Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Writing Tour Update

First, forgive me, as I'm a bit late to share this with you!

When I participated in the Blog Tour a few weeks ago, I tagged two fellow bloggers that I love: Angie and Carol Anne. I told you when they answered the questions, that I would share with you!

So here I am, finally remembering to do so!

Carol Anne wrote about it here.
Angie wrote about it here.

I hope you'll take a few minutes to go learn some things about them. I loved reading their posts and learning more about how they write and create.

On another note, I now have in my possession, things that both these amazing ladies created. When I was in chemo, Angie sent me this lovely piece of embroidery. I can't tell you how much it cheered me up and just made me feel so good inside. I was lucky that a lot of people wrapped their arms around me and often sent little notes, cards, books, scarves, gifts to me. And this is one of the lovely items I received. Before we moved, it was in our living room, so I could see it every day! We haven't found a home for it in the new house, but I'm working on it. I snagged a wall and talked to the husband about filling it with all sorts of lovely things that inspire me (as I can see it from my sewing/craft area).

Another thing that will be going on that wall is this lovely cardinal photograph. Carol Anne took this picture and sent me a copy. As I said before, I love her photography and I'm SO excited that I will have one of her gorgeous photographs hanging on my wall. As a bonus, cardinals are extra special to me, so I couldn't ask for a better photograph to put on my wall. It just arrived at the end of last week, so I need to get it framed so I can get it hung!

This connection that I have to both of these woman, who I've never met in person, is real and is deep and I'm so grateful for it. This is the beauty of blogging, of being on twitter, of social media for me - it's the connections I've made with other people. They are priceless. Sometimes things are so different, and yet, there is always something there to connect us. Sometimes there are a lot of things there to connect us and we can joke that we must have been separated at birth! Sometimes I like to joke that my computer is really important to me because all my friends live in it, and while they all don't, a good number of them do. I've got some pretty amazing people in my life because of the internet!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A wee bit of crocheting

brown crochet blanketWhile knitting will always be number one in my heart, I do sometimes like to take a break and get some crocheting done. I especially like to do some crochet for baby blankets, and so I whipped this lovely blanket up a few months ago.

brown crochet blanketThis blanket was especially important for me to make. I can't say why here, but I can say this: all the stars aligned and the making of this blanket was perfect. And will always feel a bit special to me.

Even though this blanket is going to a little girl, I wanted to make it gender neutral, in case that little girl gets some siblings someday and mom will want to wrap the next baby up. Also, I looked at the gift registry and saw the bedding they picked had a lot of brown in it. It was both, but the first reason sounds so much more romantic, right?

brown crochet blanketAnyway, this blanket whipped up pretty quickly. I added one more repeat of the pattern so it would be a bit bigger. (I do that a lot because I want these blanket to last for longer than the newborn phase). It was an easy pattern to follow and nice to make. I did misread the pattern at first so I had to restart it once, but thankfully I figured it out pretty quickly!

I love this blanket. Here are the details:
  • Pattern name: Peter (you need a ravelry account to view it. Which, if you knit or crochet you should have. And it's free, so win-win!). 
  • Yarn used: Caron simply soft ... I think 4, I didn't pay attention
  • Hook: H
  • Modifications: added one more repeat of the pattern to the width of the blanket
brown crochet blanketOverall, I'm really pleased with how this blanket turned out! 

Friday, August 22, 2014

And They're Off

Arlington Park Entrance
The entrance
A few weeks ago, the kids and I were invited to Arlington Park.

Having lived in the Chicago suburbs for essentially my whole life, I always knew Arlington existed, but I had never been! The kids had been with my husband before, but I had never been. So when invited, I decided we would go. Which, turns out, was a fabulous decision!

Mister Man watching a race
First a little history. We have family ties to the racetrack. My husband's great grandfather was the head electrician there for over 20 years. His grandmother has stories about being there as a child. She also worked there as a young adult. We have tables in our shed that came from the racetrack. They were given to my husband's grandfather, after as a firefighter he helped fight a fire there.

Hanging out at the table
All of this to say, that there are some strong family ties to the track. And while the family talks about the track on a fairly regular basis, I had yet to actually go there. So it was kind of exciting to be going there for the first time! 

Horse on Parade at Arlington Park
Pre-race Parade
Fridays, the admission price is discounted, and you are allowed to bring your own food in. We did bet a little, but of course, that isn't required. I could have spent 5 hours there, with the two kids, for $12 whole dollars (assuming I brought my own food and didn't place a bet). Definitely, a fun time in my price range!

Horse Crossing Finish Line at Arlington ParkWe found a great little table to hang out at between races. It was close to where they do the pre-race parade. Which was nice because we'd walk over, see the horses, place our bets (a whole 2 dollars on each race. I'm telling you, I'm a big spender!), then go walk by the finish line to see the race. For one race, we went up to the grandstands to see the race. Mister Man liked being up there the best, but the rest of us preferred to be down by the finish.

Horse at Arlington Park
The horses are gorgeous! If I say they are positively majestic, will that sound too cliche? Well, even if it does, they were majestic. Miss M was also very thrilled to see quite a few female jockeys. Okay, okay, me too!

Horses at Gate of Arlington ParkThe start of the race is fun to watch. As they get all the hoses into the gates. Once that last horse is in though, bam, that race starts without hardly a pause! The first few races started at a point very close to were we could stand. The rest started at other spots (because the races are different lengths and some are on the dirt and some on the turf).

Horse Crossing Finish Line at Arlington ParkBut let's be honest. The real excitement is at the end. You can get pretty close to the finish line too. For almost every race, we were down there as close to front and center as you can get. I should specify here, this is for the races on the dirt. The races on the turf were on the inside track, and we didn't have the ability to cross the dirt track to get there!

View from the grandstand
Some of the races were REALLY close. Some weren't. In one race, one horse was disqualified (or something. I'm not going to lie, I didn't really hear what happened) other than at the end of the race 3 horses were first, second, third and 5 minutes later, a different horse was third place.

There were lots of people in derby hats. Some people dressed up. We went in very casually dressed. Which was fine too. I wanted to get a derby hat - some of them are so pretty - but couldn't find one I liked and could afford. I did try a bunch on though and that was fun!

All in all, we had a great afternoon at the racetrack. I'm anxious to get out there again at least once more this racing season (maybe twice if it's in the cards!)

As a side note, while we were at the track, I shot all my photographs in manual. I still don't have down 100%, but I am pretty proud of how a few of my pictures turned out!  

Monday, August 18, 2014

I'm just a person

Here's the thing: I'm just a person.

Just like you. I have good days and bad days. Days in which I think I rock and days in which I wish I could crawl into a hole for a while. I try to be nice. Sometimes I fail. Some days I'm ready to face the world head on, and others I'd like to just lay in bed, reading a good book. Some times my smile just can't get any bigger, and sometimes I'm crying so hard that I'm on the verge of hyper-ventilating. Sometimes I'm so happy. Other times I feel the weight of sadness on my shoulders so deep I'm afraid it's going to push me into the earth and I'll never be able to climb out. I have good days. I have bad days. I mostly have somewhere in the middle days. Moments I doubt everything I've ever done as a parent and other moments I have confirmation that I must have done something right. Sometimes I'm healthy. And sometimes I'm not.

I'm just a person.

And yet, some times I feel like I'm supposed to be this warrior, this hero, someone you can look up to. I'm supposed to stay positive. I'm supposed to tell you that cancer was a gift. Somehow, after going through cancer, I'm supposed to come out stronger and bigger and brighter and more amazing than I ever was before cancer.

This is the cancer narrative I face almost daily. Did you cry as you were being wheeled in for your mastectomy? Oh, you should have danced! It would have gone viral on you-tube and facebook! And everyone would just be so amazed at your positive, up-beat attitude. (Never mind the fact that I couldn't have danced once I was wheeled into the OR if I wanted to because of how things were set up). {side note: I'm not saying dancing is wrong. If it makes you happy, than it is right. But someone not dancing, while not as video-worthy, is no less right or better}.

Recently, Amy Robach (whom I wish nothing but good things for and am not trying to single out per say, she just provides the most recent example of what I'm talking about) gave an interview. She says

There are nearly 2 million breast cancer survivors in this country, and we are thriving, excelling, living. Yes, it is a hellish journey through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and drug therapy. But you will emerge a better person. I promise. You are stronger than you think, and you will find your inner warrior. Your family and friends will marvel at your strength, and they will weep with you on those days when you just don't want to get out of bed. It gets easier, and after this, there's nothing you can't do! (emphasis mine)
 Hear that breast cancer survivors: there is NOTHING, not a single damn thing, you can't do.

Well, except I can't lift over 5 pounds (which I mostly follow). I can't be outside for long in heat and humidity. I can't manage to stay healthy for very long. If the humidity is bad, I can't walk very well because my joints get inflamed and angry and don't want to move. I can't wear underwire bras anymore. Sometimes if I lay the wrong way, the pressure of the implants makes it hard for me to breathe. I can't feel touch on my chest (pressure, yes, but a light touch, you could do it and I'd never know unless I looked down and watched).

Oh, I know, I know what you are thinking ... Brandie, what she said, it's metaphorical, it's not literal. Stop being so darn literal!

Well guess what, there's a lot of things I can't do, metaphorically either. Sometimes I can't relax. I panic, positive the cancer must be back. Sometimes I can't shake the depression that I have. I just can't. I want to be happy. And carefree. But I can't. No matter how I try.

Here's the thing, when I had surgery, and chemotherapy, and radiation, and more surgery, and implants put in, it wasn't like I was Peter Parker getting bit by a radioactive spider - despite having undergone radiation therapy. No where during any of my treatment or therapies was I given a superhero cape "And now, Brandie, we your doctors, doth bestow on you, this cape. This cape will make you fearless and stronger. You will emerge better than you ever were before cancer. Wear it wisely though, for with great power comes great responsibility. You must always smile. You must now be ten times more interesting than you were before. After all, this is a mighty gift, bestowed upon the chosen few who have cells that grow in the wrong way. You are blessed among woman and will now live your life on a pedestal, where you must proclaim that all other blessed woman are blessed like you!"

Oh wait. That only happens in movies, in tv shows, and during interviews where people like to sugar coat cancer, especially breast cancer. As if it is this wonderful gift wrapped ever so carefully in a big pink bow and, hey, some days will be hard, but pshaw, most won't be and YOU'RE SO STRONG NOW IT DOESN'T EVEN MATTER!

Look, it would be great if this were true. But I am not the same person I was before cancer. Some things are better, some are worse, and some are just different. I am grateful to be alive, but I am still incredibly angry at what I had to endure, what my family had to endure. I've got a lot of anger that I'm still dealing with lingering side effects, that may continue to linger, forever. I'm sad when these side effects cause me to have to not do something.

There were days when I was able to dig deeper and find strength I never thought I had, but mostly, I just got through it a minute at a time. Sometimes, a second at a time. I put one foot in front of the other, they way we all do when we are walking through something that is taxing, hard, or difficult. We aren't consciously being strong, or brave - no, we are just doing the best we can with what we have. And sometimes that means staying in bed all day. 

Not to mention, none of this considers the women who are living with stage iv breast cancer. Or women who are in constant pain because of all the surgeries and treatment. Or the women who lose friends, family, and other people they thought they could count on because the cancer scared them away, or changed everything. Or the women who lost jobs because they just couldn't be well enough to get to work. The women who lose their children in custody battles, because they are not considered healthy enough by the courts to be a parent anymore. What about all the friends I had to say good-bye to because their breast cancer took their lives? What about them? What about the women who are struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, who have heart problems, lymphedema, get secondary cancers from treatment.

What about them?

40,000 woman die each year in this country from breast cancer. 400 men die each year.

Their voices deserve to be heard. Their lives deserved to be talked about, shared, looked at. They may not get the happily-ever after ending that will land them on commercials for some places that treat cancer. Their stories are not pretty. They are not always strong. There are plenty of things they can't do.

Is it sometimes hard to hear about it? Yep. Imagine what is to live with it. To feel your story isn't being shared because it isn't deemed good enough, happy enough, perfect enough.

I have tried to not be shy about sharing the darker moments, the harder moments, the struggles. And I have been surrounded by some great people who give me the space and the time to do this. Occasionally, and never from someone who I'm that close too, will try to put me in my place. Occasionally I'll meet someone who tries to tell me that not-so-great parts don't matter because I should just be happy I'm alive. Someone, practically a stranger, once asked, straight faced, "Is breast cancer that bad, or are you just playing it up for sympathy?"

Yeah. Just let that sink in for a minute. For real. Can you imagine asking anyone with almost any other illness that question?

But are you really surprised someone could think that? No, I mean, really? Because, if all we hear is the pretty, pink, wonderful, cancer-changed-my-life message, guess what we are left thinking: well it can't be that bad.

Well it can be. Let's start talking about it all of it - the good, the bad, the in the middle.

Because women who have breast cancer, are just that: women. We are not superheroes. We don't get capes with our cancer. We get through the day one moment at a time. Side effects linger. Some days are better than others. Some days are worse than others. We are happy to be here, still alive. But we are also dealing with everything that comes along on this ride. We are mourning the loss of a part of our body.  We are happy. We are sad. We are angry. We wonder why us. We wonder, why not us? What makes us so special that we got this disease? And what makes us so special that we think we shouldn't have gotten this disease.

We are, after all, just people. And that's how we want to be treated. As people. 

Or I should say, I am after all, just a person. And that's how I want to be treated. As a person. Not a survivor who is now capable of doing all things. I'm just a person.

Friday, August 15, 2014

State Fair Adventures

us at 3ish am
Last Saturday, at 3 am, Miss M and I woke up and drove down to our state fair.

Yes, this was crazy. No, I don't regret it. Yes, I would do it again.

You see, Miss M is in 4H and a few weeks ago we had our county fair. She did pretty fabulously in the county fair this year and was chosen to be one of the delegates our county sent down to state fair.

Miss M with her shirt!
We thought we would head down Friday, but alas, all the hotels were booked (or had a two night minimum) and so I thought maybe we wouldn't get to go. But, she worked so hard, and this was quite an honor, so we talked over some ideas and figured out how to make it work.

So at 3am, we woke up. We had packed the car the night before, and since there isn't much else to do that early in the morning, we got on the road to head to Springfield, IL.

It's pretty quiet on the roads at that time. And so we ended up talking while driving, which was nice! I told her "take advantage of this! It's just you and I and that doesn't happen very often!"

Hello Pres. Lincoln!
We arrived at the fairgrounds a bit after 7. I attempted to nap (wait, is it called a nap if it happens that early? lol!), and we headed out.

She had to be at the 4H building around 9, and we ended up getting their early (which was great since there was a line). Since we were one of the first ones there, we checked in early, she got judged early and we had the rest of the morning to walk around.

her sewing
She showed in the Clothing & Textiles division - and did level 1 (the first level). I'm going to have a total mom moment here: I am SO proud of her! She sewed her shirt and worked really hard on it. For the side edges, she even did a french seam to make it look nicer. I was there to talk to her, to guide her (with words only) if she needed me. I stayed close as she ironed and sewed (just in case), but that girl did such a good job. Her shirt looks great! I don't think I could have done that 11. Um, actually, I didn't figure out how to do that until I was out of school!

Learning to use a drop spindle
After lunch, we were able to pick her project up, get the judges comments and see if she placed. She didn't, but it was a great experience and it's an honor just to be there (which I know sounds like a cliche thing to say, but I mean it!)

After that we walked around the fair some more. We spent some time with some other families from our club (who were also there to show a project!). And we had a lovely day.

About 3pm, we both looked at each other and declared that our feet hurt! That it was time to get going, though she wanted to do one more thing: milk a cow. So we did and we got back on the road.

She slept most of the way home, which didn't surprise me in the least bit. I was a bit jealous of her while she was sleeping! Though, we did have a plan to stop if I needed to catch a catnap. And if I felt I needed a lot of sleep, we planned to just stop at a hotel. Neither was necessary, but I think if we had stayed at the fair much longer it might have been.

We rolled up back at our house a bit after 7. Both tired, but both glad we went, and both wanting to go back next year!

Beyond this, I will say, 4H has been a great and wonderful thing for her. It was kind of dumb luck that we decided to join 3 years ago, but I'm so happy we did. She's learned so much, and had a lot of fun doing it. She's been able to show projects at the county fair, and now the state fair. She's learned some really good skills, created things she is proud of, made some friends, and has done some service projects.

I love 4H. She loves 4H and we are both eager to start the next club year!