Holy Night

blogIMG_1525 (2)It’s Christmas Eve. A holy night. The Holy Night.

The holiest of all nights ever in the history of mankind for those of us who call ourselves believers in Jesus Christ.

It’s the night when it seems the stars shine more brightly than any other night.

It’s the night when we sing of angels’ voices declaring the Good News – a Savior is born.

It’s the night when our souls soar with the knowledge that the Messiah arrived in human form as a tiny babe in a lowly place to give us a way to cross an abyss of sin and suffering. A way to come to the Father, God of the universe, Creator of all things.

It’s the night of our Savior’s birth. A night not like any other. Ever.

It’s the night when hope entered this weary world to give us a reason to rejoice. And so we do, all these many centuries later.

We hope. We welcome the Christ Child, Emmanuel, God With Us.

We fall on our knees with thankfulness that God loves us with a depth that we can’t even comprehend. Enough to send us a Savior, His very own Son.

And we sing of this night divine. This holy night. This night when Christ was born.

This night when the prophet Isaiah foretold that a child would be born. And His name would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

I pray that as we celebrate this holy night, you may know the Savior. Jesus Christ. The reason we celebrate this holy night.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” ~ Isaiah 9:6-7

“A little child, a shining star, a stable rude, the door ajar. Yet in that place, so crude, forlorn, the Hope of all the world was born.” ~ anonymous

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Nutcracker memories

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Little One’s fascinated by them too.

Since I was a child, I’ve always loved the classical music of The Nutcracker, written by Tchaikovsky. I mean who doesn’t love the idea of a sugar plum fairy dancing in your head while you listen to that beautiful music?

A long time ago, I started a small collection of different nutcrackers and they almost always adorn someplace in our home at Christmas time. I don’t really recall which one I acquired first, but over the years, I’ve added more. But before the collection became too large, I decided to stop and just keep it small.

Of course, The Nutcracker is a famous ballet, usually performed during the Christmas season and I do have a vague recall of having seen it televised when I was a child in the early 1960’s.

Later, as a married adult I attended a live performance of The Nutcracker danced by a ballet company in the city where we lived at the time.  And as our children came along, I decided that one day we would take them to see the ballet as a holiday treat.

We managed to accomplish that, although our son, who was pretty young at the time, fell asleep and missed more than half of the performance. Still it’s a lovely memory in my mind: the five of us all dressed up in Christmas finery traveling into the city to enjoy a live ballet with a Christmas story line.

Our oldest granddaughter seems to share my fascination with nutcrackers. We’ve read the story to her and she remembered that Nana has a set of nutcrackers that decorate the top of the piano at Christmas time.

While Papa and I were hauling out the holly to set our house ablaze with lights and decorations, Little One was here as it was a baby-sitting day.

“Nana, can I help you get the nutcrackers out?” she asked. Well, I’m a grandmother, a doting one, and even though I probably never allowed my own children at her age to help with the nutcrackers in fear that they would break one, of course, I said, “Sure!”

I found the plastic storage bin where the nutcrackers were located, opened it, and one by one, Little One helped me release them from their protective layers of tissue and bubble wrap. Something needed my attention in the kitchen, so I left our granddaughter in the dining room with the decorations.

Re-entering later, I found myself amused that she had lined them all up mostly by height and was enjoying them. So I left again to do something else.

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“Okay, all of you nutcrackers, line up!”

Soon, I heard a little bit of thumping. I called to her and asked if she was alright. She assured me she was. A few minutes afterward, she sought me and asked me to come into the living room. I was shocked at what I found.

My four-year-old grandchild has an eye for decorating! She had crawled up onto the piano bench and placed the nutcrackers, one by one, in a very nice fashion. She was so proud of her accomplishment that she dragged her mama, when she got back from working, in to see her display.

We all chuckled when she announced that she did it all by herself and “I didn’t even get distracted.”

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Little One’s display — just as good as Nana can do!

Those nutcrackers gave me yet another Christmas memory to cherish. And some day, when she’s just a tad older so she won’t fall asleep, this Nana and Papa will take our granddaughter, dressed in her Christmas finery, to see The Nutcracker ballet in person.

And that will be yet another Christmas memory for her and me, I hope.

“The nutcracker sits under the holiday tree, a guardian of childhood stories. Feed him walnuts and he will crack open a tale.” ~ Vera Nazarian

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Words for Wednesday: The Reason

blogIMG_1523This beautiful stained glass window portrays the story of the birth of Jesus Christ from one visit to another.

The first visit was from an angel telling the virgin Mary she would experience a miraculous birth, the birth of a Savior. The last visit was a couple of years later when Wise Men followed a new and bright star in the sky to visit the Christ Child bringing him gifts.

If you don’t know this amazing story, I hope you can find a Bible to read the narrative. Or you can just search the internet for one of the Biblical accounts. Look up “Luke 1:26 through Luke 2:30.”

My hope is that if you’ve never heard about Jesus, who He is, how He was born, and for what purpose, you will understand the meaning of this photo after you’ve read or heard that passage of Scripture.  It’s why we, who are Christians, celebrate this holiday named Christmas.  

For those of you who know the Nativity Story, may you pause in all your busyness to remember what this season is truly intended for – to commemorate the birth of a Savior, whose name is Jesus Christ, Son of God (His divinity) yet Son of Man (His humanity).

“Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Christmas tree tea

blogIMG_0128O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree, how lovely is your…hodgepodge.

Some folks have beautifully decorated themed Christmas trees. This tree is all decked in white and is covered in angels. Or that tree sports multi-colored lights with all Santa ornaments on it. Or whatever floats your boat – it could be even a nautical or beach themed tree.

But not here at Mama’s Empty Nest. Nope, our tree doesn’t have a theme unless you consider it an eclectic one, a mishmash that doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason. 

Our tree is adorned with ornaments from years ago, from places we’ve visited over our 40-some years of marriage, from gifts we’ve been given, to ornaments just because I liked the look of them.

It’s a miscellaneous assortment of this and that. But I like it because, for the most part, each ornament hanging on our evergreen holds a memory.

Preparing for our family Christmas this year when the nest will be full, I took a moment to stop my frantic pace of decorating and completing my mile-long list of things to do before Christmas to sit and admire our hodgepodge tree. While doing so, I caught a glimpse of an ornament that reminded me of one Christmas season many years ago.

Back in the day when this empty nest mama was a busy mama of school-aged children, I devoted a lot of time volunteering at their public schools. I was room mother (we planned the class parties) for all three of my kids.

I volunteered in their classrooms every week helping students with reading or catching up on their work.  I slaved away at numerous school fundraisers. And I served a few years as PTA (Parent Teacher Association) President and Vice-President.

After my last stint as PTA President, I decided to take a break from all of that activity. Since we worked so closely together, the other PTA mom officers became some very good friends. They didn’t believe me when I said I was hanging up my PTA hat and asked me what I would do with my time instead. I promptly answered, “I’ll have tea parties!”

And so I did. That Christmas, I held a tea party for those same friends in my home. The menu included tiny quiches, petite tea sandwiches, an assortment of small cookies, and oranges cut in half, scooped out, and filled with a berry fruit salad.

I brewed holiday flavors of hot tea – candy cane lane and sugar plum spice – and served them in Christmas tea pots.

Prior to the party, I decorated our dining room table with a red tablecloth, a plaid red and green table runner down the center, and a beautiful live greenery centerpiece with candles. 

At each place setting, I used my Christmas china plates and tea cups along with red and green plaid cloth napkins, bedecked with lacy napkin rings I had fashioned with tiny pine cones and ribbon.

I bought tiny clay pots, spray painted the outside of them gold, tied plaid ribbons around them,  filled them with red and green M&M candies, and placed a chocolate molded candy Christmas tree on a lollipop stick in each of them so they looked like Victorian topiaries. Those were the favors and they added a nice touch to the décor.

I was pleased with the results of my plans and I wish I had thought to take a photo of my Christmas tea party, but alas, no such picture exists. And there was no such thing as Pinterest back then to give me ideas.

All of this came back to my mind from that memory bank in my brain when I noticed the adorable little ornament resembling a tea bag with two little mice enjoying a cup of tea. One of my friends, a guest at my Christmas tea party that day so long ago, gifted me that little treasure. 

When I gaze at it, I remember that lovely time with wonderful friends. It truly makes a delightful Christmas memory. Who would have thought my tree would remind me of a long ago tea party?

That’s why I like my hodgepodge Christmas tree.

“Recipe for a tea party: one cup of love, two pots of tea, and a handful of friends to make the moments sweet.” ~ unknown

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

 

Joy for the cost of a stamp

blogIMG_0112 (2)Perhaps folks just don’t continue this Christmas tradition anymore.

Because we have so many other ways of sending our thoughts and well wishes to others in today’s world thanks to email, text messaging, and social media, I wonder how many people still send Christmas greeting cards.

You know, the good old fashioned cards that you purchase in a box of 20 or 25 complete with a holiday photo on the front and a Merry Christmas greeting inside. Envelopes are furnished along with the cards, but you must sign them personally or have them imprinted.

If you’re anything like I am, some of the folks on your list are far-away friends so I also write a newsy Christmas letter to include with the card.

And then you either hand-address the envelopes or run off address labels on your home printer, seal the envelopes, stick adhesive postage stamps on the front, and deliver them to a nearby mailbox for a postal worker to send them on their merry way.

It sounds like a lot of work, but when you consider the fact that you may be gladdening some one’s heart when they see your card in their home mailbox or that they smile and think of you when they notice your signature, that makes all the work totally worth the time and effort.

And I don’t know about you but I not only love to send Christmas greetings but receive them as well. It’s one of those things that just makes my heart happy.

Every year, I accomplish this task right after Thanksgiving. I usually purchase my cards at a discount the year before, so they are stashed away ready for use.

Then I pull out my well-used, worn and torn, little hard back book (entitled My Christmas List) I’ve kept since the early days of Papa’s and my marriage to keep track of people we send cards to and those we receive from as well. 

But before I do that, I hand write on a separate piece of paper a list of folks to send cards to that year. And I’ve noticed in the last few years that my card list keeps getting shorter.

Because we’ve lived in different areas of the country over our married life, we’ve managed to keep in contact with lots of friends, old neighbors, and church friends from all of those places.

At one time, our Christmas card list numbered almost to 100. But things have changed. Life goes on and then it doesn’t. What do I mean by that? Every year it seems, I must shorten my list not because I want to but because someone on the list is now deceased.

It saddens me to see the number of people who are no longer here on this earth to celebrate Christmas, for us to communicate with at this special time of year. And it makes me sadder still to cross out their names in my little red and white book with Santa’s picture on the front.

And that got me to thinking about folks even older than I am. Their lists are getting shorter every year as well because their family members and long-time friends are now gone. And you know what that means? They are probably not receiving very many greeting cards either.

And chances are they don’t email, text, or use social media.

I think about the loneliness they might be experiencing, especially if their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren don’t live near them. How alone they must feel if most of their loved ones and friends are among the dearly departed.

And then I think how much it would lift their spirits and instill a little joy in their hearts to receive a Christmas greeting in the mail. A real honest-to-goodness card with a cheerful note and a personal signature. How they may smile to know that someone somewhere is thinking about them and cares.

But why stop there? What about our members of the military stationed far away from their families during this holiday season? Or the folks in nursing homes or hospitals? Or even the cranky old fellow who lives alone across the street?

Every one of those human beings is worth so much more than just the cost of a card and a stamp.

Okay, I know I sound like a Hallmark commercial, but honestly, perhaps I need to re-think my card list and add some more names to it. Perhaps you too need to re-think sending Christmas cards this year.

A Christmas card and a postage stamp could make a big difference in the life of someone.

“Sending Christmas cards is a good way to let your friends and family know that you think they’re worth the price of a stamp.” ~ Melanie White

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

Words for Wednesday: dear Santa

blogIMG_0023.jpgA trip to a nearby farm to choose a real Christmas tree for daughter and granddaughter also provided a fun visit to see Santa Claus. And an opportunity to write him a Christmas letter. blogIMG_0053

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blogIMG_0061Our little one truly has been very good this year so I imagine those special wishes she whispered to Santa just might be fulfilled.

“Dear Santa, I hope you and your elves been very busy, because I’ve been very good.” ~ unknown

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

On a silent night

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Silent Night Memorial Chapel, Frankenmuth, MI

As one season ends, another begins. It’s that way in nature and it’s that way in life as well. Autumn is past and I must say farewell to it as we enter into winter.  I must also say farewell to my recent postings about our trip to Michigan.

As I wind up this series while preparing for and anticipating Christmas, I find it serendipitous that my last post highlights a well-known Christmas song, Silent Night.

You probably know the one: Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…

That beloved hymn, originally written in German and titled “Stille Nacht,” was composed by Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr in Austria in 1818. Mohr, a pastor in Oberndorf bei Salzburg had written a poem and was hopeful that his friend Gruber, the church choir master and organist, could set the words to music for Christmas Eve’s midnight mass. 

It is absolutely amazing that this beautiful song was composed in just a few hours and first sung on that same Christmas Eve. However, because of a flood, the church’s organ had been damaged and could not be used.

So instead, Gruber composed the music to be accompanied by guitar. The church, which had its foundation damaged in the flood, was later demolished and when a new church was built, a small memorial chapel was also constructed, the Silent Night Chapel.

Many decades later in 1945, a man named Wally Bronner opened a CHRISTmas Wonderland store in Frankenmuth, Michigan. As his store succeeded and grew, Bronner began importing Christmas ornaments and on a trip to Europe, he visited the Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf, Austria.

An idea became reality for the Christmas store owner. He had reserved space on his many acres site where his store is located for something to thank God for blessing his business. Bronner acquired permission from authorities to build a replica of Austria’s Silent Night Chapel.

Built and dedicated in 1992, Bronner’s memorial chapel stands 56-feet tall and is open for visitors every day during store hours; there is no admission charge to enter the chapel. Inside you may view a lovely altar behind glass and the words to Silent Night are portrayed all around the chapel walls in many different languages.

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Altar inside the replica chapel

Click here to see a video of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland’s Silent Night Memorial Chapel.

It’s a tranquil spot to sit and meditate on the lyrics as the song, both vocal and instrumental versions, plays quietly in the background. Another interesting fact is that every Christmas Eve, carolers gather inside the chapel to sing Silent Night, first in German and then in English.

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Two of the stained glass windows

We found the chapel to be an inspiring place to visit and it definitely reminded us of the real reason why we celebrate Christmas, the purpose for setting aside this time to recall what happened on one silent night over 2000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem.

That silent night became the most miraculous silent night of all time, when the Messiah, the Son of God, was born as a “holy infant so tender and mild” and was named Jesus. 

Bethlehem was just the beginning. I call Jesus Christ’s next appearance, Bethlehem, Act 2. No silent night this time, however. The skies will open, trumpets will blast, and a new kingdom will begin.” ~ Max Lucado

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

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

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

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

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Red flag warning?

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Photo by Redrecords on Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A red flag kind of flared up in my thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com