection was considerably downsized when we moved from one side of the country (the Pacific Northwest) to the other side of the country (the East coast’s Mid Atlantic region), but we still own several of these old blasts from our past.

In that record collection, we had at least one album by the group ELO – Electic Light Orchestra – an English rock band from the 1970’s. And one of their songs immediately came to my mind when I noticed that this week’s photo challenge is “Magic.”

Oh, oh, oh,
It’s magic you know
Never believe it’s not so

Magic. The word may conjure up visions of stage magicians pulling rabbits out of hats or pulling off a colossal illusion like making the Statue of Liberty disappear.

Or maybe you think of Harry Potter magic or the properties of mythical creatures like fairies, leprechauns, and elves…or even Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Defining magic is simpler than performing it. The word can mean “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces” or something “wonderful or exciting” like this magic moment, which invokes yet another song by The Drifters to come to my mind.

This magic moment while your lips are close to mine
Will last forever, forever ’till the end of time

Magic may mean different things for different people, but when I think of magic, I don’t think of magicians or wizards or fairies.  I think of God’s creation and all of the magic moments He provides to us.

Magic happens right in front of my eyes every day.  Never believe it’s not so.

It’s displayed in that magic moment when the morning sun arises and casts out darkness for light in yet again another day of living.

Magic happens when the sun sets and provides a most stunning, multi-hued picture painted by the supreme Artist.

Magic happens when trees that once wore their clothes of lush green leaves miraculously change into coats of many colors of reds, oranges, rusts, and gold.

Magic happens when the bleakness of winter transforms into the vibrancy of spring as dull, lifeless grass converts into lush, verdant carpets of green and flower buds open into brilliant and aromatic bursts of color.

Magic happens when a blanket of darkness descends on earth and I gaze upwards to view a display of countless stars and an iridescent moon.

And magic happens when the first snowfall of the season arrives like it did last week at my house.

Those are magic moments that will last forever, forever ’till the end of time.

For me, there’s something magical about snowflakes and it makes me rush to the window just to catch a glimpse of them, grab my camera to try to capture some of their magic, and offer up a prayer of thanksgiving to God, the Creator of all, for providing a bit of enchantment each day of life.

Because really, isn’t life the best magic of all?

“Magic is not about having a puzzle to solve. It’s about creating a moment of awe and astonishment. And that can be a beautiful thing.” ~ David Blaine, magician, illusionist & endurance artist




Not just a 50-cent word

blogdscn1570Have you ever used 50-cent words? You know, those obscure kind of words which describe something simple but make you sound like you aced the vocab section on your SATs.

Fifty-cent words are those terms that the average Joe just doesn’t use in normal conversation. And I ran across one of those words – transmogrify – when I scanned through an email announcing the theme for this week’s Word Press photo challenge.

Okay, so I’ll admit there are a plethora of words I don’t normally use and probably don’t know.  But transmogrify? That word just wasn’t on my radar screen and I had to admit I thought to myself, “Is that REALLY a word?”

So skeptical me, I didn’t take the challenge’s word for it, I looked transmogrify up in my desk dictionary – not listed.  Aha, I thought. But then I dusted off THE dictionary, our large volume of Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language College Edition, dragged if off the book shelf, and searched its pages for this word.

Sure enough. It’s a word. Transmogrify, a transitive verb meaning to change completely; transform, especially in a grotesque or strange manner.

Well, I can certainly identify tons of objects, aspects, ideas, etc., that change completely. All I have to do is look outside my window. The maple trees in our yard have transformed from being clothed in verdant green leaves to vibrant orange-red ones. And they are beautiful.

But that’s not strange because it’s a change of season. Summer’s kaput and fall is all the rage.  And it’s definitely not grotesque either. Autumns colors are a beauty to behold.

Frankly, I’m not into grotesque.  Ugly, bizarre, monstrous.  That’s what I think of when I imagine something changing grotesquely. Ugliness doesn’t capture my attention. No thank you, I’d rather look for beauty in this world because there is just way too much ugliness promoted by us human beings.

So the chances of my having a photo depicting transmogrification (I told you it was a 50-cent word!) in the true sense of the word are slim to none. And I’m in no mood to venture out in search of a photo op of something bizarre.

But then I realized that an object that would be considered grotesque could also mean something distorted or misshaped.  And a photo I took a couple of years ago came to mind.

Walking through a lovely local park one late summer day with my camera in hand, I passed by a tall, sturdy tree that caused me to stop. What stopped me wasn’t how pretty the tree was, although it certainly was a worthwhile giver of shade. 

What caused me to pause was an ugly blemish on that tree. Obviously at some point, the tree had been pruned and what remained was a knobby, gnarly, bizarre-looking growth over the place where the limb had been cut off. A one-time normal looking tree had morphed into something distorted.  

I snapped a photo of it because it just looked so strange to me and naturally, I thought maybe I could use the picture in a blog post someday. Well, someday has arrived over three years later.

Transmogrify? I think so. And it reminds me of myself. I can have a pleasing appearance yet if I let my heart harden with sinful behavior or thoughts, part of me transmogrifies into something ugly and grotesque, just like this tree.

Yet, God, in His everlasting gift of forgiveness, still sees beauty in me. Enough to call me His own.

Even though I have transmogrified many times in my life, I can still be transformed by His saving grace. And for that I am thankful.

“The extent of God’s grace always eclipses the extent of my grotesqueness. Therefore, I can never be bad enough for God to tell me that He’s had enough.” ~ Craig D. Lounsbrough


Locally happy


A local restaurant/golf course

It’s over a month away and it falls on a day after Thanksgiving.

No, I’m not talking about Black Friday. That event is just not my thing. Too crowded and too crazy for me. I’m not referring to Cyber Monday either although I have taken advantage of the online savings you can find on that day.

No, I’m thinking about a day sandwiched in between those two – Saturday. A few years ago, a movement began to categorize the Saturday after Thanksgiving as “Small Business Saturday.” The idea was to visit actual brick and mortar businesses and shop there, helping your local business owners and local economy.

And that’s the key to my thoughts this week – local. It just so happens to have been the theme of a weekly photo challenge as well.  What photo could I capture that expresses the theme “local?” Several ideas came to mind.

Here at Mama’s Empty Nest, we live in a rural area a few miles outside of our small town. There are plenty of photo ops in town with the beautiful river that flows through and the lovely waterfront park alongside it. We have a picturesque bridge over the river with hillsides on either side full of trees changing their summer clothes of green leaves for their glorious, colorful fall ones.

Or maybe I should just wander down one of our many country roads and snap away at the local views I find – in the woods, alongside a clear stream, a vista of farmers’ fields.  There’s always something worthwhile to photograph.

But then, I started thinking about local in terms of what our mostly rural area offers as far as businesses go. We have our fair share of big chain stores and restaurants just like the rest of the country, that’s for sure.  And downtown in our little burg isn’t quite the same as it used to be when I was younger and it was the place to shop. Many of the locally owned stores have closed but there are still enough around to enable us to support our own community.

From local pizza shops and restaurants to gift stores to florists to appliance stores to newsstands, we have a number of local options in our area without having to drive to the city or the suburbs.  And a sweet gal I know and her friend just opened a new shop which features items from local artisans that I want to visit soon.

So when Saturday, November 26 rolls around on the calendar, you may find me supporting our local businesses to shop and/or eat instead of following the masses by driving to the mall down the highway to shop or dine at big chain restaurants.

You see, running with the crowd doesn’t make me happy. It usually just stresses me out. And I’m pretty certain I can find a little happiness right here in my little town.

“You can’t buy happiness but you can buy local and that’s kind of the same.”~ Unknown