Wednesday, June 29, 2011


We have a family term for BIG, OVERSIZED,  or HUMONGEOUS!  It started several years ago when Gracie looked up at Papa and wanted to know what that thing was he had in his hand. It was one of those super-duper flashlights!  He replied, "THIS, Gracie is the honker!" Ever since that day the HONKER has been called upon for all sorts of dark emergencies.

Thus the term!  Anything that is larger than normal is described as a Honker.  (Hopefully that words has NO vulgar slang connotations.)

This year Gracie  (age 6) and Mollie  (age 4) arrived at BeBe camp with their very own TENT.  Evidently they have outgrown the simple green-plastic-in-the-house Magic Tent that has served several Braner grands very well. They wanted the real deal this year, a grown up tent assembled OUTSIDE!

After putting them off because of over 100 degree temperatures for several days the time had come.  After a long day of airplane work Papa agreed to assemble the tent last night.  WHAT AN ORDEAL!  The directions said, SIMPLE!  He begs to disagree!

After a few banged thumbs, flying tent poles and much frustrations, the tent appeared.  IT IS A HONKER!  It's a two room complete with patio and furniture dwelling!  (The thermometer read ONLY 89 degrees.)  He assembled two cots, ran drop cords for two fans and and blew up one blow-up mattress while I sprayed the whole back yard with the super-duper Mosquito fog. We unfolded comfy chairs, lit the bug bucket candles and plopped the American flag down at the entrance.  Anticipaton was high adventure.

When all tempers cooled down we fired up the grill and made s'mores!  Can't have a camping trip without those, you know!  Laughter, squeels and giggles prevailed. I'm sure the neighbors were entertained!

Finally after a  quick dip in the blow-up pool, drenching Papa and everything within a 50 yard radius, it was time to choose spots for the night.

Papa chose the  A/C king-sized INSIDE the house  bed with the flimsy excuse that he had to go to work the next morning!  The girls and I settled into the tent, zipped her up all around, read a Berenstein Bear book and turned off the HONKER of a flashlight.  

They fell asleep and I stayed awake.  I wondered about the Tulsa ax murderer (fiction), the nearby registered sex offenders (non-fiction), Big Foot (debatable fiction), skunks, armadillos and snakes!  Honeybuns assured me that a snake could NOT unzip the front entrance!

I watched them sleep.

We made it through the night.  They are feeling great today and I'm needing a nap!

Tonight will be a different tale, it's Papa's turn to brave the elements.

All in all, it was a HONKER of a good time, and a HONKER of a great memory!

Friday, June 24, 2011


I just returned from a whirlwind trip to South Texas!  It is a different world,  full of palm trees, orange groves and some of the finest people that have ever lived.  My brain is full of beautiful faces and wonderful memories. I have enough material for many "Sister Chats." 

Both my Christmas card list and my heart have been enlarged by the new friendships  that formed so quickly but promise to last for a long time. My new pals and I are already exchanging e-mails, pictures and playing games together on our iphones!

I was there at the invitation of some women's groups that coordinated their meetings with my schedule.  My job was to show up where they told me to be, stand where they told me to stand and  then give an inspirational talk. They had it all worked out as new faces shuttled me from one place to another, from one home to another for night after night.   The whole plan worked beautifully and I cherish the memory.

In addition to that very positive lovely experience,  I  also had the privilege of also LISTENING to several hundred folks representing  all aspects of that colorful culture.

It was an educational experience of our US immigration issues.

 I met and stayed one night with a beautiful elderly couple that owns an orange grove seven miles from the Mexican border. That ranch has been their life for over thirty years, they raised four sons there. Now the owner frequently finds trash left behind under his citrus trees by illegals trying to brave the searing heat, waiting on a "pick-up."  He sadly explained that some don't make it and die from exposure to the harsh weather.

I heard the story of a teenager girl that had been seduced so her baby would be the "anchor baby" that would guarantee the boys family a smooth entrance into the land of the FREE.  It almost worked and would have if the American grandparents had not been willing to fight through the American courts for that child for YEARS.
I heard stories of massacres, kidnappings and drug battles that spill over into  Mexican border neighborhoods.  The possibility of being kidnapped is very real for those that have a little money.

Another lovely couple that invited me to their home for a night gave me a tour of the town near their home.  It reeked of Human Trafficking, everywhere I looked.  They stated that no one is safe in that particular area as I wished we would just move on down the road.

One business woman told how the criminals assimilate into the culture by buying high end condos and owning businesses right alongside legal enterprises.  They've got a lot of money.  She shared, "they're everywhere."

Another shared of overhearing conversations in her store of drug runners making plans to "pick-up" illegals at hot spots down the road.

Lovely Hispanics that went through the immigration process and have lived in America legally for a long time told of their anger and frustration toward those that gain access to free health care and college educations by breaking the law.

One beautiful long time resident of Brownsville described the border fence.  It's a JOKE, her words.  It is not complete, never will be.  It has huge gaps all along the line AND businesses file for and pay for a "variance" which means their property is exempt and the fence is NOT built on their property, hence another opening!  In other places the fence is placed right up against the back wall of a house!  She shook her head as she stated,  "The politicians and the rest of America don't have a clue.  Their heads are in the sand." All  I could think of was the amount of money that has been wasted on that JOKE. (Another case of governmental efficiency!)

 I was so overwhelmed by what I was hearing that I found myself wishing that SOMEONE would report what the people that live there are actually thinking and saying. Then I realized that SOMEONE was me! 

Here goes.  These quotes are the voice of the people that live on our southern Texas border. 

"People that don't live here have no idea what is truly happening."

"The mayors and the folks of the Chamber of Commerce don't want anyone to know the truth. It would harm tourism. No one would want to come here to visit or live."
"We had a mayor for a while that absolutely would not allow anything negative about our area to be published in the newspapers or put on the TV."

"A drug cartel battle broke out recently and bullets were found at the University of Texas, Brownsville." (A BEAUTIFUL campus I might add!)
"No one goes over the border into Mexico now to shop, it's too dangerous.  The economy over there has been destroyed."

"A young youth pastor took a bunch of kids into Mexico on a mission trip,  some were kidnapped, some killed.  He was sure that all he needed to do was pray and they would be safe."

"No city in Mexico is safe,  they just found mass graves in Acapulco."
"Mass graves are being discovered on the Mexican side all the time."

"After one recent battle it was reported that 60 people were killed.  In truth, the number was 250."

"There are places where the  fence is actually built on the other side of ranches, leaving American property unprotected.  The farm is actually located between the river and the fence. The owners have to drive around the thing to get home. Once there, they're on their own even though they are on American ground."

"We understand that people want to come here for a better life, but can America support everyone in the world? Health care and college education is offered free, while WE have to pay for those things."

"All nationalities cross illegally not just the Hispanics.  Anyone and everyone (terrorists) can come on in. It's an open door."

"Tons of drugs are confiscated at the check-point daily.  No one knows how much actually gets through!"

"If it were humanly possible we would get out of here." (I heard that SEVERAL times.)
"Our family is staying, we will not surrender Texas to Mexico. I refuse to learn Spanish" (I heard that only ONCE.)

"A while back an official of Mexico vowed  to take back Texas without firing a single shot.  They've almost accomplished it."

"When we moved here I was sure I was coming to a third world country."
"I love it here.  We live on Padre Island." (Resort area.)

"We have wonderful Hispanic neighbors and friends.  They're citizens and have lived here a long time."
"97% of the population is Hispanic."
"Downtown Brownsville is a glimpse of Mexico. There are only Mexican businesses there now."

"We are living the life of Chicago in the 30's as these drug lords battle over turf."

Everywhere I went I asked the same question, "what is the solution?"  I got the same response.  It was always a look to the ground, a shaking of the head and these words,  "I don't know."  There is such a sense of hopelessness.  I asked if anyone thought that putting troops on the border would help. No response. 

One very intelligent local politician replied,  "We're going to have to defend ourselves. It's the new normal."  His wife's real estate business had been robbed that very day.  He was heading out to personally find the two laptops that were taken!  His friend encouraged ME to take the  proper training and buy a gun!

It's the Wild, Wild West all over again!  Isn't the number one purpose of our government to protect the American people?  Isn't that why we even HAVE a military staffed with America's finest and bravest young people?
 I've heard that  most places in Washington DC are perfectly safe.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I have several foodies in my life and it's great! I love to watch them!  Foodies are people that enjoy food to the max!  My sister is one, my dear friend in Houston is included, as well as are several distant family members and close-by me  OK friends and I love them dearly.   They talk about,  read about,  compare, buy, chop, braise, broil, grill, bake and puree all kinds of edible delicacies.  There are tons of magazines, books, websites, TV shows, Cruises,  and recipe cards they find to investigate this hobby.  Today there are French foodies, Italian foodies, contests, and apps for the iphone.  There are many high-end, low-end and in-between-end stores that support the cause, as well as whole universities that teach the culinary arts. Let's not even BEGIN to list different types  and qualitites of restaurants!

Whole Foods and Central Market are the temples of food.  I once counted twenty-six different types of red apples at Central Market in Plano, TX.  I went to the grand opening of that store, hoping I would discover the fascination.  The crowd was fun and the atmosphere was exciting but alas, it was just food, after all!

My sister almost faints at the entrance of Sam's.  So much food, many beautiful pans, utensils and spice racks to investigate and life is so short!

So, how is it that I got left out of all the fun?  Same thing with coffee!  People that drink coffee LOVE it, travel far distances to obtain just the right bean, cup and maker.  Although I never learned to drink it, the smell is fabulous,  and I always feel that I'm missing something very precious when I enter Starbucs and NOBODY knows my name.   Hours and hours are spent daily enjoying JOE.  I don't get it, I wish I did!!  It's a culture worth cultivating!

NOW, don't get me wrong. I love to eat!  I could do THAT all day long.  And I'm a fairly good cook. 

 Honeybuns has this unbelievable habit of wanting dinner EVERY NIGHT!  What's with that?  DINNER?  What's wrong with a peanut butter sandwich or a boiled egg?  Cooking is SUCH a daily thing!  Couldn't we just declare a moratorium from it for a week or so?

And so I confess:  I am just as happy with a super plain bologna sandwich as a seven course-served on fine china-cooked to perfection-wine included meal!  There I said it!  I'm not proud of that statement! I'm a freak of nature!  I know NO ONE that sees meals as I do.

You'd think that my apathy for food, food preparation, and food investigation would mean I'm super-model skinney.  Nope, can't go there!

Is there a Twelve Step Program for me?  I WANT to be a FOODIE!

I think I'll go check out the Williams-Sonoma sale.  Yes, that's it, I just need some INSPIRATION!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


What happens at BeBe's house.....get's broadcast to the world!!  

Gabby spent 4 days with us this past week and....well, the pictures tell the tale.  There are nothing but smiles on this precious little ones' face when she's here. (and on ours I might add)  We ADORE this little cutie.  Gabby is FIR here, she used to be FREE but since her birthday she's FIR!   She loves being a GOIL (vs. being a boy) and all that entails.  At BeBe and PaPa's house that means she gets to be "Queen of the World," a powerful position she doesn't have to  share when she comes alone!

Balloon animals from ihop!

Making cookies!

Learning to drive!

 If this is not sheer idolatry, I don't know the definition.  It goes both ways. When Papa is around I'm chopped liver. She's got him wrapped around that tiny black finger.

Riding the Binford 2000

When Gabby is here we BECOME four years old as well. The world as we know it stops turning and we experience a magical land of innocence and imagination.  It's a refreshing place to be! 

10 Puppets

Gabby is one of NINE Braner kids!  We are SO blessed by each wonderful unique personality.  Watching them grow is the finest use of our time.  They have no idea how much they are loved.
"Grandchildren are the reason to have children."  Me
"Grandchildren are the reason parents don't eat their young."  Bumper Sticker

Monday, June 13, 2011


WARNING:  I'm on a soapbox!

Book Review:  Speaking of Jesus, the art of not-evangelism by Carl Medearis

I just finished this book!  And it is eye-opening!  Mr. Medearis, in his gentle way, offers an explanation as to why Christians are SO offensive and he also suggests a solution.  I recommend this to all who ask the question, "Why are Christians ranked right up there with enemies of the state,  terrorists, and  hateful fear-mongering-filled-with-phobias unloving people?"  You've got to admit, Christians have received nothing but ridicule over the past years from the  very people we're called to help and encourage. Great comedians, politicians, artists,  and writers  have made us a laughing stock and the subject of late night jokes.

 Some folks declare that  this type of "persecution" comes with the territory and we should wear it proudly.  Carl (and I) think that maybe we deserve the harassment because of our bad behavior.  As the cigarette commercial used to say, "we've come a long way baby" since Jesus walked and talked on this planet.  It's taken a long time but it seems we  now have an "us" vs. "them" mentality.  We've forgotten that the Christians purpose in life is to love and serve THEM, whoever that might be.

As a people watcher that is involved in several Christian organizations I too see examples of  ungodly behavior from the ranks.  Because I love the church it's always painful.  Good intentions and loving hearts often do incredible damage to people that are already simply holding on by a thread.  I'm convinced that most wicked words and speech are a result of just not thinking things through, not taking the time to stop and consider NOT "what WOULD Jesus do," but "what DID Jesus do."    I'm afraid we've all too often left the path of "love" and now spend most of our time on the path of " selfishness and pride." 

Today we spend most of our time in the "holy huddle" we've carefully developed, refusing to socialize, empathize or sympathize with anyone outside our particular group. God forbid if we should cross paths with someone different than us!

A fresh example appeared this week.  I heard two stories of elderly ladies that died, two different moms from two different states..  In both cases their sons proudly proclaimed that they would not be attending their own mother's memorial service because the service would include elements that their particularly church denomination frowned upon.  WHAT?  They were NOT going to attend because a family member or two would be there that are not Christian, that some words might be said that are not in their Christianese vocabulary?

They are both staying away from their grieving family members in order to "take a stand" against an element in that service that they can not embrace.

Well, now that's just special, isn't it?  That'll leave a great impression of the love of God on THOSE family members. Way to go guys!

When did we stop thinking?

I'm ready for a revolution. WHAT IF, loving relationships replaced  religion?  What would that look like?  Jesus, maybe??
(Carl reminds us that Jesus came down the hardest on the religious people of His day!)

"You can't make impact if you don't make contact." Chuck Swindoll

I'm going to try really hard to make sure my CONTACT today is thoughtful and not religious!

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Three weeks ago this evening we  unknowingly and casually drove away from "hell" as we pulled out of the Hampton Inn parking lot in Joplin, MO.  We'd taken refuge there during a car trip home from Illinois.

Only as we headed west did we tune into the  radio news and learned of what had actually happened while we were hiding in that stairwell of the Inn. 

A monster tornado believed to consist of three vortexes whirled it's way through that lovely town.

Just a mile north of our hiding place it tore up the land, houses, cars, businesses, and landscape. As of today 146 have been counted as dead with thousands of injuries. Some are simply missing!

Today we drove back to Joplin,  100 miles  from our house.  We'd seen the pictures and videos, heard survivors stories and poured over the map of the swath of destruction.  But for the past few days our minds just wouldn't let our arms wrap around the truth of what had actually happened.

How could we be so oblivious as to just casually drive away as all those people lay dead and dying?  Was it true that 1/3 of the town was obliterated from the face of the earth?  Our minds knew the reality but our hearts were still troubled.  I'm sure a physiologist could explain  the mixed and troubling emotions.

This past week we decided that we had to return, perhaps to convince ourselves of the horror.

Today we prepared with sun hats, gloves and Gatorade and drove over. We had no formal plan, we'd step in wherever we saw someone that needed help in anyway.

We exited off the highway just as we did 2 weeks ago, everything looked fine.  The Hampton Inn was open for business and the parking lot was full.  We drove north just 1 mile when the landscape changed.   The Home Depot was demolished, a twisted junkyard.  EVERYTHING in the area had been reduced to toothpicks.  The trees were topped and the bark was stripped.  Piles and piles of rubble were the only thing visible. Occasionally an open fire was blazing. The smell of wood burning filled the air.  People gathered around make-shift open air kitchens picking up free food, water, and essentials of life.  Roofs, walls, cars, windows, trees were all gone!  Just gone!

 American flags flew everywhere offering hope.

Walmart was leveled, paint was stripped off cars and malls. The high school was destroyed, the hospital looked like a skeleton, it's dark glassless windows reeking of death. Some folks had spray painted messages on partial walls left standing. One said, "gone to Florida."  Another person wrote, "God spared us."  Another sentiment was, "gone with the wind."  Huge trucks with claws to pick up debris dotted the landscape. 

Are there enough trucks in the whole world to even make a dent in the massive piles?   In one area the devestation is as far as the eye can see in all directions.

We found  Forest Park Baptist Church and the huge Samaritans Purse truck.  We drove into the parking lot and noticed that the front door had a paper taped to it that read, "Volunteers, Sign in Here."  We parked and headed for the entrance.  Samaritans Purse was the first organization to arrive 2 weeks ago.  They were set up and helping the confused and hurt find food and help just 24 hours after that monster wind had left town.

Several folks milled about the lobby and we signed in. We autographed the huge paper map of the US, almost every state of the union has been represented thus far.  We were given the task of helping out in the church kitchen and dining room for the afternoon.  Hundreds of cardboard boxes needed to be folded and carried to the dumpster.  (Who knew that all those donations came in cardboard boxes that had to be broken down and recycled??)  We emptied trash barrels, filled ice coolers and prepared the dining room for the next influx of victims coming in for a meal. 

A temporary women's dorm was on the third floor of the church. We carried bedding and ice up there for the women resting on cots.

We heard stories of people that had lost their homes, cars that were now being cared for and housed in the homes of their Joplin neighbors, those that still had homes!  Funerals were being held daily.

Joplin is going to need a lot of love and compassion for years to come. I'm sure our  Tulsa church will be sending teams over in the days ahead. Now is the time for the church to step up to the plate!

Many folks will be lending a hand.   Many more will be needed to offer a listening ear.

People tell us that "God answered our prayers and spared us."   That is true, but so many others were praying that day and they received a  very different answer.  Did  God NOT love them?  Did He NOT have a plan for them to live?  Could He have stopped that monster storm from lowering to the ground?  Did He make a mistake?   Why are we alive and so many gone?

It's a survivors dilemma.   There are no answers, but TRUTH must prevail. God loves all people!! 

We have to trust His heart when we do not see His hand! 

Saturday, June 4, 2011


The 2011 annual Forest Ridge Garage is history!  It was a memory maker!
The thermometer climbed up to 97 degrees and it was a scorcher.

Some dear friends and I spent hours dragging and tagging until our tails were wagging.  WHAT A JOB!   Every year I swear that I will never go through this ordeal again...ever!!  And then I do!

The idea of clean closets is the motivator for weeks before the date arrives.  I  sorted through all the closets and the nooks and crannies of the attic and garage to create a sizable stash, all the while thinking that this stuff needed to go to the landfill.

Friday night was "neighbors night" and folks that live nearby walked around and shopped.  Evidently being the first one allowed to survey junk is considered a perk of living here.  The crowds came, we  reconnected with old friends and made new ones.  All the laughter, teasing and jokes made the pain in the feet, head and neck go away.

We sold half our inventory! 

This morning we were all up bright and early and open for business at 7:30.  The crowds came in droves.  Parking jams, fender benders and near misses contributed to the confusion right in front of the house. Dogs barking and four wheelers zipping buy contributed to the chaos.

Big kids, small kids and all sorts of kids came streaming by.  We had dogs on leases, babies in strollers and backpacks, and children clutching wads of money in their sweaty little hands.

Many folks knew the garage sale drill: look interested, ask the price, make an offer and walk away with that item free.  We had a great time  negotiating and giving things away, too.

It turned into a party! 

I'm thinking that folks really don't need all those leftovers from other peoples lives as much as they need other people!   We heard stories from most everyone that came.  There were stories of moves to the area, marriages, children and grandchildren.   Proud mommas were shopping for their children's dorm rooms and first apartments.  Grandmas  were  buying up toys and sharing pictures of their grands.

Men shared stories of fishing trips planned and hunters bragged.  One little girl received a model plane FREE after telling Honeybuns of her interest in flight.   Another small boy begged his mom for a telescope so he could "see Jesus."

We came to a new conclusion.  Garage Sales are SOCIAL EVENTS rather than RETAIL EVENTS.

We really do  need each other much more than we need STUFF!

I'm looking around now for things I can part with NEXT YEAR!  I'll trade just about anything for a good visit with a brand new friend.

Friday, June 3, 2011


...the darnest things! Art Linkletter was right! 

One of the most fabulous aspects of  aging is experiencing the joy of  LISTENING!  Our most favorite thing to do is engage our grands in conversation.  It's like starting an engine and then just letting it run.  It just takes a few questions to get it rollin'.  Once kids start telling tales, describing complicated issues, or teaching us about their latest find in the backyard, we just sit back and enjoy!

Sometimes they are self-starters!
 This week's examples:

Honeybuns (Papa to the kids) did a drive-by visit to the Dallas family this week.  He was in Big D for some business meetings and took the opportunity to deliver treats from the local Starbucs.  After a short time together he was off to meet with taller people and Mollie, age 4, looked up at her mommy and summed up the visit.  "Papa is our greatest treasure!"

Meanwhile out in Colorado, Dax, age 6, was overheard praying,  "Thank you God for us, for our planet, for our universe and all the other universes. Thank you for everyone on our planet and Jupiter."

Gabby, age FIR (she was FREE but now she's FIR) also prayed,  "Dear Jesus, Thank you for BeBe, (that's ME!) Gabby, Maggie and Justin Bieber."

Now what could be more fun than this!  Just call me Art!