Happy New Year 2012!

Happy New Year 2012!

It's been a while since I've taken the time to blog with last year being so busy. I had so many amazing opportunities in using my voice last year that I'm truly grateful for. I believe the last time I blogged was after I got home from Pittsburgh, PA. From there I travelled to Denver, CO - El Paso, TX - South Padre Island, TX - and finally, Galloway, NJ. Alot of flying/driving in those last couple of months of the year, but was honored to be able to use my voice and share my story with others. One of the most amazing experiences I had was in El Paso speaking at their "Help. Hope. Healing!" conference for crime victims. Talk about POWERFUL. I usually share my story at conferences that are attended by law enforcement, judges, district attorneys, social workers, therapists, nurses, etc., but to speak infront of hundreds of crime victims...wow, it was unbelievable. To be able to stand up and show a room full of people that "it'll be okay" and see the hope in their eyes is an indescribable feeling. I love what they're doing in El Paso and I'm hoping after meeting with our head DA, Jack Roady, here in Galveston County, we'll be able to soon start a yearly conference of our own for crime victims to bring more awareness to our communities in this area...it's greatly needed and I know will be beneficial and positive in so many ways!

I've taken a break from travelling for at least a few months at the beginning of this year for some personal time. Jonathan finished the welding program and is a certified welder now so he's looking for a new job and life in general is just wonderful! I feel so blessed by having your continued support, prayers, and positive thoughts! I check my e-mail and read my guestbook daily on the website, and I really thank each of you who have used your voice in expressing your feelings & emotions and those that have shared your personal experiences and stories of survival with me. I hope that with this time off, I'll have more time to blog and keep you all updated!

Using My Voice in PA...

Thinking back to the movie, "The Sound of Music" - the hills were definitely alive in & around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Not so much with music - but just alive in making me ill. I was car sick the entire time I was there. Winding, narrow roads lead Jonathan & I to my Aunt's house in Leechburg, PA. I can't even tell you how happy I was once we arrived & I was able to get out of the rental car. I had a busting migraine that had me feeling like my head was in a vice and my stomach was turning. Seeing my aunt for the first time in ten years though, well...that was totally worth the drive & motion sickness. She was just about to leave her house to go get some potatoes when we pulled up, but walked us in and we got to visiting and catching up on life. My cousin Tressa was home & cousin Autumn came over. My aunt's husband, DJ, cooked us prime rib on the grill while my aunt made the baked potatoes & fresh salad. Aunt Chris is quite the hostess & cook! After dinner & hours of chatting it up, off to bed we went.The next day, my aunt drove Jonathan & I to Greensburg where we met up with my cousins Camille & Autumn along with the other members of The Rotary of Westmoreland for lunch. The Rotary & Blackburn Center Against Domestic & Sexual Violence partnered for the event later that evening, where I presented a case study lecture on my case to their community at Seton Hill University, in hopes of empowering others to speak out while also educating the community on the importance of victims' rights. The lecture went really well as the room was full of very kind, caring, compassionate people who listened intently as I described the events that took place in August of 1990, leading up until now in my journey as I continue to fight for justice for others. Being so far up North, there was no A/C in the room the lecture took place in, so I was sweatin' bullets up there, haha. Afterward, there was a dessert reception in the parlors of Seton Hill - everyone gathered around for the mini cupcakes, brownies & cookies, and I met some of those that attended and answered questions they had. By the end of the night, I was exhausted, had a headache and was still kind of car sick from the ride earlier in the day, so we decided to head back to my aunt's house in Leechburg, about a 30 minute drive away. As we walked to the car, I contemplated taking off my heels, but didn't want to walk on the concrete barefoot, so I kept them on...big mistake. While walking downhill with cupcakes on a plate in my left hand, I started to lose my balance as I almost ate the concrete with my face. Thankfully, hearing me yell "Oh my God!" repeatedly, while going faster downhill than I would've like to, Jonathan grabbed my arm with his hand and stopped the madness of me in my heels before that happened. Whew! My face and cupcakes won the war againt the heels. Score! Too bad I was even more car sick by the time we got home that night to eat anymore, and threw up the ones I had eaten once we got there. It was truly a shame to watch that Red Velvet & Chocolate go to waste as it all came up, but I won't go into any further detail...no worries ;)

In the morning, I came downstairs to straighten my hair and get ready to head to my cousins photography studio, Skysight Photography, in Greensburg to take pictures with Jonathan..and did I notice a cupcake massacre! Icing, sprinkles, and remnants of those yummy mini cupcakes were strewn along the kitchen counter, and there was one guilty little dog named Sunny who looked miserably full standing beside me on the floor. Lets just say, Sunny had lots of "treats" that morning when no one was looking...and wasn't feeling well that day or the next. - RIP mini cupcakes, you were amazing (while you lasted).

I got behind the wheel Friday afternoon and drove to Greensburg in hopes of the car sickness not being as bad & Jonathan and my aunt were with me. We were really looking forward to spending the day with my cousin, Autumn & her fiance, Bill and having Autumn take some pictures of us, as we've never had any professional ones taken. Autumn opened her own studio years ago, and takes amazing pictures. Recently, she even traveled to Morocco and took the most beautiful pictures for National Geographic, and has been very successful at what she does, so proud of her! Autumn was so sweet to take pictures of us in her studio as well as in a few spots around Greenburg.

First, Autumn took pictures of me in my Girleo gear that Tiffany Corbett & Courtney Noelle, owners of Girl ExtraOrdinaire in Los Angeles, and authors of the Sweet Pea The Bumblebee books sent me when they named me their Girleo 2012!

And here are a few of the photos she took of Jonathan & I that day:

After pictures, we headed to Rizzo's for an authentic Italian dinner with our family on our last night in town, and then headed back to my Aunt's home and we packed our things so we'd have more time to visit with all of my family before we headed back out to the airport to board our flight home the next day. Saturday morning, my cousin Camille and her husband Dan, and their two kiddos, Logan & Livia, my cousin Michael and his pup Duke, and cousin Autumn and her fiance Bill, and my aunt & DJ all hung out and took advantage of our last few hours together over some homemade Spinach quiche, fresh berries, apple salad, and bread. Like I said...my aunt knows how to whip up some tastiness in the kitchen :) Then, we sadly said our goodbyes, and Jonathan and I headed to Pittsburgh along those dreaded windy roads. I drove and surprisingly didn't get sick this time - kicked back in the plane, watched Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and landed home-sweet-home in Houston 3 hours later.

Next stop: McAllen, Texas on Wednesday so stay tuned, but before I go, one question...

'cause I do. :)

Purpose-Driven Life :)

As the 21st Anniversary of my attack approached, I couldn't help but reflect on my journey as I drove to the 23rd Annual Crimes Against Children Conference in Dallas from Houston. The drive was long, so I had plenty of time to ponder all of the obstacles I've had to overcome and those I'm still trying to hurdle over. Not just the attack, but personal relationships with friends and family members, and lots of other things that just sometimes make you go "hmmm..."

I (finally) made it out of Houston, had passed Huntsville and continued on my way up I-45 North when it suddenly dawned on me...that when we are born, are given the ability to breathe, it is a gift. But as we die, we must ask our bodies to fight to keep what we've been given at birth, and as we all know, sometimes it is not God's will that it be that way and it is just simply"our time to go." I then thought of my birthday, May 5, 1982. On that day, I am supposed to celebrate my birth, my life...hence, "birthday" and thought of the day of the attack, August 10, 1990, the day I survived; a "re-birth" in a sense. As I kept driving, I found myself tearing up thinking of the miracles that happened, one right after another, so that I would survive. From the drizzling rain to keep my wound moist that day, to the fireants clotting the blood in my wound, to the children playing at just the right time in the field to find me before my body gave up, and then to survive and gain back my voice...it all continues to amaze me. I am just beyond grateful that it wasn't my time to go, and that I am able to share my story with so many wonderful people, from so many different places.

I pulled into the conference site, The Sheraton in Downtown Dallas, and as I stepped out of the car, it felt like a hairdryer was blowing right in my face. The temperature? 115 degrees, according to my car. I live on the coast, and it isn't even that bad...and I had four more days of this exhausting heat before returning home. I had to brace myself. Luckily, the AC was blowing hard inside the hotel and I was able to get all checked-in and settled in my room comfortably. Well, until dinner when we walked 8 blocks to get to the Iron Cactus in the sweltering heat. I by this time, was ready for an iced tea. Our group from Galveston County all went to dinner together, about 17 of us total, and we were all looking forward to some drinks and mexican food; until our waiter appeared, sweating profusely, might I add...and had a "hypo-glycemic attack" - needless to say, I never got that tea, and ordered a margarita instead...about an hour later since he was running behind because of his episode which some were sarcastically calling a "hydroponic" attack. haha - we will never know what was REALLY going on with that guy...I'm still hoping none of his sweat dripped into my guacamole.

Moving right along, the first day of the conference was Monday. Elizabeth Smart was the plenary speaker, and read a speech. I was hoping to get a picture with her, but she didn't stay to mingle, and went to a press conference instead..pretty disappointing. Detective Cromie & I sat in on a workshop Ed Smart, Elizabeth's dad hosted with a lady whose son has been missing for over twenty years, very sad but what incredible strength that woman has to never give up hope her son will one day come home! We then met up with Agent Rennison in the afternoon and then went over our presentation the following morning as a refresher since we were presenting Tuesday afternoon. Both presentations, one 3 hour on Tuesday, one 3 hour on Wednesday, went really well! Wednesday's presentation was bittersweet as it was the 21st anniversary of my attack; yet I was standing infront of hundreds of people, not only telling my story with my two heroes, but also educating everyone in the audience (nurses, therapists, social workers, members of law enforcement, DA's, victim advocates, etc.) on how important it is to let victims have a voice! During both presentations, there were wonderful questions asked at the end, and the entire conference was one that I'll certainly never forget - it was very insightful and powerful!

This day, 21 years ago, was not just another day being alive...it was the day I survived, and I just can't thank you all enough for continuing to be so supportive! Let's all continue to the fight in conquering crime, one voice at a time!



Oh, Canada!

I admit... it's been awhile. It's been a long while. Time to catch you up on my latest speaking engagement in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Many of you may not know this, but I was actually born in Canada. Not in Manitoba, but in Quebec. I was born in the city of Montreal, and I'm actually still a Canadian citizen. Long way from Dickinson, Texas - eh? Let's just say that's a story that I won't bore you with and I've lived in the United States for all but a couple of months of my life, (and I have only been back to Canada once since I was born there) so I happily accepted the invitation to speak at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection's 11th Annual Missing & Exploited Children Conference and share my story. Jonathan, Detective Cromie, and I flew from Houston to Minneapolis, and then arrived into Winnipeg, where we went through customs. The last time I went through customs (when I visited Canada in 1996 or so) - I was scared to death they wouldn't let me back into the U.S. because my "green card" (now referred to as a Permanent Resident Card) had a picture of me on it as an infant. This time, with a renewed permanent resident card & brand new Canadian passport, I had no worries. The process surprisingly seemed much less complicated. They asked what I was doing there, how long I'd be staying, where I was staying, etc. - and then we walked out to meet Erin, who works for CCCP and is a doll. She welcomed us and drove us to our hotel, The Fort Garry, also the conference site, an almost 100-year-old property which sits in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. Isn't it pretty? Looks like a castle and the conference was held on the 8th floor. The large meeting rooms where we were presenting were even more beautiful than the outside of the hotel; with ceilings painted in gold-leafing, chandeliers, and large mirrors, as you can see below. The first day of the conference, Detective Cromie and I attended workshops and heard a very compelling story of a girl named Lindsey Ryan, of Michigan, who was reported missing from her home in 2003. She was 14 at the time, and had been what we call "groomed" by a family friend by the name of Terry Drake, 56; she met through church. Drake formed a relationship with Lindsey by obtaining her e-mail address from the church directory, (scary, I know..makes you stop and think, doesn't it?) and began communicating with her over the internet without her parents knowledge. He was also a convicted murderer. Lindsey's story is much more detailed, not to mention, horrific..but ends happily with her being recovered in California, and her abductor now in prison; she alongside her mother, shares her story of survival. In the early evening, Jonathan, Detective Cromie and I wanted to do a little sight-seeing, so we walked over to The Forks Market, a few blocks from the hotel, where we bought souvenirs and I banned the word "eh" - Imagine two grown men ending every word with "eh" - it's not funny after 10 or 20 times, and I'm pretty sure they (Jonathan and Cromie) were purposely trying to drive me crazy! When Jonathan went to buy sunglasses, the lady at the kiosk in the mall told him, "You've got a big noggin, eh?" and he thought it was THE funniest thing ever..believe me, I heard that story more than once. And, to top it all off, Cromie of course had to buy himself a "Canada, eh?" t-shirt! Moving right along...here are a few photos from The Forks Market in Winnipeg:

After a couple days of attending the conference during the day, meeting the most wonderful people, sight-seeing in the evening and eating amazing food, we ended the conference with our presentation. Wednesday afternoon Agent Rennison flew in from D.C., and Thursday the 3 of us presented together and it was awesome! We first did our presentation infront of child welfare professionals, and then law enforcement in the afternoon. It was so interesting hearing the reactions and questions of the different professionals there, and it moves me to tears everytime, just knowing that I'm making a difference by sharing my story. When I share my story, it's still hard to talk about not getting my time in court with Bradford, and a lady walked up to me after my presentation, whose attacker had also died. She told me that I changed her life by sharing my experiences, and telling how I sat at his grave to read my victim impact statement. I can't think of any other word to use than empowering. We took a picture with two of our new friends, Erin & Christy, of The Canadian Centre for Child Protection, and got ready to say our goodbyes to Winnipeg, and hello to Houston, once again.
Thank you, Canadian Centre for Child Protection, for the invitation to present, your friendship, your hospitality, and an experience I'll most certainly never forget. It was nice, eh? ;)

Reshaping The Future, Honoring The Past

This week one year ago, Crime Victims' Rights week 2010, you may remember me blogging about how I was nervous, my palms were sweating, and I was stepping up to the podium to speak infront of a crowd of crime victims and their families for my very first speech at the Texas City Police Department. I cried as I spoke, I trembled, and had to catch my breath. I was still in shock that Bradford had been arrested after 19 years of hoping, wishing, praying, and searching for answers...and we were preparing to go to trial in the Fall of 2010. There was alot weighing on my mind. But, I knew I had to gather up the strength to speak to all of the tearful eyes looking at me. I needed to give others hope, as nervous as I was. Needless to say, I got through the speech, all the while Jonathan rubbing my shoulder and trying to help calm me down, as anxiety was getting the best of me. After the balloon release, and many, many hugs later, I thought to myself, "Well that wasn't so bad..." and started to wonder why I had been so nervous; afterall, this is my purpose in life, to help other people through my own experiences, and no one was there to judge me, we were all there, connected through, unfortunately, one common denominator: crime.

A few days later, I spoke again, this time at Dickinson PD, to crime victims and their families. This time, I was more excited to speak and show support to others. I was joyful, didn't cry and was so proud of myself. Dickinson PD is my second home, my comfort zone, and having all of those I've worked with on my case throughout the years in attendance, as well as close friends, gave me the strength I needed. That weekend, Jonathan and I, neighbors, friends and family participated in the 5K Walk/Run in support of Crime Victims' Rights in Galveston. Little did I know then...the course of getting true justice was about to change.

It was only a few weeks after this week a year ago that I got that dreaded phone call that Bradford had committed suicide in his jail cell - one of the most awful moments of my life. Pure shock, heartache and devastation are the only words I can still use to describe that day. How many more obstacles in this journey could I handle? I would say I questioned my faith the most during this time. Flowers and words of encouragement arrived at my door non-stop, and it would make me smile for a little while, but the pain was still there. There was NOTHING anyone could say or do to make the pain go away. For a few weeks, I had a major pity-party but one day woke up and came to my senses and realized I couldn't let the unfortunate death of Bradford get me down...once again, I'd have to jump back on my feet and remember why I'm here on this Earth, and I needed to use my voice and help others. I couldn't let anyone down, I needed to continue to fulfill my purpose.

Fast-forward to Crime Victims' Rights Week 2011 "Reshaping The Future, Honoring The Past" - what an awesome "theme" for this year! I have now accomplished and overcome so many obstacles, and strive to continue to do so on a daily basis. My attack is something that happened going on 21 years ago, but changed my life and perspective on crime, forever. I have done many speaking engagements, and met many people and continue to feel inspired to share my story and know I am making a difference, which makes me feel truly blessed. I know I am doing what I was called to do, and that is an indescribable feeling on so many different levels.

In March of this year, I was invited to attend and present alongside Detective Cromie in Austin for the annual TAASA conference, and what an extraordinary experience that was! I became a TAASA member last year, and this was the first conference I had ever attended, and it was full of amazingly insightful experiences. I went to several workshops throughout the days I was there, and learned so much about being a better victim advocate and learned more about the unfortunately "real" statistics on sexual assaults in our state. All of the information I learned just added more fuel to my fire, and has me striving to continue fighting for others and speaking out.

Day 4 of the conference, Detective Cromie met me in Austin and he and I presented a workshop together. This was our first presentation that we were presenting together, and it went really well, we even got a standing ovation! Members of law enforcement, social workers, therapists, SANE's, and victim advocates attended our workshop, and asked alot of questions. I'm beginning to feel more comfortable speaking infront of crowds of people, and I'm able to control my emotions better although Bradford's death is still very "fresh" and there are times when I just think about how he took his own life and start bawling. It's something that has been very difficult for me to deal with. After our presentation, Detective Cromie and I went to the TAASA awards luncheon. We sat at one of the head tables and were called up on stage to accept the award for "Champions For Social Change" from TAASA. I am so proud of this award, and will cherish it forever. Thank you, friends at TAASA, for acknowledging the changes we are trying to make to end sexual violence in Texas!

Last week, Detective Cromie and I spoke in San Diego, CA at the National District Attorney's Associations' Equal Justice Conference. Our presentation lasted just over an hour, and we were able to meet with conference attendee's on the terrace of the hotel for "table talks" - which were question & answer sessions. I love hearing the questions the different professions we present infront of have to ask. All of the questions vary from one extreme to the next, and I love seeing what people come up with, and it gives me insight into what I should add to future presentations. The thought of and hearing how my story not only effects and changes the perspectives of crime victims, their families, and different professions involving those who work with crime victims makes me tear up.

Today, still tired and having a headache, and recooperating from my trip to San Diego last week (I just got back in town Sunday evening) - I arrived at Dickinson PD for the annual brick laying ceremony and there was not one empty seat in the room the ceremony was held in. Chief Morales started off the ceremony by having everyone in the room tell their name and why they were attending. Some were there in support of crime victims, some were directly affected by crime. Of course he picked on me and made me go first, and put me on the spot. My mind went blank for a few seconds as I tried to push words out and come up with something to say to let others know we had a connection, and I was there to offer help to anyone in need. The woman sitting next to me cried as she told her daughter had just been murdered only a month ago. Another woman cried as she spoke of her son, murdered in 1999. No matter how recent or long ago the crime has happened, it's something that effects our lives, forever. People who haven't experienced what us "victims" have been through...it's easy to tell us to "get over it" or "just move on" - I'll tell you this is much easier said than done. As we all stepped outside for the brick laying ceremony, and I got my camera out of my purse to take pictures, the Chief told me to put my camera up and move upfront because they were about to unveil my brick on the walkway of the PD. I said, "MY brick?!?" - I couldn't believe the police department was honoring me with my very own brick, and was elated. Thank you, DPD, so excited!

In closing, we ALL have a story to share, mine is one of trauma and pain; yet survival and victory, and it's one I'll always tell and use in positive ways to inspire others. What is your story, and how will/are you using it to help others? You never know when or how a few simple words may change the life of someone you don't even know. Together, we can "Reshape the Future" and "Honor the Past." - Won't you join me in making a difference?

[thangk-fuhl] - feeling or expressing gratitude; appreciative.

I'm so thankful this holiday season (and always) for those supportive family members & friends of mine, for my life & voice, and all of the wonderful opportunities that are coming my way to share my story and spread awareness. Let me share some of my most recent experiences with you:

TAASA - (Texas Association Against Sexual Assault) extended the invitation for me to attend a luncheon in San Antonio and share my story of survival. The luncheon was honoring The Steen's, a couple who are very big supporters of TAASA, and have raised a tremendous amount of money for the Association. Governor (of Texas) Rick Perry would be introducing me, and there would be over 300 in attendance.

So, on Monday, October 25th, I arrived in San Antonio after a 3 1/2 hour drive from Houston, and stopped at my bff's house in Live Oak to visit her and my sweet godbabies, Bryce & Braedynn. On the drive up, all I could think about honestly...was eating Thai food. It's become a ritual for Tiff and I, so once I arrived we headed over to the restaurant, and as we pulled up, we noticed it was awfully dark inside...only to find out the restaurant is CLOSED on Mondays! Most people wouldn't consider this a big deal, but I was so sad. Literally, this is the best and most authentic Thai restaurant we've found to date, and we ended up having to settle for another Thai restaurant a few miles down the road, and it was alright, but just wasn't the same. Anyway, I won't whine about that anymore, there's more important things to blog about other than my food drama. We had an enjoyable lunch together, as usual, and after filling our bellies with many cheese rolls and spicy foods, I headed over to the beautiful Westin on the Riverwalk, where I checked-in & met with my lovely lady friends from TAASA. We had dinner a couple of hours later at Casa Rio, the oldest Mexican restaurant on the Riverwalk...and then I attempted to get some much needed rest. I was restless all night long. Thai food was no longer on my mind. Instead, all I could think about was the crowd of people I'd be speaking infront of, what they'd be thinking, and hoping I wouldn't cry during the speech. And, of course I was nervous as heck because I'd be introduced by The Governor of Texas, Rick Perry.

Before I knew it, the Tuesday morning sunbeams were shining brightly through the big windows of my hotel room on the 15th floor, and I was still a nervous wreck, so I decided I might as well just get up and get moving. If I would've had boots on, at this point it would be safe to say I would've been shakin' in 'em! I went downstairs and scarfed down a muffin and some milk, and then met the ladies from TAASA, in the lobby. The 3 of us headed over to the WOAI San Antonio (Ch.4) News station, where I appeared on "San Antonio Living," a morning show where I shared an overview of my story alongside Annette from TAASA. I'm so grateful for any opportunity, long or short, to be able to speak out and encourage others. San Antonio has one of the BEST Rape Crisis Centers in the Nation, and it was a privelege to be in town and appear on the show. We headed back to the hotel parking lot to get my car after the interview, and then, it was time for the big event honoring the Steen's at the San Antonio Country Club.

The event at the SACC was beyond beautiful. There were gorgeous Fall flower arrangements on all of the tables, extremely kind-hearted people & wonderful food! I stood infront of Author Marcus Luttrell, as he signed a copy of his book, Lone Survivor, for me. I looked at him, and saw he and I, although we've been through completely different circumstances, have one main thing in common...we have taken the negative and turned it into a positive. I was happy I was able to meet him and have the opportunity to read his book. I walked into the dining room and immediately spotted David "The Admiral" Robinson, it was hard to miss him as he towered above everyone else. I weaved in and out of the crowd and across the dining room to get a picture with him. I knew it would make Jonathan jealous. :)

We were all seated, and began to eat our "San Antonio Country Club Salad" and Cromie and I chatted and were introduced to other guests at our table. We were seated with First Lady of Texas, Anita Perry, and her son, too. I was just starting to feel comfortable in my setting, and First Lady Anita Perry made her way up on stage and gave her welcome speech. I could feel my palms starting to sweat and my heart racing. Yep, the usual feelings of an oncoming anxiety attack. Call me a hypochondriac, call me what you want...but I was freaking out. I turned to Tiff and told her and Josh how nervous I was. Thank God they were there, and Detective Cromie was, too....or Lord only knows what I would've done. I probably would've puked. This was the biggest crowd I'd ever spoken infront of, and my heart was
p-o-u-n-d-i-n-g! I tried to calm myself, but it wasn't happening. Governor Perry walked on stage after being introduced by his wife, and he was so kind. He spoke such nice words, gave an overview of my attack and then introduced me to the audience. I walked on stage, and he whispered in my ear, "Knock 'em dead, girl!" That made me want to laugh, but I think my nerves had definitely gotten the best of me at this point. I wanted to squeeze his hand and pull him right back up onto that stage and force him to stand next to me as I spoke, but that would've just made me look ridiculous, so I refrained.

I looked out into the crowd (okay, more like sea) of men and women, and the room grew eerily silent. I started to weep almost immediately. Everyone waited as I gained my composure, and then I psyched myself up enough to begin to speak. It's not talking about my story that chokes me up, it's speaking infront of so many people! Anyway, I pulled myself together pretty quickly and as I spoke and cried, I saw others grab their napkins and dry their eyes or others smile back at me. It means alot to me when I can see that my story really touches others, and that I am making a difference. I finished my speech, and watched as the room rose to their feet, and gave me a standing ovation. I couldn't have had a prouder moment, and I'm truly honored that I was able to be a part of such an amazing event, honoring The Steen's and their work, supporting TAASA...and I feel so silly (now) looking back, that I let my nerves get the best of me at the beginning of my speech. This wonderful day and the selfless, kind people I met...made me proud to be a Texan.

Kalin's Center - a Texas Advocacy Center serving Houston and Trinity Counties, was hosting their 3rd Annual "Styles for Smiles" fundraiser with the help of area businesses, to raise money for the center. I was invited to be the main speaker at the event in Lovelady on October 30th. I got up early Saturday morning and drove to Lovelady, which, let me just tell you...is very tiny and seems as though it's in the middle of nowhere. I didn't really know what to expect as I arrived at "The Old Lovelady Gym", but I'll say...when I walked in the doors, I was speechless. This "gym" seemed quite the opposite. There were drapes, and lights, and beautiful table settings. And, for such a small town, the turnout was incredible! I believe there were more people in attendance at this event than the one in San Antonio, and I was beaming on the inside seeing so many had taken the time to come out and support the center and donate money to such a wonderful cause! Kalin's Center is named after a girl, now all grown up, who has an incredible story of survival. Kalin was sexually abused as a child by her step-father, while her mother watched and did nothing to stop it. When Kalin saw that her step-father was beginning to abuse her sisters, she made an outcry for help, and I applaude her for being so strong and speaking out, because in using her voice, she not only saved herself and sisters, but potentially saved countless others. Kalin's stepfather received a plea deal of 50 years, and her mother received life. The "Styles for Smiles" fashion show went very well. Men, Women, and even children volunteered to walk in the style show and wear clothing from The Pink Dot, Hearts Desire, and The Mule Barn, who all premiered their Fall Collections. There were door prizes and raffle items galore, and thousands of dollars were raised! When I went up on stage to give my speech, I was much more confident this time. I really enjoyed my day in Lovelady, and was shown much LOVE from everyone who attended. After the show, I had several people take the time to come up and share their own stories with me. These are the moments I love the most...when I know I've made a difference. One lady inparticular really touched me, as she held me tight and started to sob and said, "I know how you feel, my grandfather raped me as a child, and I have never told anyone." This woman was a grandmother now, herself. She shared with me that when she was a child, sexual abuse was something that you just weren't to speak about. It was "brushed under the rug" and you were to basically forget about it. When she told, the Sheriff in town said it was a "family matter" and did nothing. Thank the Lord times have CHANGED!

"I Survived" Television Show - reached out to me a few months back, after my interview with Jeff Rossen on NBC's Today Show, and asked if I'd share my story. I jumped on the opportunity, and had a great experience. First a pre-interview was held over the phone, for about an hour...just me openly speaking about the night of my attack. A few weeks later, a member of the team flew into Houston and came to my house where we taped an informal interview, again, of me simply just speaking openly about what happened, and answering some questions he had. Then, Jonathan and I headed to Dallas a couple of weeks later,and taped the final interview in a studio. We had a really good time. The drive to Dallas is long and boring, but Woody's Smokehouse is on the way...which makes the drive totally worth it! Half-way through our 4-5 hour roadtrip, we stocked up on beef jerky, beef sticks and sweet tea, and then got back on the road. We checked into our hotel, and went out for a steak dinner...can 't beat that! The next day, the interview was short & sweet, we hit up Woody's again, and I was about to be in tears as the ride home was beyond dreaded...and so long! My legs literally ached, and my ass hurt from sitting for so long. Home.Sweet.Home! Stay tuned...my story is tentatively airing in April on the Bio. Channel.
Thank you to all of you who continue to follow me on this journey, it's become a beautiful one. I'm beyond blessed that I'm here, and using my voice!
Happy Holidays!


Jonathan and I have been itching to get away for a couple of days, so we decided to head out on a roadtrip Tuesday. We pretty much packed the car the night before so that Tuesday morning, all we had to do was get ourselves ready and drop our pups off at their grandma & grandpa's house for a couple of days. Thank goodness Jonathan's parents were willing to watch their grand-dogs! We hardly ever get to go on a trip together, because one of us usually stays home with the pups since we don't trust just anybody with them.
(Our dogs don't even know they are dogs, I'm convinced they think they're human, and since we can't have babies at the moment, our girls are our World....and they're very spoiled.) After saying a tearful goodbye to our two lovebugs, Jonathan & I hit the road!

- First stop: McDonalds.
(Afterall, who wants to be in the car with a hungry driver?)

- Second stop: Dennis Bradford's grave.
I found out the location of Bradford's funeral and burial site from one of his previous co-workers who posted a nice comment on my guestbook back in May, and said I should go to the funeral for closure. I wasn't prepared to attend his funeral, and didn't want to show up and put his family through anymore grief than they were already experiencing, so I just waited and contacted the funeral home about a week or so later, and they were kind enough to tell me exactly where he was laid to rest. My reasoning for contacting the funeral home and asking where he was buried is because I knew that come August 10th, I'd want to sit at his gravesite and read my victim impact statement, since I wasn't going to have the opportunity to do so in a courtroom like I'd always hoped for. As we drove towards the town where Bradford is buried, we came to a red light. There was an old homeless man walking along the side of the road in the grass. I looked at the temperature, and I believe it said 104 degrees. Jonathan told me to roll down my window and give the man one of our cold sodas we had, so I did, and it broke my heart as I watched him touch his heart over and over as if saying "thank you" and then chug the orange soda down like he hadn't had anything cold to drink in days. I rolled my window down again and gave him my last two $1 bills, and told him to go get something to eat. In a raspy and seemingly painful voice, he attempted to say "thank you" and touch his heart again. It felt great to do a good deed that day, and I still can't stop thinking about that old man. I often wonder how a person can have no family that cares, nowhere to sleep, nothing to eat or drink, only the clothes on their back, and how stressful it must be to live every day not knowing when your next meal will be or where you'll be sleeping. Soon after, we were pulling into the cemetery where Dennis Bradford is buried, and my heart started to beat so hard, it felt as though it was going to rip through my chest. Finally, the moment I'd been waiting for was here, and this was my chance to say everything I'd wanted to say for 20 long years. As I walked to the gravesite, I got a painful, stabbing feeling in my heel, then my toe, and then, my leg. I looked down to see an ant was biting me, and 2 sticker-burrs were stuck in my foot. Of course, reading my statement wouldn't come easy...what was I thinking. I killed the ant, hobbled back to the car, jumped in with one leg, got tweezers out of my make-up bag, and worked on pulling the sticker-burrs out of my heel and rest of my foot (they were in deep), and then said to myself "let's try this again." I hopped out, walked down the gravel road and then up to the grave, sat down on the dried grass, and took a deep breath. I started to cry as I read his name out loud. DENNIS BRADFORD. Whew, I had waited to hear that name for a long time. The hardest thing about my journey was the unknown...not knowing who had done this to me. I now had a name, and I was now sitting with this person...if that makes sense. Not the environment or way I wanted, but this was my chance. I could feel Jonathan standing to the left side of me as I read on for about ten more minutes, and he helped me up when I was finished. We stood there, together, staring at Bradford's grave, and then Jonathan said, "Do you have anything else to say?" I said, "No, that was it." And he said, "Well, this time, he had no choice but to listen to you." I smiled, he grabbed my hand, and then we got back into the car and continued on our roadtrip.

Feeling a little spontaneous, we then decided to drive to Wimberley and stop at Blue Hole for some swimming. My aunt told me about this place a couple of years ago, and being it was on the way to San Antonio, we thought we'd check it out. I had previously watched a short video about Blue Hole on the internet, but many times things aren't what they seem, so I didn't really know what to expect. We pulled off onto Blue Hole road... which quickly turned into a gravel parking lot, and we got out. There were two teenage guys sitting in lawn chairs, and they insisted on us not paying full price to get in because they'd only be open another hour and a half. We weren't going to argue! We handed them ten bucks, and walked in. The dusty gravel quickly turned into thick, green grass surrounded by lush trees and chirping wildlife. Adults and children were swinging off of a metal ring and falling into the water, and some were jumping off of a higher part of a tree. A woman near us was sprawled out on her beach towel reading and soaking up the sun. This looked like a neat place, until I saw the fish in the water, and started to question jumping in. (Apparently, I watched one too many episodes of "Shark Week" last week.) I started to back away, while telling Jonathan there was NO WAY I'd be getting in there. Now, of course I knew there weren't any sharks, but I started to think about alligators and then something grabbing my foot, and how freaked out I'd be. After alot of convincing, I inched my way into the cool water of Blue Hole...and it was great, until the strings of the lifejacket I stole off of a tree (to float with) brushed up against my leg. I started swimming fast to get the hell out of there and back onto land..and then Jonathan reminded me the strings of the life jacket were hanging down and that nothing was really after me in the water. I could breathe again. If you ask me, Jonathan was a little too excited to be in this water. Anyone who knows him, knows he's an overgrown child, and soon he was forcing me to stay in the water alone and watch him jump off of a tree. I watched as he excitedly stood in line with all of the CHILDREN (ha ha) and then climbed up the side of a tree and did a back-flip off of it...he's such a show- off sometimes. ;) Blue Hole ended up being a really neat place, fish and all, and I'd definitely like to go back again someday...preferrably more prepared with a float so my feet aren't dangling freely in the water for something to eat me.
As we drove to our final destination of San Antonio, we stopped off at my bff's house (smelly, and hair still wet from the water of Blue Hole) for a short-but-sweet visit and to also see my godson and sweet new goddaughter. I'm always excited to catch up with my bff and visit with her little family when the opportunity arises, and this was one of those opportunities, so I didn't care that I looked (and smelled) like I'd been swimming with fish...and I knew she wouldn't care, either. When we left there, we ate at a drive-thru Taqueria, and then went to the hotel to hit the hay and get ready to conquer the Market the next day. I have so many wonderful memories I cherish of going to San Antonio as a child with my grandparents, and I am in love with that place. I swear I'll move there someday...the culture amazes me, and the environment is relaxing.

Day two of our trip began mid-morning, and being in San Antonio, I was hungry for Mexican food yet again, so we ate at a restaurant in The Market, and then spent hours shopping! I'm re-decorating our kitchen and dining areas, and was on a mission to find ristras of jalapenos, garlic, onions, etc., and I hit the jackpot! Jonathan, however, was not worried about finding ceramic jalapenos, and paper-mache avocados...he was busy trying to figure out which "day of the dead" Michael Jackson doll he wanted to buy. What can I say...I love him! A riverwalk boat-ride, dinner at Fogo de Chao, a few Mexican pastries, alot of pictures, and a pecan pancake breakfast later, it was time to say a very-dreaded goodbye to SA, and head home to Houston.

On a happier note, this trip allowed me to accomplish yet another one of my goals. Eventhough Bradford wasn't physically sitting infront of me, I KNOW he heard everything I had to say (I was talking pretty loud) - it's just a feeling I had, and you know...God works in mysterious ways. :)

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