Sunday, June 30, 2013

Family Vacation 2013


I have a faraway friend who's an everyday friend. We're perpetually mid-conversation, always caught up. We call one another with a question, with a sentence, with five minutes of words on the way to somewhere just around the bend, down the road a bit; it's okay. It's all good. I talk to her while I eat my sandwich, brush my teeth, bathe my kids and yell at them. I call her when I need to cry or cuss or brainstorm or vent. I know her number forwards and backwards like a top-secret code, like an oft-used, access code to acceptance.

She'll love me no matter what.

I don't know how to explain the gift part, the miracle part, of our relationship...which is most of it. Time (almost twenty-one years) has a lot to do with it. But I can offer: face time accentuates it, and this element in particular requires ingenuity, sacrifice and--where rubber meets the road--work, which is alright because work isn't drudgery, always.

In recent years, it's been less complicated for my friend to travel, and she's done most of it. Jim had an extra week of time this year, though (unused paternity leave), so we decided to pack up and drive a minimum of twenty-seven hours to visit my friend. As you probably already know from reading here, Jim and I have a thirteen year-old, a four year-old, a two year-old, and a seven-month old. We also have limited, financial resources.

To follow: the story of our action-packed trip (six states, eight days) and how our family of six made it for approximately $1300...or $800, depending upon how one looks at it. I'll elaborate more, later.


Brandee's and Jim's Travel Trips
A wise man once said: he who fails to plan, plans to fail. I'll admit readily that, by nature, I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. It's expensive and wasteful to be that way. In the months and weeks before leaving on our trip, Jim and I planned carefully. For example, before leaving:

  • Jim reserved rooms at hotels that 1) offer free breakfasts and managers' receptions and 2) have refrigerators and stoves in the rooms.
  • We decided to eat lunches and dinners primarily from our cooler and inside our hotel rooms. We shopped our local grocery store for food and drinks to take with us.
  • We bought lots of snacks, coloring and sticker books, etc. from the Dollar Tree.
  • I spent hours scouring the Internet for free and/or cheap activities in the areas we were visiting. 
  • Jim purchased a Groupon for one activity.
  • I prayed earnestly about every aspect of our trip.

Friday, June 21, 2013

First Recital

Having never danced myself, or even watched a dance recital, I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, the other mommies did; they collected money for pizza and chicken nuggets; encouraged everyone to contribute for a snack table; and brought coloring books and crayons.

The little kids (to include Baby Chip) and I spent more than three hours at the high school for dress rehearsal, Friday night, and more than four hours for the recital, Saturday night. This sounds much worse than it actually was, and how often can a person say that? But honestly, I found "picture night" much more stressful because of the quick costume changes, also because of Chip's uncharacteristic fussiness. (He behaved himself perfectly for the girls' big weekend.)

My parents drove up from East Tennessee for the recital, and Jim and Cade were in the audience, of course, as well as Andrea and Barry, our friend Jymmi, and the girls' Sunday school teacher Beth. Everyone lasted until the end and loved on the girls; how blessed are our little ones? Andrea and Barry came back to the log cabin with dinner down to the apple pie; how blessed am I?

I don't know, yet, whether the girls will continue with dance, but I couldn't be happier with their (our) first experience with it. I love that even two-year-old Charleigh was given the weekly opportunity to follow directions from Miss Teresa. I was reading this post, earlier, and Charleigh really did come a long way. Both girls did.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Listening to Silence

When our marriage counselor Adam recommended a process of communication called reflective listening, I was raring to go. Confident, too, because--if I had a Native American name--it would be The Communicator. I know how to listen to other people: sure nuff do. No problem.

I didn't realize I'd need to listen to silence. Nor did I realize: I don't know how to listen to silence, and doing it hurts me. Just being asked to do it hurts me.

The first time my husband Jim called a time-out, I disregarded it. He hadn't followed the reflective-listening process up to that point, after all, and didn't seem particularly inclined to follow it after. So...what? He thought he could just call a random time-out? I felt sure Adam would back me up.

But Adam didn't. "You need to respect the time-out," he told me, "even if Jim doesn't follow the rest of the process. By the way," Adam asked, "when have you called a time-out?"

"I've never called a time-out," I offered smugly.

"That's a problem," he said.

The second time Jim called a time-out, I stopped talking but cried hot, quiet tears. The third time, I protested: "But I don't want to take a time-out! Why are you time-outing me? I'm completely calm!" But Jim was upset. My disregard did nothing to help.

"It hurts when he calls a time-out," I complained to Adam, later. "I feel silenced and just so angry about it."

"Push past the hurt and anger," Adam said, "and try to figure out what scares you about time-out. Then you'll be getting somewhere."

A thousand light bulbs went off in my head as I considered:

  • I fear the issue will go unresolved.
  • I fear my perspective will go unheard.
  • I fear my feelings will go unacknowledged.
  • I fear the relationship will be permanently damaged.
  • I fear, ultimately, that I will have to "get over it" by myself.

And, in all fairness (or unfairness, depending upon how you look at it), life has taught me: these are legitimate concerns. Now that I've named them, I need to learn to trust my husband with them. I need to give him the opportunity (also the space and time he needs) to prove my concerns unnecessary.

So this is my word to my own, beloved man: I aim to do it, to trust you. I choose, right this very minute, to see the cup of our marriage as half full, and I plan to watch it run over, in good time. I intend to watch sparks fly out the top of that cup, My Darling, and light you up. You're my person. All the magic has always been--and will always be--right where you are.

**My sincere thanks to my friend Connie Kottmann, who provided the artwork that inspired this post.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Mystery

"I used to be a member of a church, too," she said, "and I never could quite understand about the Trinity. I accepted it as a mystery, but it didn't make sense to me." She seemed relieved that--while she still very much believes in Jesus and the Holy Spirit--no one asks her, now, to consider them equal to God the Father.

She's traded in one mystery for another; now, she doesn't know where she'll spend eternity. Her friend explained: they don't believe the decision's been made, yet. "But what if you die, today?" I asked.

"I like to think I'm in Jehovah's favor, today," the friend answered.

And I won't speculate about whom has or hasn't found the truth. I admire the confidence, persistence, and scholarship of my friends. They have more answers than I. Just: I won't trade my sense of security in Christ for all the answers in the world.

Because, in the end, what matters more than: "Even though you're imperfect, I love you beyond condition?"

I'm learning to live with lesser mysteries, to--as Rainer Marie Rilke suggests--"love the questions." I'm prepared to explain my sense of hope (I Peter 3:15) but realize, at the same time: I'm seeing through a glass, darkly (I Corinthians 13:12). I know that I know nothing (including whether or not Socrates actually said the same), or at least that I know far, far less than what I don't.

Any hope I have, any peace, any anything: it stems from and rests in Christ Jesus. I'm trusting God to reveal His truths to me as I'm prepared to handle them (i.e., I'm trusting Him to inform me a little at a time so my head won't pop clean off).

And, you know, thanks to marriage counseling, I've remembered: mystery can be a beautiful thing. As a very young woman, I thought loving someone meant sharing everything; now I know: if a person expects to keep a relationship (s)he best learn to hold that tongue, pick battles carefully, and work through as much as possible in his or her own head and heart.

Because, in the end, what matters more than: "Even though you're imperfect, I love you beyond condition?"

Friday, June 14, 2013


She pulls into the parking lot just minutes after I do, and more than any other, this is our place and the one that's transformed me into a lover of summer. Two summers ago, we very nearly lived here, and I grieved, come Labor Day; I knew what I didn't know, I think: all the coldness and darkness just ahead, and I refer not to anything innately wintry.

2011, Photo by Rachel Huff

2011, Photo by Rachel Huff

Last summer was, hands-down, hardest of my life. I tried to love the lake; I did. I tried to love the lake, the Lord, everyone He's given me to love. I failed often. I could get my heart to neither thaw nor brighten. She loved me, anyway, and I don't mean just a little bit.

2012, Photo by Rachel Huff

2012, Photo by Rachel Huff

So here we are again, another trip 'round the sun, another child among us. He splashes and kicks like Charleigh did two summers ago. Until naptime. My friend offers up her lawn chair: unfolds it flat, parks it in the shade of the lifeguard's stand. 

2013, Photo by Rachel Huff

She had a hard winter, and she's had a hard spring. I look at her shining in the sunlight and think how she's so much stronger than I.

She's waiting for someone, and it's an aggressive wait. I've learned by now: close as she and I are, hard as I pray on her behalf, and even much as I've suffered, myself, I'll never fully understand. Because that's the thing about our hearts: no one (neither our men nor our own mothers) understands them completely save the One who sets them a-beating.

Don't be confused: every mother-to-be enters that waiting place by herself surely as she labors and delivers by herself. It's an awesome thing to witness when you have an idea what you're seeing. My friend is fierce; anyone who thinks her mild-mannered has no clue who she is.

I don't half know who she is, myself, but I have a clue, and she's single-minded and stealthy as a leopard. I pray she'll mess up our summer, next, with a new baby; I'll call that child Lake no matter her real name.

2013, Photo by Rachel Huff

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Clark's Eliok Farm (The Enchanted Forest)

I remember being a little girl with a key in a nursery-rhyme or fairy-tale park. I inserted the key into boxes that played audio recordings of rhymes or stories related to the characters or structures in question.

Neither my parents nor my aunt can tell me where I was. I've searched extensively on the Internet, and, to this day, there are fairy-tale parks in Oakland and Sacramento with this feature. We lived in California for a summer when I was five, but in Fresno; I doubt our parents would've driven three hours to take us to a fairy-tale park.

If you know of a defunct fairy-tale or nursery-rhyme park on the east coast (especially Pennsylvania or Maryland) that had keys and story boxes in the late 70's or early 80's, please do share. 

Last weekend, Jim, Erin Quigley, and I took the children to Clark's Eliok Farm in Ellicott City, Maryland, which houses many of the characters and structures from the Enchanted Forest. They didn't trigger any childhood memories, but I loved them. Virginia's Mark Cline (my very own hero) helped restore Humpty Dumpty and Willie the Whale. (To see a photo of Willie the Whale, Happygirl, and me, click here.)

I'm a sucker for a giant pumpkin, especially. And a giant shoe! I love a giant shoe! 

This shoe has a slide inside...

Jim liked Toots the Tugboat best; he really was on the water: Here's a photo of Cade looking out Toots's eye:

Lots of vintage structures, lots of vintage characters:

Mother Goose (w/ a slide) is vintage, not EEQ, who's still a spring chick.

Dioramas (my favorite was Sleeping Beauty):

Wooden cut-outs:

Barrel-car rides, hayrides, horse rides (for small, additional fees)...oh, my:

We visited Clark's Eliok Farm for over four hours and didn't even mine for gems or check out the maze. I'll definitely return before the little kids outgrow this sort of fun, especially given the inexpensive admission ($5/person) and our open invitation to stay at Hotel Quigley. I was enchanted, for sure.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

On Being Small

I've never in my life had a thought that wasn't filtered, first, through a feeling or three. It grows tiresome at times, the feeling. The sensitivity.

I mean to say: I grow tired of myself. I hesitate to talk about the things that cause my pain; instead, I pretend they're not real. And, to be fair, I don't always know exactly what's real: is it as good (or bad) as I think? Better? Worse?

When I ask my daughters to play a board game, they choose the one with the fairies. When I ask them to choose a book, they bring the tattered red one with nursery rhymes. Together, we sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." My favorite part is this:

Then the traveller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

And I wonder: when did I decide it's not ok, magical even, to be quiet and little? Why do I sometimes think I've failed because I'm not a big star? I decide to concentrate on generating a tiny spark. Just a tiny one, in my own, Brandee way.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Weekend in Annapolis

Jim worked in Florida a big chunk of last week, and we missed him like crazy. Our daddy's girl Clementine cried real tears for him over the course of a couple under-the-weather days (under-the-weather, possibly, from two immunizations: the last she'll need until sixth grade). Rachel and Zach slumbered over with us one night, and Rachel helped get my minivan to and from the garage for a messed up motor mount.

I'd determined that the van had to be fixed by the weekend and didn't want to take any chances in waiting until Jim came home to put it in the garage. And good thing because he didn't get home until 11 pm Thursday, and we both needed a vehicle early Friday: he not for work, as one might expect, but for a trip to the doctor and lab for what turned out to be kidney stones.*

Jim's pain was pretty manageable, and he never once suggested we cancel our weekend plans, so Friday evening, we took off for Erin Quigley's house in Annapolis. Cade was reunited, there, with Sidda, whom Erin adopted almost two years ago after the dreadful flea incident.

I have a separate (and long-overdue) post to write about Erin Quigley, but the brilliant thing about giving a cat to a friend of twenty years is that one can always visit and love on the cat, again.

If you've been reading here for any amount of time, you know I have a thing for fairy-tale parks, so Saturday, the family, Erin, and I visited Clark's Eliok Farm in Ellicott City, Maryland, which features many of the characters and structures from the Enchanted Forest. I have a separate post to write about that, too, but guess who met up with us there? Happygirl! She really is happy, as it turns out, and we enjoyed her company.

(Cute photo of Happygirl, not such a cute photo of me, but it was sweltering. I'm not even kidding. Look at poor Charleigh.)

Erin treated the family and me to a feast of Maryland Blue Crabs on her back deck, Saturday night. Oh, my mercy.

I grew up eating these bad boys, and I've proudly raised an enthusiast in Cade. The girls got into the action, Saturday night, and--would you believe it?--Baby Chip ate his belly full.**

After the girls went to bed, the rest of us watched Beasts of the Southern Wild. What a strange movie, and not at all what I expected. I felt a little let down given its reviews and awards, but that little Quvenzhané Wallis can sure nuff act.

Sunday morning, we went to the bay (at Sandy Hook State Park) for a little while before showering and heading home. It was, all and all, a lovely weekend.

Red-headed Wonders Erin Quigley and Charleigh

*Jim hasn't been in pain since Saturday morning, and the urologist with whom he met, yesterday, isn't planning any sort of treatment for now. Jim still has one stone.

**Times have changed regarding baby food. With the one exception of honey, our pediatrician says to feed Baby Chip whatever we're eating. It does need to be soft and smaller around than the tip of my pinkie so Chip won't choke, but our pediatrician recommends yogurt (a probiotic) and seafood especially highly: says seafood's good for the brain. I figure--as much crab as Chip ate Saturday night--he's gonna be a freakin' genius.