Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cookies, cookies, and oh, some more cookies

Every year for the last few ones, we bake a lot of cookies for the holidays.

There are  usually several parties to attend that require us to bring something, so I sign up for desserts.

I know I've said this before, but I love baking. Like love it with all my heart.

Bread, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, pies ... I want to make them all, all of the time!

This year, however, we took our cookie game to the next level.

I finally figured out royal icing.

We made our first meringue cookie.

Both girls were even bigger helps in the kitchen.

And oh my goodness, did we make some pretty phenomenal cookies.

Nothing was overly complicated or complex. Decorating the sugar cookies did take time, but it wasn't hard.

In addition to that, I whipped up some darn cute cupcakes. That turned out a bit sillier than I intended, but after they were done, I loved them for their silliness!

I made my first swiss roll cake. It wasn't perfect - but I managed to roll it without cracking it. It's a feat I'm pretty proud of. Though, I definitely left myself some room for improvement. I mean, Rome wasn't built in a day and my swiss roll cake wasn't perfected in one bake!

And if I'm being honest, I'm proud of myself for trying something new. And shocked it mostly worked the first time.

I've always loved baking. I've always been drawn to it. But lately, it feels like I'm ready to step it up to the next level. Not with crazy complex treats, but learning to make new things, new methods, and really refining skills.

It's fun to feel an old passion get rekindled. It's fun to be in the kitchen and feel confident in doing things I've done before. And it's fun to stand there trying something new while simultaneously praying it turns out okay!

And then, after all of that, you get to sit down and munch on something that tastes good! It's so much fun.

I'm already thinking about what to do over the coming year. New things I'd like to try to make are tarts, cream puffs, and coffee cake. I definitely want to make more bread - loaves, rolls, crusts, etc. It will be so fun to see what else I can pull off in the kitchen in the upcoming year. Thankfully I have a lot of friends and family who will be willing to try what I make!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

It's the night after Christmas

Another Christmas has come and gone.

I swear, we spend weeks preparing, and then poof! It's here. And over. And you've barely had time to take it all in!

That's not to say I don't enjoy the preparing. And I love the actual two days - Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

Our family was positively spoiled this year: both by ourselves and from others.

But I probably won't remember the specifics of this. We are spoiled every year. Every year the husband and I say that we went over the top for each other, for our kids. We have never had to have the experience of going without at Christmas or of feeling sad because we can't get our kids "enough." We've never had a Christmas where there is no where to go to celebrate the holiday with. And we've never had a Christmas apart (though it was close one year).

In ten years I might forget that this was the year I splurged and got my husband the new computer items he wanted (but would never want to spend the money on himself like that). I will probably forget that this was the year I got tons of baking supplies that I hope to use so many times that maybe in ten years they will already be replaced. I might forget that my son got a lot of dinosaur things - which he still loves and is so excited for. I might forget that I managed to somehow pick out make-up that the 16 year old actually likes. And I might forget that the 13 year old was most excited about getting a set of bed sheets with chickens printed on them.

What I hope to remember is that we baked a lot of cookies, but even better: we shared a lot of cookies. I hope I remember that my mom took me shopping and paid for cookie baking supplies so it would be one less thing for me to have to budget for the month (for while we don't go without, we also don't have unlimited spending) and that it felt like she handed me a million dollars instead of flour, sugar, butter, and some other things.

I hope I remember getting to rock our baby cousin to sleep at the Christmas Eve party. I haven't rocked a baby to sleep in a while, and her and I tucked away in a quiet room and I stole lots of baby kisses.

I hope I remember my 10 year old coming down stairs at 10:30 at night because he was just too excited to sleep! And Christmas is awesome and he just didn't know how he'd ever sleep! So we cuddled on the couch, flipped on The Christmas Story marathon and watched some tv together. And it was so sweet because at 10 he doesn't cuddle with me very often anymore. And we certainly don't get many moments where it's just the two of us.

I hope I remember the look on my mom's face as we all opened what she gave us. While what she gave us was awesome, her face of seeing us get it was priceless. For her the joy of Christmas is in seeing what happiness she can bring to others, and this year, that seemed to shine brighter than ever. Maybe it's always shone so bright, and this year is just the first year I saw it so much. But it was awesome. And I want to be like her.

I hope I remember how excited granny was that Santa brought her a present and filled her stocking too. We did this last year, but it seemed more fun this year. And I suppose it's probably been a while since granny has unpacked a stocking, but the simplest stocking stuffers made her smile.

I hope I remember that even though I didn't decorate every square inch of this house as planned - because we were having work on the house done, we couldn't decorate - that it was still a wonderful Christmas.

I hope I remember all the smiles I got to see. And all the hugs I was given and got to give. I hope I remember the happy tears - while just a few here and there - that I cried. And saw others cry, because even though things aren't perfect, and there is illness and sickness and some wish list items not purchased or received and some family isn't close enough to hug and some family members are (we like to wish) celebrating with us in Heaven, that despite the imperfections and heartbreak that exist in this world, that Christmas is still an amazing, wonderful time. And that the happiness and joy of the season seem to fill the cracks, if only for a small bit of time as you sit around the tree with your loved ones (the ones that were chosen and the ones that family ties you to). For a few moments, you look around and see smiles, and hear laughter. And sometimes there are tears in the eyes - sometimes happy tears, sometimes sad tears. But for a few moments, it's all okay.

I know we're supposed to carry the spirit of the season all year round. That's a lot of pressure though. Heck, I barely survived my great gingerbread-house-melt-down of 2015 (though I did) because it's hard to be happy and upbeat all the time. Life is just not built that way.

But for a few magical moments on Christmas, it all seems to fade away and just take a break. I am surrounded by the love of family and friends. I'm surrounded by smiles. I'm surrounded by squeals of delight.

It truly is a most wonderful time of the year for me.

I hope your holiday season was wonderful as well, even if not perfect, regardless of whatever holiday you celebrate (or don't) this time of year.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Time Goes Fast as it Slowly Marches On

Today is November 30.

The last day of November.

Tomorrow is December.

Um. I swear I blinked and November started. Then I blinked again and November ended.

These days just fly by like I can't imagine when I'm standing in the thick of them.

In the middle of the days, it feels as if time is marching slowly, just molasses rolling out over us. Tick tick tick goes the grandfather clock. 

I swear I spend hours telling the kids to get school work done. And hours folding laundry. And hours wondering what to make for dinner, not deciding, then hours thinking some more.

I count down the minutes until the husband gets home.

All the things that need to be done, take for. ever.

And our day is ruled by time.

Time to get up and wish the 16 year old a good day.
Time to get granny breakfast.
Time to tidy up just a bit.
Time to make sure the other two are up.
Time to nap because I'm still tired from the day before.
Time to get up and start schoolwork.
Time to make lunch.
Time to do more schoolwork.
Time to run to the grocery store.
Time to do more schoolwork.
Time for Jeopardy.
Time to tidy again.
Time for husband to come home.
Time to fold laundry.
Time to make dinner.
Time to clean up from dinner.
Time to watch the news.
Time to watch whatever show is on that night.
Time to get granny dessert.
Time to get things setup for bedtime.
Time to round the children up, to remind of the things they haven't quite finished yet.
Time to hug and kiss them, tell them I love them, and put them to bed.
Time for the husband to go to bed.
Time for peace and quiet.

That is of course the moment the clock starts flying and suddenly, like we're traveling in warp speed, the clock goes from ten to 12.

Time for me to get to bed!

So slow do the individual moments march on. So routine is our day.

There is comfort in the routine. Knowing what is to be done now and what should be done next.
The rhythm, albeit slow, is there and calms me. Until the moment the time is gone and we are frantically trying to get all the things done.

This is life. I take some days minute by minute. And then blink. A week is gone. A month is gone. Soon another year will pass.

Wasn't it just 2014 the other day? That day that felt like it took an entire year to pass?

But here we are. The end of November.

Another NaBloPoMo in the books.

Frankly, I'm most proud of this one. I had a good month this year.

It energized me. Hopefully, I can keep the energy going through December and into the next year. 

Because next year is coming in just another blink. And I'm going to try to not let it pass me by because time sure flies as it slowly ticks by! 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Short post

So.
I have no computer. We wiped it and started to rebuild it all and we've hit a snag.
I'm not very happy about this. And I've done a terrible job of staying calm. And I might have said "are you freaking kidding me." A few times.
Okay. I didn't say freaking. I'll let your imagination fill in what I did say.
Needless to say, I'm typing on my phone. Which I stink at.
So that is all for now. Here's to hoping its up and running by midnight tomorrow so I can write a proper post!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holiday Crafting

A quick craft I made today*
A few weeks ago I decided that for next Christmas (yes, that would be in 2016), I wanted to try to have completely handmade decorations.

I know. I know.

I can buy stuff at lots of stores. I can even get a lot of it discounted. It's not that we need more things. It's that I like making things. And to be surrounded by lots of decorations during the holidays that I or the kids made? That would be a wonderful treat!

Even though I want this next year - after all I do need to sleep between now and December 25 of this year, I wanted to start making things this year as I was able to.

So. Early this morning (which is code for not really even that early for most of the rest of the world but early for me!) I woke up, got my daughter, got my not-daughter-who-is-here-so-often-she's-like-another-child and we headed over to Jo-Ann's.

I'll admit, I was kind of scared. I didn't know what sort of crowd we'd be facing. I wasn't sure how many people there would be. And I didn't know how well the store would handle all the millions of people I envisioned would be there.

Thankfully, it wasn't as busy as I thought it would be - thought definitely a lot busier than normal! And apparently, the store has done this before, because they were ready.

Before we went in the store, we joked around and made a "game plan". Our game plan was basically grab a ticket for the fabric cutting counter pretty quickly to walking in, then shop. That way if the line was really long, we wouldn't wait as long! Then we did a team hand stack and we were ready to head into the store. Right when the doors opened.

But it wasn't that bad. People seemed to be in good moods. Most everyone seemed to expect there would be lines and waiting and lots of people, so no one was getting upset that it wasn't going faster. Most people seemed to know exactly what they want and there didn't seem to be a lot of just wandering around and seeing what there was (which is how I usually spend half my time in any craft store!). Despite lots of people, it seemed good to me. None of those images I've seen on tv of crazy crowds pushing and shoving and running and grabbing things out of people's carts!

I saved quite a bit of money between coupons and sales. And I've come home with many, many items so I can (hopefully) make lots and lots of fun things to decorate the house with. 

I'm excited about this. I don't know how far I'll get or how much I'll actually make. Or what I'll do with the things we already own.

But I do like making things. And I don't make hardly anything for our home, so I'm glad I will finally get a chance to do something crafty for our house!

*I saw this on pinterest. It was made slightly differently because they cut the letters out of vinyl and put it on the glass. I printed the words on a white paper ( a script font at size 100). I taped that to the back of a shadow box and put in three different sized silver bells inside the shadow box. It literally took me about 5 minutes! If I did it again, I'd move the words up higher so I could get more bells in. I'm also looking at that black frame and wondering if there's some way I can jazz it up. But I think what I will do is try to layer in decorations around it and leave the frame alone!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Computer Woes

Oh, I was going to end this year's NaBloPoMo with a bang!

This was, as we headed into this week, probably my best NaBloPoMo yet - which made me feel really good and really proud about my writing and sticking to the challenge!

But. But. But.

Those darn buts.

For the second time in a very short time, a credit card of mine has been "stolen."

Not physically removed from my purse. Not taken out of the house. But the numbers stolen and used by someone else to make purchases.

Not even 6 weeks ago, this happened. We caught it on the first charge they made (thanks credit card fraud department!). This time, they made a charge a few days ago, yesterday, and then the big one today.

Sigh.

We can only imagine, that there is something on my computer - keystroke logger, something - because twice in such a short time? I mean, it could be coincidence, but I feel like probably not.

So I'm frantically removing files I want to an external hard drive. And at some point tomorrow, my husband will wipe the computer clean and we will start over as if it's day one. Because we've scanned, checked, looked for, and we can't find anything.

Maybe. Just maybe, that means nothing is there.

However, I'm not a big fan of coincidences so I'm trusting my gut which says my laptop is the heart of the problem.

To say that I'm frustrated by this would be a huge understatement.

I love technology. But I also dislike it at moments like this.

Also I wonder what problems could we solve if people who did things like this, used their powers for good and to help people.

Sigh.

Alas, all the things I wanted to say, all the things swirling around in my head just went right out of it.

So here you go. I'm off to continue moving files. And hoping this doesn't happen a third time.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving

Another Thanksgiving is in the books. It was a good one indeed for us.

But, before the day passed, I wanted to stop by and say thank you to you. Yes! You!

Thank you for visiting my blog! Thank you for reading - whether this is your first post or you've read them all, thank you!

For every comment you've left, thank you!

For every retweet on twitter. For every like on facebook. For ever plus on google plus. Thank you.

I really do appreciate it.

xoxo
Brandie

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Baking

Pumpkin Pie and Not Pumpkin Pie!
Today, in preparation for Thanksgiving, I've done some baking.

I'm going to my mom's tomorrow and I am in charge of desserts.

I love baking. Completely love baking. I could bake all the time - cupcakes, brownies, cakes, breads ... all of it, I love.

So today, sometimes with rotating help from the kiddos, we made pumpkin pie, rice krispie treats (in the shape of a pumpkin pie), and some of the cookies Natasha shared Monday!

We also made some brownies and chocolate pudding/mousse for a trifle we'll put together tomorrow.

Thankfully, I was able to spread out the baking over the course of the day - I'm still having trouble with my back and neck. This means, even when I'm doing something I enjoy, I have to take it easy and not overdo it. Which is a shame because I'm quite talented at overdoing it!

Between working, I've been binge watching The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. I'm not sure why I have watched this show before now. I've heard others mention it. I know our local PBS aired it, and yet, it's new to me. And not surprisingly, I'm in love with it.

My son told me that I should be on a show like this myself. I'm flattered by his compliment, and while I don't think I'm a bad baker, I'm certainly not tv-show-competition-ready.

Which is just fine by me! I'm okay with baking for friends and family and watching tv shows from the couch, in comfy jammies, with my knitting!

How about you? Do you love baking? Any favorite recipes you can share with me? =)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

12 Days of Cookies: Cut-out Cookie Tree

A bit ago, my friend Natasha of Houseful of Nicholes asked who wanted to participate in the 12 Days of Cookies, and inside I was like oh yes I do want to join in because how fun is this, but on-line I was like yeah, if you need someone I'll do it. Because I'm all casual like that!

Instantly, I knew what I was going to make: a Christmas Tree.

I did this quite a few years ago and thought it was really pretty cute and it looks harder to make than it is. And if you can make yummy cookies that impress people, well, why not?

Last time I made the cookies, I printed a star graphic and then enlarged it a few sizes and shrunk it a few sizes. I carefully cut out all the stars, placed them on the rolled out cut-out cookie dough, and used a knife to cut them out. It is truly how I planned to do it this time as well. But as luck would have it, on Friday I accidentally came across a holiday sale and I found a set of 10 star cookie cutters on sale for one whole dollar. Yep I snapped those cookie cutters up and thought the universe must be looking out for me! (though if you don't have a set, you try the print, shrink/enlarge, cut method too).

I told the kids what I was planning to do and instantly I had quite a few helpers - in my house, the kids love to roll out dough and decorate cookies. The mixing, baking, cooling part? That's not much fun so it gets left for me, which I don't mind at all!

So I mixed the best cut-out cookie dough I know. The recipe came from my friend Melodee and ever since she shared it with me, I've never used another! After mixing, I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and placed it in the fridge. This dough, I've found, works best when it's just slightly cold. If it's too cold, it cracks and if it's too warm it's too sticky. I find just under an hour in the fridge is perfect and if it has to stay in longer, I just let it sit at room temperature until it softens.

Anyway, I pulled it out of the fridge and had some kids very eager to roll it out! I handed them some dough, a rolling pin, and a stack of cookie cutters. Be careful cutting them out, I warned, we need two cookie of each size so you have to pay attention!

So we carefully cut them out, placed on the cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and I was in charge of baking them. Which is good, because these cookies go from done to burned very quickly. I don't even leave them on the pan when I take them out of the oven - I move them to cooling racks right away!

Somehow, we managed to get two of all sizes (and three of one, but we'll call the extra a test cookie to make sure they were yummy!)

Now truthfully, this is where I stop for the day. After the cookies are cooled, I put them in a storage container and stop for the day. Yes, a two day cookie - not because they need to be, but because it's better for me to do it that way! If you don't have two days, do it in one. If you only have smaller chunks of time, split it up!

Day two of cookies is frosting day! Another thing the kids like to do. I whip up the frosting, fill bags, and let them go. We used a royal icing and outline the cookie and then fill it in. The kids do a great job at this because even if they don't, we just spread the frosting out a little bit with a spatula and call it a day!


Then it's time to let the cookies sit so the frosting gets hard. Alright, another confession, we never wait quite long enough because we are eager to move on to the next step, and it's okay! Because the next step is the most fun.

Starting withe largest size cookie, put a dollop of frosting in the middle, and stack on the cookie that is the same size. Turn it so that the points of the star are not right on top of each other. Put a dollop of frosting and place the next larges cookie on top. Dollop of frosting, cookie, lather, rinse, repeat, until all the cookies are placed.

Now step back. You have a gorgeous cut-out cookie Christmas tree. That isn't any more wok than traditional cut-out cookies. In fact, it's probably a bit of less work because you don't need to decorate them fancy - just top with green icing and you are good to go!

We also made one extra of the tiniest star and decorated it with sprinkles so it could be our tree topper! It looks lovely I think. And every one will be oohing and aahing over your cookies!

Cut-Out Cookies


1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cream of tartar
1/2 t salt

Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix in rest of ingredients.
Flatten into a disc and chill for at least one hour.
Bake 6-8 minutes at 400 degrees.

*You'll need to double the recipe to make a tree the size of mine


Royal Icing
2 pounds powdered sugar
5 Tablespoon meringue powder
1/2-3/4 cups water
2-3 teaspoon of vanilla
Food coloring (if desired)


Mix the vanilla into half the water.
Put the sugar and meringue powder into a mixing bowl and mix it at low speed.
Slowly add the water/vanilla mix.
Then add as much of the water as you need to get the frosting to a honey-like consistency.
Add food coloring (if desired).
Continue to mix for a few minutes, until it can form soft peaks.

I find this is a bit thinner than other recipes, but I like it that way much better! I even sometimes add a bit more water to thin it out just a bit more.

Bake. Frost. Eat. Enjoy =)



Monday, November 23, 2015

ChiTag Overview

On Saturday, we woke up early and headed down to the city for our 4th annual trip to ChiTag (Chicago Toy and Game Fair).

We came home with quite a few new games to add to our collection and I can't wait to tell you all about them because we got some fun one!

Of course, every year, when we leave the fair I think I should twice a month share about a game we love to play with because we have a lot and we enjoy playing them!

Anyway, this year, I really want to do that, so it will definitely be something I add to the blog in 2016, but for now, I thought I would just share a few pictures of our time at ChiTag this year!

6 am wake-up call to be on the road before 7!

Breakfast to feed the starving children!

Seeing friends! 

 Playing games

Playing more games

Riding scooters



Getting jewelry

More games (we bought this one!)

Building toys

 Trying more games (we bought this one too!)

All the kids with their loot!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

It Isn't Enough

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I remember desperately thinking if I can just survive this, that'll be enough.

I prayed fervently, just let me survive. Please don't let me die.

The doctors, even in the early days told me it wouldn't be likely this cancer would kill me. We were going to hit it with everything possible. Treatment would be hard. But I'd survive it all.

And I was so glad. Because that was going to be enough.

And now, 4 1/2 years later, I realized a hard truth just yesterday. It isn't enough.

Now, don't misunderstand me. This is NOT me saying I'm not grateful to be here. Or that I'd rather NOT be here.

But just simply surviving my cancer? It wasn't enough.

Today. In this moment. I want so much more than surviving.

I want no pain.
I want no migraines.
I want no fatigue.
I want real boobs, not silicone appendages.
I want to be healthy.
I want to be energetic.

I thought, when this all started, that just living would be enough. I thought, like in the movies, my whole perspective of the world would be changed. Colors would be brighter. Little things would bother me less. I'd find a sense of peace, that can only be obtained by going to hell and being lucky enough to return.

It turns out, that sometimes it just isn't enough.
Colors look the same.
I still hate sitting in traffic or hearing people chew with their mouths open.
And peace? Is still just an idea in my head that has yet to come to fruition.

I am scared to put this in print. Because maybe, just maybe, if I try hard enough it will be enough. And I'll look past the chronic pain and the chronic fatigue. I'll be able to look past the tears or another missed event because I don't feel good. I'll be able to look past everything and find some sort of peace.

Somehow I've convinced myself I just need to try harder and suddenly things will get better.

I'm not sure how or why, but it's what is always in the back of my head nagging at me.

And yet, I'm also not sure what I would have done differently then. Or now.

Knowing what I know now, I feel confident in my treatment choices. I feel confident in my doctors then and now. During active treatment I worked with my oncologist and also an integrative doctor and did some alternative therapies too. I tried to take care of my whole body during treatment.

I was convinced, if I just did everything I was supposed to, I'd come out on the other side and not only would I be totally fine, I'd be better than ever. I mean, getting the cancer out of my body could only mean good things, right?

Until that moment that it doesn't. As side effects linger, as my body has been changed forever, as I am struggling with the what next, I've realized that surviving isn't enough.

And I've realized that I should have seen this coming a mile away.

I longed for things to be better before cancer, so why wouldn't I want it to be better now? It's silly to think that having cancer would suddenly mean I don't have any wishes, or hopes, or want things to be better.

Isn't that human nature? Aren't we all dreamers? Don't we all picture a future that is better?

So once again, I feel like I'm facing a cancer narrative that is nowhere near my reality.

I sit here, metaphorically scratching my head, wondering why the most popular cancer narratives out there seem to be so far from my reality.

I'm sure these narratives are built to be inspiring, and yet, they give me false hopes and make me wonder what's wrong with me.

Slowly, I'm learning, the problem isn't me, it's the narratives thrust upon us. I'll keep saying this until I'm blue in the face ... I want others to read this and know they aren't alone if they are feeling the same way.

There is not one way to do cancer. There is not one way to do post-cancer.

It's okay for surviving to not be enough. It's okay to want more.

It's okay to mourn the life it feels that cancer took away from us. And it's okay to want to feel good after treatment. It's okay to feel that surviving isn't enough.

I'll keep saying it. And I want you, and myself, to keep listening to it. Read it over and over until you start to believe it. Because it's true.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Helping the Homeless

I noticed this week that a lot of people are talking about the homeless in the US.

While some are complaining, or saying it's just a scapegoat for other issues, I personally think it's great that we are talking about it and that so many people seem interested in helping.

So, I sat down and made a list of places in our area that help provide help to those who are homeless or are on the brink of being homeless. Some of these places I already knew about, but some are new to me (thanks to doing some internet searched!).

So here you go. Places that help, and places you can help provide that help.

Bridge Communities
http://www.bridgecommunities.org/index.html
They provide transitional housing, mentoring, and other services to homeless families in the DuPage Country area
Glen Ellyn, IL

DuPage PADS
http://dupagepads.org/
They provide interim and permanent housing to those who are in need, as well as support services to help people become self-sufficient.
Wheaton, IL

Fellowship Housing Corporation
http://www.fhcmoms.org/
They help single moms and their children who are homeless or at high risk for becoming homeless with two-year transitional housing and a path to help find permanent housing
Hoffman Estates, IL

The Harbour
http://www.theharbour.org/
They provide services and help to homeless teenage girls (who are often runaways or have been locked out of their homes). They offer both emergency housing and transitional housing
Park Ridge, IL

Journeys the Road Home
http://www.journeystheroadhome.org/landing/
They provide shelter and services to those in the area who are homeless, or are at high risk of becoming homeless
Palatine, IL

Lazarus House
http://www.lazarushouseonline.com/
They provide emergency housing and transitional housing to men, women and children in the Kane County area. They also have outreach programs to help those who aren't homeless, but are close to it.
St. Charles, IL

Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans
http://www.helpaveteran.org/
They provide transitional and affordable housing to veterans of any age and their families
Wheaton, IL

Shelter, Inc
http://shelter-inc.org/
They provide help and shelter to children who are being abused, neglected, or in need of supervision. They have a 24 hour hot-line so they can help at any time
Arlington Heights, IL

Willowcreek Care Center
https://www.willowcreekcarecenter.org/
They offer assistance for food and clothing. As well as health and dental services to those in need. They also provide transportation to those who qualify.
South Barrington, IL

Wings
http://wingsprogram.com/
They provide housing, help, and care to women and their children trying to leave abusive partners
Palatine, IL


Food Pantries
Barrington Township
Greater Elgin Food Pantry
Hanover Park Township 
Interfaith Food Pantry (Carol Stream, IL)
Palatine Township Food Pantry
People's Resource Center (Wheaton, IL)
Self Help Closet and Pantry of Des Plaines
St. Edna Catholic Church Pantry (Arlington Heights, IL)
Trinity Charities Inc Food Pantry (Schaumburg, IL)
Willowcreek Church Food Pantry (South Barrington, IL)

This list isn't all inclusive, there are lots of other places out there to help as well!

And if you don't live local to me, I hope this will inspire you to create a list to share with your friends and family!

Friday, November 20, 2015

It's Friday

It's Friday.

I know I'm supposed to be happy it's Friday, and I am.

But this Friday has been a long day!

We are getting a new roof (yay!) but you wouldn't believe how loud it is to get a new roof. Or maybe you would. But it's loud. And my head isn't so appreciative of that noise. Though, I will be once it's done because it was time. It was actually passed time.

My neck is broken. I can't move it. Well, okay, I can move it, it just hurts.

Also, Armageddon is bearing down on us at this moment.

Okay. Not really the end of the world. But a snowstorm is coming and so I'm here checking radars, looking out the window, and trying to figure out if we'll really get a lot of snow, or if it's much ado about nothing. Because sometimes they predict a lot more snow than actually comes down.

Mostly I don't mind snow. Mostly I don't leave the house and it's just an excuse to sit and knit or work on other such projects.

Tomorrow, I'm supposed to actually leave the house which, I won't want to do if we are in the process of getting 8 inches of snow. Or even 5 inches.

So basically I'm tired, my head hurts, and I'm anxious about the weather.

TGIF.

Or you know, not quite.

But really, I know I'm lucky. I know these are first world problems. I do have enough perspective to see this.

And yet, I'm kind of crabby tonight.

So, here you go. A throw-a-way post for today.

I hope that your Friday is going much better. And if the snowing is heading for you, you are able to hunker down!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Flash Giveaway!!

*Note this is a sponsored post, but all thoughts, opinions, and words are my very own!

Hello everyone!

Two posts in one day ... I know, I'm shocked too!

But this post in a fun one!

I've got a weekend family pass to ChiTag (Chicago Toy and Game Fair).

Not sure what ChiTag is? Basically it's a room full of toys and games. Things you can try out, things you can buy. It's a lot of fun. Still want to learn more? I wrote about our trip there in 2014.

This year will be our 4th year going. Even my 16 year old wants to go - if that doesn't tell you something, I don't know what else could convince you it's fun!

Anyway, I'm going to give away to TWO lucky (and fast) readers - this giveaway is open for 24 hours - a weekend family pass. That means you can take yourself and your whole family to the fair. And you can go on Saturday. Or Sunday. Or both days!

Here are the details. ChiTag is THIS weekend November 21 and 22. Yes, as in just 2 days from now (hence the flash giveaway). It's in Navy Pier's Festival Hall. And it's open 10am to 5pm.

All you have to do is leave a comment. You can tell me a game you and your family likes to play, or you can just say pick me! Or you can leave a smiley face. You are also welcome to comment about what a fabulous person I am! ;-)

I will notify you tomorrow night!

I know this is last minute, but hey, think of it as a fun game! =)

PS If you don't win, follow this link to get a coupon to save you $2 on your tickets

Comments are closed as the contest is over!! Congrats to Nicole for winning tickets! 

Goals, To Do Lists, and Fatigue

my to-do list on a good day.
Every month I sit down and make a calendar/to-do list for myself. It's based on the bullet journal method and I really like it.

First I start by setting the month up and writing down any of the goals I have for that month.

Many of these goals are based on the goals I set up for the whole year - just broken down into small bits.

Of course, there are always new things coming up, new events to add, different things that need to happen - like birthdays, parties to plan, etc.

After I set things up on a month level, I go through and break things down by day.

Do I need to edit three months worth of pictures? Well, I'll throw it on the calendar for 30 minutes a few times a week.

Each day I list the things on my to-do list for that day, I write down any appointments I need to be at, or classes for the kids, or special events (birthdays, holidays, etc).

As things come up, I shuffle things around. If I have a day where I'm going to be out of the house almost all day, I will put fewer things on the to-do list.

This method mostly works for me. Things are broken down. I can split things up each week as needed according to other things going on. And at a glance, I can see all the things for the day.

The problem is, as almost always, even when I pull back to the necessities, I'm so dang tired.

Too many days hardly any boxes get checked off as accomplished. A few days, nothing gets checked off.

Same old story. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The fatigue and exhaustion I feel are sometimes crushing. Combine this with chronic pain issues? on those days, I'd kill to feel crushing exhaustion.

It's hard to get to the end of the day and not see things get done. It's hard to know that my husband has to come home from work and pick up the slack that I couldn't do (side note: he does this without complaint. I still feel bad).

Because it seems like every day I fall a bit farther behind. But that little bit builds and builds and suddenly it's November and my to-do list for the year seems quite lacking. And it's not like December is a quiet month that will give me a lot of time to catch up! In an ideal world, I'd reach my yearly goals this month and have December to focus on holidays and birthdays.

So here I sit, knowing things will be unfinished come December 31.

But I also sit her knowing things did get done. And that next year, it will be better to set the bar lower.

That's what I have to remind myself a lot of these days. Patience with myself. Kindness to myself. Knowing that any step forward - even if it wasn't as far as I wanted it to be - is a good thing. I may not have finished many of my goals, but I did make a lot of progress.

I know this isn't the first time I've written similar thoughts. It's probably not even the second or the third time.

Honestly, I'm still trying to convince myself that what I can get done is enough. If I type it enough. If I read it enough. I'll start to believe it.

Or so I'm told.

I hope that starts to happen soon. I often end the day feeling like a sloth and feeling badly about all I didn't do - instead of happy for the things I did do.

But I keep trying.

And next year, I'll set smaller goals for the year, while still trying to push myself to get things done. It's a fine line, right? Because I don't want goals that are too easy or don't require effort. But I don't want goals set so high that there just isn't a chance.

It's kind of how I try to educate my kids - there's a band where things are not quite easy, but not too hard. It's just in that sweet spot of learning, getting things done, and feeling good about it because it required just the right amount of work.

It all just comes down to balance.

Someday I will figure the balance puzzle out. And I will come here and share my wisdom with you!

But for now, I'm here scratching my head, trying to figure out the best way to get close to proper balance all while not feeling too bad when I don't achieve it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

But I don't have time to up and leave

It seems there is a constant theme about women after going through a traumatic event: they get up and leave.

Whether it's non-fiction like Wild and Eat, Pray, Love or in fiction books like The Lovely Bones ... these women go through an ordeal and then get to go away and find themselves and heal.

I read Eat, Pray, Love when it was hugely popular. It didn't move me. I didn't get it honestly. I didn't pick up Wild when it came out - my to be read list is much too long to throw it in the mix at this point. But I didn't feel I needed to. These books don't speak to me.

Another friend recently pointed out that in the cancer narrative, women who are diagnosed quit their jobs and change their life or take a mega huge trip across the globe or across a trail or something similar.

What about the rest of us?

Those of us who have families that tether us to home? And don't get me wrong, I don't mind being tethered to home.

I don't have a job to quit. I don't have a life that I want to radically transform.

I enjoy my role as a wife, as a mother, as a granddaughter, as a daughter.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have a weekend away from it all. But just a weekend. And it wouldn't be a weekend in which I'd find myself or rewrite my life's vision, or do some insane task like hike a million miles or climb a mountain or something.

It would literally be just a weekend to relax. And probably sleep a lot.

Where does this narrative leave the rest of us? Those of us who are unable to just pick up and go, or don't want to pick up and go. Or those of us who can't switch jobs and move to a new spot. Or we don't want to.

We are still floundering in this post-cancer phase. We are still dealing with side effects. And anger. And learning to try to accept everything that has happened.

Some of us at the same time have lost loved ones or been through divorce or watched our children get sick as well. Some of us still struggle with pain and heartache and anger. Some of us would love the chance to momentarily get away from it all and just be for a few moments.

And yet, picking up and leaving is not an option. Radically changing our lives isn't an option.

So when I read these books, they don't speak to me. They don't give me aha! moments. They don't make me glance around my life and make me want to leave it all behind. They do make me want to toss the book and roll my eyes. Not at the book itself, per se, But at the hype that's coming. The hype that if we only just did x, y, and z, we could be like the heroines of those stories. And become the heroines of our own story, all the while finding out who we are and where we belong in this world.

Pardon me as I roll my eyes.

I know who I am.

I know where I belong.

Cancer did not change my heart.

It made me anxious and worried and angry. It made me wonder why me and also why not me?

And yes, it did leave me thinking about what next? But not what next for MY WHOLE BIG LIFE.

When you are in treatment, things are regimented. You go to the doctor on this day. And this day. This day is when you get your blood drawn. This day is when you know you are going to be extra tired. This is the day you will mostly likely hit your nadir.

And while you feel like you are constantly being poked and prodded - there is some comfort in that. Because if, on that off change, the cancer is back, won't someone notice? They must with all the check-ups and all the questions and all the medicines being pumped into you.

And then boom. It all ends.

It's a beautiful thing, but it's also scary too.

Alright. You had cancer. You had intense treatment. But now you are done. Go out and live life.

But in your head, you are kind of feeling a bit like Wait, what? Nope. Not ready. Give me back the structure of all the appointments and check-ups please and thank you.

But there you are. Out of treatment.

You get asked questions like but the cancer's gone, so you're back to normal now, right? And you smile and nod but you want to scream what the hell is normal anyway? And no. I'm not normal. I don't even remember what normal is anymore.

And sure, in those moments, when you are laying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, and insomnia has set in, sure, you think. Maybe I do want to pick up and just go away for a year. Or two. Or move somewhere far away. Or get a new job. Or you pray for that life changing epiphany to hit you - bam - out of the blue so that you can wake up the next day and profess to the world that cancer was a gift. And now you know what you want to do with life. And you are so grateful for everything. And isn't it all just wonderful?

But that moment doesn't come. And you can't just get up and jet set around the globe. Or pick up your family and move.

And truthfully, it isn't really what you want anyway. You just read the stories and are so desperate to fill in the what next that you start to think maybe that's the only way to move on. To put cancer behind you. (or grief or the pain of a lost relationship or whatever is weighing on your heart).

But I think there is room for us. There is room for those of us who get up the next day. And do what needs to be done. Taking care of our families, traveling to our jobs, being good neighbors and friends. There is something for us, even if we can only carve out 15 minutes a week to grieve and to start to mend whatever needs to be mended.

There is peace to drinking a cup of hot tea in your favorite chair in the living room while your kids run around you. Sure, it's no cafe in Paris. Or a thermos in a tent on a mountain you are climbing.

But our stories matter too. We deserve time and healing just as much as those who can carve out large chunks of time - weeks, months, years.

Our stories need to be shared as well, and talked about. We don't need to recreate travel stories in our life ... we need to just live our life the way we can. However that may look for us.

How about you? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A knitting journey

 I've got quite a few finished projects laying around my house, patiently waiting to be shipped to their forever home.

I've got a few more projects in process, patiently waiting to be finished, washed, dried, and sent to their forever home.

This probably isn't a surprise to anyone reading these words.

I love to knit. I've loved to knit for a while.

I talk about yarn and needles and patterns more often than the people around me probably want to hear about those things.

There is yarn all over my house. I try to keep it limited to a few specific places, but sometimes, projects require me to spread things out.

I have bins of yarn waiting to be knit. A box of needles. Some of it I bought. Some of it was given to me. Some of it was handed down to me.

I love knitting.

I love all things to do with knitting.

The other day, someone asked me how my passion for knitting started. Okay, she really asked me how my obsession with knitting started, but passion sounds so much nicer to me!

I started knitting in 2003. Just over ten years ago.

Our friends had just announced they were newly pregnant and for whatever reason, I had it stuck in my head that I NEEDED to knit them booties for their baby. That was it though. I set out to knit some booties and then move on to the next thing in my life.

So I went on-line and looked for a pattern.

Yes, you could search the internet for patterns back then, but there weren't as many as there are today. I wasn't really sure, but a friend, sent me a link to a pattern she had used and loved. The pictures looked cute. So I decided that's what I would make.

Then I searched for how to knit. Again, there were some sites. Many were just written directions - no pictures, no videos.

I went to the library and checked out some books.

I went to the local craft store and bought yarn and needles.

With lots of enthusiasm, I sat down and knit one day.

It looked like crap.
No, really it did.

My oldest daughter was 3 at the time. I got so frustrated with the knitting, that I put it down and walked away. When my husband came home he picked it up and asked me what our 3 year had tried to make.


Yep. He thought the 3 year old made it.

But I tried again.

And I tried again.

And I tried again.

And one of those times, plus a bit of help from an aunt (who was able to show me in person how to knit) it did finally click.

I made the booties - three pairs. I made a nice-sized baby blanket.

I was smitten with knitting. And wanted to keep going.

To learn new stitches and to play around with things, I knit a lot of blankets for my three-year-old's dolls. They were quick, easy, and she loved having them all!

I also knit a lot of scarves. Again, quick, easy, and a good way to test patterns out and stitches out.

And somehow it all just kept clicking. And clicking. I branched out and tried out a variety of patterns - hats, socks, blankets, etc.

After the frustration of just starting passed, I was in love with knitting. Pretty early on it felt like something that was made for me to do!

I even briefly taught knitting classes at the local craft store! I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I could make it work with our schedule.

Which leads to where we are today.

I still love knitting.

I would still happily spend all my time knitting if I could.

My husband knows I'm feeling really bad when we hit a point where I don't even want to knit.

I've mentioned before how knitting got me through some pretty tough days as well. Days during chemo when I could barely move, but somehow was able to pick up needles and knit. Knitting came to chemo with me, even on the days when I was too tired and sore to actually knit.

My doctors know I love knitting. One doctor (who is a knitter herself) will occasionally "prescribe" knitting time to me!

When I started knitting 12 years ago, I never pictured how important knitting would be in my life. I never imagined that knitting would become a part of me. I probably would have laughed if you told me then that I'd be the knitting lady to so many people.

But honestly? I love it.

I love it when people send me knitting memes on-line. I love it when people share news stories about knitting or knit things. I love it when people tag me in photos with lots of yarn.

Who knew back then? I didn't know.

But maybe the universe did. Maybe the universe planted the seed in my head. And somehow I was smart enough to run with it and go.

Whatever happened, I'm glad I found knitting. I'm glad I didn't think I was too young to do it. Or that I didn't think it was a hobby from a bygone era.

I love knitting!




Monday, November 16, 2015

Love






Tonight, at dinner, I asked my husband "where is our bag of tea lights?"

He told me where to find them.

I pulled them all out and lined them up. Thankfully I had just enough.

We lit them up and whipped out my camera.

This picture might be cliche. Yet another picture of love spelled out in candles.

But you know what, we need more love in this world.

We need more love.
We need more kindness.
We need more giving without strings.
We need more patience.
We need more peace.

So, yes, today I snapped a photo that might seem cliche.

But I stand by my decision to do so.

As Peter Keller says "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.

So get your candle lit. And then light another candle. And light another candle. And another. And encourage those to light candles. 

This is what happens when you share love. And kindness. And giving. 

It multiplies. It goes out in the world. It becomes something. 

I'm not naive. It doesn't magically erase all the bad things. 

Life is life. And bad things happen. Children die. Adults die. People get sick. People shoot other people. People go hungry. People decide other people deserve to go hungry. 

We live not in a broken world, but in the world that always was. Some of our earliest stories are about murder, lust, revenge, death, pain. 

This is our world. But that doesn't mean we should stop lighting candles. Or that we should stop loving. Or that we should build (metaphorical or literal) walls and keep people out, because they might hurt us - physically or emotionally. 

Because people might also bring us joy. And happiness. They might light our candle on a night when it's gone out. They might show us love. They might change your life for the better. You might change their life for the better. 

The thing is, we don't know. No one can see the future. No one can be 100% sure about a person. People we think are just amazing, fall down. People we are sure are bad, can do something really good. 

I know there are real threats out there. There is real danger. Some people are really bad. There will be wars and famine. There will be pain and suffering. 

I can't erase all of it. I can't make it all go away. But I can try to love. I can try to care for those around me. I can light candles around me. I can reach out to those around me who are hurting, or are in pain. I can bring a neighbor a meal. I can bring a relative a hand knit blanket. I can drive a sick friend to the doctor. I can shower my children with hugs and kisses. 

I can't feed 100 people, but as Mother Theresa tells us, I can feed one. I can reach out to one person and do something to brighten their day. I can do something to help them. Even a small something. 

I will light those candles. I will love. Even when it's hard. Even when it feels like it's not enough. Even when it feels like it's not helping. Even when it feels like the world is falling apart around us. 

Love.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Togetherness

This weekend we spent a lot of time being together with others.

We spent time with friends, family. People we see all the time and take for granted and people we haven't seen in a longer time.

There was talking, and playing games, and shopping, and just being together.

There is something nice about being with people. And it's even nicer when it's people you like.

The last few weeks have felt heavy for me. Things going on have me feeling pulled down. Then with the news of bombings at the end of the week, it just felt like too much.

On Friday, one of my children asked me if I thought World War III would start and what would that mean to us.

I haven't often had to talk to my children about war.

It's not that we shelter them, we do talk about current events. But there always seems to be space between what is happening and us. 

Clearly, my child was not connecting things and realizing that it could happen here.

Until now, my kids have been buffered from it. My 9 year old is still.

It's so hard. Obviously I want my kids to have nothing bad happen to them. And yet, they have already had to walk roads that most of their friends have not.

So I just told her that there were bad things in the world. And I didn't know what tomorrow would bring. But to take today for what it's worth. She accepted it. We were on the way to pick up her friend. She seemed relieved and ready to talk about the next topic. 

How lucky she is that she can just jump to the next topic.

But still it weighs heavily on me. Somewhere, tonight, there are kids going to bed mourning their parents. There are parents going to bed mourning their children. 

It is heartbreaking to say the least.

So when we get a weekend full of friends and family and togetherness? It is a wonderful thing. And one I won't be taking for granted anytime soon. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday

It's Saturday.

I feel like I'm still reeling from all the week's news.

It doesn't feel right to post much right now.

So tonight, I'm going to hang out with my sister, and enjoy my family.

Love and light to you all.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Heart Breaking

Bombs and shooting in Paris.
Bombs in Baghdad.
Bombs in Beirut.
Earthquakes by Japan.

My heart hurts.

My head hurts.

I'm not sure what else to say, except I sit here wondering if peace is really out of reach of human hands.

I firmly, and strongly, believe that most people are good. That most people are kind. That most people want to be helpful.

But those that aren't?

They are causing so much destruction and heartbreak and heartache and pain.

I want better for people right now.
I want better for my children.
I want better for my grandchildren.

I don't know how to get there though.

I do know that right now, in this moment, my heart is breaking, and this world feels broken.

But I won't give up.

I'll be doing what I can to make a difference and to make the world better. I'll educate my children and talk to them about what's going on. I'll tell them how I look at it. And I'll tell them what I think we can do.

I won't allow hatred or bigotry or revenge or fear take over my heart and my mind.

It doesn't feel like enough. But it's what I can give. It's what I can do.

And in this moment, I am sending love and prayers to all those hurting tonight. 



Thursday, November 12, 2015

Only happy things?

I've seen it a lot lately.

Statements from facebook friends and twitter friends. About how the world is to divisive. And too much negative things. So from now on, they are only going to post happy, uplifting, fun things.

I get it. Oh boy, do I get it.

There is a lot of heartbreak and sadness in this world.

But sometimes, not all the times, but sometimes, don't we need to talk about that bad parts of this world?

Don't we need to speak up about things that might seem unspeakable in order to affect change?

Talking about sex trafficking certainly isn't happy or uplifting or fun. But shouldn't we talk about it in order to stop it?

Discussing how a victim is being blamed for whatever happened to him/her is not happy or uplifting or fun. But shouldn't we discuss it so we can change the way crimes are reported? So that victims won't be blamed? So that we can learn how to better bring justice to those victims?

Poverty.
Illness.
Death.
Social injustice.
Genocide.
Children being shot for nothing.
Pain.
Suffering.
Hunger.

It's not fun. It's not cute. It's not uplifting. It's not funny stories. Or cute comics. Or kittens doing cute things. Or children dancing to songs. Or the stories of people doing good. Or changing the world. Or giving.

But don't we need to see both sides of life on social media?

I don't want to be surrounded by negativity or controversy all the time. Just as in face-to-face interactions, I don't want every conversation to be a political one. Or about crime. Or about controversial things.

But I also don't want to bury my head and pretend like everything is all good everywhere.

Because it's not.

These can be tough things to talk about. People are divided on what is the most pressing problem. Or how to solve it. Or what to share with kids. Or what is our role in these things.

But don't we need to talk about it anyway? Don't we need to have these tough conversations?

I'm not talking arguments. I'm not talking name-calling. I'm not saying the loudest voice should drown out the rest, no matter how ludicrous that voice may sound.

I'm talking about honest and open conversations. Where hard topics are not avoided. Where recent news stories are not tip-toed around.

Societies, I think, must change. Must evolve. Must fix past wrongs. Must try to avoid future pitfalls. Must try to make sure that every person in that society feels safe. And loved. And cared for.

Am I a Pollyanna here?

I hope not.

In the meantime, I'll continue to watch kitten videos, and cute babies, and like funny memes.

But I'll also bring up the hard things. The ugly things. The heart-breaking things. The things I think need to be discussed, changed, reviewed, dealt with.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dear Me

As part of an ongoing, very large project, I am going through all of our digital pictures. I am deleting the bad/blurry/duplicates. tagging people in them, writing captions, putting in the location they were taken at, etc.

I started working on this project two years ago. It's been a labor of love as I take a LOT of pictures.

Last night, I was in the January 2008 folder (I know, I know, that means I have like 8 years of pictures to still go through). And the memories came flooding back. I wished, so hard, that I could go back and talk to myself then. I suppose much like people write letters to themselves as a teenager, sometimes we wish we could go back and tell ourselves just a little bit about the future, just little whisperings to help plant seeds earlier, or help them grow faster, or ease our fears and worries. And so, here's a letter to my 28 year old self.


Dear Brandie,

Hi. It's me. Which is really you. And you are me. So it's me. But it's you. Is it us? I don't know, but there I go, being awkward already. I know, that's no surprise to you because I know that you often walk around and feel awkward. We'll get that in a moment though ...

I remember this picture. You were getting ready to go to the Oprah show. A big storm was moving in, so maybe you wouldn't be going. It was you and your mom going. You were going to sit in the audience, and on the off chance the camera caught you, you took this picture so friends would know what to look for.

You were filled with excitement. Going to a taping of the Oprah show? Awesome!

You were also nervous, because a storm was headed right at you. And you don't like storms. And you thought if things were bad, there was no reason to drive into the city after all.

Spoiler alert: you made it into the city just fine and you and your mom had a good time.

Anyway, you had your husband take this picture. And when you looked at it, you hated it. Your hair was too long and needed a cut. You thought you could lose 5 pounds. You hated your boobs - thought they were too big for the rest of your frame and were just so darn droopy. I think, you even commented when sharing the picture that you knew you needed a better bra.

That's just the cosmetic stuff. Internally, you felt awkward. You were sure that if you just worked harder, you could be a better mother, wife, daughter, sister. You felt positively not good enough. Truly, you weren't sure if you were worthy of being loved. Your life felt like a fairy tale, but you didn't feel smart enough, pretty enough, or kind enough to be the lead.

And you were tired. So tired. You imagined you were about as tired as someone could be! 3 kids, it's a lot of work to be sure!

You were so insecure. You felt weak. You wondered what was wrong with you. You would never think to describe yourself s brave, courageous, smart, pretty, funny.

That is not to say, you walked around in a depressed state thinking negative thoughts at all. You also had a lot of fun! Cooking with the kids, keeping up the house, your knitting and crafting. These were good things in your life. Despite all the nagging doubts and the not feeling good enough, you were for the most part happy. But we don't need to have a talk about those parts, do we? You already embraced them and loved them. You already are head over heals in love with you family. You already feel lucky to have them in your life.

Let me tell you something you haven't figured out yet though: they are lucky to have you in their life.

Oh, I see you, shaking your head and rolling your eyes right now. Oh yeah sure, you are sarcastically saying in your head, but it's true.

It's so true. Seriously. Ask them. They'll tell you. If you listen close enough, they are already telling you every day. There sweet comments to you, the hugs and kisses they freely give you, the thank yous, when they want to cuddle with you. This is your fairy tale, but it's their fairy tale too. Embrace it.

I know it's hard. For reasons out of your control, for reasons you had no control over, as a child you felt quite early that you must not be good enough. You thought you must be flawed. You thought you must be unlovable. People who were supposed to love you, did not. They were absent. Missing. The rest of your family, God bless them, stepped in and did what they could. But there was a hole that they couldn't fill. It wasn't their hole to fill. It was someone else's and that someone else, for whatever reason, was incapable of filling it. Trust broken by someone else. And once again, you placed the blame square on your shoulders.

As a child, you assumed the problem must be you. As children are want to do. Too young to see the bigger picture, we blame ourselves. I know you are just beginning to see this. But there is still a lot of hurt in there. You try to hide it. To stuff it down. It's okay to let it out some. It's okay to step back and look at the situation anew, with adult eyes. You deserve the peace that it will bring you.

Yes, this will be hard. But you know what else? You are so strong. You don't even know it.

I'm not talking in the I-can-run-for-miles-and-do-a-million-crunches-and-look-at-my-many-planks-strong. I'm talking inner strength. The strength that you pull up when you think you don't have single ounce left to give. The strength that you use to get out of bed even when you know the day ahead is full of scary, hard things. The strength to keep going, on those days when it feels like your body is fighting even the littlest step you try to take.

Oh, my sweetie, it's there. It's the strength you don't know about until you need it. You won't believe me right now. But it's there. And you will have to dig it out so much sooner than you think. You'll be scared. You'll be unsure. You'll be fearful. But you will be strong. You will take it a day at a time. You will use that strength to keep going. You will use it and find the beauty mixed in with the mess. The laughter mixed with tears. The smiles that are accompanied by sad, tired eyes. It's all there in this life. And you will face trials, as many before you have, with a strength that not even you knew you had.

Through it all, you will still doubt yourself. It's okay, you're human. Let yourself be human. Don't let it become a sign of weakness. Because that's what you will want to think, but it's not true. You are not weak. Parts of you might feel broken, but it's okay. We all have cracks. Every single one of us. But people, as you already know, are good. And they will continue to show you their goodness. And they will love you with your cracks. On your bad days. Through really tough moments.

You are loved so much more than you can even begin to understand. I'm not sure I can fully comprehend it even still today, but I've seen it. And I've felt it. And I realize it was there the whole time - so take some time to stop, to breathe, and to feel that love just wash over you. Because it's there and you deserve to feel it.

No. Really. You do. Trust me on this. I wouldn't lie to me. To you. To us.

You're pretty amazing honestly. I should probably feel a bit egotistical telling you this, but it's true. You are amazing.

Know what else you are? You're beautiful. I know you don't believe it. Okay, you don't even fully believe it yet today. From where I'm writing. But you're starting to.

This is the only body you've got. Sometimes you fight with it. The fatigue, the dark circles, the shape of it. You don't appreciate it. You want to change it, morph it, smooth things out. Oh, the laundry list you think of every time you look at your body of what you'd change. It's long. Shorten it.

Love your body. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin. You aren't going to look airbrushed in real life anyway, so let's throw that standard out the window. Someday in the future, you will find yourself looking at an old picture. And you will laugh, because then you wanted to lose 5 pounds (by the way, from where?!). And as you reflect on that picture, you wish you could go back to that body. On that day.

The point is, even if you did lose 5 pounds. You'd find something else to nitpick. And even if you gain 5 pounds, or, um, 10, it's not the end of the world. It might feel like it as you strive to look "perfect." But babe, there's no "perfect" out there. There's just you. Exactly how you are. And not only is that enough, it's more than enough. It is, actually, perfect.

Listen, I know I'm only 8/9 years in the future. I still haven't figured it all out. I am still not as comfortable in my own skin as I wish I was. I am still holding a spot in my heart where old hurts have not yet healed. But I've learned some things over the last few years.

Some of the things to come, I wish I could spare you from. But life doesn't work that way. We can't go backwards. We can only go forwards.

I can't really go back in time and share this with you. But I can write it today. And maybe in a month, a year, a few years, maybe I'll come back and read this again. I'll remind myself of where I was. And where I've been. And where I'm going.

I'll try to remember that I am not only loved dearly, but worthy of that love.
I'll try to remember that my body isn't perfect, but it is mine and I want to embrace it.

I'll try to remember to talk kinder to myself, to tell myself good job every now and then.
I'll try to remember to believe it when I tell myself these things.

Life is crazy! But you, you are fun. And you've got a lot to give others.

Now, go to sleep. I know you want to stay up late and watch the weather to see what the storm is doing, but it's not going to be bad enough to stop you and your mom from your fun morning. So go, rest. You look gorgeous! And you are going to have a fabulous time.

Smooches and love,
Brandie