britt’s amazing Grandma Helen

I would like to a moment to tell you about this incredible woman:

My Grandma Helen at age 97 (2 years ago), with a really rad cat sweater.

My beautiful Grandma Helen at age 96 (3 years ago), with a really rad cat sweater. What. A. BABE.

This is my Grandma Helen Estelle Stone Smith Baespflug. She passed away on October 27th, 2014 at the incredible age of 98. My Grandma was my hero and I love her very much.

In an effort to get the whole family together (Grandma Helen had 7 children, if that gives you any idea of the amount of people we’re talking about here), the memorial was scheduled months after her passing on what would have been her 99th birthday. 

I am now on Day 18 of mono (and think I can safely say I am almost in the clear! Finally!) and luckily made my goal of getting on an airplane last Friday to attend the memorial over the weekend in Tacoma, WA, with the added bonus of having my dear parents nurse me back to health. As much as I wouldn’t let the worry enter my head (I can really only take things one moment at a time since this virus has been plaguing me for what seems like years), I knew that I ran the risk of the stress of air-travel pushing me back a few spaces.

I guess it did.

To my utter heartbreak, I was unable to attend Grandma’s funeral the day after I arrived in Tacoma. I woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain in my throat and ears. I couldn’t swallow without gagging and experiencing searing pain in my tonsils. It was clear that I needed to seek medical attention ASAP and spent the rest of the day doing so with my dad. It turns out that I had a bacterial infection on top of my mono (gotta collect ’em all!), which obviously sucks, but the good news is that antibiotics WORK. So I’m on the mend. But I didn’t get to celebrate Grandma’s life with my family members that traveled from near and far to be together. I wasn’t able to be there for my mom in the way I wanted and needed to be. This was really hard for me and I am very sad about that.

So. I’ve been spending the day journaling, remembering, talking with my mom, going through pictures… trying to make the most of this time. It feels nice.

Here are some beautiful photos I (re)discovered at my parents’ house:

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One of my favorite photos of my Grandma and my Grandpa Martin. (Cameo by Mono Britt.)

No, actually -- THIS ONE.

I also love this one. 🙂

I wanted to take this time, during my own time of reflection, to share with you, my friends, my thoughts and memories of Helen. Cause she was so, SO awesome. And you would all love her.

Here are things you need to know about my Grandma:

1.) She LOVED to dance.

My mom told me that she and my Grandpa would go out dancing every week until Grandpa passed. They were incredible.

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My Grandma also made these outfits. More on that later!

I also remember Grandma dipping my cousin Michael on the dance floor on his own wedding day (she must have been 93 or 94 at the time) because she wanted to see the young whipper-snappers “dance correctly”. So she strutted up to the dance floor, literally took the lead, forcefully spun Michael around and dipped him. She bowed, turned around on a dime and strutted back to the seated area as the next lady came up to dance with Michael. Classic Helen. You minx!

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Grandma with Michael at yet another wedding (my cousin Michelle’s, Michael’s sister), surely reminding him to step-up his dance-step game.

2.) She LOVED my Grandpa Martin.

My Grandpa was one of the sweetest, gentlest men in existence. I love hearing my mom talk about him. He raised 6 girls (and 1 boy), so I’m pretty sure that automatically makes you a saint. He fought in World War II and was awarded a Purple Heart. He passed away my freshman year of high school. 

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What a stud, right? His eyes always seemed to smile.

An beautiful etching Grandma drew of Grandpa.

An beautiful etching Grandma drew of Grandpa. (c) Helen Baespflug

3.) And of course, Helen LOVED her kids. All 7 of them.

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So, this isn’t ALLL of the kids, but you get the idea. I HAVE A CUTE FAMILY.

4.) She was sarcastic and witty as hell. 

This is one of my favorite Helen stories.

After I broke off an engagement post-college (that’s another long story we’ll get into at a later date, okay kids?), my Grandma had some pretty snarky (read as: “spot-on”) things to say to me:

Helen: “Brittney. What is your favorite thing to drink these days?”

Britt: “I don’t know… Coffee. Purple Gatorade? Tea, I guess.”

Helen: “Are you sure it’s not booze?”

Britt: *Sigh*

Helen: *Hysterical laughter*

Britt: “…okay, yeah.”

Not much longer after that, mid-conversation on (hopefully) a different matter, Grandma stops mid-sentence with a gasp to admire the many rings I was wearing. She quickly scanned my left ring-finger, noted that it was bare and unadorned, then slyly looked up at me. 

Helen: “…So. That’s the scary one, huh?” (She says, totally dead-pan. This kind of delivery was her specialty.)

Britt: “….yeup.”

Helen: “You wanna stay away from that one, don’t you.”

Britt: (awkardly) “Oohhh yeah.”

Then, I’m pretty sure, we got up to get wine after that.

Helen: 2, Britt: 0

Well played, Grandma, well played.

Grandma straight-up stole my glasses from me for this whole day (pictured here). She liked them, so she stole them off my head. Truth be told, she wore them better.

Grandma straight-up stole my glasses from me for this whole day (pictured here). She liked them, so she stole them right off my head. Truth be told, she wore them better.

5.) She loved putting you in your place. In the most hilarious, loving way possible.

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Grandma at work, putting my cousins in their place during this Fam Photo. Get ’em, Gramma.

I remember I came over to Grandma’s house with a friend in middle-school, early high-school, maybe, and she had strong opinions about us not entering the house until she was done tidying up. I insisted that “it’s FINE, Gramma, we really don’t care”, and barged my way through the front door. The 90-pound, 80-something-year-old woman forcefully, physically, pushed us back out the front door until she was ready for us to come back in. Which was literally like… 60 seconds later (during which time she opened the door as if for the first time seeing us that day, greeting us with a sweet Granny smile). 

See?! Goofball Granny smile. What is not to love?

See?! Goofball Granny smile. What is not to love?

6.) Grandma Helen was an exceptional artist.

I think these images speak for themselves. Here are some of my faves:

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(c) Helen Baespflug

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(c) Helen Baespflug

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(c) Helen Baespflug

7.) Grandma Helen should have been a famous costume designer in the Hollywood. (Refer back to #6 — you see what I’m talking about?!)

My mom, aunts, and uncle were all in different incarnations of bands in their youth. Grandma made ALL of their costumes, and there were always new costumes for different sets within a given show. According to my mother, Grandma Helen would make up to 20 costumes per show. I mean, WOW.

So check THIS out:

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This is the band “Baespflug”. My Grandma made these outfits in all of their Epic Badassedry. Pictured here: my aunt Valerie (left), my mom (top), my aunt Shelby (right), and my aunt Christie (bottom). Wicked.

My mom brought some gorgeous pieces back for me from the memorial that my Grandma made. I wanted you to see what they looked like on a person — not on a hanger — so you could see these pieces in their full glory. But unfortunately for you, this means that you get Super Mono Girl as your model. Ohhhh BABY. Enjoy.

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This one stole my heart. My Grandma is a genius.

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Can you believe she DESIGNED and MADE these?!?!

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They are all so different, all so brilliant.

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LOOK at this cute little flapper dress!! This one is my favorite, I think.

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And I want you to take note of the beautiful detail on this dress — I love the neckpiece. Sheer brilliance, Grandma, sheer brilliance. 🙂

Not to mention, Grandma made all of the girls’ prom dresses in high school! She also made my mom’s wedding dress (and I believe all, or at least most, of my aunts’ wedding dresses). Dayum.

8.) Grandma Helen was the best Grandma ever.

I have so many fond memories of playing the day away at her house and in the large backyard with my cousins. My memories come in little snippets here in there; something strange or simple will jog my memory randomly. For example, I remember I was really obsessed with this bird book that Grandma had. I was just thinking about this the other day for some reason. I was super fixated on the large Snowy Owl that graced two pages of the book in full color. I would sit on the floor of her house or on the swing outside and look that thing for what seemed like hours.

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Part of my big crazy family in Grandma’s back yard. You can spot little Britt on the bottom right-hand corner of the photo. 🙂

There are far too many memories to write about here. But I just wanted to say that her presence, her home, her humor, all of it, painted my childhood with so many beautiful and vibrant colors. 

—————

Thank you for taking the time to read this post and love one of my biggest heroes with me. This is the best way I can think of to honor her influence on my life and celebrate hers since I was not able to do so as planned this past weekend. Thank you for supporting me in sharing the things I needed to share.

Below are the last photos I had taken with my Grandma. I love them the most, I think. There is something so fun and free about them. They make me smile.

My last visit with Grandma, August 2014.

My last visit with Grandma, August 2014.

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Grandma Helen is 98 in this photo and was still cracking me up constantly.

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Rediscovering Grandma’s drawings together in a book beautifully assembled by my cousin Charisse. This was my favorite thing.

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Grandma, my bro Nate, and me. August 2014. Love you forever Grandma.

I love you Grandma and I miss you so much already. Teach me to be like you. Happy 99th birthday. You won Life.

britt is not a pathological liar

My house burned down. I’m going through a bit of a cancer scare. There was a hit and run on my car outside of my house a few days ago and I am now carless.

On paper–and in outloud-speech– I sound like a pathological liar. Or, the unluckiest person alive. But I assure you, I am neither.

Let me back up. Some major developments have occurred since we last caught up. For one thing, Dani is having the time of her life on a 2 month adventure in India, and if you haven’t caught up on her incredible experiences so far, you really should. I already miss her like crazy.

Dani sent me an email from Rishikesh the other day asking if I felt compelled to write a post about the scary things that are happening in my life. “Or,” she said, “You could just write a post about how much you love sharks or something.” (I love my D, she always knows how to talk to me.)

Mostly, I’ve been avoiding writing all together (which is always a good indicator that I am running away from something) and have been spending a lot of time sleeping and staring blankly at walls to avoid my fear and all the stress that comes with it. The most hopeful and empowered I have felt in the past couple weeks have been when I am writing music or when I’m on stage. Music and theatre have truly saved my sanity this past while. Which brings me to this–

The point of blog is to hold myself accountable to an unconventional career path as a creative professional, to keep me on track with what I want out of life, to get to know myself better, and to simply be… real. I have no interest in writing about fake shit. When Dani and I teamed up on this blog, we joined forces with the intention of creating a fun yet no-bullshit narrative that intimately follows each of our journeys as young actors and human beings.

And all of this scary stuff I am currently experiencing? This IS my journey. I can’t run away from it. It is mine. I can choose to embrace it and be empowered by it. And writing about what scares me gives me power. So in this post today, I am going to write to you all about what scares me.

Okay. So cancer talk. Here we go.

That shit is scary. How do I begin to describe this nonsense? It’s been overwhelming for me to even think about, so let me give you the bullet points. Because bullet points are manageable.

I found a lump. It is huge and came out of nowhere. I went to a couple of doctors. They were concerned. Got an ulatrasound. Ultrasound was labeled as a Class 4a cystic mass and was flagged it as suspicious. Meaning it needed immediate attention. Radiologist said there would be one of three possible outcomes. One, it’s a benign cyst that they are unfamiliar with and are not used to seeing, and that my body will eventually take care of it and that I am fine. Two, it’s some other kind of benign cyst that will continue to grow and be invasive to my body and I may want to get it surgically removed. Three, it is cancerous and I would need treatment immediately.

My heart stopped after hearing that last one. I have never been so scared. The third outcome is unlikely for someone of my age and health, but I need to be checked out to be sure. The next step is a biopsy. I had no health insurance. Biopsy would cost thousands of dollars and any treatment or follow-up that may come after that would cost much more. I applied for grants, independent health insurance, and various financial aid programs for days. I got accepted into a program called the BCCP (Breast and Cervical Cancer Plan) a couple of days ago, which will fund all of my costs and reimburse me for what I’ve already spent. This was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. However. The fact that I got accepted into a program called the “Breast and Cervical Cancer Plan”, when they seldom accept people under 40, frightens me more than I can really articulate.

BUT! The money thing was a huge roadblock to me getting the medical attention I need. So now I am one step closer to finding out that I am A-OK and healthy, or, less healthy than I thought and on the road to treatment and speedy recovery. I scheduled the biopsy for this Tuesday. I was told to expect results anywhere from 3 to 7 days post the procedure. Wow. Alright. I can do this. Let’s do this. Onward.

Okay, now… car. Car, car, CAR. One needs a car to move to and live in Los Angeles. A few nights ago, I had just driven home after performing in my show at Theatre Vertigo. I was talking on my phone in my parked car for 20 minutes outside the house before going in, as I have crappy reception inside the house. I finished my conversation and headed inside to open my mail and chat with my roommate Shane in the dining room. I hadn’t been inside for more than 5 minutes when Shane and I heard what sounded like someone slamming into trash cans with a car. We looked out the window just in time to see a white SUV speed away. And you know what? The drunk fucker smashed the front driver’s-side panel of my car in, thereby screwing up the alignment, knocking out an axel and making the thing unsafe to drive. I filed a police report, but there’s no way that douche is getting tracked down, we didn’t get outside fast enough to catch the license plate.

Ugh. So anyway. Rage-spiral aside–Had I talked on the phone a bit longer in my car before heading inside, I could have been in the vehicle when the collision happened and would have been hurt. With these three incidents in a row (house fire, health, car), you can understand why I am beginning to feel as though I am a character written into Final Destination 6 or something. I mean, COME ON.

So, no, folks… I am not a pathological liar. These events and their alarming proximity to each other are 100% real. And as for being the unluckiest kid in the neighborhood….? That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Read up on the house fire incident. If one little thing had gone differently, my brother and I could have been very hurt or killed. (LUCKY.) If I had been talking on my phone in my car the other night for just five minutes longer, I could have been very hurt. (LUCKY.) When I get the results back from this biopsy and I see how healthy I am, I will be the most grateful girl in the world. (LUCKY.) Or, if the results turn out to be scary, I will have caught it early and will be one step closer to a full recovery. (LUCKY.)

And boy, am I lucky to get to do the thing I love every day. The stuff I get to do for work? Pssh. The BEST. And this past week, despite all of the scary nonsense, was no exception. Check this stuff out.

My Week:

Last weekend I went to the Portland Premiere of Fantini Cinema‘s “Future Perfect“. This is the first feature film I have worked on to be released, and, as evidenced by these sick photos, I was pretty pumped about it:

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Fantini Cinema also discovered this past week that Future Perfect was selected to be shown in-flight on Hawaiian Airlines for 6 months. How cool is that?!

This week also brought about the closing of Theatre Vertigo‘s “Aloha Say the Pretty Girls“. This was my last show as a Vertigo company member before moving LA and was also the last performance by the company in the historic Theater!Theatre! space. So I got a little emotional. But! This week’s shows were a LOT of fun for me (especially on Monday’s industry night)…. once again, as evidenced by these photos:

My last day as Myrna. With one of my favorite props.

My last day as Myrna. With one of my favorite props.

Actor Brooke Calcagno and her striking resemblance to my mummy. Beautiful.

Actor Brooke Calcagno and her striking resemblance to my mummy. Beautiful.

Actors Zoe Rudman and Beth Thompson.

Actors Zoe Rudman and Beth Thompson.

Take 2.

Take 2.

Actor Tom Mousey looking sexy. With laser cats.

Actor Tom Mousey looking sexy. With laser cats.

Actor Tyler Ryan looking fabulous. Okay, so maybe I have a laser cat problem...

Actor Tyler Ryan looking fabulous. Okay, so maybe I have a laser cat problem…

I think that “Aloha” was one of the most challenging plays I have ever worked on. The script was confusing and frustrating as hell, the character I played was a walking enigma, and I struggled through the rehearsal process. When we went into production, however, I began to drop in and felt much more in my element. But, I cannot tell you how difficult it was to truly live the whole “the show must go on” thing in light of recent events. I had to bring myself to the theatre in full-action the day after my house burnt down. I had to find a way to be there when I was scrambling to find a car to use last-minute. I had to show up when I was scared about my health and afraid to talk to anyone about it. I’ve had crying fits and laughing fits in the green room. I danced it out to 80s pop and gangsta rap in the dressing room. I loved hard on my cast and grabbed their asses at any and every moment it seemed appropriate. Or inappropriate. I found myself on stage. I found my little enigmatic character, “Myrna”, on stage. Or rather, she found me.

On stage, things made more sense. Screw what’s happening in the rest of the world outside of those stage doors. All that I could control was on that stage, right where I left it. And what an incredible feeling that is. How lucky I am.

Although many of the reviews did not look favorably on our little play, I was honored to receive good reviews on my own personal performance despite my recent life hardships and my own insecurities about effectively translating my mysterious character onstage. Wow, what an indicator that I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing. Check out the reviews here (Portland Mercury) and here (Portland Monthly).

—–

I was joking with my mom that for a girl born on Friday the 13th, at age 26 (13+13) in the year 2013, I’m allowed to look a little unlucky. But let’s be real. We know that’s not true.

I’m a fucking force to be reckoned with.

And I just may be the luckiest girl on this planet.

infinite love to you my friends,

~britt

britt watches her house burn down

When I was 8 or 9 years old I woke up in the middle of the night from a bad dream. I don’t know what intuitive force led me out of my bunk-bed and out onto the deck in the dead of night, but the feeling was strong so I went with it.

I grew up in Tacoma, Washington on a beautiful piece of land called Day Island. The deck behind the house overlooked the Puget Sound, Narrows Bridge and the Narrows Marina. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

When I walked outside that night, I saw the marina up in flames. I ran into my parents’ room screaming bloody murder and they called 9-1-1. Emergency vehicles were on the scene in what felt like seconds–but even as the firefighters tended to every charred dock and boathouse, I couldn’t sleep for fear the fire would start up again. My dad had to walk me down to the marina after the fire was put out to show me that no one was hurt and that the fire had stopped. When we approached the marina’s entrance, a sunken yacht had just been pulled up to shore. The boat was black and melted and pieces of wood jutted out at odd angles. In the eerie glow of the docklights that night, I believed it to be the spookiest, most unsettling thing I had ever laid eyes on. It was something from nightmares.

Although I gained some calm from knowing that the fire was stopped, the image of that dead ship has been seared into my brain. It haunted me night after night and I still think of it sometimes now.

That was the most frightening moment of my childhood. That, and the time when I let my brother out of my sight for a second at the park when I was supposed be watching him and my mom freaked out. (As she should have.)

But the most frightening moment of my adult life happened this past Friday, when the house my brother and I live in in North Portland burned down.

That night I had performed in a show at Theatre Vertigo and was exhausted from a fun and sleepless week in Los Angeles. I could not wait to get home and get to sleep. But before that sleep I made a pit-stop at a neighborhood bar with my dear friend Suzzane, as we had important life things to discuss (per usual). On the drive back to my house at around midnight, I saw that the street I lived on was blocked off by police cars and there were four firetrucks in front of my house. And my home was in flames.

Everything in my vision seemed to change color and any movement I witnessed seemed to happen in slow motion. The most frightening moment of my life to date was the two minutes in which I could not locate my brother, Nate. I didn’t know if he was in that house.

In those two minutes, I was somehow able to park my car at a curb and not in the middle of street (I don’t even remember doing that) and ran through the mob of college kids, firemen, police officers, university public safety personnel, and onlookers trying to find my brother. I remember shouting his name and running around and having this horrible panic in my chest for what seemed like an eternity. One of brother’s friends saw me and rushed me over to Nate who was, understandably, very upset. But that was the best feeling– locating him, hugging him. I could give a shit less about that house and the possessions inside it at that point.

Now, here are the facts that are important to this story: No one was hurt (THANK GOD). No one was home (of my four boy roommates, two were out of town and two were out at a party a couple blocks down). The fire started in the backyard and at the time of investigation that night, the investigator suspected an electrical issue to be the cause, but did not rule out arson. At the time of me writing this post, the event is still being investigated and we still don’t know who or what caused the fire. Our neighbors called 911 when they saw what they first believed to be a bonfire gone awry. Firefighters put out the fire within 3 minutes. The upstairs was completely wrecked. My brother’s room was almost completely destroyed. He lost nearly everything he owns, including his guitars and musical equipment, which are very important to him. I was lucky enough to lose nothing as the fire did not make it to the basement. The bottom level of the house had only minimal smoke damage. But I wish I had been the one to lose my crap. We had no renters insurance. Witnessing my brother’s loss absolutely kills me.

The most frightening part of this story, however, is thinking about how horrifyingly different this whole situation could have been if occurred just one hour later. Or if I had come home that night after the show and gone straight to bed instead of going out for a drink with Suzzane. If Nate had passed out in his bed when that fire hit, or if I was in my closet-room (which I know fully realize to be a fire trap… my poor parents!) when it happened, we could have been hurt or killed. Neither of us would have had an easy way out of that situation.

But I don’t want to dwell on the what-if’s anymore, I’ve already nearly driven myself insane by doing that. I would like to share some documentation of the event, though. Seeing these images scare me, but they also offer power and closure in knowing that the event is over.

So– welcome to our world this past weekend:

my brother's room

my brother’s room

more damage.

more damage.

what was left of the upstairs bathroom.

what was left of the upstairs bathroom.

shower melting into the wall.

shower melting into the wall.

scary stuff. :(

scary stuff. 😦

this gives me shivers.

this gives me shivers.

my poor brother's favorite guitar. :(

my poor brother’s favorite guitar. 😦

Okay, so that’s over and done with! We survived. All is well. Nate and I are alive and happy and temporarily homeless.

My Past Couple Weeks:

Before the real-life nightmare and subsequent uprooting, three big things happened in my professional life since my last post that I would like to report (because that is what I do on this blog):

1.) I spent four days in Los Angeles with my Dani girl in preparation for my big move:

LAX

twins

2.) I opened a show at Theatre Vertigo called “Aloha Say The Pretty Girls”:

These are our opening night faces at front of house.

These are our opening night faces at front of house.

This is my opening night face on stage, apparently. (Photo by Gary Norman)

This is my opening night face on stage, apparently. (Photo by Gary Norman)

This is my opening night face in the dressing room.

This is my opening night face in the dressing room.

3.) I had a rad callback. Remember that film audition in Seattle I had a few weeks back? I got the callback! So I made that beloved PDX to Seattle/Seattle back to PDX trek once again.

YAY 6 hours of DRIVING!

YAY 6 hours of DRIVING!

I was super jazzed about this opportunity because the film stars Kiera Knightley and Sam Rockwell! These are the big leagues, guys. It was definitely worth the drive and I learned a lot from the audition. Like the fact that I can memorize completely new (8-or-so-page) sides in ten minutes when the appropriate pressure is applied. Gotta love that shit.

So yeah– those things happened!

So, while in the midst of one of the scariest events of my life, I have learned a lot of beautiful lessons and have achieved a renewed sense of gratitude. I am lucky to be an alive and functional human being. I am lucky to do what I love for a living (for the most part). I am lucky to have my parents and my brother. I learned the true meaning of “the show must go on” after I reeealllyy didn’t feel like I had it in me to run a show the day after my house burned down with 2 hours of sleep, tapped-out adrenaline, and heightened nerves. I re-realized how lucky I am to have the best friends in the entire universe.

Which reminds me. Miss Elizabeth Evans (and her other half, Mr. Shane Winters) is the most amazing human in existence.

Shane and Liz. My heroes.

Shane and Liz. My heroes.

Liz has been one of the most important people in my life since 10th grade and she was a guardian angel for me and Nate during this whole ordeal. Not only did she and Shane show up on the scene after I called her at 1:30am as a sloppy weepy mess, but she helped me and my brother move items out of the house LATE that night, EARLY the next morning, and gave me and Nate and Nate’s friend from out-of-town couches to sleep on that night. She also set up free on-campus housing at The University of Portland for my brother and his roommates until they get back on their feet. Now THAT is family. She gave it no thought, she just acted. And now Liz has offered me her home to stay in until I move to Los Angeles.

Jesus, Liz!! MOST AMAZING PERSON OF THE YEAR AWARD. Truly, she is family.

Family.

Family is the best. The morning after the fire, our parents drove down to help. I’m sure we gave the both of them near heart-attacks with that phone-call. The four of us went through the house to salvage what we could. At this point Nate and I were a little giddy to be (almost) on the other side of such a stressful ordeal. To commemorate this accomplishment of survival and pure luck, I took these photos of my brother with this grotesque backdrop:

my very alive brother

my very alive brother

...in his very dead room.

…in his very dead room.

In all seriousness, I know I could have been in a lot of trouble in my basement closet room if I was there that night, and I could not be more thankful for the safety of my brother and all those boys who lived at the house.

So this is me signing off and reminding all of you to check your smoke alarms and fire escape routes. Seriously!! Please! I will give you a big hug as a reward. Come and claim it, ’cause I am all about the hugs right now.

Love to you my friends,

~britt