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

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Not just any road

blogimg_1512-2I’ve always been a fan of New Englander Robert Frost’s poetry.  

A coffee table book, entitled Robert Frost: A Tribute to the Source, rests on our living room book shelf. The book chronicles biographical text about the poet interspersed with Frost poems and photographs depicting rural life to accompany them.  

So when I realized this week’s photo challenge theme was “the road taken,” my mind immediately went to a Frost poem – “The Road Not Taken.”

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Yes, I know. The word not, as in the road not taken, is not in the photo theme, but bear with me and I’ll explain where my mind is going with this one.

The road taken. Most folks stick to the road most traveled. We do it when we want to get from point A to point B quickly. Often we choose to travel the road that everyone else takes because well….everyone else is doing it.

The road taken. But sometimes, especially if we want to be individualists, the road we take is actually the road that everyone else does not take. That path that is less traveled by. The way some might even reject.

The road taken. That thoroughfare – that road taken – might be one that few use for their journey. The one off the beaten trail. See what I mean? The road taken can also become that road not taken, the lane that Frost wrote about in his poem so many years ago.

When two avenues present themselves to us on our journey of life, which one should we choose? The road taken? Do we follow the masses and become just one of the many, a lost face in the crowd blindly following everyone else?  Or do we announce our individuality by braving it alone on an alternate route? That other road taken?

Often when we choose the other road, we are rewarded with sights we’ve never seen before.  Papa and I experience that when traveling by car and we decide to take a less direct route to get where we’re going. We marvel at surprises that pop up along the way and I’ve asked him to stop the car many times so I can jump out and capture a picture.

But other times when we choose that alternative route, it leads us to disappointment and frustration. I’m remembering a day trip Papa and I took last summer when we chose to travel by blue highways and it took us forever to get to our destination and the journey was regretful. 

The road taken. It can be a defining moment in life, that’s for certain.

For me, the road taken is actually the road not taken. I take that road not because I dwell on negativity or because I want to stand out from the crowd, but instead because my choice is one not taken by all, and it is indeed a path that many reject.

The road taken. It’s not an easy one, this road I’ve chosen.  Often it has turns and twists along the way and difficult obstacles to encounter. And many times I have to ask for help to muster through hurdles that impede my way. But this course, this road taken, has led me on my journey of faith in the right direction, keeping me from getting lost along the way, and it has proven to be a steadfast path. 

The road taken. The way I’ve chosen is to follow a Savior whose name is Jesus.  He leads me on the road I’ve taken, and even though that path may be the one less traveled by, in my life it has made all the difference.

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” ~ Lewis Carroll

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

A good match

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He is tall. I am short. He loves seafood. I hate it.

He didn’t wear glasses until the last few years and needs them only for reading.  I’ve worn glasses since I was five years old and need those to make everything blurry clear.

He’s a terrible speller. I always excelled in spelling.  He admits he is not a writer and doesn’t enjoy doing so. I’ve always been a writer and it gives me joy.

He came from a family of brothers. I came from a family of sisters. He had lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins in his extended family.  I had only a handful.

His family vacationed at the Jersey shore every summer. My family took very few vacations and I never saw the ocean until I was a young adult.

He grew up in the city with bricks for a yard and no grass. I grew up in the country with a yard a couple of acres large to play in.

As a youngster, he ran up and down the halls of the Capitol building in our state capital while playing with neighborhood friends.  I rode up and down country roads on a bicycle playing with my neighborhood friends.

He has the patience to read the instruction manuals. I have little patience with them and tend to just wing it until I encounter a problem; then I turn to him and his instruction manuals.

He is usually slow to anger. I often possess a short fuse.

He takes his good old time working on projects. I want to hurry up and get them completed ASAP.

He loves all things historical and pertaining to the military and reads just about every display card in museums. I am more fascinated by the personal touches of history and am not interested in movies, books, or displays about wars or the military. I also am way ahead of him while making our way through museums.

He would love to go on a cruise someday. I am terrified of the concept.

You might say we have enough differences to prove we are not compatible at all. But you would be wrong. Our differences aren’t what define us. Our shared history together makes us who we are. And we are not totally mismatched; we do have several things in common.

We are a married couple who have spent the last 43 years together – dating for three years before marriage and this fall will mark 40 years since we said “I do” in front of family and friends.

We’ve endured separations when Papa was obligated for military duty far away, many moves, job changes, health scares, and difficult circumstances during our time together.

We’ve experienced grief and sadness, but we have shared so much joy and laughter as well. And through it all, we endured together. Ours isn’t a perfect relationship but it is one cemented with commitment, love, and respect for one another.

You might just say we are a good match after all (which happens to be this week’s photo challenge).

“It’s not about having the perfect relationship. It’s about finding someone who matches you and will go through everything without giving up.” ~ Unknown

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

What are the odds?

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Odds were it was a boy but…

We take chances every day. You might say each day of life is a gamble because we never know what is going to happen next. And you never know whether the odds will be in your favor or not.

I’m not a gambling person – I’m probably one of a few people who ever attended a horse race at Churchill Downs in Kentucky but never placed a bet;  I’ve never stepped inside a casino; and I admit I’ve never even bought a lottery ticket – but sometimes I still like to know the chances of something occurring.

Why else would I switch on the weather channel to see what the odds are that it will snow today?  Or rain? Or hit the 100 degree mark? Or temperatures fall below zero?

If something strange happens, I often hear folks remark, “Well, what were the odds of that?” Poll takers are constantly telling us the odds of this or that and often times they are dead wrong.

And when that takes place, we say that surely happened against the odds, which is this week’s photo challenge.

As usually occurs, a photo challenge theme speaks to me not just by a chosen picture but with words as well and I have to chime in my two cents on the topic. What are the odds of that? Usually about 99.9%, I’d say, but don’t bank on it.

So considering this photo theme – against the odds –  several thoughts about how my husband and I have gone against the odds popped up in my convoluted brainwaves.

This year, Papa and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.  With the standard statistic that’s been thrown around for several years telling us about 50% of marriages end in divorce, I’d say our long-standing marriage has endured against the odds.

Perusing the internet, you can find all kinds of interesting stats.  I located this one while thoughts of against the odds were percolating in my head: the majority of American-born adults (56%) have not lived outside their birth state.

Again, Papa and I have gone against the odds because we spent several years living in other states far away from our birth state and our families. And we also may have gone against the odds again when we actually moved back to my hometown after 20 plus years living in different areas of the country. 

Even when we were blessed with our three children, it seems we went against the odds. Our first two babies were girls. What are the odds of having a boy if the previous children are all the same gender? According to some research I found, if you have two girls, your odds of having a boy for your third child drops to 46%. Our little odds breaker, our third child, was a boy.

Taking this one step (and one generation) further, the odds (and research) say that boys outnumber girls at birth. Apparently, hundreds of years of research demonstrates this and the conjecture is that because males have a higher mortality rate than females, this is nature’s way of creating a gender balance.  

Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know but I do know that again Papa and I, against the odds regarding that research,  welcomed our first two grandchildren who were girls not boys.

Whatever the odds, it has taken effort and perseverance to keep marriage and family relationships intact and we continue to strive to do so against the odds

Adding in love, forgiveness, and a whole lot of grace, our faith is often the glue that holds us all together against the odds.

So what is my wish for my readers in writing this post? I could wish as it’s said in the Hunger Games book/movie, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

But instead of wishing on odds, I’d rather bank on the faithfulness and steadfastness of a Savior, who promises to be with us against the odds.

My hope is that, against the odds, you can do the same.

“Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.” ~ Arnold Palmer

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Kicking shadows to the curb

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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

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

The state I’m in

blogIMG_7547I’m in a New York state of mind.

That was my first thought when I read that this week’s Word Press photo challenge theme was ‘state of mind.’ Of course song lyrics to that old Billy Joel song would dance through my brain, it’s how my quirky mind works.

But really. State of mind. Hmmm.

The ancient Greek Plutarch once said, “In words are seen the state of mind and character and disposition of the speaker.”

Truth, right? Our words (and this week even our photos) do declare our character and disposition or nature. I’ve often said that rude and vulgar language shows your true character just as kind and gracious language does.

So do I want to share my state of mind for this challenge in a picture and words as well? Often I’m not sure I want to share publicly the various places my mind goes.

An online dictionary defines state of mind as the “state of a person’s cognitive processes.” Well, my cognitive processes are all over the map.

In one fail swoop, my attitude can change from gracious to sassy.  My perspective can be swayed by circumstances.  My disposition varies from day to day.  My mood often even depends on the view outside my windows – sunny equals good mood; overcast and dreary mirrors my mood.

And no, I’m not bi-polar. I’m just one of those people whose state of mind fluctuates – a lot. That’s the thing, my perspective changes frequently because I generally can see both sides of the coin.  I see your point, but I see his as well.  I sympathize with you, but I see where she’s coming from too.

My state of mind is my way of looking at things.  If I was truly in a “New York state of mind,” I think I’d be continuously moving and busy just like that hustling, bustling famous city. 

But that’s not the case.  It used to be. Back when mama’s empty nest was a full house.  My mindset then stayed in continuous motion.

I recall this vividly because recently I peeked inside some old yearly planners I had stashed away in a closet.  Every day marked some kind of activity, event, or item to remember. 

And most of those daily notations revolved around my growing children: piano, dance, swimming, or gymnastic lessons; soccer, volleyball, track, cross country, basketball, or baseball practices; appointments for doctors, dentists, or haircuts; school events like book fairs, musical concerts, PTA meetings, school carnivals and fundraisers, classroom volunteer days.

Then there was the social aspect of my children’s lives: birthday parties, sleep-overs, play dates.  Scout meetings, day camps, youth group meetings. They were all duly noted in my day timer planners.

In addition to my children’s schedules, my own also proved very full.  Church events, volunteer opportunities, dinner parties, lunches with friends, baby-sitting friends’ children, writing newsletters for church and parent-teacher organizations, church socials, the list continued on and on.

And you know what? It made me tired just reading it all and I honestly wondered how I managed to accomplish everything each and every day with three active children and a traveling salesman husband to boot.

As I’m approaching retirement age – 62 on my next birthday –my way of looking at things, my perspective, yes, my state of mind has changed considerably.

I like this non-New York state of mind I’m in.  Granted with grandbaby in my life, it isn’t always tranquil and quiet here in the empty nest.  Actually, it’s not really empty any more with daughter and grandbaby here. 

But this state of mind is one I can handle in this season of life.  I choose an outlook that’s bright; my approach is to be thankful and content; and my mindset is to stay focused on my faith and trust in my God.

“My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I’m sick or in good health, whether I’m in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am.” ~ Brennan Manning

©2016 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Seasons of life

blogseasonscollageFor the first few years of marriage to the Papa of this empty nest, we lived in the southwestern plains – Oklahoma to be exact.

You know –  “Ooooooooook-la-homa where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain and the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet, when the wind comes right behind the rain.”

Not long after we moved there, we started hearing this saying, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait awhile, it will change.”  I suspect a lot of folks comment that way in several areas of the country, but we did find it to be true of Oklahoma while we lived there.

You never knew when a dust storm might blow in choking you, whether you were indoors or out, or when a whirling tornado might come sweeping down those plains bringing destruction in its wake.  One minute it might be warm or downright hotter than hot and the next, the wind would drive in a cold front.

And even now, all these many years later, I still talk about the weather we experienced when we lived in the Sooner State.  

Weather. It’s a safe topic that people discuss when they can’t think of anything else to say. In my neck of the woods, we’ve been discussing the weather quite a bit lately.  This winter season hasn’t been the norm.  This year, winter fits that category of ‘if you don’t like the weather…’

One week, we might have freezing or below zero temperatures and the next week, that little red line starts soaring up the outside thermometer and registers in the 60’s.  Some weeks, we’ve experienced snowfall; some weeks, rain; some weeks, nothing but sunny skies and spring-like days.

I believe we are truly blessed to experience all four seasons distinctly here in my home state and I am one of those rare souls who actually enjoys winter’s cold and snow. It’s not my most favorite season because autumn claims that spot, but winter definitely usurps summer on my list.

Why all this talk about weather? This week’s photo challenge theme is seasons. And it prompts me to think about how I weather the seasons of my life. 

Seasons come and seasons go and often they just aren’t the same as the year before like we’ve noticed this winter.  And isn’t that all too true in life as well?  Our seasons of life differ from year to year.

Seasons of busyness.  Seasons of rest.  Seasons of joy.  Seasons of sadness.  Seasons of happiness. Seasons of trials. Seasons of tranquility. Seasons of turmoil.

It’s all a part of life.  Some seasons are our favorites.  Some seasons we’d rather forget. But each season – good or bad – molds me into the person that I am. I’m positive I need to be thankful for that and give all my gratitude to the One who helps me through my seasons of life.

“The coming and going of the seasons give us more than the springtimes, summers, autumns, and winters of our lives. It reflects the coming and going of the circumstances of our lives like the glassy surface of a pond that shows our faces radiant with joy or contorted with pain.” ~ Gary Zukav

©2016 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

A thinker next to The Thinker

blogIMG_0864I’m not much of an artsy person although I do love my photography hobby.  But when it comes to fine art, I’m not very knowledgeable.  And when it comes to any kind of artistic talent, I think I was absent when God handed out those gifts.

With this in mind, a couple of weeks ago I agreed to substitute for the art teacher for three days at the private academy where I lend my aid when they need me.  I hoped the high school students wouldn’t expect me to know anything whatsoever about painting as that was the art form they were all working on. 

As it turned out, they knew what they were doing (thank goodness because the only painting I can do is painting the walls of my house), so I needn’t have worried.

Instructions for the younger set (K-8) were simple and easy and we had a good bit of fun working on their art projects (I can do crafts somewhat and I can color up a storm).

So art…not my strong point. But when this week’s photo challenge theme of “life imitates art” arrived in my email inbox, I knew exactly which photo I would choose to demonstrate this theme.

On one of several visits to Louisville, Kentucky, we took the opportunity to view a copy of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker.  Although the original is on display in Paris, this bronze copy was cast in 1903 and donated to the people of Louisville by the Hillman-Hopkins family in 1949.  The Thinker sits on the University of Louisville campus where we visited him.

Rodin originally named this sculpture The Poet because he created it as just one piece in his larger work, The Gates of Hell, which was based on The Divine Comedy by Dante in the 16th century. (Now this I know because my degree is in English Education.) Rodin’s The Poet represented Dante as he composed his famous epic poetry. 

But over time, the sculpture became known as The Thinker and it is usually recognized as a symbol of philosophy and learning.

Our son (who does possess artistic talent) was with us on this trip and he just couldn’t pass up the chance to pose as the thinker next to the actual Thinker.

Life imitating art.

“The earth without art in it is just eh.” ~ quote on the art room bulletin board

©2016 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Saving time in a bottle

blogDSCN8533One thing about time.  We have plenty to say about it.

Time flies. We use that one a lot.

Time heals. We say that to those who have suffered a loss or a broken heart.

It’s about time. We utter that when finally…FINALLY…we encounter a break-through or someone at last understands what we say or do.

Time on my hands.  We think this phrase if we ever get those moments of idleness.

Or maybe we encounter a magical, wonderful event. I had the time of my life.

This week’s photo challenge just happens to be ‘time.’ Say the word and I bet scads of ideas filter through your mind too.  For me, not only do spoken words begin rattling around in my brain but song lyrics as well.

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you.

As soon as I sing through all the lyrics, or at least the ones I remember, to Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle, words to yet another song – “No time left for you, on my way to better things” by The Guess Who – commence playing in my memory bank.

And the songs just go on and on Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper) in several Time Passages (Al Stewart) while I may ask Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is (Chicago).

For the Longest Time (Billy Joel), I may attempt to stop hearing those songs in my head but Time Won’t Let Me (The Outsiders) until I put a halt to the jukebox in my brain and declare Closing Time (Semisonic).

I tend to remember song lyrics better than I can recall what I just did with the book I was reading the other day or whether today is trash collection day or not. 

And realizing that some things just get pushed to the back burner and don’t stick in my memory (unless I write them down) has me contemplating that unlike the Rolling Stones song, Time is On My Side, time really isn’t…on my side that is.

The hands of time continue to click off the seconds, minutes, and hours of our lives.  None of us knows exactly how much time we have left in this life on earth. 

But those of us who have passed the half-century mark, and like me are nearing that age called retirement, know that we need to make the most of the time we have left.

Time to love. Time to share. Time to enjoy family and friends. Time to pray. Time to spend with my Savior. Time to focus on what’s truly important in life.

I can’t turn back time even though Cher might like to sing about that (If I Could Turn Back Time).  I can’t retrieve the past. It’s gone. I can only move forward to the future.

If I could make days last forever
If words could make wishes come true
I’d save every day like a treasure and then
Again, I would spend them with you.

If we could put time in a bottle, what treasures or memories would we place there?

Time is important but what we spend it on is even more imperative because those are the things that make treasures and memories we savor.  My desire is to use my time taking every opportunity to encourage and lift someone up with these words that I write.

How about you? How do you want your time to be remembered?

“Four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, time past, the neglected opportunity.” ~ Arabian proverb

©2016 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com