Saturday, August 23, 2014

Belated 7th Anniversary Post

Dear Jim,

You were cutting up ham and pineapple for our $5, cheese pizza from Food Lion...only it was a free pizza, as it turns out, because you'd worked your magic, again. We had some manner of tension between us after the big "band booster" meeting, and it was more of the same: how you get on my nerves with your penny-pinching even as I'm so thankful I've never not had gas money.

I squeezed between you and the pizza on the stove because it never fails: if we can bring ourselves to touch, the bad feelings evaporate, and I said, "If you weren't so good-looking, it would so be over, by now." I watched you laugh because that's your line, and I appreciated all over again how you're a whole head taller.

"What happened," I asked, moving to the other side of the bar, "to those days when I could just sort of shake my tail feather and get whatever I wanted?"

"Brandee," you said (and you were wearing your serious face), "what have you ever wanted that you didn't get, eventually?" And when I tried to think of something, I couldn't. Which means there's definitely an adopted baby in our future, Jim?

But seriously.

Thank you for taking such good care of us. I know it hasn't been easy what with my not working outside the home these past six years. I know you've wished a million times that you could just turn the bill-paying over, but you've known that--even if I did my very, very best--I wouldn't see all the ways to save money that you do. Just so you know: I think you're a genius. I think you put Dave Ramsey and Clark Howard to shame.

Thank you for providing everything we need and so much of what we want.

I'm satisfied, and those exact words ran through my mind, early yesterday morning, as I turned my back to your fur and heat and settled down to sleep. Your arm was flung above my head, and I reached out and caught your great hand with its curved fingers. I ran my index finger across your knuckles and down into the valleys between (and back).

And I thought to myself how it's been like that with us: up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down (and back). But maybe the important thing is: through it all, I've never wanted to leave. There's a whole world outside of the up n downs, but I've never been tempted by it. I just keep bumping along, and I guess you do, too. We just keep choosing one another all over again.

Seven years married.

I love you so much.


Thank you, Chuck E. Cheese Machine.

6th Anniversary Post 
5th Anniversary Post

Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Venture

It's time. To learn more, please click the image below (or visit to travel to my brand-new, sister blog.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Repost: A Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear Brandee,

You'll turn 16 in a few, short weeks. Don't do that thing you're on the brink of doing. What a big bunch of hype for a whole lot of totally not worth it.

I get you perfectly, some twenty-two years down the road, and you're putting a truckload of unnecessary pressure on yourself. You know that--by the time Mom was your age--she'd been dating Dad for something like three years. She married him at 17. You're feeling frantic and even a little old. It would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

Sixteen is not old. Take it from me: 33 is a pretty good age to marry, and your body will be capable of growing a baby even at 38. I know, I know: Mom is 37 right now, and the thought of her, pregnant, is unfathomable. But she's more of a hottie and a spring chicken than you realize.

Stop thinking about Mom and her timeline. Stop it. Stop it! I understand why you're doing it (She's amazing!), but stop it. You'll never be her: never, ever. (Do let her teach you to sew, though, and cook...and can food.) You're what happened when two people collided: two! You're at least 50% Carl Shafer and, at the end of the day, wholly yourself. Concern yourself with becoming who you are. Allow your life to unfold in its own way, in its own time.

Because here's the thing: you have perfect instincts. You're headed for the right college. Also, the boys in your life worth loving are the very same ones with whom you never consider intimacy. You tell Mom: you love them too much to risk losing them. You're wiser than you know; you'll love them, still, over two decades from now, and you'll know how to find them. Don't try to date the one because--even though the two of you never cross any lines--that unnecessary history will complicate things down the road.

Your memories with your three boy friends will become some of the ones you'll cherish most. Make more of them. Go to your junior prom with Matthew. Spend even more time riding with Jason. Spend even more time swimming with Mark.

Enjoy more fully your family, your girlfriends (especially Carlena, Sonia, Annie), your church youth group, your high school band. You're getting ready to leave Scott County for good; make the most of what time you have left. Spend more time listening to what James Watson and T.L. Lay have to say. Love on Stacey even harder. Go ahead and track down Hoyle Hutson and tell him you're sorry for acting out in his sixth-grade science class because--by the time you actually feel sorry (having tried and failed to teach a bunch of heathens)--he'll be in the ground.

Or don't change a dad-burned thing.

I'm not going to lie to you: you can save yourself a whole heap of trouble, here. But--even if you don't--it'll all be ok enough, in the end. The Lord will go with you wherever you go, and you'll fall in love with Him one way or the other: even though you'll find Him different than how they teach Him in the little, white church. He lives in your heart, and He's more faithful than you can possibly fathom.

I love you.
Your 38-year-old Self

**I wrote this letter a couple years ago but am reposting in response to the prompt “A Letter to My Younger Self” at The High Calling. You can read other offerings and join in the fun by clicking here.

Little Kids' Vacation 2014, Pt. 8

So. Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster. It doesn't hold a candle to Storybook Land, in my opinion. It's not as well maintained and includes many elements that are 1980's, like, spaceship old (i.e., not quite old enough to be cute). It does have some vintage offerings of a Dutch flavor, but fairy-tale offerings are slim pickin's. I was disappointed to learn that the giant shoe slide was decommissioned just last year.

Walk through and push a button to watch little people inside make candy.

Clockwise from Top L: Little Red School House, Wally the Whale ('63-''67), Old 99 ('74-'02), Swan Boat ('67-'75).

Dutch Wonderland's newest addition: animatronic dinosaurs. I wasn't really into them, or at least, I don't understand why the park didn't use that money to improve its rides and shows.

Having said all that, Dutch Wonderland was the little kids' favorite. Duke's Lagoon beats Storybook Land's splash park by far, and Dutch Wonderland has more than double the rides of Storybook Land.

Chip discovered a PlasmaCarloved it! 

And Dutch Wonderland has roving and performing characters. The girls didn't so much notice that the non-dive shows left something to be desired...because Princess Brooke! In a pink gown!

did appreciate The Adventures of the Frog Prince (the high-dive show we watched) very much. The girls sat in the splash zone, but Jim, Chip, my camera, and I sat above all that madness. I had a hard time getting photos from where we sat (We were under cover of some sort!), but I'm still marveling that no one broke his or her neck diving into that pool. You can watch a video of the frog divers, here, with the highest dive point at 0:22 or so. (I don't think anyone dives from the highest dive point in the video, but at least you can appreciate how very high the highest dive point is!)

Frog Prince Postcard We Bought at Dutch Wonderland

Again, I wouldn't personally choose Dutch Wonderland over Storybook Land, especially given the higher cost of Dutch Wonderland. Still, it's charming in its own way, and we enjoyed our time there. We saved a little bit of money by purchasing 7-Day Advance Tickets. We also took advantage of the Preview Plan and visited the park for three hours the night before our full day.

Before I close, I'm going to stick in a few random photos from the Lancaster area, thereby blogging out the rest of this particular vacation.

Sampled shoo-fly pie, here.

Found this dog statue on the campus of Franklin & Marshall College.

Strasburg, PA: Amos (Hershey Farm Restaurant and Inn) and Barefoot Boy Eats with Pigs (Katie's Kitchen).

And last but not least: The Haines Shoe House in Hellam. This may well be my dream house. I can't say with 100% certainty (It was closed when we drove by, so I didn't get to tour the inside!), but chances are good that--any day of the week and twice on Sunday--I'd trade our log cabin for a giant shoe house.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


My Niece Adalynn Grace at the Beach

I've been second-guessing myself, lately: not just in blogging, but there is that. So much pain in the world, and I don't feel inclined to write at length about any of it. Am I wrong, I wonder, because I don't have much to say regarding the headlines? And in all fairness, I guess any blogger could read between the lines of the blogosphere and allow guilt to rest upon his or her shoulders for not writing about a certain something in a certain way, or for writing about one thing in favor of another.

The post I'd planned to write, next, includes the last photos from our July vacation in Lancaster, but I've hesitated. I've hesitated because every time I think of Lancaster, I think of the Amish, and every time I think of the Amish, I think of the seven- and twelve-year-old girls abducted from their family's farm stand and assaulted sexually. I've wondered if it's appropriate to share the photo of our pretending to be Amish at Dutch Wonderland when, up near Canada, there's a very real Amish couple whose daughters have been violated. Their reality is one of my worst nightmares.

I've wondered, in general, if it's appropriate to share my family's blessedness when there's so much trouble in the world, and I don't know. What I do know is: when I'm feeling depressed by the headlines (as I have, lately), it helps me to take and study photographs of my children. They're safe, right now. They're happy, right now. And who knows for how long? I'm earnestly grateful for our surviving--for our thriving!--thus far.

I'm going to blog out the rest of my summer photos and try not to feel guilty for all we don't suffer. I blog primarily to document for my children, and for them I write: not everyone is so blessed. The list of people for whom I'm praying grows longer and longer even as you laugh, swing, and build fairy houses in our back yard. I love you and hope you will always be so happy and that, somehow, the world will right itself and laugh along with you.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Spontaneous Prayer Meeting for Bloggers

Dear fellow, Christian bloggers:

In 2013, I  hosted seventeen weekly, prayer meetings in this space, and one week, my bloggy bestie Marlece filled in for me. The last two weeks I hosted, readership was incredibly low and no one commented, so without a word, I quit. To my recollection, no one's ever asked me about it. I don't feel badly about quitting (as if I walked away from a calling), but I do feel disappointed that it didn't work, and when I say that I'm not referring to numbers of participants or comments--which, whatever!--but to a spirit of community.

I've made friends in the blogosphere (real friends!), but I don't have the sense that my bloggy friends are friends with one another. Maybe some of them are, but if so, I'm not involved in those friendships. I'm trying to say that I don't feel like an intregal part of a group in the blogosphere, and that makes me feel sad, and sorry.

Do Christian bloggers gather over the Internet to pray? And if so, would someone kindly invite me to those virtual prayer meetings? Because this week's been hard on me, and I feel like my kindred are, at best, scattered (at worst, competitive and divisive). 

I long for us to come together to pray: to stop--for one moment!--directing our words outward and, instead, direct them upward and in one accord. Matthew 18:20 says: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I, in the midst of them" (KJV). I know you believe these words right along with me.

I can't think of a better time to gather and pray. I'm so overwhelmed in my spirit, right now, over the headlines, alone: Israel, Iraq, Syria, Ferguson, the Texas-Mexico border, Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Robin Williams, Ebola. I could keep going and probably should; I've inevitably neglected to list the crisis a precious someone holds most dear.

If you're like me, you feel as though you should be able to speak--if not write!--with intelligence and sensitivity about all of the above people/situations. The pressure feels intense, at times. You don't want to let anyone--the Lord, other people, or yourself!--down.

So I invite you to agree with me in prayer:

Heavenly Father, You have made us so different, and each of us has a special purpose; thank You. We ask You to direct our paths. We pray that You will give us wisdom during this difficult and overwhelming time. Help us to know what to say (or not say), and when. Help us to encourage, not discourage: to help, not hurt. Give us the will to seek Your face continuously; to submit to the leading of Your Spirit; and to work together to fulfill Your purposes. We are so thankful to have You in common and to have gathered in this strange but wonderful way. We love You, Lord, and we thank You for sending Your Son into this broken place to die for us. We know there's nothing we can do to repay You, but give us the desire to draw closer to You all the time so as to better absorb and reflect Your most holy light. In Your name we pray, amen.

Thank you so much for being here with me. Feel free to invite others to come as they will; everyone is welcome! And may God bless and keep each of you during these highly-charged moments.

With love, Brandee

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Death and What Is So Near

Things got a little scary for me, last week, at the lake. The girls are older, now (almost four and almost five-and-a-half), and--although they haven't yet taken swimming lessons--I'd come to trust them within the confines of the roped-in, kiddie area. They know to stand up if their faces get wet, and their legs are long.

Still, I watch them like a hawk.

Last week, they followed a couple older girls to the back side of the rope. I yelled for them; they didn't hear me. "Honey," I said to Cade, "go reel your sisters in a little. They don't need to be out that far." So my gentle darling headed lackadaisically in that direction. When he'd walked about halfway to the girls, I realized: Charleigh was in trouble. She seemed to be bobbing, panicking.

"Hurry!" I yelled to Cade. "Charleigh's in trouble!" So Cade dove, and swam. What neither of us realized until he reached Charleigh was that Clementine was also in trouble. Both girls were in over their head, literally; grabbing onto one another in panic; pulling one another under.

A few minutes later, I sat soothing a shaken Clementine in shallow water, and just that fast, Chip lost his legs. "Get your brother!" I yelled, and Cade lifted Chip out. At that point, I was done; all three of my little children had swallowed lake water. Through it all, the lifeguard hadn't budged. I believe my babies could have drowned, all of them, without his realizing.

I couldn't bring myself to leave the house, next day, but about what are we talking, here? We're talking about a mother whose job is to watch her children play, lakeside. Meanwhile, there are mothers watching terrorists snatch up their babies and lop off their heads. Meanwhile, there are mothers hiding terrified in the mountains: mothers who have no bread and water for their children.


My grandfather came to me once, many years ago, in a dream. He showed me the long, thin contrail behind a jet. "Tell Mary Ellen," he said. "Tell Mary Ellen: it seems like the sky has been divided into two parts, but it hasn't. The line between heaven and earth is just like that. I am much closer than she thinks. Tell Mary Ellen." 

"It was him," I told her, later. "I know it was him because you've never been Mary Ellen to me, only Ellie." She nodded, and I knew she believed me, but she didn't cry. She's been all cried out for a long-assed time.


"You can still talk to your mom. You don't need a phone," I encourage Jim, and I tell him my dreams: the one about Grandad, then the (second) one about his mom. She was pink: wearing a pink sweater, yes, but also awash in pink light. I'd thought her angry with me and this was making her laugh. Her laughter was high-pitched but gentle as a jingle bell, as if she'd never smoked a day in her life. 

"I love you so much," she said, laughing, and when she hugged me with force, I couldn't hear her breathe. "Take care of Jimmy." And she was light: just light as Glinda's bubble in her spirit...not as if she'd merely forgotten for a moment the pains of a lifetime, but as if they'd floated for good from her like some helium balloon, or as if she'd never known them to begin.


Robin Williams, and I don't know how to speak into your pain, or my own except to say that most of us feel it. Remember: anger is rarely the real emotion. What seems callous or ignorant or rude may well be a cover. Even if it's not, it's misguided.

Mr. Williams' light has gone from here; may it burn brightly in another place. May comfort descend. May we remember his tremendous talent with gratitude; it was a gift of his--our!--Maker.


This is what I do. This is what I do, having lost a close friend to leukemia and my mother-in-law to lung cancer, this year. This is what I do when I feel ill-equipped to keep my children alive at the lake: when it seems like death is everywhere (on the road, in the air, at the end of a belt).

I pray, and I teach my children to pray. (Clementine has, for the most part, taken over our praying when the ambulances race past.)

I express love as much as I can, as much as it's true.

I look for beauty. 

I try to appreciate the day: the gift of life, the gifts of my children's lives.

I try to generate a little light right where I am, right in my own community. It only takes a spark, sometimes, to chase away a lot of darkness. A little bit of kindness goes a long way, sometimes.

And I try to remember: heaven is not so far away. I can talk to and about my loved ones there.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Little Kids' Vacation 2014, Pt. 7

As mentioned previously, we have a family membership to the Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which is an ASTC Passport participant. Through the Passport program, we can visit many other science centers and museums for free, and the Lancaster area includes three such museums. We visited all of them because: why not? Free!

We appreciated the Lancaster Science Factory most, by far, for the kids. It's a warehouse-type environment: not beautiful, but very open. Open is so nice when one's eyes are trying to keep up with multiple little people, each flitting from one exhibit to the next.

On a scale of 1-10, I give the Science Factory a 10 in the areas of kid-friendly and hands-on. It warmed my heart to see how many exhibits were age-appropriate even for Chip. He had a ball; all of us did! Jim enjoyed Parachute Launch the most; I left fairly obsessed with Magformers. Oh, and the Science Factory has a giant Spirograph: how fun!

Next, we visited the North Museum of Natural History and Science. This museum is very "old school" in terms of being collection-oriented; it houses enormous collections of rocks and minerals...and stuffed birds. The building itself is located on the campus of Franklin & Marshall College and very much has the feel of an old school, itself. I could tell the museum is trying to incorporate some more contemporary elements, but I have to say I appreciated the traditional ones above all. My children hadn't yet experienced a museum like this: the kind of museum in which you open the drawers of a dichotomous cabinet to view all manner of creepies and crawlies...up to and including a two-headed calf!*

Finally, we visited the National Watch and Clock Museum. This place is swank to the E.

Have you ever heard the expression: "like a bull in a china shop?" Well, Jim and I felt like we had released three such bulls, in the form of little children, into this museum. I'm slightly more accustomed to this feeling than Jim, who broke out in what looked like a cold sweat.

In the (unedited) images below, Chip is performing to the music of what I think was called an organ clock. The antique clock was in a display case, but one could push a button to hear recordings of its music. Chip pushed the button over and over, shook his tail feather, rolled on the floor in delight. Jim was so stressed he had to walk away.

The museum had actually made some efforts in terms of being child-friendly; the older kids could participate in a scavenger hunt and make a few small crafts along the way.

Most of the employees were welcoming, and one gentleman pulled the children aside for a special demonstration. There was a woman giving a tour, though, who got a little snarky with me a couple times: Chip pulled one of his sandals off, and she made a comment about stinky feet (not in a funny/nice way, either). Another time, she made it clear that the children and I were in her way.

Thus, it gave me extra pleasure to have the children whisper and squirm through her entire presentation on what Jim and I agreed to be the museum's most fascinating offering: the enormous Engle clock (11' high, 8' wide, and 3' wide).

Among the Engle clock's mechanical features are two organ movements; forty-eight moving figures (including Jesus; the twelve apostles; the three Marys; Satan; Father Time; the three Ages of Man; Death; Justice; Orpheus; Linus; Revolutionary soldiers; Molly Pitcher; and Stephen Engle, himself); and an Engle-original tellurian illustrating the positions of the moon, constellations, and zodiac as they relate to the rotating earth. The clock also indicates months, days of the week, moon phases, and tides.**

In my opinion, Clementine was almost old enough to visit the National Watch and Clock Museum: the other two little kids, notsomuch. I would like to return, some day, when I can more comfortably take in what the museum has to offer. BUT...I got to see the skeletal figure of Death mark the hour by striking a skinny thigh bone against a skull in the Engle clock, and that made the whole trip worth it.

Now that I've built this post, I think it really demonstrates how great the variety among the science centers and museums on the ASTC Passport list. There was a time that I would've assumed a science museum to be a science museum, but every one is different and worth checking out. Our lives have certainly been enriched by these visits.

*I love Michelle J. Enemark's photos from the North Museum. (She got a great shot of the two-headed calf!) You can view them here.

**Source: "The Eighth Wonder of the World" sign at the National Watch and Clock Museum. I knew I wouldn't be able to remember all that information, so I photographed the sign.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Little Kids' Vacation 2014, Pt. 6

We messed up, at the Chattanooga Choo Choo last year, by choosing a standard room over a train car. So, when I found out about The Red Caboose Motel in Ronks, Pennsylvania, I decided we just had to stay there.

We were assigned the B&O car. I was like: "No way! We got the Body Odor?" (Disrespectful, I know, but I played a lot of Monopoly as a kid, and we referred to B&O only as Body Odor.)

The truth about our train car is that the interior was straight-up 1970s: wood paneling, ratty carpet and blankets, formica table. The floor seemed ready to give way in one spot by our bed, and the ceiling was buckled in the bathroom. Jim asked: "Are you sure you want to stay here for three nights?"

And yes, because the further truth about our train car is that I loved it. It wasn't as nice as Erin's and Dave's train car in Chattanooga, but I found it homey and loved the novelty of the entire motel; thus, Jim and I spent the night of our seventh wedding anniversary holed up in a train car, eating Ramen noodles for dinner and making out while the babies slept nestled in bunk beds.

Jim did buy a Groupon so we could eat in the dining car, one night. I appreciated the dining car and the Reuben sandwich I ate there; I wish I'd taken photos. The dining car is off to the left in the photo, below.

(They'll leave the light on for you.)

The Red Caboose Motel is close to Lancaster and all its attractions but also just across from this:


I photographed the sign, below, on the motel property. It blessed my heart. 

Jim says that, for the money, we can do better than The Red Caboose Motel. But I would totally stay there, again.