2017 Live List

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I finally created my Live List for 2017!

I'm taking this idea from Kelly Jensen, who I'm sure most people have heard of.  A Live list is similar to a bucket list, but it's of more of a short-term basis and not goal-related, just living-your-life-with-joy-related.

I did something like this for my 30 Before 30 (which I finally updated for you).  I didn't cross everything off my list, but it was a nice way to get motivated to do fun things and actually LIVE my life.  I want to do another list, but instead of basing it off my birthday year, I'm going to do it based off the year.

2017 Live List!

1) Finish Online Courses: This was one of my goals for 30 Before 30, but I only finished one.  Time to do what I already paid for!  (For those who are curious, I've paid for photography, photoshop, sewing, and relationship classes.)

2) Take a Trip with Brad: We have plans to go to Texas!  Waco, too--for you Fixer Upper Fans!

3) Get Strong: I'm not allowed to run any more or do high impact exercise, but I can at least get strong.  Right?!  I'm doing more strength training/barre workouts than ever.  I want some guns!

4) Buy a Road Bike: I need to be outside and I LOVE biking (I can't say "cycling," because it sounds too pretentious).  My bike got broken last year (it was old though), so I'd love to get a legit road bike!  And I'd like to climb Mt. Diablo again, too!

5) 40 Dates with Brad: We've gotten started! 1- Manchester by the Sea; 2-

6) Read 40 Books: 1-Go Set a Watchman; 2-My Name is Lucy Barton; 3-Me Before You; (Started but didn't finish: 100 Years of Solitude; The Signature of All Things)

7) Create 3 Photo Books: I seriously need to do this.  No more excuses!  My family needs this done and I need a system, stat.

8) 10 Family Adventures: 1-Day in SF (pastries, steps, and slides); 2-Berkeley slides and thai food;

9) Go to Big Sur: This was on my last list and it didn't happen.  I really, really, really want to "go to there!"

10) Explore 3 New Places in CA: Related to the above, but I'd like to continue to explore new-to-us places where we live.

11) Go to the Temple Monthly: This might become more of an on-average thing.

12) Make 30 New Recipes: 1-Sausage Tortellini Soup; 2-Peanut Butter Cookies; 3-Enchilada Soup; 4-Lemon Tart (experimented with a recipe...);

13) Take a "Mom Day:" I did this for my 30th birthday and it was awesome!  Definitely doing this again.

14) Go on a Pastry Crawl: Two of my friends and I did this the past year and it was the best.  I'd love to eat more delicious pastries from SF!

15) Go On Five Girls Nights: I need my gals.  1-Cheesecake Factory!

16) Learn How to Watercolor: Another one on my last list.  I bought the supplies, so that's at least a start.

17) Make Another "Masterpiece:" This is related to the above, but with my acrylic paints and the canvases that Brad gave me for my birthday, the sweetie.  I did this while pregnant with Bean, and I'd like to give my artistic side another go!

18) Design a Master Bedroom: Our master bedroom is totally fine.  But I want to make it awesome! That'll likely include a new bed (and getting rid of our IKEA mattress!), and nightstands.

19) Complete 5 Home Projects: This is a giant "maybe" for some that I'd like to, like my bathroom.  But there are some smaller scale ones I know I can do, like a settee I'm in the process of fixing up and reupholstering.

20) Go on 20 Hikes: 1-Briones with Family;

21) Try 10 New Restaurants:

22) Go to the Beach 5 Times: We have some great local ones.

23) Learn how to French Braid: I stink at hair.  I'd like to help my daughter look a little less scary every day.  At least I've started brushing her hair!

24) See Ten Movies, in the Theatre: Brad and I love movies but rarely see them.  We've decided this needs to change.  Seen: 1-Manchestester By the Sea; 2-Hidden Figures;

25) Try Five New Ice Cream Places: I failed at this one miserably last year, and I want to do right by it.  Ice cream has feelings, too.

(I'll be making this a page here so you can see my progress this year!)

How to Get an Anthro Dress for Cheap

Monday, January 30, 2017

I recently did a little post on Instagram wearing a new dress, and I got a few requests about where I got it.  I felt really sheepish answering, "Anthropologie."  Because honestly, that store is ridiculously expensive and I have bought approximately three things from there, all from clearance.

This dress was no exception.  It was $40.

Let me tell you how I got it.

It was originally marked for over $200.  I saw it on clearance a few months ago when my friend and I browsed the new Anthropologie in our town. (It's giant and so, so beautiful!  They basically make you feel rich and like you have much more money than you do.)  This dress was marked down to $80, which was still too much--so I walked away.

But then I went back a few weeks later to return something else I had bought for cheap that first visit (don't you dare get anything full price!) and saw this dress.  I just had to try it on again.  And when I did, I noticed that the buttons were not attached right on the sleeves, that there were little rips that needed to be sewn in order for the buttons to work.

So I did what I usually do--I marched up to the sales counter, showed them the problem, and asked what they could do about it.  "How about another 50% off?" replied the manager.

Yep.  Sold!  That's how I left the store with this dress in hand, practically skipping to my car.

I love this dress because it has beautiful beaded detailing on the bodice, it's fitted where I like it to be (high waist!), and flows everywhere else.  Perfect for a mom bod!

A month prior, I made my first real purchase from Anthropologie doing the same thing, but this time with a shirt had some make up on it--and I got an additional 30% off the 40% off they were already doing that day for sales items.

Here are my tips for fellow fashion-lovers-who-are-cheap, but fall in love with items at fancy stores:

1) Go to the Sales Section (I know this isn't anything new...)
2) Go ONLY when they have a higher percentage additionally off the sales (I'm talking 40-50% off, minimum)
3) Find something that you love, but also needs fixing
4) ASK about it, nicely but with CONFIDENCE

The worst thing that can happen is they'll say no, and you can walk away. I've done this at J. Crew and Madewell, too.  I haven't been turned down yet.  I've returned items that I've worn a few times and washed, but that ripped (not my fault, mind you) or got too baggy, too quick at Madewell and Gap.  It never hurts to ask!

Oh, and I've returned final sale items (that say they aren't returnable) that I purchased online.  I've called a few times at J. Crew and they've graciously approved the return before I've shipped them back, but lately, I've just straight-up mailed them back without asking first because what are they going to do, ship them back to me?  (Please don't hate me, fancy stores!)

Other moms are sharing about their favorite dresses today.  Check them out!  And sign up to participate in these Mommy Style Monday series on Madeline and Kiana's blogs.

Kiana at Glitter and Donuts // Madeline at CaseyLand
Rachel at Tutus and Heels // Cayli and Nightchayde 

Design: Comfy Clean Family Room

Thursday, January 26, 2017

My friend Hannah is in the middle of a renovation.  Her "great room" is really two rooms that are now being combined together.  This room was a unique challenge for me to design for a few reasons:

1) Layout: This room needs to serve two functions and has two focal points.  As you enter the home, the first family area will be facing you as the first focal point; the other area to the right needs to be the second focal point: the entertainment wall on the right-hand side.  I couldn't accurately portray the exact layout on my design board, but still tried to convey how those two areas can function side-by-side.   Hannah's design plan has a lot more specifics about how to place things.

2) Color Scheme: My friend's husband was more particular about the color scheme than most husbands; I loved that!  I tried to work with them to do equal parts classic and comfy, but interesting.  They both really wanted greige walls, so that was our starting point. They were OK with touches of a coral-orange and plant-green; but I had to do a little convincing with accent of deep navy blue as well as small touches of black.  I think this design board accurately shows how this can be paired together.

3) Varying Needs: This room needed to be comfortable, durable, and affordable.  But it also has to be the family room, the entertainment room, a place to practice the piano, and also include a desk area with lots of storage.  I did my best to include furniture that will both last, but also be affordable; and usually multi-functional (so lots of hidden storage).

The renovation is still going on, so once Hannah has more of a completed room to show us, you'll be the first to know!

PS: If you'd like to see the actual design plan, look here.  I'm still offering a lower price of $100 to design a room for the next few clients.  If you're interested, please contact me here.

Jamie Cook || Cultivating a Life of Rich Moments

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"I believe we really are a global family . . . We all matter."

Jamie is an adventurer.  You might already know this if you follow her adventures via her Instagram, blog, and her segment on Studio 5, a popular Utah talk show.

But Jamie is also a collector of friendships.  She values people.  She seeks connection with others wherever she lives, wherever she travels.  And it really shows!

In this podcast, Jamie shares about her love of travel, how her family's foundation is centered on getting out of the house and interacting with others, and how making friends with refugees has influenced her life.

Jame also talks about what it was like to put her broadcasting career on hold to raise her four children, and what it has been like to get back in the field.  Finally, you'll hear what Jamie does to stay organized--and I think you'll love her answer!

You can listen to more about all of this on the podcast below, on iTunes, SoundCloudStitcher, Pocketcasts, Googleplay, or search for "About Progress" in your podcast apps.  If you like the show, please subscribe!!

Show Notes:
Jamie's blog, Instagram, and family blog
Monica's contact pageInstagram, and Facebook
More Information on "Do Something"
Other Podcast episodes you can listen to
Song credit: "Sweet Promise" by Nicolai Heidlas

Power of Moms

Monday, January 23, 2017

Have you heard of Power of Moms?  If not, you need to put it on your list of things that uplift, empower, and even entertain you.  I have found so many incredible resources through this organization--most of them free--that has helped me grow as a mother.

I recently got an essay published on their site and I would love it if you could check it out!  I wrote a post earlier this year on this topic, but really improved it before I submitted it to them.  I speak about how surprised I was when motherhood felt so unnatural for me and how I've learned to deal with that and learn that motherhood is about BECOMING, not just being.  (It'll make more sense one you read it!)

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for your support.


Katie Cheesman || Harnessing the Power of Listening

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Katie Cheesman loves old people and clouds.

That's at least how she introduces herself!  (Don't you love her already?)  Katie is also a mother, nurse, photographer and videographer.  She paired her talents and interests together into the perfect creation, The Listening Ear Project, where she shares her WONDERFUL interviews with the elderly, whom she calls her "closest friends."

The Listening Ear Project is full of interviewees you touch and inspire you--most definitely--but also people who make you laugh and teach you to better appreciate the fun in life.

In this podcast, I speak with Katie about what led her to start this project, how as a nurse she learned the power of listening to help heal her patients, and why being friends with the elderly and sharing their stories is her passion.  We also speak about how hard it can be to establish an audience on social media that is centered around appreciating old people, but why Katie thinks all the time, energy, and money she invests in this project is well worth it and has truly changed her life.

Katie is lovely, funny, and open.  She is equal parts creative and driven, and Katie also often deals with the negative effects of being too hard on herself.  She shares how she tries to combat that pressure to be perfect.  Katie will inspire you to take a moment to listen to others, and recognize the special need to better see and appreciate the elderly people in your life.

You can listen to more about all of this on the podcast below, on iTunes, SoundCloudStitcher, Pocketcasts, Googleplay, or search for "About Progress" in your podcast apps.  Please subscribe!!

Show Notes
The Listening Ear Project website and Instagram
Katie's Instagram and Blog
Monica's Instagram, Facebook, and contact page
Past podcast episodes mentioned: Meg Miles; Aubrey Greenan
Song Credit: "Sweet Promise" by Nicolai Heidlas

Winter Activities For Your Crazy Kids

Monday, January 16, 2017

We are smack-dab in the middle of winter here in Northern California.  Which for us means a LOT of rain, the type of rain where your streets become flooded and your walls of your house get more cracks due to the shifting soil.

I know, I know--I'm seriously lucky that I don't have to deal with the snow!  I will say though, that the humid-cold here is very different than the dry-cold I grew up with in Utah.  When it's in the low 40s here, it seriously feels like the low teens in Utah and I visibly shake like the dickens as soon as I go outside in my light-weight down coat.

So, when it's "cold" (don't make fun of me!) and VERY, very wet and we don't feel like going to a museum or a library, here are some of our favorite things to do at home to prevent our kids from going crazy.  Or me, which is also important . . .

1) Tent/Fort time!  We gave our kids this teepee (but in gray) last Christmas and it's a favorite, but any little fort will do.  My daughter, in particular, likes to bring in lots of pillows into our fort and toys and play in quiet solitude for hours.  It makes being inside, playing, and reading books feel a little special instead of the same-old, same-old.

2) Puzzles!  We love puzzles, but I go in phases of remembering our love of them, ha!  When the weather's cold though, these are life savers.  We have big puzzles like this one (a favorite!) that are great for the older two, but we also have smaller wood block ones that my 18 month old is a huge fan of.

3) Bake!  When in doubt, we bake.  It's just who I am, and my kids love to "help."  (It's always a lesson in patience for me, though.)

4) Write Notes!  My kids love to draw, but giving them a purpose makes them more excited about it.  They can color or paint away, but then they dictate what they want me to write on their project and we send them off in the mail to an unsuspecting friend or family member.  It's a win-win for everyone involved!

5) Furniture-Gym!  Yep.  I let them play on our furniture.  We live in a 1,200 sq ft house.  When we've done all of the above activities, I am more than happy to let my kids go back and forth, back and forth between the sofa and the sturdy arm chairs.  It wears them out and makes them happy, and our furniture is going to fall apart at some point anyway.  (I, however, am not nice enough to let them eat on the furniture though, and I draw the line at jumping up and down like trampolines . . . )

What do you do with your kids to help during those dreary winter months?  Please share in the comments!

Other moms are sharing some of their tips today as well.  You can see those below!  And if you'd like to sign up to participate in a series like this one, do so at Madeline and Kiana's blogs.

Kiana at Glitter & Donuts // Madeline at CaseyLand
Shani at Sunshine & Munchkins // Britt at My Little Sunshine
Rachel at Tutus and Heels // Noelia at You Can Call Me Noe
Jen at Jam Tart Boutique // Michelle at The Mumsy Blog
Kahana at A Beautiful Life // Rose at Babies & Bluejeans

My "Mantra" and a Few Goals for 2017

Friday, January 13, 2017

My goals for 2017 ended up being a list of 30+.  So, it's fitting that my "mantra" for this year is PRIORITIZE. For me, this means putting first things first.  

I am sure that I am not the only one who struggles with this, how we allow something that doesn't matter that much take up the time for something that matters more.  Sometimes, much more.

When I procrastinate, I usually just fill up my "busyness" with things that shouldn't take as high a priority.  We are all so SO busy, but it really is a choice what we get done each day and how we prioritize what we ultimately focus on.  That's why I want to refocus and make sure I am spending my time more on the things that matter most to me each day--including what is more needful of getting done--and doing this things first.

So, I did my best to prioritize that long list of goals and narrow them down to the three most important areas (which you can see in my above photo).  I already shared how I plan on improving my parenting.  Today, I'd like to spend this post talking about my two other big goals.

1) Monetize Blog/Podcast: There.  I said it.  I need money in order to make these ventures worthwhile of the great time I invest into them both daily.

I love both.  They have equally held value in my life that surpasses money. But these are not cheap hobbies.

Blogging isn't as bad--I only have to pay for my site server.  But podcasting?  Well, that has been a beast.  I have monthly subscriptions to all kinds of things to keep that thing running, let alone the equipment that I needed in order to get started in the first place.  (Same goes with interior design.)

I love these "passion projects" so, so much.  But in order to make them worth the stress, emotional energy, and endless hours they require to produce, I at least want to break-even.  Seriously--that's my goal.  If I can get them to pay for themselves by the end of the year, I feel that it will be worthwhile for me to continue.

Here's the rub though: I still want to stay true to my original purpose behind starting both: sharing goodness, encouraging progress, being real.  If I take on a sponsor (I foresee this happening more with the podcast than the blog, honestly), then it will be something that is related to my purpose.  I will NEVER take something on because they involve free products or dollar signs.  That is just not in alignment with what my blog/podcast are about.  I can't say, "LOVE YOURSELF!" one day, and then sell a fat-shrinking supplement the next.

But I can see my linking to Audible, sharpies (got to make those goal posters), or other related things. I have no idea what those things are yet (clearly!), but this is the year to figure that out and get these hobbies at least paying for themselves.  The "How" here?

a) Stay consistent (posting 3Xweek on the blog, weekly for the podcast)
b) Build a bigger audience (which entails actually trying to learn the Instagram game)
c) Create good content that people connect with

2) Increase Faith: If you've read some of my faith posts the past year, then you know this is a work-in-progress for me.

Not to toot my own horn here, but I'm pretty darn consistent about reading my scriptures and conference talks, praying, and fairly good at regularly attending the temple.  These habits are pretty hard-wired into my make up.

However, my problem as of the past few years is the lack of hope I carry behind these practices.

I want to make this the year where I really buckle down in my spiritual focus and build a surer foundation to back up my decisions.  My biggest hope I carry with this goal is to feel like I'm in a two-way conversation with my Heavenly Parents, so that involves being worthy of receiving guidance from Them via the Holy Ghost, and recognizing that guidance (that's a toughie for me!).

My "How?"

a) Direct my spiritual study to learning more on the topic, "personal revelation"
b) Read other spiritual books that build up my faith
c) Write in my journal consistently (and briefly!) to record my spiritual journey, any promptings I felt like I received, and as a sort of meditation

There you have it!  I'd love to hear what goals you have prioritized this year!  Please do share.

Lucy Siale || Moving towards unapologetic self-acceptance

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Have you ever met a teenager who you felt sure would change the world?

Lucy Siale is that teen to me.

Lucy might be just 16 years old, but she has the wisdom and power of someone much, much older.  Lucy is a poet, writer, activist, singer, among other things, and above all she is a champion of acceptance of others.  But for many dark years, Lucy could not accept herself.

When you see Lucy's social media feed, she is powerful, real, and unapologetic.  When you see her in real life, she is all that but also warm, inviting, open, and kind.  Lucy is both of these, and she is this way for a reason.

In this podcast, Lucy shares her hard life experiences that created a young teen full of self-hatred and doubt, and one ridden by an obsessive drive of perfectionism.  She describes the terrible lows she one through as a result, as well as the turning points toward her reclaiming her life.

Lucy's fight for activism is her way of reclaiming the things life took away from her; it's her way of reclaiming that for others.

(PS: you've got to stick around to hear her life-changing poem at the end.)

You can listen to more about all of this on the podcast below, on iTunes, SoundCloudStitcher, Pocketcasts, Googleplay, or search for "About Progress" in your podcast apps.  Please subscribe!!

Show Notes
Lucy's Instagram
My "Do Something" podcast episode
More information on "Do Something"
My Instagram and Facebook--contact me and share what you are up to while listening, or what your "Do Something" is and how it is going!

Did you like this podcast?  SUBSCRIBE and listen to more podcasts here.
Song Credit: "Sweet Promise" by Nicolai Heidlas

Guest Post: On Fear and Serving, by Christine Hill

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

For this week's "Do Something," I have a great guest post from Christine Hill.  

Christine is a professional writer and an avid reader who’s passionate about storytelling in all its forms. At any given moment, she’s in the middle of at least three books on anything from human psychology to ninjas. Although she’s a marathon swimmer and enjoys camping in the mountains, she believes there’s nothing better than a carton of ice cream and a Dawson’s Creek marathon. You can see some of her professional writing here.

I need to talk to her about some swimming tips . . . Enjoy her wonderful writing!

Last month, my church started an initiative to spread the Christmas spirit by serving more every day. Like many others, I took up that challenge. And in the course of it, I’ve learned one important thing about service:

It’s scary.

Isn’t that crazy? I used to think the main reason that I didn’t serve others as much as I should was limited time. Or maybe it was selfishness. Maybe just being blind to the needs of others. Nope. It’s fear. Well… probably about 90%.

So, when I started the month of service, I was tempted to weight a lot of my personal service projects towards things that I was comfortable with: reaching out to family and friends when they need help, cleaning the house for my roommates, cheering up a kid in line in front of me. Even giving blood… I’m not scared of that needle at all.

But I quickly realized that in order to be truly effective at serving this month, I’d have to reach outside of my comfort zone. So I signed up for a shift at the soup kitchen.

I know! That shouldn’t be so scary. Most people have done it at least once. And the organization is already set up. I don’t have to be in charge. But years of paranoia of walking alone on a city street has made me hesitant to reach out to those who need help the most--people who are literally on the street during the coldest part of the year, in need of the most basic things: food, shelter, health. I think so much of the fear originates from the idea that people on the fringes of society are dangerous, and other. I don’t think I’m the only one who sometimes has a hard time seeing a brother or a sister in the homeless person on the corner. But I was ready for that to change.

So, I went to the soup kitchen. Alone. Here’s how it went:

The first stage was navigating the city streets on the “bad” side of town to find a parking spot that I’d feel comfortable walking to and from in the dark. After circling the block 4 times, I realized that there was gated parking right next to the building, watched over by security guards. I asked them where I could park and they directed me right in.

The next stage was going in, getting oriented and assigned a post. The place looked a lot like a school cafeteria, but a bit smaller. Helpers in the kitchen were put in charge of a sort of gumbo made of hot dogs, squash, and carrots. I’ve never been comfortable surrounded by strangers, but I decided to quickly make a friend with at least one helper there. I was lucky enough to end up right next to a friendly mother and her teenage son, who were there to fulfill the son’s required volunteer hours for school. We commiserated over the terrible hairnets and the general feeling of awkwardness. Luckily, awkwardness was quickly dispelled by the head chef, who efficiently bundled us into our positions and put us at ease with crass but jovial humor. I manned the giant thermos, dispensing hot chocolate along with three other helpers at the back of the dining room.

The doors opened at 5:30, and for the next hour, we were rapidly pouring hot chocolate, greeting diners, and tossing trash away. For the most part, I was too busy to feel awkward or out of place again. I tried to smile at everyone who met my eye, and about half of the people who approached smiled gratefully back. Honestly, all the diners were a lot more comfortable with the routine in that cafeteria than most of the volunteers.

During the course of the next hour, one person collapsed and had to be checked over by a nurse and then taken away by paramedics. One person had to be kicked out by the security that was on hand. And one person got sick, and some extra volunteers had to clean it up. Pretty much, all the things that I was kind of scared of happening… happened. And it wasn’t a big deal. There were people on hand who had experience to deal with it. And the work of getting meals to as many people as possible continued. The kitchen served about 500 meals. Towards the end of the hour and a half that the kitchen was open, things slowed down a bit. That’s around when the only kids I’d seen all night came in. Since the pace had slowed down, I was able to talk with them a bit. One child had red eyes, and looked like he’d thrown a tantrum before they came that night. The mother looked so tired. But when I teased the little girl about her piece of cake, I was able to make both her and her mother smile.

I didn’t have any life-shattering, heart-warming moments. But I noticed something really important as I was leaving. First of all, working in the soup kitchen just wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. So many things aren’t when you just go ahead and get it done. Second of all, as I drove away through streets populated with homeless people, that wasn’t as scary as it had been earlier in the night, either. Having seen most of them sitting down and eating in a cafeteria earlier, having handed them cups of hot chocolate and greeted them with a smile, it was a lot easier to see faces and people. Brothers and sisters.

During a fresh reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan, I noticed something that I hadn’t before. We often picture the Samaritan as someone in complete control of the situation the whole time. But why do you think that those first two travelers passed the beaten-up man on the side of the road in the first place? Bandits were common on certain stretches of road. Using a beaten-up decoy as a distraction in order to easier accost and rob travelers was probably pretty common. That Samaritan could have been risking his life and health as he stopped and bent to help the unfortunate traveler. For the first time, I realized that fear keeps us from being the people that God needs us to be.

Fear should never keep us from answering a call for help. How many excuses can you think of to not give money to someone on the street? To ignore the sounds and signs of domestic abuse in the neighborhood? To not talk to the stranger who looks like he or she needs a friend?

I came away from the experience with a deeper resolve to serve outside of my comfort zone. For example, I've been learning more about addiction and how much it's fueled by isolation. And I've learned that Utah, where I live, is home to some of the worst overdose rates, but it's also hometo some cool new legislation that tries to counter it. They actually call them good samaritan laws, you can learn more about those here. I've also been learning more about domestic and dating violence, wha you can do to help prevent it, and how you can help someone in that situation by doing things like making a personalized safety plan. What's amazing is that in the process of learning more about this, I've also discovered that more of my friends struggle with these problems that I had thought, and I'm more able to help through understanding an area that used to feel really scary to me. When you step outside of your comfort zone, you find completely new opportunities to serve, and amazingly, you usually find yourself up to challenge. It doesn't take much to make a big difference and offer that connection that so many people need.


Christine, thank you so much for sharing your experience!  I am sure you are not the first person to be afraid of serving outside of your comfort zone, and I feel so encouraged by what you learned from it!

What service have you done lately that scared you?  How did it go?

WHY I Stick with my Faith

Monday, January 9, 2017

Today's post is a continuation of this post, in which I shared a Cliff Notes version of my faith crises (yes, that's plural) and my eventual choice to stick with my faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I'm really grateful to all the people who read that post with much kindness in their heart, and for those who reached out to me and who continue to do so.  It is because of that latter group in particular--those with big faith struggles themselves--that I wanted to address more of the WHY and the HOW behind my choice to stick with my Mormon faith.

Today is the WHY, next week will be the HOW.

Two disclaimers:
1) My choices are well-thought out (to exhaustion, actually!), but they're not yours.  For some people, they don't even need to think about the why/how of keeping their faith; it's simple for them and they are probably alarmed by how my mind works.  For others, their faith struggles are even more complicated than my own and they have made different decisions that have felt right for them.  Just because I have come to my own conclusions doesn't mean I think everyone else needs to land in the same place as me, nor does it mean that I label others as being either "apostates" or, alternatively, people of "blind, ignorant  faith."  I can't judge the level of someone's faith--that's between them and their God.  But I do hope that if others see that my choice is even an option, that they'll open that spot in their heart to consider sticking with their faith (regardless of denomination).

2) Just because I have made this choice to stay active in my faith, it doesn't mean my faith is now simple or easy.  I still struggle.  I still have huge doubts and frustrations.  I still hope for more openness and changes in my church culture and some doctrines.  I still really, really feel like the heavens are closed to me no matter what I do, which often make me feel ALL THE FEELINGS.

That being said, my ability to stick with my faith has been made much easier because I finally made a definite choice on it.  I feel like there is more hope in my heart than there has been for some time, and more openness to receiving answers however big or small.  Also, there is a lot less self-blame regarding my feelings and my seeming inability to get my searched-for answers.

For example: I am not ashamed of my doubts--that is a part of real faith, in my mind; I am not afraid to ask questions and seek answers--without seeking comes no progress; I am not scared of things I learn in my church's history--my church is led by mortals who have made and continue to make mistakes, and I believe God works with what He's got because he honors our agency so intently. (See more on that below.)

I'll share more about the HOW (as in what I actually do to stick with things) behind how I balance my struggles and my commitments next week or so.

If you are still with me here, I'd like to now share the big WHY's to my choice to stick with the Mormon faith. There are more reasons than those below, but these are the most prominent in my mind.  And because of my lack of spiritual two-way conversations still going on here, I'd like to also state that these reasons might come across as more logical.  That's because they are!  I'm still working every day on keeping the pathways open for more of a metaphysical confirmation.  How I square that will be talked more about in my HOW post coming up.

Photo Cred: Baley Marie Photography


1) Community: I honestly don't know who I would be without the faith community I was raised in.  They encouraged me to be successful, serving, and virtuous; they supported my endeavors and drove my education; they enabled me to mature at a much higher rate than those little squirrly teenagers I taught in middle school.

Without this community, I'd suffer for friends, positive influences, support for myself and my children, and much-needed service when I've required it.  I wouldn't be as altruistic in my thinking and would tend to worry more about myself and my little family.  Instead, I can ask anyone in my church for help at a moment's notice, and they'd help.  Instead, I am placed into "callings" which require service from me, demanding that I look more outward and help others.

I have found in particular that my California ward congregations to be some of the smartest, talented, humorous, open and nonjudgmental people I have ever met.  I am lucky, I know.  I need this community in my life.  I would be lost and heartbroken to leave it behind.  I don't know how I could easily replace it.

2) Fruits: In my experience, the majority of Mormons are made up of GOOD, salt-of-the-earth people who are honestly and intently trying to do what's right in the world.  Sure, there are hypocrites.  Sure, there are people who propagate false doctrines and traditions that take forever to unwind.  But at the heart, I believe Mormons to be loving people who make good happen in this scary, evil world. "By their fruits, ye shall know them." Mormons generally and genuinely produce remarkable fruits with their people, their service, their humanitarian efforts, their zealous educational programs and universities, and the differences they make both in their local communities and the world at large.

3) Values: I know that Mormons' values are most associated with our zeal to abstain from partaking of alcohol/tobacoo as well as premarital sex, and how we cherish marital fidelity and creating strong families.

My question about these values is this: what harm will come from living these virtues?

For me, I believe that even if this church isn't 100% true in the end, I am 100% OK in having lived a good, virtuous, and moral life and in alignment with Mormon values.

I want my kids to have these more known values apart of their makeup, in addition to other Mormon values: true goodness, constant self-improvement, CHARITY (genuine service and love for all others), strong work ethic, and building strong foundations centered in faith and family.  I want them to have practice and reason to carry HOPE in a very dark world.  I want them to seek outward and upward.  (More about the doctrines I want them to believe in, below.)

4) Identity: I don't think I could separate "Mormon" from my identity without afflicting a sorrow akin to losing a loved one.  I am Monica, and I am Mormon.  My faith is the bedrock of who I am and  how I perceive and interact with the world.  The thought of not going to church on Sunday, not reading my scriptures, not praying to personable Heavenly Parents, not living LDS values, not wearing my garments and keeping my covenants, and not raising my kids in my faith?  Well, I just can't even imaging doing so without it eliciting more harm than good for me personally and for my family. I know others have felt freed from departing from their faith and I understand why that might be the case for them; but for me, it's who I am.  I'm happy with that part of my identity.

5) Doctrines: Where do I start here?  While there are some tricky doctrines that I give a side-eye (men only holding the priesthood forever, and ever--doesn't make sense to me, especially considering what I learn in the temple) and those I completely dismiss (eternal polygamy, I'm looking at you), there are so many wonderful doctrines in the Mormon faith that I truly love.  In no particular order (and as concise as I can manage):

  • Heavenly Parents: There is a mother and a father up there; not just a man.  That is one of the most empowering doctrines for me and a major touchstone as I navigate other doctrines and church cultural norms that I feel are at the very least confusing, and at the very most harmful to me, as a woman.  I look beyond those to the bigger doctrine in my mind--that Heavenly Mother exists and stands side-by-side with Heavenly Father.  (I do wish it was not so taboo in general in my church talk more about Her.)
  • Personal God: Our Heavenly Parents are omnipotent, omniscient beings, but they aren't some all-seeing-eye made of smoke or spirit. They have tangible, celestial glorified bodies (we were created to look like them), and they actually really CARE about us, their spiritual children, and want to help form a meaningful life for us.  The Holy Ghost is apart of the Godhead and is how our Heavenly Parents communicate with each of us.  I love this doctrine!
  • Purpose to this Life: There is a reason we are here.  This earth is not here by chance (more on that under "Laws"), and we are not here just to wander around aimlessly.  We WANTED to be here to have our bodies, practice our agency (ability to choose), learn, grow, and return to God ready to make the next step.
  • Eternal Progression: We are not destined to be in this lower state (mortals or even just angels ) the rest of eternity.  There is a grander purpose beyond this earth. We existed as spirits before we were born, we continue as spirits after we die and eventually become resurrected beings (all of us, by the way, will be resurrected thanks to the Atonement).  We will continue to learn, progress, and grow and become like God (using that term here to describe the Heavenly Parents unit).  Some people get freaked out by this doctrine, but it makes absolute sense to me.  If there is a God, in His infinite goodness He would want His children to have what He has, and to be like He is. He would provide a way for us to get there.
  • The Atonement: The Atonement of Jesus Christ came to satisfy the justice side of the eternal laws the govern the universe (see more under "Laws").  Without it, we wouldn't be able to be forgiven of our sins and return to live with God; we would be lost.  Another twist though that I think is unique to Mormonism: the Atonement doesn't just cover our sins; it covers all the pains, sicknesses, afflictions, anger, sadness, etc. we will experience on this earth.  Jesus can be our personal Messiah because He has felt what we are each going through.  I believe that it is because He has done that, that the gates of mercy are also equally opened through the Atonement, not just the justice side.  He can provide the mercy because he knows the context of our life experiences and our choices, and He can provide the justice because He has suffered for our sins.
  • Eternal Families: Family is an eternal doctrine and a foundational unit to eternity (see "Heavenly Parents" and "Personal God").  What we do as a family matters.  If we do our best to be obedient to the promises we make to God (through baptism and covenants we make in the temple), we will be sealed by priesthood power to have these units continue on past this life.  A mother will never truly lose her child that died.  A husband will never say an eternal goodbye to his wife, and vice versa. This is why Mormons are so hard-bent on forming strong family units.  I sure don't want to do the rest of eternity alone, I don't know about you!
  • Hope: Underlying all these doctrines, is a profound sense of hope.  We of course still have a lot of questions that are unanswered, even within the doctrines I list here.  (Such as, we can't really explain the Holy Ghost and how that works).  But the LDS faith carries a powerful hope that there ARE answers, that God will reveal them in the right time and in the right way, and that we all have hope to return to God.  Everyone.  If someone didn't know how to be close to God, they'll have that chance.  Even if people do die in their sins, they can repent and continue to progress after this life.  There are no sins (save the denying of God after you've received a personal visitation from Him), that cannot be forgiven.  There are no habits that we can't eventually learn to control (maybe not until after this life, though).  There is hope.
  • Personal Revelation: We believe that God can speak to us personally and answer our prayers, although this looks different for everyone.  Admittedly, I struggle with this one.  But I still believe in this doctrine and have hope it will eventually be made easier for me.  This ties into "Personal God," but it also ties into our belief in prophets and that God will not leave us alone on earth without direction.  I also love the idea that we still can--and must--receive personal revelation that confirms what our prophets have told us.  There is a lot of fairness in that belief for me, and that God is no respecter of person.
  • Laws: The universe and everything spiritual, physical, etc. is governed by eternal laws.  There ARE rights and wrongs.  There is an eternal ORDER to everything, and things must be done according to that order.  Justice has to be satisfied.  Mercy also has to be extended (when justice is met--thanks to the Atonement).  Worlds are created in a certain way (hello, science!).  When a law is broken, there is a consequence.  When a law is obeyed, there is also a good consequence.  Morality is not just created by dictators or prudes; there is a higher morality led by higher laws.  I know I don't know what all the laws are, but this principle makes sense to my logical mind and I take a lot of comfort in this.  
  • PS: one of the biggest eternal laws in my mind is personal agency.  We each have our agency and God values that law so much that He will not step in to interfere.  That--for me--explains why bad things can happen to good people, how churches or states can be led by flawed people, and why God permits these mistakes and missteps to happen.  However, that doesn't mean that He can't right the wrongs that are created in our lives due to others' mistakes.  That will happen--whether here, or afterward.  God will make things right.  For me, that means He will also sort out the mess we might have created with His church and His doctrines.  He might not have stepped in to fix atrocious things in the church like bans against blacks holding the priesthood, because of this eternal law of agency.   But, He will right this ship.  It will all be fixed!  For Monica the THINKER, this doctrine is everything.

6) Because I WANT To: Being a faithful member of the LDS faith is not easy.  It requires a lot of time and consecration; this faith expects a lot out of its people.  The doctrines are not all clear; there are big questions and concerns in my mind.  But ultimately, I stick with this faith because underneath all the frustrations and sadness I have experienced with it, I WANT to be a part of it all.

Well, how's that "nutshell" for you?!

Again, please know that this is just what works for ME.  I don't judge someone for being black-and-white about their faith, those whose beliefs feel obvious and 100% true, nor do I judge someone who has been traumatized and left their church.  All I hope is that giving some of my reasoning here will empower others to think through what is worth it for them to stick with their religious faith.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!  Please feel free to reach out to me personally or to comment here with what has helped you commit to your faith, regardless of denomination.  And--hopefully this doesn't need to be said--please be kind to each other if there are disagreeing views in the comments.

Thank you!

REVIEW of 2016 Goals

Thursday, January 5, 2017

On Monday, I shared my goals for improving my parenting this year.  That grander goal--becoming a better mama--is one of three that I narrowed down from maybe 30 goals.  And I keep thinking of more goals each day!  I'm not great at simplifying things like that, but I am still trying to primarily focus on three areas.

Before I share the remaining 2/3 of those areas (tomorrow--because this post still got lengthy somehow), I want to review the goals I shared here for 2016 and give myself a letter-grade (like I did partway through the year).

1) LOOK my kids in the eye: I am glad that I set this goal at the beginning of the year, because it really, really inspired me to get down at my kids' level.  I have to admit though, that I was all over the place with this one.  I am a thinker, so even if I'm not distracted by devices or chores, I'm thinking away in my little head.  I'd like to keep working on this, but I am fairly happy with my progress here.  Grade: B-

2) Get better at Mommy TIME-OUTS: While I haven't strictly put myself in time out, I think I have been returning to some of my old ways of being more patient with my kids and taking more mental time-outs.  This looks like me talking to myself before I burst out in anger--and trying to actually listen to those voices in my head telling me to breathe, or use a softer voice and a nicer face while saying the same thing.  I still have a ways to go though, because parenthood continues to show me that I'm not near as patient as I thought I was when I started 5 1/2 years ago.  Grade: C+

3) Be a better GIRLFRIEND TO MY HUSBAND: Again, another mixed bag here.  Overall, Brad and I are doing better at treating each other like romantic partners, not just roommates.  It's something we have to keep checking in about though and upping the ante again, as old habits die hard.  Having a date night scheduled for every other week has been super helpful.  I'm tempted to make it every week and going without some amazon purchases that always sneak in.  All told though, I'd say we grew a lot this year!  Grade: B

4) Run a MARATHON for fun, not for time: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!  Yep.  Didn't happen.  I have to excuse myself on this one.  You see, I pulled my achilles chasing my runaway daughter at the zoo in April, and then I had every foot problem imaginable for the six months that followed.  That alone was very difficult for me mentally, but I forced myself to like walking and strength training.  And then in October, I was told two days apart that I need surgery on extra bones in my foot by one doctor, and that I can't ever run (or do other high impact activity) for the rest of my life by another...

Wow.  I definitely didn't see that all coming this year.  If this had happened to me even a year ago, I would be lying in my bed depressed for months.  Running (and other high impact exercise) is a huge part of my identity, and it's gone now.  (#Dramatic!)  But Monica of 2016, I am SO proud of you!  You cried for a few weeks and then did your best to let it go.  You can now see me walking the trails with all the old ladies and doing barre3.com at home.  Now you know why I'm trying to learn how to swim!  Grade: N/A

Tell me, how did your goals go last year?

Danielle Hansen || Pushing back against disordered eating and infertility

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"The thing that hurt me the most . . . was all the time I had wasted preoccupied with food, and not being present."

Eating disorders are really tricky to talk about. Not only are they shame-driven and shrouded in secrecy, but the depth and significance of an eating disorder's roots is difficult to convey in a way that people truly understand what a lasting effect it has on a person's life.

Danielle Hansen does the impossible, though.

In today's podcast, Danielle bravely untangles some of what fed her need to obsessively control her eating, exercise, and body, and how perfectionism and its related need to worry about other people's opinions of her fueled her disease.

Danielle tried to work on her recovery while simultaneously battling infertility, but it wasn't until the birth of her firstborn and hitting her lowest low that Danielle felt determined to take back her life.  She says, "I just remember being so mad, because I had this beautiful baby, I was in heaven; and the ugliest thing--my eating disorder--was tainting that for me." 

Now three years into facing her struggles with disordered eating and infertility head-on, Danielle speaks on what made the difference in her recovery, how she has grown, and what life can be like on the other side.

You can listen to more about all of this on the podcast below, on iTunes, Stitcher, Pocketcasts, Googleplay, or search for "About Progress" in your podcast apps.  Please subscribe!!

Show Notes:
Danielle's blog and  Instagram
My "Do Something" podcast episode
More information on "Do Something"
My Instagram and Facebook--contact me and share what you are up to while listening, or what your "Do Something" is and how it is going!
Did you like this podcast?  SUBSCRIBE and listen to more podcasts here.
Song Credit: "Sweet Promise" by Nicolai Heidlas

Forward Motion, by Amanda Hansen of Write Stuff Planning

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Monica, here!  Today, I asked one of my dearest friends to do a guest post for my Do Something series.  (Pssst!  I am refocusing on this series and you can participate!  Learn more here.)  

Amanda Hansen and I met as Freshman students at BYU and we have been friends for over 12 years now.  Panda, as our college buds call her, is full of fun, smarts, and genuine goodness.

Let me just say that I asked Amanda-Panda to write this post, but she doesn't know I'm doing a big plug for her product, too.  But I am.  Because I happen to really, really, really love her product and it matches with my core purpose behind all I do on the internet--PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION!!  You can see more on what I have to say below, as well as a CODE for how to get Amanda's product at a discount, as well as how to win one on my Instagram account.  

Back to the guest post!  Amanda did something really brave and scary this past year: she and her father launched a company called Write Stuff Planning.  While Amanda is totally awesome and hilarious, she describes herself as "overly cautious and risk averse."  Since starting your own company demands huge risks, you can imagine what Amanda has had to push herself through to get this dream going!  I'd like her to tell you more, so on to Amanda's brilliant writing of her tale behind starting her own company!

You remember that annoying kid on the playground who always reminded everyone about the rules and never broke any of them because she might get hurt or in trouble if she did? That was me. I’ve always been overly cautious and risk averse, but I also have a fairly entrepreneurial spirit. My own personal Catch 22.  My dad also has the soul of an entrepreneur and we’ve talked about starting a business together for years. We always got stuck on finding “The Idea.” The big one that would change the world as we know it. We’d come up with a possibility then quickly find an excuse to drop it. Someone else had already done it or something kind of like it, it might be too much of an investment up front, it might fail. 

Last spring my dad told me about an article he read about a start up that had sparked an idea. Within 30 minutes we had developed the basic structure of our product and how we would produce it. I knew how to do all that would be required on the product development and marketing side and my dad had the finance and operational know how to get things going. At the end of the conversation, we just kind of stared at each other for a minute waiting for the other to give a reason why we shouldn’t do it. My dad said something along the lines of, “Well, maybe it’s something to think about.” Before I knew what I was saying I said, “Why think about it. Let’s just do it.” 

It was a moment of realization for both of us that you have to make a conscious choice to step off the hamster wheel and start moving forward.  We found an idea that we believed in and were passionate about. We had the knowledge to get going and the desire to learn how to fill in the gaps. The required investment wouldn’t break the bank if it failed. It was time to move. 

The product development phase was a lot of fun. We were finally experiencing the thrills of owning our own company. We celebrated getting our LLC, our bank account, even our tax ID. Designing the product and logo was a blast. But then it was time to start showing people. We are both introverts so talking about ourselves is not very high on our to-do list. It took me over an hour to draft an email to my college girlfriends to say, “Hey friends, my dad and I are developing goal setting day planners. Could you take a look at our cover options and tell me if you like any of them?” I felt so very vulnerable. Even though I know they all loved me and would be excited for me, my mind raced with negative thoughts. “They’ll think this is so lame. They won’t like any of the designs. They probably won’t even respond.” Thankfully, they kindly responded with words of encouragement.

I’ve naturally learned a ton about starting a business throughout this process, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself:
  • I hate being vulnerable, but if I didn’t embrace vulnerability over and over, no one would know that our planners exist. 
  • I can do hard things. Figuring out how to sell products on Amazon.com is a very hard thing.
  • It’s okay to ask for help. Thanks for figuring out Amazon, Dad!
  • I enjoy moving forward more than talking about moving forward.
  • I have an incredible support system that has helped improve my confidence immensely. It’s so important to cheer others on and give encouragement freely.

There have been so many roadblocks throughout the processes. Things that we didn’t know how to do, answers that were hard to find, ideas and efforts that failed. The last few days we’ve been plowing through another roadblock. Sometimes it’s fun to work through the challenges; sometimes it’s really not fun at all. Together, we take a step forward. It might be in the wrong direction, but the goal is to just keep moving until we get where we need to be. I’m so glad that we finally took that first step last spring.

Amanda (and padre!), I am SO proud of not only facing those big fears head on, but also making something remarkable in the process!  

May I tell you a bit about these planners?

I ordered one myself (yes, I paid for it with my own money without Amanda's knowledge--remember, this post is not sponsored in any way!) and it honestly is the best planner I've had since I was an OCD planner at BYU.  The planners from Write Stuff Planning are more than just a way for you to catalog your to-do lists and organize appointments in your calendar--they are GOAL SETTING planners, too. And for me, that's already making the biggest difference in how I am prioritizing my time and what I actually get done. (I'll share more on that later this week!)

At the beginning of the planner, there are places for you to set larger goals under categories of your choice (such as Health, Mental, Spiritual, Career, etc.), then you prioritize and narrow them down to three long-term goals, and finally a place for you to break those into short-term goals. 

There are also monthly calendars as well as weekly planning calendars.  On the weekly pages, not only can you schedule out your day, but there are places for you to prioritize your tasks as well.  Also, there is a whole section at the bottom of each week where you set goals and then reflect on how you met those by the end of the week.  Finally, each page has a motivational quote or two that inspires you to get your stuff done. 

I'm using the extra space available on each page to meal plan, schedule out posts, record my "connect with kids" goal as well as track my exercise, and keep a running list of posts I want to write and recipes I'd like to try.  

I'm using this planner for everything.

As you can see, I've already jumped into this planner full-throttle.  Remember, I used to be OCD about planning, but that somehow slipped out of my personal practice once I switched from being a full-blown perfectionist to its direct opposite.  I'm trying to bring back some of my old good habits, and planning is one of those.  I prefer paper for task and goal-setting to writing on my phone, as I want to avoid getting sucked into the black hole that is my phone as much as possible.

There are more covers than the flower one you can see at the top of this post, including gender-neutral covers.  I think this is the perfect planner for every man, woman, and kid out there who wants to not only organize their lives, but prioritize their tasks according to their long and short-term goals.

You can get your planners here (I'm an Amazon affiliate), and if  you use the code APWS2017 you can get 15% off!  
Want to win one?  Check out my Instagram to see my giveaway of a planner of your choice, and paid for by me.  
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