community, #rhltoiowa style.

A few days before we left to take the RHL Project to Decorah, Iowa, I proposed something to those who follow and support this project…especially those who have been participants. I asked that they show these girls in Decorah that they are already becoming part of a new community, one which may have started across the country, but that is fully supportive of them and understands their struggles. These ladies came through – they posted these as #rhltoiowa and can be found with that hashtag on Instagram.
Join the community! Get on Instagram and add your own #rhltoiowa photo of support! Thank you, all of you ladies!!!


Aarde ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Group 1


Adrian ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project


Ana-Elizabeth ~ Wisconsin – Participant in RHL Project Group 4


Becca ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 1


Brianna ~ Wyoming ~ Supporter of RHL Project


Carly ~ New York ~ Supporter of RHL Project


Eden ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 1


Erin ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project


Heather ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project


Karla ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 6


Kate ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project


Katie ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project “Trust your instincts. Believe in yourself. #rhl #rawhonestloved #rhltoiowa”


Laura ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 5 ~ “#rhltoiowa. All of the Iowa ladies are joining a wonderful group of people.”


Mallery ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 1 ~ “Participating in the #rhlproject seriously changed my life. I still struggle with my insecurities but it’s much easier to stop myself from thinking negativity about myself and other women. Love love love. #rhltoiowa Have fun, ladies!!! 💜👯🌻 @alanatphotography


Nichole ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 8


Rhi ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 1 ~ “For my special lady friend @alanatphotography for starting a movement of self love and respect for our fellow lady friends. #rhltoiowa #alanatphotography #selflove #ladies #smashinsecurity #RawHonestLoved #betrue “


Shari ~ Washington ~ Supporter of RHL Project (mother of Maya & Sophie from Group 2) ~ “My heart is with this project and these girls. @alanatphotography #rhltoiowa #rhlproject #rawhonestlovedproject #selfworth #selfesteem”


Tina ~ Washington ~ Participant in RHL Project Group 8


Suicide. Insecurity. Self-Esteem. And the power of communication. Group 11 – Decorah, Iowa Teens!








the girls and I.


the girls and Leslie.

“I am so excited to be able to be talking to you about the wonderful things you are doing! I just wanted to ask you a few questions and if you have anything extra that you think might be helpful, feel free to let me know. I just want to know how/why you started doing this? What made you get inspired? How has your life been affected since you began this project? I’m really interested in the entire idea behind it and hope to hear from you soon!”

And so began my interaction with a 17-year-old high school student in Decorah, Iowa.
What began as simple research for Becca’s end-of-year presentation on the subject of self-esteem soon resulted in the apparent need for the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project to travel across the country, from its base in Tacoma, WA, to six female students in the small town of Decorah, population 8,000…give or take a handful.

Why Decorah? Why Becca, Leah, Teressa, Olivia, Rebecka, and Myla?

Becca reached out to me in December of 2014 for this assistance with her presentation. We exchanged emails, I explained to her why this project started in the first place…we talked about the subject of bullying, and how this project has had an effect on how we view ourselves and how we view others. How those who participate tend to become more open as people, less judgmental of others, with a renewed sense of self-worth – how insecurities lose their power. We planned to FaceTime soon and really talk about a few of these things, instead of just emailing.

And then January 13th, 2015 happened. 

Jason, Adrian & Raidyn.

Jason, Adrian & Raidyn.

Raidyn Culp became a victim of suicide. Raidyn was fourteen years old. He was the only child of a friend. A friend of twenty years. Adrian was pregnant with Raidyn at the same time that I was pregnant with my daughter, Ravyn, fifteen years ago. We hadn’t remained necessarily close with each other over the years, but we were also not separated by much. The news of Raidyn’s death gutted me. Immediately, a couple of friends and I went to be by Adrian’s side. We cried and laughed and cried some more. We listened. We spoke of the heartache that lies in all of the unanswered questions…

I was due to respond to another of Becca’s emails around this time. I found myself kind of hiding from life for about two weeks and didn’t know quite how to function as a normal person again. If there is anything that my friends and family know about me, however, it is that I am an open book. I lay my heart out; I take chances that others aren’t going to stomp on it. I would rather share the deepest feelings that are at my core than have you wonder why I’m acting a certain way. It is how I work. It is how I interact. It is how I function. This was no different. I needed to share with Becca what had just happened, as I had sort of disappeared. And so I did. Here is where life took a turn…

Becca responded with what would be the most heartbreaking news: “Our town knows the feeling of loss. My freshman year we lost a girl named Melody in a car accident. The following year, a boy died from a town nearby, but he was well known here. A few months later, a girl in the grade below me committed suicide. The next year, a girl in our grade and a boy who had graduated two years before both committed suicide. This year nobody.. but the feeling that it might happen anytime is very great. Our community is one giant family. We are such a small town and everyone knows each other. What you are doing is bringing so many people together.”  (***EDIT***It was pointed out to me afterward that one of these girls’ perceived suicide was not that, but, a very unfortunate accident. I understand the importance of noting that for her friends and family.)

WHAT??! I know suicide is a problem, but, three suicides in their small community in a matter of less than two years?? I began really reflecting. I graduated from high school almost twenty years ago. If I looked back and three people from my high school community had committed suicide SINCE we’ve graduated high school, I would consider that too many. In TWENTY YEARS. So, this news just slowly tore a hole in my heart.

And then on March 5th, it got worse…

I received another email from Becca: “This project now means even more to me than it ever has. On Sunday I was informed a friend of mine from a different town had committed suicide.”


I couldn’t believe how my heart was breaking for this girl.

“We Snapchatted a few times recently. The other day I sent him a snap chat that was never opened and now it never will be and now I know why.”


“The moment my stepdad’s mom told me, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to. I cried, a lot. At first I thought I was being over emotional because we haven’t been close lately, but that’s just the thing. People don’t realize how many people they affect, along with others not realizing how much the people around them actually affect themselves either. The past week this is all I have been able to think about. I hope that through this project I can teach others about their effect on themselves and others and how important relationships are. Everything you are doing is very helpful and I appreciate all the time you have given me.”

What in the world had I done that was helpful?!?!  I felt the opposite. I felt helpless. The hole in my heart grew and I couldn’t digest what she was going through.

Becca and I were able to FaceTime fairly quickly after that email. Seeing her (sort of in person) endeared her to me even more. Where I thought I cared for her before, now I saw her personality, I listened to the inflections in her voice, I read the heartbreak on her face. This girl and I would be forever connected.

Soon after this, I spoke with my dear friend Leslie. We have been friends for twenty years…Leslie is very close to Adrian. She had been spending countless hours at Adrian’s, comforting her after the loss of Raidyn. We spoke about Becca, about Decorah and the surrounding community, and we knew that something needed to be done. Leslie shocked me by suddenly saying, “You need to go there. You need to take this project to them.” The second the words came out of her mouth, I knew she was right. I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but, I was determined to figure it out.

Things began to snowball…into the best, largest, most perfect snowball ever. On March 27th, I asked Becca if she would be interested in getting a group together…she was at first very hesitant, as she had been experiencing many changes in the dynamics of her friend relationships of late. Typical high school stuff. As she thought about it, though, she got more and more excited to do this. I thought this group may happen sometime in the next few months or so. As these girls were completing high school and would be going off to college, we realized there was an impetus to do this group much sooner than we thought, however. In a matter of days, a group was formed.

Meanwhile, I had been updating followers of the project online, regarding Becca and our interaction. I knew people in my community already cared deeply about her and what she was going through. I decided to put that positive energy out into the Universe and see if we could all band together to make this group happen. Let me tell you, my community is amazing. These people came through and paid via GoFundMe for us to get to Iowa. These people cared enough about these girls and the struggles they were having…these girls they had never met in this town they had never heard of. I love all of these people so much.

This group took place on Sunday, April 27th. Exactly ONE MONTH from the point in which I asked Becca if she’d even be interested in forming a group.

Anyone who has been involved in a group knows that you come into it with a certain level of nervousness…a certain amount of awkwardness. Really not knowing what to expect. Imagine how these girls must have been feeling…why in the world was this blue-haired woman coming across the country to their super small town with her friend and her equipment in tow?? Why did she find it important to do this with them?? That level of nervousness was apparent in the immediate energy surrounding us. As happens in every group, however, this soon faded. With the first insecurity read, you could feel the apprehension melt away. Becca began reading and the room came together. The understanding, the shock at how much they could all relate to what she was saying…it was powerful.

The evening went on to reveal the pattern I had been heartbroken to see over the last month, as they sent their insecurities to me…THEY WERE ALL. THE. SAME. Not enough. Never enough. Not important. NOT ENOUGH.

The discussion began to unfold. We talked about the loss they have experienced in their community. I think the saddest part for me at that point was realizing how commonplace loss had become for them. They spoke of it in a way that seemed separated. Surely a mechanism in protecting oneself, but, it hit home for me. And then they really started to share their feelings…and they were angry.

Teressa had recently earned her Gold Award with Girl Scouts after becoming concerned with the suicide rate among young people. She did much research in and out of the community and produced a website that can be found here. She shared that there were high schools in surrounding towns that had experienced multiple suicides over the last fifteen years. 7 in one town, 9 in another…etc. As we spoke about this, all of the girls began to get fired up. We spoke slightly about bullying, but what they really wanted to focus on was the pressures they are under as teens. I don’t want to pick on their high school, as it is just one among many high schools that may be missing something important here, but this needs to be discussed. The girls spoke about how they have many supportive teachers, but, there are so many overall school pressures: about awards there for being 4-sport athletes, about awards for many giant academic achievements…about how, if you’re not measuring up, if you may not be able to succeed in all of these various avenues, you may get lost along the way. You may get swept under the rug a bit. The focus is on the achievers. The focus is on what makes the school look good. Test scores! Sports! Grades! College prospects!

And then a child does get lost along the way. And, for whatever reason…be it an inability to measure up to the high standards and expectations, mental illness, bullying; a combination of all?…they find it easier to escape their life. To end it. And the school sends a standard letter out to parents, in effect: “‘So-and-so’ passed away on ‘such-and-such’ day, etcetera…” and encourage the parents to maybe talk to their kids about it…

This is where I get enraged a bit. High school is COMMUNITY for these teens. Yes, the responsibility lies with us as parents to discuss everything with our teens, but, when a death happens among their community…a community that we as parents can only slightly be a part of…should it not be discussed THERE?? Where is the assembly to discuss suicide? Where are the classes that focus on the topic? Why must the teens seek out a counselor in order to discuss this? Maybe one in twenty teens is compelled to actually do that. WHY ISN’T IT A TOPIC THAT IS DISCUSSED? Are we treating it like we once treated (sometimes still do) the topic of sex? Maybe if we don’t mention it, they won’t do it…

Well, I call bullshit.

I’m tired of this.

And I’m tired of talking about suicide and having numbers thrown at me. I’m tired of words like “percentages”. I’m tired of statements like, “Well, actually that’s pretty low compared to the national average.” The fact that we even have to talk about a “national average” when it comes to the subject of children taking their own lives…that instantly feels like I swallowed an anvil. It makes a giant pit in my stomach and I find it hard to breathe.

Don’t you find it hard to breathe?

It’s time for a change.

When visiting the lovely town of Decorah, I had many citizens there ask me what brought us to town. And I told them. I told them all of this in not as many words. And they reacted. They were happy to hear that we were there for that reason. They agreed that this is a huge problem. They also wondered aloud why this isn’t a topic that is discussed. And they endeared themselves and their town to Leslie and I for life. This is a special place. And, because of them, I get to write this blog. And my community has grown. And the girls’ community has grown. And these lovely ladies will forever be a part of our lives. I am indebted to both those here in Washington that cared enough to get us to Iowa, and to those in Decorah that made us feel right at home. Especially to these six. You are forever family to us, Becca, Leah, Teressa, Olivia, Rebecka, and Myla. Thank you to you ladies for being so brave and honest, and to your parents for raising such AMAZING, inspiring, selfless individuals. Here are your stories.

***Becca and I were privileged enough to be interviewed on Iowa Public Radio last week regarding all of this. You can listen to that interview here: Building Self-Esteem Through Photography (Thank you SO MUCH to Iowa Public Radio – to Charity Nebbe & Emily Woodbury for deciding this was an important enough subject to talk about! Thank you to Craig Steuer for alerting them to the project!)


Becca’s words ~ “Justsomegirlll_ is my name on twitter and Instagram. I chose this name when I first started my twitter, when I was about 11 years old. Ever since I made it, the name stuck. Most people can hear the name and relate it back to me, but nobody knows the reason I chose it.
I chose the name because I truly believe that I am just that. There is nothing special about me, I’m just ordinary. I am an average to below-average girl who is average to below-average at everything and that’s all I will ever be. People will jokingly use the name to address me. While they think they are being funny, it’s actually just a reminder of what I hate most about myself. I’ve proven this insecurity to be true, which is why it makes it even harder. When friends and I have got into conversations about topics like insecurities, mine, being just another person, has been brought up. This then leads to them trying to prove me wrong and failing. Sure, they can name a few things I’m okay at, but that’s it. I know I will never be the best at something because that is nearly impossible – there will always be someone who is better. My point of proving them wrong is not to think I need to be better than everyone at things, but the fact that I am just average or below average at everything and anything I do. Most peoples’ twitter names are just their names or something catchy; however, mine is my biggest insecurity.”

(I asked the girls a few other questions, too…)

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

“Not being enough. Everyday, all day, teens struggle with the competition of being the smartest, prettiest, strongest, quickest, etc. From school to work to sports, everything is a competition.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

Losing so many people that when someone who actually does care comes along, it’s close to impossible to actually let them in and believe someone could actually care for a person who was left by so many other people. It makes it hard not to believe that maybe I am just an awful person.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“No matter how bad things seem to get, how much you struggle with grades, how many people end up changing, life gets better and the people who truly care will always be there.”

Becca’s friends and family:

“Rebecca is a very outgoing young lady. She loves to work with others. She is very helpful to all. She is a very positive person. Looking to help others when possible. She is strong headed too. She knows what she wants and how she wants to do it.” – Wayne

You are an extremely genuine and amazing friend. I remember when I first moved here any didn’t have many friends, but you always would talk to me and we have remained close friends ever since! This is something I admire about you. No matter what anyone else thinks, you will always be kind and be a friend to those who have none or are suffering. You see beauty in everyone and it’s clear you believe everyone deserves to see it in themselves. I love how caring of a person you are. I love how you can always tell if I’m feeling a little down, or more happy than usual, and act in a way which makes me feel better. You have an amazing ability to read people. Thank you for being an amazing friend for all of these years!

“Rebecca has so many great traits that she doesn’t even realize. She’s intelligent, beautiful, and a great friend to have. I can tell her anything and know she will keep my secrets. She tells the truth and always makes me feel better when I need someone to cheer me up. She has gorgeous hair and can wear any outfit and look amazing. She has her own style and is her own person.” – Alicja

“Becca you are absolutely wonderful! From the first time we met I felt like I could really open up to you and be myself around you! Not only are you crazy beautiful, you have a wonderful personality and bring so much joy to my life. I picked a couple awesome traits that you have and wrote them down to make you smile if you are ever having a hard day.
You are so real and I appreciate that so much about you, it’s so hard to find someone who is genuine and who says what they feel. I love how you aren’t afraid to be who are and I can always count on you to be 100% honest.
You’re such a fun person to be around! You always have positive things to say and you always have a smile on your face, even on the hard days. I admire your strength so much – it makes me stronger to see you push through the hard things in your life and inspires me to be strong.
I also admire your independence, your persistence and the hard work that you do for yourself and the people around you. You honestly care so much about your loved ones and put so much time and energy into keeping them happy! You are selfless and it’s incredible to see someone who genuinely cares so much about the well-being of others.
You are one of the few people who accepts me even with my weirdness and quirks…that means so much to me and shows that you are accepting of others, which just adds to the list of awesome qualities that you have. I hope that we can always be here to uplift each other and eat great sushi together ;)


You are an amazing individual and I feel so blessed to have been given you to guide. You are such a remarkably beautiful, very loving, caring, smart young lady. You are so insightful, talented and giving. All the accomplishments that you have made up until now are remarkable. Although I gave you guidance in your middle school years and pushed you to get your homework done, I have not had to in your high school years. You have taken the reigns and flown, soared and greatly surpassed my expectations all on your own. I can’t wait to see you continue to grow and mature over the years.
I know there have been times when we have not always seen eye to eye but in time I hope that you understand why I did or said what I did. I know you’re an amazing young lady and very smart but sometimes as a teen it is easy to go with the crowd. Sometimes I think that you have, but you knew your boundaries and knew when to bow out.
Just please don’t shut me out. Keep me in the loop and please share with me your hopes and dreams. I do love and care about you so much and I think sometimes you don’t know just how much. Please know that you can always come to me and talk. If you just need an ear, just say, “Mom, please don’t talk just listen.”
My fear for you is that you don’t appreciate yourself as much as you should and you don’t have high self-esteem. You sell yourself short and allow your self-worth to be measured by others. Stand tall, baby, and know that you are worth far more then I think you see your self-worth to be. I know it’s hard to see past what others do or say sometimes. Your peers can be so cruel, both the boys and girls, and sometimes that influences your decisions.

Take the time now to have fun at college. Study hard, get involved in as many activities you feel that you can handle without jeopardizing your studies and set your goals. Where do you plan to be in the next 5 to 10 years? What do you want to do, be and achieve in life? Set your sights and don’t let go, ‘cause you can do it. You, my lovely child, can do and be anything in this world that you want to be.

I love you so much!



Leah’s words ~ “I have many insecurities, but the one that bugs me the most is never feeling like I am enough. I am very involved in school and have friends from multiple friend groups, but I always find myself asking to join other people. I am never the one being asked to do something. And when I am with others, I constantly feel like a bother and a hindrance to them. A “best friend” at the time even told me it was a chore for her to make me feel like I was included when we hung out. Ever since then, my self-esteem has become even worse. I wish I didn’t feel so unworthy of people’s time or attention. I wish that just for once I could feel like I am good enough again.”

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

I think the main issue teens deal with today is pressure. I mean sometimes your classes are hard enough in the first place, right? And on top of your studies you still have pressure to maintain a social life both at home and with your classmates. Teens are so influenced by media these days that they feel pressure to have a “perfect” image. They feel pressure to act, walk, or laugh a certain way in order to fit and be accepted by others. This is just plain stressful and ridiculous. It’s energy wasted! I wish that teens knew being unique and true to their own personality is way more interesting to others and creates a more enjoyable life.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

Realizing the fact that people change. I have gone through all of my school years never having a set group of friends. Sometimes I find this enjoyable. I don’t have to worry about starting a new class or going to lunch by myself since I have an array of friends from different “cliques”. But even though I remind myself that I shouldn’t worry, I still fret about going new places. I become anxious wondering if I am going to fit in. And with moving to college this coming fall, I am afraid of this even more. After my best friend quit talking to me just a few months ago, I constantly think about what-ifs. What if we run into each other on campus? What if she’s telling people things about me that aren’t true? What if I don’t have a best friend at college? What if I lose a friend like this again? What if I really wasn’t worthy of her time or friendship? Thoughts like these are always nagging at me. I know friends aren’t always there for you when you need them. But I take these experiences as a way to learn. I will always be there for any friend of mine.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

Be your own best friend. People will try to shake you and people will push you to your limit until you can’t take it anymore, but how strong you stay is what makes you. And through all of that, your friends will come and go. Possibly even your best friend. But know there are people who love you and you are not alone. Even at your darkest and scariest times, remember there are others who may be looking up to you for the same reasons you think you aren’t good enough. When you feel broken, remember that it’s always darkest before the dawn. Do for yourself the same that you would do for a friend who is hurting.”

Leah’s friends and family:

Amazing :)” – Maddie

“Dear Leah,
You are amazing. Your fun spirit, smiles, and laughter are a joy to be around. You’re funny. You’re supportive, caring, accepting, and generous. You are wise, courageous, thoughtful, smart, talented, spunky, and unique. You are absolutely beautiful on the outside and inside! You inspire me. I love you always!” – Lucas

“Leah likes to offer help all the time to help me farm, especially with the livestock. I love her “street smarts ” sense of a lot of outdoor things. She is such a capable person in so many things.” – Alan

“I love her unconditionally. She has a loving good heart. She is kind, thoughtful, considerate, sensitive, and good-willed. She cares for her family, friends, animals, and our environment. I admire her strength to help others, to try to help herself, and to continue forging ahead. I appreciate her humor, spirit, spunk, and sense of adventure. I admire her for her courage to not compromise her integrity. She is strong and determined. She is beautiful inside and out, and is a delight to see grow up and gain poise and confidence.” – Michele

teressainsTeressa’s words ~ “I think my biggest insecurity would be that I am not perfect. I understand that nobody can be perfect, but I try so hard to do everything that I can to be the best that I can be. For some reason, every failure, even a small one, makes me so upset. I want to be good at everything I do, and I want people to look at me as someone who accomplishes things. I am always trying to get the best grades, work a lot, look good, have everyone like me, and earn every award available to me. After everything, it still seems like I do not do enough to be the person that I want to be.”


 What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

“I definitely agree with a lot of people who say that media is a huge problem. Also, other girls definitely make girls feel bad about themselves. So many times it is not enough to just be yourself, you have to be like everyone else. A lot of things turn into a competition. Girls feel like they have to be prettier or funnier or smarter for other people to like them. Also, the media just further contributes to making girls feel like they can never measure up to the girls in magazines or on TV. Overall, girls just feel like they have too much to live up to especially in the physical looks category.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

“My toughest time in high school is probably right now. I am very uncertain about what I want to do with my life and am having some difficulties making plans for next year. Honestly, I am just very stressed.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“Have fun. Don’t take anything too seriously. Take chances. Try everything once. It is so important to just be yourself, find people who care about you and do what you want. Grades are important, but don’t stress over them. Just work as hard as you can, and accept that it is not possible to do everything. High school will be some of the best years of your life. Even though some times will be hard to get through, the great moments you have will make it all worth it.”

Teressa’s friends and family:

“Teressa, you’ve been my best friend for what seems like forever. You’ve always made me want to be a better person. You’re definitely the smartest person I know, and I love the way you use your knowledge to help others out. You’re not only kind and generous, but you’re also down to earth. Your perseverance is admirable and someday I hope to take the punches as well as you do. I want to thank you for always being a great friend to me.” – Mckenzie

“Teressa has been my good friend since the middle of middle school. Regardless of what people think, she had the best style of clothing and was an amazing trendsetter. She has the highest goals and strives to achieve them. Her dedication to being the best is inspiring and it’s amazing to watch. She has learned and grown so much in the past four years. The amount of issues she has pushed through is amazing. She has thrown herself into school and it has shown. I hope her future is bright and I can’t wait to see what she becomes. She is stunning, strong and beautiful.” – Talia

“Dear Teressa,
I know that you struggle with feeling accomplished and feeling significant. You know that I do not understand you blight. I do not understand this because you are the most ambitious and determined person I know. You have accomplished more in high school than some people do in four years of college. You have more college credits than Dave (my roommate) will after a year of education. To polish your work off, you have done so impeccably. You have maintained a 4.0 GPA while taking all these classes. You are destined for greatness in whatever area of life that you apply yourself. I wish that you could see yourself in the eyes of another. Teressa is a determined, willful person. When she sees a wrong or a task she will tenaciously pursue her objective. The best side of Teressa is that she easily can relax and be a goofy person <—-[you should use this word at least one point in your process describing her, she will love it :)]. She can go from dead serious to complete comedian, keeping everyone on their toes. Teressa is the whole package.” – Nick

“Teressa is a very motivated young lady. From early on, she has challenged herself by setting high goals and striving to reach them. Even though pushing herself and working very hard, she has managed to achieve a balance between school, work, family, and friends. She has managed to stay well grounded even with the pressures of being a teen and especially with the recent stress of trying to figure out future plans. She is bright, beautiful inside and out, and is able to see the positive in everyone.” – Tiffany

“Her willingness and determination to go the extra mile. Her inner and outer beauty. Finally challenging herself to be the best she can be!” – Dan


Olivia: “From the time I was a little girl, I’ve always tried to hide any flaws that I have. I constantly compare myself to others. I’ve always wanted to be the best but I feel like I can never do it. I feel like I fall short of everything. There is always someone nicer, smarter, or funnier than I am. I feel like people look at me and see all of the things I am not. I’ve been in some bad places. I’ve gone overboard while trying to make myself better. A few years ago I stopped eating in an effort to make myself better, I’ve pushed myself to spend hours at the library to get better grades, I’ve stared in the mirror for hours on end and asked myself why I can never be the best. My biggest insecurity is that I am never enough.”


What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

Teenagers have a lot on their minds in this day and age. We are just expected to be one thing. We should be great daughters, sisters, friends, athletes, students, readers, writers, speakers, workers and so much more. With all of those thoughts flying through our heads there’s a strong possibility that we feel we feel we fall short in some category. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve come home crying to my mother about not feeling adequate. Girls are cruel. There’s no if ands or buts about it. Even my friends have tried to tear me down before. Some days I’ve really felt as if I was alone in this world.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“It has taken me a really really long time to realize this…Everyone feels insecure in their own ways. A lot of the time when a girl says something catty about you, it’s because she is feeling bad about herself. Don’t let anyone have the power to make you feel bad about yourself. You are the only one who truly knows your own thoughts and intentions.”

Olivia’s friends and family:

“Olivia, you are one of the sweetest people I know. I’ve always admired how humble you are. You take bad situations and turn them around, by adding humor to the situation. You’re talented and passionate, and honestly I’ve never met someone who walks the line between bubbly and annoying so well! You’re optimistic and inspiring, and definitely genuine. You’re beautiful and I love and appreciate your friendship.” – Mckenzie

“Olivia Claire,
Hi Beautiful! I was asked to write a letter to you about all the amazing qualities you have, and honestly, I’ve had a hard time figuring out where to start! There are so many inspiring qualities that I’ve seen in you over the years. You exude beauty, kindness, happiness, and a certain warmth. People are drawn to your sweet smile that lights up a room in seconds. You make people comfortable and because of this, you’re the girl that everyone wants to know and be close to. You are truly a good person deep down in your soul and that’s something that isn’t very common anymore! Focus on never losing that.
You are such a smart person! I’ve watched you become a driven, hard working young woman and I couldn’t be more proud. It amazes me how much effort and energy you put into everything you do. Having gone through cheerleading, school, and work with you, I know that there’s nothing you can’t do! I’m excited for you to get to experience college. I feel like you will really get your chance to blossom, grow, and shine when you enter that next chapter! Not that you don’t shine already! ;) There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you will be beyond successful in everything you do!
I know you have your insecurities. Everyone does! But I want you to know without a doubt that you are absolutely perfect! You’re strong and beautiful, and if anyone tells you differently, they’re wrong. And stupid. :P I want you to always remember that you have so many people who are unconditionally on your side. No matter what’s happening in life there are always people to turn to and ways to make it better. I am always just a phone call or text away if ever you forget your worth.
As you take on the next few big steps in your life, know that you are loved. You are beautiful. You are strong, and inspiring, and flawless! I love you, baby girl! Never stop being you! <3
“Olivia is a very important part of my life, and it’s sometimes hard to say these things in person. She is someone that you can be open and honest with, and probably knows me better than I know myself. She is the most dedicated person I know, which only motivates me to be better myself. It’s difficult to see her be hurt from what she doesn’t show or talk about. However, that will not distract her from striving. She is full of energy and is an overall lovable person. You are sensitive and bright and altogether beautiful.” – Talia

“Words to describe Olivia…there are so many things that I admire about this young woman. She is outgoing, wise, spirited, trustworthy, determined, loving, fair, intuitive, kind, respectful, beautiful, insightful, energetic, compassionate, dedicated, efficient, hard-working. Olivia is a great leader due to being motivated, enthusiastic, courteous, honest, dependable, vibrant, and supportive. She will accomplish great things in her future, as she is independent, bright, intelligent, talented, logical, adventurous, warm, generous and brave. I feel so blessed to have a daughter that is so vibrant, affectionate, courageous, vivacious, and so incredibly accomplished. Olivia is so loved by those who know her. And I am so blessed to call her my daughter.” – Heather

Rebecka’s words ~ “I have a nagging insecurity that I am not important. As long as I can remember, I have always felt like the least important person in whatever group setting I am in, whether it be friends, work, or activities. Even today, a time where I have significantly improved on most of my insecurities from early teen years, I feel like I contribute little to nothing and that the group dynamic, whatever it may be, would not change without me. I always find myself saying things and being ignored and doing things without appreciation. While these findings may be figments of my imagination, they are very real to me.”

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

Having to strive for perfection in every aspect of life and then becoming more self-conscious once they realize attaining perfection in every aspect of life is impossible.”

What has been your toughest moment to get through during your time in high school?

I had an awkward time from freshman year to the beginning of sophomore year. I was still pretty new to Decorah and was struggling to make friends (thankfully now I am blessed with the best friends possible, it took time but it was so worth it!), on top of battling a severe eating disorder and anxiety. All of these combined drained everything I had emotionally, mentally, and physically and it definitely hurt my relationships.”

What advice would you give other teen
s starting high school?

“People will always be mean. These people will not get far in life with this attitude and are not people you need in your life. Worry about your own opinion and the opinions of those who care and are looking out for you.”

Rebecka’s friends and family:

“Rebecka is the best friend who I wish I’d had all my life, but showed up just in time when I needed her the most. Now, despite anyone in my life who will walk away from me, I know Rebecka will always be at my side. If I text or call her at 2 am crying, I know she won’t mind. She’s supportive, encouraging, and understands my problems like no one else does. Even if we get in a fight, I know she still loves and cares about me. Even when she doesn’t approve of my decisions, she will still support me, but doesn’t put up with my bad behavior. She lets me know when I’ve messed up and won’t help me justify my mistakes, which I need and appreciate. She keeps my feet on the ground when my head is in the clouds. She’s more than my best friend—she’s my sister, my soul mate (of friendship). I would defend her in any circumstance because I know she would do the same for me. She’s warm and everyone likes her, and those who don’t must not know her very well. She’s witty, clever, and undoubtedly smart. She’s one of the bravest girls I know. Despite all of the struggles that she faces herself, she still puts others first. No matter what she thinks of herself, I know that she is one of the most beautiful, smart, funny, caring girls I know. It breaks my heart that she doesn’t always believe that that is true. She’s responsible, but crazy fun. She’s a beautiful person inside and out, the best kind of friend to have, and she will thrive in whatever she chooses to pursue in life. There’s nothing that I value more than her friendship.” Annalise

“I admire Rebecka’s outgoing personality, her humorous wit, and the way she sticks to her beliefs. Also, I appreciate her love of makeup, clothing, and celebrities as we bond over those greatly. She’s beautiful inside and out and no matter what we do together, I always have a good time with her. I admire her ability to make friends wherever she goes.” – Maddie

“Where do I even begin? Becka moved to Decorah in 8th grade and we have been super close ever since. We have gotten a lot closer as the years have gone by. Our hangouts used to just consist of going to Mabes and eating buffalo chicken wings but our friendship has moved on to bigger and better meals. Now she even makes me mac n’ cheese. That’s true friendship right there.
Becka is the one friend I have had all through high school. I don’t know how many times I have gone to her for support and she knows exactly what to say. Without her I don’t know what I would do. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have stayed at her house. I mean, I walk in and her dad says, “Welcome home!” With me living so far out of town, she constantly lets me spend the night. This helps me so much more than she could ever imagine. From gas money to just all that driving time that takes away from the sleep I need on nights I have early-bird the next morning, I know I can always count on her. I remember the morning she was leaving for her semester abroad in Sweden last spring, I was not ready for that at all. I went to her house that morning to catch her before she left and I couldn’t help but cry. She kept telling me to stop. When she left, I gave her a small heart locket necklace and she still wears it almost every day. Through losing close to all my friends just earlier this year, Becka stood by me through the whole thing. I think everyone should have a friend like that.

Becka is one of my best friends and I love her to death. Even the tiniest little things can be appreciated; helping me with French, letting me borrow her computer, teaching me how to do makeup, always listening to my rants on bad days, never telling anyone my secrets, the list goes on and on. Becka has constantly been there day or night for me and she always pushes me to be a better person. Our friendship might have started with hot wings and it might have just turned into mac n’ cheese and endless bowls of cereal but the amount of friendship in the middle of all that and the things we have been through truly shows how great of a friend and person she is, and I could never even put into words the appreciation I have for her.” – Rebecca

“Rebecka is incredibly funny – definitely one of the funniest people I know. She is kind and loyal to her friends. She is compassionate and has a strong sense of fairness and justice. She realizes the world is not the place it should be, and she wants to work to make it better. She is more conscious of what is going on in the world than most adults twice her age.
She is a gifted speaker – incredibly articulate for someone so young.
She has a strong sense of self and a healthy self-confidence.
She is a loving daughter who enjoys spending time with and talking to her parents. I have not encountered too many teenagers who seek out their parents’ company. I will miss that when she goes to college.” – Todd

“Dear Rebecka,
In the past year we have become really close and I cannot tell you how thankful I am for that. You are a loyal and supportive friend. But even people around school who are not your friend are drawn to you. You’re confident, hilarious and kind to others. I don’t even know how many people I have heard say that they don’t know you but they would love to. I have no doubt in my mind that you will succeed with flying colors in any endeavor. Thank you for being you.

I appreciate your great sense of humor and sassy attitude. I love that you know what you want and go after it. Your love of animals shows that you have a big heart. Of course, you’re also so, so beautiful. I’m proud of how you turned your life around and how you are now helping others do the same. You’re a great role model and an all-around great person.
It’s fantastic that you already know what you want from life: doing what you love with lots of freedom. Go for it!
You are perfect, just the way you are. You look exactly the way you’re supposed to look and have the talents you’re supposed to have. When you smile, the world becomes brighter. Your laugh means all is well in the world.
Dad and I lucked out when we had you. :)

Myla’s words ~ “My biggest insecurity is probably the feeling I hold inside of myself of not being good enough for the people that I have loved and love. I have had so many falling-outs with people i’ve been close with and they all have ended up saying very cruel things about me. I take all of these things people have said personally because I truly cared about them. No matter what, i will always feel like it was my fault that people left me, and it’s hard to hold all of the negativity projected on to me by these people. When people you love tear you down its very hard not to start believing you really are what they are saying. You start to believe you are a horrible person and it just ends up hurting not only your self-esteem but has a huge impact on how you view yourself as a person.”

What do you think is the main issue teens have to contend with these days?

“I think the biggest issue is probably the amount of time that teens spending cutting each other down. We are all going through the same stuff and it would be so cool if, instead of tearing down those around us, we uplift each other and spread positivity.”

What advice would you give other teens starting high school?

“My advice for people who are starting high school is to take everything a day at a time. Realize that many things will change as you grow and that is totally okay. During high school it’s okay if you fall out of relations with some of your close friends, its bound to happen because everyone is growing up and taking different paths in life. Don’t get too attached to any relationship with a significant other unless it feels 100% right. Know that guys will always be there. Focus on yourself and doing well in school but also have some fun with your friends and go on some cool dates. Make friends that are from all different corners of life and it will help you have a greater appreciation of individuality.”

Myla’s friends and family:

“You are adventurous! You have a great sense of humor. You are strong – in your passions, your dreams, and your opinions. You are loyal, creative, and have great integrity. You are beautiful inside and out!” – Pam

“Brightness, intuitive intelligence, creative, a very good friend and listener, supportive daughter, has an eye for excellence, cuddly. – Mary

“To my little sweetheart,
I am honored that you asked me to take part in this project. I was noticing the last time I saw you how much you have matured since I had seen you previously. I am so proud of the beautiful, thoughtful and compassionate young lady you have become. You are so hard-working and responsible. You are mostly gentle with your little brother. You listen and learn from your big brother. You are a support to your mother. You love your dog and care for animals and nature. You are loving and caring to all, and that is a gift. You are creative and intelligent. You are serious and silly!
I want you to know what an amazing young woman you are. I want you know that you are very loved. I want you to know that you always deserve to be treated with respect. I want you to know what a gift and a joy you are to me, to your family and others. Allow yourself to dream and reach for the stars.
With All of My Love,
Your Aunt Suzy”

“Dear Myla,
I admire you for how caring and understanding you are of those around you. You seem to always be willing to go out of your way for those who are in need of help. I have always appreciated how hard you work in whatever you do and how you always find a way to complete what you start. Another thing that I have always admired is your artistic ability. I think that you got all of the good genes for artistry since I’m still stuck drawing stick figures. Most of all I’m so glad and so honored to call you my sister. Love ya.” – Ames

“Dearest Myla, there are many things that I love about you. You are extremely smart, you are honest, you know how to be real with friends, and you are warm and loving only when it comes from the whole of you. You are never a fake. You are trustworthy and I love that you are open with your mother. You are loyal to your family and pets.” – Kim


I asked the girls’ friends and family to answer a couple other questions, as well. (Thank you to all of you for writing in! This project doesn’t work without you.)
Here are their insightful responses: 

What do you think is one of the main issues facing teens today?

“Teens are always constantly comparing themselves to others. They feel that they will never be quite smart enough, or quite pretty enough, or quite good enough for someone else. There’s a struggle for acceptance and a struggle to fit in.” – Annalise

“Negativity among friends and family.” – Wayne

“Insecurity and lack of confidence with the way they appear or act. Also, apathy and ignorance about issues in general.” – Maddie P.

“There’s too much pressure on teens today to be the most skinny, or the prettiest, or the most athletic. People aren’t really encouraged to do what they want to do. Then when they get the courage to do what they love, they can be put down for it.” – Maddie D.

“I think one of the main issues facing teens is separation from nature.” – Tabita

 “Peer pressure to do things that they are unsure of, but, they do anyway because they don’t want to be the odd man out. Sex, drugs, speeding…” – Katarina

 “Self-esteem is definitely a big one. Lots of teens face media and culture that tears down what teens think about themselves, especially girls. The media is so misogynistic and sexist that it keeps girls from thinking of themselves as people, and instead as objects, which is so sad.” – Mckenzie

“I think one of the main issues facing teens today is the pressure to be perfect in so many different areas. I think being on the team is just as accomplished as being in the number 1 or number 2 spot on the team. All members are needed to support number 1 and 2 athletes.” – Heather

 “I believe the main issue is that teens really care too much about what others think. This is a hard biological check that all teens must overcome at some point. The feeling of belonging is of utmost importance to the mental well being of a teen. For these reasons, teens get caught up in what others are doing and thinking. Teens must stay true to themselves.” – Nick

“A wide range of mental health issues (depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.)” – Todd

“Peer pressure.” – Pam

“I feel that social media is a major issue in a teen’s life. Because of magazines and TV shows, we all have this idea of what we’re expected to be. We see other girls who have qualities we admire and feel bad that we don’t have that. We are programmed to compare ourselves to others. To feel inadequate when we feel we don’t measure up to someone else. There’s such a slim window of who and what is considered beautiful, when, in all reality, confidence in who you are is what makes us flawless.” – Sydney

“Competitive society” – Mary

“I believe teens must try so hard to be “perfect.” There is so much pressure on them.” – Olivia

“I believe that girls put a lot of pressure on themselves whether it is about their weight, insecurities, or faults. This can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and many other issues.” – Talia

“To me, all teens seem to feel like they are not good enough. We live in a society of pressures for success, money, happiness, and togetherness. Through the struggle to achieve these pressures, we become more self-conscious and are filled with the need to achieve the perfect life.” – Rebecka

“I think a big issue is constantly pushing teens to do more, achieve more, and work harder. In Decorah, kids are drilled about the “Decorah Way”. This means doing things well, displaying good sportsmanship, and being a role model. It has also pushed kids to be involved in many activities and groups and to excel in everything that they do. Some kids feel that they can’t do as well and so give up. Teressa has been able to do well academically, but even with taking enough classes to enter college midway through her sophomore year, having a 4.0 GPA, a 33 on her ACTs, her girl scout gold award, and being involved in many other activities as well as working as a CNA and lifeguard, this was not enough to earn herself her dream of making it into an Ivy League college.” – Tiffany

“I think the main issue facing teens today is body image. There’s so many kids and even adults that hate their appearance and body because of what the media portrays as “attractive”.” – Alicja

“One main issue teens face today is media’s negative influence on teen’s worth, self-esteem, body image, and confidence. There’s too much pressure towards growing up too fast in terms of how a young lady should act and what she should do, and how she should look…” – Michele

“Self-doubt, too much self-consciousness, pressure from society and peers.” – Lucas

“Abstinence from sex.” – Alan

“I think one of the main issues facing teens today is the fear of not being accepted or loved by others or not belonging.

Others issues teens are facing include:
Low Self Esteem
Family problems/communication issues
Stress about school, friends, family, sports or activities, future
Peer pressure to engage in substance use and premarital sex
Bullying” – Suzy

“In today’s society there are countless numbers of impossible expectations set for teens. These expectations are set by family members, media, peers, and even ourselves. When teens inevitably are unable to reach these impossible expectations they feel as though they have let themselves and those around them down. This creates insecurities and a lack of confidence in many teens.” – Ames

“Peer pressure.” – Kim

“Pressure from adults to succeed.” – Dan

 If you are out of high school, what advice would you go back and give yourself?

 I would tell myself that I am far stronger than I think I am, and that the terrible things happening right now won’t matter in a few years. If anything, they’ll have shaped you into a better person. Don’t keep struggling to fit in with your “pretty, popular friends.” They are NOT your friends because a friend doesn’t repeatedly kick someone once they’re already down. Ignore the classmates who call you crazy, because they don’t realize how beautiful your mind is and how blessed you are to be able to feel so deeply. These kids, this school, this town is so insignificant and does not define who you will be. One day, you will find people who deserve and appreciate all the love and friendship you have to give. You do matter, and you are most certainly good enough.” – Annalise

“Be more positive and be more outgoing. Never say you can’t do something. Always try and see what happens.” – Wayne

“Don’t care what others think of you!” – Tabita

“Stay in school. Don’t be too excited about getting married, you have your whole life ahead of you. Plan for the future by saving money, setting goals and following through with those decisions.” – Katarina

“I would give myself the advice to be more involved in activities, clubs, sports, fund-raising etc. I have seen how involved my daughter has been and it has made her so incredibly efficient and so well-rounded as a person.” – Heather

“I believe the main issue is that teens really care too much about what others think. This is a hard biological check that all teens must overcome at some point. The feeling of belonging is of utmost importance to the mental well being of a teen. For these reasons teens get caught up in what others are doing and thinking. Teens must stay true to themselves.” – Nick

“Try to be more comfortable in my own skin and embrace my passions and own my own voice.” – Todd

“What you are experiencing right now will not define the rest of your life!” – Pam

“I would tell myself to embrace who I am. Don’t hide in the shy shell you’ve created over the years. You have every potential to be beautiful and happy if you just let yourself. Also, don’t rely on others to give you reassurance that you’re good enough. Because most of the people you currently surround yourself with will not come through when you need them most. Be strong, be independent, and you will find the people who make you better!” – Sydney

“Be gentle, patient and kind to myself” – Mary

“Well I am almost out of high school…and looking back at my first few years I would give myself a hug and tell little Olivia that everything will turn out for the best. I would tell her not to worry so much.” – Olivia

“I would say to have fun and not take life and school quite so seriously.” – Tiffany

“Take time to think about what I want for myself instead of worrying about pleasing others all the time. Be nice to others, but that doesn’t mean I should let people walk all over me nor do we have to be aggressive. It takes strength to stick to your beliefs, but it’s worth it.” – Michele

“Don’t worry so much about what others think of me; that doesn’t matter. Be myself. Be thankful for my experiences, find and focus on the joyful aspects of everything that comes my way. Make good use of my time; do what I will regret the least in the future. Enjoy the journey.” – Lucas

“Don’t experiment with alcohol.” – Alan

“I was really afraid to make mistakes for fear of looking “Dumb” so I would tell myself that it is OK to make mistakes and that we learn from our mistakes and often grow from our mistakes. I was always my own worst enemy so I would tell myself to look at my strengths rather than my deficits.” – Suzy

“I would tell myself not to worry as much about what other people think.” – Ames

“To be true to myself and keep open communication with my wise mother.” – Kim

“Enjoy every single day.” – Dan

If you are still in high school, what advice would you give others who are starting?

“Stay true to your beliefs while keeping an open mind. High school is where you form your true self and find who your true friends are, but it’s not the end. There is so much more after high school, don’t sweat the small things. Also mental/physical health comes before grades.” – Maddie P.

“Don’t freak out too much, and don’t let what other people say get to you to a point where you constantly are hating on yourself.” – Maddie D.

“Be Yourself! Be a good friend. Trust your instincts. Don’t do things just because other people want you to. These four years do not define you!”

“I would tell high school girls that it is very important not to worry about what others think. The most important opinion is what you think of yourself.” – Olivia

“People are always going to be mean. If someone is judging you or is saying mean things about you, I know it is hard to push it aside. I want you keep in mind that these people will not be going too far in life with that attitude, and if they are behaving that way towards you, they are not at all someone you need in your life. Love yourself first. How you feel about yourself is what matters.” – Rebecka

“Stay away from as much drama as possible and be friends with as many people as you can. Be your own person and be kind to everyone.” – Alicja

Links to past groups can be found here:

Why this project began
Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, Teens!
Group 3, 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, Men!
Group 8
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Melissa & Lily)
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)
Group 10 – Couples!


















*EDITED* another day that I had a face for radio…

We just returned from taking the Raw.Honest.Loved.Project to a group of amazing teens in Decorah, Iowa and I’m still recovering emotionally from the whole thing. The photos are up on the project’s Facebook page. The blog will be up here when I can get all of my thoughts and feelings wrapped up into something that makes sense.

For now, however, I can share with you a LIVE interview that went underway this morning with Iowa Public Radio.  Becca, from our Decorah Teen Group, joins me on the program. Becca is the reason that this project went to Iowa in the first place. Listen in and see why. And ignore my various “um”s.


Building Self-Esteem through Photography

Rebecca Haars

Rebecca Haars

Students at Decorah High School have lost friends in recent years, some to accidents, some to suicide. Senior Rebecca Haars saw that her fellow students were hurting and vulnerable, so she decided to do something to help. She brought the Raw. Honest. Loved.project to Decorah.

On this Talk of Iowa segment, host Charity Nebbe talks with Haars and Alana Tamminga, the woman behind this powerful project.

Tamminga says that the Decorah teen group taught her some things as well, and she hopes this session helped them work through their insecurities.

“They have so much to offer,” Tamminga says. “We could see ourselves in them. We lived it, we were feeling that way in high school too; we’ve felt it since then.”

“So I’m just hoping for them, that they don’t [carry their insecurity] as much as we did. This is something that maybe they can quash now and know that they are absolutely good enough, to hold their heads high.”


Can you help us take the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project across the country?

Get the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project to teens in Iowa!
Can you help?

Even the smallest donation helps and is greatly appreciated.

Recently, this Tacoma, WA based project was contacted by Rebecca, a high-school senior that lives in the small town of Decorah, Iowa.
She had found the project through a friend and Facebook and hoped it could possibly make some sort of change for teens in her area.
Rebecca is very familiar with loss in her community – when we originally became acquainted, their community had dealt with the death of five young people over only the last few years – two to accidents, three to suicide.

Since our original contact, Rebecca lost yet another friend to suicide just a couple of weeks ago.
She and I recently got to FaceTime about self-esteem, its effects, suicide, and the RHL Project.

I am excited to announce that there is now an opportunity for us to go to Iowa to do the project with Rebecca and six of her peers.
If you are able to help us in any way toward this cause, we and this group of teens would greatly appreciate it.
We need to round up funds for this quickly, as this group needs to take place at the end of April.
We’re very excited about this opportunity!
Please share if you feel so inclined.

Please go here for the GoFundMe Link: Get the Raw.Honest.Loved. Project to Iowa!

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 3.35.09 PM


group 10 – Couples!






kylefinal  jessicafinal

“People say, “You’ve been together 25 years, what’s the secret?” Honestly, some of it’s just dumb luck. Some of it is that maybe we happened to step right when we should’ve, instead of stepping left…” – Daniel
“We didn’t give up at the same time.” – Summer
“Yeah, we could have given up at the same time, but, when one of us was down, the other picked them up.” – Daniel

This group was the same as the groups before it, dealing with personal insecurities, but, for the first time, we were dealing with the dynamic of how insecurities affect the intimate relationship of an individual and the person they’ve chosen to spend their life with.
It’s a pretty interesting dynamic.
How much do our personal insecurities play into our relationship with our partner?

Every time I put a new group together, one that is specific (teens, 55+, moms & daughters), my boyfriend mentions that I’m conducting some sort of social experiment. He’s right, I guess, although I hate the word “experiment” when it comes to dealing with people. But, all in all, that is essentially what is happening.
I’m wanting to see how this particular group changes the dynamic of the conversation.
How being in a specific group of peers influences how we view insecurities, how we talk about them, how we handle them.

Having a couples group seemed like the next obvious choice.
It was to be the first group where we were including both men and women.
We’ve had multiple women’s groups…we know it’s generally easy to open up in a group of women.
We had our men’s group (yes, there will be more), and we saw how awesome that was and how the men relate to and support one another just like the women do.
Now, how would they do together?

Seeing that they are in a partnership, it seemed obvious that they should communicate well together, but, it also threw in some anxiety for me.
I’ve said this a million times, but, I’ll say it again: I am not a counselor, not a therapist, not a psychiatrist, not a psychologist…I am none of those things.

These groups are not counseling sessions.

I am a photographer who sees the value in communication. Plainly that.

So, I was worried that the couples here could possibly see this as some counseling session and maybe start hashing out some issues. Thank goodness, that did not happen.
Kyle did mention in his post-interview that he hadn’t known what to expect and assumed it would be something like counseling, but, was surprised when it wasn’t. Instead, he found it was much more than he expected – in his words, “it leaves you with something. It feels like we have something to work for now, something to help each other out with, knowing we’re not alone. Now we know where each other is coming from, see each other’s perspective, know more about how we can help them grow, help build their confidence.”

There was something important that these participants took away – mainly, the knowledge that they are not alone.
That other individuals feel the same way that they do.
That other couples, no matter how long they’ve been together, struggle with the same things at different phases of their relationship, to different degrees each time.

Jessica mentioned, “It’s so crazy to me that, of all of the people who could be in this group, the three men and the three women are so similar. That we all ended up in this group together.”
It does seem crazy, like some sort of kizmet.
The crazier thing is…this happens in every group.
Everyone in each group is amazed that these are the people who ended up in the group with them – that these people feel so similar to how they feel. Why? Because we all feel this way to some degree or another.
As I told Jessica, we could have had three more couples added to this group and they would have felt the same way about all of them.
They would all feel like they’re not measuring up how they should.
They would all feel like they’re not enough.

“I’m not enough.”
“I’m inadequate.”
That was the theme of the night.
Honestly, it’s the theme of nearly all of the groups.
Have you seen how many boards from this project say something to the effect of being “not enough”?
In a total of 86 participants so far, I can tell you that at least half of them are directly about something to the effect of not being enough, being undeserving of love, being some sort of lost cause.
And that’s just those that chose that particular insecurity to directly write about…that’s not counting the things that the other half agreed with and proceeded to share their own doubts about themselves in their particular groups.
I’ve been at each group. I can tell you that out of 86 people, 86 people can relate to feeling like they are not enough.

Having people surround you that understand and can relate to how you feel is a very powerful thing.

The ladies in this group reflected on the fact that even if there’s just one other person that feels what you’re going through, it’s already better, already easier.
They spoke about the onset of overwhelming days of sadness. Summer is used to people seeing her as a generally happy person, but says, “The really good happy stuff gets lost sometimes and feels like it’s not enough to overcome even a couple of sad things. The happy stuff is so much bigger than these small sad things, but, those sad things can knock you on your knees some days. I can’t explain why I’m sad sometimes, it just is…it just is.

Tracy speaks about how it’s similar and, yet, different for her: “Sometimes I shut myself off so much that I’m not even recognizable. I may be happy, but the sadness sneaks up on me and that’s what I portray. It’s too hard to portray happiness.” She talks about how that’s what people view her as – as hard and cold. Because that comes easier for her.

The men discuss how they are portrayed.
Daniel is seen as being always on guard. People have told him that he projects a tough image. They say, “I was always scared of you.” It became easier for him to be the ‘tough guy’, to push others away, not because he wanted to, but, because it was easier than letting them see that he was insecure – as he said, “I don’t let you get close enough because I don’t want you to see that I actually don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

Shawn and Kyle agree, “I’m not this guy that you portrayed me as…I was standoff-ish and just came off as that because of my insecurities, my feelings, how I was raised. You just have to get past that first layer… Men – we’re supposed to be tough, but we need this kind of encouragement. My dad shut everything away his whole life…I’m trying to do the opposite.”

As I shared with them, it’s funny to me with every group how this works: all of the new participants are mostly strangers to me upon arranging the groups. People who have written to me about wanting to be a part. People whom I add to a list. I don’t know them. I start to get to know them by what they write in to me about their insecurity. But, I REALLY get to know them through the things their loved ones write in for them. I first develop an image based on the things they dislike about themselves and then that image changes when I am flooded with these amazing things about them that other people want to share with me.
Guess which person I meet?
I meet the one described by the friends and family.
I meet the one who displays those awesome traits and qualities.
We are so in our own heads that we are overwhelmed by these feelings of inadequacy and such, but, we are outwardly SO MUCH MORE than that. If only we can get that point across to ourselves. That’s what this project is about.

In speaking about couples, we naturally talked about how hard it is to live up to the other’s expectations…and yet, how much harder it is to live up to our OWN expectations.

We talked about how we expect one another to be mind-readers. They should know we feel a certain way, right?
They should know that, in our head, we are getting pissed off every time we see that sock in the middle of the floor that they still haven’t picked up…
Summer phrased it well when she said that she just takes care of whatever she’s finding an issue with “without him losing a fight he’s not even aware he’s in.”
Isn’t this the case most of the time? We’re steaming, wrapped up in our own brain, festering about some little thing they’ve done that is aggravating to us…meanwhile, they’re clueless.
It’s the same with the positive things that we love about each other.
We assume they know.
But, as Kyle said, “that’s not the case. You have to get that stuff out…you’re helping build that person up so that there’s less fears, less insecurities. This group is different because what we feel for each other drives us to be better people and better for each other. We’re pushing each other to be the best person each other can be for the other. Now, voicing this stuff will push us to the next level to fulfilling that for the other person.”

Daniel also said, “The thing I find the most weird, even when I went to write it and now hearing us all talk tonight – this is the person you love the most, so, those feelings, you feel ‘em everyday, you live ‘em everyday – but, you go to say the words out loud and it…it catches you…what if you put them out and they don’t come back?

We have them individually, we have them in relation to each other.
We learn as we go. We learn every day. We adjust. We adapt.

Thank you to everyone who wrote in for these lovely couples – this would not work without you. Through you, I got to know them.
Thank you, Daniel & Summer, Kyle & Jessica, Shawn & Tracy, for being so open and so honest. Here are your stories.

danielinsDaniel ~ That I won’t measure up. Whether it’s love, friendship, work, family, etc. I always have this nagging feeling that I’m not good enough, not strong enough, not smart enough, not worthy of this.”

Daniel’s friends and family:

“He is a loyal loving husband. He likes the spirit of freedom and working for himself. Likes to debate on more than surface issues. He is quiet unless you get to know him, sort of an introvert. He does like the opportunity to coach football and teach the fundamentals of the game.” – Gene

“Daniel is like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or the Cinderella Man.  His kindness in actions speaks louder than words and his Neil Young Heart of Gold is a beat that influences anybody who can hear it.  His imagination and love for art and design is of the most striking outlet of creativity I have ever seen, and I’m an art major.  He also has this passionate love for all things raw, which the world needs more of.  I’m not sure I could ever stop with the wonderful things to say about Daniel.  Bottom line, his simple breath makes people want to be better.  He is light.  He is a breath of fresh air.  He is one of the greatest men I will ever know.” – Lindsey

“Dan is one person in my life who I know I can count on to be 100 percent honest with me. Throughout my whole life he has always been there when I’ve needed advice, and I always know he will give me his honest opinion. He is one of the most intelligent people I know. I used to really enjoy our car rides from school to my house because he and I would talk about anything and everything. Whether it was school, work, politics, or music, he and I usually expressed mutual opinions. I really appreciate him and I know my life would not be the same without him in it.” – Kaylee

“Dearest Dan,

I appreciate your honesty. It is so refreshing to have a conversation with you and feel a common bond and enjoy a laugh about the state of our world at large. Your sense of humor is something I admire in my day-to-day hustle and bustle. I love your tolerance for your fellow humans. I have heard and shared your frustration at times when we have chatted at an event but you always have a smile for just about everyone. You also tolerate my love for the Steelers even with your loyalty to the Raiders. For that I thank you, my friend!” – Christy


We don’t normally do this “feely” stuff, but, maybe we should. You have been the best big brother a girl could ask for. You were the first man in my life that protected me. There are no words for how much that has meant to me. You are honest and real. I know I can always count on you to give it to me straight. I respect your opinion. You love people with your whole heart. You sacrifice for those around you. You tell the best stories! Your laughter and smile are contagious. You know who you are and you don’t allow other’s thoughts or opinions to sway your confidence. You know who you are and what you believe in. You are compassionate and caring, kind and loving. You are intelligent, one of the most intelligent people I know!
I love you brother!

“Dear Dan,

It seems as though you have been a part of this family always. I am forever thankful that Summer chose you to be her life mate. You came into our lives at a time when my girls needed a big brother to help them understand that there are good men in life.

Over the years I have grown to love you as my son-in-law. I respect the person you are. I appreciate the way your mind thinks, the knowledge you possess and share. I like how you think of others. You are always there to lend a hand, to family, to homeless people, to children and the old. There is a gentle giant with an enormous heart inside of you.

You have always loved my daughter with your whole heart; of this I have always been certain. The relationship you have with my daughter shows in so many little ways to this Mother’s heart. It shows in the way your eyes light up when you look at her; in the gentleness you treat her with, in the caring you give her when she is sick. You carry the heaviest package, and give her the smaller one. You play with her and show her that her joys are yours also; you share the burden of her sorrows and let her know she is not alone in her pain. You are there for her emotionally. You are her best friend. I am so grateful to you for being a good and kind man, and for loving Summer with your whole heart.

The example that you and Summer have set as a married couple helped the rest of my daughters make wise choices of life mates, I truly believe without you in our lives, things could have turned out much differently.

I love your sense of adventure, and your playfulness. I appreciate how gentle you have always been with the grandchildren, and that you have been there for them with great “Uncle” advice.

I like the fact that you have belief in your dreams, and motivation, and persistence in accomplishing your goals. I like that you think outside the box, and that you do not color life inside the lines.

I am proud to call you mine. You are a wonderful person and I appreciate who you are.

Mom, (aka Ginnie)”

“Daniel defines growth to me. He is worlds away from the outer persona he portrayed when I first met him and has moved closer and closer to sharing with the world who he is at his core. He continues to learn, explore and apply all knowledge in his life. Internally he’s pushing himself to explore who he is and what he wants in his life and what he can give with his life. Externally he is learning how to read emotion and relate to people in new ways. When we were first dating we would take black and white photo booth pictures on our dates. In each one he looks so different over the years. Facial hair, weight, clothing. So much so that on our wedding cake I had 4 of these images on our cake and someone commented that he must be really understanding to have pictures of other men with me on our cake. Now though that same internal growth and change is happening. Knowing him for almost 25 years I can look back and see how very differently he’s evolved and become and grown. It’s almost like the wedding cake topper, the difference in who he was and who he is has become. I can’t wait to see how he grows and changes in the next 25 years.

He is protective. There are inner circles in his heart and once you’ve entered, even the outermost ring of his heart, he will be there for you. He will fight to the death for you. He will honor you. He will hold you close. He will not always know to ask, what you need but if you ask for help, come hell or high water he will drop everything else and find a way to be there for you. There are no limits to what he would be willing to sacrifice for those he holds close and dear. He doesn’t express it. It just is. It’s who he is and how he loves.

He is tender. He holds my hand while we sit in the car. We walk down the street and he reaches out to hold my hand, always. He kisses me on the head every night and tells me to “dream well my love”. When I wake him up, he sees me and smiles. He doesn’t project an image of someone who is tender. People see him as rough sometimes. As quiet. But he’s really very introspective. He wears his heart so much more on his sleeve than anyone would imagine. His heart is open and vulnerable. He feels things completely and his feelings have a way of consuming him.

He is brilliant. He has the capacity to learn rapidly and apply that learning. He absorbs information. It drove me insane when we were first dating. He would pick up a new passion and learn it inside-out in no time, and just when I thought he was on track for the next career, life change, defining moment, he would move on and pursue the next interest with the same passion. Now, I appreciate the flow of his learning. Although I’m still amazed. Sometime still shocked he doesn’t continue to pursue things he’s demonstrated such ability in. But I love him for it. He’s constantly changing, evolving and learning. It’s interesting to watch his process. And knowing now not to set or apply my expectations on how to use that skill or knowledge releases the frustration I used to experience and allows me to just appreciate him and value the process he’s experiencing. I’m jealous of his capacity to learn and apply his knowledge.

He is forgiving. He leads by example here. There have been so many times I’ve made a black-and-white, no-room-for-forgiveness call about someone. He’s the opposite. He believes everyone is capable of change and that they deserve the opportunity to grow and adjust and be. Through his example I am constantly challenged to let go of my judgments. He is gracious and unpresumptuous. He allows in his heart and mind room for someone else to be on their journey without his judgment. He might have to fight his own fears of an action someone else causes, but he doesn’t let someone’s action, or mistake or path define his perception of that person. One act doesn’t define anyone in his book.

He is dedicated. If he’s given his word, it will happen. He will find a way. Even when there is no way. It may not happen the way he wanted it to or thought it would. But it will. He’s been an incredible football coach. Even when we’ve had no time to give, he’s found a way to make it happen. When we didn’t have the means to help, he still found a way. He doesn’t let his pride get in the way of accomplishing what he’s set his mind to. He will simply fight to make it happen. And if he’s given his word, he will be there. His honor matters to him. His word matters.

He is funny. He uses humor to pull people in and hold people back. He pushes every joke as far as it should go, and given the right circumstances, further than anyone thought it could or should. He talks smack like a pro. He has laugh lines he’s earned. He’s given me laugh lines that I know will grow as we get older together. He comes up with things off the cuff that just crack people up and comes up with pranks and jokes he plots and plans that are un-topable. I think it’s one characteristic everyone that knows him has experienced in one form or another.

He is a true partner. We talk often about the word “marriage” versus “partner”. In Daniel I’ve found a true partnership. He acknowledges each of our strengths and weaknesses and we work together to bring out the best in each other and to help hold the other up in to overcome the weaknesses as a team. “Us” is an identity that is a living thing he values, protects, and holds dear. I really enjoy who he is and who we are together.

He’s a fighter. At one time in his life, it was about the physical battle. About pushing himself to the limit, pushing the other person to the limit. Letting the beast inside of him roam, and he found opportunities to make those fights happen. Now he’s taken on a much harder battle. He’s fighting his own demons, fears and insecurities. He’s battling with his own patterns to take control of his life and be the master of his emotions and their outcomes. These last few years of working for ourselves and trying to create these businesses have shown me a strength I didn’t even know he had. I’ve always thought of him as a fighter, as tough, as strong. Now, he also lets me see him as weak, he lets me see the battle scars. And in my eyes it’s made him stronger and tougher then ever. We have been pulling through situations I would have said NEVER for us, or to us, will that happen. But he’s not a throw-in-the-towel guy. He sees the big picture and understands the difference between a lost battle and a lost cause. His strength here gives me the strength day after day. To keep believing. To keep striving. To make it happen. That same strength and stubbornness and willingness to fight have kept us together. Have held us together. Have helped us grow together.

He’s my best friend. He knows me. He accepts the worst of me. (And he’s seen it.) He loves me. He understands me. He gives me the room to be me. He challenges me. He relaxes me. He deals with my fears. He kills the spiders for me. He lives in the chaos of my to-do piles. He loves our family. He calms my crazy medical fears. He enriches me. He appreciates me. He loves my crazy curls first thing in the morning. He loves me in sweats as much as he does when I’m dressed up. He loves my grey hair and ‘Dan wrinkle’ in my brow. He is the one person I need, I love. He’s my forever plus 2 days.” – Summer

summerinsSummer ~ “Not every day, but too many days, I wake up and the sadness is there with me. It’s hovering over me, surrounding me, and enveloping me. It fills me with thoughts about not being enough. Not doing enough. Not capable of enough. Not. Not. Not. That at my core, I will never be enough. That I deserve this sadness. That I was made for sadness. Other days it sneaks in. It invades a perfectly pleasant day. It pulls me into myself. It threatens to overpower me. It slows me. Stops me. Tries to define me. I fight it. I struggle with it. I deal with it. I’m able, most of the time, to still function with it. I shake it. I bury it. I fight harder with it. Sometimes I have a logical grasp on where it’s coming from. On what just triggered it. On how the PTSD I am experiencing is bringing in these feelings. This feeling. Other times it takes days or weeks or I never really understand why it’s there or was there. I don’t know why some days the sadness is winning or wins. I don’t know how to make the tears not fall. I just internally curl into a ball. A big ball of feeling sadness. Other days I am able to use one of my coping mechanisms and get through it. Still feel like the part of myself I want to be. The part of me that can take on the world. The part of me that has room for everyone else and the details of their lives. The struggle is feeling like two different people always at war. The internal sad girl and the outwardly happy girl. Where I am now is trying to understand that I am both. That one isn’t really bad, or wrong. It just is. It comes with its own gifts of compassion and empathy for others that I don’t think I would have without it. What I’m fighting with right now is still only wanting to be one. Just the happy one. The one I try so hard to project and be. The one that is socially more acceptable. The side that in every happy ending story is the side we see, know and love.” 


Summer’s friends and family:

“Summer is one of the most amazing people I know. She is generous, creative, warm, energetic, loyal, driven, has integrity and works extremely hard. Summer is one of those people who walks into a room and lights it up with her smile and energy. I love being around her because she makes me happy. Even when she has a difficult time, she confronts her challenges with grace and a smile. I admire her and often think about her when I think about the type of person I want to be.” – Kristen

“Summer was my first best friend. We played poker for candy, and talked nonstop. We used to dream about what we would do when we grew up. What I love about Summer is that she follows her dreams, even if they change. She is a hard-working, not afraid to take chances overcomer. She is also a great listener. She lets me talk and ramble and cry if I need to. She is talented in so many ways. I admire her creativity, her boldness, and her strength.” – Shannon

“When I think about the things I love, admire and appreciate about Summer, the phrase “the most…” is the start of nearly every phrase. She puts everything she has into all that she does and cares about and, because of this, she is the most positive person I know, the most selfless person I know, the most generous person I know, the hardest working person I know, the most caring person I know. She is amazing at lifting people up and giving positive words of affirmation and does so regularly. She is an enjoyable person with high energy who has a cheesy, yet, witty sense of humor that is charming and she can carry conversation on most topics. She is someone who I admire, love and appreciate for all of these reasons but even more so for the glimpses I get of the raw emotions she rarely lets everyone see. In these moments, I am honored to be her friend.” – Heather

“Summer –

When I think of you, four words come to mind: Strength, Sacrifice, Love, Selfless. Your creativity, eye for design, and ability to capture moments in life that are often taken for granted are inspiring. You astonish me with the energy you give to all those you love. Your strength is something I’ve looked to so many times in my life to help me get through. Despite the challenges of the last couple years, you still make the impossible possible. EVERYDAY. I’m constantly in awe of how you manage to pull it all off. You’ve been a role model to me, “what would summer do” is a phrase I’ve found myself asking so many times. You are always there to listen and advise. I truly enjoy spending time with you. You are fun to be around and I love the adventures we have taken together – remember the caves? I hope you know how loved you are by me, and not for anything you can do, just for simply you.
I love you sis!
“Dear Summer,

You are my first-born child, from the moment you were placed in your bassinet and lifted your head to look around the room you were born in, I knew that this strong, curious, adorable, little person would rule my heart. When we name a child, we agonize trying to select the perfect name. You are your name, warm and kind, full of life. As you and I have grown over the years our relationship has grown and changed as much as we have.

I have always been able to depend on you to be there for your sisters and I emotionally and logically. We have survived pain and sorrow, and relished in laughter and love. We have exposed the past in painful and revealing talks with each other and as a group with your sisters. This was cathartic and necessary for us to continue to become healthy and happy in our emotional lives. I am forever grateful that you helped to bring this about.

We have laughed so hard that tears form. You bring a sense of adventure into life, be it simple or extravagant.
You love with your whole heart. You are the epitome of a creative thinker, and believe if you can visualize it, it is possible, and then with your drive and persistence it becomes what you dream.

I am intensely proud of the life you have lived, as a child, and an adult. You have made excellent choices in your life. I love the gentleness of your soul, the delight you possess in life. Your giving nature never fails to amaze me. You are intuitive and your instincts are spot on.

I am very thankful that you chose to move back home, I know that was hard for you, but you have brought so much joy to our lives, and the time I get to share with you is very precious to me. I look forward to every minute.

I know you think you are not an artist, but in everything you do, you are. Art is not limited to only one definition. Your muse leads you on paths that others could never follow. I adore you.

My heart overflows with love for you,

“How do you tell a story about Summer. Summer is magic.  Summer is loving.  Her love for her husband is epic and the kind of love written about in romance novels.    Her eye for art and composition is heaven gifted.  Not one earth given gift like sunrises, sunsets, sweet babies sleeping, smiling, toddling, and springs first bust of flower are missed by Summer.  Appreciating the smallest of blessings this life has to offer is in her radar.  How do you tell a story of Summer just breath in and breath out. She is life!!!!” – Amy

“Dearest Summer,

I love the passion you have for your creativity. I admire all of the beauty you create. Your passion and creativity make my life, as well as the lives of everyone you touch inspired.” – Christy

“I started loving Summer a little over 24 years ago. The things I love about her have changed and intensified during that time.
I’ll go with some of the ones that have been there since I first realized that I was in love with her.
Summer is caring, compassionate, and loving. She gets the biggest joy for the simplest things. When she really smiles she shows her gums, and she’s uncomfortable when she does. When she tells a joke she usually laughs harder than you do. When she loves something she loves it with everything she’s got. When she believes in something Summer will fight for it, even if she knows she’ll lose.” – Daniel

kyleinsKyle ~ I worry that I am not going to be the man my wife needs or wants me to be. I know that my wife loves me, but, I sometimes worry that at some point that won’t be enough. This is kind of like me worrying that I’m not good enough nor do I deserve this amazing woman who I have been blessed to call WIFE.” 

Kyle’s friends and family:
“Kyle: Honest, adventurous, confident, trusting, brave, great company, charismatic, creative, good-natured, hardworking and active.” – Anita

“Kyle—this Guy has helped me in many ways—whether it be as simple as something around the house, or saving me from being stranded in the middle of the woods. He’s always willing to drop everything to lend a hand to those he loves. He’s grown into a Man of God, and I’m so proud of him for putting his faith in The Lord’s hands. He’s a guy I can trust, and a guy I can depend on. I cherish our friendship and am so thankful for him. Love, Aaron”

“Dear Kyle,
Well my friend, this is a tough one. I don’t know you on a super close personal level yet I do know how much my friend feels loved by you, which makes you a pretty cool cat in my book.
I admire that you have supported your wife in her business adventure. You not only accepted her idea to start her own business but also supported her in the journey. You allow her to often put others before you and accept that this is a just part of the process. Most important, it is amazing that you still love her even though she smells like liniment when she comes home!
I find it incredibly admirable that you were willing to take on a second job to support her in the start-up of her business. I know that 10 minutes in the porn industry is equivalent to a lifetime in an office setting so I appreciate that you sacrificed your dignity to support your wife’s dreams.
I love that you have discovered that it’s okay to be open to loving all types. Your exploration in an often-judgmental world shows your strength as a man. Not all men can make a connection with another man over the internet. It is fantastic that you never questioned his motives and allowed feeling to develop slowly over time. Those of us in that you shared your story with are impressed in how you have demonstrated that you are truly comfortable in who you are and that you respect the sanctity of your marriage by not keeping the feelings a secret. I am proud of you and Scott!
I admire that you have met the expectation we as women have of our man by becoming a true caveman. You have hunted and gathered…finally! Your ability to provide for your family in a very primal manner is impressive. It demonstrates yet another wonderful quality that you possess; you never give up!
Kyle, all kidding aside, you really are a great man. You put your family in the forefront, you love your wife, you are a hard worker, you have an amazing sense of humor, and you provide a wonderful environment for your kids to grow up in.
I admire that you are able to make your family a priority and work as a partner with Jess to create a happy home. The work you put into providing financially and emotionally for your family doesn’t go unnoticed by those who surround you. You possess the qualities that many people envy and yet to you, they all seem to come naturally. I know through the many conversations that Jess and I have had that you have an amazing heart and always live your life with the best of intentions. These are qualities we all hope to find in a life partner and I am glad you share those with Jess. You my friend are a wonderful example to those around you and most importantly to your children. You should be proud of the man you are and the family you have created.
Love to you!

“Though I’ve only known Kyle for a few years, I have high respect for him and feel that he’s the best thing that’s happened to Jessica. He’s a very kind and gentle man, as well as a good father and provider. He loves the outdoors, but his first love is his family.” – Lanette

“Kyle- Smart, loving, sincere, funny spontaneous, adventurous… The Hunter. Just a few characteristics that come to mind when I think of you. But you are so much more than that. I know this because of the love you have for your wife and your children. You love despite the lack of the same DNA. You love because your heart is worn on your sleeve – your adventurous spirit and wanting to live life to the fullest is evident when one is around you. The way you take care of your family is a gift beyond measure. When one looks at you we see that your cup runneth over with love and appreciation for all that you have. You don’t take things for granted; you are the calm in the tornado. You are balance, peace, joy laughter and kindness. You see more than what’s on the surface, you go deeper, you trust your instincts.  You are a good judge of character. You are patient with your children and your lovely wife; you are an example to many men of who they could become if they would just let go of society’s expectations. You are handsome and sweet and oh so funny, too.
I love you both very much.” – JulieAnn
“Kyle is very social and he can make friends with complete strangers in any situation. Kyle has a beautiful smile and participates in sportsman type activities.” – Peggie
“Kyle was one of my first friends in Tacoma, and he quickly became one of my closest. He is like a brother to me, and his entire family embraced me as one of their own almost upon meeting. He is a wonderful person, with a smile that is infectious and the biggest heart in the world. He’s also completely hilarious.

Throughout my friendship with Kyle (and he’ll tell you this), I have never really loved anyone he dated. I always thought he went for girls that weren’t good enough for him, in one way or another. Not to say that there were a ton, but there were a few, and they all came and went. For whatever reason, they just didn’t compliment him.

Until he met Jess.

I knew immediately that she was different. She was more confident than the others, and she actually wanted to be MY friend. At the time, Kyle and I were very close and hung out frequently. Some weren’t too keen on that, but Jess didn’t sweat it, and I respected her for that. She also had a calmness about her that was very soothing to be around, and above all she truly LOVED Kyle. And you could tell he loved her, with the way he lit up after he met her… as though no one else existed.

Since they’ve been together, I’ve seen both of them grow into such amazing people. They are kind, generous and devoted to each other and their growing family. They are proud of the life they’ve made, and they work at their relationship every day, even if it’s in the smallest way. Their children are a reflection of the love they have for each other and I am so very proud that they’ve made it. If there is such a thing as soul mates, these two certainly embody the idea. I admire their love.

Although we don’t get to see each other nearly as often as anyone would like, I know they are doing just fine. I am so happy they are doing this project. I know that it will bring them even closer together, and will further strengthen the deep bond that they share.

Here’s to true love. <3” – Jayme

“What I love most about my husband… I’m afraid if this letter gets out I may or may not be the most hated woman in the world. You see my husband… he is perfect. I love the fact that my children love him. He is our daughters’ first love, and our son’s first hero. He is an amazing father in so many different ways, and he makes me proud everyday as those kids truly begin to look up to him. I love my husband because he makes it a priority to put our kids and myself first. His happiness is our happiness and he would do anything for us. He is a born provider, not just a hard worker but always improving himself as a hunter and fisher too, in order to provide food for us. I love my husband because he has a huge…giant…almost too big sometimes… heart. He supports me in almost all that I do and enjoy. He helped me take a risk and start my own business, he believes in me, he trusts me, he respects me. He treats me like I am the most beautiful woman on the planet, like he is afraid every day to lose me because of how wonderful I am. He is everything I ever wanted in a man. He sews, he cooks, he bakes, he does laundry. He lets me sleep in on weekends. He helps with our children, he fixes everything and anything when it’s broken, he does the gross chores that include garbage, poop and old wet food. He is strong. He is my protector. I’m proud to have his arm around me in public, I think he is a beautiful man.. inside and out. His beard is outstanding. He creates bromances and is a social butterfly. He doesn’t care that I hide money in weird places around the house to be able to save, or that I eat popcorn almost every night, or that I never get comfortable in bed until I roll around 32 times. He is my team-mate, my partner, my side kick. My husband truly is the definition of Raw.Honest.Love… and he’s all mine :)” – Jessica

jessicainsJessica ~ My biggest struggle in life has always been the same…never being good enough. It used to be not being good enough for my mother but now it is mostly always not being a good enough mother. I try constantly to give all I have to my 4 children but I never feel like it is enough… they deserve so much. I also always try to be respectful, loving and helpful to my husband but I don’t feel like I am enough for him too… sometimes I feel like he deserves more than I can give him because I am giving so much to the kids and I fear I don’t often put him first as much as I should. I own a business and with all the work, billing and paperwork that often takes me away from family also and leaves me feeling like I am not enough for those in my family. Or my friends at that…I have no time and have slipped away from all my friends as well :( I cannot please everyone in my life and it hurts me endlessly. I want to love, fix, heal and lift up everyone that comes into my life and it drains so much of me that in the end I don’t know that I am even enough for myself.” 

Jessica’s friends and family:

“Jessica: Honest, big heart, capable, reliable, helpful, master of time, giver, creative, confident, healthy and balanced.” – Anita

“Jessica—she is the most caring, loving, forgiving, accepting you-for-you kind of gal. She truly is someone I could go to at any time of the day, for anything, and she would pray for me and offer her love. Jessica came into my life a few years ago, and from day one she was someone whom I felt safe with. I knew I could trust her. Jessica is a dear friend who I love, and know if our schedules don’t always allow us to talk or see one another, the time we do spend together is like we see each other everyday. Definitely blessed to know this woman, and love her dearly.
Love, Mandy”

“Dear Jessica,
Where do I begin when I am asked to share what I love, admire, and appreciate about you? First and foremost, I admire your bravery in entrusting me to write a serious letter for you. Not to worry my friend, I’ve got this one. If there is one thing that I take serious in life, it is the value I place on true friendships and the interactions I have with genuine people, so I am honored to write this for you and will do my best to keep this G-rated and appropriate for the experience.
Let me start with what I love and admire about you…
I love and admire your love of your family. You beam when you speak of your children. You provide them the love, support, and the time they need to grow up knowing they are loved. You take parenting serious in that you love and provide for them, but you also recognize that parenting can be fun, crazy, and at times out of control. You do what is best for your family at all times. You’re an amazing mom!
You are an incredibly positive person. You not only speak of positive things, but you exude positive energy. When I am around you, no matter the mood I arrived with, I leave with a much more positive attitude. That is a gift you share with the people you are around. I know this is cliché, but your glass seems to always be half full!
You have an incredible ability to not only listen, but to truly hear what people say. I love that when we talk I know you are listening. You share ideas, you laugh at silly stories, and sometimes you simply provide support and encouragement. I admire that you truly hear what other have to say. Life is so busy for so many that the art of listening is often pushed aside. It’s a wonderful quality I love about you.
You are smart; damn smart! You started a business, you manage your time to balance work and family life, and, shoot, you picked me to be one of your friends! I love that you can hold an intelligent conversation, educate yourself on the areas of life that you are passionate about, and share your knowledge without making others feel less intelligent than you.
I admire that you don’t judge me. You have seen my rear, yet you are still my friend. You have heard some of my deepest darkest secrets, yet you are still my friend. You listen to me talk like a drunken trucker, yet you are still my friend. I say shocking and horrific thoughts that randomly pop into my head, yet you are still my friend. I feel as if I have pulled out all of the stops, given you every opportunity to judge me and run the other way, yet, you don’t judge me and instead stand by me as a true friend. Rather than judge me, you support me, laugh with me, and sometimes even laugh at me, and for that I love you! People with the wonderful quality of being non-judgmental are rare and you, my dear, have this fine quality.
Now for what I appreciate about you…
I appreciate that you are not a quitter! When you want to accomplish something you do it. You don’t give up. You don’t look for the easy way. You go all in and you do it right. You do that not only in your life but also for those of us that come to see you with challenging problems. You don’t give up on us. You look for ways to help, you search for options, and you give everything 110%.
I appreciate that you refrain from telling me that my ass is huge! Yes, I know it is a large caboose. I know that seeing that each week must be traumatic for you but yet you treat me as if my ass is that of a 21-year-old hard bodied stripper! Come on, you didn’t really think I could keep it all serious, did you? But hey, I am serious in that I really do appreciate that you don’t bust out singing “Baby Got Back” when you walk in the room!
Ok, now for the thing I appreciate the most… you saved my life! When I met you, I had given up. I gave up hope of living a pain-free life. I gave up hope all together. I felt as if my pain was a burden to not only me, but also my family. I felt as if you were my last option for relief. As you know, I didn’t believe you could do anything to help me but then I heard you say something that changed my life. It wasn’t just the words you said it was how you said it. You said with confidence that you liked a challenge and you believed you could help me if I would give you the chance. You were one of the first people I believed in during my journey to heal. So, therefore, it is your confidence and determination that I admire most, because it was life changing for me.
I could go on and on about all of the things I love, admire and appreciate about you but what it comes down to is this…
I love, admire, and appreciate YOU! All that makes you who you are. I love, admire, and appreciate all of the things that make you obviously amazing as well as all of the things that you may question about yourself. It is all of these things combined that make you the perfect friend, an amazing mother, a wife who loves her husband, a healer to many, and a strong woman who will leave a lasting impression on those that you meet throughout your life and someone I am so proud to know.
I love you BEAUTIFUL!

“Jessica, being my god-daughter, and knowing her since the day she was born, I knew the first time I held her in the hospital that there was something special about her. She’s the most kind-hearted and gentle person I’ve ever met. She’s a free-spirited individual, and puts other’s needs before her own. She’s the kind of person who would take the shirt off her back if someone needed it. She’s an amazing mother and puts her kids first. I am proud that she’s grown into such an amazing woman and mother. I am proud that she is my God-daughter and blessed to have her in my life.” – Lanette

“Jessica- I thought a lot about what characteristics and words I would choose to describe you. It is my pleasure and a joy to share how much I love you. And what you embody. I have known you since you were about 18 months old. You have always shone like the stars and are the light amongst the darkness. You shine like the sun, your loyalty is as deep as the ocean and your love is as wide as the sky. You are a wonderful daughter, mother and friend. You are patient, kind, and forgiveness. You embody Christ’s love and it radiates from you. You are beautiful, inside and out, you’re a good listener, creative, fun, spontaneous, thoughtful, sensitive, caring, and nice to a fault…at times!  Thank you for loving me, because you made a choice to love me. I’m not your blood, I’m not your family, but I love you like you’re my own.” – JulieAnn

“Dear Jessica,
I wanted to take a few minutes remind you why I love you and will always love you. First of all, you stole my heart the moment we met, with your beauty, humor, patience and giant heart (yes I could tell). You put such great love and devotion into all that you do, no matter what it is. I admire that. And whether failure or success is the result (more success than anything), you always find the positive in the end result. I absolutely love that you are so passionate about life and the world you live in, it drives me to be more like you and see things the way you do all the time. I find myself asking,”what would my wife do?” There is so much that I love and admire about you, there simply isn’t enough time in the world for me to tell you it all.” – Kyle



Shawn ~ I struggle with not feeling wanted or loved. It affects my judgment with people because I’m giving out chance after chance in hopes that they are good people; in return I can easily be a doormat. I struggle with it as being a supervisor on my jobs because people take advantage of me. If I’m not careful, I can fall into being a people pleaser, and it puts great pressure on my wife.” 

Shawn’s friends and family:

“Shawn is a gentle man with what I would describe as a fierce, consistent, steadfast love. Shawn has staying power in my definition, when the proverbial poop hits the fan; he stands and remains standing, LONG after most have run away.
The Biblical King David had what was described as ‘mighty men’ or ‘Valiant men”.
Don’t see too many of these today, so in my book, Shawn is one of few…..
I’ve seen him up and totally down, and he usually bounces back and chooses to stand up, and remain standing.
This is a deep soul quality.
A RARE deep soul quality.
If I were asked to do the impossible, I would include Shawn in a list of maybe three men I would ask to join team with me to accomplish the impossible, why?
Because he is ‘fade proof’.

In my definition, Blue-collar workingmen are the true ‘gold standard’ in any nation. They are literally the backbone of society. Without them, every above and below would crumble. Shawn is a hard-working artisan in stone and brick. I have the utmost respect for him.

I am honored to call him my friend.” – Brian
“My brother has a heart of gold and tries to help all who need it.” – Jean
“My father, Shawn, is strong in his faith and love. He is a hard-worker and gives his best for his family. His love is unbreakable just like his faith in God. He is an incredible man. He is funny and caring. The word that can describe him best is “heart”. He has the biggest caring, giving heart I know.” – Reilley

“Shawn is humble, compassionate, forthright, and for the most part, pretty honest. He is quick to help, slow to find fault, and eager for opportunity to learn new things. There is rarely a time that he misses to involve himself in the lives of his kids, friends and family at large. Aside from his unfaltering ability to conduct himself in peace, patience, kindness and with self-control is mind-blowing to me. His loyalty and dedication are traits that I admire and wish to emulate. Strength & Resolve!” – Tracy



tracyinsTracy ~ I wrestle daily with the feeling of being inadequate. As a human, a wife, a mother, daughter, friend, employee, creator. Some days it lays me flat; conquering any energy I can muster to enter the realm outside my bed. Those days are fewer than they used to be. I have decided to give up and let God power me through whatever I’m purposed for, which has enabled me to live a life of acceptance and peace.” 

Tracy’s friends and family:

“One word that I believe truly describes my mom, Tracy, is strength. She has tenacity and a will power to get through anything. She is inspirational and lives a great tale of heartache, love, struggle, and empowerment. She is beautiful in every way, with her outer beauty and her spirit. She may have her dark sides but the good will always out weigh the bad. I strive to be like her. She will live up to greatness.” – Reilley

“My dearest Tracy, the things I love and appreciate about you are too numerous to mention. Words simply cannot describe the light you bring to the world. You are ever patient, humble, loving and steadfast. You truly love unconditionally. You give from your soul. You handle challenges with more grace than I could ever imagine. You grow more beautiful inside and out with every passing year. You are a rock not only for your husband and children, but to everyone you come into contact with. You have such an adventures spirit. You are so very creative and see beauty in things that most would toss away. .. The struggles you’ve endured have created all that is amazing about you.” – Evie

“I have always looked up to my sister-in-law Tracy, she is very creative.” – Jean

“Tracy is one of the most free-spirited, strong, creative, giving, energetic, fun-loving women I have ever known. She is beautiful and full of love, allowing it to flow unconditionally. She is steadfast in her beliefs and willing to share that belief in any form needed, at any given time to brighten the day or situation. Tracy is curious and intelligent and is always learning more, and in that creates herself to be an ever-changing, wise, caring, fabulous, mysterious, fun energy. Tracy sees the good in you and shares that with you. She will be your champion! I am so pleased she is being honored. And so blessed to call her my friend. :)” – Margot

“Tracy is my cousin, whom I dearly love. She is one of the best people I know. One of the things I like most about her is her ability to see potential in people and encourage them to be the person she sees they can be. One example of this is the work she does – she works at a building materials salvage store that warehouses and sells old building materials. She is really good at what she does because she sees the potential of how these old, discarded, building materials can be repurposed into something beautiful. Like how some old wood could become a bed frame, or an old door could be a beautiful table, and so forth and so on. In the same way that she sees beauty in the potential of old building materials, she gets excited and has vision for the potential people have. She’s an encourager and vision caster and I really like that about her.
Another attribute that relates to this is how caring and loving she is. She generously loves people both with her time and possessions – always welcoming people into her home and caring for those in need. Her amicable personality puts people at ease and makes them feel loved. She’s fun, bright, and full of life which is contagious to those around her.
Also, she is so creative. Over the years I’ve seen her come up with so many creative ideas for things – everything from fashion, starting businesses, decorating her house, coming up with games (hallway tennis) to keep busy during the winter, etc. She’s full of ideas! She’s also got the moxy to make those ideas come to life. When she lands on a solid idea she’s determined to make it happen and goes out and does it. It’s really encouraging to be around.
All in all, Tracy is one of the most kind, caring, and generous people I know. She’s an absolute blessing to those around her – the world wouldn’t be the same without her. I’m so thankful to have Tracy as a cousin and am constantly impressed and encouraged by her.
Tracy, YOURE AWESOME!!!! Keep being you. Love ya!” – Abe

“I love Tracy’s sense of adventure, how she can light up a room full of smiles and get people talking, and how hard she listens and interacts with people…I admire her vision and dreams and how hard she seeks freedom and health. I appreciate that she speaks the truth, even if it hurts or she may not get liked over it..” – Shawn

unnamed– Andi

summerdantogetherSummer & Daniel ~ Together almost 25 years

Describe the first time you became aware of your partner:

Daniel – “We worked together at a movie theater. I made her laugh while in the box office but no one else could see me, so it made her look a little crazy.”

Summer – “I first met Daniel at my first real job as a box office girl at a movie theatre. I was 16, almost 17, and he was 19. He was transferred in from another store as a manager and introduced to me as Mr. Briggs. He wore a suit. He was quiet. He paid absolutely no attention to me. And I was smitten. We were from completely different kinds of backgrounds. We had so little in common. I would come in on my day off wearing tiny black mini skirts and flirt unabashedly. One day he pulled a joke on me. And he laughed. That laugh turned into conversations. Which led me to ask him out, and led him to give me a very HR answer about no dating between employees. Which led me to put in my notice that night. We went on our first date that weekend.

Somehow in these last few years, though, I’ve become aware of him in new ways. I’d walked around with perceptions of who he is and was and they blocked me from seeing him, as he was, who he is in the very moment. My own expectations and needs were blocking me from seeing him. Working so closely together, through so much personal and financial and business opening chaos and stress has allowed me to see him. To really leave my perceptions and insecurities behind and simply see him. Who he is. What struggles he’s going through. What path he is forging. And it’s led me to be aware of him in new ways. To love him in deeper ways. To care about him more completely. To talk to him more. To understand him better. It’s almost like starting all over again after getting so much wrong the first 20 years.”

 What is the best relationship advice you’ve ever received?


Daniel – I don’t remember ever receiving any relationship advice.”

Summer – “This Valentines Day I was photographing people at a local business. A woman approached me to take a snap of her with her husband. She leaned in and told me “we’ve been together 52 years this year” with a wink. I let her know I was going on 25 this year. She looked at me very earnestly and said, “Oh, you’re young still. So much to learn.” And it put life in good perspective for me. Dan and I are far from figuring it all out yet. And that’s the beauty of this journey we’re on together.

The piece of advice that helps me the most, though, is from Daniel. He asks me to “Love him anyways.” It resonates so deeply with me. Living with anyone is compromise. It’s bound to cause your nerves to grate. Loving anyone is bound to cause disappointment, heartache, and some pain. During the little moments of crazy annoyance where he keeps adding to the garbage until it’s overflowing, I think, Love him Anyways. It helps. It is him to do that. It’s not going to change. Instead of being so frustrated, stopping to remember I love him anyways takes the frustration and anger out-of-the-way for me. It puts it into a different perspective and allows me to ask for what I need, the garbage taken out, or gives me the room to just take it out without “losing” a fight he’s not even aware he’s in. During the bigger hurts, the emotional reactions that threaten to pull us apart, I try to take pause and think Love Him Anyways. It helps me to remember this is one moment, one fight, one hurt, and we have a lifetime of other moments behind us and in front of us. This one doesn’t define us. It isn’t the end of my love for him or my commitment towards us. It’s just a Love Him Anyways moment we’ll get through. Most times stronger than where we started.”

Friends’ & Family’s thoughts on Summer & Daniel as a couple:

“They have a deep and refined understanding of who each one of them are. They support each other in their dreams. They build each other up as a couple and are happy to spend time with each other and not have to be in big groups.” – Gene

“I do not know Dan very well, but I appreciate the hard work they have put into their relationship. They are committed and resilient and have made it through some tough times. They support each other and work together to reach mutual goals. They are different but appreciate each other’s differences. Great couple!” – Kristen

“I love their playfulness and creativity.” – Shannon

“Caring, creative couple. They support each other and love each other unconditionally.” – Juliette

“Dear Dan & Summer,
I can’t describe in mere words how much your love for each other makes a positive difference in my day-to-day life. Your love for one another as well as your marriage has given me an example that true love is real.” – Christy

“Summer and Dan love each other completely and just as they are. They are so opposite but balance each other out in this unique and special way. Not many couples can spend as much time together as they do and still enjoy each other, but they do spend most of their time together and really truly seem to still enjoy each moment. I have never heard either one of them speak an ill word towards the other publicly or nag or pick at each other. They are life companions that not only love each other, but like each other too. They actually inspire me to love my husband better.” – Heather

“As a couple, Summer and Dan are so loving. I hope one day to find that kind of love – you can honestly see how much they love one another. Between their weekly Facebook hacks, their adorable hashtags, or the simplicity of their nightly walks, you can just see a level of love that many couples don’t seem to have. I admire the two of them so much. Throughout their hardest times they have been there for each other.” – Kaylee

“Most kids look to their parents’ marriage to understand love and what relationships are supposed to look like. They model their own love stories based on what they see growing up. I didn’t have that. I had Summer and Dan to look to to understand what love was about and how relationships should be. I feel so lucky to have had them for an example. This is what I believe about their love…Their love is enduring. They support each other through every up and down life has thrown at them. They really are best friends. They don’t see each other as being without fault, they embrace those faults and, rather than criticize and judge, they accept and love. They both put in the work it takes to keep their love and friendship thriving. They don’t take each other for granted. They are love.” – Kirsten

jessicakyletogetherJessica & Kyle ~ Together 3 or 4 years(ish)

Describe the first time you became aware of your partner:

Kyle – “The minute she looked at me and made eye contact.”

Jessica – “Mazatlan on Cinco De Mayo. He made me smile and I had not smiled in months. He made me laugh and I wasn’t sure I would be able to anymore. He made me feel like I was the prettiest girl he had ever seen… he is silly when he drinks and quite the social butterfly :)”


What is the best relationship advice you’ve ever received?

Kyle – “Never give up, never let it get stale.”

Jessica – “Do not go to bed mad, always communicate your feelings.”
Friends’ & Family’s thoughts on Jessica & Kyle as a couple:

“They have great teamwork and communication” – Anita

“We love their honesty. We love their admiration for one another. They support one another, and strive to GIVE to one another. We love them both, and are so happy they have found each other.” – Mandy & Aaron

“Dear Jessica and Kyle,
I am asked to write a letter to you both as a couple, which is a challenge for someone who hasn’t spent a ton of time with you both. I can really only write the letter based on the few interactions we have had when we have all been together and what I take from my conversations with Jess.
When I have been around the two of you, I notice a true connection. I see a friendship, support, and clearly a passion that exists in your relationship. I feel safe in assuming passion as you have two kids together in such a short period of time! :) It seems that you support each others loves and accept that time away from each other may make the time together more important.
Jessica, you seem to accept that Kyle has a love of the outdoors and you allow him to take the time he needs to be happy and enjoy his hobbies. Sacrificing your time together for time with another of his loves is a selfless act and demonstrates that his loves are equally as important to you. Kyle, you seem to accept that Jessica wants to grow her business on top of being a mother and wife. You allow her to take the time she needs and you support her by helping with the kids and sacrificing time with her. You have allowed her to share her gift with others at the expense of sacrificing some time with your. It is a true example of loving your wife.
You both seem to share a passion for art. You went on an adventure together to hear your favorite band. You focused on the two of you, left the kids at home, and created fun memories that can carry you through times when adventures may be limited. You identified a shared love of an artist and incorporated it into your marriage and doing something together. One of my hopes for you in your marriage is that you remember to take time out from your busy life to continue to share common loves and turn them into adventures.
Another quality I admire about the two of you is that you both display your loves in an artistic fashion on your bodies in the form of tattoos. I love this not because I love tattoos, but, because of the symbolism behind it. Jessica has symbolized just how much she loves you, Kyle. She has combined two loves together of both art and you. You know how much she loves you, people who know her know how much she loves you and her family, but she has gone as far as displaying her true loves on her body for the world to see in the form of a tattoo. She put thought into it and included symbols that translated to you and her children when displaying the verse on her arm. It’s the modern-day form of shouting her love for you from the mountaintops! It is a quality I truly admire. It is a quality that more people shouldn’t be afraid to share. It need not be in the form of tattoos but in any way that proclaims one’s love for another. Why not tell the world how much you love the person you are committed to? I am proud of you, Jessica, for sharing your love for all to see!
Kyle, you also display your love of Jessica for the world to see when anyone sees you with your kids! You nurture and love the things that a mother cherishes most. In a woman’s eyes, that is a true statement of love. You have taken on the true role of providing stability for your family and represent the wonderful qualities of what a husband should be.
The one thing I admire most about your relationship is that it is built on a foundation of love! Enjoy your journey, friends, and keep on loving each other whole-heartedly.
“They are a couple that continues to grow together, and not only are they a couple, but they are best friends. They balance each other out.” – Lanette

“To Kyle & Jessica, I love you! You are both a gift, not only to each other, but to all you know. I believe that your loyalty and love outshine the hardships and challenges that occur throughout life.” – JulieAnn

“Kyle and Jessica together have embraced each other. Together they have found in every way to enjoy life as a couple. They have found in each other the family in which they have needed to feel blessed and whole.” – Peggie

“What I love most about us is how much we laugh…there aren’t too many people who get our sense of humor and can continuously have something to laugh about. I love how we both love deeply and always remind the other of exactly how much the other means to us.” – Kyle

“As a couple we work together and rarely step on each other’s toes. We lift each other up in times of need. We both work hard to give our children the best lives we can give and then some. We spoil each other. We are understanding, supportive, caring and try hard to never go to bed mad. We are raising four small children together and haven’t killed each other or them yet…I’d say that’s doing pretty good! We are always asking how we can be better spouses, we are ever evolving as partners so we give each other what we deserve. We are very open about feelings and good at communication, for the most part. Not much gets swept under the rug or ignored here. I believe we have finally both discovered real love and we are both willing to work to make it last.” – Jessica

Tracy & Shawn ~ Together 23ish years

Describe the first time you became aware of your partner:

Shawn – “At a party I went to, she was sitting on a bed in the middle of the living room with a huge American flag that covered the whole wall behind her. I couldn’t stop gazing at her…”

Tracy – “He was brooding in a corner, confident enough to be just outside the group yet interested enough to watch.”


What is the best relationship advice you’ve ever received?

Shawn – “The Bible, when God said to love your wife like He loves the church and laid His life down for her…”
Tracy – “Don’t let the sun go down while you’re still angry.”

Friends’ & Family’s thoughts on Tracy & Shawn as a couple:

“I admire how long they have been together and how they have overcome a lot as a couple. My brother’s undying love for his wife is something every woman prays for. They have four wonderful kids and I see their parents in all of them.” – Jean

“Tracy and Shawn are a wonderful balance. I believe they take turns grounding each other in life, love and our Lord. They are both family oriented, fun-loving, caring and creative. They are a fabulous mix of fire and earth! I see Tracy as being the Fire;) and Shawn being the Earth;). I admire their strength and courage in their love, marriage and path in life. I congratulate them on their 20+ years of life and love together. They are strong good people, the best neighbors I will ever have, and my good friends!” – Margot

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and experiences, if you feel so inclined.

The reason behind the start of this project can be found here: If you don’t have anything nice to say…
previous groups can be found here:

Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, Teens!
Group 3, 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, Men!
Group 8
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Melissa & Lily)
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)






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Group 9 – Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)


in super duper excitement and anticipation of Group 10 – Couples!! happening on Sunday, I’m reblogging one from Group 9 – Moms & Daughters. And, ohmygoodnessyes, I will be finishing the blogs from Group 9. I still have seven awesome women whose stories you need to hear. I haven’t done it yet because, 1) I’m the most terrible procrastinator, 2) I procrastinate even more when I’m scared I’m not going to be able to do someone’s story the justice it deserves, 3) I’m just damn busy. I WILL get to them, however. I WILL.
For now, enjoy this one again, ’cause it’s a good one…

Originally posted on alana t photography:


(The introduction for each of these Group 9 blogs will be the same…if you’ve already read it, feel free to skip down to Caitie’s & Liz’s stories…if not, Melissa’s & Lily’s stories can be found here)

“When people tell you that raising kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, it’s an understatement.”

Those were words written in and spoken by Melissa, the first mom to share her story. Melissa had participated in Group 1 and was ready/nervous/frightened/determined to participate in this group, as she thought it would be beneficial to share the same honest and open experience with her daughter.

This project had been going on for a year and a half by the time this group took place back in June.
Every group is eye-opening, every group is relatable, every group has compelling stories that evoke much emotion.
This group was all of those things and more.
The emotion…

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are you beautiful? I asked 100 men what ‘physical beauty’ is and the results shocked me


this goes along with everything I believe in and everything that the Raw.Honest.Loved.Project is all about. Thank you, Rozanne!

Originally posted on Life is Rozie:

Tina Fey said it best in her book, ‘Bossy Pants’:

 “But I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty.
Girls wanted butts now.
Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them.
And then, what felt like moments later, boom—Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired.
And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful.
Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you.
All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful.

Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose…

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Group 9 – Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)


(The introduction for each of these Group 9 blogs will be the same…if you’ve already read it, feel free to skip down to Caitie’s & Liz’s stories…if not, Melissa’s & Lily’s stories can be found here)

“When people tell you that raising kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, it’s an understatement.”

Those were words written in and spoken by Melissa, the first mom to share her story. Melissa had participated in Group 1 and was ready/nervous/frightened/determined to participate in this group, as she thought it would be beneficial to share the same honest and open experience with her daughter.

This project had been going on for a year and a half by the time this group took place back in June.
Every group is eye-opening, every group is relatable, every group has compelling stories that evoke much emotion.
This group was all of those things and more.
The emotion involved this night was the most intense of any yet.
Why? Because being a mom is an emotional roller-coaster that none of us are really fully prepared for. And most of the time, we’re not all talking about the tougher side of motherhood.
We’re not talking about how much anxiety it can cause.
How isolating it can often be.
We’re not talking about how sometimes being a mom fucking sucks.
How much we question every. single. step. that we take.
We talked this night about all of it. We talked about the mistakes we’ve made. We talked about where we think we may have done things right. We talked about so many things.

***The mom with the son and daughter whom she feels she’s failed. She never wanted kids anyway…is that wrong?? Is it wrong to vocalize??

***The mom who had to work full-time to support her alcoholic, drug-abusing husband, who had to leave their daughter there to care for him at these times because there seemed to be no other option. Who watched her daughter not get to experience a real childhood…did she totally screw up?? Will her daughter be okay??

***The mom who has always cared too much about others’ feelings toward her, who feels she has set a bad example for her teen daughter, especially in respect to men. Who became a victim of abuse and stayed…did she completely fail her daughter with that example, even though she finally left?? Will her daughter make the same mistakes??

***The mom who experienced tragedy and powered through, seemingly stoic. Who has always been the pillar, the strong one on the outside…should she have shared more?? Should she have cried in the open more??

***The mom who never feels like she’s enough, who has also experienced tragedy and loss you and I could not imagine experiencing. Has she been too emotional?? Is she setting the right example??

***The mom who felt like a huge failure simply from stepping into that role too young, who is always trying to live up to expectations of someone she’ll never be able to actually get approval from. Is he proud of her?? Did she work hard enough??

I promise you that you will relate to at least one of these stories.
We all seem to have these thoughts running through our heads. We compare ourselves to everyone else. There are often overwhelming feelings that the other moms are, simply, just doing it better. ‘They’re not possibly almost losing their shit as we feel like we are…they’ve got it together. WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?!’
And then you sit down and talk to a few of them and there’s a big “A-HA!” moment – we’re all the same. We’re scared. We’re exhausted. We’re scraping by. We’re overwhelmed. We’re insecure. We’re desperate for some validation that we’re each doing, at least, ‘alright’.

This particular group came about because, not just do we need some solidarity as moms, but, we need some as moms raising daughters. The mother-daughter dynamic is one of the most influential (and just happens to be the one we’re talking about this time). Our daughters most often learn from us what it means to be a woman. A father can see his daughter as separate from himself, but, this can be much more difficult for a mother. In my own experience, my mothering of my daughter versus my son differs in ways I often wish it wouldn’t. Affection comes much easier with my son, especially now that my daughter is a teenager. Do I think this is because of my own relationship, or lack thereof, with my own mother growing up (more on that and the mother/daughter dynamic here)? Because of the lack of affection that went on in my own childhood home? Definitely. I often simply do not know how to show affection to my daughter. It feels so foreign. And it KILLS ME. It’s the number one thing I wish I could change in our relationship. I am her biggest cheerleader and her main advocate in all things – I will take on the world for/with her, but it’s difficult to give her a hug. WHAT?! Crazy, I know. Which is why I had my daughter (14) join us this evening as well. We could relate to so much of what was said. We needed to talk this stuff through also.

It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the similarities in insecurities between the mothers and daughters. I watched the pattern as all of their write-ups came through to me in the days before…and it made me cry. We pass these things on to our daughters (maybe our sons, too. probably our sons, too.) without even realizing it. It’s devastating. The recognition on each of these moms’ faces when realizing how similar their daughters’ insecurities are to theirs…it was a very shocking and enlightening moment. A teaching moment. Where maybe we didn’t realize this before…we thought we weren’t vocalizing these things…if we’re not vocalizing them, it’s okay, right?? Seems to be wrong. We, as their moms, are the number one influence on how our daughters feel about themselves. Our kids are sponges, not just of our words, but, most definitely of our actions. And, really, not all of this can be helped. We can’t just be these super shiny examples of doing everything perfectly, that’s just not realistic. But, we can be aware. This made us aware. I know it taught me to share. I already share quite a bit and try to do so at appropriate times with my daughter, regarding different experiences in life, but, it was emphasized even more to me how important it is. Being “real”, being honest, is vital.

I’m breaking this group up into blogs of each mother/daughter duo (or grandma/mother/daughter trio, in one case) in the order of the evening, for the sake of telling each of their stories in a less overwhelming package. The most important things that were said this evening were the things said in-between what had been written. There was so much conversation that went into much more detail. So, I will be including a bit of that with each mother/daughter story. Hopefully, this will give each woman the chance she deserves to have her experience told…as a mother…as a daughter…together.
(links to previous groups can be found at the bottom of the page)

Liz & Caitie

Group 9_CaitieIns

Caitie ~ Being in 8th grade, at a rich private school, while on a scholarship can be very difficult. I accepted a scholarship and started attending (name omitted for privacy) school this year. This was a big change in my life that I am still struggling with today. I always feel compared to the other girls in ways of money, looks, and many more things. But one thing in particular that always gets me down is how I look. I have transformed SO much in the past two years. I have lost over 40 pounds, I have gotten contacts and my braces off, I have grown taller, I have grown more mature. Even through this transformation, I have gained confidence, but I still don’t have as much as I should. Everyday I look at myself in the mirror and say: “You aren’t good enough. You are too fat and ugly to be loved.” I think, “People should pick on you at school; you deserve it. You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you.” Some days I don’t want to eat because I want to be skinny. This is not how I want to live my teenage years. I need to have better friends in my life, and find good people to surround myself with more often. I need a change.”

Caitie’s friends and family –

“Dear Caitlin,
I’ve know you for a long time and Girl Scouts was a great time for us, and a great time for me to make a new friend. That friend was you – a quirky, fun, caring, and most definitely outgoing girl! I’ve had lots of good memories with you and I hope we can always make more! I admire your snappy attitude and your way of entertaining and interacting with people. You’re an all around nice, talented and smart girl. I hope we can stay friends and I hope you stay just the way you are.
Your Friend,
Paige :)

“Caitlin, you’ve been my friend for many years and I’m very thankful for that. Even through our ups and downs you’ve proven to me that you’re a strong, inspiring, beautiful girl that never gives up. You’re a fighter, who will push through anything that stands in your way of your dreams and will do anything for anyone no matter what. Never be insecure about who you are. And don’t ever change to be someone else. I love you for YOU <3 “ – Isa

“Caitlin is a smart, honest, fun, outgoing girl. I have always loved being around my best friend, but she is not really my best friend…she’s more like my SISTER! I love her so much and don’t know what my life would be like without her. It’s hard to have a long-distance friendship but if you have to, it can work out in your favor.” – Hailey

“Dear Caitie,
You are very funny. You have always been a good friend to me and helped me through any problems I have had. I am very happy I can count on you and you’ll be there because that is what friends are supposed to do. You are very independent and a strong person who has been through a lot but you still keep your head up and a smile on your face.
From Ashley”

“My lovely daughter. You amaze me. I see more and more glimpses of the young adult you are growing into and it makes me so excited. I know you still are holding onto being a kid, but know you will always be my kid. You are so beautiful, so funny, so strong. I love your voice, your courage – you are a natural leader and watching you find that and practice it is amazing. I’m proud to be your mama. Your growing into your own skin, and I truly believe these next 4 years will be memorable and positive for you. Be confident to be who you ARE. You are awesome baby boo. Don’t lose sight on you. Love you kiddo.” – Liz

After I take her photo, Caitie goes onto elaborate on her insecurity:

Caitie: “I’ve had troubles in the last couple of years or so with self-harm. I told my new friend at school about it. The day of graduation there was a big sleepover that I wasn’t invited to, for all the girls in my class. That girl called me from there to ask me if I was okay because they didn’t want me to cut myself again. I could hear a bunch of girls laughing in the background…”

Me: “because she shared it with them?”

Caitie: “Yeah, I trusted her with my big secrets and she told everyone. That was really hard for me…I’ve always wanted to be friends with her…one day she shared with me that she used to try to be mean to me to get me to not hang out with her anymore. It was really hard to hear – whenever she would say something mean to me or make fun of me in front of people to try to be funny or make herself look cool, I would just try to not let it get to me because I was afraid of being alone…I try to tell myself, “Why would you want these people as friends? They don’t deserve your friendship.” But, it’s hard to love yourself.”

We go on to discuss how she ended up in this situation at this private school…

Caitie: “We moved here at a time when so much was going on…my grandpa died, my dog died, my parents were getting divorced…everything happened at once, so we moved up here and I knew nobody.”

She and her mom, Liz, go on to speak about the difference in environment. How friendships came easily to Caitie in her former school, but, now that she was starting over, it was much more difficult. How hard it is to insert yourself into a new school where these kids have all grown up together, where they already have a tight bond and an already established clique. Most have been raised together since they were about three years old. They also are, for the most part, used to a different standard of living.
Caitie goes on to explain: “The worst part is that I think they didn’t even know they were doing anything wrong…When I was a kid, I didn’t really get to have a childhood because my dad did a lot of stuff that was bad and I had to take care of him and stuff and wasn’t able to be a kid. So, now I’m going through the bullying stuff and not having the same experiences as other kids is really hard. I try not to show that kind of stuff because I have different problems than they do. They complain about not getting enough money, not getting as much as they want for allowance, and I’m over here having serious trouble with my family…they don’t understand. And all of my good friends are in Vancouver.”

We go on to discuss how that likely isn’t the case – it’s not that these other kids have perfect lives, it’s just that maybe they’ve been raised to live under this guise of perfection. Hiding the real problems that may be happening at home. Smoke and mirrors. Not everything is always as it appears. 
I’ll go into more on all of this after Liz’s story, as Liz and Caitie’s stories are obviously intertwined…

Group 9_LizInsLiz – Insecure. Fear. Unloved. Alone. Unworthy. Judged. Not good enough. Needy. Spoiled. Questioning. Question my motives, question my instincts, question my abilities. Not a lack of confidence, but a doubt. A small seed of doubt. Haunting doubt. Shadow of a doubt. Doubt about my choices, my strength, my abilities, my motives. My negative shadow of self-doubt. How can I trust even myself? Fixer. People pleaser – I have sacrificed my own self to fill the doubt and that didn’t work.
Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of ME. My desires, my hopes, my values, my instincts, all put aside for others for so long. Lost sight of ME – now I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Who am I and what am I about? What IS my path? Forgotten. Question everything. Am I ok? Am I a good mom? Am I worth loving? Am I someone I would want to be around? How do I create the strong, confident, balanced woman I want to be? Where do I go from here? There is a blind faith for me to be on this path. I can’t see the end of the path – but I have to trust I am finally on the RIGHT path. My reward will to be able to see someone in the mirror that I respect, someone I would want to be by my side. Someone to be proud of. I want to belong in my own skin. I want to define – shine light on – my path. Without the doubt. The doubt can stay behind.”

Liz’s friends and family –

“Elizabeth is extremely kind and giving. In some ways almost to a fault. But nevertheless it is today and what she is doing for her family now. I believe she is a forward-looking and competitive person, making today and tomorrow the best of days. She understands support and the priority of family and the responsibility of providing a nurturing and giving environment to a daughter.
She has an artistic sense and the ability see a job and produce a creative outcome. Also the organizational ability to multitask, all of theses attributes are characteristic of her parental influence.
Lastly she is a beautiful woman, who is kind and loving.” – Jack

“I love how positive she is and how smart she is…she is the total package in my life. She has been through hell and back and has made it out to a better life and continues to strive for more out of life…she isn’t narrow-viewed or close-minded and all of this in this day and age is rare.” – Adam

“Liz is a tremendously loyal, compassionate woman who is able to organize and take charge of items that require decisive leadership. Always willing and able to put in some elbow grease.
Unique, and appreciates diversity- non-judgmental.” – Eric

“Oh, my beautiful, amazing, and talented Lizzy…. The strongest woman I know. And I’m blessed to have you as my best friend. I admire your drive- when you set your mind to it- watch out world! The love and support you give, not just to your family and friends, but also to the people you don’t know. You are one of the few people I know who will drop whatever they are doing to help another. I love how you get emotional about some things… Even the ones we don’t agree on!” – Kay

“Liz always surprises with her talents, strengths, interests and passions. She, like her dad, can get intensely involved in a project, never fearing that it is something she’s never done before or that maybe it might be too hard. She has drive and ambition in abundance.
Liz has both inner and outer beauty and a style all her own, never a copycat. She is a fiercely loyal mom and has a heart of gold.” – Dianne

After taking her photo, I asked Liz if she cared to elaborate on her insecurity anymore…

Liz: “Um, this (the group) has just come at a really good time. I’m glad this is here.”

Caitie speaks to her mom: “When you say you have self-doubt and you doubt you’re able to be loved or be a good mom, that just blows my mind. Through my dad being an alcoholic and a drug addict and not being there for us…through going through divorce and being alone, you’ve always been there for me and you put a smile on your face and you just figure out how to put your stuff aside and not care for yourself. You care for me and grandma and everybody else – you put us first before you and sometimes you forget to take care of yourself. How could you think that you aren’t a good mom? I don’t understand why you would think that about yourself. It makes me feel bad that you feel that way.” 

Liz, to Caitie: “I’m sorry. It tears me up that you …I worked so hard to get you into that school because I thought you needed some structure and needed a smaller place to thrive…”

Caitie: “I’ve always felt that because I didn’t have a good experience there…that I failed you because you worked so hard to get me in, like it was all for nothing…”

Liz: “but then I feel like I failed YOU because I put you in a place that tore you apart socially…and getting you out of that situation with your dad, I feel guilty that I didn’t do that soon enough – you missed your childhood – because I didn’t have enough guts to get us out. That haunts me. I carry that with me because I wasn’t strong enough.”

Caitie goes on to talk about how Liz had no choice. How she had to work because they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to survive. How it wasn’t her mom’s fault. How she did what she had to do.

Ugh. Right?
I think that was the overwhelming feeling. Especially for us moms.
We really felt for Liz here.
To hear your kid tell you that it’s okay that you made the difficult choices that you made…that even though it may have been extremely tough on them in some ways, they’re okay.
They’re okay because you enabled them to survive.
And YOU survived.
You may not have done everything perfectly along the way, but, you worked with the situation you had. You may wish you could have changed a million things, but, you can’t go back. You can’t fix it all, but, what you’ve strived to fix has been worth it.

At this point, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room. We all had experienced a bit of emotional exhaustion through all of this heavy conversation…and we were only four stories in!

What mom (dad, too, I’m sure) can’t relate to the feelings of guilt? At least on some scale.
Here was Liz looking at her life – feeling guilty that Caitie had been in and out of hospitals with her father when he overdosed, that Caitie had to be the one to care for him at home, as he was in no position to be caring for his family at that time. Feeling guilty that she had to be out of the home on business trips, that she had to take time away from home in order to provide for her family. Feeling guilty that she couldn’t just get her daughter out of that situation. Feeling guilty for not leaving. And then, when she did leave, feeling guilty for not leaving sooner. After that, she provides what she thinks will be a more comfortable life for Caitie and ends up feeling guilty for the way Caitie is treated in this new environment straight out of the ‘Mean Girls’ movie. Suffice it to say, she probably even felt guilty for admitting in this group that she felt guilty for all of this. Aaaaaaa!

This was all obviously incredibly intense. But, seeing the communication, seeing the honesty that was being put forth in this group…it was beautiful. Mothers and daughters were having conversations that maybe they’re not accustomed to having. Conversations that, however hard they may be to have, were obviously necessary. It was important for the daughters here to see the honesty. They’ve seen their moms always put up the strong front. A tough exterior – one that can handle it all.

Honestly, that feels like what we’re doing as moms at least 75% of the time, doesn’t it? We’ve got our strong shells and our kids often don’t see the cracks. They don’t see the tears behind closed doors. They don’t see us awake at night questioning countless parenting decisions we’ve made. The things we could have said differently, the extra bit of patience we wish we could have had, the hug we wish we could’ve slowed down and given them as opposed to the snapping at them that we did instead…and on and on and on.

There was such a comfort in this group. To have our kids see the raw bits of us – the reality of being a mother.
To hear from them that, no matter how you may question yourself, no matter how often you do this, your kids see a you that you don’t.
They see the stronger version of you.
They don’t see that this may be a bit of a facade you are protecting them with.
They see you in ways you don’t even realize.
The fragility that you may feel is enveloped in a love that presents itself as a strong, safe refuge for them.

That’s the mom you are.

***on a side note, I must include some information about a situation that happened in relation to Caitie when the photos from this night went up on Facebook. I had previously warned the ladies in this group that people can often be quick to make assumptions about what they’ve written when it’s compartmentalized into such a small space as a word or so on a chalkboard. I’m so glad I warned them of this, as that’s exactly what happened the very next day. One of Caitie’s former teachers contacted her and told her, and I quote: “Your post is humiliating garbage,” “You should take it down. People who really care about you will not give any attention to it.”
Caitie went on to attempt to explain this project to her, letting her know that her and Liz were extremely happy with the evening and what it did for them. Her teacher went on to basically say that Facebook isn’t the place for this.
I disagree. The point of this project is to encourage LESS judgment, MORE relating. Definitely MORE compassion. The reason it is posted on Facebook is because, well, Facebook is where the people are. And Facebook is what has encouraged this project along. It is because these raw and honest stories are shared with you, the public, that people take a minute to think a little deeper. To pause before judgment. To show love and empathy. To evaluate relationships. I get messages all the time in this regard. What I don’t get are messages saying what this teacher did…that this sort of thing is “humiliating garbage.”
Caitie was also told, “You are a child. Your mother needs to take you to the museum, a movie, ice cream. You do not need more drama and adult stuff.”
Hey, guess what? Caitie’s not a child. She’s a teenager. A young adult. She just entered high school. She is faced with very real, very adult issues every day. She was faced with these adult issues as a child. Now that she has the capacity to process these things, they should just be avoided? She should go have some ice cream? See a movie? Play with a Barbie too, maybe? No. She’s not three. THIS. IS. LIFE. We’d do well to acknowledge that and guide her through it. Not stifle conversation.
I let Caitie know that I would love for this teacher to contact me and that maybe I could dispel whatever was making her so “concerned” about Caitie’s involvement in this project (though, the fact that Liz, HER MOTHER, deemed it something they should do should have been enough). Her response was that she would not be contacting me, that she ‘respects her own credentials’ and that I am ‘a freaking photographer. Not even a psychologist. WOW.’
Yep. I am a photographer. Even a freaking photographer. Not a psychologist. Not a psychiatrist. Not a therapist. Not even a counselor. But, here’s the thing…I’ve never attested to be any of those. I do this project because it facilitates conversation. This is something anyone can do. I don’t give out answers. I encourage discussion. That is all. Not that I needed to answer to that…anyone who’s been in a group can attest to what it is that goes on.
Let’s keep this stuff positive.
Encourage each other. Promote discussion. Be there. Be loving.
This project is here to benefit others. And that’s the general response. I hope you find that to be the case in at least some form.
Much love, Alana***

…look out soon for the next story: Jennifer & Gwendolyn. A story about looking for approval, about wanting to be liked, about dealing with abuse…

Please comment and share your thoughts and experiences, if you feel so inclined.

the reason behind the start of this project can be found here: If you don’t have anything nice to say…
previous groups can be found here:

Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, Teens!
Group 3, 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, Men!
Group 8
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Melissa & Lily)


Group 9 – Moms & Daughters! (featuring Melissa & Lily)


“When people tell you that raising kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, it’s an understatement.”

Those were words written in and spoken by Melissa, the first mom to share her story. Melissa had participated in Group 1 and was ready/nervous/frightened/determined to participate in this group, as she thought it would be beneficial to share the same honest and open experience with her daughter.

This project had been going on for a year and a half by the time this group took place back in June.
Every group is eye-opening, every group is relatable, every group has compelling stories that evoke much emotion.
This group was all of those things and more.
The emotion involved this night was the most intense of any yet.
Why? Because being a mom is an emotional roller-coaster that none of us are really fully prepared for. And most of the time, we’re not all talking about the tougher side of motherhood.
We’re not talking about how much anxiety it can cause.
How isolating it can often be.
We’re not talking about how sometimes being a mom fucking sucks.
How much we question every. single. step. that we take.
We talked this night about all of it. We talked about the mistakes we’ve made. We talked about where we think we may have done things right. We talked about so many things.

***The mom with the son and daughter whom she feels she’s failed. She never wanted kids anyway…is that wrong?? Is it wrong to vocalize??

***The mom who had to work full-time to support her alcoholic, drug-abusing husband, who had to leave their daughter there to care for him at these times because there seemed to be no other option. Who watched her daughter not get to experience a real childhood…did she totally screw up?? Will her daughter be okay??

***The mom who has always cared too much about others’ feelings toward her, who feels she has set a bad example for her teen daughter, especially in respect to men. Who became a victim of abuse and stayed…did she completely fail her daughter with that example, even though she finally left?? Will her daughter make the same mistakes??

***The mom who experienced tragedy and powered through, seemingly stoic. Who has always been the pillar, the strong one on the outside…should she have shared more?? Should she have cried in the open more??

***The mom who never feels like she’s enough, who has also experienced tragedy and loss you and I could not imagine experiencing. Has she been too emotional?? Is she setting the right example??

***The mom who felt like a huge failure simply from stepping into that role too young, who is always trying to live up to expectations of someone she’ll never be able to actually get approval from. Is he proud of her?? Did she work hard enough??

I promise you that you will relate to at least one of these stories.
We all seem to have these thoughts running through our heads. We compare ourselves to everyone else. There are often overwhelming feelings that the other moms are, simply, just doing it better. ‘They’re not possibly almost losing their shit as we feel like we are…they’ve got it together. WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?!’
And then you sit down and talk to a few of them and there’s a big “A-HA!” moment – we’re all the same. We’re scared. We’re exhausted. We’re scraping by. We’re overwhelmed. We’re insecure. We’re desperate for some validation that we’re each doing, at least, ‘alright’.

This particular group came about because, not just do we need some solidarity as moms, but, we need some as moms raising daughters. The mother-daughter dynamic is one of the most influential (and just happens to be the one we’re talking about this time). Our daughters most often learn from us what it means to be a woman. A father can see his daughter as separate from himself, but, this can be much more difficult for a mother. In my own experience, my mothering of my daughter versus my son differs in ways I often wish it wouldn’t. Affection comes much easier with my son, especially now that my daughter is a teenager. Do I think this is because of my own relationship, or lack thereof, with my own mother growing up (more on that and the mother/daughter dynamic here)? Because of the lack of affection that went on in my own childhood home? Definitely. I often simply do not know how to show affection to my daughter. It feels so foreign. And it KILLS ME. It’s the number one thing I wish I could change in our relationship. I am her biggest cheerleader and her main advocate in all things – I will take on the world for/with her, but it’s difficult to give her a hug. WHAT?! Crazy, I know. Which is why I had my daughter (14) join us this evening as well. We could relate to so much of what was said. We needed to talk this stuff through also.

It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the similarities in insecurities between the mothers and daughters. I watched the pattern as all of their write-ups came through to me in the days before…and it made me cry. We pass these things on to our daughters (maybe our sons, too. probably our sons, too.) without even realizing it. It’s devastating. The recognition on each of these moms’ faces when realizing how similar their daughters’ insecurities are to theirs…it was a very shocking and enlightening moment. A teaching moment. Where maybe we didn’t realize this before…we thought we weren’t vocalizing these things…if we’re not vocalizing them, it’s okay, right?? Seems to be wrong. We, as their moms, are the number one influence on how our daughters feel about themselves. Our kids are sponges, not just of our words, but, most definitely of our actions. And, really, not all of this can be helped. We can’t just be these super shiny examples of doing everything perfectly, that’s just not realistic. But, we can be aware. This made us aware. I know it taught me to share. I already share quite a bit and try to do so at appropriate times with my daughter, regarding different experiences in life, but, it was emphasized even more to me how important it is. Being “real”, being honest, is vital.

I’m breaking this group up into blogs of each mother/daughter duo (or grandma/mother/daughter trio, in one case) in the order of the evening, for the sake of telling each of their stories in a less overwhelming package. The most important things that were said this evening were the things said in-between what had been written. There was so much conversation that went into much more detail. So, I will be including a bit of that with each mother/daughter story. Hopefully, this will give each woman the chance she deserves to have her experience told…as a mother…as a daughter…together.

(links to previous groups can be found at the bottom of the page)

Melissa & Lily ~

Group 9_MelissaInsMelissa J. ~ “What am I insecure about? So, this is my second around at this. Facing my insecurities the first time wasn’t easy. Who knew I had more skeletons in my closet?! Round 1, I spoke about my insecurities with my weight, body image and lack of self-esteem.

A major insecurity for me now is that I’m not making the right decisions when it comes to my kids. When people tell you that raising kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, it’s an understatement. I’ve tried to raise my kids with morals, values and respect. I raised my kids like my parents raised me, minus the things I thought they did wrong. What I missed was self-worth.

When my son was young, he was so confident and so happy. So I didn’t worry about him. My daughter was shy. I was so worried she would be like me, shy and afraid. So I signed her up for different classes, made her talk to people when she didn’t want to, and made her ask for things she wanted. Today, she is a confident and strong young woman. She knows who she is and I am very proud of her.

What is more painful for me is her brother. I no longer see that happy, self-assured boy and that kills me inside. He cowers and retreats when he’s challenged or questioned. He doesn’t see his value, questions his worth and the love we have for him. I don’t know where the line of being too stern or not begins and ends. How can I trust anything I say and do now if this is the result of parenting thus far? This is my biggest insecurity.”

Melissa’s friends and family ~

“One of the things I admire Melissa for is how she looks after her Mom and teaches her children to do the same. She’s a great mom, very loyal to her friends, takes good care of my son. I wouldn’t trade her.” – Evie

“She is always there to support family and friends.
She is passionate for food and culture.
She has strong opinions on what she believes and stands by them.
She is kind and caring.” – Tina

“I love how you are a great Mom – having patience, understanding, and the follow-through to enable our children to be the best well-rounded people they can be.
I love your sense of humor as we almost always are finding the humor in life.
I appreciate how you are a great daughter as you take care of your mother in a selfless, patient and loving way.
I appreciate how you always take the time to put your love into your art of cooking.
I love you for your patience with me and all of my faults.
I love how you make me want to be a better husband and father.” – Scott

Further from Melissa: “My kids think I’m this tough ass, kick-your-ass type of mom if you mess with me – part of the whole “failure” thing is sometimes I think, when it came down to it, I didn’t do it when I should have or when I needed to. And that’s part of the failing…I was raised with girls and having a son is SO different. And all of the expectations that come with having a son – and having a husband who has a son – you see that our expectations are even different…even at three, the expectations of being a man were already on my son…in hindsight, I can see where we could have made a difference, could have changed something, but it’s about moving forward from this point. Where do you go?”

We then spoke a bit about the men’s group that we did earlier this year, in which we discussed very much about that connotation of “be a man” and what that does to boys, and later, men. More on that can be found here: Group 7 – Men!


Group 9_LilyIns

Lily (age 13) ~ “My main insecurity is failure. I feel like I fail at everything. At being a good friend, keeping my grades/GPA up, meeting my parents’ expectations, personal goals, and being perfect. 

I really want to be perfect, but whenever I try to get an A, get perfectly skinny, have perfect hair, perfect anything – I always end up failing. And sometimes I’ll start to reach that goal of being perfect, but, as I said, I always end up failing for reasons that are, honestly, pretty dumb. Most times I will overthink WAY too much and beat myself up for failing and take my anger out on myself. People say that I don’t fail and I’m doing perfectly fine but I just think they are lying and I am that much of a failure that I can’t even get my friends or parents to tell the truth.”


Lily’s friends and family –

“Dear Lily, You are so beautiful and sweet and always have the cutest outfits. If anybody ever thinks otherwise then they must be crazy in the head because they don’t know who they’re dealing with. I’ll always love you!” – Abby

“They are very kind and nice and she’s pretty.” – Jaqueline

“She is a wonderful girl. She is my twin, not by blood, but by heart. We love the same things, eat the same things and do the same things. We may not see each other a lot, but what I admire most about her is that when she does something, she tries the hardest at it.” – Kaitlyn

“Lily, I love you because you are such a wonderful person inside and out. You are kind, smart and respectful. You warm my heart and make me happy and very proud.
I admire you because you are strong and brave, so much more than I was at your age. You make great decisions and choices when it comes to friends and doing the right thing. Since you were young, you have always known who you are and have done things in your own time.
You have so taught me so much, how to be a better mom, friend and person. I can’t imagine my life without you and your brother.” – Melissa

Melissa then comments about the last part of what she wrote to Lily: “The reason I say that is because I never wanted to get married or have kids, and they knew that. That’s something I told them since they were young – that I didn’t want kids. They’d then say, “Well, you didn’t want me” and I’d say, “I didn’t KNOW you. It’s not that I didn’t want YOU, I just didn’t know you.” To Lily she then says, “I just want you to know…I want you.”
~Commence hugging.~

Really, though, are we not allowed to say that? “I didn’t want kids…I got pregnant. I had kids. Originally, however, I did not want kids.” “GASP! YOU MUST BE THE WORST MOM!” No. Not the case. Why is that some sort of faux pas? Don’t we all know at least ONE woman who is a great mother but swore she’d never have kids? Who maybe was pissed and terrified and angry when she got pregnant, and still maybe is pissed and terrified and angry often as a mom, but, she’s still a great mom? You do know at least one. Even if you don’t know you do, you do. I’ve had many a conversation lately with moms who can attest to this sort of thing. I don’t think there’s anything crazy about it. There are many super insane and stressful situations I’ve had to meet in my life that don’t compare at all with the energy it takes to be an ever-present mom. When my kid (three year old son) has multiple nights on end where he awakens me several times through the night, it results in a version of myself that I find even scarier than the occasional super-hormonal version of myself. Sleep deprivation will turn any decent mother into a terrifying nightmare. There are many, many, many things that make being a mom the most rewarding job, but there are many, many, many things that make being a mom the absolute most difficult job…and a job that many, many, many moms maybe didn’t intend on signing up for. Doesn’t mean they love their children any less. As Melissa said, she didn’t know her children yet. Does she love her children more than anything else in the world? Absolutely. Would she give up being a mom now? Absolutely not. Does she sometimes still hate it? Absolutely. Is that normal? YES. So ridiculously normal. And this night gave us a chance to talk it all out. And I’m thankful to Melissa for addressing it.

…look out soon for the next story: Liz & Caitie. A story about growing up quickly, about living around substance abuse, about feeling incredibly out of place, about bullying, about starting over.

Please comment and share your thoughts and experiences, if you feel so inclined.

the reason behind the start of this project can be found here: If you don’t have anything nice to say…
previous groups can be found here:

Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, Teens!
Group 3, 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, Men!
Group 8


beginnings, thank yous, and overwhelming heart tugs.


We just had our reunion of the nine groups that have happened so far and it got me thinking about beginnings. 

This project started about a year and a half ago, in February of 2013, as merely a “thought”, more or less.
As an idea.
As a little shift from the “normal,” just to see what could come of it.
It started because, simply, I feel that communication is powerful. Conversation can breed change.
It continues because that communication has become more powerful than I ever thought possible.

As I’ve said many times over, it started because I was more and more disgusted by the gossip, slander, trash-talking that is common among women. The ONE goal I had was that the eighteen of us in that first group would walk away with a little more understanding and a little more empathy – that we would check ourselves before we think something disparaging about another person, definitely before we voice such a thing to someone else. That we would take the time to realize that, more often than not, there is SOMEthing we have in common with them – that if we took five minutes to really listen to them…to listen about things that matter…our quick-to-judge opinion would change.

The project has continued because that has definitely happened. But, that’s not all that has happened. I receive letters over and over from participants who have gained more self-respect, more self-love. Who, besides being slower to judge others, are also now slower to judge themselves. They are equipped to recall the positive traits about themselves that their loved ones believe to be their overwhelming qualities. They’re not just equipped to do it – they actually DO it.

The project continues because I also receive letters and feedback from those who haven’t even been directly involved yet – those who take comfort in the words of participants that are friends and strangers alike, finding that they’re not alone in their feelings, in their insecurities. That we’re all more and more alike than we sometimes imagine.

One of the things that has impressed me the most about this project is that every. single. time. I orchestrate/facilitate another group or ANYthing related to the project – no matter how nervous I may get – everything flows so effortlessly and easily. It tells me every time that this is what I am supposed to be doing. Things just flow and work with this because it is based in positivity. Because it is solely for building up, supporting, and loving one another.

Even when it came down to organizing a party that would consist of about 130 people – I’ve NEVER thrown a party in which I would need 130 people entertained and happy! But, as I said, because it was for the project, it just came together beautifully and perfectly.

I cannot thank enough those involved with that night.
It’s impossible.
But I’m going to try.

For those of you that didn’t get to attend, however, I will give you an idea of how the night went down, in list form.  

– 80 photos and insecurities – (every single participant) were hung on the wall
– amaaaaazing finger foods
– ridiculously delicious beer and wine
– a photo booth (SO FUN!)
– a spot for the little kids to entertain themselves
– a video that made everyone weepy
– a raffle and silent auction featuring awesome goods from small businesses in the area
– music! My favorite kind of music.
– laughter, tears, and more laughter, with an overwhelming feeling of solidarity

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The night was amazing.
I’ve said many times since that I wish I could have stepped back, taken a breath, and just listened. Just looked around and taken the whole thing in.
I didn’t really get that chance, as there were so many people who stopped me that I desperately wanted to talk to. Everyone was there because they were supporting the project. That alone gave me a constant overwhelming lump in my throat. To see so many people there, whether they have been in my life for long periods of time or short, meant the world to me.
There really are no words to accurately convey how that felt. But, I would not be far off in saying that it was one of the best feelings ever. Like falling in love with 130 people at once. Whoa.

What I can possibly state just in words: the buzz was phenomenal. The party was constant and joyous. I was told multiple times that when guests entered the building, the energy was awesome and contagious. THAT means everything went as it should.
Once again, the project was a success. And it enforced my desire to continue. So, continue I will.
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This party served as a fundraiser as well – as I know that many who attended are curious, the amount raised basically allowed me to break even as far as the cost of the party itself. So, thank you all whom were there for helping me to throw an awesome party!

I will be releasing the Group 9 – Mothers/Daughters blog in the near future, as well as a Kickstarter for the project, so that this can be something that continues as long as possible. Hopefully, this will be out sooner than I currently think. 

Now, I’d like to thank some people specifically:

Rhiannon – my right hand lady – the one who has filmed almost every single group; the one who serves as the part of my brain that is often lacking; the one who tirelessly sets up and tears down all of these things with me. You are amazing. You have my undying appreciation always.

Jamey – I could not have thrown this thing without you. No joke. Your handling of the food – organizing and creating such a delicious array of selections – brought such peace of mind to my planning. Everyone would have had to eat some Little Caesars pizza if I had been handling the food. You and your family did more than I could have ever expected. And I know you had a few other awesome helpers with you – to all of you, THANK YOU. I love you guys.

Glenna – for tirelessly lending your home time and again for us to have a meeting place. I don’t know what I would have done without you. <3 Also, a big thank you to you and Abby for more wine! 

Kt – You are just awesome. You are reliable even when you think you’re not going to be reliable. Not really sure how you do that, but you do. You have been so damn supportive of this whole thing and I appreciate all you’ve put into it. I love how our friendship has grown since the start of this. You are definitely a part of our little family now. Thank you!

Ian – THAT VIDEO. WHAT?!?! That is the most beautiful thing. I still can’t watch without crying. You are ridiculously talented and I appreciate every stressful and exhausting second you put into this for me. Thank you so very much!

Aarde, Cheryl and Alan – THAT VENUE! Seriously, you guys, THANK YOU SO MUCH! That was such a perfect place to hold this and I appreciate your kindness in providing it so very much! I don’t know what I would have done without you guys. Aarde, thank you for making it happen.

Ash – While I include you in my thank you to Jamey, you definitely need your own. You were like a machine in your assistance with food and tables and cleanup and music and and and and…so many things I know you did that probably even went unnoticed. You are a great dude. Thank you. So much.

Rosie and Jennifer – You’ve photographed various groups and shared your experiences at each of those and I couldn’t thank you enough for your support in that way. Rosie, I love the photos you’ve shared from that night. I am so thankful that you were kind enough to capture the evening for me, as I was too busy to even take it all in.

Heidi – That wine was so good! You are the biggest of champs for providing that for us. I appreciate you and Precept Wine so very much. Love you, lady.

Dylan and Austen – THAT KOLSCH! Soooooooooo good! Thank you for brewing for me and sharing the deliciousness with everyone there. I know people now can’t wait for you to get some tap room/brewery going’. Love you both. Thank you so much!

Peni – Having my best friend here for this event was just perfect in itself. The fact that you organized and helped orchestrate the raffle and silent auction to take it off my plate, that was even beyond perfect. You helped silence my crazy mind where that was concerned. Thank youuuuu!

Kristen, Ana-Elizabeth and Jen – Thank you for conquering any fears you may have had (except Kristen; you love that shit)  and speaking in front of the crowd. Your experiences still speak to me on a huge scale. You are the reason this continues. I love you guys.

Mara and Melissa – GIRLS, I would probably only have made $5 if not for you both! I cannot thank you enough for your mingling and selling and handling of money! You guys are the best. I love you long time.

All of you who donated for the auction/raffle – Melissa Huston, Peni Massure, Singe Candles, Anna Bailey, Thisisrhi, Heidi Hedge, Justin Tamminga, Dagmar Simard & Sasquatch Cinnamon Rolls, Jennifer Jones, Jamie Haskell, Becca Macdonald & Compass Rose, Mara Christensen, EarthNerd Treasures, Jake Pendle, Drollinger Designs, Kt Wright, Karla Corona & The Red Hot, Erin Stiner & Salon Parente and anyone else that my crazy brain may be forgetting…THANK YOUUUUUU GUYS SO VERY MUCH!!!!! You were essential in the raising of funds. I appreciate it sooooo much!

Jenn, Rhi, Austen, Dylan – Thank you for helping me clean up everything remaining the following day. I think I would have just sat on the floor and sobbed if I hadn’t have had your help.

To EVERYONE who donated money and contributed to raffle/auction monies, I thank you! (To Shari Kalsta and Laura Rossi who donated toward food before we even went shopping…all my love.)

If I forgot anyone, I’m so incredibly apologetic. My brain has been fried since this event and is only sort of coming back to me. You are all amazing.

TO EVERYONE: THANK YOU A MILLION TIMES FOR YOUR SUPPORT. Your support keeps this project in the forefront for me. It makes me keep going even when I think that the work is too hard – when I think of the daunting paperwork it will take to become a non-profit organization; the hours of social networking and administrative work it takes to keep this out there; the exhaustion that is super emotional and, yet, fulfilling with each group. You keep all this love and positivity as the main message for me.
You are this project.
Thank you.

Alana <3
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