Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Woman Crush Wednesday: Alayna Fenderr

If you've been reading along this year, you'll remember a post back in January where I wrote about my oldest daughter as she crossed the divide into her teen years. I've had a couple of man crushes too since then, so I think it's high time I get myself a new woman crush, and who better to feature here than a certain woman I've been crushing on already for what feels like forever now.

You know those people who just feel like they're a perfect match for who you are? Those ones that are your kind of funny and your kind of smart and your kind of cool? The ones that are interested in what you're interested in - and who, while they might be different from you in some fundamental ways, are also such perfectly amazing people that they make your differences become something that no longer matters?

Wait, what?

Say that again?

You don't know those people?

Well, hang on - let me introduce you to one of them.

I don't remember how I first discovered Alayna Fender, or which of her videos was the first one I watched. But it didn't take long for me to fall totally in love with her sense of humor and how well she balances that humor with her more serious side. I went back to the beginning of her MissFenderr channel on YouTube and watched ALL of her videos, appreciating her sense of adventure, her willingness to be vulnerable - and yes, the ferocity with which she loves her cats.

Over the course of her career as a YouTuber, Alayna has been a lot of things: she's a beauty enthusiast with a knack for makeup, a yoga fanatic unafraid of taking time to make yoga fun, a meditation guru who loves introducing her audience to the subtle but undeniable power of mindfulness. She's a girl with weird sleep issues, a bisexual with a hard-won pride for who she is and how she lives, a vegan with interests in kindness, compassion, and taking care of the world we live in. Every now and then she's a gamer, and sometimes, she even pretends to be a cook.

Through her videos, I've laughed and cried, I've admired and envied, I've learned and loved and been entertained.

Most importantly, I've grown as a person, as a woman, as a mother, and as a content creator - in part, due to the things addressed and gone over through Alayna's content. She's adjusted so much of my conservative opinion, not through being pushy or rude or disrespectful, but just by being someone I can love despite the things that make us different, because of the things that make us the same.

Plus she's just utterly, undeniably cute. See? Look at her. Just look.

Image borrowed from Alayna's Instagram, which you should go follow.

And she likes books too? I can't even! Today, do yourself a favor and go check her out on YouTube - there's something for everyone there, from basic kindness to a great sense of humor, to a strong mind and a pretty face. (Plus, there's Dallas, and he's hilarious too.)
Today I'm sharing a trio of "Featured Favorite Products." The first, in keeping with the way Alayna's message of self-love and personal empowerment aligns with my own, I thoughts I'd share this book again: the Little Book of Mindfulness is full of short meditations you can use everyday to remind yourself that it really is worth it to stop and give yourself a moment of peace now and then.

The second product I'm choosing to feature today is strictly in honor of Alayna and how courageously she's living her true self as she grows and promotes her brand. This shirt made me immediately think of Alayna because it combines her LGBTQ+ pride with her her love of both cats and the simplicity of the color gray. And really Feline the Purride - that's just funny. I know she would love it, and she'd look at it and hold it up and do that smile thing with her eyes that makes her look like the most adorable little anime character ever created.

And then there's this set of totally cute salt-and-pepper shakers that I found while looking for an Alayna-themed product to feature. I don't know if she loves salt-and-pepper shakers as much as I do (seriously - how did this fact not make the list?), but I know she would love this set of kissing kittens in tea cups because how could anyone not? I mean really? They're cute, they're cats, there's tea ... figuratively speaking. And they kiss, just like Alayna's cats at the end of almost all of her videos. So cute they even made my collection wishlist on Amazon. Seriously, look how cute!

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
Thanks for reading along and hanging out with me today - I hope you check out Alayna's YouTube channel, and that if you do, you'll take the time to leave her a comment and tell her Brandi Kennedy thinks she's amazing! I also hope you'll share this post with your friends so that other people can learn how amazing Alayna is, too!

When you're done here, if you like what you've seen, be sure to come check me out on Patreon. The people who support my writing mean a ton to my little family, and I always love the chance to welcome more people into my community - I'm excited to have just reached my second goal there, and will be hosting my first patron-exclusive giveaway on July 1st! I post lots of stuff on there, from short stories to podcasts, from mini-blogs to novel chapters, and lots of other content - so if you want in on the action, now is the time to sign up. It's a great place to get to know me on an even more personal level. and if you're the sort of spectacular person who can get into Patreon and really fall in love with your favorite content creators, then you'll love knowing Alayna's on Patreon, too!

In the end though, whether you come to Patreon or not, I'd still love to invite you to make sure you never miss a post here. Patreon may be subscription-based, but this content is ALWAYS free, so take a second to subscribe to my blog (the subscription form is in the right sidebar) and make sure we stay connected. You'll be making sure you stay updated on all the latest news! But whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site, from the very bottom of my heart, thank you again for reading.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Self-Care Sunday: How To Love Yourself Through A Bad Day

A few days ago, I had one of those "Murphy's Law" kinds of days. Deadlines were building up, a blog post I'd planned to write (and written half of in preparation) fell through, a thing didn't work out, I messed up and fed Eden too much red food dye and she went a little psycho for two days, I was overwhelmed and underhelped, depressed and sensitive and sad ... and tired. And ... well, as the saying goes, "If it could go wrong, it would." And it did. All day long.

I was so frustrated I was in tears by noon, and again by three, and again by six. And all I wanted in those moments was for someone to come along beside me and sit there in it with me for a minute, to hold my hand and remind me that these days come, to give me a place to fall, to reassure me that while these days do come, they go as well.

I leaned on my friends, the people who are - through the connective magic of the internet - willing and able to sit there in the dark with me, even if they aren't able to wrap me in a sorely needed bear hug.

But in the end, no one else could fix what went wrong, and no one else could put me back together. There was no hero riding in on a white horse, no swift rescuer to arrive at the last moment, hit me with a sexy smolder, and award me unresentfully with the solitude I was so desperate for.

So I had to become my own hero, take a break from the pressure I put on myself, and create the moment of solitude that I needed. Now, I'd like to share some of my favorite ways to create that moment - so that when you need one and there is none to be found, you'll have an easy list of ways to DIY it. 

Step one in creating that magical moment of relaxing bliss is easier said than done, but no less necessary: exercise a little self-compassion, and recognize that if you're feeling pressured it's probably because of your own expectations, and give yourself permission to turn that pressure down a notch. 

I talk a lot here about the importance of self-love and how much treating yourself well (mentally, too!) can really make a difference in your life, but the truth is, sometimes life gets in the way and I forget all of that. I start hearing the echoes of past hurts, and I start falling into old habits. Kicking myself mentally for all the things I'm not doing - all the things I can't do. All the things I haven't done. Every mistake I've ever made - and how those mistakes all brought me to whatever "here" is in that moment. How wherever "here" is ... it's of my own making. My own fault.

"I brought it on myself. I should have known better. I should have done better."

But that's how the pressure turns up, right?

"Better late than never. I can do it now, if I push hard enough. I can make it happen, if I work hard enough. I can fix this."

And the pressure goes up a little more.

And that's when I know I need to break down and give myself a break, because I'm no good to anyone when I'm cracking apart at the seams.

The thing is, I don't tend to give myself a lot of rest.

It's not because I'm super productive or because I'm totally driven or because I'm one of those people that's just destined to be a star. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not, I don't know. But I don't rest because I can't. I don't stop because the second I'm not striving, I become LAZY. WORTHLESS. UNMOTIVATED. When I'm not striving desperately for the next goal, the next achievement, the next milestone, the next ... something ... then that's when I am every negative thing I've ever been called. That's when I deserve every negative thing that's ever happened to me.

I spend every moment of my life in service as a mother - between my two girls, I keep track of the names, numbers, and appointment times for one pediatrician, one endocrinologist, one cardiologist, one otorhinolaryngologist, one dentist, one optometrist, one ophthalmologist, one podiatrist, one neurologist, and a few others. I make every meal, I clean every wound, I break up every fight. I soothe every hurt, I answer every cry, and I coach or counsel every situation. There is no partner, no village, and no back-up plan. When I'm not doing that, I'm letting the dog in and out, making sure he's fed, and babysitting his dietary needs because he's got food allergies, skin sensitivities, and a luxating patella that has to be coddled in order to hopefully prevent a need for a surgery I can't afford.

Writing is the only thing I have in my life that's mine, and because I have such an inherent dream to succeed at doing this thing that I love so dearly, I live my life by a schedule of writing deadlines, thinking that when I reach the next one, that's when it'll all work out, that's when it'll all shift, it's when the universe will open the door I've been beating on all my life. It's when I'll finally switch from praying, "God, either give me the reality, or take away the dream," and I'll move to, "Thank you for this life and all that fills it."

That's not to say that I'm not thankful, or that I don't take the time to count my blessings. Believe me, I do - right on down to the simplest, smallest sources of joy in my life. I make it a point to tell the people I love that I love them, that I'm thankful for them, that they matter to me - because I know what it is to be unappreciated. I know exactly how amazing it is to have two fairly healthy and generally well-adjusted children - because I have suffered the loss of a child, and because I have held weeping women in my arms as they sobbed over their inability to have children. I know the roof over my head is a blessing, that the food I give to my children is a blessing, that the clothing that shields our nakedness is a blessing.

But writing? It's my dream, and because it matters so much, sometimes it just gets too heavy to carry for a while. Sometimes I just need to take a step back, turn down the pressure, and let myself live in - and celebrate - the moment that I'm in. Sometimes I need to offer myself the compassion I'm longing for, to tell myself that it's okay if I'm not where I want to be just yet.

That it's okay for me to be a project half-finished, ever-growing, always changing.

That it's okay to take time out from serving and loving my family and friends. That it's okay to give something special to me. And that I don't always have to EARN it or DESERVE it or kill myself in the fight for it.

Sometimes I have a lot of time to devote to myself. Sometimes I can carve out a whole hour - a blissful sixty minutes of soaking in a bathtub filled with bubbles, flickering in candlelight, filled with the wafting scent of something sensual and spicy and glamorous. Sixty minutes of piping hot water softened with salts, slick with oils. Sixty minutes of soft music, a good book, and time to breathe.

Other times, I don't have sixty minutes and my "me time" comes in snatches - desperately stolen moments in between the needs and demands of the responsibilities I love. Sometimes all I have is that first sip of coffee in the morning, or the satisfaction of my own fresh breath, just after I've brushed my teeth. Sometimes it's the blissful smoothness of good chocolate melting on my tongue, the smell of a good perfume, or the shape of my mouth with a good lipstick on. Sometimes it's the softness of the couch and the weight of my dog's big head in my lap. Stolen moments, all of them, but each one is breath of air, peaceful and serene, moments that keep me strong and steady. Moments that make me the person my loved ones know they can lean on.

Sometimes it isn't even as long as a moment, and all I have time to give myself is a quick prayer, just a desperate skyward utterance, an eager and pleading "Help me!" sent into the abyss, seeking God's busy ear. Sometimes it's the sound of waves crashing - or the sight of them.

But in the space in between, when I don't have a lot of time but there's definitely enough to give myself something more than those stolen moments? Well, here are some of my favorite totally affordable, easily doable, stress-less gifts to give myself:
  • A good cry. Sometimes I just need to break away, to find a quiet place to clear my mind and drown my sorrows in teardrops.
  • Watch a good show. I like to choose funny shows with short episodes to cheer myself up and get my mind straight. Sometimes it's F.R.I.E.N.D.S. on Netflix - other times it's Joe Santagato on YouTube.
  • Take a breath. Or forty. Now and then, all you need to turn your stress levels down is time to breathe. Find a place away from all the things that are messing you up, and just breathe. But don't do it just to do it - feel it. Be right there with it, and listen to it. Pay attention like it's your favorite song and you're trying to memorize the lyrics. And then you'll have this one breath that unlocks everything, and then you'll realize that you're still alive, that it's all gonna be alright, and that you got this.
  • Write a letter. Write to the person that's hurting you or stressing you out. Write to the thing that's too much for you to carry. Write to the illness that haunts you or the emotion that won't let you go. Give yourself permission to be brutal, to be vulgar, to be totally and unalterably honest. Write til your head hurts or your fingers ache or you run out of paper or your battery dies. Release the poison and the resentment and the sadness and the ... whatever. And then shred it. Burn it, flush it, delete it. Let the poison out - but restrain yourself from showing your letter to anyone. Just because you've let it out doesn't mean you have to pour it on someone else.
  • Count your blessings - literally. Make a list of what makes you "good enough" or "lovable." Make a list of accomplishments, even if they feel small. Make a list of the things you feel blessed to have, or the people you feel blessed to know.
  • Get outside. Soak up a little sunshine, let the breeze kiss your skin, stand in the rain and let it wash over you. Look around you - look through the ugliness to appreciate the beauty of the world we live in.
And lastly, think about what you're going through. Take yourself out of the situation, and pretend that what you're dealing with is something someone you love is dealing with. Ask yourself what you would tell your best friend, your brother, your daughter, if they were dealing with what you're dealing with? Would you tell them to slow down? To take a break? To show themselves mercy? Would you tell them they are worthy, that they are beautiful? That there is hope, that they have potential?

You know you would.

So take your own advice. Give yourself a break.

It worked for me.
Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is truly a self-love staple. I found this great book on Amazon - it's called the Little Book of Mindfulness and it's full of short meditations that remind you to step out of the past, let go of the future, and live in the moment.

Because sometimes, all you need to be able to catch your breath is to allow yourself to stop and breathe - and even though we don't all have the time or the inclination to sit down and meditate for an hour, there is still so much more life to be enjoyed when we make the effort to live presently in each moment as they come.

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
If you're reading this because you're searching desperately for a break - or permission to take one - then please feel free to rest here a while. Read through, click around, and see what else you can find. Take a breath and give yourself some space. And then share this post with your friends - remind them that they deserve a break now and then, too.

When you're done here, if you like what you've seen, be sure to come check me out on Patreon. The people who support my ability to keep writing mean a ton to my little family, and we're always looking for an opportunity to welcome more people into my community - we're SO CLOSE to reaching the next goal there, and I can't wait! Hitting that goal will be thrilling because it will bump my poems from one to two a month AND it'll trigger my first Patreon-exclusive giveaway. I also post short stories, podcasts, mini-blogs, and lots of other content there, so it's a great place to get to know me on an even more personal level.

But whether you come to Patreon or not, I'd like to thank you for being here, and invite you to make sure you never miss a post - this content is ALWAYS free, so take a second to subscribe to my blog (the subscription form is in the right sidebar) and make sure we stay connected. By subscribing, you're making sure you stay updated on all the latest news! And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site, from the very bottom of my heart, thank you for reading.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Father's Day: What It Means To Be A Dad

In May, I talked about Mother's Day and the difference between being a mother and being a Mom. I talked honestly about how motherhood isn't always the number-one-best part of my life, but also talked about how there's nothing that would make me want NOT to be a mother. Mostly though, the post was meant to outline the differences between a person who has been biologically successful at having a child and a person who has taken the time to create an emotional bond that stands the test of time - the kind of bond that survives rejection and sadness, overwork and underpay, and sometimes outright desperation of more kinds than I care to list here.

This applies to fatherhood too - because while it only takes a few blissful minutes and one wildly determined little sperm to create the beginnings of a human child, it takes so much more than that to create a parent. So with Father's Day being this past weekend, I thought it appropriate to explore fatherhood - and what it takes to make a father into a Dad.

Just like with motherhood, DNA creates fatherhood. It's simple science, the magic of our God-given biology. The joining of two people, two cells. And that's all it takes - boom! You're a father. One missed condom, one drunken night, one moment of physical need. Fatherhood.

But to be a Dad ... to choose a child above yourself in all things, to want the best for that little person even if you lose out in order to give to them, to care enough to nurture them, to guide them, to partner with them in building a future you may not even live to see ...

That's something different entirely.

I've talked very little about my own father here, because my relationship with him over the years has become something painful enough to avoid talking about. It would take more than one hand for me to count the times my father has somehow come up in conversation, only for the person I'm talking to to sit up a little straighter and say with surprise, "Oh! Your father's still alive, then?" And I tend to lower my eyes and say quietly, "Yeah, but it's complicated."

Now, raising two daughters who will also feel the same ways and say the same things, I'm forced to deal with my own issues so that I can coach my children through theirs, and the lack of what the women in my family experience in the way of fatherhood has really drawn a line for us as to what we think makes the difference between a father ... and a Dad.

I was a "Daddy's Girl" as a young child, and I can still vividly remember the sense of hero worship that filled me whenever I thought of him. My father was a huge man with a bull temper and a strong personality that could not be contained. He had a sensitive pride that was easily injured, and a big heart that loved well - when it loved. I remember him letting me play music he probably thought was horrible whenever we were in his car together - and not only did he let me choose the music, but he let me have my own preset button on the radio. And he would learn my music, too. I can close my eyes right now and see him, hunkered down, slouching off to the right, heavy elbow pressing deep into the console armrest between us, his low baritone belting out the lyrics to Ginuwine's Pony while I grinned to myself, proud of our closeness.

He loved music - probably still does, though I wouldn't know. My first introduction to the power of music was at his hands; we were in church and I looked up, following the scope of his big hands on the hymnal, The sight of tears streaming down his face as he sang, along with the tremble of his chin as he struggled to compose himself in that moment, stole the words of the song from my lips. I mumbled along, quietly, marveling. I wish I could remember what song that was - I too have wept through the words of countless songs, and I've wondered a time or two if maybe the same song that touched him so also touched me along the way.

We're estranged now, and have been for years - a wall of old hurt and resentful unforgiveness stands between us just as solidly as the wall that stands behind me right now as I'm writing this. There are some hurts that heal and scar over, becoming a part of the past - not quite disappearing, but ceasing at least to be painful. Others ... well, others remain, sensitive to the touch and flaring up again with the weather.

Despite the wall and various injuries that built it, the most valuable gift my father has given me over the years - the same gift my children are now receiving from theirs - is the stark and sometimes jarring contrast between what makes a father, and what makes a Dad.

A father is a man who might begrudgingly pay a little child support (if the mother is lucky), resentful of his need to do so. He might take his child(ren) for a weekend now and then, parking them in front of his television or video game while he tolerates the inconvenience of his visitation time. A father is a name on a birth certificate, a donator of genetic material.

But a Dad ... a Dad is something different entirely, a blessing and a guide, a teacher and a companion, an encourager, a protector, a safe haven.

A Dad is a man who doesn't just provide a game to play - he takes (or makes) the time to play it with you. A Dad gives his heart and his soul, so much more than the occasional set of school clothes.

A Dad is a man who never forgets your birthday, who keeps his word, who shows up when he's supposed to. A Dad is a man who swallows inconvenience for the sake of those he loves, who puts his kid's birthday parties and concert recitals ahead of TV football games and boxing matches.

A Dad is a man who calls you to see how you're doing, and lets you know that it's okay to not be okay. A man who praises you when you're doing well, and holds you up when you're not. He's a counselor, a friend - a safe place to hide from a world of judges.

A Dad is a man who wants the best for you - who wants to give you more than he had, who wants to see you rise above where he started, who wants to see you grow.

For a daughter, a Dad is the first man to hold her hand, the first to show her what it feels like to be cared for. A Dad is the first man a daughter dances with, the first man to hold the door for her, the first man to buy her flowers. For a daughter, a Dad is what to look for in a future Husband - the King who shows his Princess how to choose her Prince. Or how not to. For some daughters, a Dad becomes the first lesson on how to recover from heartbreak, how to survive not being enough, how to live with letdown.

For a son, a Dad is the strongest and most steady example a boy has of what to become when he grows up. A Dad is a lesson for Princes everywhere ... on how to become and behave as a King. Or again, how not to.

A Dad is strength gentled by compassion, hard lessons softened by love. And sure, he's imperfect. He messes up and makes mistakes - a Dad is, after all, only human, and at his core he is only a father like the rest. The difference - the one thing that pulls him over that line and makes him something he wasn't before - is in his willingness to make the effort over and over again, to reach out and reach out and reach out, to find the balance between endearing vulnerability and determined fortitude.

So although I skipped the public spectacle of Father's Day, I'd like to encourage men who are reading this: if you have children, don't just be a father. Don't throw a check at your children and call it a day, and don't come in and out of their lives, using them for your convenience. Take the time to be a Dad, make the effort to nurture a relationship that will enrich your life. Foster a bond with a person who will grow up to change the world - confident in the strength and guidance you gave them. Give your heart to being a Dad with the same enthusiasm you give to your other passions.

And if you're a child - grown or otherwise - who has a Dad that takes the time to be a Dad ... appreciate the gift that that is. Show your Dad some love, and let him know that you see and appreciate whatever he gave you over the years. Because your Dad? He's a gift not every kid is blessed with.
In keeping with this post, today I'm sharing a pair of "Featured Favorite Products" that are all about Dads - and the effort that makes a father become the kind of Dad every kid longs for.

We'll start out with this fill-in-the-love journal for Dads I found on Amazon! This is a cute and fun way to show your Dad how much you see, appreciate, and respect the dedication he's shown you over the years. And for under $15, Amazon makes it easy to show your Dad what a difference he's made in your life.
But if you're the dad and all you want is to keep being good at it, then beef up your summer energy levels with  Strike Force Energy - this zero calorie, zero sugar, zero carb packet of magic delivers your energy for an entire afternoon at the park without making you sweaty, jittery or cranky (at least, that's how it works for this mom). You won't crash when it wears off either, AND each single liquid packet is small enough to fit in your pocket, wallet, or desk drawer (works for moms, too - I always keep a packet or two in my purse)! My favorite thing about it is that it's simple to mix (tear open, dump into a bottle of water, shake it, and then down it, baby) and it isn't gross or disgustingly sweet like so many other energy drinks on the market. Makes a great low-cal, sugar-free substitute for my usual coffee, too! And to make it even better, I'm partnering with Strike Force to give you 20% off your order - just use AFLBRANDI8634 as the discount code when you checkout at (or click the link above)!

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
To all the Dads out there - thank you for being dedicated! If you're reading this and loving it because you have an awesome Dad, share this post with him and let him know he's amazing even if it isn't Father's Day. Or if you're reading it and relating because it's all about what you want to be as a Dad, share this post with your kids and let them know how much you love them.

If you liked this post for other reasons, or you think you know someone who will, feel free to share it on your social media, and don't be afraid to invite your friends to come hang out in the comments!.

Make sure to come check me out on Patreon, too! The people who support my ability to keep writing mean a ton to the girls and I, and I'm always looking for an opportunity to welcome more people into my community - right now, we're just THISCLOSE to reaching the next goal there, which will bump my poems to two a month AND trigger my first Patreon giveaway. I also post short stories, podcast, mini-blogs, and lots of other content there!

But in the end, whether you come to Patreon or not, I'd like to invite you to make sure you never miss a post here - this content is ALWAYS free so take a second to subscribe to my blog (the subscription form is in the right sidebar) and make sure we stay connected. By subscribing, you're making sure you stay updated on all the latest news. And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site, from the very bottom of my heart, thank you for reading.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Motivation Monday: Build A Life of (Core) Value

Who we are as people - and where we go in life - will be largely determined by the principles that we see as important, the morals we adopt as humans, the beliefs that we hold dear. These things dictate our behavior, they decide who we are, and they influence where we draw the proverbial line between what is "right" and what is "wrong."

It was November of 2016 when I received confirmation that certain things I'd been living with for years were due to the presence of PTSD. It was only a few months before that that I found the similarities between PTSD and my own life, thanks to the teachings in a series of videos I found on YouTube. But through those teachings, I also found something else, something that's been brewing in my mind now for almost a year.

I found myself with a new curiosity - a fascination with core values as a subject in themselves. What constitutes a core value, and how do we begin to recognize which ones most matter to us as individuals? And how do you order them - how do you number them to figure out which ones are highest on your list? Beyond that ... how do you seek to create a life that most aligns with the values you value most?

Honestly, I'm still not sure what order my values go in - although I can say for sure that there are certain ones that stand out for me in ways that cannot be ignored. Integrity is one - I simply can't tolerate or respect people who don't hold this particular value in high regard. I need people in my life who value the things that Integrity embodies - honesty, dependability, solidity, kindness. I hope to embody those qualities myself for the most part, and so I find myself almost desperately frustrated when spending too much time with others who don't.

There are countless other values though, some of which mean a lot to me, and others which don't - and that's why core values are themselves at the core of my Patreon podcasts. These podcasts are a monthly exploration of core values as chosen from a list I found online; each podcast is something of a long blog post, but in an audio version that you could listen to while cooking, cleaning, driving, etc. Each one is (so far) just under six minutes long - and each one is thoughtfully written to explore not only why these particular values are (or are not) of importance to me, but also why they are (or can be) important to our human society as a whole.

These podcasts take a little more prep to create though, in the time required to explore my own personal connection to each chosen value, the investment of time taken to put those thoughts to paper, and the effort undertaken to record and edit each podcast into something I can be proud of as a content creator. For these reasons, my podcasts are only available to my Patreon subscribers, so I felt it a good idea to take time explaining what Patreon really is and how it works for creators like me (in correlation with supporters like you).

Patreon is a site that allows content creators to connect with their supporters in a whole new way, converting the usual give-and-take into a more solid relationship between small business and loyal patron. These creators, just like humans in general, come in all shapes and sizes, and we as a community create in a variety of content genres. On Patreon, you'll find a bit of everything, from writers to vloggers, from artists to musicians; with Patreon, each creator has the choice of what they offer their supporters, and the opportunity to ask for what they need most in the way of support.

Because the truth is, no matter what kind of artist you are, no matter what your chosen medium is - whether it's clay or paint or music notes ... or words ... art doesn't create itself, and art in itself doesn't pay the bills.

For many creators like me, Patreon is what stands in the gap between keeping a dream alive, and living a life that's only a shell of what it could be. There are any number of creator accounts currently thriving on Patreon with the support of people like you, and because of that kind of support, this world has more artists that are free to live an artistic life. It means we still have people who can paint and sing and write without being suffocated by the need to stifle their art in favor of their electric bill. Patreon allows people like you to give your favorite creators the ability to have art AND electricity.

Actually, that's the best part - it isn't, and doesn't have to be. With Patreon, you subscribe to your favorite creators the same way you subscribe to Netflix or Gwynnie Bee or any other monthly service. And just like with any of those services, you choose your own level of benefit/commitment. For example, my Patreon currently has seven reward tiers to choose from, ranging from $1-$20 a month, and each tier has a different set of included benefits for my supporters. Most importantly, each upper-level tier also includes the benefits of all lower-level tiers, so my $15 patron receives not only the $15 reward, but also everything from the $1, $2, $3, $5, and $10 tiers. Patrons can choose at any time to edit their pledges, giving more or less as they see fit or can afford, and changing or canceling a Patreon membership is SO easy (I've done it once myself, and it literally took less than two minutes).

Another of my favorite things about Patreon is that it pretty much does everything by itself. I can even schedule my writing bits to go up automatically, which means I can work myself ahead of my deadlines and earn some time "off" now and then. I also like that your information stays private and so does mine - Patreon takes care of everything to do with monthly charging, and they also keep track of who sees what (according their chosen reward tiers, etc.). The site itself is intuitive and well-organized, easy to operate and comfortable to use - AND you don't have to check in all the time in order to stay updated. Patreon settings allow you to choose what you see and how you see it - you can even set up notifications that'll let you know when someone you follow or support adds new content!

That depends on the creators you support. Some of the vloggers offer extra exclusive videos, or exclusive bloopers from the videos they share on YouTube. Other creators offer exclusive podcasts or e-magazines, or early access to their music or other art. Some even offer their patrons a little bit of control over their process, such as choosing what they write next or what the topic of their next video might be. To clarify and offer examples, here are mine:

  • $1 - For this tier, I post a monthly short story. Each story is around 1500-2500 words, and each one is posted along with the photo I used as inspiration for the writing. On this tier, I also post photos and mini-blogs (I call them PhLogs - PhotoLogs) as I go through my day to day life. These are often a lot less focused than what I post here, and are usually quite a bit more personal. My patrons are getting the inside scoop in a way that no one else can - and as a bonus, new patrons also have access to the entire backlog of $1 content!
  • $2 - Currently on this tier, I'm posting one poem a month. These are usually emotion-driven and so they're quite personal, which is why they are on one of the higher tiers. These are a look inside my most personal thoughts, as it often takes a very strong emotion to drive me to poetry. Once my Patreon account hits the goal of $20 a month in pledges (we're just about $1 short, so ONE more patron would make the difference!), then I'll be bumping this tier up to two poems a month! Patrons on the $2 tier also have access to the monthly short stories and other postings from the $1 tier.
  • $3 - On this tier, you help take charge of the way the $1 tier flows! We currently have seven active romance stories on the $1 tier, each one with a different plot, each one focused on a different couple. So each month, Patrons on the $3 tier get to vote on which couple will be featured in the next month's $1 story. It's a great way to take charge, and you still get access to all the content from the $1 and $2 tiers!
  • $5 - This is the podcast tier; on this tier, you'll have access to the Core Value podcasts I record each month, along with all the past podcasts! And of course, you'll also have access to everything from the $1, $2, and $3 tiers.
  • $10 - On this tier, you'll have early access to any and all of my future novels! Each time I finish a novel, I'll put out a call to my $10 patrons, asking for their direct-to-kindle email addresses. This will allow me to send my newest books straight to my Patrons' kindles, FREE, a full month before release! It's the last chance for ME to polish the work before it goes out to the world, and this is YOUR chance to participate - you'll be invited to let me know about any formatting or editing errors, AND you'll have your name included in the acknowledgments of the book! As always, patrons at this level also have access to everything at the lower levels, which means $10 patrons are rewarded with EVERYTHING I've talked about so far.
  • $15 - This is the live tier, where you'll basically be reading my novels AS I WRITE THEM. With my current writing schedule and stress level, this means one chapter a month - but I'm looking forward to adding more to this in the future as time and life allow (and as more people sign on to this tier). I envision this being one of my most active tiers in the future, with (eventually) as much as a chapter a week (or more?) being posted for patrons to read (all for the same pledge from patrons - it won't cost more!). The coolest thing about this tier is that since patrons are literally the first to see my writing (even before editing or anything else), this is a chance to catch errors I might have made, or offer feedback into the story itself (such as the plot, characters, scenery, writing style, etc). It's your chance to take an active role in my writing in a way that can actually help direct my career. You also have access to all the previous reward tiers too, as well as all previous content.
  • $20 - On this tier, you take charge of YOUR writing. In addition to all the rewards of the previous tiers, you're now taking a step toward a whole new partnership with me - because on this tier, you're signing up to have your writing critiqued by me! Twice a month, you'll have chances to send bits (2000 words or less) of your own writing to me, and I'll look over them to offer feedback, editing suggestions, or other coaching. Your writing can be whatever you want it to be, too - so that means it could be an essay, a memoir, a blog post, or a chapter of YOUR next great novel!
One of the best things about Patreon (I know, I've mentioned so many "best things" already but Patreon just doesn't stop, y'all) is that Patron support is something that builds on itself in a way that doesn't need MOREMOREMORE from anyone. I'm still posting the same $1 short stories whether I have 4 patrons or 400 - and if Patreon supports my writing enough to allow me time to write more, I can do that without asking anyone to give more. It's truly a partnership between my patrons and I, and I love that we're building a community together that we all care about - proven by the fact that we're all giving something, whether it's content or cash.

But don't just check Patreon out for me - check it out for the already high and steadily increasing number of amazing creators that keep the site alive and thriving just by being there. (But of course, if you did want to check it out specifically for me, you could find my Patreon page here.)
If you were watching closely in the text above, you probably caught the Gwynnie Bee link - because Gwynnie Bee is today's "Featured Favorite Product." Gwynnie Bee is a subscription-based clothing service for curvy and plus-sized women who want to try different brands and new clothing styles without the commitment to constant shopping (and laundry!). Gwynnie Bee is like Netflix for mid-to-high-end fashion, and I love that they cater to plus-sized women - allowing women of all sizes to dress well as they live undaunted lives.

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
Thanks for hanging out with me today - if you liked this post or you think you know someone who will, take a minute to share it on your social media, and invite your friends to come hang out with us in the comments!.

And again, make sure to come check me out on Patreon! Your support would mean a ton to the girls and I, and I would love the opportunity to welcome more people into my community - like I said before, we're just one or two supporters away from reaching the next goal there, which will bump my poems to two a month AND trigger my first Patreon giveaway.

But whether you come to Patreon or not, let me have one more minute before you head to the next site on today's internet travels. I'd like to invite you to make sure you never miss a post here - this content is ALWAYS free so take a second to subscribe to my blog (the subscription form is in the right sidebar) and make sure we stay connected. By subscribing, you're sure to stay updated on all the latest news. And in the meantime, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site, from the very bottom of my heart, thank you for reading.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Feels: June

Some of you know that lately, I've been rereading through old posts here and re-categorizing them, updating labels and content, and removing dead or broken links. Part of that process has meant streamlining my content a little more, which was part of why I decided to rebrand and acknowledge the changes in my writing. Those of you who have been watching will also have noticed that throughout the course of this year, I've been labeling almost all of my blog posts with some sort of alliterative title: Monday Motivation, Wednesday Word, ect. If you scroll up (on your laptop/desktop browser), you'll see in the navigation bar that there's a dropdown menu called "Dailies," and another called "Categories" - these will eventually be the best places to find content that best fits what you're looking for here, and as I continue to dig through my past posts, you'll notice more options appearing in the various dropdown menus above.

In the meantime, some other things are happening in the background for me lately, so I thought I'd keep today's post simple and introduce a brand new segment I've been thinking of adding: Friday Feels.

In keeping with the goal of having a nice simple post that still fits in with my content, I thought I'd take a little inspiration from the likes of Amber from Airing My Laundry and Divya from Eat Teach Blog:
  • Amber has a great post series called, "Hey, it's okay ..." and it's a really basic, simple list of things she's okay with in her life, such as this post when she was okay with her husband loving his bug-a-salt gun, and this one when she was okay with not going totally nuts on Easter crafts.
  • Divya has an equally great post series called, "Things I'm loving lately ..." and it's a fun list of things that have brightened Divya's world in days recent to the post. She talks about her favorite food, drinks, activities, books ... a little of everything! You can find the whole collection of Divya's posts on the topic here.
Anyway, I thought merging those two ideas with my mental health focus would lead to a great series of my own - my Friday Feels. In this post series, I'll be acknowledging the things I'm feeling lately, and what things make me feel all the feels. The goal here is not only to explore and share my own feelings, but also to inspire you to explore and acknowledge your own. And of course, if you'd like to participate, be sure to leave a comment with your Friday Feels below!

So without further ado, here are ten of my most frequent feels in recent days, and why I'm feeling them:

1. Anxious:
Honestly, there's always a part of me that's anxious about something, but most often I worry about my future and what effect my future will have on my daughters. I get anxious about all the usual things - bills, my car, getting it right in motherhood, writing well and creating content, keeping up with my deadlines ... and other things. SO many other things.

2. Disgusted:
You know how sometimes you notice a certain prevalence of a certain type of people in your life? Well, in recent years, I've been noticing a definite prevalence of judgmental people in mine - at times, I've even been one of them. Most recently though, the people I've noticed are the kind who look at others and make quick (usually negative) judgments about who they are and where they've been, what they want and what their motives are. I really hate seeing this, because I've been misjudged quite a bit myself over the years, and as a result, I've learned that we don't always know as much about people as we think we do. Judgement also goes hand-in-hand with hypocrisy, which is one of my most frustration-inducing pet peeves.

3. Ecstatic:
As I mentioned above, there are some things happening in the background of my writing life, and I am really looking forward to being able to tell you all more about what's going on. In the meantime though, I'm keeping things mostly to myself and enjoying the little jolts of sheer and utter glee that strike me now and then. If you want to be one of the first to know about what's going on, make sure you've signed up to support me on Patreon, as my Patrons will likely get the first word on what's coming next in my writing career.

4. Enraged:
I debated whether or not to admit to this here, but since I pride myself on being honestly and unapologetically me, I feel that I owe it to myself to keep that up - and in the interests of honest and unapologetic me-ness ... Recently, I had someone make what seemed like an off-hand, spur of the moment sort of comment to me. It was the kind of comment I might normally have been able to brush off, the kind of comment that I might usually think through and dismiss, telling myself that "I'm taking it too personally." But this comment was an incredibly toxic and mean thing for this person to say - and it wasn't the first time such comments have been made. So I'm not being too sensitive about it. The truth is, this other person is an insufferable asshole who never learned proper manners - and is, unfortunately, someone society just has to tolerate. Still, I was (and am still) so utterly enraged by this comment that I ended up going to bed early with a sick stomach and a dizzying headache. Every time I think about it, the rage comes flooding back - and so does the headache.

5. Frightened:
I've talked here before about things I'm afraid of, and why I'm totally okay with owning up and admitting my fears. Most recently, my biggest (immediate) fear is losing my car. Many of you know that I'm now a single mom, and my last relationship was ten year stretch that definitely had its ups and downs. One of the downs was that for the duration of those ten years, for one reason or another I never had a car of my own. I mean, we always had a car - but just one. And it was rarely left with me during the long days, so I spent a great of time totally isolated, keeping the home and raising the munchkins. Buying my van a couple of years ago was a huge thing for me - it was a breaking away, a re-establishing of independence that had been lost for a very long time. Well, the transmission on the van is going to go out on me any day now (I've been informed that the transmission pan is full of metal shavings - apparently this is very bad news.), probably leaving me without a car to transport my kids in. As they both have various health problems and so do I, this is truly a terrifying concept for me - a great number of recent panic attacks can be attributed to this particular impending crisis, and the fact that I'm not at all sure what I'm going to be able to do about it only makes it worse.

Those are my Friday Feels - but while I acknowledge that while the majority of the emotions listed happen to be negative ones this time, that doesn't mean I only ever experience or acknowledge the negative. I have happy emotions too - like the gratitude that constantly fills me when I look at the support network I'm building. The people in my everyday life who care enough to know all the goings-on and are always there to back me up ... those people mean the world to me and keep me going, looking forward - toward a future that's hopefully starting to look up.

For today's "Featured Favorite Product," I thought it would be fun to stick with the emotional theme and share one of my favorite movies with you guys - Inside Out. This is seriously one of the cutest movies ever, and I love the theme of emotional clarity and intelligence that runs through the storyline.

This movie follows the emotional changes and experiences of a little girl named Riley, who just happens to be going through puberty at the exact time that her family uproots and moves to another state. She goes through the range of emotions - anger, fear, sadness, joy, even silliness, and this movie led to some really powerful conversations with the girls and I.

If you guys haven't seen Inside Out yet ... well, I definitely recommend it. Even if you aren't watching with kids, the movie itself is a great exploration of emotional balance and a strong lesson on the importance of trying to make sure none of our emotions are allowed to overpower the others.

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
As always, if you liked this post or you think you know someone who will, please take a moment to share it on your social media - and be sure to invite others to come leave their Friday Feels in the comments.

Also don't forget to come check me out on Patreon! For as little as $1 a month, you'll gain access to more exclusive content from me - including fiction works as well as more frequent (and more personal) updates about the girls and I. Your support would mean the world to our family, and I would absolutely love to welcome more people into my little Patreon community - we're just one or two supporters away from reaching the next goal there, which will trigger my first Patreon giveaway (and may I say, the odds of winning are spectacular)!

But before you move on to wherever else you're headed next in life, make sure you never miss a post here - take a second to subscribe to my blog (the subscription form is in the right sidebar) so we can stay connected. By subscribing, you'll ensure that you can stay updated on all the latest news with the girls and I ... and in the meantime? Whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site,  from the very bottom of my heart, thank you for reading.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: The Ten Best Candies Ever.

So, you guys know I love vloggers and am a huge fan of what YouTube means to the people who create their content on that platform. Maybe I'm even a little bit envious - I could totally see myself loving life as a vlogger. But videography is a whole different ballgame, and being as present as vlogging requires you to be is a big deal - bigger than I'm up for, maybe, although I do share a ton of photos on my Patreon page, usually with some sort of mini-blog/update.

Still, there are a ton of vloggers I love watching, and some of them even started out as bloggers. My most favorite right now is Sarah Rae Vargas; I've even mentioned her here before because I love her channel and how amazingly she's succeeded in her role as an entrepreneurial single mom. But like I said before, she started out as a blogger - so recently, when I got curious about her content and how she came to be what she is right now, I hunted through her site, found the first blog post, and started reading.

I love her voice and her style, her ambition, and her willingness to do whatever she can to move forward and provide the best possible life for her kids - I guess I relate. So when I saw this post on Sarah's site during my reading, I thought it might be fun to write my own version of it. That's why today I'm sharing my thoughts on The Ten Best Candies Ever.

1. Twizzlers. I think these are my number one favorite candy at the moment - the perfect mix of sweet and chewy. It's gotta be the original ones though, not those pull & peel ones that are all sticky. And definitely not the licorice ones. Yuck!

2. Tootsie Pops. These are an easy go-to for me, but I don't have them often because when they're around, it's like my self-control goes totally out the window. I don't like the chocolate ones though - they do not taste like chocolate to me. My favorites are the strawberry watermelon - closely followed by raspberry, cherry, blue raspberry, and grape.

3. Starburst. Starbursts are awesome candies, and the fact that they now come in minis that are already unwrapped just makes them even better. Top that with the idea that you can buy packs that come with only the reds and pinks, and ... well I mean really - it can't really get much better than that.

4. Raisinets. Yes, I know lots of people find them disgusting because they have raisins in them - and yes, I do have a friend who almost ruined Raisinets by suggesting that you might not always know if it somehow wasn't always a raisin buried in that chocolate (gag). But I don't know ... they're so good! Especially the dark chocolate ones. They are probably my go-to candy when I go to the movies, but I haven't been in ages.

5. Skittles. I don't think there's anyone who doesn't love Skittles; they're another one of those candies that's just the right mix of fruity and chewy and sweet. Too bad I can't get just the reds of those, huh?

I do like chocolate though too, so ...

6. Snickers. I love Snickers. Especially when it's frozen. Even if they bother my mouth sometimes because I was a dumb butt when I was younger and blew off having my wisdom teeth removed. And now that they've made Snickers in dark chocolate now? Oh, man. That's the stuff.

The other day, Josephine and I were in Walmart and we happened to notice the Snickers display - it was so funny because the wrappers all had different labels on them. Sarcastic, Know It All, Bossy, Rebellious, Whiny, Sleepy. There were more, and they were the. cutest. even if those particular ones didn't happen to be the dark chocolate ones.

7. Twix. When I'm in the mood for a different kind of chocolatey crunch, or when I'm giving my teeth a break from nuts (stop it, ya perv!), I go for Twix, which has always been one of my most favorite candy bars.

8. Rolos. Sometimes you want that chocolately caramelly deliciousness without any of the crunch, devoid of the saltiness of the nut (stop it, I said!). So that's when you turn to Rolos. These are the perfect little bite-sized morsel - I've recommended them here before too.

9. Lindor Truffles. In the dark chocolate of course, because there's hardly any other way to go - dark chocolate is simply the best. But I will say this, the caramel truffles are also utterly spectacular. They're the perfect candy to just pop in your mouth and wait til the chocolate outside melt away and the real magic happens (seriously?). I almost always have some of these around, and when I just NEED a chocolate fix, these tend to be where I go. Just one sets me straight again. Yummy.

10. Andes Mints. There's something magical about the combination of chocolate and mint that's just ... perfect. It's like these two flavors are mint to be together (you can't see me but I'm snickering), and Andes Mints have a truly unique way of finding the perfect balance between the two flavors. I also like that they're bite-sized, and that the rectangular shape makes them perfect melting on your tongue - that is, if you can leave them there long enough to let them melt.

So that's it, my top ten favorite candy treats. What are yours?

I had thought to skip today's "Featured Favorite Product," since the whole post is basically featuring my favorite products  ... but then I found this super cute mixed treat box on Amazon, and while I don't actually buy a lot of candy in general, I thought this would be a perfect thing for you guys to keep around for visiting grandkids, party favor treat bags, last-minute gift supplies, or for just when you need a sweet treat. Used in those ways, I imagine this box would last a while, and I love that everything comes in pretty much single-serve packaging - the grab-and-go setup also makes it perfect for doling out to my own kids without having to play the role of portion-police. What do you think?

I'm thinking this Candy Variety Box is gonna be a total all-around win for the girls and I! I'll probably even pick one up for them to hand out this year for Halloween, knowing that there's likely to be plenty left after for the kids to keep - and if it works out, I'll likely grab another to use for Easter Baskets and egg fillers next spring.

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
As always, if you liked this post or you think you know someone who will, I encourage you to share it on social media - and don't forget to invite others to come leave their own favorite candies in the comments.

Also as always, make sure you come check me out on Patreon! For as little as $1 a month, you'll gain access to more exclusive content from me - including monthly bits and pieces of my fiction work and more frequent (and more personal) updates about the girls and I. Your support would mean the world to us, and I personally would love to welcome more people into my little Patreon community.

But before you head off on your travels across the internet, make sure you never miss a post here! Take just a second to subscribe to this blog (the subscription form is in the right sidebar) so we can stay connected and you'll be updated on all the latest news. In the meantime, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site ... thank you for reading.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Storytime Saturday: HAUNTED

Recently, Josephine has been reading through the first several books in the Left Behind Kids series - I haven't read the kids series, but I've read the adult ones and I actually attribute much of my Christian testimony to my experiences during the time I was reading those books. But we're a Christian family in general, so between that and our reading material, deep theological discussions are not uncommon for us.

A couple of days ago, we spent the evening in an energetic debate about our theories on the Christian Rapture, the Tribulation period, and other such topics - somehow this led to us talking about whether or not we truly believed in things like spirits and ghosts and demons.

Well, I do. Because I've experienced them. So ...

A few years ago, we lived in a haunted apartment. It was me, Jo, and her dad; he tended to work second-shift, late-night jobs, and so I was often alone in the evenings after I had gotten Joey to bed. Frequently, once the daily homemaker chores had been completed, I would settle in on the couch with a book or something on TV, and I would wait up to greet my guy when he got home from work.

About three or four nights a week, once Josephine had fallen asleep (this I know because at that time I would often check on her throughout the evening), I would hear very slight footsteps pacing the hallway behind me. Softly, like that of an older child who has learned to walk quietly but not quite silently. The footsteps would come to just the edge of the hallway and stop, as if in wait - there would be silence for the space of a moment, and then the steps would turn and go back down the hall, fading into nothingness around halfway. The same silence, and the steps would approach me again.

I don't know if it was because I had a little girl, but I always felt that the presence was a little girl - perhaps a girl in need of security or protection, or maybe only reassurance. I felt the same as I would have had it been my daughter coming up the hallway - except that it wasn't my daughter. Still, after a while of this, I would often get a bit spooked, and then turn somewhat irritated. And I would say to her, "Won't you just go to bed? Everything is fine out here."

To which there would be silence. Utter silence. She didn't walk away, she didn't throw any plates. She would just go silent for the night, to return again later.

Other things happened in that apartment too - things which are simultaneously easy-and-not-easy to explain.

Joey's dad and I had taken the middle-sized room in our three-bedroom apartment, giving the master bedroom to Josephine, who had more toys and more space requirements in order for her messiness to not bleed into the rest of the apartment. As such, our bedroom was neat but somewhat crowded, filled with a queen-sized bed, a pair of nightstands on either side, and an armoire opposite the bed. On my side of the bed, there was a small walkway, slightly interrupted by my great-grandmother's bookshelf, which I had filled to the brim with books of all kinds. On his side was the entry to our small closet.

One night he sat straight up in bed from a dead sleep, and said, "Did you see that rat?"

Well of course I hadn't, because I'd been just on the verge of sleep myself. But I leaned over his lap, to look obligingly over the edge of the bed - and I saw a small dark shadow dart from just beneath the bed. It moved quickly across the small (maybe 18-inch) aisle of walkway on his side of the bed and vanished under the closet door.

So naturally, I insisted that we close the bedroom door, thus trapping whatever was IN THERE in there with us - and then that we rearrange and lift all furniture and belongings, searching for the rat, which was not to be found in the closet. (To be perfectly clear here, by "we" I fully and totally meant "him," the man in charge of keeping the delicate status of my safety protected. Of course.)

Needless to say, there was no rat - only that one dark shadow. That little nagging bit of ... somethingness that still freaks me out to this day. A blob of blackness, a feeling of ... malice? Whatever it was, I have always believed that it lingered in that room. I began to have dreams almost nightly, and slowly became just a little afraid of going down the hall alone at night when it was dark. I could feel ... something there.

Later, when I got pregnant with Eden, we switched rooms with Joey and took the larger bedroom, lest we have any unnecessary sibling issues over things like, "Haha, I got the BIG room." This way, he and I had the master bedroom, Jo had the middle-size room, and Eden would take the smallest room - fair enough, right? And makes perfect sense.

But when we moved Joey into that room ... that was when her nightmares began. It was when she was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Almost overnight (even though it was so early in my pregnancy that she didn't even know a baby was coming yet), it was when my sweet and easy-going daughter turned into a master of provocation, a competitive and manipulative little person.

She had horrible dreams about floods and burglars and monsters, about rodents and a scary boy names Mike. She had terrible, constantly plaguing anxiety, to the point where we got her an emotional support animal in an effort to hold off putting her on anxiety meds (she was already on meds for ADHD and ODD).

She has told me that believes she was possessed at that time, and describes a feeling of malicious and fear-filled ... fullness ... that would come over her in waves. Waves that also began to wash over me at certain times, when I stood in certain places in the apartment. Waves that stopped when we ended up switching apartments only a year or two later.

We believe the Bible warns us against speaking and communicating with spirits because they are real. Because we have felt their presences, both malicious and otherwise.

What do you believe?

Something new I've been thinking of adding to the blog for a while is a "Featured Favorite Product." I think this would be a great way to share the markets, brands and products that I love best in a way that's unintrusive and fun - because while I love the idea that sponsorships and affiliate sales could someday help pay for some of the upkeep on my brand, the truth is, I'm not a salesperson and I don't want to be. But sharing my favorites here in a quick mention that shows what's working for my family? That, I can do. Bear in mind, I am using affiliate links - this means that if you choose to click one of my links and purchase through them, I'll receive a (very) small commission at no extra cost to you.

And now, with that disclaimer out of the way, here's my #1 most favorite product to use lately: 

You guys already know I have issues getting enough protein to keep myself feeling functional, so I'm always glad to try a new supplement that gives me something other than the constant influx of meat, eggs, and cheese. I can't have a lot of milk because I have a very mild lactose intolerance; therefore, instant (powdered) protein shakes tend to taste gross because I mix them with water AND still upset my stomach because they're often made with milk (whey) proteins.

But.  Core Power High Protein Shakes are premixed, made of actual milk, and DON'T upset my stomach because they have lactase enzymes already in them. They're quick and simple when I don't have time to eat, when I don't feel like eating, or when I want something sweet that doesn't make me feel guilty for treating myself. I definitely recommend them - they're delicious, and they're great for a quick energy boost that feeds your body without an overdose of calories. Actually, I'm seriously drinking one right now; I left it in the freezer a little too long and it's full of chocolatey little ice crystals. Yum.

Plus, the strength boost might come in handy if I ever end up living anywhere else haunted, especially if I get the kind of ghost that likes pushing furniture over or throwing dishes. I'll need all the strength I can get to not haul my ass out of there and never come back.
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