Little Pieces

Rwanda filled my dreams yet again last night. It was so real that when I awoke and found myself laying on the mattress on the floor in Boise, (our makeshift home for the summer), I was thoroughly confused for a good 15 seconds. I must add though, that the malaria medication I took on the entire trip and a week after coming home gave me the weirdest dreams. Not sure if it’s still in my system or not, or maybe the side effects are permanent? Who knows. Anyway, once I realized where I was, (or should I say where I was NOT), I was disappointed. I had expected this trip to Africa with my Grandpa to be amazing, but not as life- changing as it ended up being. Rwanda changed me- of that I have no doubt. The woman who flew home was not the same woman who flew there.

Almost nightly visions of the beautiful country of Rwanda have become commonplace since being back in the states. The only difference from last night is that my mom was in my dream this time.

Holding On

I have been home from my trip for two weeks now, and I find myself trying to hold on to every detail of Rwanda. I’m afraid of losing it in my memory, so I find myself grasping for even the minute details of smells, colors, and names. This trip opened my eyes and changed me so deeply, that I think this is why I have dreamed of it almost every night since I have been back.

It’s interesting to me that mom would be in my dream last night as well for a few reasons. I still am grappling to hold onto memories of her since she passed. I think of her voice, her laugh, her smell, and even how her hands felt . Today also happens to be her birthday.

I woke up this morning with an oh-so-familiar dull ache in my heart for her. She’s always in my heart, but on the special days like birthdays or holidays it gets hard to bear that she’s gone. The good thing about holding on to her memory, much like my trip to Rwanda, is that it keeps her alive to me. That helps me keep going on the hard days.

Puzzle Pieces

On our third leg to Africa I found myself on an 8 hour flight from Doha, Qatar to Kigali, Rwanda. I was seated in between my sister and my grandpa, DeVon. Aly had a terrible allergic reaction and was knocked out from Benadryl I had given her, and DeVon had attempted to watch the same movie for the third time now and was asleep in 5 minutes. This became quite a joke on our trip that if you had trouble sleeping to just simply watch this clearly riveting show.

Ten years ago I would not have ever guessed that here I would be on my way to Africa with my biological grandfather. The fact that we all found one another still astounds me, but it has been such a blessing to me to have them. I leaned my head back to try and get some sleep myself, and had to smile over at DeVon before I nodded off. I am so happy to have him in my life.

As our trip continued, it was solidified even more so just how amazing of a man he is. DeVon has devoted so much of his life to helping others as an infectious disease doctor. This was his 37th trip to Africa since the 1980’s, and at 76 years old here he was making the journey again. Not only is his work inspiring, but he truly accepts and loves all people. I got to witness him talking and making friends with complete strangers everywhere we went, and he did it with such an ease. His genuine love for others definitely rubs off on you, and makes you want to be like him.

On a more relaxed day in Kibuye right on the gorgeous Lake Kivu on the border of the Congo, Aly and I spent the day with him while the rest of our party went into town. We traveled to Napoleon Island to see the 5 million fruit bats who live there, and when we got back had a nice lunch at our hotel.

While we ate, we began to have a deep discussion which continued that night when we had dinner as well. DeVon told us in detail about how hard it was for him when Sherri, his oldest child and our biological mother, decided it was best to put us up for adoption. The emotions were high as we spoke, and I know he was truly heartbroken for both what his daughter was going through, and to have his first grandchildren not be in his life.

When I was ready to know about Sherri, even though at the time we didn’t know her name, my mom handed Aly and I two folders (which we both still have today). On each was taped a colored ribbon which was in our hair at the hospital, and inside were ultrasound photos, some birth records, two letters, and a journal. The journal was from Sherri which she wrote out to each of us during her whole pregnancy and right after we were born. The letters were from her parents, Diane and DeVon, but they were signed “your biological grandpa” and “your biological grandma”.

DeVon’s letter in particular really struck me, and through his words I could feel just how deeply we were loved, and how deeply our missing presence in his life would be felt.

As I sat with him in Rwanda talking about this same subject, a thought occurred to me while I held back tears that for him, a lifetime of heartbreak was healed when we found them. His broken heart was able to be made whole when his first two grandchildren that he mourned for were back in his life. Aly and I were these missing puzzle pieces that had finally been found.

Bread Crumbs

We spent two weeks on our trip to Rwanda with DeVon, and I am grateful for every moment. He is such a loving presence in my life now, and I want to soak up every moment I can with him now that I have him. So, when the day comes that he too passes from this earthly life, that I can then hold on to every detail of him like I continue to do with our trip, and I continue to do for my mom.

So today, being mom’s birthday, I will tell the kids stories about her like I always do. We will do something meaningful to celebrate her special day, and I will keep her memory alive with my children as well.

These small details we hold onto of the important people, places, and experiences in our lives are like the breadcrumbs that can lead us back to them when we need to remember. When we need to feel that burning in our chest, and have tears fill our eyes because we are re-experiencing the joy and the love of this beautiful crazy life we live.

 

Xoxo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

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Where we dined amongst hippos on Lake Ahemi in the Akagera Game Park

 

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These Tears Do Not Make Me Weak

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Photo by Troy Koltermann Photography

It’s a pretty pitiful site. Crying so hard that your eyes are swollen. The tears have been non-stop and you can’t believe your body isn’t dehydrated from the loss of fluids. Tears and snot are both streaming down your face and converging on your neck like two rivers. Finally giving in and curling into a fetal ball on your bed surrounded by a sea of soggy tissues, you continue to cry so loud and violently that your body convulses.

A good old fashioned cry; who hasn’t been there? I know I have countless times in my life. I’m an extremely emotional person so crying isn’t unusual for me. To all my friends I’m THAT friend who is a guarantee to cry if things get emotional. I used to hide when I needed to cry, especially in front of people, becauseI felt ashamed. The problem is, that I literally cry if a commercial hits me in the feels, so sometimes it can’t be controlled. But I always felt super embarrassed about it, like it made me weak. But it doesn’t show my weakness- in fact I think it shows my strength.

Cry It Out

Any parent has heard of the “cry it out” method. It’s referring to when your child wants you in the middle of the night, and instead of giving in to them, you let them cry it out in their crib, and essentially cry themselves to sleep. Over time, they learn to just self-soothe and will no longer wake up every hour or so wanting you. It’s not easy, but it’s good for both parent and child. Sometimes just crying it out helps you in the long run.

Honestly crying in my opinion is good for your health! Releasing those emotions helps you to heal, instead of holding them inside and letting them fester until you boil over and explode. Holding onto feelings is pretty toxic, and makes you feel worse, whereas just dealing with them head-on and gets them out of your system.

My favorite places to cry are the shower and the car. The shower is great because it’s one of the only places I am alone, unless a child HAS to come tell me they have a hangnail or some other life-threatening issue. And it’s great because the water washes away the mess so there’s no soggy tissues!

The car is great too (if I’m alone). I love to blast music, sing along, and just let the tears flow. I’m sure plenty of people have seen me on these outings, but frankly I could care less. In my car, I’m in the zone. Isn’t it funny how we feel invisible in our cars? Yes I CAN see you nose picker at the red light!!

No matter what the reason, just let the emotions out. Whether you need to scream in a pillow, or just have yourself a good sob-fest in your car, it will only help you to release those emotions.

The Moments Between the Tears

Obviously, life is not meant to be sad. It would be a really miserable life it it was! But just like in the Pixar movie “Inside Out” the emotions inside Riley’s head realized that the character Sadness was required in order for her to appreciate life. Some of the most tragic moments in my life have led to some of the most triumphant and life-changing ones after.

**Trigger Warning**

In 2004, I was sexually assaulted by a guy that I knew in college. There really is no other way to explain it than me being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I entered my friend’s dorm room on my floor, and was surprised to see she was not alone. There was very loud music being played and two boys whom I knew from the football team were with her. As soon as I entered the room, I realized I was in danger and tried to leave, but the door was shut, and instantly I was grabbed by one of the boys.

Without going into too much details, the one pinned me down on the bed and had his way with me as best he could (I fought as hard as I could the entire time). I wasn’t going to let it be easy for him. So, not only was it a traumatic incident for me, but I had to listen in horror as my friend was being raped in the bed next to me. Our yells were drowned out to anyone else by the music that had been playing, but her screams will haunt me forever.

It was a moment in my life that changed me. It led me to some extremely unhealthy life choices, and a few toxic relationships. I really didn’t talk about my own experience until about a year ago, and once I started to talk about it, and really deal with the emotions that came from it, I was able to heal myself. Bringing up this incident in therapy unleashed some strong emotions that I tried to suppress over the years and had been extremely toxic to hold onto. Releasing them, was like opening a dam. I cried a lot more than I had expected to. It was messy, but felt SO good afterwards.

Now that I have faced my demons head-on, a fire has been lit inside me to help other survivors of sexual assault. I have become involved with the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City. My sister and I were asked to co-chair the auction for their upcoming Hope and Healing Gala which will be June 8.

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Please come join us! It will be an amazing night with live music, a silent auction, great food, and it all benefits a great cause. We have tickets left, so if you’d like to attend either visit the website above. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask me! Shoot me an email if you’d like: therawbrunette@gmail.com

 I’ll Cry If I Want To

I feel every emotion very deeply, which is a blessing and a curse. People who are more in touch with their emotions are more intelligent, (okay so I made that up, but it sounded legit, right?). I feel blessed that I am so in touch with my emotions because it helps me to connect with others on a much deeper level. I wrote before about my experience with energy healing and I absolutely believe that our emotions and energy can not only be felt, but can also be healed by others.

A few weekends ago I was able to attend a Women’s Retreat in Eden, Utah. It was put together by Utah Womens Retreats   and was hosted by Aaron and Veronica Benson, a husband and wife duo who are both life coaches and counselors. The theme of the retreat was “Recharge, Refocus, Reconnect”. We stayed in this incredible house, and in the two days we were there we did some group sessions which initially, I was hesistant about speaking up and participating at first because all these women were complete strangers to me. After about 10 minutes though, during an exercise we did where each of us had to write down a word that described ourselves, and I wrote down “trying”. I explained to everyone that even though I know I’m not perfect, and things don’t go as I plan, that I keep trying.

A woman whom I had just met in our group, Jessica, raised her hand and said that I should change my word to “doing” because she said trying seemed like a negative, and she looked me right in the eyes and said “Cuz girl you’re not trying, you’re DOING it!”. It may not seem like a huge moment to some of you, but I needed to hear those words. I needed to know that my efforts are validated and that despite me feeling like nothing getsdone or goes how I planned, that I’m still doing it and that’s all that matters. Of course, this hit me in all the feels, and she and I hugged it out. I’m telling you about this moment, because even though I had just met Jessica, she and I were connected through our energy and emotions. She was able to reach me without even knowing me.

The rest of the women’s retreat was such a great experience. We all opened up and there were plenty of tears and laughter too. When we left to go home the group of strangers was more like family. That’s the power of emotions and being open to expressing them.

Feeling All the Feels

I feel sorry for people who don’t express their emotions freely like I can. I cannot imagine what I would be like if so was not so comfortable crying when I’m feeling emotional. And it’s not just crying, it’s all emotions. Sadly, so many people feel like they need to keep any and all emotion under wraps.

How many times have you heard “boys don’t cry”, or “man up” referring to men and how, according to “society” they cannot show emotion. Emotions are “feminine”, which is a bunch of BS. I personally love a man that isn’t afraid to show his emotional side, and feel very lucky to be married to one who has openly wept many times in front of me. At our wedding in 2005, he cried WAY more than me! I thought it was the sweetest thing ever. Jess by far is not as emotional as I am, but I love that he’s comfortable enough to cry if he needs to.

I see nothing wrong with being very sensitive to my emotions, because it really does help me be a better person. How could you go through this roller coaster we call life without truly feeling anything? Is that even considered living? Or is it just going through the motions?

I for one, will continue to cry if I need to. There is no need to hold back my tears, and it doesn’t make me weaker to let them freely fall. Crying for me, helps me reach to conclusions in my most trying times. Sometimes, our tears are our bodies physical expression of how we are feeling even if we cannot vocally express it. The tears that fall all tell a story of the heartache, loss, anger, or joy that we are unable to vocalize, and it’s human. It’s also extremely beautiful.

 

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

 

Are You My Mother?

It’s Mother’s Day again, and I find myself relating so much to that little bird who is searching for his mom in the classic children’s book  Are You My Mother? There are still so many times I find myself needing and aching for her and waking up on this day really regurgitates a lot of emotions for me; none of them good. Mother’s day was always such a lovely day to celebrate the woman who raised and loved me, but now I wake up and instantly feel unsettled because I know she’s no longer here. With an ache in my heart I am bombarded all day by thoughts of her that are so bittersweet.

Oh dear, I’m being a total buzzkill aren’t I? Well the good news, (yes there’s good news I promise), is that I am incredibly blessed to have many other mothers in my life. So, obviously on this day I will always honor my own mother who raised me, but today I will be celebrating the many other mothers who have helped shaped me into the woman I am today.

A Mighty Woman

When my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1996, all of our worlds were rocked. Even though this tragic thing was sprung on our family, life still needed to proceed as “normal”. What I mean by that is that Aly and I still needed to go to school, we still had music lessons, activities to attend, meals to eat, and not to mention the house work and laundry that still needed to be done. My dad was still working a full time job and traveling a lot, and my older brother Rob was serving a religious mission in France for two years. This left Aly and I on our own a lot. This is where Judi came in.

In my opinion, everyone needs a Judi Quinn in their life. She was my mom’s best friend, and growing up it became tradition that our two families would celebrate holidays together since neither of our families had family super close by. I consider them family, and know to them the feeling is mutual.

There were other guardian angels too, who helped us during this time, many in fact. I have such a strong testimony of the love we can have for one another in times of tragedy because of the great kindness neighbors and friends showed us. Judi, however, is the most prominent to me. Our fridge and freezer were always full of meals, and if we ever needed a ride we would be taken care of. Even though life was incredibly chaotic, I always felt comforted knowing that she would be there for us in heartbeat.

Even when my parents moved away from Philadephia in 2004 my mom and Judi were in constant touch. Distance doesn’t end real friendships. They saw each other as often as possible, but talked on the phone all the time. Judi flew out to Utah and spoke and my mom’s funeral, and did a lovely job, but I did not expect any less. She still to this day is always a text or call away should I need her.

The Quinn’s family motto has always been “The Mighty Quinns”, and it honestly could not suit them more, especially Judi. It takes one mighty woman to not only care for her own children, but her best friends children when they were in need. My love for Judi can also be described as mighty.

An Education

When I was to get married in 2005, I was nervous because Jess is the baby of his family and I know how protective moms can be of their youngest children. From the beginning, I always felt loved and welcomed by Kathryn, my mother-in-law. I feel extremely blessed to say that I genuinely love her, because I have many friends who do not feel the same way towards theirs. She is a sweet, kind, and loving woman who herself has been through years of health struggles. She raised five rambunctious boys, (seriously some of the stories I’ve heard are unreal), and lived to tell the tale. I admire her for her strength and enduring faith through her trials of health, and truly love having her as another motherly figure in my life. Over the years she has been there to watch my children when I needed help, to give me advice on many subjects, and to be a tremendous support to me when I lost my own mom.

Not only am I blessed with my mother-in-law, but my sister-in-laws are pretty spectacular as well. Not just from my husband’s family, but my brother’s wife as well. I am surrounded by some incredible women who are there should I need them. When I found out I was (surprise!) pregnant in the summer of 2015, the first person I called was my sister-in-law Jacie. I wasn’t planning on the pregnancy to begin with, and still had my IUD in so I was feeling extremely panicked. Jacie is a nurse, and just all-around knowledgeable, and she was the person I was compelled to call. She was there for me in my full panic mode and I was extremely grateful. I feel so blessed to have these amazing women who are now my family that have taught me so much about motherhood. Becoming a mother has been so much easier because of their influence on me.

My dad remarried after my mom passed away. It was difficult to hear at first when he told me over the phone that he was engaged, but when they flew out to Denver and I met Christy for the first time, I could see what he saw in her. She is a very kind, sweet woman, and she has taken such great care of my dad. Seeing him so happy again has been so good to see. She also loves not only my children but my brother’s kids as well, and has done her best to make sure they each know it. Christmas of 2017 as we were packing up the kids in the car to head back to our house after having a dinner at my dad and Christy’s home, I felt strongly that I needed to run back inside where she was washing dishes. I tearfully told her that I needed to tell her that I loved her and appreciate her and we both hugged and cried. I do love her, and she is a part of our family now, and another great motherly figure for me to turn to.

The Branches of My Tree

In August of 2013 I finally came face to face with Sherri, my birth mother. We had been in contact since 2007, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that I knew I was ready to meet her. Since that wonderful day, my family tree has expanded immensely. Not only did it expand, but it strengthened the roots, because I now have some incredibly strong and amazing women who are examples to me of motherhood. Suddenly I had three half sisters, a step-dad, grandparents again, (both sets of my grandparents passed away before I was in high school), aunts and uncles, and so many new cousins! I met pretty much all of them in one weekend, and you would think it would be overwhelming but it never was. To be honest, I felt like I had always belonged, and instantly felt welcomed and loved by everyone.

I have always felt connected to Sherri even before I knew who she was. Even still, figuring out our similarities cracks me up, and have connected the dots on so many things in my life. and why I am the way that I am. She had such an influence on the woman that I have become even before we met each other. But now that she is in my life, she’s someone I turn to constantly for help and advice.

The night that my mom passed away as I left the hospital to head home Sherri was the person I needed to call. I’m sure she could barely understand what I was saying because I was hysterical, but in that moment of absolute heartbreak I needed to hear her voice.

Her presence in my life means so much to me, and in these three years since my mom passed away I have had the opportunity to not only continue to strengthen our relationship, but to have another mother figure in my life. I’m extremely blessed to have two mothers in this crazy, beautiful life.

Twinning

Obviously, my twin sister Aly is without a doubt a huge part of my life, so why wouldn’t she be just as big a part of my children’s lives? My oldest son Calvin when he went into kindergarten told his teacher that he had two mommies, and she looked quite surprised when at the first parent-teacher conference I showed up with my husband Jess. I thought it was so sweet that Calvin considered Aly his other mommy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

All three of my kids as newborns would happily transfer to my sister. A lot of people would ask me if I thought the babies could tell the difference. Clearly, a baby knows its mother’s smell, but I honestly believe my babies instantly loved their Aunt Aly from day one and imprinted on her because she is my twin sister. They all love her very much too.

Even though she did not give birth to those three babies, she is a mom to them. She teaches me about motherhood without even knowing it. I complain and vent to her all the time about things that frustrate me with being a mom, and she always has answers I hadn’t even considered or helps me to look at things in a different way.

I have zero doubts that when she is a mom one day, that she will be an amazing one. She has helped me raise my three kiddos in more ways than she will ever know.

A Storybook Ending

Sadly, I won’t be like the little bird finding it’s mother at the end of the book. I know my mom is gone from this earthly life, and even though it makes my heart ache and me feel all the feels today it’s going to be alright. Just thinking of just how many other mothers I have in my life makes this bitter pill a little easier to swallow. To be honest this has been an extremely emotional post to write, and I have cried (a lot) typing out my feelings.

Life isn’t like a storybook at all, in fact not even a little bit. But the way that story of my life has played out is that when a tragic chapter comes up, an amazingly beautiful chapter immediately follows it. Losing my mom was definitely a long, painful chapter, but the beautiful chapters that came right after it have been life-altering for me. Sometimes we need to experience a huge loss in order to grow.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing mothers who enrich my life. I love you all very much and treasure your presence in my life.

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

 

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Photo by Mckenzie Mcdonald Photography

 

 

 

|Lisbon, Barcelona, and Home Again|

Lisbon! This was our final stop on our trip before we flew back to Barcelona and from there to the States. It was bittersweet leaving Lagos, which was literally a paradise for the last five days, but we were excited to have a day in Lisbon and do something different. We had to leave our Airbnb at 6:30 AM to catch the train back north and had a good three hour sleep which helped give us some energy since we only had one full day in Lisbon and needed to catch a plane the next morning for Barcelona.

We arrived and quickly figured out how to get to our Airbnb in Lisbon. It was in the historic old part of the city, and was in the cutest neighborhood filled with rows of colorful buildings with the Castello de St. Jorge towering on the hill above. We walked through the tiny streets until we found our apartment building, and then climbed three flights of wooden steps to the apartment which then had another staircase once you entered. This apartment was definitely not for someone who had trouble climbing stairs! It was well worth the climb though, because it was an immaculate, darling, eclectic little apartment. on Airbnb’s website it was called the “Rose Apartment”, and it was rightly named because everything was pink. Jess and I took the more pink of the two pink bedrooms and our window had a perfect view of the castle.

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I loved the cute little streets

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The view from our bedroom window!

We dropped off our bags and headed into Lisbon to see as much as we could.  We didn’t really have a plan, so we just sort of wandered, but it was perfect. Along the way we were suddenly starving, and as we rounded a corner there it was: Burger King. Let me just make a little side note here: I NEVER eat fast food, but for whatever reason American greasy fries and burgers sounded like heaven. We shamelessly gorged ourselves until we were full and then walked down to the waterfront. It was so warm and sunny that day, but super windy by the water so we didn’t stick around long.

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We headed back into the city and made our way to the Castello de St. Jorge. It was a maze of tiny streets to find the entrance, and an extremely uphill climb. We purchased tickets to go inside and then explored the grounds for a good hour or so. Not much of the interior of the gigantic Moorish castle remains, but it dates back to the 11th century. There were a few peacocks roaming the grounds, but it was amusing to us that there were also quite a few cats who lived there. Apparently castle cats are a thing in Lisbon? Either way, they were pretty cute. The views from the top of the castle were worth the 8 or so Euros it cost to enter.

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When we left the castle grounds we wanted to go see a few more sights, but first needed to get gelato because, gelato. Then we made our way to the Church of Sao Vincente of Fora, but were very sad that it had just closed. We saw what we could of the exterior, and enjoyed some lovely fountains. Then we tried to go and see the National Pantheon which much to our dismay was also closed.

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The Church of Sao Vincente de Fora

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The National Pantheon

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At this point it was getting dark, and since we had such an early flight the next day we decided to go grab some dinner by the waterfront where there were lots of restaurants and shops and then go home. Once back at the Pink Apartment, we showered, packed, and hit the hay. I had to sneak one last view of the castle which was lit up at night outside our window. It was such a dreamy view that I didn’t want to forget!

The next morning we hopped on the subway to the airport in Lisbon which only took us about 20-30 minutes. Once there, however, we were told our flight was delayed at least an hour for the heavy fog. We now got to hang out at the airport for a few hours, but thankfully there was some good food for breakfast. After what felt like a lifetime we finally boarded our plane and made the flight back to Barcelona. The only problem was that when we had been in Barcelona the first time, we had made reservations to see La Sagrada Familia, but since our flight was so late, there was no way we would make it in time to our reservation. I can’t describe to you just how upset I was. The interior of La Sagrada Familia is on my bucket list and we were so close to seeing it!  but now we just need to make another trip back there one day so I can see it!

So, since we were now stuck in the airport for about 3.5 hours we decided to change into some comfy traveling clothes, explore the mall that was inside the airport, and charge our phones. I got some more cute trinkets for the kids, and we loaded up on snacks for the 7 hour plane ride to New York. Our plan on the way back was to stay up the entire flight watching movies, which Jess and I did on the way back from Europe a few years ago. It really helped us adjust to the jet lag easier, because by the time we landed, went through customs which took (FOREVER), and got to our hotel we were exhausted and passed out. Aly and I had a flight the next morning at 7 AM and were up and ready quite early. Jess had to wait until 7 PM that night. So we said goodbye to him and headed out. Not only did he get more sleep than we did, but he was on a non-stop flight to Salt Lake, while Aly and I had to go through Seattle.

It seemed like a terribly long day, but we were finally home! I was so happy to grab all my kids from the sitters and be with them. Our trip was an incredible two weeks, but coming back home is always the best part!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

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A Mother’s Identity Crisis

On November 20, 2008 at 4:42 AM I became a mom when my son Calvin was born. I was 23, and had been married for almost four years. We had been trying to have a baby for almost six months before we got pregnant, and were so excited to be having a boy first. When he finally made his debut at 8 lbs 12 ounces, Jess and I were overcome with emotion. That was one of the most beautiful days of my life holding my son in my arms. It was also the day that I lost my identity.  I’m sure this happens to pretty much every new mom, but I wasn’t even cognizant what had happened to me for years.

Hello! My Name is Mom

When we brought Calvin home from the hospital, my mom stayed with us for the first weekend and she was so much help. She was great at helping me adjust to the non stop feedings, clothes washing, and diaper changes. After she left, reality set in because for the first time in my life I was a mom, and I was doing it solo. Things got hard, really hard. I mean, no one really warned me just how awful the recovery process is after having a baby is to begin with.For those of you who don’t know, you have ice diapers and mesh underwear for the first few days down “there”. Plus, you bleed for weeks after, and your body is just healing in general from this watermelon you just pushed out. Let’s just talk about for a second, just how painful it is when your milk finally comes in. I mean, I thought my breasts got larger when I was pregnant, but when the milk dropped, I was like Dolly Parton! I tore “down there”, so I also had stitches that I needed to have heal, my tailbone was cracked, and I needed a blood transfusion for nearly bleeding out when I hemorrhaged all over the delivery table. Let’s just say my first experience in childbirth was a wild ride. So you’re drugged up, in pain, exhausted and yet you’re still supposed to care for a newborn. It’s like you ran a marathon, then had a boxing match, then rode the dizziest ride at the amusement park and someone hands you this little newborn and says “good luck!”.

I sort of fell into this rhythm 24 hours a day of only worrying about the baby. Because I was now “mom” and not “Heather”, I didn’t matter. It was all baby all the time. My days revolved around feedings, naps, diaper changes, and laundry. I was frumpy, tired, not losing the baby weight, and did I mention tired? A week after he was born was Thanksgiving, and someone snapped a picture of Jess and I both asleep on the couch. Tired was really an understatement.

I can vividly remember catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror one afternoon and was horrified at the woman looking back at me. I honestly didn’t recognize this tired, spit-up covered, haggard woman looking back at me!

Somebody That I Used to Know

In the weeks after having Calvin, I had a really hard time accepting the fact that I wasn’t the girl I used to be, not just figuratively speaking, but physically. My body had changed big time. I have a small frame and large babies, so my stomach stretched very far out, which resulted in very stretched out saggy skin. Not just that, but my hips were wider, my hair was falling out, I was constantly sweating from the hormones raging inside my body, and constantly in pain from the over abundance of breast milk that I was producing. Engorged breasts hurt!

For someone who had never had an issue with my weight, I was suddenly carrying around 30 extra pounds, and it really affected me. It also ended up affecting my marriage negatively.  Trying to fill the new role of being a mom and be a wife at the same time was definitely a hard road to navigate. I was trying to juggle the baby and the long list that he entailed, PLUS all the other house wifely duties I still needed to accomplish. Then, on top of ALL of that, I was still supposed to do my wifely duties including the ones in the bedroom. The honest truth is that sex was the last thing I wanted to even think about. I felt disgusting and completely not sexy. My body hurt, and by the end of the day all my energy was gone because all of it was given to this little person. Plus the scant amount of energy left was used up making sure the mountains of laundry were done and the house was still cleaned and meals cooked,  so the thought of being touched was just not appealing. Plus I could always smell spit up, even if I couldn’t find it. Who feels sexy when covered in spit up? Not me. All I wanted at night was to sleep, because sleep becomes precious once you are living with an infant. So not only was I suffering, but he was too.

It wasn’t until I broke down and finally explained to my husband everything I was going through that he understood. My problem for a long time in my marriage was that I assumed Jess was a mind reader and knew what I was feeling.

Spoiler alert: men are not mind readers!

The problem was not the emotional roller coaster I was going through, but that I was not communicating to anyone about it. Communication is key! Suffering in silence does nothing but hurt.

The New Girl

Let’s just get one thing clear in all of this: I love my kids and I love being a mom. But I hid how much I was struggling because I felt like such a failure feeling that way. I thought I just needed to soldier on because this is life and it’s tough. How could I be feeling so crappy when instead I should be like the perfect moms on Pinterest and in all the magazines? I’ll tell you why: it’s normal. It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by being a new mom, and not just with your first baby. I honestly got a little overwhelmed with my second and third babies too, but once I figured things out, and we got into our new normal I was able to accept that it didn’t make me a failure.

I also had better support when I was feeling like I was drowning because I felt more comfortable opening up to my family and friends that I needed help. If I need to stress anything in all of this, it’s that if you need help ASK FOR IT! I hope you can hear me yelling those three words- I put them in caps to further press how important it is. Asking for help doesn’t make you any less of a capable mom, in fact in my opinion it makes you more of one. If you’re not taking care of yourself, then who’s taking care of your kids? Self care is a vital thing to do when you’re a mom. I always take time for myself now, whether it’s as simple as going to Target by myself, getting my nails done, or going to the gym. Honestly even just driving in the car by myself and blasting music is great!

I’m still mom, and will always be. I am proud and grateful for that role I have been blessed with, but I’m also still Heather, even if it’s a new and different Heather than before I had kids. Frankly, I am still trying to figure out just who I am, but it’s good to know that I can identify as more than just a mom and that I don’t have to feel ashamed to do so. I can find fulfillment in being the mom and also being Heather too.

CDA0D6F6-05F0-40D9-A69E-0B6B72285886Photo by Meg Oldroyd

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

|Lagos, Portugal|

We finally made it to paradise!! After a few hours on the train from Lisbon, we were greeted by warm air, sunshine and blue skies. We hoofed it a few miles to our Airbnb which was located at a hotel.  I will be honest that this Airbnb was my least favorite, and we were there the longest. It was in a hotel, but we had no real amenities. In fact, we had less amenities than any of our other Airbnbs we stayed in our entire trip! We even had to rent a beach towel for 4 Euros which I thought was pretty lame, so we only rented one and all shared it. But, it was clean, there were two bathrooms, and we all had beds so it was just fine.

We stayed in Lagos for four days and three nights. It was a great change to know we would be in one place for longer than two days. Our intent was to plan it this way so we could hang out on the beach for the last few days of our trip and relax.

After we unpacked our things and rested for a while we changed and headed down to the local grocery store for some supplies for the next few days. Then we walked down to the beach closest to our place. It was a five minute walk, but all of the beaches required you to climb down the cliffs. Most of them had stairways and access to them so it wasn’t a big deal. We laid out and played in the water for a few hours. Jess and I collected a good amount of seashells to bring home, since we have collected them on all of our trips. I also found some really cool rocks to add to our growing collection. We then started trying to hike up the coast, but with sandals on, the cliffs were a little scary to navigate. So,  we went back to the room to shower and get ready to go into the downtown area to see what it was all about.

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Downtown Lagos had a lot going on at nighttime. There were plenty of restaurants, bars, and stores to keep us entertained as we explored. Jess was determined to get gelato since the previous night we were about to eat some when I got super sick in Sintra. So Jess was on the prowl for some good gelato. Once we found some we listened to some live music in an open square until we were ready to head home. Once home, we watched some tv together until we were all ready to sleep. The nice thing was the next day we could sleep in as long as we wanted, and we definitely did!

We packed our bags with lots of food the next morning after breakfast and planned to spend the entire day at the beach. We hiked up the coast, this time with the appropriate shoes on, in search of the perfect beach. Along the way, we hiked out and down the cliffs, which in some of the more precarious parts had ropes attached to the rocks for easier climbing up and down. It was gorgeous. There were arches, and grottoes all along the way, each one just as beautiful as the last. I had heard that the coastline of southern Portugal was breathtaking, but you cannot truly appreciate it unless you see it in person. Some of the more famous caves were only accessible by boats, and we decided we did not need to see them.

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On our hike we happened upon the most amazing hidden little beach! We initially walked past the trail down, because it was hidden among some bushes, but after some exploring we found it. It was quite a steep climb down, so it was not for the faint of heart! There was a rope attached at one point which was convenient and helped us get down a little easier. But it was totally worth it! It was in this little hidden cove and when we first went down there were only two other people down there. As the day went on, a few more people braved the climb down, but there were never more than ten of us down there which was just perfect. We laid out, played in the waves, and explored the little caves surrounding it all day. It was seriously the perfect beach for us!

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When the tide started coming in high enough to reach our stuff stored in the caves behind us it was time to leave. So we climbed back up the cliff and headed home to make some dinner. After dinner we headed back downtown in search of some trinkets for the kids, but we didn’t hang around too long, because being in the sun all day really wore us out! We went home, and once again had a tv marathon until we were exhausted and went to bed.

The next morning, our last full day in Lagos, we once again slept in, but then decided to spend the entire day at our secret little beach. That’s exactly what we did! For most of the day we were the only people there, but eventually a handful of people came and went. Once again, we had the most relaxing day in our own little paradise. We really hated to leave it when the tide came in again. We took our time walking home and ate the leftovers in our fridge from dinner the night before. After doing laundry and packing up our things, we went to bed early since we needed to leave to catch our train at 6 AM back to Lisbon.

It was a bittersweet goodbye, but I really hope to go back to Lagos one day!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

|Sintra, Portugal|

We boarded an early morning train from rainy Porto, and headed south to Lisbon. It was a three hour ride, which we all caught up on our sleep on. Once in Lisbon, we boarded a regional train heading West to Sintra, (about a 45 minute ride via train). Through all of my research before our trip, I knew Sintra had to be on our list!

We arrived at the station, and were met right outside by our host, Teresa. She was very friendly, and spoke excellent English. The apartment was conveniently located directly across the street from the train station, so we walked right over and she gave us the rundown on the home. It was, to say politely, a very quirky house. It was very brightly decorated, with some interesting artwork. Jess and I picked the master bedroom which had it’s on bathroom, and Aly had what I was assuming used to be the dining room which they had transformed the table into a high bed. It didn’t even had a door; it was just, odd.

Teresa sent us off with many kisses, and told us to “Enjoy life, every moment,” as we said goodbye. It was very sweet. Portuguese people may just be some of the nicest I have ever met.

From the apartment we had to BOOK it up into the main part of Sintra, and then uphill for about 2 miles to make it to La Quinta Regaleira before it closed in one hour. We had really messed up with our scheduling, and this was our only day in Sintra. Since all three of the cool places to see would all be closing, we had to choose one. I had done the most research on the Regaleira, so that was where we were headed.

Sweaty, and out of breath, we made it before the gates closed at 4 PM. Thankfully, the grounds would still be open until 6 PM once you were inside. So, we had plenty of time to look around, although I could have spent all day exploring the grounds!

For some history, this is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro and the buildings that reside on the grounds currently took about 6 years to be completed. Monteiro wanted to build a residence that could display all the symbols of his interests, which included alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and Rosicrucians. All of the many structures also have an array of architectural styles including Roman, Renaissance, Gothic, and Manueline.

The grounds spread out over 4 acres of land that are lush with trees and shrubbery. We felt like we were in the middle of a jungle! It had many footpaths that led you around, so it was easy to find our way.

One of the things I was most excited about, and the first thing we tried to find was the Initiation Well, or the inverted tower. There are two, one finished, one unfinished. The first of the two, is the largest, and includes a 27-meter spiral staircase that led you down into the tunnels below the surface that connected all of the various entrances. The wells were not built for the use of actual water storage, but for ceremonial purposes pertaining to Tarot mysticism, yet another one of Monteiro’s interests. Also, for your movie buffs, the finished Initiation well was the entrance of the labyrinth in the Guillermo del Toro’s movie “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

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Looking down into the large Initiation Well. Also the entrance to Pan’s Labyrinth

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The view from the bottom looking up

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The Unfinished Intiation Well

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Looking up from the bottom

The tunnel systems underneath the ground that connected the wells, as well as the grottoes, ponds, bridges, and caves was vast. We explored quite a bit of them, but a lot of the tunnels were actually blocked off, so we will never know for sure how extensive the tunnels actually are. I literally could have explored the tunnels alone all day. We had some fun turning off our flashlights and scaring some tourists in the dark.  Yes, we are those people!

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Also on the grounds were several tower-like structures that looked like mini castles that all had amazing views from the top. There is even a Catholic Chapel on the grounds, and many amazing sculptures and benches throughout. The palace itself is gorgeous, but we were very disappointed that only the main floor was open. The four other floors were closed for repairs. It really is such a unique and beautiful place.

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Once we left the Regaleira, we headed back into the center of town to find some dinner. We picked a small cafe and ate outside on the main street so we could people watch as we ate. After that, we explored some stores and then headed back to our Airbnb. Once, there we realized we really wanted gelato, so we walked back to the center of Sintra to find some. As we were sitting down at the restaurant still opened that had gelato, I suddenly felt sick, and if you read my other post here, you will see just what an adventure that turned out to be.

We made it home, and after a shower, we all went to bed. Our train left at 6 AM the next morning, so none of us objected to getting to bed a little earlier, especially me since I was literally wiped out from being so sick. But even though I was feeling terrible, I was SO excited to head to Lagos the very next day!

Sintra is extremely gorgeous, and I hope to go back one day, and definitely stay longer than a day! There are so many more palaces and castles to be seen!

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XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette