An a-maze-ing weekend


The corn maze

Forty years together in the dance of life. That’s what Papa and I recently celebrated when we marked our wedding anniversary at the beginning of this autumn-filled month.

My favorite season is fall, when deciduous trees boast of their brilliant jackets of red, gold, and orange leaves, and I was pleased that the timing was right for an autumn wedding all those years ago.

This past weekend, our grown children, their spouses, and our two sweet grandgirls were all here in Mama’s Empty Nest to help us mark the occasion of Papa’s and my anniversary.  Our home was bursting with noise, laughter, hugging, storytelling, playing with the little ones, and even cuddling with Barley, our son and daughter-in-law’s dog.

Papa cooked a big breakfast for everyone Saturday morning and then we all jaunted off to a nearby farm where there was a pumpkin patch festival.  For the littlest one, at 10 months, this was her first time in the pumpkin patch and for our 2 ½ year old, it was most exciting.

The afternoon proved to be one of those glorious sunny fall days, a trifle warm but still comfortable. After visiting the farm animals and climbing on the huge hay bale pile, we all climbed aboard a large wagon pulled by a farm tractor for a hay ride out to the pumpkin patch.

Yesterday, I posted a photo of the lovely countryside where we were. All around us were farmland, rolling hills, and trees beginning to burst forth in their autumn colors. We picked our pumpkins and posed for tons of photos to satisfy both this Mama and all of our kids’ social media platforms.

Before taking a return hay ride back to the farm, some of us headed to the corn maze – a labyrinth path cut into the cornfield.  While riding back on the hay wagon,  I sat on that somewhat uncomfortable bale of straw and just gazed at my loved ones.

All of them. In one place. With me.

Once again, I was amazed at how blessed I truly am to have such a loving family. What did I do to deserve such happiness? Nothing. I don’t really deserve it. Each one of my family members is a gift from God to me. And I continue to be thankful for my bountiful blessings.

We spent the entire afternoon at the pumpkin festival watching Little One get a happy pumpkin face painted on her cheek, playing games, cavorting in the corn pit (a large area with dried, shelled corn to play in), climbing up stacks of hay bales with her much loved uncles and over and over again slipping down the sliding ‘boards’ fashioned there.

We cheered for those of us who attempted corn shooting – a air-compression chute that shot ears of corn at bales of hay targets in the distance -and again when even Little One was brave enough to try.

We laughed at the pumpkin launching, via slingshot style devices, when the pumpkins landed in the pond rather than over the pond to hit the targets. All the while Littlest One watched and smiled and laughed, not wanting to miss anything by taking a nap.

Afterwards, we returned home and Papa and I received a thoughtful anniversary card and gift from our grown children that made me cry.

But just like those infomercials on TV, that’s not all!

We conversed over a good food with a delicious family dinner at a nearby restaurant and our youngest, our son, surprised us with some serious questions about Papa’s and my 40 years together. Inquiries like how did we know we were the ones for each other, what was our happiest moment in our marriage, and what was the hardest.

Much laughter and even some tears ensued as we answered the questions thoughtfully. I wholeheartedly agreed with Papa’s answer to “what advice can you give for us about how to make our marriage last?” 

Papa immediately replied, “Just always remember there are three of you in your marriage – God and the two of you.” I nodded and added, “And always put God first.”

For the rest of the evening, we gathered again at home and just enjoyed each other’s company.  We heard about oldest daughter and son-in-law’s recent trip to Peru and viewed some of their photos before heading to bed.

Sunday morning found us all together to worship our Lord in the same little country church where Papa and I committed ourselves to each other those 40 years ago one lovely autumn day.  All too soon, it was time for some to leave, to say our farewells once more until the next time, to send them off to their lives elsewhere with well wishes and prayers for safe travels.

And even midst the tears that I choked back while saying goodbye to them, I felt a blanket of happiness encircling me with the warmth of gratefulness and love as I recalled the maze of life I’ve traveled to get to this point.

It truly has been a-maze-ing.

“Happiness, that grand mistress of the ceremonies in the dance of life, impels us through all its mazes and meanderings, but leads none of us by the same route.”  ~ Charles Caleb Colton


Still longing


With my new dolly in 1957

(A note from Mama:  I’m reblogging this post I wrote in December 2013, so for my long-time readers, if it sounds familiar, it is.   I find that I’m still longing for that old fashioned Christmas.  Maybe you are too.)

Maybe it’s just my middle age.  Maybe it’s the empty nest thing.  Or maybe it’s just that I have more time on my hands to spend reflecting on the past.  Whatever it is, I find myself singing the words to an old Frank Sinatra Christmas song.

“Give me an old fashioned Christmas, an old fashioned Christmas,

 Family faces, wide open spaces, covered with snow.”

This Christmas here at Mama’s Empty Nest there will be family faces.  And wide open spaces at our country home for certain.  Right now those spaces are covered with snow and hopefully we won’t just be dreaming of a white Christmas.

In my heart,  I’m longing for an old fashioned Christmas – one with less hurry and scurry.  One with deeper meaning.  One with a simpler celebration.  And I’m determined to accomplish it.  Oh, my Christmas to-do list bounces around my brain but I’m simplifying it.  I’m not scouring Pinterest for decorating ideas or cookie recipes or fancy Christmas dinner menus.

I’m sticking to the basics but even abbreviating those.  Christmas cards are signed, sealed, and delivered but this year I opted for fewer cards and a shorter Christmas note.  Decorating our home is completed but not all of the décor, just some favorites, made it out of the storage boxes.  The oven will fire up for some cookie baking but not the usual marathon, just two or three kinds instead of a huge assortment.  Simple meal preparation will follow suit.

Downsizing for a simple Christmas almost doesn’t make sense though.  This year is different than Christmases past when I squeezed in all of the preparations and scarcely had enough time to do it all.  I have more free time on my hands than usual and you would think that would entice me to really do Christmas up big.  Fancy.  Over the top.  One to remember.

But then I recall Christmas as a child.   Do I remember anything fancy?    Do exquisitely wrapped packages with expensive gifts inside come to my mind?  Fine cuisine?  A beautiful and elaborately decorated home?  Do I recollect an over the top celebration?

What I remember from childhood Christmases are simple aspects.  My father would usually bring the Christmas tree home with him one day after work.  Sometimes that wouldn’t be until shortly before Christmas and one year I remember actually decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.

After my older sisters married, they spent Christmas Eve with their in-law families so that meant my parents and I usually attended candle-light service at church to welcome the Christ child.  Before the service, my father would drive us around our area to see neighbors’ homes Christmas light displays and we would ooh and aah over those that glowed the brightest.

No fireplace existed at my childhood home, but I still hung up my stocking over the knob of the front door.  I would be so excited for Christmas morning that I could barely sleep.  When Christmas Day arrived, my stocking bulged full of goodies although not with toys, gadgets, and gizmos.  

Dumping it out, I would discover a huge juicy orange, a shiny red apple, mixed nuts in their shells, candy canes, and other Christmas candy.  And I would be delighted with the yummy treats even though they were practically the same every year.  Nestled beneath the Christmas tree, I’d find one or two specially requested simple toys – a doll, a game, or one exciting year, a beautiful blue bicycle –  just for me. 

That afternoon brought our entire family gathered together and crowded into the living room around a simple Scotch pine real tree covered in old-fashioned strings of lights with colored bulbs, metallic icicles, and the same ornaments year after year.  It wasn’t a fancy themed tree; instead a hodge-podge collection adorned that prickly-needled fir which filled the air with the pungent scent of pine.

We exchanged gifts – real honest to goodness gifts that were purchased with thoughtfulness and consideration instead of gift cards or envelopes of money.  And we laughed, and we exclaimed over our wonderful presents, and we thanked one another with smiles and hearty hugs.

My mother prepared a simple but abundant and appetizing meal displayed on the dining room table – no fancy recipes, no exquisite table centerpieces/decorations to make it look like a photo spread from a magazine.  And we bowed our heads thanking God for the most precious gift of all – His Son Jesus Christ – and for our provision of food and family.

After dinner, one of us occupied the bench at our upright piano to plunk out Christmas carols while the rest of us sang the well-known tunes over and over again.  We’d eat dessert and commence a few rousing rounds of cards or games or sometimes just putting a new jigsaw puzzle together.

A simple Christmas.  Not photo worthy because of the food, the glitz, the gifts, or the amount of money spent.   A Christmas worth remembering because of love, gratitude, and joy felt and appreciated when a family assembles to celebrate.

That’s my idea of an old-fashioned Christmas and that’s what I’m hoping for this Christmas.

“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.”  ~ Bob Hope


Who’s coming for Sunday dinner?

blogfamily dinner 82

A family dinner in 1982

Over three years have passed.  Maybe that’s why it seemed so special this time.  Maybe as I’ve aged, these occurrences mean so much more to me.  Or maybe I just miss days gone by.

What many people take for granted, I do not.  My husband and I live in a rural area.  It was our choice to escape from the suburbs, move back to our home state from the other side of the country,  and live a quiet life in the countryside over 15 years ago and we haven’t looked back once with regret.  

When we do venture into our nearby big city or drive through the ‘burbs, we look at each other and simultaneously announce, “I don’t miss this one bit!”

So yes, we are content with our pastoral life here near my hometown.  There’s only one aspect that tends to make me blue.  Sunday family dinners.

Folks here in our neck of the woods have lived here most, if not all, of their lives.  Their families from grandparents to parents to children to grandchildren and even great-grandchildren all live in the same area.  Regularly, they gather for family times – summer picnics, life celebrations, and Sunday after church dinners.

I must admit I’m a bit envious that my husband and I are not as blessed as they are to have all of their clan nearby.  We lived far away from our relatives for over 20 years so family celebrations when everyone could be together were limited.  Our own three grown children and their spouses all live in three different states from ours now, so family dinners with everyone in attendance have become a rarity rather than the norm.

Our extended family is not that extended.  We are small in numbers.  Mom was an only child, so no aunts, uncles, or cousins on that side of the family.  Dad was the youngest of six and the last of his family to pass away at 90.  So aunts, uncles, and almost all of the cousins from the other half of my family are also deceased.

Likewise, husband’s relatives including his parents and all of his aunts and uncles passed away years ago, and cousins are scattered in areas far away.   We both are the youngest of three siblings.  It’s been many years since we’ve seen hubby’s older brothers because one brother and his family live in the Southwest while the other brother’s home is also quite a distance away from us.  

Much the same, my oldest sister and her family reside out west and although we talk often by phone, distance prevents us from seeing each other often.  We do manage to spend some family time with my other sister and brother-in-law, who live in our area, and occasionally with their grown son, daughter-in-law, and little one.   

But Sunday after church dinners or any family dinners for that matter prove scarce and few between.  That’s why last Sunday was so very special for me.  My sis and brother-in-law, who haven’t been “home” for over three years for a visit, packed up their RV and traveled back to spend some time here.

And after church one Sunday, hubby and I hosted a family dinner for my two sisters and brothers-in-law.  We feasted on just a simple meal:  grilled steak, baked potatoes, tossed salad, and hot rolls.  There were only six of us, but when we gathered around the kitchen table, my grateful meter soared.

It reminded me of all the times we congregated as a family around my parents’ kitchen table and how much I took those times for granted.  While some folks may consider times like that a normal occurrence, I realized they are such a precious gift.   A gift to be cherished and remembered.  A gift that we may not enjoy again for some time….or ever again.

Henry Ward Beecher said, “A world without Sunday is like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden.  It is the joyous day of the whole week.”

For me, Sunday becomes even more joyous when I’m surrounded by family, so I will appreciate each opportunity even if it only comes once every three years.