Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Tribute to my best friend, Hillary Marie Vodden. 8/19/83-12/23/17.

On Saturday December 23rd, 2017, my best friend was shot & killed by her boyfriend.  She left behind her twin daughters Shaylee & Ciara, who turned 9 the next day on Christmas Eve.

Hillary Marie Vodden was 34 years old.  She was the funniest person I've ever known.  Literally could make me laugh until I couldn't breathe.  I met her on the playground in fourth grade.  From that point on we were inseparable, & she was over at our house so much growing up that my mom considered her a daughter of her own.

(That's Hillary making one of her famous funny faces on the far left... lol!)

(This was when we were in 6th grade I believe... on one of our many beach trips).

We went on beach trips together, celebrated many birthdays, took a billion photos, made ridiculous inside jokes, & even had (many) alter-ego nicknames for each other that most people just wouldn't understand.  We could be complete weirdos together & that was what we did best.  When you can be yourself around someone 100% without being judged, that's when you know it's your soul sister.

(We were 20 here, at a party).

Freshman year of high school after my parents divorced, I had to move school districts.  Hillary also moved to a different school district, & throughout high school years we didn't keep as close in touch.  It was after high school that we found each other again & it was like no time had passed.  We spent every waking moment together & pretty much lived together for awhile.

(This was last day of eighth grade with our crew... my eyes were all swollen from crying because I was getting separated from my friends.  We had a limo pick us up & had a celebration afterwards).

(This was not long after high school when we were 20 or so at the beach with Mariah & our boyfriends).

We went on a road trip to Havasu & Vegas with our other BFF Mariah, we went to way too many parties, laughed together, cried together, did everything together.  Every memory I have in Oregon before moving to California, Hillary was by my side.

Hillary was the friend that came to pick me up from work when I was sick & took me to the doctor.  She was the friend that made me meals & fed me when I was really stressed out & didn't eat enough.  She was the friend that knew the depths of who I am as a person, my past, my present, my struggles & my strengths... I knew hers too.  I NEVER EVER got sick of being around her. That wasn't possible.  She was the friend I could sit in silence with for hours & we didn't care if there was no conversation... we were just happy to be near each other.

(Speed boat lips).

The night before I moved to California with Michael, she came to my apartment to say goodbye.  We both acted tough & held back tears.  When she left I fell to the ground & sobbed, I didn't want to leave my wing woman.

Every visit back to Oregon I was with Hillary the entire time.  When I got married she flew down & was my Maid of Honor (of course).  I was the Bridezilla & she was the patient friend who was so not into the whole wedding thing but she went along with it with a smile on her face like the amazing friend she was. She was an AMAZING Maid of Honor & loved that I was marrying Michael. :)

Then she met Cory & they made beautiful twin girls together.  Hillary told me once that when she was pregnant with those girls, it was the happiest time in her life.  I was so happy for her, I came up for her baby shower & then again not long after the girls were born to meet them.  They are beautiful & amazing just like their mama.

When I got pregnant she flew down for my shower with our other close friends.  I will never forget when Cole was 5 months old, Hillary flew down to visit us.  This was when I was struggling with insomnia, & Hillary helped take care of baby Cole for me so I could rest. I felt awful that I was such a mess when she was visiting.  She was so understanding, & patient.  She loved with all of her heart.

Over the years as life got busier, we would sometimes go months without talking... but when we would talk it was never any different than when we were together every day.  We had a mutual agreement we mentioned often that our friendship would ALWAYS remain the same no matter how long we went without talking.  We never held it against each other & I'm so grateful for that.  Every time we flew in to visit each other, it was like we were kids again with our stupid voices & funny faces.  She was so, so, SO funny.

(LOL I hope she's laughing from heaven at this one).

(This was not long after I had Brody, I flew up to stay with Hillary & we helped throw our bestie Chelsea's baby shower).

The last time I saw Hillary was June 2016 when I was pregnant with Jace & came to Oregon alone with Cole & Brody for my dad's 60th birthday party.  She came to his birthday picnic at the lake with the girls & I didn't spend nearly enough time with her.  I'm kicking myself for that now, but I know she understands.

Last time I spoke to Hillary was September 27, 2017.  She called to tell me how happy she was with her new boyfriend & that she was moving in with him.  The last time we sent texts to each other was December 12th when I got her new address to send a Christmas card.  The text before that was 12/9... we were joking about something & the conversation ended with her saying "Love you always" & I said "ditto!"  Her text was unusually sappy for her.... we usually end our conversations silly & light hearted.  Looking back I wonder if she knew she needed to say that to me.

On December 23rd, her bags were packed & she was ready to leave her boyfriend, Robert Lopez.  He shot her so she couldn't leave him.  His father was in the house & went to the police station to tell them his son just shot her.  Robert got in Hillary's car, crashed it, & then shot himself in the head.

I found out the following morning walking into church for Christmas Eve service.  Hillary's mom called me.  I knew the minute I answered that something happened to my Hillary.  From that moment, life was forever changed.

Here is one of the news articles that I did a Skype interview for.

We returned from the funeral in Oregon yesterday.  It was the hardest thing I've ever done, saying goodbye to her at the grave site before she was buried.  I know the pain her mom, brother, & daughters are feeling is even worse than mine.

Hillary's BFF's (minus Halley who couldn't make it)... we pulled ourselves together for a pic at the request of Hillary's mama Shelley while we viewed Hillary's grave sight location.

Family & close friends pic.

While I was in Portland, Mariah & I went & got memorial tattoos for Hillary.  Hillary had many tattoos so I know this made her proud. :)

Her daughters are strong like their mama, & laugh even in the darkest times.  They have their dad, their grandparents, uncle, & many friends supporting them.  We set up a Go Fund me account to support their future as well, if you'd like to donate even a small amount... it would help so much:  Shaylee & Ciara's Go Fund Me.

There are a few things I've learned from this devastating experience that I'd like to share:
1.  Domestic violence is a REAL issue, happening to so many women every day.  They are afraid to share with their loved ones, afraid to escape.  If you or anyone you know is in a potentially dangerous relationship, do not take it lightly.  ANY kind of threat could mean your life is in danger.  I don't think Hillary believed this evil man could really kill her.  EVIL can disguise itself, & fool you.  Please, please, please take this issue seriously.  Let your friends know you are there for them, & make sure they know they can confide in you.
2.  Don't let a day pass without letting your friends & family know how much they mean to you.  Don't go to sleep angry at anyone.  Always make sure you are at peace with the people in your life.  I'm so grateful that the last time Hillary & I spoke we said "I love you always & forever".
3.  This whole grieving process has opened my eyes to what is really important in life.  I have no desire for anything less than meaningful & REAL relationships.  I want every thing I say & do on this Earth to be done with love, & I want my words & actions to reflect God's love 100%.  Life is too short to worry about the petty things or sweat the small stuff.

One thing we all know is Hillary had God in her heart.  She is in heaven with our heavenly father, her earthly father, her brother Brandon, & her step brother.  She's pain free, she doesn't have to feel this sadness or grief that we are feeling, & she doesn't have to feel anxious, scared, or alone.  She is free, & she has wings to fly for eternity.

Wait for me Hill, I'll see you on the other side.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Our trip to ENCHANT Christmas Light Maze!

If you live in the north Dallas area like I do, you are fully aware of the MASSIVE amounts of fun activities to do with your kids around the holidays.

Literally as soon as October hits, our Facebook pages are bombarded with event invites that people are clicking on, advertisements about events in our area, commercials on TV, etc etc!  It's overwhelming.  I think I probably clicked "interested" on at least 20 different local events in the area to take our kids.  With a family of 5, we obviously couldn't attend every single one... we'd have no money left for Christmas gifts.  And in the words of Sweet Baby Brown, "Ain't Nobody got time for that".

I did some research & narrowed it down to one place we HAD to check out this year.  We chose Enchant Christmas, the world's largest Christmas light maze!  It's located in Arlington so it wasn't a far drive for us, & I thought the whole idea seemed so original & like nothing we had ever seen.

I was right!  We were so excited from the moment we saw the lights shining from a distance as we drove to the parking lot.  It's FREE parking too by the way!

We went on a freezing cold day last week, so we bundled up in our warmest outfits & the boys got their first hot chocolates they've ever had. ;)

As you enter inside there are giant lit up reindeer, giant Christmas trees, & dazzling lights everywhere you look.  It's gorgeous.

We went on a Thursday evening.  It wasn't over crowded at all & the only line was to get in, & it went really quick. :)

These pics truly don't do this place justice.

We stopped right away for our drinks & then we had to take a photo in lit up sled of course!

We immediately went to the Christmas maze.  As you walk in you can choose doors one, two, or three.

You are given scratch off cards at the front of the maze, & your goal is to find all of the reindeer, scratching them off as you find them.  This was Cole & Brody's favorite part!  (Tip:  Make sure you tell your kiddos not to run off in the maze without you).

The maze had so many different parts.  Giant icicles that stick up out of the ground, dangling lights you walk through, light up tunnels, etc.  SO much fun!

I felt like a little kid again running around with my boys in this beautiful winter wonderland.

After the maze, the boys spotted the one & only Santa Clause, who was seated inside a giant lit up ornament.  Jace was upset at first but then he held it together when he saw that Cole & Brody were nearby.  The line went surprisingly fast.  C & B both asked if they are on the naughty or nice list.  Santa replied "The nice list if you keep up the good work."  Good answer Santa.

After meeting Santa, we made our way over to the ICE SKATING rink. Brody is four & he was old enough to skate too.  The boys have never done it before, so it was a bit challenging at first, I'll admit. Cole was holding on to the wall & I was trying to skate while holding onto Brody.  It was pretty hilarious... I couldn't breathe I was laughing so hard.  Their little wobbly legs were too cute.

After one, reallllly long lap around the rink with the boys, I gave them back to the hubby & got to skate by myself for a bit.  It was the highlight of my week.  I forgot how fun ice skating is.  I was pleased that some of my balance from years of dance & pilates came back to me too... I didn't fall once! Hahaha!

(Nerd alert).

There is also food, & a Christmas market to walk through... but by the time we were done skating, the kids were beat & ready for bed.  We had SUCH blast.  Enchant did NOT disappoint.  It was just as magical as we had hoped it would be.  I really hope they do this again next year!

The tickets are super affordable too.  It's around $30 for adults, $20 for kids, & ages 4 & under are free!  If you have any questions about anything I forgot to mention, feel free to send me an email!

I hope you enjoyed reading, & if you're within driving distance to Arlington, TX I highly recommend checking this out before Christmas is over!  If you're not in the Christmas spirit yet, this magical lit up happy land will probably change that for you. ;)

Also, don't forget to follow me on Instagram if you haven't already to stay updated with more frequent posts. :)  SincerelyStevieBlog