Spring Cleaning


Photo by Sadie Banks Photography

Okay, so it’s not officially Spring yet, but I  could not think of a more fitting title, so here we are. It might sound strange but cleaning has been on my mind, and for reasons I will explain has been something I’ve become very grateful for over the last few months.

The day after Christmas, my husband and I took down all the decor to prepare to paint our home. Can I just take a second to say that this in itself was quite an achievement, because I always drag my feet and end up taking down the decorations around say, Easter. So, high-fives all around to us. Let’s move on.

We have loved our home since the moment we moved in, but pretty much every wall is a shade of tan, and that’s just not our style. So, we decided to paint every wall gray. Gray in my opinion is the new tan.

Pretty much since that day, our house has been a disaster. The painting of the entire home wound up being SO much more complicated than we anticipated. Who knew that gray was such a hard color to find the right one? I’ll tell you right now, it may be the hardest color. We repainted the kitchen FOUR times! Four people! So, as we prepped and taped each room a mess of moved furniture and framed artwork and photos lay in its wake.

Then, on top of the painting, we decided it was a great time to remodel both the master bathroom and the kids bathroom in the upstairs hallway. Why not throw some more chaos into everything, right? It did need to be done, and at the time I said “Let’s just get it all finished.”, but was soon fining myself feeling very overwhelmed by how much was going on. I had a toilet sitting in my hallway for a week! The bathrooms both required new tile floors, and the kids bathroom also needed the shower to be re-tiled. We hired out for the tile thankfully, because heaven knows we would have had an adventure with that.

Our master bathroom had carpet in it, (I know, right?), and this is the second home I have lived in to have it! Never a choice I would make, but to each their own. The carpet also extended into my walk-in closet so I had to pull out the entire contents of my closet into our bedroom for this to be tiled and painted. Jess also pulled everything from his closet for the same reasons.

Our room was a hysterical MESS. I would smile every night watching Jess try to navigate his way through the mountains of stuff to get to his side of the bed, and would be grateful I am now medicated so my anxiety was not through the roof by all this disruption of my space.

Pretty much where I am going with all this, is that I have gained a great deal of gratitude these few weeks for a clean home.

Holding On

I am very happy to report that not only is the painting done, the bathrooms are done too! Pictures to come soon. But because it was done, I was now faced with the dilemma of redecorating.

I’m not going to lie, it took me a good month to figure out how to re- hang some of the pictures and artwork we have. After much debate with myself, I came to the conclusion that we just had SO much going on before. Because of that, I have decided to go a more minimalist style in redecorating our home. I have decided that “less is more” and to be more thoughtful with what I put up. I got rid of a lot of artwork that we have accumulated over the years, keeping the meaningful ones of course. We had our entire stairway wall as a gallery which I still have not gotten brave enough to put back up, but everything else I have tackled and am happy with the results.

As the walk-in closet upstairs got tiled and painted, and was almost ready for me to put my things back, I started combing through everything I owned. This gave me the chance to decide what I actually needed, and to get rid of things I did not need. It was something that I had needed to do for at least two years, so I was grateful I was finally forced to do it.

Man, did I get rid of a lot of stuff! There were things I didn’t even realize I was still holding on to! At first I was surprised by myself at wanting to keep holding on to some things, but I had to take a moment and have a talk with myself and say “It’s just STUFF.” So after that, it was much easier for me to say goodbye. I was also impressed by my husband, because he has some things in his closet that he has held onto since high school and he actually got rid of some of it! We both took some major steps for ourselves with letting go. I took at least three car loads of stuff to GoodWill of my stuff, and Jess took at least one of his.

It was so freeing to be rid of a good chunk of what was hiding in my closet, and it looks much better and more organized now too which is a plus.

Know Your Worth, Then Add Tax

I started thinking of this “cleansing” we have been having in our home these past few weeks on a larger scale. Not involving the stuff we have, but with life and emotions. So often, we hold on to things and even though they are toxic, we cannot let go. My therapist has helped me so much to realize things that I have held onto (many without even realizing that I was), and giving me the tools I needed to let them go. I cannot describe just how much weight was lifted by those acts of letting go. It’s very easy to become so weighed down by these things but over time we become numb or just used to it, so it almost becomes normal.

So, try to cleanse yourself of the things we hold onto internally. Everyone is different in what methods work so there really is no right or wrong answer for this. Workout, take a nap, read, write it down, write it down and then burn it, break something ,(within reason of course!), or talk to someone about it. In fact always talk to someone about it; have a “person” that you can always count on or at least a therapist. Do what works for you, but do not hold onto those toxic things!

These things we hold onto don’t have to be just emotional and non-tangible, they can also be people. People, I have found from experience, are harder to let go of than things. Much harder.

Toxic people can be just as damaging if not more than emotions. Relationships that are not healthy or not making you feel good should not be continued. Emotional vampires who suck you dry and make you exhausted after being with them are not people you want to keep in your life.

“Surround yourself with people who see your value and remind you of it.” -Unknown

Finding friends who love me for me has been a bit of a bumpy road. I have a few very close friends whom I know are true, and I am so grateful and blessed to have them. I would much rather have one true friend than a hundred fake ones. It’s not about quantity but quality in this scenario. Those who turn out to be different people than I thought they were,  or those who I find to not value my friendship as much as I did theirs have been sadly left behind. It’s always so heartbreaking to come to the realization that you’re just not valuable to someone whom you love, or when people turn out to not be who they say. But, we need to know our value as a person and a friend, and when someone doesn’t believe you have any, it’s time to let them go. The hardest part about it is actually letting them go. This is especially hard with those emotional vampires I mentioned. It is, however, something that we need to learn to do in order to be our whole healthy and happy self. Sometimes, it’s us that are let go, and we need to accept it, which is equally just as hard.

I firmly believe that every person who comes in and out of our lives is for a purpose. So, for the friends and family members I have had and lost I try to look back on the positive things they taught me, and like to reminisce on the good times we did share. Everyone teaches us something, whether good or bad, but it’s all for our benefit.

It Has to Be Broken to Be Fixed

At the risk of sounding crazy, I actually really enjoyed the chaos of the last few months. No, I did not like the actual mess and craziness of the workers in our house and total disruption of my stuff and personal space. What I did like, and love in fact, was the cleansing that came from completely tearing our house apart and putting it all back together. It has left me with a renewed sense of the love and stability that is in this home we have made. It has made me think about what kind of home I want this to be, and what I want it to represent. It has also given me the opportunity to think about my life and who I have chosen to leave behind, and what kinds of people I choose to be in it. People who don’t see my value or appreciate me frankly don’t deserve me! And that’s what you should say too about yourself, because you have worth- so much more than this world will tell you!

Sometimes, our life has to come crashing down in order to be re-built stronger and the way it should have been built the first time.

Some food for thought.



The Raw Brunette

|Porto, Portugal|

We had finally arrived in Portugal! After an extremely uncomfortable overnight train ride from Salamanca, Spain we arrived in Coimbra, Portugal. Although we needed to board a regional train once we got there, we were relieved to get off that hot and stinky train and be on our way to Porto.

It was about 6 AM when we arrived in Porto at our Airbnb. Our host had other guests who were leaving by 3 PM, so we had about 9 hours to kill. Our host was not there, but his neighbor, Isabel, who also was his cleaning lady for the Airbnb, let us store our backpacks in her home until we could come back and check in. She was so sweet. She didn’t speak English, but could understand Spanish so her and Jess chatted as best as they could. It was mostly with hand gestures and guessing. Some other adorable ladies who lived in the same complex of apartments poked their heads out of their doors to say hello, and one in particular in her robe and slippers came over to chat with us. Her name was Angelina, and she spoke English and Spanish so she helped us talk to Isabel easier. Angelina was so helpful, and along with Isabel’s help and some maps, they showed us the sites we definitely needed to see in Porto. After a few minutes of chatting with these lovely ladies we headed to a cafe to eat some breakfast and charge our phones. We hung out there for at least an hour, since it was still quite early, and had some yummy pastries and juice. Once we charged our phones sufficiently and figured out a game plan on what to see, we headed out into the city.

The best way to get around was by the subway, and just two stops away was the historic center of the city. We were hoping that the rain would let up, which had been steadily falling since we had arrived, but it only seemed to get worse! Thankfully I brought an umbrella, but we were all still pretty soaked after about an hour of walking around. BUT despite the rain and cold, we were still in such an amazing place! So we made the best of it.

The fog made it hard to see the river and ocean beyond it, so one of the main attractions, the Clerigos Tower, which was part of the Clerigos Church, was not worth even going up. We walked around the inside of the church which was worth seeing though.


The foggy view of the river from our AirBnb


Clerigos Church. The tower is behind it, but we figured it wasn’t worth paying to go up and look at fog.


The “birthday cake” inside Clerigos

We made our way to a very cool train station, which the inside of was made of all tile. It was a nice place to escape the torrential rain for a few moments too. Then, we walked up the streets in search of a famous book store that was used in filming the library scenes of the “Harry Potter” movies. When we got there though, it was a 2 hour wait to get in, and you had to pay about ten euros per person! We all decided it was NOT worth it and moved on. I caught a glimpse of the inside as we walked by though, and I called it good. So we wandered the streets, had some more gelato, because gelato, and admired some very cool buildings.



We hoofed it to the top of the hill overlooking the Douro river to see the beautiful Porto Cathedral. It’s a Romanesque building with Gothic and Baroque architecture. It had another one of those statues like the one we saw in Salamanca, with a knight on top of a horse. It is located in the historical center of Porto, and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Some of the relics inside were centuries old, and even though there were signs everywhere saying not to touch anything, I just HAD to touch the wooden doors. It might sound strange, but just touching the ancient wood gave me chills.


Around this time, I got a message from Isabel saying that the home was ready! We were soaked and tired from the lack of sleep the night before so we were grateful to get to change and rest. We hopped on the subway and headed back. When we arrived Isabel had gone above and beyond for us. She walked in with fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and meat from the grocery store. She, along with Angelina, chatted with us again for at least twenty minutes. They really were just the sweetest ladies, and when they said goodbye, I hugged each of them, and literally teared up. It’s so refreshing to meet such kind hearted human beings. It gives one faith in humanity in a world full of hatred.

After the ladies left, we all promptly changed and took a (much needed) 2 hour nap! When we woke up, Aly wasn’t feeling great, but Jess and I wanted to go walk down by the river now that the rain had stopped. So, we had a date night! It was very anxiety-ridden walk across the double-deck metal Luis I Bridge across the Douro River and onto the other side. It’s 150 feet above the river below, and when it was constructed in the 1880’s it was the longest of it’s type in the world. Once across, we found a nice restaurant and had some local foods and got to have a romantic evening to ourselves. After dinner, we walked across the bridge again, but this time on the lower deck so we could ride up the funicular to the top of the hill.


Once we got home, we showered, packed, and went to sleep. Our train for Lisbon left at 9 AM the next morning so we didn’t want to miss it! I loved what I was able to see of Porto, and hopefully will go back one day when it’s not torrential downpour raining all day!




The Raw Brunette

Pain is Beauty


”Mommy I need my Batman costume!”  My three year old demanded me this morning. I was avoiding getting up even though I had been awake since about 7 am. Today hurts. My heart was heavy when I went to bed last night, knowing the emotions and emptiness today would bring. Somehow though, my son demanding his favorite costume got me to smile, and I was able to get myself out of bed.

Three years ago today my mom was rushed by an ambulance to the hospital. My sister in law Melissa discovered her on the floor of her bedroom early that morning and it was clear she had been in distress all night unknown to anyone. My dad was out of town for work so she had been alone.

As the day went on she was admitted into the hospital from the ER with acute pneumonia and was continually going downhill. By 3 PM the doctors told us she probably wouldn’t survive the night, and by 6:30 PM she was gone.

I have concluded through the harrowing experience of losing my mother that the painful experiences we go through in life can bring great sorrow, but also great beauty.

What’s Lost is Found

Soon after Mom passed away, my siblings and I along with my brothers wife, and now former brother in law and sat down on the floor in the hospital hallway. We were all heartbroken by what had just happened, and the emotions in the room when Mom slipped away from us were very strong. In the hallway, however, our moods got a bit lighter as we started telling stories about Mom. We re-lived some of our favorite childhood memories, and things that Mom did that were special. It may be hard to believe, but we were laughing, genuinely laughing! In that night the loss of our Mom brought us together in a sibling unity, and I am grateful for that tender mercy.

The next day, we had the hard task of visiting the funeral home and planning out the funeral and picking a casket. It all felt surreal that we were doing this for Mom, but once we got back to my parents home we began to dig through boxes of photos to find some for a slideshow that would be shown at the funeral.

Once again, even though our hearts were breaking the mood was lightened. Dad told lots of stories about the pictures we were finding and we found ourselves laughing through the tears.

I grabbed Mom’s journals too. I sat for two hours and read through one of them. I couldn’t stop reading her words- it was like she was there next to me telling me her stories. There is so much we didn’t know about the struggles she went through, and having those words is something I will cherish forever. It’s a huge reason why I am very vigilant in making sure I always journal too. I want my kids and grandkids to have the same treasure of my words when I am gone.

Turning the Bad Into Good

My son momentarily snapping me out of my grief this morning so I could help him is just a small example of what I am aiming to do. Even if it was just finding his beloved Batman costume. If he hadn’t gotten me up I’m sure I would have laid around reveling in my sadness. Later today, my sister Aly and I are using all the donated funds to buy the rest of our items needed for our cancer care packages we will be taking in memory of Mom to the Huntsman Cancer Institute on Tuesday. Using the pain we have gone through to do good helps make the pain just a little more bearable.

Ever since Mom died, I have tried to do good. I love serving others, and I know it’s something Mom loved too. Whether it’s our yearly cancer care packages, or working for the American Cancer Society, and most recently in working with the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake. I also use my blog to talk about my personal battles and struggles to help others out there not feel alone. Nothing is too big or too small to be good.

Emotions aren’t a bad thing- it’s what makes us human. I woke up this morning so sad I almost was not sure I could make it through today. So I cried a little bit; it was impossible not to. Thankfully my son got me up. After making the kids breakfast I got ready and went to the gym where I ran until my lungs burned and I felt alive. Now that I am home we are preparing to go see my other son play in his basketball game, and then Aly and I will be finishing up the cancer packages.

The grief I feel is always there, but definitely is magnified today. But I choose to utilize it for good. Using this pain as a motivation to do good in the world and just be the best person I can be is what I aim to keep doing, one small step at a time.



The Raw Brunette

|Salamanca, Spain|

Our fourth stop on our trip through Spain and Portugal, was that of Salamanca. To be honest, I didn’t know a lot of cities in Spain, and when I did some research, Salamanca seemed really cool. Also, the train routes were strange, and wouldn’t go straight west from Seville into Portugal. So, we had to go up north through Salamanca into Portugal instead. So, Salamanca it was!

With a rather unfortunate error of scheduling, (totally my fault), we were spending one night there, when we thought we were only spending the day and then hopping on an overnight train into Porto, Portugal. So, as we were riding to Salamanca, Aly quickly booked an Airbnb that was right near the train station.


This statue stood right outside the train station. It’s a pre-Holy Wars era representation. We saw others like it in Portugal as well. I loved it, from the unicorn horn on the horse’s armor, to the tiny dragon the knight is holding. So cool!

We walked the two or three blocks to our apartment. Our host was named Paloma, which means “dove” in Spanish, and she would later turn out to be just that! She was unfortunately out of town but her adorable mother met us and let us into the apartment. She gave Jess the rundown in Spanish and then we claimed bedrooms. Yes, I said BEDROOMS! With three of them, this was the most spacious apartment we had stayed in so far! Jess and I thought it only fair to let Aly pick her room first since she had been pretty much shafted on the bedding situation thus far. She naturally picked the largest room which Jess and I were totally fine with.

The two bedrooms we chose each had large and comfortable queen beds which was so nice. The third bedroom  with a twin bed we dubbed the “creepy” room because it had some very intense artwork and questionable reading material on it’s bookshelves. So, we decided no one would be sleeping in said creepy room.

After unpacking and changing into warmer clothes, (it was about 30 degrees colder here than in Seville!), we ventured out into the historic quarter of Salamanca. It was getting dark already, so we decided to see the big stuff the following day, and just had fun wandering around the historic section of the city.

Salamanca itself is very old, and I was pretty bummed that one of the most iconic architectural spots, Plaza Mayor, was being set up for some sort of market or festival, so we couldn’t see it in it’s full glory. But we met some adorable high school girls from Scotland who were visiting on a school trip and thought our American accents were “So cool!”, which is funny because Scottish accents are way cooler.


The main section of Plaza Mayor. It’s shaped in a square, but since there was something being set up in the middle, a panoramic was not possible


We were getting tired and hungry, and decided to try and find a place to eat. After walking by a few restaurants, we found an authentic Italian restaurant on Google Maps, and all were in agreement that we should eat there.

It took a while to get our food, even though there was literally only two other people in the restaurant, but it was SO GOOD. It was definitely authentic Italian. We had the most amazing cheese gnocchi which we all shared, that were like soft little pillows of happiness. I hate way too much but felt so full and happy that night!



Happy and full!

After dinner, we decided to get a good nights sleep since we would have a lot of walking the following day.

We slept in because we literally had until 1 AM to see everything in the city. Thankfully, Paloma, our AirBnB host, allowed us to stay in the apartment until we needed to leave for the train station around midnight. So, we would not need to bring all of our stuff with us. She really was a life saver!

Jess ran to a local market and got us some pastries for breakfast, and we walked back to the historic section of the city. It looked so different in the daytime! The first Thing we noticed was a huge dome with a spire, which belonged to the new Cathedral of Salamanca. I say new, because there are two, one old and one new, which are adjacent to one another. The old Cathedral was built in the 12th Century, and the new cathedral was built between the 16th and 17th Centuries.

The entire building of both of them is quite impressive, even from a few miles away.


We spent a great deal of time in the cathedral. They had these cool remotes that were in at least ten different languages, and when you walked up to a number that were various locations inside the cathedral you would press it on the remote and it would give you information. I learned a great deal more about the cathedral, and Salamanca itself from the remote than I would have just exploring.

Salamanca is known for beautiful silver ornate jewelry. I had to seriously control myself from buying all of it!

We walked around the city, and made it down to the river. By the time we walked back up into the city, we had walked quite a few miles. It rained on and off throughout the day, so we were pretty cold and miserable by the time we headed back to our AirBnb. Since we could hang out at the apartment until we needed to leave for the train, we decided to get some supplies at a supermarket to make spaghetti.

Once we got back to the apartment we decided to take a nap. We ended up sleeping from 5-7 PM which was pretty epic. We wanted to get as much sleep as we could because the overnight train we were going to be taking was only about 5 hours, and if you’ve never been on one, they are not super comfortable.

We made some delicious spaghetti and watched tv until we needed to pack up and head to the train station. Little did we know what adventure would be in store for us once we got on the train.

I had noticed earlier in the day that our tickets for the overnight train into Portugal said that Jess was in a separate car, but I didn’t actually think about it seriously until we showed up. We asked the guy at customer service, and he told us that the overnight trains were all segregated by sex. What? So weird right? So poor Jess was whisked away to another car when we boarded our train at 1 AM. Aly and I got into our car, there were already two other women sleeping in the bunk bed across from us. It was pretty disorienting trying to put my bags under the bed and get into bed in the dark, because the one girl seemed pretty annoyed when we turned on the lights. But somehow Aly managed to climb to the top bunk and I slipped in to the bottom one. I took a Xanax and thank goodness I did, because pretty much as soon as we got comfortable we both realized how HOT the train was. They seriously had the heat cranked so high on that train! And to make matters worse, it smelled HORRENDOUS. Heat tends to flare up my anxiety, so I was was so glad I had taken one of my pills. It also makes me tired so I was able to catch at least two hours of sleep. I found out once we had gotten to our stop in Portugal that Aly and Jess didn’t sleep a wink.

Thankfully though, we were able to start our adventures in Portugal!

To be continued!



The Raw Brunette