Tuesday, December 31, 2013

one last look

We briefly talked about doing a Christmas letter again this year. I did look through my pictures to remind myself of what all happened, was quite shocked, and then never got back to the computer to make that happen. So I'm limiting myself to one photo for each month and recapping 2013.

a day of freezing rain where we were amazed at the number of cardinals that bombarded our back porch and dog pen
 February - Bobby Retired!

March - a new quilting/sewing machine! :) Happy, Happy, Happy!

April - my nephew and niece were saved and baptized! :)
May - first visit to the Confederate section of Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, and the opening of Garner's War Memorial
June - our first ever dolphin tour, a mini-vacation with family, and an 80th birthday party for the matriach of the Bob Bryan clan. A very happy but busy month!
July- The church's annual Family Fun Fest was rained out, family toured the Garner War Memorial and searched for names of family & friends in stone
August - despite Mason having two broken bones and the chicken pox, Monica's family came to visit for a few days.

September - and there was the never ending garden and chicken business throughout the year. Grapes always come in around August/September, depending on the weather.

October - 4th place (see the pink ribbon?) in the beginner's category at the NC State Fair!
November - pecans, heavy duty Christmas practice for the kids' program, and plans for Christmas kick into high gear
December - Christmas program, family, family, family, sickness
I'm so thankful for how God has blessed us in 2013!

Monday, December 30, 2013

a childhood food

My husband does not prefer green peas (what my family calls English peas). I happen to like them, especially with mashed potatoes. After being sick on the medicine the Urgent Care Clinic provided, my parents immediately started making bland foods in hopes of getting something in me so I could take yet another round of meds (yeah, rah). Mom had been in and asked if I would try some mashed potatoes and peas, and I nodded yes (no voice on my part and no hearing aids in on her part...a really interesting combination the last 24 hours at home and only my nieces were getting my hand signals and my nephew made squeaking noises every time I tried to talk). Bobby came in a littler late to check on me, and with a bit of confusion and concern on his face, told me they were making a plate that had mashed potatoes and peas on it, that everyone thought I had asked for it, and they were mixing the food together.
At this point, I actually laughed. (Well, at much laughing as I could do without a voice.) When I told him that was how I ate them as a child (I made a well like people do for gravy and filled it with peas), he started laughing, too. I don't think I've had those two items like that since high school, and it was kind of nice to have someone remember something like that about me from my past. Living in an area away from family, those tidbits of information are often filed away and forgotten. And suddenly I was surrounded by people who knew those things, who were stepping in and taking charge, and I could be sick and rest. It was a nice change. And of course, it prompted Bobby to ask if that was how they tricked me into eating green peas in the first place. I almost hated to tell him that was my unique concoction. After all their effort, I hated to send word to Mom I thought pototoes was all I could handle at the moment.
Perhaps I'll have to serve that as two of our veggies during a 2014 meal. But I think I'll abstain from giving him smashed tator tots on a hamburger.  I think he'll draw the line on that one. :)

a bit unusual Christmas

I have to confess, I was expecting the normal hand-drawn Christmas card from my niece this year. Imagine my surprise when I opened the card, and read "In Memory". Yeah. For whatever reason, she took two Gideon donation cards from church, scribbled out the inside, and wrote our name on the blanks inside. I'm assuming she doesn't know what "In Memory" means, and that she liked the picture on the front. For whatever reason, she was quite pleased with it, and I can honestly say I've never received a Christmas card like it. It's now in my drawer of momentos.

While Bobby's wheelchair was a work in progress, one of the things we attempted to do was send pictures of the broken parts to Orthopedic Services, in hopes they could possibly order the parts before everything shut down for the holidays. (Which turned out to be a big failure.)  This might sound like no big deal, but my parents's house has no internet service, and most people struggle to get adequate cell phone bars around the hills of Smith Lake. When we go there, we literally are getting away from it all. So we head to Jacks (a restaurant similar to Hardees or McDonalds) which has a free WiFi. Keep in mind I'm driving, Bobby's chair is somewhat tied down with restraints, and we're going up and down hills in a vehicle that has zero-resistant steering (meaning you touch the wheel, it veers). It also bears mentioning that my husband has ridden with another person driving a total of three times (and two of them were not pleasant) in 32 years because of his disability. So to say that things were tense in that van was a little bit of understatement. Long story short, I got my hand popped when I let go of the wheel to steady his chair as it was rearing up in one of my "jack-rabbit starts" (I actually accelerated to get up a hill.) 

So imagine my surprise when we get a present from my niece only. And it's a toilet paper roll with a face drawn on it.
 Me: I assume that's my picture on this toilet paper roll?
Carly: That's not a toilet paper roll and yes it's you.
Bobby: What is it?
Carly: Your wife beating stick. So when she grabs your chair you can hit her with that.

And if that's not enough, there's a message on the backside:
Somehow I don't think I'm forgiven for feeding her rabbit this summer, yet. And then I saw this tube at the Christmas tree for my brother. So obviously I'm not the only one getting a stick to be beaten with, AND theirs is bigger. But I was wrong. They got a hand-drawn poster-sized Christmas picture.

I'm so glad I got her underwear.
P.S. Before you start posting reprimands, underwear was not the only thing we gave her. :)
But I must say, when I got sick Christmas night and was running a fever of 102.3 (which almost NEVER happens...my temp runs down, never up), she was constantly checking to see "if I was going to make it" and occasionally just wanted to pat my head. Our Christmas was far from dull.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

brithday celebrations with the "youngest"

Growing up, I was blessed with many siblings in cousins on both sides of my family. I don't ever remember not having someone my age to play with at family gatherings; it was more an issue of who to play with or finding someone I knew the best.
That's not the case for my nieces and nephew. My oldest nieces are in college. My nephew is 13, my other niece is 9. They also have lived very far apart all their lives, so most holidays they don't see each other. With my birthday coming immediately before Christmas, my birthday has become something of a "tradition" to be celebrated with the two younger ones (because they live near my parents who we are visiting at the time).  Carly has taken it upon herself the last two years to "plan" birthday parties for everyone. She discusses it with her Mom or my mother, and designates who is buying, baking what. She doesn't always get what she wants (like last year for my 40th when she just KNEW I wanted a fancy cake with purple and pink sparklies and my sister bought me a cookie cake instead with Peanuts characters...she was quite amazed to find out I loved chocolate chip cookies and even more surprised to find those some cartoon characters on a wall in my house when she visited this summer....yes, Mom does know some things!), but she does her best. So this year we played "Pin the Tail on the Donkey (more like Aunt Monica, Carly, and Mason played), and had a pinata (which only the two kids hit and she was the only one scrambling for the candy...yeah, we adults are boring that way), but there were a few other interesting things as well:

1. The decor...I don't think I would have pictured myself as a zebra kind of girl, but that's what we had: zebra plates and matching table cloth (which of course matched her shirt):  
2. The cake: Mom had a variant on her traditional home-made cake with chocolate icing. For years, I was convinced it was a caramel icing, and was quite surprised when I started helping cook and discovered it was: peanut butter. I think Mom was relieved and pleased that I not only remembered that but suggested it when she asked. It's both easy and delicious. It was also Carly's first time having one of my childhood favorites, and I don't think she was impressed. At all.
3. Game time...several people in my family are big Monopoly players. This year I bought and tried out Monopoly Empires (because it claims to be a faster version of the game and my younger sister and I share a mutual dislike of really long games), and we brought it to AL with us. We discovered something new and disturbing...when a child has never had to play games with other children...they don't know how to lose. She pouted, she cried, she cried with BIG crocodile tears, and Uncle Bobby and Aunt Monica and her Mom hardened their mean old Grinch hearts and "stole" her favorite billboard tiles and "made" her lose the game. And to make it even worse? It happened again the next day with different players.  Life's not fair. Get used to it. I sound so much like my mother!

The craziest part of the first evening was when I told her she needed to clean the table before we put the game down, as I didn't want Uncle Bobby's Christmas present to get messed up. She immediately put that hand on her hip, looked at me with a frown and said "How can you afford this?"  We all looked at each other in surprise. One of us asked her what she meant. She shook her head incredulously and said "Y'all are just poor farmers. You can't afford this."  It was all we could do not laugh. Owning chickens does NOT make us farmers, and we are certainly not classified as poor. I guess since we don't have smart phones, a Wii, an XBox, and ipad, nor cable (and I told her she needed to send me a different list when she requested a Kindle Fire for Christmas...that was not in our budget), and we eat the eggs from our chickens and have our own garden...in her mind we are very poor.  Perspective is truly everything!
But when all is said and done: I love the time we have together and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world


Saturday, December 28, 2013

a week ago today

One week ago today we headed out for Nashville, TN to see the Moffitt clan (Bobby's youngest sister and her family) for a day or two before heading on to be with my family. En route Bobby's chair refused to be budged from its lock-down position. At all. If you've ever lived with a disability and needed assistance, you know that holidays are NOT the time to have an equipment malfunction. No one is open, and if they are, you're almost always going be charge holiday time when it comes to the labor portion of the repair bill. Mechanics do have families, too, you know.  Thankfully for us, they happen to be in my family.
We arrived in TN to find a friend of Susan's there, and Matt and David (my bro-in-law), began dismantling the back of Bobby's chair in order to leverage the chair into an upward position so we could ease it out of the lock. It took a while, but they were not only successful in getting him inside and settled, but also in strapping the wheelchair back together enough so Bobby could drive the chair in and out of entrances without getting stuck. They also moved my chair into the driver's position, allowing me to drive the four hours the next day to AL.  When my brother and brother-in-law removed the casing to see if it was weldable, this was what they found:
See the missing chunks in the long pieces on top...so not supposed to be there. Turns out I was right...Bobby's bolt underneath was not loose at all. But he was right as well...due to the breaks and cracks (which aren't seen in this photo) the entired battery carriage underneath (which is what the bolt is connected to) was lowered a good inch and a half, posing the problem. On my birthday (the 23rd), they managed to secure the chair back in place with heavy duty strapping with locks, and on their off day, Christmas Eve, the spent several hours repairing the broken pieces enough that the chair could once again be used in the driver's position and we can get back to the wheelchair repair place this next week and found out what our options are.

I'm so thankful for Matt, David, Jamie and Andy for their tireless efforts and sacrificial spirit in helping us get through one of our many hurdles this holiday season. I honestly don't know what we'd do without family.

Monday, December 16, 2013

a pain in the neck

Yesterday a good friend had a spell during church. We still don't know what happened, but it scared a good number of us. We could tell she was starting to improve, was getting better (starting to argue with us), but I was very concerned about her slurred speech. I've never been so thankful that our church is blessed with so many nurses! When we finally ruled out sugar issues, one of the nurses agreed with me that she needed to head to the local CVS minute clinic and get her blood pressure checked. My friend told us it would no longer be low because we were all being a pain in the neck and driving it up. Being the kind, considerate person that I am, I told her we could also be a pain in the butt if we needed to be. Thankfully she laughed.

There's nothing I hate more than being sick and having an audience. I had a migraine once that triggered other problems and resulted in at rip to the ER. An extended family member came over to "help out" and I remember wishing she would just go away and let me throw up in peace. When she started talking about an ambulance (I was sick; not dying!), I really wanted her to leave.

I remember those feelings all too well. And so there's a part of me inside that always waffles about demanding someone see a doctor or seek treatment. And yet, there are times, like yesterday, when someone does not comprehend the seriousness of the situation. Did my friend know it wasn't her sugar? Yes. And we listened to her, even if we were still concerned. But she couldn't see her face, couldn't see the slurred speech and vacant eyes. We could. And as we saw the spark come back and the speech slowly improved, we could semi-relax. In moments like those, I'd rather be a pain and do the right thing for someone's health tha be overly sensitive to someone's feeling and wind up visiting the hospital or attending a funeral.

As my husband once told me early on in our marriage, compassion is not my spiritual gift. And that's okay. I'll gladly be a pain in the neck if it means helping someone out. :)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

politely rude

Monday night we attended a political function. I'm not a huge fan of political events. There always seems to be an excessive amount of posturing, extreme positions, and lots of bandwagoning. Political events in the rural areas are a little bit nicer as everyone talks to everyone, and people actually talk about things other than politics. Unfortunately, this one was in Raleigh.

Despite the location, most of the people were very friendly, even though neither Bobby nor I are adept at talking to strangers or working a crowd. The room was small (wheelchairs are a lot easier to manuever in open spaces) and people seemed to hover near the drinks, making it impossible to get to anything without interrupting a conversation (it was like watching one of those animals shows that sets up a camera near the watering hole), and I was more than a bit baffled when two of the classiest dressed ladies in the room, fixed their plates, then stood in the middle of the buffet line, one on each side, to eat and talk. I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it. Maybe they were trying to meet everyone, but I found it quite rude.

On the flip side, we did meet several people who were very nice, met one person I've had a lot of respect for (the pastor who kept his cool during the very heated amendment debate at Meredith College), and had the chance to chat with both the candidate and his wife. I know a lot of people would find it strange to type that. After all, isn't that what you go to a political event for - to meet the candidates? Yes and no. Usually you go to hear more than one talk (think a pep rally where all the coaches spout off their opinions), and often event at a "meet the candidate" event, outsiders seldom actually meet the candidate. I don't know if it's because we don't worry about being "in the know" with the right people, or if Bobby's chair make people uncomfortable, but often we're passed by or given a cursory glance. I guess that's one of these reasons I was so impressed with Gov. McCrory. On two seperate occasions (that were not meet-n-greet sessions), he went out of his way to talk with every single person in a wheelchair. One of those events was in inclement weather, and he sent his staff on inside to get out of the rain while he stayed behind to chat.  I probably should ask more questions about policies and such, but I find that people who treat my husband with the respect he deserves tend to treat their staffers and their constituents the same way. I think the way we treat other people reveals our character much more than our stated positions or theological viewpoints ever can.

And while there are two men running for Hagan's senate seat that I philosophically agree with, I was very impressed with Mark Harris and his willingness to small chat with a couple he didn't know, and didn't seem the least bit embarrassed to be seen talking to a man in a wheelchair. While we should expect that of a pastor, you'd be amazed at the number of pastors who are intimidated or uncomfortable doing that.

If there was any discomfort, it was on my part. While chatting with one of the organizers, he asked how we had heard about the event. When I told him it was via e-mail, he looked a little shocked. He then laughed and said, "E-mail.  Do you know, I checked my son's e-mail the other day and he had 652 messages?  I got on to him about it, and he laughed at me and said, "Dad, get with the program. No one uses e-mail. It's all social media."  And with that, our conversation was over. He made his way onto the next person, and I was left to muse how I can hear that from nieces and not be offended, but from a man my own age, it irritates me more than a little.  It shouldn't matter what forum communication is in, but people are important. Period. And yet, the man was not intending to be rude. He was polite, even if he was telling us we weren't up to speed and out of place.

I will never be a social butterfly, and that's okay. But I do hope I'm always gracious and kind. (And I do struggle with those two things.) Perhaps that was my reminder of the week to treat others the way I want to be treated, and to always be edifying with my speech. I guess that's a lesson for all of us.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

two up; one down

Earlier this fall I bought three books to give one of my nieces for Christmas. (Before you gasp in horror, this is for one of the nieces who enjoys reading as much as I do.) Two of the books were based on recommendations from World Magazine. One of them I haven't finished and I'm quite appalled by it (I won't be gifting it); the other, Letters to a Young Progressive, I actually enjoyed reading and am happy to gift it.

The third book I picked up out of curiosity in a Christian bookstore. A college friend of mine works in Afghanistan, and has for the last 13 or so years, and several of my high school classmates have spent time serving with our military in Afghanistan. Needless to say, their viewpoints and experiences are very different. It has taken me a while to work through the book, but In the Land of Blue Burqas has to be one of the best Christian non-fiction books I have read in a very long time. So many times I interrupted Bobby's reading to share a passage with him, and I have repeatedly found myself thinking on passages of Scripture and thinking back to George W. Bush's autobiography where he talked about how the Bible's influences on our society and our lives are profound. Reading this book has made me appreciate my faith on a deeper level, as well as forced a new appreciation for how dramatically worldviews alter society.

So if you're looking for a graduation gift next spring, especially if that graduate is heading toward a secular university, Letters to a Young Progressive, written by a M.Adams, a UNC-W professor, will make an awesome gift.  But if you're wanting to read to be enlightened, entertained, revived, and challenged, then I highly recommend Kate McCord (not her real name)'s In the Land of Blue Burqas. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

non-Mom status

The first time I worked with small kids, ever, was the summer after I turned 18. I volunteered to be an assistant to an older woman as she taught the 3&4 year olds for Vacation Bible School. I was excited. Monday rolled around, and about 2pm (VBS started at 6pm), Mom got a phone call that Mrs. Evie was sick, and I'd need to take the class. Her daughter was dropping all the supplies, ready to go, at the church and would have everything ready for me. Did I mention I had never really worked with small children before?

I had three 3year old boys, all by myself. After the night was over, I told my Mom how impossible it was to teach the lesson. They were ON the table, UNDER the table, sitting BACKWARDS in their chairs, EATING their crayons, coloring the TABLE, the CHAIR, and asking me five questions (and almost none of them related to the lesson) for every one sentence. In short, it was chaos. My Mom looked at me like I was crazy, and laughed. "Well, that's three year olds," she said. "You have to keep things short, active, and teach them what to do. They're learning." And the rest of the week, I watched Mrs. Evie in action, made mental notes, learned a LOT, and secretly wondered if those kids didn't have springs hidden in their shoes and bottoms.

Fast forward ten years, and I'm working with other women my age, all Moms, on a church Christmas play. We walk into the classroom (where shepherds are whacking each other upside the head with their crooks, slamming stuffed sheep at each other, as well as using them as projectiles) and a mother catches a flying stuffed sheep with one hand, grabs a crook with another, shakes her head and asks, "Whose dumb idea was this?"  All the Moms rolled their eyes, shook their heads, while I gingerly raised my hand. They all laughed, but I got the message, innocent though it might have been. A mother would have known better.

Fast forward another 10+ years to this past Sunday. The kids' Christmas program talked about cookies and hot chocolate, and at every practice my cast talked about how awesome it would be if they could have REAL cookies and hot chocolate to eat during the play OR to have a cast party after the play. Since our church has the play on Sunday morning, there was no way I was suggesting we have a junk food party AFTER church when they're supposed to be eating lunch, and there was no way I was going to organize lunch for 35 kids, plus parents and visiting grandparents, etc. After some discussion with Bobby, we (with some parents' help) threw a breakfast cast party BEFORE church. No cookies, but we did have hot chocolate (or hot cocoa, depending on what your family calls it), sausage balls, mini muffins, and mini chocolate and powdered donuts. (I learned my lesson about serving Krispy Kreme donuts to kids right before a play around the same time as paragraph number two...NOT a good idea.) By the time I got to church (late for adult choir practice, but still 20 minutes before the  kids were supposed to be there), I had a small bevy outside the classroom door ecstatic. I had left the unopened packages at the church the night before, and they had already seen some of what was in store and were STOKED. And of course the boys were delighted because a mother had already informed her daughter she was NOT to eat a powdered donut, and the little girl was confiding they were her favorite. I watched as Mom after Mom walked in with little girls decked out in super fancy dresses and saw the Mom's faces contort in horror that we were having powdered donuts and hot chocolate. Not one parent said a rude or derisive word, but deep down, I knew: A mom would have known better.

The good thing? After 20+ years, I could actually laugh a little about it Sunday morning, and make a mental note (powdered donuts for active events, not dress-up events). The four summers we served as host parents to three foster children from Belarus were eye-opening, life changers for me. I grew to understand and appreciate a small bit of what my Mom friends face on a daily basis. I gained a small sliver of knowledge in how to better pray for my friends, of the emotional and mental toil that being a Mom takes. And yet, there are things that I will never grasp, will never fully understand, and I'm slowly coming to grips with that, and that it's okay. Those four summers made a small bridge between the uphill pastures we females all walk. I can never enter into their pastures, nor they into mine, but we can now meet on the bridge that spans the stream separating our lives. I can hear their burdens and understand a little bit, not just observe them from a distance with a slanted perspective.

That was one of the mental images I had in mind when I started this blog several years ago. That's why my blog site address is burdenbearer: I listen to the burdens my friends carry and try to help, though never fully understanding because my burdens are so very different. And I don't mean burden in a negative way; it's more the literature connotation of one's lot in life. I always thought I would explain the title, but it never seemed appropriate, until now.

So the next time a friend needs me to help carry a load, I'll gladly come and enjoy a chance to be with a little one. And now I'll know to bring powdered donuts. :)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas book #3

Another book I read several years ago, but it's also one of those books that never quite leaves you. Grisham's main characters attempt to do what so many of us adults have longed to do at one point or another: skip Christmas. The whole book is hysterically funny, and the ending is pathetic and yet heartwarming, but it also made me evaluate how pointless so many of our the holiday traditions truly are. Ever since reading this book, it's made me want to boycott the things that aren't truly important (and several of those things I can't because those traditions are so important to other family members), and yet has also helped me realize that I too have traditions that are sentimental to me but have no intrinsic value.  If you're looking for a fun read, like the Best Christmas Pageant Ever, this is one that will have you laughing out loud, and yet thinking about its contents for weeks afterward.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Christmas book #2

Singer's book is different from most run-of-the mill Christian books. While a work of fiction, it addresses some of the political issues surrounding the holidays, but has a very unexpected ending. Some of the stereotypes in the characters bothered me early in the book, but as the story unfolded, I had to admit that I could identify several people who could adequately be the person the story's character was based upon. (So maybe it's not so much stereotyped after all!)
This book is one that leaves you thinking and pondering many issues, from the fine line between freedom of religion and government-sanctioned religion to the age-old debate of when to obey government or what prinicples and doctrines are truly worth fighting about. This book would be an awesome read for any group that loves intense discussions.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas book #1

I read this book as a teenager, and I have read it several times since then. It is, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the best Christmas books on the market. I like this story so much that I even considered its play version as a script for a Christmas play at church. After reading the copyright requirements of the play, I decided it wasn't the best match for our church. But that doesn't stop me from ranking this as my all-time favorite Christmas book, and I think it should be a must read for anyone who teaches Sunday school.