I Won’t Back Down

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For Christmas this past year my husband and I bought the DNA kits from Ancestry.com . I had wanted to do it for a while, and we jumped at the opportunity to get them at a decent price on Cyber Monday. Once we filled the vials with our spit, (yes, its gross but it could be worse right?), and mailed them back I anxiously watched my email everyday for the results. The morning that I finally got the alert that the results were in my email, I could hardly contain my excitement! I seriously was like a little kid, and my results didn’t disappoint!

Being adopted, I have always been fascinated by my genealogy. My adoptive family has done extensive family history, but naturally, I still needed to know my biological genealogy. Once I met Sherri, my birthmom, she gave me a copy of her families history, which I treasure. But even still, I was curious about my birthdad and his family.

At the top of the results with the biggest percentage was Ireland/Scotland/Wales and Western Europe which was not a surpise to me. What did surprise me, was the high percentages of my DNA that came from the Middle East, Iberian Peninsula, and Scandanavia. I am now more than ever motivated to keep digging into my families history and am hoping one day to visit these amazing and very different places of the world that I have ancestry from.

Skoal!

Obviously, all of my results from my DNA test were fascinating to me, but I am particularly interested in the fact that I have Scandanavian blood. My husband Jess when he got his results discovered he does too, which was relatively unknown by his family. We were probably so psyched because we have been extremely obsessed with the show “Vikings” on the History Channel. If you don’t watch it- WATCH IT! Some of the characters are based on actual people (the show itself is not historically accurate), and there are some amazing fight scenes, intertwining characters and stories, all minus the seriously excessive nudity of Game of Thrones. Have I convinced you yet? I hope so!

To now know that I have Scandanavian ancestors has me even more fascinated with Vikings and their history. One of my favorite parts of the Vikings folklore, is their stories of shield-maidens. For centuries, this was thought to be just that, stories and folklore. Just last year, it was discovered that a famous Viking warrior who was long thought to be a man, turned out to be a woman when they did some DNA testing on the remains. Seriously, how cool is that? Turns out the women were just as brave, if not more so, than the men on the battlefields.

I like to think that I inherited some of this “warrior” DNA. No, I have never been in actual battle, and would never try to pretend or compare my life to a real war-zone. I have the highest respect for men and women who protect our rights and freedoms everyday with their lives. I have gone through some battles in life, so in my own way I am a warrior of the hurdles life has thrown at me. I mean, everyone is a warrior of their personal struggles and trials.

I have many female examples in my life who are “shield-maidens” in their own rite like the ones in Viking times. Whether they are friends or family, or friends who I consider family, each one of them inspires and brings their own sets of experiences and insights that they teach me whether they realize it or not. I am extremely blessed and grateful for every one of them, but there’s an aching in my heart everyday for my mom.

Ripples of Grief

Grief is an interesting process. I like to think of it as a ripple in water when you drop a stone. The ripples move naturally outward from that initial spot and never seem to stop. In real life,  when something tragic occurs, we may feel like life stands still, we have to keep moving forward and living. When my mom died, I wanted nothing more than to stay in bed forever. My kids, however still needed me to be a mom to them. Even though they were heartbroken as well from losing their Nana, they still were kids and kept me moving. I am grateful for them because they helped me continue to have purpose and would distract me, although momentarily, from my grief.

When the ripples are closer to the start, they are compact, and still extremely raw and painful. As they move away, and get bigger the pain, although never fully ebbing, gets less strong and easier to deal with.

In a few weeks, on February 17 it will officially mark the third year since Mom passed away. The third ripple from the day she died. Just when I feel like I’ve got a handle on my grief, something happens in my life and I wish so badly I could call my mom and talk to her. I often visit her grave and have full on conversations with her, simply because there is so much I need to tell her. When she was still alive, I talked to her every single day; she literally was, next to my sister Aly, my best friend.

To my knowledge my mom did not have Scandanavian heritage, (she was mostly of Irish descent), but she had more of that shield-maiden fight in her than anyone that I know. Her tough 18-year battle with mulitple myeloma Cancer is proof enough that she deserved to be taken to Valhalla by the Valkyries and to feast with the gods.

A Call to Arms

One thing is for sure, I consider myself a modern day warrior in the fight against cancer. I hate everything about it, and want to help find a cure so no more people and their families have to suffer it’s effects.

One of my goals for 2018 is to continue helping in any way that I am able for cancer patients and the American Cancer Society where I have been honored to be a part of their events here in Salt Lake.

As of right now, we are planning our next big event for the ACS in September. I can’t leak any details just yet, but it will be an amazing event so I will keep you all posted as soon as I can!

Aly and I are currently working on our third year of Kind Like Karen day, which is on the anniversary of her death. We put together care packages for the patients at the Huntsman Cancer Institute here in Salt Lake City and deliver them in person (with hugs), to help brighten their spirits and day. This year we are collecting blankets, socks, slippers, and beanies. We also get donations from local bakeries of cookies and other various treats that really get people excited! It is always such a emotionally charged day, filled with lots of tears and gratitide. We love using that day to give back to others, because it’s what Mom would have wanted.

I will continue to be a warrior against the disease that took my mom from me. I will keep doing everything I can for the patients and their families and do everything in my power to raise money for them through my work at the ACS. My hope is that a cure will be found in my lifetime- to live to see such a miracle would be indescribable. Until then, this is a fight I refuse give up on.

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Photos by Angela Marie Photography

Seville, Spain

Guys! I’m finally working on catching up on our trip to Spain and Portugal this past October! Sorry I have been slacking, it’s been a busy few months.

Our third stop was beautiful Seville. We arrived at around 12:30 AM on our train. This was all due to the fact that we missed our train from Alicante that morning. We were exhausted, but excited to be there. We grabbed a taxi and soon discovered why there are very few cars in the historic old section of Seville: the roads are SO SMALL! I started panicking because it literally felt like we were going to be stuck between buildings. The taxi driver could only drive us part of the way because the roads were so tiny, and we got out and walked the rest of the way to our Airbnb.

Our very very nice host Manuel waited for us, even though we were supposed to be there at 3 PM. I had emailed him as soon as we missed our train and kept him informed of when we would be arriving. He was so understanding and I apologized again when we arrived, but he was all too gracious about it. He showed us to the apartment, which was on the third floor of a darling old building right in the center of the historic Jewish quarter of the city. Directly across from our building was the Iglesia Santa Maria la Blanca church, which used to be a synagogue. I loved hearing the church bells throughout the day.

The apartment was very nice and clean. Aly actually got a bed this time, so she was happy even if it was in the middle of the living room. There was a nice bathroom and a small but effective kitchen with a washing machine which we used immediately.  Once Manuel gave us all the maps, and suggestions on what to do, he left and we all promptly went to bed.

The next morning, we accidentally slept in longer than we had intended, but since we weren’t leaving until the next day we weren’t too worried about it. We got dressed and headed out. We explored the quaint tiny streets around our apartment on our way to get some warm croissants for breakfast.

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The front door of our apartment was beautiful

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Seville was full of beautiful courtyards

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The streets were too tiny for cars!

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Jess and Aly (bottom left) as we were trying to find croissants

Then it was on to the Real Alcazar to get tickets for later tour. It’s a very popular spot, an we didn’t want to make the same mistake we did in Barcelona by not being able to get tickets to places. So, we secured tickets for 1:30 PM, and then walked over to the Plaza de Espana.

Built in 1928, it was made for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, and is just breathtaking. When we first walked into the open square, my mouth dropped. Not only is the architecture amazing but the colors were so vibrant! There’s painted tile everywhere, even on the ceilings! It’s such a bright, beautiful place. It is shaped in a huge semi circle, with a canal running under bridges, and a huge fountain right in the middle. For all you Star Wars fans out there, this place was used during filming as the kingdom of Theed on the planet Naboo in ‘Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones’.

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Jess enjoying the view, and the man in a red shirt photobombing

We walked around and enjoyed the architecture for a while, as well as the vendors who were selling various fans, and other souvenirs. There was also a man who was making gigantic bubbles with some homemade contraption that I was fascinated by. We needed to get back towards the center of the city to make it to our tour, and we decided to go by way of the Parque de Maria Luisa, which was a huge beautiful park right next to the plaza. One of the things I loved so much about Barcelona and Sevilla was the cute green parrots, and these were the only two cities we saw them in. When we walked up there were tons of them playing in a fountain. Of course, once I tried to get a photo of them, they ALL flew away. Oh well.

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You can see one parrot on the fountain

As we walked to and from the Plaza de Espana, we saw so many amazing buildings so it was a joy to explore.

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It was finally time for us to go to our tour of the Real de Alcazar and we were so excited! This was one of the main things I had to see on my bucket list for this trip. Despite how crowded it was, the buildings and grounds are so vast that other than the main halls you really didn’t feel like there was mass amounts of people.

Registered as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987, the Alcazar is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. The Spanish royal family still uses the upper levels of the palace to stay during certain times of the year. It is also considered to be the most beautiful palace in all of Spain, and if you ever happen to see it in person you will see why.

The original building was built as a Moorish fortress, and was later converted into the palace by King Peter Castile in the mid 14th century. As he expanded it, he decided to keep the Islamic architectural style that is already had. What makes this palace so unique is that subsequent rulers added their own touches to the palace over the centuries, so now it possesses architectural influences from the Moorish, Arabic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. It also has influence of both Muslim and Christian faiths.

If you’re not so much into the actual history of the palace, but the entertainment history, there’s plenty of that too. The Alcazar has been the site of several huge movies including ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in 1962 and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in 2005. It was also the location chosen to represent the kingdom of Dorne in “Game of Thrones” on HBO.

Whether you’re into the history of this place or not, one can still enjoy the beauty of it. I could have spent hours there, and decided I was moving in!

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After we explored the inside, we went outside to the gardens. They were immense, and we maybe only saw a third of them. A lot of them were closed to help preserve the plants, but we still got to see them from above. The best part was the garden maze, which we may or may not have cheated to get out of!

 

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My favorite part of the Alcazar though, was the Roman Baths underneath the palace. They are no longer used for that purpose, but are still so beautiful to look at. 54DB5CEE-1CCD-41C6-AD0D-F46D02347ED10219BB0D-F580-453C-918B-326026625221

Like I said, I wanted to move in. Don’t you want to now too? 1EAD8F02-5196-4B7A-8B9C-78A5639DC7FCCA77F3F6-FA03-4B8C-8230-C826F871DD9E44722EE3-177C-43C3-8EF5-5EA7540D9FE5FED580EB-C21A-4A6E-85DD-3546A29526DC6CBC8B91-11A7-4A23-BCF4-B09A024AEBBA

After we finally willed ourselves to leave the Real de Alcazar, we wandered across the square to the Cathedral de Seville, which is another Unesco World Heritage site. It was very impressive! And, we were surprised to know that Christopher Columbus’ tomb was inside it, (which i apparently got no photos of). Even though I think he’s not that great of a historic figure, (I mean, let’s not forget all the kidnapping and raping that happened), it was pretty cool to be in front of his actual tomb.

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There was a bell tower to climb to the very top of the Cathedral, but you had to pay for it. We decided to try and sneak up, and the guard let us right by! So up we went 34 flights in a tiny bell tower. I started to get mildy claustrophobic because it was such a small tower, but thankfully, we were at the top before I started really panicking. The view though, was totally worth the almost claustrophobic induced panic attack!

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While coming back down the bell tower the clouds literally ripped open and some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen just seemed to pour from heaven. It was SO cool to hear it from inside the massive cathedral! There was even some impressive thunder. Once the rain let up we ventured out to find food, and ate at this really cool tapas restaurant that was decorated with mounted heads of bulls. It made me sad because they have such cute faces and I said “Our lunch is watching us!”

I did not get a photo of the bulls, but I did of my tapas which was pork with garlic that was mighty tasty. 1D01BDE6-64FE-41D9-ACED-9B34B0874BFE

We walked to the historic bull fighting ring, but decided it wasn’t worth paying to go inside of. Then we walked back to our apartment the long way and explored more of historic Seville along the way.

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That evening, Manuel had booked us tickets to see a local and authentic flamenco show. It was held at the Museo del Baile Flamenco which was just a few streets over from our Airbnb. They allowed no photos or video during the performance, and there was maybe only 50 people there in the room. There was one male dancer and two females, along with the most talented guitar player I’ve ever witnessed and a male and female who sang and clapped the beats. It was a stunning performance that made my eyes fill with tears several times and goosebumps travel across my body. I was so glad we got to see it! Afterwards I snapped a photo of this painting of a flamenco singer because he hilariously kind of looks like Jimmy Fallon!

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Seville was one of my favorite stops on our trip. If you’re planning on seeing Spain definitely add this city to your list!

Xoxo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

One Foot In Front of the Other

I had to write down the date today and I still found myself automatically writing 2017. I cannot believe that it’s a new year already! I feel like we were just celebrating the new year of 2017! This last year in many ways felt that it went by extremely fast, and was very busy and full of events, activities, sports, and trips. We traveled and saw a lot of new things. We lost some good friends, but have made new friends too. We ended an almost 3 year lawsuit that has lifted some major stress off of us. I had a full-fledged breakdown that totally deflated me, but didn’t defeat me. We got to be a part of my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary, and Jess and I celebrated our 12-year wedding anniversary. The list could go on and on, but I would say overall that this was a good year for us.

Now that this fresh new year is upon us, I have sat down and actually planned some major goals for myself, which is something that I rarely do. I am hoping that I can make these all a reality for myself by the time 2019 rolls around.

Service

One of my major goals for this year is to make serving others a priority. I have loved being involved with American Cancer Society these past two years, and being the auction co-chair at their Faces of Hope Gala here in Salt Lake this past October was such an honor. Working to help raise funds for cancer research, patients, and their families is so near and dear to me since my mother passed away from cancer. So, I feel very strongly about this cause and hope to keep working with them for a long time to come. We are currently planning a huge event for this coming September which is going to be amazing! I will keep you all posted with the juicy details.

I have also reached out to a friend of mine who works at the Utah Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake, and offered to help plan their yearly gala to raise money for their cause. Being a survivor myself of sexual assault I feel very deeply for other victims, and want to help this center in any way that I can. Did you know this is the ONLY rape recovery center in the entire state of Utah? It makes me sick that this isn’t a bigger talked about issue, (because it is a really bad problem in Utah, just no one acknowledges it), but we are hoping to change that.

Aside from charity work, I would love to be of service to my family and friends. I would love this year to be less about me, and more about others, especially those who I love. Yes, I’ve got my own issues and struggles, but making serving others the priority will help me and them. Plus, who doesn’t feel amazing helping others? I know I always do.

Putting Myself Out There

This goal is mostly for my blog, and social media persona of The Raw Brunette. I am starting to get a pretty good following on my Instagram, and have done some good networking from the small numbers I have already. But my goal is to really get myself out there this year. I would love for my blog to become somewhat well-known, (shooting for the stars, I know), but hey I dream big! I want to be able to start speaking to people, women specifically, about my life experiences with death, grief, sexual assault, anxiety, depression, OCD,motherhood, etc. I would love to do this in a public setting, maybe for example, at a conference as a motivational speaker.

More than anything, I would love for my writing and my work to just reach people. I have had countless friends, and strangers send me messages, DMs, and emails telling me about how my writing has touched them. A lot of these people deal with the same things I have, and have either been too afraid to speak up, or felt like they were alone. This goes back also to my goal of service, because I just want to help people know they’re not alone, and not crazy, and not unusual for the things that many of us all struggle with.

Leaving On a Jet Plane

Another goal of mine this year is to travel. in 2017, I got to travel quite a bit. Here in the states my family went to southern Utah to Zion National Park for the very first time in March, as well as Bryce Canyon National Park which are both gorgeous. We also explored a lot of Idaho this summer. From Boise, Twin Falls, American Falls, and Rexburg we saw a lot of beautiful country. We even got to experience the Total Solar Eclipse in Rexburg which was a life-changing event. From Boise, we also drove west to see my family that lives in and around Portland, Oregon. We even got to the PNW coast which was just gorgeous, and we were blessed with amazingly warm weather the entire time.

As far as international travel, Jess and I traveled to Ensenada, Mexico in February of 2017 on a Carnival cruise with his company Envi Pest Control. The weather was not so great, but we had a really fun time zip lining! Then, in October of this year we traveled along with my sister Aly to Spain and Portugal, which I am still catching up on blogging about! It was a dream trip of 16 days, and we saw, ate, and learned SO MUCH. I will never forget it!

I’m hoping that this next year will include just as much if not more travel. I live for traveling! So, I will keep you updated if anything exciting is planned.

Smoothing Out the Bumps

My final goal of this year is to continue to discover my true self. I see myself as a rough looking rock, who over the years is slowly being polished. Eventually, I will be beautiful and shiny, with not a hint of my former rough exterior. It’s going to be a lifetime of polishing I’m sure, but I feel that even over just the past three years I have seen more of my true self shine through than ever before. Going through difficult things in my life has helped to strengthen me, and enlighten me to who I really am. In order to help myself with this task, I will take time for me. I plan on doing things that I love so that I am taking care of myself as much as I am taking care of my family.

  • Exercise is one thing that makes me so happy. It is time for me to be in the zone, with music on, and getting my blood pumping. I am a much happier person when I workout regularly. Plus, keeping myself healthy is always a priority! So, making sure I workout, or getting to fun classes at the gym is definitely a resolution.
  • Pampering myself seems so selfish, but I have decided it’s something I am making a resolution. I’m not going to be over-the-top about it or out of control, but doing a little something here or there without feeling guilty about it is what I aim to do. Because you know what? Being a mom is FREAKING hard and I deserve a little pampering! So getting my nails done every once in a while, or booking a massage when I haven’t slept well in a week and can’t move my neck, or just buying the dress I just absolutely love is something I won’t feel bad about it.
  • I will keep it a priority this year to take care of myself mentally as well. I plan on continuing my therapy which has been so beneficial for me, honestly if any of you have considered going and haven’t – GO! Just sitting and talking through what I’m feeling inside with another adult who doesn’t judge me is so healing for me. I leave every week feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. I also have a pile of books I plan on reading, and then some more! Reading is so healing and relaxing for me, so I will do as much of it as I can this year.

Above all else, I won’t second guess myself this year, and I plan on living my truth, and taking it one step at a time in the direction that I want. This is the year I won’t let fear stop me, and will push myself accomplish my goals. I will make mistakes I’m sure, (I mean don’t we all?), but I won’t let it stop me from enjoying my life.

Happy New Year Everyone!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

 

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Photo: LC Photography