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

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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

Alicante, Spain

We hopped on our first train and headed west from Barcelona. We knew we had wanted to go to Seville and the train trip would have taken all day, so we picked a city in the middle to spend the night. In the end, we basically put our finger on a map and ended up choosing Alicante. I knew nothing about it, but it looked pretty in pictures and it had a medieval castle so it all sounded good to me! So on to our second stop we went.

Our train ride was pleasant. The trains in Spain were nice, and this one even had a movie playing, (although in Spanish), and they handed out free headphones. Aly and I visited the cafe car and got some delicious croissant sandwiches which were made fresh and warm as you ordered. We were excited to get to Alicante and explore this once thriving Mediterranean port. Little did we know, that we would run into more than one problem while there!

We arrived in Alicante at about 2 PM, and needed to get to our Airbnb by 3 PM to check in. Thankfully, getting around was much easier on this trip because I actually had cell service, (it was well worth the money to pay for it!), and I figured out the bus line we needed to take to get to our place. Unfortunately, an incredibly nosy woman decided it was her mission in life to help us get to where we were going, and insisted we follow her off the bus at a particular stop. She made us get off at a bus depot, which was not where we needed to be.  Jess kept trying to ask her in Spanish why we were there, and she would just say over and over : “Bush!” (bus?) and gestured to the bus depot. She then waved us away and laughed maniacally while snorting when we asked her why she made us go with her there. We collectively decided she was insane, and then got back on the right bus and headed to our apartment and laughed about the twenty minutes we had just wasted.

We found the lock box which held our apartment keys, and walked another block to find it. It was a lovely little apartment but it wasn’t quite what we had signed up for. It was a studio apartment, and the queen bed that Jess and I slept in was literally right next to the front door. Aly’s “couch bed” ended up being a poorly made couch from wooden pallets put together with hard cushions on top, which was about 5 feet from the queen bed. As soon as we walked in Aly yelled: “Sleepover!” Aside from the odd sleeping arrangements, the apartment had everything we needed for one night. There was a full kitchen with dishes, pots, and utensils, and a washer. The bathroom was very nice and had a good sized shower with plenty of hot water this time! Adjoining the bathroom was a door to the patio where we could sit and hang up our wet clothes to dry. The main room of the apartment had plenty of natural light, since it was lined wall-to-wall with floor-to-ceiling windows with large wooden shutters. We were on the ground floor though, and we were directly across the street from a Kebab restaurant that was very busy and loud. There was a group of men and a barking dog who sat outside talking, drinking, and laughing until at least midnight. One man in particular, desperately needed to put a shirt on but thought the opposite. So, we mostly kept them shut when we were there to maintain our privacy.

Once we unpacked we washed some clothes, taking a quick cat nap while waiting for the cycle to end, and then hung them up to dry. The adventure of the day was to venture to the Medieval Castillo de Santa Barbara which seemed an easy 10 minute or so walk from where we were staying. Little did we realize, that the castle sits atop Mount Benacantil which is 544′ up. Doesn’t sound so bad, but once we started hiking on the only pathway that wound around instead up straight up with a very steep incline our legs were all but completely dead when we weren’t even halfway to the top. When we finally made it to the front gates we were out of breath and incredibly sweaty since it was about 82 degrees that day.

That view from the top though! It was breathtaking, and you could see all of Alicante, and beyond. It was sunset by the time we got up there, so we stayed and enjoyed the beauty of it for a while at the top. The castle itself was very old, and artifacts have been uncovered therefrom the Bronze, Iberian, and Roman ages which is pretty impressive! The origins of the castle itself dates back to the 9th century.

There was even a little museum of ‘Game of Thrones’ which got us all excited thinking this was a site from the show, but it turns out that HBO wanted to use the Castillo de Santa Barbara as Daenerys Targaryen’s castle on the show, and the city of Alicante said no (for whatever reason), but they still had this little museum. It was like a “We could have been on the show and said no, but still want tourism” museum that was really strange and pretty comical.

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We made our way back down to the city, and decided to hit up a local grocery store. We purchased items to make some spaghetti and made it at our apartment, which ended up being quite good. The food in Europe is so much better than what we have here in the states! As we were cleaning up dinner, Aly and I noticed some of the shutters were opened, so we proceeded to shut them. A few moments later we noticed they were once again open, and after shutting them again a few more times and finding them open we decided we had a ghost. We named him Ferdinand and apparently opening the shutters was one of his favorite hobbies. After dinner we were pretty tired, and all took turns showering and got ready for bed and Ferdinand’s antics kept going throughout the night. Jess is the deepest sleeper so he was not aware of any of it, but Aly and I kept waking up to the kitchen lights turning on and off, and objects being dropped in the kitchen. Between that, and the loud group of men who hung around outside until after midnight, and then seemed to come back at 5 AM, it was not a great night of sleep for anyone.

The next morning, we were supposed to make our train that left at 10 AM. We made the epic mistake of hopping on the right bus line, but going the wrong direction. If we had just crossed the road and waited for another one going the other way, we would have been to the train station in about 5 minutes. After about 15 minutes on the bus we did happen to get on, we knew we were going to miss our train. So, we hopped off at a stop, and asked a local where we could catch a taxi. He was very nice, but took us on a really long walk to find one, and once we got it and rushed to the station we had missed our train by more than 20 minutes. Defeated, we waited in line to book the next tickets to Seville, which didn’t leave for another 5 hours.

With an unexpected half a day in Alicante, we decided to walk down to the beach and check out what was down there. The city was surprisingly colorful, with incredible architecture and colorful artwork on many walls. The beach, (at least the one we went to), was not super impressive, but being down by the water was fun and we sat and relaxed for at least an hour on some steps leading down to it. We shopped in a cute little market, had some gelato, and then made our way back to the train station.

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Even though we had to change our plans up, we made the best of it and still enjoyed our extra few hours in Alicante, and if you happen to ever be in this region of Spain you should check it out!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

Register Rock | American Falls, Idaho

A few weeks ago, we traveled from Boise East to a small city called Sugar City, Idaho. This is where my husband grew up. The drive was actually quite beautiful, as we followed the Snake river for part of it. When we drove through American Falls, there was an exit sign for “Register Rock”. Curious, I told Jess to pull over so we could check it out. I am so glad we did!

Register Rock, is a prominent piece of history for the emigrants who headed West, whether on the Oregon Trail, or the Mormon pioneers escaping for religious freedom. Apparently this rock was a place where those travelers would stop and make camp, would carve their names into. It’s basically like a guest book.

IMG_4572IMG_4571IMG_4569IMG_4568IMG_4565There were other rocks in the area that were also used similarly, but most of them have worn away, or maybe haven’t even been discovered yet.

The rock now is protected by a shelter, and is behind a fence so you can’t touch it. There’s a small window you can peek through to get a good look at the rock though, which was nice.

The oldest inscription I found was 1835! It was very cool to stop and see something like this, especially because I have many pioneer ancestors who made this journey or ones like it across the plains.

After we looked at the rock for a while, we decided to hike for a bit, and I was so glad we did! This area of Idaho is just gorgeous. It’s in Massacre Rocks State Park, which was called so by the emigrants because of the constant fears of being ambushed by the Native Americans above them on the rocks. I would love to come back here and camp!

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It’s amazing what beautiful things we have in our own backyards. I was so glad we decided to pull over when I saw that sign!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

Idaho State Capitol| Boise, Idaho

The Capitol building in Boise was on the top of my list for our Boise bucket list. When our final week in Idaho came, I was getting a little anxious. Packing up and getting organized to leave took a great deal more time than I had anticipated. I swear, the small amount of stuff we brought from home multiplied by 3 by the time we left! Crazy how that happens – especially with kids!

I had wanted to schedule a full tour, which you can do here , but was not able to as you need at least two weeks notice. So, I opted to just walk in, which anyone can do during their business hours, and we gave ourselves a personalized tour. The website has tons of information, so I was ready to give my kids as best a tour as I could just by myself. There are also informational videos you can watch, as well as a printable scavenger hunt that you and your kids can do! It’s a very well done website.

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The gardens surrounding the Capitol were gorgeous!

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Memphis knocked but Butch was not there

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All the Governors of Idaho

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I loved this statue of Washington on the 3rd floor

There is so much to see! It’s best to start on the bottom floor. Inside there is a small museum about Idaho history, a gift shop (which I avoided at all costs with my kids. I didn’t want to hear “Can I have this? Can I have this?!”) , and some informational videos that you can view.

Since my children’s attention spans are about as big as a goldfish, we didn’t spent much time in the museum area. Instead, we went up one floor to the rotunda. This was my favorite floor! Why you ask? Because you had the complete view to the top of the dome. It’s gorgeous!

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There are 43 stars inside the faux oculus. Why? because Idaho is the 43rd state!

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The above photo was taken while I was laying flat on my back in the center of the rotunda. My kids ended up laying down with me, and this group of older women just thought it was hilarious. They all ended up laying down with us too and we gazed up at the dome together for a few minutes. I wish we could have gotten a selfie with all of us laying there. Ah well.

It really is a gorgeous building. It was built in 1905, and was recently rennovated and rededicated in 2010.

We had a great time exploring the House and Senate rooms. Thankfully neither was in session the day we went, so we were able to go inside. The kids were really excited about the soft chairs they could sit in.

 

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One of my favorite things about the building itself was the replica of the Liberty Bell outside of it! It made this Philly girl’s heart sing! The bell even works, (we tried with permission of the security guard who also snapped our photo).

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If you’re in the neighborhood and have some free time the Capitol building is definitely a must see!

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette