Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Belated 6th Anniversary Post

Our sixth anniversary came and went without fanfare. He bought me practical items I haven't yet removed from their boxes. I bought him a card I haven't yet signed and made him a promise I haven't yet kept. Joellen had offered to keep the little kids so we could have kid-free dinner, but I asked Jim to drive the little kids and me to Baltimore, instead, to pick up my brother's younger son Boone. Jim didn't hesitate.

My brother had visited for a week in the early part of July; we had Boone for ten days; we had my brother's older son CJ for four. I watched my husband serve all of them with love, and it meant everything. It was for me; I received it all as a gift. ("Jim is well on his way to becoming a saint," my brother said. "My boys needed you this summer," my sister-in-law said, hugging me.)

I'm so deeply thankful to be married to a family man: to have as my very own the guy who helps his mama buy a car. And then another car. He's a fixer, and sometimes I get aggravated by this, his best trait. Just listen to me, I tell him. Don't take it upon yourself, this time; just listen, and tell me you're sorry I'm upset. But don't I look to him for solutions over and over? We all do. He provides everything we need and so much of what we want. He's the dinner fixer, the boo-boo fixer.

We were in East Tennessee a week ago, and I asked him to drive us by the college. We pointed out to his mama the various dorms where we'd lived, the Center for Campus Ministry where we'd met. And then we decided to walk the Greenbelt like we had nineteen years before when we had no money, no kids, just imagination.

Nineteen years ago, Jim stashed a rose in a tree on the Greenbelt. Hours later, he pushed me up against that tree and kissed me, and like magic, when I opened my eyes, he was holding the rose. We tried and failed to find the tree, last week; we barely recognized the park, in general. "Things have a way of changing in nineteen years, Young'uns," his mama said. "But you have your memories."

And I wanted to say to her: yes, but the years are flying by, and we spent so much time apart, and we spend so much time, now, scrapping over the stupidest things. We love each other so desperately, but sometimes I wonder if we'll ever get it right. I love him, my fixer. He makes me wild in every respect: good and bad.

Saturday night, we took the tram to Ober Gatlinburg just as we had on our first date, before he'd presented that rose in the park. This time, we were surrounded by twenty-three others from our small group. I couldn't see a durn thing except people we love, including our four kids. I held the baby with one arm and clung to Jim with the other. He was, as always, steady as a rock.

Three days before, we'd passed the one-year anniversary of our miscarried child's due date. Two days before, we'd passed the one-year anniversary of Jim's gastric bypass. One life lost; one life saved; another trip around the sun. Still standing, still clinging. Six years married.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Berry Pickin'

My brother was between appointments and visiting, July 4th, so we took him blueberry picking with us. I couldn't remember having ever picked blueberries before. He said we had two bushes by the pond when we were kids but teased: he wasn't surprised I don't remember; picking blueberries was probably just one more responsibility he had, growing up, that I didn't. (There may be some truth to this, but at the same time, if my brother ever scrubbed a toilet or tub at our parents', it was only after I'd left for college.)

What I remember very well, I told him, is a particular day of blackberry picking. The five of us (my parents had guardianship of another young man during these years) piled into Dad's brown Jeep and drove deep into the mountains on a dirt road in search of blackberries. We came upon a mighty patch of blackberries and, in no time, filled our buckets and even the console of the Jeep. Still, the bushes were dotted with gobs of ripe berries.

All five of us hated the thought of leaving the berries behind to rot when, instead, Mom could be folding them into bright, delectable cobblers, but what could we do? We were too far from home (or civilization, in general) to leave and return with more containers.

Just then, Dad said enthusiastically: "I have an idea! If B.R. (Thats me!) takes off and lets us fill her bra, we'll be able to take the rest of these berries with us and any others we might find, too!" Of course, my brothers hooted and hollered, and I can assure you that--while I see the humor in the situation, now--I was mortified, as a young teenager.


Whether you have blueberries or blackberries, I recommend baking Christina's Somethin' or Other. (She calls it a cobbler, but it's more like a crisp, in my humble opinion, because it doesn't involve dough.) I doubled her recipe, which made enough to fill one 9x13 dish and one 8x8 dish. I used blueberries/walnuts instead of blackberries/pecans. 

I made a pie, also, using Betsy Groff's recipe for basic pie dough and this recipe, from, for the filling.


The Pie (I didn't photograph the Somethin' or Other!)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Trickle-Down VBS

Too many stories and not enough time, but the one I want to share most involves Vacation Bible School.

 I spent hours trying to find a traditional VBS 1) that wouldn't conflict with family vacation, 2) to which I could drive within thirty minutes, and 3) that would accept three-year-olds. I found exactly two churches that met the criteria and e-mailed, asking each to slip Charleigh (who won't turn three until the end of summer) into its three-year-old class. I explained: she's been potty trained since January, she's extremely verbal, she was mature enough to perform ballet and tap routines in front of a large audience.

The first church turned me down flat, explaining that Charleigh would miss the age cut-off by two months and eleven days. The second, though, agreed to give her a try unless they had a large three-year-old group; would I be willing to wait until the last minute to find out?

It ended up working out, and the girls' teacher was named (I couldn't make this up if I tried!) Mrs. Angel!, but the story doesn't end there. Jim and I were able to make a quick trip to Baltimore, Sunday, and pick up my eight-year-old nephew Boone (who would've otherwise spent the week in a hotel room), and he was able to attend VBS.

Given that Cade was in Boy Scout camp, this week, I had fifteen hours during which only the baby was in my direct care. I was able to have my eyes examined ("Would you like to see the doctor, now?" the receptionist asked. "He had a last minute cancellation.") and shop for much-needed shoes and shorts. I was able to have breakfast with Becky and her chicks. Also, in keeping with the VBS lessons on serving others, I was able to reach out to a couple families who'd been on my heart.


Boone pulls a scrap of red paper from his pocket and hands it to me. It looks like a bead or scroll, as if it's been wrapped around a pencil. I unroll it and read aloud: "Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."

"Do you know what the desire of my heart is, Boone?" I ask. He shakes his head.

"That your dad would be well," I tell him. "Do you think--if I delight in the Lord--He will make your dad well?" Our eyes meet for just an instant.

"Yep!" he says, and shoots me a little grin just before turning away.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Trayvon Martin: Sharing My Heart. Again.

I wasn't pleased with the verdict, yesterday, but I don't think any verdict could've pleased me. Because Trayvon Martin's dead, and that matters.

We traveled to Baltimore, yesterday: five people; all manner of Pampered Chef tools; and a giant, cookie cake. I needed icing and birthday candles to decorate that cake, so Jim stopped at an Aldi in downtown Baltimore. He wanted to know if I felt alright about going inside, and I said something about having worked in the heart of Dallas in the middle of the night.

People don't generally scare me. Maybe they should, but I'd rather err on the side of comfort than on that of fear.

This is the kind of store where every item's still packed in a big, brown box with the rest of its kind, and I don't get that. Why is that? Do they think someone's going to want the whole, brown box full? There's nothing aesthetically pleasing about a space with so many brown boxes, and trust me, no one's confused. Not even the food's confused; it's ready to get in a moving truck and get the h-e-double-matchsticks out of there.

A young, thin black man and I nearly bumped into one another in the aisle. I can't remember who said sorry or excuse me or what, but I looked brightly at him and reached out, brushed his sleeve. "Do you know where the birthday candles are?" I asked, and I thought of Trayvon.

"Birthday candles," he repeated, his tone rich and warm as melty chocolate. "Not sure. You'd think they'd be right here, though." I mmm'd my agreement; kept on studying the brown boxes full of smaller boxes; thought of Trayvon.

There was a woman pushing a baby in a cart. She had two other children with her, besides, and I'd heard her long before I saw her because she'd been screaming at Jabril. She was screaming at him, still, and I'd like to tell you she was threatening to spank his little hiney, but in fact, she was threatening to kick his ass: her expression as hateful as her tone. Jabril must've been accustomed to both because--when I saw him--he was climbing the big, brown boxes and paying her absolutely no nevermind.

He was six or eight, and I thought of Trayvon. I prayed right then and there for Jabril's mama; she looked young and overwhelmed enough to be those things for a very long time.

I asked a worker about the candles and she confirmed: they don't carry them, and what does that mean? Don't people in downtown Baltimore blow out candles on their birthdays? What a sad grocery store to assume its patrons wouldn't purchase candles (just food stuffs out of big, brown boxes), but I responded only with a thank-you and a smile. "You're welcome," she said--calling me Honey or Sug or some such--with her own smile. I thought of Trayvon.

The man in front of the man in front of me punched in the same, wrong pin number three times as I waited patiently in line with my can of vanilla icing. "Is there someone you can call," the cashier asked, "to get the correct pin number?" And then: "Will you come back for your groceries?"

"I'll have to, I guess," he said, scowling from under the brim of his hat. I thought of Trayvon.

"Yes," she said, "but will you?" She was cool as a self-assured cucumber in her cat eye glasses, only about eighteen. She didn't even have paper or plastic: just more brown boxes. I thought of Trayvon.

And it's all I know to do; understand? I'm too tired to preach to anybody. I'm just doing my thing: I'm deciding not to be afraid; making contact with my eyes and fingertips and smile. I'm praying and waiting patiently. I'm thinking of Trayvon because he's dead, and it matters so much.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Family Vacation 2013: West Virginia

We returned home via Ohio instead of Kentucky, and--if we stopped in the Buckeye State, at all--I don't remember it. The older children slept like full-bellied angels, and Jim drove like a man on a mission. I couldn't get comfortable enough to sleep, though, because Baby Chip took my arm hostage. Every time I tried to move it, he cried. I couldn't figure out how to put my head down with his holding my arm that way.

Finally, I told Jim: "Look, I know you would prefer driving the ten hours straight through over stopping, but you have to stop. I can't get comfortable enough to sleep, and--if we're both exhausted, tomorrow--who's going to take care of the kids?"

So we woke up to a beautiful morning in West Virginia. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to experience the drive home from Charleston in the daylight. (I'd actually slept a good stretch of that road a week earlier, on our drive to Lexington.)

Cathedral Falls. I took a photo without people but think the boy helps accentuate the height (60+') of the Falls.

I've heard my share of West Virginia jokes in my lifetime, especially from the people of East Tennessee, who--far as I can tell--believe West Virginians to be even bigger rednecks than they. But I'll tell you the truth: I lived in East Tennessee for eleven years, and I can't tell the difference between a West Virginia accent and an East Tennessee accent. West Virginia--with its coal cars and wild, mountainous, blooming beauty--feels very much like home to me. 

We stopped at a community yard sale, all proceeds to benefit a young widow and her babies, and that, too, felt like home: how everybody knows everybody, how folks come together in times of trouble.

Of course, there is the matter of West Virginia's Mystery Hole. (And of the United States Post Office up in a trailer. But especially of the Mystery Hole.)

Lover of kitsch and tack that I am, I started to think--right then and there--that West Virginia might be the coolest state ever. Y'all know I had to do it; I had to experience the Mystery Hole. It ended up being a bonding experience for Cade and me.

I'd tell you more about it, but the first rule of the Mystery Hole is: you do not talk about the Mystery Hole.

I bought a bobble-head turtle as a souvenir, also a sign that says: 

I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

I told Jimmy: that right there goes to the heart of all our communication problems! I felt very excited, suddenly, to get on home...just so I could duct tape my new sign to the fridge.


Brandee's and Jim's Travel Tips

Take your time getting home, and be open to at least one unplanned adventure.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Family Vacation 2013: Indy, Pt. 3

My life--and the lives of my four children--flashed before my eyes in Indianapolis. I was pushing Chip's umbrella stroller in the parking garage of the Children's Museum--the other three children crowded around me like ducklings--when a gray-haired woman very nearly backed into (over?) us with her car. I screamed bloody murder, and Jim ran bellowing up to the car and--enraged by his own fear--punched its roof with both fists. The woman and what I assume was her granddaughter looked through the passenger-side window to the place where the children and I stood (having passed safely behind the car by mere inches), and I waved sadly at my babies. Here they whole whole very nearly took them from me in a careless instant.

The driver didn't roll down her window or step out of her car; she was probably intimidated, for good reason, by my husband. She honked at us, driving away.

It took some time for me to stop shaking like a leaf. I offer praise to the Lord for our safety.

When I told my mom this story, she got hung up on the age of the woman: "Well, how old was she? Was she my age? Was she older than I am?" Good grief. I don't think of my mom as being gray-haired or a grandmother, even though she's both.

Anyway. Daleen had given us a coupon for the Children's Museum, so two of the children got in for half price. Still, it was the second-most expensive activity of our trip (the most expensive being Jim's and Cade's visit to Enchanted Castle). Totally worth it. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is so amazing that--if I lived in or near Indy, with or without children--I'd almost certainly buy a membership.

All of us (seven months to forty-one years) had a great time. We split up for a little less than an hour so I could take the little kids to watch Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale in the museum's Lilly Theater; otherwise, we stuck together.

Avatar Exhibit

Set of Rapunzel! Rapunzel!

Chip's First Carousel Ride

Charleigh's so random. She hates this sort of thing, normally.

From the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, we traveled to the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indy, where we ate dinner at 3 Sisters Cafe; you may recognize the name from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

 Oh. my. word.

Charleigh with Carly: a banana bear-face pancake

Amazing how long a kid will stay quiet if you give her butter and a butter knife!

Jim's Breakfast Burrito...on a Full-sized Plate

Cade with His D'Nai, as featured on DDD

The Inside of the D'Nai (slow roasted fresh ham with low-country braised kale and pepper jack)

My Green Grilled Turkey (turkey, pesto, avocado, red onion, and swiss on rye)

Of everything he ate on vacation, Jim liked my potato salad best. It was delicious; I'd call it the best garlic overdose I've ever experienced. Like, if there are any vampires around, I'm still all good.


Brandee's and Jim's Travel Tips

1) Coupons: check online, coupon books (from area rest-stops, travel centers and grocery stores), and with area friends for them. Also check with area friends regarding deals to specific attractions. For example, I remember that--a few years ago, when we wanted to visit Hershey Park--Aunt Ellie advised us to buy our tickets from an area grocery store instead of at the park, itself: cheaper.

2) Even if you don't plan to eat out, take the time to research which restaurants you'd like to visit if given the opportunity. I'd done this, but--thanks to rush hour and rain--the kids needed to eat in route, one night. Jim's and my one and only regret from vacation is spending good money (more money, Jim moaned, than we spent at 3 Sisters) on nasty food at a family restaurant somewhere between Chicago and Indy.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Family Vacation 2013: Chicago Land, Pt. 5

The evening before our family's last day in Chicago Land, we ate a chicken dinner prepared lovingly in our friends' apartment and swam in their complex. My little kids were a bit wide-eyed over things commonplace to three-year-old Mira: the elevator, the ample pool and patio; I laughed, thinking about Country Mouse and Town Mouse.

We met up, next day, at Oz Park, which--given that I'm a huge Wizard of Oz fan--was high on my list of things to see in the area. It was well worth the stop. I'm still loving my photos; here's just a small sample.

After eating lunch at Oz Park, we drove the short distance to Lincoln Park Zoo. We stayed until closing time (5 pm), which wasn't much time, at all, in a zoo of that size. We enjoyed watching the sea lions and polar bear, in particular: animals we don't have in our local zoo.


African Wild Dogs

It was thrilling to be just on the other side of the glass from this enormous polar bear and its bone.

Here, we said goodbye to our friends and headed back toward Indianapolis: during rush hour, just as it started to rain. I didn't feel like we had any right to complain, though; Chicago Land and its skies were very good to us.


Brandee's and Jim's Travel Tips

1) Jim and Cade had spent big chunks of the previous two days away from the rest of our family. I think it's worth saying: the point of vacation is for everyone to have a good time. Time together is important but, in my opinion, doesn't need to be constant. We're (obviously) a family of six with a nine-year age gap just between Child #1 and Child #2, and the little kids' and my idea of a good time isn't necessarily across the board. Jim and Cade had hung out with Dave, also visited a place called Enchanted Castle. (Jim had bought a last-minute Groupon.) Jim had also visited a casino (for the first time since Clementine was born) while the rest of us slept and had come back to the hotel room $525 richer. I'm just sharing in an "it is what it is" kind of way. I told him: if he couldn't own it via my blog, he shouldn't have done it. The extra $525 was nice.

2) The zoo pictures reminded me: we didn't use a cargo carrier or luggage rack at all, on our trip, which is to say: we fit six people, a large cooler, two cots, an umbrella stroller, Chip's blue sit-up seat, enough clothing for eight days, etc. in our minivan. Part of our strategy was to use duffle bags instead of (more rigid) suitcases. Jim and Cade had separate duffles for their clothing. I tried something new and packed gallon-sized Ziplocs in the huge duffle I shared with the little kids: each with one outfit per little kid, plus a diaper for Chip. This worked out nicely because I like to color-coordinate somewhat, also because--if I wanted--I could simply grab a Ziploc and an outfit for myself and leave the huge duffle in the minivan. I also took to carrying one Ziploc of clothing in my diaper bag for emergencies. It wasn't a perfect system, but I'll do it (or something like it) again.

After the girls played in the splash section of the zoo, I went to change them and realized that Charleigh had already used her spare pairs of underbritches and shorts. The shorts she's wearing in the last photo are Chip's (size 6 Months): can you believe it?! They're a little hoochie mama on her, but, hey, I'm glad I had them!