maya.

As we delve into more project groups and more discussion about the project in general, I really want each of these ladies to get their story released on its own merit.  I know how intimidating it is to sit down and read an entire blog post, let alone one that contains eight or more ladies’ stories to read.  We have about five minutes sometimes, and I want you to have the chance of making five minutes of your day a beneficial, uplifting read.  So, re-releasing the fifty-one participants’ (so far) stories as singles is what I am doing.  I even downloaded  a handy ol’ “number generator” app on my trusty lil phone to do so (because I am a genius AND because I’m bad at making decisions).

I will not insult your intelligence by posting my various thoughts on each group with each ladies’ story.  What I will do is include the link to my blog about that particular group and that particular night, and you can feel free to check that out if you feel so inclined.  What I will include with every post is the link to the blog from our original group, which has the explanation behind the reason for the project and how it goes about.  You can find that here: Women. Raw. Honest. Loved. Group 1. 

Today’s number: #19 – Maya, from the Teen group.

(p.s. the word “group” starts to look super bizarre after you’ve typed it so many times…)

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mayaMaya~

“My insecurity is not being perfect. I try my best in school but hardly ever get straight A’s. I’ve been playing the violin since 4th grade and I’m in the back of the second violin in Youth Symphony. I also can be really mean and make others feel bad even if I didn’t mean for it to be that way.”

Maya’s friends and family:

“Dedicated to schoolwork, Musically talented, Piercing Brown Eyes, Generous, Fun, Entertaining, Loving, Feisty, Beautiful, Clever, Trustworthy, Confident, Aiden (my son) loves her, Genuine.” – Jessica

“Has great charisma, Very easy to talk to, Creatively passionate, Wonderful Musician, Looks great in anything, Charming, An old soul who is wise for her years.” – Sadie

“I have known Maya since she was a little girl, so I have many impressions of her. My most vivid, oddly enough, is of her at a distance from me, at the age of twelve or thirteen, running in an orchard at dusk. As the light was fading I could only make out her silhouette. Other children were running around frantically trying to find a hiding spot or something, but Maya was being so perfectly Maya. Moving gently and thoughtfully. Leaping higher than the others (just for the joy of it and because she could), Shifting quietly and with grace. Making her way without sound. A little woodland creature.
The other most vivid memory that I have of Maya is from when she was no more than six. She had come to our house with her little sister and the children were outside playing in the garden. I was doing the thankless job of polishing the main stairs in our house and I was moving stair by stair as I polished. I thought I was alone in the house as I could hear the children outside calling to one another. When I heard a sound above me I looked up suddenly, and there was little Maya. Her sweet face so serious and earnest, she asked if it would be ok if she stayed with me while I worked. I don’t think she was unhappy or upset with the others, just that she preferred to watch the methodical process and have a quiet conversation. We worked slowly and carefully on those stairs, not saying much, but working together happy and peaceful until the others came in.
Maya: Gentle, thoughtful, quiet, graceful, serious, earnest, happy, peaceful, loyal, wise.” – Megan

“Brave, Tenacious, Intelligent, Honest, Beautiful, Creative, True to her heart, Silly, Runs fast, Jumps high, Best camp bed-maker ever!” – Natalie

“Elegant, Determined, Dedicated, Strong, Full of Promise, Slyly Funny, Whip-Smart, Thoughtful, Stunningly Beautiful, Sweetly Shy, Compelling.
Maya is an amazing young woman. She is talented in areas that aren’t supposed to be compatible — music & engineering, humor & stoicism. She is incredibly smart, but she also strives to achieve – so her accomplishments are that perfect combination of dreams & desires plus true effort. I think Maya is going to accomplish great things — things we can’t even imagine right now.” – Shannon

“Maya is a force to be reckoned with. She is fearless and brave and knows what she believes in. Maya is one of those kids who can be terrified or intimidated on the inside, but, take a deep breath, square her shoulders, and walk into any situation as if it is just a stroll in the park. She has a calm and logical way of approaching life that is so refreshing. When she finds something that interests her, she is passionate about her commitment to it – whether it is the violin, building robots, drawing, playing piano or high-jumping. If you are lucky enough to be Maya’s friend, you will have a steadfast and dedicated companion. Maya just might rule the world someday, and we might all be better for it. I am proud and honored that she is my daughter.” – Shari

the day my photography and women’s project was talked about in THE HUFFINGTON FREAKIN POST.

that day was today.

that’s all I can muster up to say right now.  I am completely without words.

thank you for everyone who has supported me, my photography, and the Women: Raw. Honest. Loved Project all along the way.   you know who you are.  and I want to get drinks with you tonight.  especially all of the ladies who dove in with me the first night, not knowing what the hell they were getting themselves into.  and especially especially Rhiannon Brunett, who I can’t do the project without.  YOU ARE MY RIGHT HAND, lady.  thank you!!!!!!  also, my boyfriend and kids, because they are my biggest support.  loveloveloves.

also, Rachel and Eden, I love you both to pieces.  infinite pieces.   and to my new friend, Andrew, you are a saint for recognizing the need and speaking out for all of us women.  thank you soooooooo very much.

here is that link: Everyday Boudoir

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the day I totally had a face for radio.

Hey all!

Here’s a little update for you: things are awesome.

We have Group 6 of the Women: Raw. Honest. Loved. Project in the works…set to take place at the end of January, after all the holiday craziness. Super excited about that!

There are some things that could take place for the project that are too new to mention, but have me a little tingly with anticipation. Those sorts of things that you just kind of leave up to the universe to take care of…if this stuff works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But, the ride is fun, regardless. I know, so vague. You’ll just have to deal with it at this moment.

I was SUPER busy the last six months with photography in general, and am totally slacking (as usual) in sharing that stuff with you.  I plan to get some of those blogs under control and posted here soon.

I will also be rereleasing ladies’ stories from the project individually.  I hope to do this at least once a week.  Look for that soon.

Also, I took part in a little local radio show recently! They asked me to come on and talk about the project – it was a lovely opportunity to have a platform in which to actually vocalize some things about it, instead of writingwritingwriting for a change. You can listen to that here if you’d like. Discussion about the project starts about halfway in.
This was also only part 1 of 3 radio shows about the project that I will be taking part in. Yay!
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So, yeah, things are cool. I hope things are ridiculously awesome for you, too.

I’m too sexy for my post-babies shirt.

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This past Sunday, I got together with five strong, sexy, stunning women (with even more beautiful insides to match) to do a different kind of boudoir shoot. This is something that most of us never would have imagined us doing at this point in our lives. With age comes confidence in a lot of things, but often a lack of love for our own bodies.

I mean, for the Women: Raw.Honest.Loved. Project, my main insecurity was my body image (I say “was” because it has diminished in importance since that evening…not to say I don’t still get hung up on it from time to time; I’m human…but, it’s just not as much in the forefront as it was) and I would have never suspected that I would find myself removing my clothes and standing in the FRONT of the camera. It was awkward and intimidating…and then liberating and empowering. I got to own it and feel sexy just being me. I actually think the reason I was most uncomfortable was not because I was somewhat naked, but more-so because I was trying to be serious. I laugh. A LOT. I don’t even know how to keep a straight face for more than a few seconds. So, being sultry in seriousness is not my thing…I WILL SULTRY IT UP WHILE LAUGHING, HOWEVER. I don’t even know what that means, but I’ll do it. Next time, because there WILL be a next time, I’ll be laughing the whole way.

In any case, above are a few photos from that shoot. To see more, along with an explanation of why we went for the theme that we did, go here. I’ll be adding a few more photos this week, so be sure and check back.

ATTENTION!***My MAIN point in putting this blog out so quickly, however, is not just to show you pretty photos, but to tell you that you NEED TO READ THIS: “Let’s Hear It for the Girls: the reason I chose to do boudoir.”. My super sexy and talented dear friend, Rachel, wrote in the most eloquent way how she felt about doing a shoot like this. But it is mostly about women; about our obsession with body image…about the way things are versus the way things need to become. It seriously is beautiful. And I love her. It makes me cry every time I read it…which has been several times already. 🙂
GO READ IT RIGHT NOW. Seriously. You will not be disappointed.
Also, share the hell out of it, won’t you? The world needs to read her words.***

group 5!!! women: raw. honest. loved.

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Group numero cinco.
Six women.
The smallest group we’ve had just yet.
The smallest, most intimate, possibly most emotional group we’ve had so far.

I’ve said this before: I’m no therapist. I possess no degree in counseling nor anything having to do with therapy, in the least. I am just a photographer.
This project started as a simple concept with the hope of purely helping us all to be less catty, more supportive, more understanding, more loving…a super simple concept; a baby step toward becoming a better person.
The surprise happened with the very first group, however, when we walked away feeling…well…lighter. A bit cleansed. In addition, we walked away less catty, more supportive, more understanding, more loving….so, SUCCESS!
There is no need for me to be a therapist as the host of these groups…
There is so much to be said for just pouring one’s heart out…for feeling comfortable enough (even in a group of strangers) to tell people things that generally are only discussed between you and that devil version of you that sits on your shoulder and whispers dumb things in your ear.
There is so much to be said for being surrounded by others whose primary focus at that very moment is to LISTEN; others who are about to put themselves in just as vulnerable a position as you are.
There is so much to be said for RELATING; to establish, in mere minutes, this pure, reciprocal relationship based on things generally held so deep inside.
There is so much to be said for simply spending an evening in the company of others whose focus is on being positive, non-judgmental, and understanding.

This evening began, as all of them do, with some nervous energy…an apprehension that is pretty common in a roomful of strangers. Especially in a roomful of strangers that you realize are going to know you REALLY well in a very short matter of time. The super cool thing is that every. single. time. that trepidation seems to nearly disappear after the first half hour of everyone meeting each other. It doesn’t hurt that there are brownies. And wine. And, this time, there were CATS! One of the most beautiful souls I’ve had the pleasure to meet (as you’re about to, if you don’t know and love her already), Ms. Jen J., suddenly busted the most adorable craftiness out of her bag. She had made these little kitties for each of the women that were set to be there. It’s crazy, but I probably can’t convey how super sweet and powerful that gesture was…these little guys seemed to end up being a mascot of the evening…giving each woman a security blanket of sorts while discussing such emotional topics. I mean…look at it…
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COME ON…you get it now, right?? Sweetest thing ever.

Anyway, cats in hand, the night began. It was raw. It was intense. It was beautiful beyond definition.

Here are your ladies of Group 5. I love them.

(p.s. I feel I must point out, in case this is the first time you’re checking the project out, that NONE of the friends/family who wrote in for each woman knew in advance what said woman’s insecurity was. All they were asked to do was share some beautiful things that they see in that woman. No prompting…no knowledge of anything else.)

(p.p.s. the very first group for the project can be found here: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/women-raw-honest-loved-part-1-2/
please support this project by following this blog, which you can do by clicking on a fancy button over to the right…please also go and “like” the project’s Facebook page, which I definitely update much more than I do here. https://www.facebook.com/WomenRawHonestLovedProject
if you care to be even more awesome and want to support my photography, in general…https://www.facebook.com/alanatphotography

There also will be a video of post-interviews that these ladies did for me, explaining their feelings on the evening. It’s sorta powerful. I hope to include that soon.)

tiffanyTiffany ~

“I believe that my biggest insecurity is to be unlovable – or insignificant.

When I was 16, my mom informed me that if she had it to do all over again with me, she would have chosen to have an abortion.  She perhaps had made the wrong choice to keep me. I was just too much.  Too hard to deal with.
In my head, I read that to mean, unlovable.

When I was 21, my mom sent me my own “special” holiday letter.  It was on neon pink paper.  She informed me that I must have thought I was pretty special with all of my friends and family by my side – but one day they would all leave me.  One day I’d die alone.
I’ve always been so terrified that that was somehow some horrific prophecy.  That I would be a terrible friend and people would just drop like flies and I’d end up alone and unloved.

I lay awake at night and critique what kind of a friend I’ve been.  I worry that I have not given enough, or done enough, or perhaps I’ve taken too much.  Perhaps I’m truly not good enough to have the friends I have, or the family who loves me.
Perhaps deep down, I really am a very unlovable person.”

 

Tiffany’s friends and family –

“Hello, I’m Tiffany’s cousin, Heidi. When I got the email about this project I was SO excited at the prospect of writing something that is true and amazing about her and her reading it and fully ingesting it. And the timing is good too, because I just had my birthday and she sent me the sweetest, most heartfelt message that I did not feel worthy of. So here’s some payback:
Tiffany is immensely kind, fiercely loving, and probably the single most unselfish person I know (really, it’s true). She acts out the love of Jesus in a very real way and is always, always ready to put someone ahead of herself.  She has empathy deep and wide; real, raw empathy – the kind that is able to take a relationship deeper and into a more caring place.  I love you as family and I love who you are!!!! You are so perfectly you.” – Heidi

“Hello there!  Here are some words about my insanely awesome homegirl, Tiffany.
Exquisitely Raw
Inherently Funny
Grace Giver
Full-Hearted Mama
Love the project! Cheers!” – Lauren

“I’ve known Tiffany since we were six years old. She is one of the best listeners that I know.  She’s never made me feel like she doesn’t have time for me even if she’s dealing with her own issues. She has a huge, compassionate heart. She can knit. She’s crafty. She cooks. She’s clean & organized. She’s not afraid to take chances. She is brave & bold. She’s been through a lot and, while it may hold her down for a moment, she never lets anything keep her down. I’ve seen her confidence soar as a writer and a mother. She has gorgeous, sparkling eyes, the sweetest button nose, perfect teeth with the most inviting smile. Her skin is absolutely flawless. She has a wonderful fashion sense and fierce loyalty to those she loves. When she sets her eyes on something, you cannot get in her way. She’s feisty and intelligent. Her husband and daughter are extremely lucky to have her and I’m lucky she gets my humor & calls me friend.
xo to infinity (or google, whichever is longer).” – Rosie

“This is really inspiring! How do you always know about this cool stuff?
I would love to say nice things about you, I do it all the time when I tell people about my friend Tiffany. I just hope what I have to say makes sense.
I think you are strong; the way you have handled some of the challenges you have faced – how you keep trying; keeping an open dialog about what you’ve been through, in hopes that you might inspire someone else to be strong – that takes the kind of inner fortitude people can only respect.
I think you are brave. To try where you have failed before;  to question yourself, your beliefs, and push past the negative to create and become something positive and beautiful – that is spirit to inspire even the most fearful.
I think you are pretty; not just because you are my friend, and not just because you have nice features – like your sweet little nose and puckery lips – but because you care about how you look. It’s not the most important thing to you, and some days just aren’t as good as others, true for all of us, but the things you do to express who you are through your looks – fun necklaces, bright knit sweaters, printed tights – are just examples of the types of uniqueness that bring out your inner beauty.
I think you are diverse; with your vitamin/personal pharmacy bag, false eyelashes, whole foods, tattoos, cloth diapers, shoe collection, owl items, unique bags, breastfeeding, on and on…all of these pieces make up your amazingness.
I think you are selfless; way more selfless than most I know, including myself. The dedication you have to your family, the sacrifices you have made for your daughter, the energy you give to the work you do – these all could only be understood by someone who truly appreciates how rare these values are, especially all in the same person.
That’s probably more words than you need…and I could go on…but I probably ought to get to sleep. Please let me know if there is anything else you need!” – Lisa

“As I sit here thinking about what to write about Tiffany – it makes me laugh because there are so many amazing things about Tiffany that when I try to come up with the ‘most perfect thing to say’ – it makes me want to call Tiffany and ask her because she has an amazing way with words!  LOL!!
Tiffany is real.  Real in everything she does.
She is a friend – a true friend.
She is an amazing Mom – who does not take ONE SECOND of that for granted and for that (and many other things) she makes the world a better place.
She is honest.  I think that is something that has become a little ‘gray’ over time – not with Tiffany – SHE. IS. HONEST.  And I believe honesty and trust go hand in hand.  If you know someone is honest – you can trust them!  I trust Tiffany with all of my being.  She is ‘that guy’! 😉
Her humor is, well, there are no words.  SHE IS HILARIOUS!!  Her descriptions of things just kill me!  I should just call her ‘Thesaurus’ with all of her descriptive words – – words that no one else would’ve thought of!  She NEVER fails to make me laugh and I love her for that.
I also love her heart.  Tiffany will cry with me – that’s a sign of empathy.  She has a very deep heart and a kindness about her that seems to be missing in the world nowadays – not with Tiffany though – it’s there.
All of this wrapped up in to one happy, full of laughter and kindness – BEAUTIFUL PACKAGE. 🙂  And God blessed her & Dave with Presleigh = = that just made the world a better place.  Tiffany is an amazing Mother that most people could learn a lot from.  God love you, Tiffany – you are one of a kind and absolutely amazing and I love you to the moon and back.  I’m beyond proud to call you my friend.  God bless you. :)” – Kristin

“Hello, my name is David.  I am Tiffany’s husband.  I was very happy to find out that she decided to participate in this project.  For too long I’ve been saddened by her less than stellar opinion/image of herself.  She is usually willing to offer 4 negative things about herself to 1 positive thing.  She is in my opinion, the only one who believes these negative things to be true.  If she can obtain a level of peace with herself, or perhaps a better understanding of just who she really is and how others truly see her, then, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an evening of her time.
My wife is quite possibly the most kind, generous, stubborn, and unselfish person I have ever met.  All of these traits, especially the stubbornness, have allowed her to be married to the likes of myself.  Her kindness is displayed daily by how she treats those around her.  She is quick with a smile, and to help those in need whether there will be reciprocity or not.  She is generous with her spare time (of which there is little with a 9-month-old toddling around).  She has volunteered to help the homeless, and was all set to volunteer at a shelter that provides temporary/emergency housing for child victims of domestic abuse if and when a parent gets hauled off to jail and CPS is unavailable due to the late hour.  She would have followed through with that except that we found out to our extreme joy that we were expecting our own child, and thought rest a more prudent course.
Her stubbornness, I believe, is what has carried her through to where she is in life today.  Being born to an extremely selfish (sociopathic, in my opinion) mother who ripped her away from her loving and adoring grandparents at whatever whim she deemed appropriate, so she could “play” mother , and take her into whatever drug-addled, abusive relationships she was in at the time could have sent her down a terrible path that we see too often in our society.  Instead, she persevered; refused to repeat the cycle.  She yearned for, and learned a better way to be.  She refused to be like her mother and was too stubborn to falter from her decided course. She was born with hips that weren’t perfect, a fact that has caused her agonizing daily pain.  She could have given in, become sedentary, and turned to alcohol or drugs to keep the pain away.  Instead, she tucks her chin down, and continues forward with her life.  She accepts the pain as part of being alive.  She hardly even says a word about it.
She displays her unselfishness to me daily.  We (mostly she) have decided to raise our daughter in a more natural way.  From breastfeeding, to higher quality foods with ingredients you can pronounce, to cloth diapering.  All of these things are not the easy way.  We both read a lot in our spare time.  While I am usually checking out the latest effort from Tom Clancy or John Grisham, she is reading about better, more natural ways to feed and take care of our family.  She is reading books about how to teach our daughter sign language so she can communicate with us before she can talk.  She is continually thinking about how she can make me happier, or what new and exciting recipe she can try to bring a smile to my face.
I’ll wrap this up with these final few thoughts about my wife.
I have never second-guessed my decision to ask her to marry me.  It is, and will remain forever, the single best decision I’ve made in my life.
She is my moral compass.
She is my lighthouse on a foggy night at sea that keeps me off the rocks.
I don’t know, and don’t want to know what I’d do without her.
Selfishly, a part of me hopes that she never does figure out what an amazing person she really is, lest she wonder what the hell she’s doing with the likes of me. 
Thank you, Alana, for doing this – I think that it is a great venture.  I sincerely hope you’re able to get all the support and traction you need to turn this into a bona-fide movement.  Perhaps Oprah will come out of retirement and invite you to her couch one day to sing your praises.” – David



jenbJen B. ~

“I am never enough.

I am not smart enough, so I’ve gone out to get degree after degree and multiple certifications to prove to myself I am an academic. 

I am not smart enough.

I am not pretty enough. I hang out with the pretty people but I don’t really belong with them.
I’m not pretty enough.

I am not eloquent enough. I say the wrong things. I open my mouth before I think. I curse. I shout. I am crude.
I am not eloquent enough.

I am not thin enough. I have been on diets since I was in the 4th grade. Even at 20% body fat when I was 19 years old, I thought I was obese. So much so that I gained 140 pounds and weighed 335 pounds when I was 29 years old. I worked my ass off literally and can say I am still not thin enough and I am probably not healthy enough.

I am not artistic enough. No matter how crafty I might be, it just looks like crap.
I am not artistic enough.

I am not lovable enough.

I am not compassionate enough. I feel selfish because I sometimes don’t care. I just want my shit to get worked out and I don’t have time to deal with anyone else’s crap.
I am not compassionate enough.

I am not a good enough parent. What does that really mean? When does the report card come out on this?

I am not enough. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I do or how hard I try, I am still struggling to be enough for everyone.

I am never enough.

The breakdown of my insecurities and the realization that these negativities are always going through my brain is scary. I’m sure there are even more. The phrase “I am never enough” is HUGE. I am actually a rational person and over the past 10 years I have seriously tried to combat the ideas that I am constantly hearing in my head. I have filled many journals with words, thoughts, and questions for myself. I’m trying to fight back against the craziness that is me.
During the journaling, I came up a phrase that I wrote every single time as the last statement for the day. “I love myself AS IS.” I came up with this because I remembered as a kid looking through the clothing racks and seeing the red writing “AS-IS” on a tag. There was something wrong with the garment. Something the store thought was so terrible they couldn’t sell it for full price. However, someone, somewhere LOVED the “AS-IS” garments. They could fix a zipper, change the look, whatever.
I love myself “AS-IS”.
The other saying I’ve come to like lately is “The voice in your head that says you can’t do this is a LIAR!” – Jen B.

Jen B.’s friends and family –

“Jen has so many good things about her. She is thoughtful and compassionate. She is always helping her students to make sure that they are doing the very best they can, whether during or after school. She is incredibly intelligent.
Jen is very outgoing and fun to be around and continually makes sure that everyone is having a good time. She is very much the life of every party. The best trait she has developed, at least over the last two and half years, is how wonderful she is as a mom. She is loving, thoughtful, and considerate when it comes to all things surrounding our daughter. I have to say, though, that of all the positive things she has going for her, which are immense, the top two are her patience and tolerance. I can speak to this firsthand, as I am very good at stretching both to their thinnest margin. I wake up everyday thinking that I have hit the lottery and sweepstakes knowing that she said “yes”. Thank you for that, by the way.” – Chris

“Dear Jen,
There are so many wonderful things about you. I don’t know if you know this, but you are one of my favorite people in the world. We are very much alike in some ways, but so different in some other ways. I definitely consider you a sister more than anything else.
You are such a strong person. I like the fact that you are a can-do person. I have never known you to say “I can’t do” anything. You always attack everything you do with confidence and enthusiasm. I am in awe of that ability. I am often negative and lack confidence in myself when doing a task. You have influenced me in a positive way to be more self-confident in everything I attempt. Our competitive natures have served us well in our quest for being more than “Montessori lite.” We are well on our way to becoming true professionals that Maria would admire. Promise me you’ll never go completely hardcore on me!
I also love, love, love your sense of humor! You and I share a similar sense of humor, and I appreciate your twisted way of looking at the world. In addition, you have the best laugh I have ever heard! I love hearing it echo through the halls at school. I know it will be an incredible day when I hear you laughing in the morning.
We have more fun than should be legally allowed at work, and I get an anxiety attack when I think of either of us leaving and not working together. I know the day will come when one of us flies the Bryant coop, but I can’t dwell on that, because I will break down.
I am so happy that you have welcomed me into your family of friends. Most of my friends were married couples, and when marriages break up, you find out who your true friends are. Apparently I have no true friends, except for my work family who keep me sane and alive. You were my one and only confidant when my ex first betrayed me. I don’t know what I would have done without your support. You showed unconditional love and didn’t judge the situation at all. When things further disintegrated, you were my fierce defender, and your jabs at the ex were truly appreciated. He deserved them.
Really, you know my life is fucked up. I am so thankful to have your love and support, you just don’t know. You really are far more a sister to me than any friend has a right to be. I trust you implicitly with my secrets, and I know they are safe with you. That is more than I can say about even members of my own family. You are beautiful, smart, tough and kind. Also, a great mom! I love seeing what a beautiful well-adjusted kid your Natalie is turning out to be. I hope you will allow me to be her honorary aunt forever! I can only hope that I have been as good a friend to you as you have been to me. I love you kid; now and always.” – Laura

“BEAUTIFUL inside and out (eyes to die for)
Loyal
The most competitive woman I know
So stinkin smart
Very dedicated to family
Loud – the greatest, loudest, laugh EVER!
Hard working
Dedicated
Super stubborn 🙂
Would do anything for her friends or family
Very generous
Devoted mother, sister, daughter
Independent
Adventurous
By far one of the strongest women I have ever met, physically and mentally.” – Jenny

“I have only known you six short years but have known you by your maiden name and then your married name as you transitioned from R… to Jen R…-B…. (You married into a good clan.) I have known you without a child to pregnant with child, and now as a mother. You have gone through two of life’s major changes in this short time. I admire your strength and ability to do the hard work of balancing your role as mother, wife and teacher, in addition to other hats that you wear. You throw yourself into everything you do with creativity and enthusiasm.
You are a wonderful Mom. I love hearing your stories about Nat and the latest thing she has done, or how she is just like you when you were her age. She is lucky to have you as a mother. I am so looking forward to getting to know her when she comes to Bryant.
I enjoyed co-teaching with you two years ago. You taught and I watched. You are a masterful teacher who can think on your feet. I love watching you take a concept or lesson and rework it so you get at what the kids do not understand. You show them why math is important. You make them think. How many times have we all heard….. “Ms. B… scares me! I am afraid of Ms. B… and I am in 9th grade.” The students love you but they are afraid of you. It is your Leo roar.
You are a true Leo. Your lioness strength fills any room you are in when you are showing your Leo traits. You do not shy from the limelight and have a flair for the dramatic when on stage. You are fearless and strong.
I love having you as a coworker. You are always willing to think about an idea I might throw out. You are always game for a new field study even though it may be out of your comfort zone. When you give me the eye-roll after I have asked a particularly simple question about the computer (usually), I have learned to eye-roll back or at least give you grief. I appreciate your input and ideas and energy you put into everything you do at work.” -Wynne

“Dear Jen,
I think you may be one of the most considerate people I know. We tease you because you’ve been known to curse at inopportune times, or because you have a voice and a glare that carry across a room with ease, but we won’t be fooled; you’re a softy. You are so sensitive to others’ needs and seem to know what to say or do to make it better.
• you are my champion when my bully walks into the room.
• you notice when I am inwardly freaking out, thinking that no one can see it, and say things like, “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
• you offer me chocolate when someone makes me cry and then always follow it up the next day with something like, “How ya doin’?”
• and…you have bought me flowers more times than my ex-husband ever did.
You are beautiful, thoughtful, hilarious, warm-hearted, and so very appreciated.
Love, Therese”

laurarLaura R. ~

“Let me begin by saying that while some women will be searching for one thing that makes them feel insecure, I have spent the last several weeks weeding through my host of insecurities; I am “the fat kid” of my family, I am covered in freckles, I tend to always say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But in reviewing my list, I realized that I have one deep seated fear. The fear is of loss and abandonment. I live in constant fear of the other shoe dropping, always. It may be the Irish in me, this melancholy belief that I will lose everything that is good and right in my life. What’s worse is that I believe that it is my fault. Somehow I am not good enough a person to be worthy of good things and lasting relationships.

There is a reason I feel this way. I have lost throughout my life. It began with the loss of my dad. My dad was a larger than life person who meant the entire world to me. I looked up to that man, and wanted to be just like him. When I was 17, on a cold autumn night, my Dad fell asleep behind the wheel of his car and hit a tree. He died all alone on a deserted Massachusetts back road. This experience shook me to my very core. If only I had been of more help, my Dad wouldn’t have had to work so hard, and he wouldn’t have been so tired. From that point on, I felt set apart from all of my friends. I was the kid who everyone should feel sorry for. I couldn’t wait to go to college so I could try to forget what had happened.

Life went on. I moved from Boston to San Francisco on a whim in 1989. I met my now former husband at a Blues bar. It was love at first sight. We got together and I knew I had found the man I would be with forever, the father of my children. We did get married and had two boys. I loved him with all of my heart. About 4 years ago, on New Year’s Eve, he told me, in tears, that he had betrayed me. I was crushed. I knew that if I had been a better wife, a better lover, a better housekeeper and cook, he wouldn’t have betrayed me. We agreed to go to counseling, and put about a year of counseling into our relationship. Unbeknownst to me, Sam had betrayed me again. My first reaction was utter fear, loss and betrayal. I begged him at first to go back to counseling with me. I told him I would be a better wife, a better lover, I would do anything, just please don’t leave me. I knew he would come back to me eventually… He is now engaged to another woman. Again, it was my fault. I had gained a lot of weight, I wasn’t sexy, I was a mother before a wife. I was too involved in my job. It was my fault he left.

Finally, there are my sons. My sons are my world. They are the absolute best that I can give the world. I always had a nagging fear that I wasn’t a good parent, that I wasn’t patient enough, that I didn’t do all I could for them. My oldest son has decided to move out of the house at 18, and work rather than go to college. He is a gifted young man and surely if I had not pushed him so hard, or pushed him harder, he would be in college by now. Our relationship is strained because of the disappointment I feel. I am afraid I will lose him forever.

My youngest is 16, and has been diagnosed with a pervasive illness. He is sick and misses many days of school and I know it’s my fault. If I hadn’t been a lousy wife and my husband left me, my baby would be ok. I am afraid that I will lose my Jacob. If I had stayed home with him, and not worked, I could have prevented this. I am a terrible mom; that is what my mind tells me when I think about my poor baby.

Surely someone who has had this much loss has to have something wrong with her. I don’t know if I am too fat, too loud, too uncaring, but I know that I carry two things with me; my maudlin Irish sensibility, and my Roman Catholic guilt. My Boston Catholicism tells me it is an accumulation of my sins that caused all this bad and loss in my life. I’m the walking plague.”

Laura R.’s friends and family –

“Hi,
This project is amazing!  I wish every woman knew her self-worth, myself included.
Laura is my older sister and has been someone I have admired all my life.  Having seen your project, I am going to write a paragraph about her and I believe you will pull out the keywords to write on the blackboards.
Laura is one of the strongest people I know.  She has persevered through so many hard times and she always manages to keep her sense of humor.  She is so funny!
She is also one of the most intelligent people I know.  Not only in the academic sense, but her emotional intelligence is palpable.
She relates to anyone and everyone and she is able to communicate as effectively with PhD’s as she is with a homeless person or a kindergartener.
She has always been one step ahead of every trend; be it music, theatre, literature, fashion, art…  She’s just ahead of her time, I guess.  A pioneer of sorts.  So talented in so many ways.
She is so loving and caring.  She really cares for her family and friends, students, neighbors, community…  She’s always willing to help.
She’s selfless and giving, of her time, talent, heart and smile.  She has a magnificent smile and a beautiful, full mouth.  When she smiles, it shows on her whole face, even her dimple shows up.  Her eyes are so beautiful.  Green, big, and a window into her beautiful soul. She’s always had great hair.  Trendy, stylish, healthy.  I wish she could see herself as I see her.  She’s beautiful inside and out.
I’m so proud to be her sister.  I hope I can learn from her and be more like her.
I love her so much!
Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to participate.” – Cara

“I met Tina in September of 1985. We were roommates at Emmanuel College, Boston.
Tina is one of the most caring, patient and real people I have ever met. One of the first things I noticed was the tight bond she had with her family. I always looked forward to going home to Ashland, MA with her.
Tina has a big heart. She is very selfless and is a great mom. She raised two terrific  boys while going to school!
I have always envied how smart Tina is. She is a strong woman; a true friend who is never judgmental.
Tina has a great ear for music. She introduced me to musical groups and genres I never would have thought of listening to.
Beautiful (inside and out); trustworthy and real; generous, funny, athletic. Tina’s numerous traits would make anyone envious!” – Ann Marie

“Laura, my “sista from Massachusetts.” I learn so much from you Laura. You are persistent, steady, strong and faithful. Working with you these last seven years, I have seen you take whatever life has pitched and do what you need for those around you, and for yourself. You are a true New Englander with your strength and ability to do what needs to get done. Yet, unlike many of our east coast ancestors, and maybe because of your west coast experiences, you take care of yourself in addition to doing what you have to do for others.
Your love for your boys is wonderful to see in action. They are lucky to have you as their mom. You believe in them but you also hold them responsible for the people they are and who they are growing to be. You are their rock! In the same way your kids know you are there for them, the kids at school trust you because you are fair and honest. You share your honesty with them and you hold them accountable for who they can be.
You are adventuresome and daring. You are willing to go out and meet new people, date new men, and build the life you want to live. You show your kids what it is to live life with meaning by taking the steps toward the life you want to have. You are brave.
You are so funny. I love your sacrilegious, outspoken analysis of any political, personal or private matter. If you are going to hell we will be there with you and we will all be laughing.
You put words to many of my thoughts and make me laugh about the worst and the best things.
Last but not least you are wicked smaaht!!! I love talking to you about politics, ideas, history and education.
I feel lucky to have you as a coworker who is also a friend.” – Wynne

“Dear Laura,
You have mastered the art of making lemonade. Oh…and not JUST lemonade, but lemon bars, lemon chicken and lemon meringue pie! Damn!
The amount of lemons that life has sent your way in the last couple of years has resulted in a finely honed skill and you are now a lean, mean, lemon-fighting machine! I hope to be half the lemon-slayer that you are when I grow up.
I admire you for a number of reasons, Laura…
1. Your knowledge of history rivals that of my mother. (God forbid I ever have to choose between the two of you for my Trivial Pursuit partner.)
2. You can whip out a 10-page paper in one sitting…and it will be GOOD!
3. You connect with your students in a deep and meaningful way.
4. Your ability to boil down a situation to a “sound bite” that makes us all laugh so hard.
5. Your personal style.
6. Your self-discipline.
7. Your love for your children.
8. Your ease with which you are transforming into what makes you more happy and content.
It has been a pleasure to sit and think of all the reasons I enjoy being around you.
Love, Therese”

“I’m writing you let you know some of the positive things about Laura. I have known her for more than twenty years. She is the smartest, and most loving and caring person that I have or will probably ever know.
I.                    Smart
a.       She is one of a few people I know that can answer those T.V. jeopardy questions.
b.      She watched the children all day and still managed to keep a GPA above 3.5.
c.       She volunteered to assist in school, sometime putting in more than 29 hours a week, and kept her GPA over 3.5.
d.      She can debate on just about any subject – not only a common sense debate, but also a factual one.
e.      With all of these things, the one thing that will always stand out: she never puts herself above anyone. She never makes you feel that you are below her. I know this is hard for a majority of us, but she does it with ease.
II.                  Loving
a.       Laura love is unconditional.  She truly loves from her heart.  To many of us who know her, this was a new experience.
b.      She loves life, and will do all she can to help others enjoy and love life.
III.                Caring
a.       We all know (plants, animals, and peoples) about how caring she is.
b.      She wakes up at 4:30 to ensure all lesson plans are prepared. She stays at school several ours after her contractual time is over to make herself available to all students who are struggling.
c.       She takes the time to hear your problems, no matter how many problems she has going on in her own life.
d.      As stated above, she takes the time to LISTEN to your problem, not to inject a solution, or compare your problem, but to LISTEN to your problem.  This is one thing that I think most of us can learn from her.
e.      She will share her time and money and give you the clothes off of her back if that helps you get through life. I know there may never be another Mother Theresa, but to me, she is the closest thing out there.
I felt honored when I was asked to write this letter.  She thinks there are only ten people who can write positive things about her. Laura, almost every student that you taught would have written a great letter about you; when most of your students win any major awards, they want to share them with you.  You may never realize the positive you have given the world.  I say ‘world’ because you have taught your family and students to “pay it forward”.  This will affect many people in a positive way, and it is all because of you.
I would like to say thank you for all that you have done for me.  You have made me the man I am today.   You have shown me there is good in everyone, no matter how much evil that you see.
The world is a much better place and it is because of you.” – Sam

“Dear Laura,
You are one of the emotionally strongest people I have ever met. You have been through so much in your life and every time you pick yourself up and start again. You never give up! You are the very essence of perseverance. I admire you greatly for your talents.
You can hold a conversation with anyone. As a professional I have learned so much from you in how to approach a situation with tact and respectfulness while making sure to stay true and honest to the situation. As a friend I have been reminded of the many walks of life we have come from. When I read your posts about equality and the reminders that the work of civil rights is not done, I am inspired to think about what I can do as a global citizen. Thank you for always saying the hard things that need to be said.
I remember when I first met you over eight years ago. We had a slight connection even then. You have become a great partner to teach with and a wonderful friend to hang out with. I love that I can count on you for anything and I can call you crying for any reason. You will listen. You are compassionate, truthful, fair & loyal. I love you.
Thank you for everything you have done for me, even if you don’t realize the impact you’ve had.
Love,
Jen

“I love Laura. I love her openness and her honesty. She’s one of those instant connection kind of folks. She sees the people around her in a way most people don’t bother to. She takes the time to actually look. To make note. To care. I think that is most reflected in her teaching. When you walk into her classroom you can tell that this is a woman who is emotionally invested in each and every kid in that room. (Honestly, sometimes it can be a little heartbreaking to witness.) I worry so much about the pain she must feel when she can’t do as much as she wants, but then I see her strength and resilience and the huge amounts of bravery it takes to be her and I am awed. That’s right, I said awed…because she’s awe-inspiring. WHICH MEANS SHE’S AWESOME. (or to quote her, “wicked awesome”. heheheh.) I love you, Laura, my friend. My friend, you may never see how beautiful, brave, strong you are. But… I see it. I think everyone who meets you does. I feel like you are facing a future you never dreamed of. I am wishing for you a happiness that you never thought you could have. You are becoming a beautiful new you and that makes me happy and so very proud to know you.” – Jamey

brandyBrandy~

“To sit down and put all my insecurities on paper is difficult, not only because it is emotional to open that Pandora’s box, but because when I look at people that are really suffering, I feel selfish. Who am I to feel this way when I am healthy and have my limbs, two beautiful children, etc.? But, as we know, insecurities aren’t always fact-based…they are that little creepy voice that probably got way too much attention as a child.
That said, I’m going to plug my nose and dive in, and there I pause. I don’t think I have ever really felt loved, I have a problem with true intimacy, and there are times that I feel like I am the ugliest hag. I remember seeing the picture that at first glance is the beautiful maiden with the choker necklace, but on further inspection, she is the ugly crone witch – that witch is how I have seen my face reflected for most of my life.
My fear of intimacy is hard to define. I have never shied away from relationships or friendships, but sometimes I feel like if people knew the real me…or that those that have known the real me don’t like what they see. I have been very misunderstood most of my life. I care so deeply for people and feel others emotions so completely that sometimes I feel like its my fault if there is chaos.
I want to feel like someone can really love me, see me. I want my family to accept me. I want to always look in the mirror and see beauty, not hate the reflection that looks back.
In the last year I have grown immensely. One of my therapies is to look back at pictures when I felt low, beat up, and unattractive and see that I wasn’t looking like I felt on the inside. I have been kinder to myself and have started for the first time to have a real relationship with me instead of looking for things from outside sources. I picture myself as a child and what I would give me or say to me so that I could feel that love and compassion. I now try and look at all I have to be thankful for instead of looking back at where I have been. I’m voicing my spirituality and trying to surround myself with people who are in better alignment with my being.
We all have hurt, pain and baggage that we carry around. I have said for the last two years, if only we could hold up a mirror to ourselves and see what others see, the world would be a different place – and then this project came my way, after a night of asking for a sign of new directions and sending me people who are making a difference. That is the truth. Thank You, Alana.” 

Brandy’s friends and family –

“Brandy is a beautiful woman inside and out; great heart and soul. She is an excellent mother, businesswoman, and healer, who is involved in the community on many levels. I find her to be a courageous, loving, kind, resourceful, talented woman who cares about family, friends, and community. When I think of what a successful businesswoman looks like, I picture Brandy. She is a good motivation for me when I am feeling tired and worn down. I enjoy our friendship, and hope to continue it for many years to come.” – Steven C. Pepping

“Brandy is a free spirit that always looks for the best in people. She can make a lonely situation brighter with her smile and infectious laugh. People always seem to cling to her and be attracted to her energy level. She is a great mother who goes out of her way to teach her daughters the right and wrongs about life. She provides for them while also teaching them the importance of independence. She always fights for what she wants, no matter the obstacles she faces. She is very selfless when it comes to her peers and would drop anything and do anything for someone if it would help lighten their load. She is always ready for a great time, no matter the situation and always looks wonderful.” – Zairy

“Beautiful
Firecracker
Outgoing
Positive
Holistic
Energetic
Wild
Unique
Confident” – Candy

“I would like to share a few qualities about one of my best friends, Brandy.
Brandy is beautiful inside and out, and that becomes apparent the moment you meet her. From her signature red hair, to her gorgeous smile and infectious laugh, she is the epitome of true, natural beauty.
She is a driven career woman. Strong and independent. She is continuously striving to learn more, do more, and be better than she was the day before. She is one of the most loyal, honest, genuine people I have ever known. She loves wholeheartedly and would go to the ends of the earth for the people she cares about. I can tell her anything without fear of being judged or looked down upon. She tells it like it is, even if it isn’t what you want to hear. She has no idea how much that has helped me at times.
She makes people laugh. Brandy radiates positive energy, and it is near impossible not to have fun when she is in the room. She always manages to bring our old friends together, so that we never lose contact for very long. I love her carefree, child-like spirit. She has a sense of adventure and spontaneity and a desire to see the world. She plays the role of both mommy and daddy to her littlest star, Araydia, and does so with grace and ease. I admire that about her so much more than she could ever know. She is definitely a super mom. I could go on and on, but I will sum it up by saying this: If you are lucky enough to have Brandy as a friend, co-worker, partner, or mom, then you have found the best of the best.
I love you, B. and I cherish our friendship. You are simply amazing!!” ~Nicole

“Hi, Brandy requested I do this but there is not a form of questions.  Do I just tell you that I think she is a beautiful, kindhearted, sexy, gorgeous, tenacious, upbeat, outgoing, dear friend who is also a devoted, gifted mom that has an amazing relationship with her two daughters. a sister… a friend who from the moment I met, I felt at ease with.  She is open-minded and I learn a lot from my conversations with her.  She is a good listener and gives heartfelt sound advice.  I LOVE HER.
Namaste,
Sonia”

 

jenjJen J. ~

“Over the last year or so, I’ve found myself driving home or to run an errand and crying in my car on a fairly regular basis. I guess when I find myself alone and stop having something to keep my hands busy, my mind wanders to an unfriendly place. I have time to ponder why I am where I am. My decisions, actions (or inactions), and the sometimes-cruel curve ball called life that have put me in this place where I feel so lost and alone. Worse than that though, I feel helpless and broken. My car is dependable – it’s me that’s always breaking down.

I’ve struggled with what I would consider my biggest insecurity. Trying to identify it had me making lists. Lists of the things I don’t like about myself. It is not a fun list.

For this project, I wanted to be unique and say something that no one else had. It turns out while reading the stories and insecurities of past group members I found that I could identify with a lot of the things the other ladies said about themselves.

I’m overweight and under pretty; I’m scared of being alone and I feel unloved. Sometimes I feel like a horrible friend to those that have stuck around and haven’t completely abandoned our friendship. I often feel like people find me annoying or boring and make excuses not to be around me. Sometimes I don’t feel like I have a lot to live for.

I think my greatest insecurity is being alone. It kind of blankets a lot of my fears. I’m terrified of not being able to offer anything worthwhile in a relationship and will find myself without anyone. Guys tend to say that I’m great and I’ll make someone really happy. They want to reminisce about how great I was once they’re stuck with someone who treats them bad. I’m perfect for someone else…just not them.

 I don’t know who I am and I’m afraid I’ll never figure it out. I’m so scared of all the time I’ve wasted waiting for something to happen rather than doing something for myself. 

While I’ve been waiting for everything to happen I’ve gone from thin and healthy to morbidly obese; engaged, to single for 5 long years; unemployed, living at home, and dependent on my dad to provide for me. Will I ever be able to get my shit together? 

I’m afraid I’ll never be enough for anyone to love and want to marry. I’ll end up the crazy cat lady that never leaves her house. I’ll never have children because I’ll never find anyone that wants to be with me over someone else. I’ll never find out if I could be a good mom. I’m scared that I’m running out of time.

I’m at a point in my life where I go to more funerals than weddings. I’m losing people faster than I’m gaining them. My already small family is getting smaller every year. We’ve lost the older generation, which is natural but devastating. We’ve also lost a couple younger than me. I am so scared that no one will ever understand what it felt like to hear my dad yelling down the hall and know that I’d never hug my sister again.

Life is chipping away little pieces of me and I’ll never feel whole. Maybe that’s my biggest insecurity.

Being forever un-whole. I’m losing pieces of myself all the time and I can’t find anything to fill the empty spots back in with.

I should be strong enough to stand up to the winds of change but I find that it’s biting and cuts right through me. I’m frozen with fear, in pieces, unable to move. Why would anyone choose to be around that?”

Jen J.’s friends and family –

“My first daughter, Jennifer, is beautiful, sweet, honest and deeply devoted to those people that she loves and cares about.  She loves to learn about new things and is an amazing Jeopardy player. She loves to do craft projects, which she learns very quickly, and does them to perfection.
She is not only my daughter but is also my confidant/friend, and she’s been there whenever I’ve needed her. We have wonderful deep meaningful conversations about everything in life and I love hearing her opinion.
She always finds time to make the people in her life feel special, and she does special things for them. Her level of patience is amazing, both with people and with pets!!! She’s always willing to try to teach the pommie babies better manners and how to be good K9 citizens.
She never holds a grudge and always tries to understand both sides of any issue presented to her.
She goes literally ‘out of her way’ to make things work for her friends and family. She’s the one who will throw a birthday party for you, making every detail about that party reflect the person who it is being thrown for. She does special things for birthdays and for Christmas; things that she knows will make that person happy, which usually includes homemade/handmade treats and or decorations!!
Jennifer is giving and kind and always thinking of others even though she’s had to suffer much heartbreak in her own life already.  When life has given her lemons, she’s made delicious lemonade!  The tough times haven’t soured her though. She just keeps right on going – bubbly and positive, smiling, and punching life in the face.
She is an amazing photographer and gets much joy from her newfound passion and it shows – not only in her pictures but also in her everyday life.
She has a rare kind of nature that is forgiving, empathetic and loving. She always gives people the benefit of the doubt.  Even when she’s been hurt by someone, she’s forgiving, and she’s not one to judge others.

Jennifer is a beautiful person, inside and out!!  I am so very proud to call this incredible person my daughter, my friend!!” – Wanda    (Mom) 

“My sister Jen is an intelligent, creative, well-rounded and beautiful woman.
She is an individual of humility and integrity. She has always been there for me if I’ve needed her, or to lend a helping hand and a laugh when you need one the most. Jen is a role model and, while she is someone that may not always believe in herself, she is someone that I have believed in for many years and will continue to believe in for more to come.
Here and there she has hit bumps in the road, whether it is jobs, friends, or her insecurities about herself, but it has never caused her to be anyone but who she is, and that’s what I admire most. Jen isn’t afraid to stick a middle finger up to the world and believe that if she is happy with whom she is then no one else matters.
Everyday we’re surrounded with images and propaganda that epitomize what a “beautiful” person is, but even the most beautiful of people can seem ugly if their heart permeates hatred or distaste towards others. Those of us who see Jen’s true beauty scoff at the outside world. Who are they to judge one of God’s children when they have yet to understand where that person has come from, what they’ve been through, or the personality they bear within themselves? When you take the chance to open your heart and allow yourself to truly understand and know another individual, you see that they are more special than you ever thought imaginable.
I love my sister, and I know I can always count on her. We will forever live in this world of judgment and cruelty, but, to me, my sister is able to outshine the darkest of people and surpass the contempt that the world displays to those around them. She, instead, shows the world that true beauty lies in those that are able to show love even when it has not been shown in return. Jen is who I think of when I hear the words beautiful, warmhearted, and compassionate. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and takes the world head-on without allowing the obstacles she faces to get in her way.
Working on trying to find who she is in the world, I believe she is on the road to a new beginning, one of hope and strength. She will continue to create memories for herself and those around her with her breathtaking photography that captures every moment and distills it, so that those memories never go to waste.
Because one day when she is married and has kids of her own, all that she has done in the past will forever be cherished within these photographs that will never fade and will last a lifetime, awaiting more to be added in their place.
You’re beautiful and I love you dearly.
Your sister,
Angela <3”

“Gorgeous soul
Creative, crafty and artistic
Eyes that sparkle, genuine smile
Patient, kind
Animal lover
Infectious laugh” – Loni

laurajLaura J. ~

“When I think of me, I think of a better person than I was even ten years ago.  But, my question always comes back to, “how does the world see me?”
Do they see a woman that is unsure of herself? Fat? Ugly? Maybe too intuitive?
Do they see the me that has high expectations for everyone and maybe pushes for that too much of the time?
The girl in me feels that I weigh too much; I don’t keep my house up to the world’s standards; I am scared to talk to people because they will just see what I am and run the other way.
I like who I am and who I am becoming, but I have a hard time making friends because I am scared of what others see.” 

 

Laura J.’s friends and family –

“I have a very special girlfriend…her name is Laura J.
When I first met Laura, it seemed as though I had known her for years. We met first over the phone and spoke with each other nearly every day. Laura is an honest, caring and wonderful friend. Even though we live many miles apart, our hearts beat to the same beat. I love you, Laura.” – no name

“She is strong,
… Supportive,
… Independent,
… Teacher,
… Confident,
… Loving,
… An awesome mom,
… A great friend,
… Creative
… An awesome person to get to know.
Her awesomely raised daughter, Kara.”

“Who is Laura?
My friend Laura is one of my best friends.  Someone I trust; who I can tell almost anything to without judgment. Someone who is always there when you need her.
I know she doesn’t give herself credit, but she’s a very smart and savvy woman.  To be able to do what she does, as successfully as she does it, takes a lot of effort and intelligence.  Not everyone is capable of what she is.
She’s also one of the most loving people I know.  She has helped me through some tough times with great words of wisdom, allowing me to feel what I was feeling, all while pointing me to the amazing things and people in my life.  She’s a mama bear.  Someone who’s extremely loyal to her family and close friends.  Someone who will stand and fight with you when you need her to, even if you don’t ask her to.  I don’t think she even realizes just how strong she is.  She’s also one of the most giving people I know.  Sharing her time, knowledge, and experiences, in addition to going over the top to show her gratitude for the little things that others do for her.  She’s a wife, mother, businesswoman, and most importantly to me, my friend, who I love dearly.
Thank you for doing this project.  I hope that it helps the women you depict to see how others see them.  Laura doesn’t give herself the credit that I think she deserves.” – Mike

“I think Laura is absolutely beautiful. Her hair is gorgeous and she always has a glow about her. Her eyes are filled with light and a bit of mischief, plus, her laugh is infectious.
She is a loving mother. She is responsible and caring.
She is excellent with the technology whether it be a camera, or anything else for that matter. She is a very intelligent woman.
But, what I love about Laura the most is that in a world where a lot of people are fake, Laura is completely honest! I can ask her anything and she will tell me the truth.” – Leslee

“Laura, Hmm, let me see. Strong and efficient on the outside, but sweet and caring once you get past that. Beautiful, and caring; if you let her, she will STRONGY defend her family (dogs too), and her love of her marriage!! Which to me makes her a rare find these days, and a good true friend that I am glad I have had the chance to get let into her life. I look forward to my daily greetings – often she turns a crappy long day around and makes me smile!!” – Robert

“Some of my fondest memories are of time with my two sisters. My oldest sister is going to be 80 in November and my middle sister is 12 years older than me (65). We spent an entire weekend together 3 years ago. We laughed so much, the tears came flowing.
Another warm, fuzzy memory is of my friend, Laura. Our friendship began when I would talk with her almost every morning when I was working. In my job, I worked with the elderly; in Laura’s case, I worked with her father-in-law. Laura has such a warm, caring way about her. She loved to spend time with her father-in-law when she and her husband returned to Iowa to visit. Laura would “boost me up” on days where I was buried in paperwork. We were blessed to have lunch together a few times when she was back to Iowa. A true friend is someone whom, when you haven’t seen each other for a while, you both can pick up the conversation as if you have just seen each other the day before. Laura is in my “keeper for life” friend. She is a very positive person and always has her way of finding the positives for others even when the day seems to have bogged you down. My sincere thanks to this Wonderful Lady.” – Phyllis

 

Group 1, Part 1: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/women-raw-honest-loved-part-1-2/
Group 1, Part 2: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/women-raw-honest-loved-part-2/
Group 2, TEENS!: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/teen-version-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 3, 55+: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/55-version-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 4: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/group-4-women-raw-honest-loved/

hey, that compliment looks beautiful on you.

Recently I got in a conversation with a super good friend of mine in which I was alerted to something that is likely one of the most difficult aspects of the project for many participants.  I need to share it with you.

She was saying that every time she receives what feels like a “genuine” compliment, she cries.

On this note, pretty much whenever she receives a compliment, she rarely feels like they are genuine.

Two problems, right?

1) She finds it so absurd that anyone would compliment her that she doesn’t actually see the majority of compliments she receives as genuine.  In her opinion, there are only certain people who could POSSIBLY be trusted enough to be genuinely complimenting her.  The others must have some ulterior motive or are “just being nice.”

2) Someone saying something sincerely nice about her is so shocking to her that it stirs up that much emotion.

Honestly, what is wrong with us???  Because I know she’s not alone.

Granted, I hadn’t really thought about that aspect of this project as being so difficult, but, when I really started to think about it, it’s HUGE.  It is a giant trepidation for most ladies on these evenings to sit and hear the honestly beautiful things that people think about them.
Sure, it’s super intimidating and nerve-wracking to put one of your deepest insecurities into the wide open for the world to read and criticize if they so desire.
But, it seems equally as intimidating to be open to the awesomeness that people see in us…if not more so, frankly.
That part of the project usually actually brings the most tears.

Why do we have such a hard time with this?

It seems that, as is the base of this project, we just struggle with such mixed messages about ourselves.  We dwell so deeply on things that we dislike about ourselves that we are shocked and maybe even embarrassed when someone praises us on even the smallest thing.  Not to mention the fact that we don’t want to come across as ‘trying too hard’ or being arrogant.  Just as we seem to live in a society of women who, unfortunately, find it normal behavior to tear each other down, we also live in a society in which it’s not quite acceptable for women to acknowledge their awesomeness.  The rare woman that does is then perceived as narcissistic…and, guess what…we judge them for this behavior as well.

IT. IS. GROSS.

I feel like I say this all the time, but, I’ll say it again: IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE.

Next time someone compliments you on something, say “Thank you!”
Nothing else.
Just “thank you”.
Quell that desire to deflect.  To reject that praise.  To feel the need to return that compliment with a compliment.

Also, compliment others.  You see something that strikes you about someone?  TELL THEM.  Don’t be creepy about it.  But, tell them.  How often do we see a woman across the room with beautiful hair/smile/boots/etc. and, instead of complimenting them, we just kind of stare for a minute…?
Now, how many times have you caught someone staring at you and the first thing you thought was that THEY were thinking to themselves about how large your ass is/how you’re having a bad hair day/how you totally shouldn’t have worn that skirt…blah blah blahhhhhhhhhhh…?
Yeah, they couldn’t possibly be staring at you because you’re awesome.  They MUST see something negative.
See? DUMB.

Compliment someone.  Today.  There will be a genuine reason for you to do so, I’m sure of it.

(On a side note, this discussion also came up recently at the reunion night we had for our first project group.  One of the ladies talked about how the project has affected her life in this respect in the most positive way.  I can’t wait to share those clips with you.  Soon enough, I promise.
Also, watch this.  We watched it on our reunion night, due to this conversation.  It’s sorta spot on.  And hilarious.)

p.s. If this is your first time here and you have no clue as to what “project” I’m talking about, go here for the very first one…https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/women-raw-honest-loved-part-1-2/

women’s project – ‘real world’ style.

aw jeez.  I haven’t posted since August.

Honestly, I’m not even going to say anything besides 1) my life is sorta crazy busy, and 2) there will be more posts in the nearER future than how long this one has taken me.
Promise.  There is a lot going on, both photography-wise and project-wise.

Anyway, this post has a specific reason.
It’s been eight months since our first group got together for the Women: Raw.Honest.Loved. Project.
It was decided that we needed to have a little reunion.
Ten out of the sixteen women whom were present last time were able to be present this time.

We had lots of fun.
There was also a lot of sharing about how our thoughts/actions/families/lives have been affected since that night.  We talked both as a group and individually, all reality show “confessional” style.  And it made for some really great material…which I hope to be able to share with you soon.

It also made for some really dumb (read: awesome) b-roll, which I will share with you now.

Okay, so, for now I will leave you with this.
Look for near future photography blogs and project blogs.  Group 5 is set to take place the evening of November 10th!  WOOOOOOP!!!!!

group 1 reunion. confessional b-roll.  (for some reason i cannot remember for the life of me how to embed the video…so, click that link.  it’s only five minutes.  just do it.)

watch! watch! watch! be voyeuristic. why not…

Just in case you are not following the Women: Raw. Honest. Loved. Project page on Facebook (if you’re not, you should be…I am wayyyyyyyyy better about doing little blips on there than I am about this blogging bit…https://www.facebook.com/WomenRawHonestLovedProject)…I started something new.

People have blown me away with their feedback about the project…observers who have read about it and are kind enough to share their feelings about it with me.
So, I decided that you all should at least be able to be a fly on the wall for some of the evenings we’ve shared thus far.  Really get the feeling, as much as possible without being there, of what being in a group is about.
So, I’m putting out mini video clips, when I can get to them.  Little bites of video to give you more of a taste of the project.

There are two mini clips so far, and one montage of sorts of the original group, which I have posted in the past.
I hope you enjoy.

(All video credit goes to the super talented Rhiannon Brunett)

Jamey from Alana Tamminga on Vimeo.

women: raw.honest.loved. the power of words – sylvia k. edition. from Alana Tamminga on Vimeo.

women: raw. honest. loved. from Alana Tamminga on Vimeo.

(p.s. I’m real disappointed that I didn’t realize how to bestow the HD goodness on this last one before I posted it on vimeo…the quality is not as beautiful as Rhi shot it…but, it’s all captured, nonetheless)

group 4!!! women: raw. honest. loved.

sylviafinalashleyfinaldawnfinalanafinaljillfinalmichellefinalnicolefinalaprilfinalcharfinalkarinfinallizfinalkaylafinal

TERRIFYING.
Terrifying is the word that keeps entering my brain when thinking about the ladies’ feelings about being a part of this group.  Prior to the evening taking place, “terrifying” is the word that kept coming up when they would enter any sort of conversation discussing their upcoming participation.
And “terrifying” was the word that kept being used at the beginning of the evening.
But, ask any of these ladies now, after they have participated and felt what the whole experience is about, and I feel like you will get some words other than “terrifying” to explain it.
I have heard words now like: relieved. accepted. understood. affected. touched. loved.

I must admit that this group was the first one that made me a little bit nervous…
I’ll explain.
The first group we did (if you’re only familiarizing yourself now with the project, visit here to find out the backstory and how the night evolves: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/women-raw-honest-loved-part-1-2/) was done, not with the intent of it becoming a project…not with the intent of it being anything other than a night of peers discussing things we are not prone to discuss, just to see how beneficial it might be.  It was a group of my own friends/peers who participated, not knowing what they were getting themselves into…nothing to base this on.  And it was awesome.  And it convinced us to do a teen group.
So, we did a teen group (https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/teen-version-women-raw-honest-loved/)…with girls who really didn’t know what the project was about, but were interested in the concept.  And IT was awesome.
THEN, we did a 55+ group, (https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/55-version-women-raw-honest-loved/) to see what the differences/similarities would be…with women who, for the most part, weren’t really aware of the project much, but were also interested in the concept.  And, guess what, it was ALSO awesome.

So, because each group was beneficial, it was decided that the project should continue.  And so I opened it up to a mixed group – of just interested women, in general.

The main, super noticeable difference?

These women all knew what the project was.
These women all were affected by the previous women’s stories and wanted to share their stories.
Well, wanted to and didn’t want to…but felt like it was something they needed to do.
In their own words, here are some comments they made when sharing what brought them to the project:

“It was terrifying, and so I thought I’d better do it!” – Michelle

“Becca’s photo came up on Facebook…I read the blog and I thought it was super cool and not something I would ever do.” – Liz

“I would never do anything like this.  When Liz asked me, it was like a five minute decision.  It was like, “Are you insane?!” as I’m reading the email, “there’s no way I would ever, ever do that.”  And then I finished the email and I was like, “You know what, that’s just dumb.  I should just do it because it’s something I would never, ever, ever do.  Why not?”  And then once I said I would do it, I couldn’t really back out.” – Nicole

“Becca’s picture popped up in my news feed and I read it and thought, “How brave of people!  That’s beautiful!  I wish I was brave enough to do that, but I’m not,”  and then you were like, “Oh yes you are!” and I was like, “Oh crap!  I’m doing this, I guess.” And then I committed and tried to back out twice…and my boyfriend was like, “Oh nooo, if you back out, so help me god, I’m gonna tell your mother!” And then he did…and she called me up and was like, “Ana-Elizabeth, do not make me fly out there!  I will fly 2000 miles and drag you there myself!” And I was like, “Now I really can’t back out.  Crap.” – Ana

“I felt totally voyeuristic, reading the blog.  I was like, I’m kinda embarrassed reading this about people exposing themselves, but it’s such an honest thing and such a brave thing that I thought, “if my friends can do this, I can do this. I shouldn’t be such a wussie and hide from things.”
So I just thought it would be a good way of stepping forward into being a more brave person and a more consistent person.” – Char

“I saw Dawn’s post on Facebook and right away I thought it was a divinely inspired project – that there needs to be healing amongst all of us and the more women your project can reach, the more healing can occur.  So, I wanted to be a part of that.  I’m honored to be a part of it.  I’m terrified,
but I think it’s exactly what I need right now and I think we’re all meant to be here right now.  That every single one of us is meant to be in this room.” – Karin

So, yeah, that is how we started the evening.  Terrified.  Doing something they’d never, ever do.   Wanting to back out.  But, committed.

But there were so many good things to come…
All of the sharing/relating/bonding with other women.
All of your feedback (as friends and family) on why you love these women like you do.
All of these things that you possibly would never say, not given the opportunity.  The stuff of eulogies…when the person is not around to hear the words anymore.  Here was your opportunity to say them, and say them you did.
They are inspiring words. They are loving words.
They are words that have instilled newfound strength and confidence in these ladies, and for that, I can’t thank you enough.

As you read these ladies’ stories…please think about all of this.  And when you’re done reading this, go tell at least one person why you love them.  In detail.  Even if they look at you like you’re nuts.  🙂

Now, meet the ladies.  Be inspired.

(I will also likely be releasing each lady’s story individually, as I know this is terribly long, and I want them each to be considered.)

sylviains

 Sylvia ~

“I am a coward. Well, that might be a little harsh, but sometimes that’s how I feel. Like a big puss. A spineless wimp.  A scaredy-cat.

I have a really hard time with conflict. I hate it, pure and simple. I cringe when I’m around it, and I especially detest being involved in it. The thing that sucks the most about this is that it stops me from standing up for myself, expressing my feelings, and worst of all, standing up for the things I believe in or even sometimes for the people I love. It blows. It makes me feel week and awful.

The weirdest part is that I don’t even know what my dang problem is. I honestly don’t know what I’m afraid of. What do I really think the consequence is going to be if I let go of my fear and start approaching conflict with confidence? I mean, I honestly don’t really think that if I say “Hey, what you said hurt my feelings.”, that my friend would end our relationship or scream at me. I don’t foresee that if I said “Hey, you can’t talk to my friend that way.” , or “Please don’t talk like that in front of these 27 children. You are at a water-park, sir…” that I’ll get sucker-punched or stabbed or something.  But for some reason, I have an almost physical response to stuff and my mouth just can’t say what it wants to. It just stews in my head and I get more annoyed, or angry, or sometimes even resentful. It’s only when things get pretty messed up that I’ll finally say something, and sometimes even then it’s watered down and tapered.

The other weird part is that I’m not a watered-down person. I have a good sense of humor. I like to laugh. I like to be social, I like to be around people, and I love having a lot of different friends that I maintain relationships with.  But, often, I feel like I have to be on my best behavior so I’m not doing anything to make waves. I try really hard not to be offensive, rude, disrespectful, too loud, or too annoying, so there won’t be any reason for me to have conflict with anyone. While I’m proud of being polite (most of the time), having good manners, and thinking of how my actions affect other people, sometimes I am so concerned about the impression that I make that I let myself (or others) down by not being strong and vocal when I should be.
Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m worried that someone is going to read this and think that I’m never honest with them and they’ll be upset with me and we’ll have to have a conversation that will be uncomfortable for me to have, which might result in an argument and then that person will be mad and upset, and I’ll be mad and upset and I’ll bitch about it and think about it, and hopefully it will either resolve itself or get swept under the rug or…blah blah BLAH.. Sheesh. It feels crazy, and tiring. I’m aware of it, and working on it, and have gotten better at it…but I have a long, long way to go.”

Sylvia’s family and friends:

“*beautiful inside and out *funny *patient *caring *A best friend *honest and loyal” – Angie.

“It’s hard for me to believe that I have known Sylvia for over 15 years now, it makes me feel old!  We met our Freshman year of college and right away we had an instant connection. I think that Sylvia’s witty sense of humor is what made me like her so much.  In all my years of knowing Sylvia there has never been a time when were hanging out that we didn’t end up with a hilarious story, even something as simple as going to 7-11 would make for a huge comedy in our eyes, even if others didn’t agree!  I don’t think the amount of fun memories we share could fit into a book, the number of ridiculous singing phone messages we left each other is too many to count! Sylvia has been a part of my life through all of the milestones, births, marriage, death, and just figuring out life in general.  I can honestly say that my life is better because I call Sylvia my friend.   When I think of Sylvia there are so many things that come to mind but here are a few.

My friend Sylvia is………………

An amazing Mom
funny as hell
sharp
sarcastic
too strong for her own good sometimes
musical
sensitive
interesting
intelligent
undefined
compassionate
loyal
beautiful
a free spirit

I Love you my beautiful brown sugar simply caramel angel!” – Etema

“As a person – Sylvia is one of the kindest I have ever met! She genuinely cares for those that are close to her and always tries to be positive. Sylvia is one of those people that make you feel right at home – after meeting her, you feel like you’ve known her all your life.
Sylvia underestimates her physical beauty. She has a very unique face, not your average “Barbie” doll face. Sylvia has an absolutely amazing smile with beautiful teeth and a very infectious laugh. She has a beautiful caramel skin coloring – and some of the prettiest kinky curls!! She has fascinating eyes – they tell a story with just a glance – you can tell a lot of what she is feeling by just looking at her eyes.
Together with her incredible inner beauty and her exotic outer beauty – Syl is an AMAZING person! She’s absolutely hilarious too!

I hope this helps with your project. I know that she is totally excited about – and I can’t wait to hear all about it!
Have fun and good luck!” Jessica

“I am extremely impressed with what a beautiful, intelligent and caring young lady Sylvia has become.
She doesn’t lament about how life is unfair, hard, etc., but makes a plan of action to handle the situation should one arrive.
Sylvia is very concerned about peoples’ feelings, whether they’re family, friends, or those she comes into contact with briefly.   She is so careful to not say or do anything to hurt anyone.  She will often call and inquire whether I took something she said the wrong way.
She is always honest.  Not in a bad way, but in a way which does not cause any problems or misunderstandings.
Sylvia is great in expressing herself.  She has a great vocabulary, uses correct English, and explains herself well.  I’m sure she is a great trainer.
She is understanding of others and not judgmental.  She never jumps to conclusions, but considers all options, backgrounds and situations; not to justify or condemn, but to understand.  She accepts everyone where they are in life.
Sylvia is a wonderful listener and never interrupts.  If she is not sure of what was said, she will ask questions, so there is no misunderstanding.
She has a great sense of humor and is fun to be around.  She does not take herself too seriously and is always able to laugh at herself.
Sylvia is gentle with people, especially the young or older.
She is concerned with everyone feeling comfortable in any situation.  She will engage those who are on the fringe and make sure to enjoy everyone.
Sylvia is the most remarkable mother I have ever seen.  She has gone to extremes to take the proper care of Zander,  including changing her diet dramatically because of his allergies so she can continue to nurse him.” – Justine

“SYLVIA is my sister and my friend and I admire her and look up to her in so many ways…her strength of will, her laugh, and her warm and happy attitude are infectious! Her genuine love of those around her and her openness and honesty are so refreshing to anyone who knows her. She always stands up for what she believes and holds dear but will always listen to views and ideas that are opposed to hers and give her thoughts from the heart, never out of anger or a sense of needing to be right. Her storytelling ability is magnetic! Whenever she starts to recount an event or bit of news, everyone will listen because she gives the craziest things a new vibrant life.
Sylvia is beautiful, and if she knows it she is never arrogant about it. She has a natural beauty that also comes from being positive and the exuberance that she produces out of her love for life. She has an energy that, if her aura could be seen, would be golden. She is always up for adventure; from living on a cruise ship for two years to climbing through the Ape Caves and adding her vocal talents to a song on the underground punk/rock group Botch’s album “We are the Romans”! Even though she has a strong love relationship, so many friends, family,  and acquaintances…Sylvia always finds time for a chat, a visit, a kindness to whoever needs it! She is always surprising me with her strength and great attitude and now that she is a mother, has shown that she will do all that it takes to be the best mother there has ever been! Sylvia knows her mind and can do whatever she sets her focus on… she is like a gorgeous great tree that braves all weathers and stands through time, shimmering and beautiful and sheltering and strong! I love you, Sylvia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” – Chelsea

“Sylvia has been my best friend for 20 years. Throughout those years I’ve watched her grow into a woman who is loyal, loving, sensitive, wickedly smart, disciplined, creative, thought-provoking and craaaazy funny. She makes sure to speak with kindness and thoughtfulness even when faced with confrontation and most recently becoming a mother, Sylvia has shown another side; an even softer side with even more warmth and joy and unconditional love for her boy. She is dedicated and inspiring and the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known both inside and out, I couldn’t love her more if she were my blood.” – Kate

“I apologize ahead of time for my writing as I am not good at just writing a list of synonyms of someone’s qualities, so it is more like a story. Since it is storyish, I have included myself so I can give my fresh perspective but in no way is it meant to be about me, only Sylvia and her traits.
When I was originally asked to write something about Sylvia, I immediately felt honored. That I, of all people, was given the chance to be able to talk about her – someone I not only hold very dear, but absolutely treasure. It is an extraordinary feeling to be involved in writing my deepest, most honest feelings about my good friend for this powerful group she has taken part of.
It is hard to try to find the words to start, so I will start at the beginning…
When I first met Sylvia at Marlene’s we were mere acquaintances, but her beauty and the confidence she exuded immediately astonished me. I would see her at work around her co-workers and I could tell they all adored her. When I saw her at the bar with her boyfriend, I was bewildered at how he just worshipped her. It was clear to me that Sylvia wasn’t just ‘cool’; she was the real deal. She wasn’t trying to impress anyone, she was just herself always. I never saw Sylvia be phony. She had something that I didn’t – she radiated an inviting aura. I was so drawn to her, not only because her smile was like a welcoming mat, but also because I was so interested in how she had such a charming appeal without even trying. Naturally, I admired her from afar as I was incredibly intimidated.
Then a very special thing happened – after months of working together and saying hi, we went from acquaintances to great friends. In a dirty booth at Magoo’s we started talking and didn’t stop. It wasn’t just the kind of fun time where you look back and go, “she was amusing, maybe I’ll see her around,” it was the kind that bonds you. A bond that you know was made for a reason. I know the reason is because we complement each other. To this day I can truthfully say, I don’t know what she needs from me, but I know I need her. I would feel lost without her. Sylvia is everything I wish I was, and being around her makes me a better person.
Oh and talk about a sense of humor, this girl is one of the only people that can make that real hearty laugh come out. She can be a smart ass, she can be silly, and she can just be herself and it is all delightfully funny. The woman has a powerful laugh too. It’s like ‘Contagion’ because it is very hard to escape without finding yourself infected and giddy. I not only admire her personality and her life experiences, but everything about her. There is nothing that woman can say to me that doesn’t make me feel blessed to know her. Since she has a tendency to withhold her emotions or hardship, it is a very special and unique experience to have her open up to me. I know she has had a lot of tough times and it seems easier for her to hold it in then exert the energy it takes to let it out, but even when she is opening up, she is still such an admiration.
I envy her willpower and capacity to take on all the nonsense she has to deal with. To be so cool and collected and reach out when necessary to the people she trusts, instead of turning in to a hot mess and dwelling herself into a dark place. It is a respectful quality and she should always treasure her strength, because, even when she has had emotional moments, I still only see her as a woman who can never be broken and I believe that to be a badge of honor. Especially when she doesn’t feel strong ‘cause in all the years I have known her, I have never seen her appear weak. This is not to say that she is withdrawn or reserved about herself. Quite the opposite. She is an open book and when she speaks about herself she does it in such an eloquent way that even if it was out-of-the-ordinary or what some might consider too personal, it’s not at all. It’s fascinating and, like I said before, you feel like you have been graced with the most awe-inspiring conversation. When it’s not just a fascinating tidbit about her, she is captivating you with her talent for amazing storytelling.
If her sense of humor and conversation topics weren’t enough to hold someone’s attention, than an adventure with her would be, because just about anything is an adventure with Sylvia. I could list many of our adventures that I still remember vividly but this would turn in to a novel. It’s more than the adventure, it’s the memory. It’s the drive home from Tiki Bob’s with the windows rolled all the way down, or helping check the trunk of her car that had been broken into for a dead body, or the Christmas party at Hank’s where I got roofied; or “let’s pretend we are rich valley girls and act it out in this bathroom”; or “I wish I was a little bit taller-I wish I was a baller-I wish I was skinnier”; or “can you please stop sleeping on my back I’m really hot”; or dressing up for the nutcracker only to look like lushes chugging wine during intermissions; or that phone-a-friend with the big question, “What’s the worst thing that can happen right now!”
All in all, I have never seen a more desired woman in my life. Men love her and women want to be her. She may have insecurities because she is human but she doesn’t need them. They are just weights around her ankles that don’t belong there because no one else sees them.
To wrap this up with my straightforward truths and what I see in Sylvia, is this: Sylvia, you are the bestest friend I could have ever asked for. That is not a cheesy superficial junior high statement. It is the truth. You have stood by my side even when I didn’t deserve you. You have helped me when you needed to help yourself more. You have given me time you didn’t have to give. You have been strong for me when I wasn’t and it made me believe that I could be. You have always supported every smart and stupid thing I did because you wanted me to be happy.
You give me hope when I feel hopeless. You, above anyone else, I trust to be my cat’s, dog’s, son’s godparent and you know that is not something I take lightly. Why do I keep you around? Well…. I don’t know who I would be without you because you have become such a part of me. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am not the only one who feels this way. I guarantee every person that loves you can repeat these same words and many more. I am so proud to be your friend but, mostly, I am just so proud of you and everything that you are.
I wanted to write something that would show you exactly what I thought of you but I don’t think this even grazes the surface. You are so remarkable and superb, how do I put that into words? I could write forever about you but instead I will just end with this: I love you with all my heart and no matter what happens, I always will. You are family to Fox and I because you belong in our lives. I couldn’t be more thankful that you are my friend and Fox’s godmother.” – Leah

“Things about Sylvia…

I thought of when Sylvia and I first met and what it was that attracted me to her.  I tried to focus on things she has become good at after years of effort.  I thought of concentrating my efforts on her natural talents and gifts.  I also tried using what I’ve heard of her from others as a guide.
Then I thought of the purest, most-removed way of showing who she really is:  All the things that make her a loved person to those around her are the same things that make her an amazing Mother.  They are traits that sneak quietly from inside her, past her awareness, and out to the world.  They aren’t things she learned or some “mothering instinct” that so many people love to mention.  It is a collection of traits she has never had control of; beautiful, quiet, shimmering little stars that wait to explode and fill the universe of each person she meets.  Becoming a Mother has magnified these things and revealed even more.  She was born to be a Mother and born to bring joy to the lucky people around her.
She is selfless.  As a Mother, she has filtered her diet down to nothing to meet the dietary constraints of our son.  She could have decided to feed him formula in order to bypass all of the foods he is allergic to – but she didn’t do this. She has taken the hardest route possible for no reason other than to give our son the best start in this world that he can have.  She is no different to the rest of us.  She hurts when she senses others are hurting and puts her own comfort to the side in an effort to secure the comfort of others.  There is no formula for her.  She lives for our happiness and success.
Sylvia has a memory like hieroglyphs on an Egyptian stone wall.  And I don’t really think this is something she puts much effort into.  I’m the one that asks for help remembering the name of someone we just met (that was probably wearing a name tag).  She’s the one that paid attention and caught their favorite pasta noodle, pet’s name, birthday, and pet’s birthday.  As a Mother, this translates into appointment times, doctor names, shots, allergies, and a running count of changed diapers.  As Sylvia’s friend or partner, this means having someone in your life that remembers the little things.  Sometimes it feels great to know that someone cares enough to remember our pet’s name… or even our doctor’s name.
She is amusingly insane.  She sings songs that make no sense, with music that makes no sense, while doing dances that make no sense, to a son that thinks she is the greatest thing in the world.  To myself (and maybe some lucky friend) she’ll sing songs that make no sense, with music that makes no sense, while doing dances that make no sense.  I think she is the greatest too.  She can turn a bad day into a confusing day, and sometimes that’s just what I need.  It can be this singing of hers, a new animal sound she’s created, or an impersonation.  She keeps a child’s perspective on the world, just enough to keep a person from taking life too serious.  It’s something  I hope my son and I keep with us every day.
Lastly, Sylvia is brave.  I have seen her hair fall out and knew, without asking, that it was one of the most devastating things that could happen to a girl. She never complained as much as she deserved to.  Instead, she styled her hair strategically and went to work each day, or to the store, whatever, and held her head high.  I know she wanted to curl into a ball and hide.  But she didn’t.  What she did, and has done in many ways, was teach me that there are many forms of bravery.  As a Mother, she will have much to teach, and many traits to pass on to a son that will become a great man.
Sylvia is a one hundred foot tall Mother that sees eye-to-eye with her son.  She is the heart of a whale in the body of a field mouse.  She is a great leader dressed as a peasant.  She is truly the better half of me.
I love her more than I love myself and never want to know a day without her.” – David

ashleyins

Ashley ~ 

I am a controlling bitch.

I like things done my way, and I like it done in my timeframe. I tell my husband how he should do simple tasks and what he should do for a career; I question my friends decisions when they do something I wouldn’t do; I give my opinion at times I really shouldn’t. I try to keep my thoughts to myself, but if I get carried away, I tend to sound really judgmental. I have gotten much better over the years, but the people closest to me have fallen victim to my ideas of right and wrong many times.
I wish I was a nicer person.”

Ashley’s friends and family –

“Loyal
Honest
Amazing friend
Great mom
Fierce (in a good way)
Trustworthy
Supportive.” – Jenny

“Hi Alana!

My seeeestah, Ashley, is:
STRONG AND DETERMINED: she wants what she wants, doesn’t need anyone’s approval, and she’ll go for it!  I wish I could be that sure of myself.
INSANELY NURTURING: when we were growing up it was pats, and hugs, and snuggles for the cats… whether they wanted it or not ;).  Now, it is Hayden.  It breaks my heart that there are people that would openly criticize and question her mothering, especially because I know that she’s going at it perfectly, but she DOES hear them, just in case there is a way to improve (even though the naysayers are totally wrong), because she cares so crazy much.  Hayden is so smiley!  And funny!  That only happens when you do things in the way that is right for HIM.
BRAVE:  well, she willingly had a kid, for one.  But supporting her husband’s choice regarding military service is something that I KNOW I don’t have in me.  I’m scared shitless for them!  I don’t know how she is doing it?!?!  It’s amazing.
PRETTY!!!  She has that perfect skin tone that doesn’t get too pasty in winter, and browns up super nice in the summer.  She got the interesting Eyes with No Particular Color.  Her teeth are the perfect size, too!  And her eyebrows are awesome.  And she got the rack 😉
My husband, Darrin, says that Ashley is OPINIONATED BUT UNDERSTANDING: she knows how she wants things and people to be, but when they aren’t, it’s not really a big deal, and she’ll get along with you anyway.  Different is okay.
There’s a picture I have from EndFest in 2000.  It’s goofy as hell; we’re in Mom’s minivan and we’re all sweaty after the concert, and we both have ginormous smiles.  We look the most like sisters as we ever will in that photo.  Mom gave it to us years ago in “sister” frames.

The frame says:
“Sisters love, sisters share, sisters fight, sisters care, sisters laugh, sisters understand, sisters come together at different times in life.  Sisters are the precious sunshine giving meaning to so many things not understood.  Like stars in the night, sisters are forever.

To Ashley,
We are more different than a lot of sisters we’ve known.  We have definitely had our share of fights, but I think our years of caring and sharing are starting to make up the bigger chunk of the last 25 years.  Sisters really do come together at different times in life, and they wouldn’t always choose to associate with each other if not required by blood.  I think we’re becoming more and more compatible as we go through life and that’s freakin awesome!
(I attached a copy of my fave pic of us in the frame)” – Lauren
Sisters

“Ashley has been a good friend of mine for many years now. We have had our disagreements but we have managed to stay close… as close as we can with me being on the east coast lol. She is very strong willed independent, and determined. She is also very stubborn. While some see that as a negative quality I see it as a positive one. It means she is not willing to give up and will keep trying for whatever it is she needs or wants. When all options are gone and everyone is telling her to give up she ignores everyone and keeps going until the job is done.” – Christina

“Ashley:

I have tried to write a synopsis of my younger daughter. Started over several times. I don’t want to define her by any one slice of her life!
Ashley has always been independent and ready to tackle everything. She rarely takes “no” for an answer.
Fearless
Fierce
Stubborn – As a new mother, I have seen Ashley stick to her beliefs as to how her son will be nurtured along. She is so in love with that little guy!
Committed
Tough
Moral – Ashley married her high school boyfriend. They have grown up together and continue to evolve as a team in life. She believes in her husband.
Fair
Ethical
Loyal – I worried that Ashley wouldn’t be treated well when she started her career. She was so much younger than her peers, but her confidence and professionalism won them over.
Protective
Practical

So I ended up with a few slices of Ashley after all. She is so much more, and anyone who knows her will agree.”  – Teri (momza)

“Ashley’s :

Impish pixie, but not naughty.
Brave, but not overly bold.
TENACIOUS
Bright, & intelligent
Logical
Thinks ahead, and behind
Intensely emotional
Forgiving, & unforgiving  (be careful)
Caring, for those close and far
Her tolerance level towards ignorant, lazy people is still nice and low, but she’s less emotional about it as she matures.
(Understands the cathartic benefit of having “Ally McBeal” moments, and defuses herself when she might want to escalate an situation.)
She’s growing up, but not away!
I love her and her family dearly, they make me very proud.  I’m glad I contributed to who she is . . .  and to who they will become.”- Norm (Dad)

“Who is Ashley to me, in short she is my atlas holding up my world. She represents all the stability, fortitude and mental endurance in my life. I am a very unconventional person in the way that I never live the same day twice. I have no routines and no plans to develop them anytime soon. I thrive in chaos or at least I thought I did. This is where Ashley comes in; she taught me how to slow down, to stop constantly reacting to my environment and most importantly to relax and find comfort in the things you can control. She patiently, through years of resistance on my part, helped me set goals and showed me how to achieve them.
Ashley leads by example, when she wants something in life, nothing can stop her. A good representation of this is her car. When we were teenagers she picked out her dream car. A practical and reliable Ford Escape. I remember when she first showed it to me. She said this is the perfect vehicle for her. It was rugged enough to go anywhere received high ranks in safety and gas mileage but most importantly, it had enough room for a family of four to sit comfortably. We had already been dating for almost five years (2005), but kids was for from the equation, but that was her always looking to the future and meticulously planning for what lay ahead. Fast-forward to the present and damn was she right. The car is perfect for our new son (now almost two), and has provided us with many memories, i.e. road trips and camping. At times it’s hard for me to see what she sees. She has the ability to gaze into the future five or ten years ahead and to make sound decisions affecting that future. Without her I would still be living in chaos with no future to look forward to. Thank you for all the guidance and sound advice and thank you beautiful wife, loving mother, for the amazing future you will undoubtedly provide for Hayden and me I look forward to growing old with you and watching our children thrive.

Love, Your Husband Mikal”

dawnins

Dawn ~

“Stunted by my insecurities, I miss out on opportunities to grow. My lack of confidence and my propensity to worry too much mingle throughout all my insecurities.
One of my early memories is worrying about being too fat for my ballet pictures when I was 5 or 6, so I quit. I’ve seen pictures of myself at that age…I was nowhere near fat! Where did that come from?!  As a teenager, I had a passion for acting. I took one acting class but quit because I was too shy. Now I wonder how that opportunity would have changed my life. From a young age until recently, I had very large breasts; which I was definitely insecure about & that infringed on my relationships with men. They brought me, a shy person, unwanted attention and changed my behavior – making me feel trapped. Currently, being overweight is something I fret about and work on much, but with little avail. My body image is one of my insecurities but I believe people should be appreciated by who they are inside and how they treat others – not what they look like. A poor body image is there for me, it’s just not at the forefront or top of my list. There is always going to be one imperfection or another. Sometimes I think I don’t care enough about my appearance; leaving the house without looking in the mirror and coming back home to realize, “Oh yeah, I was waxing my eyebrows before I left the house and I have pieces of blue wax on my face. Oops I guess I should have looked in the mirror before leaving the house…”
I waste my time worrying. I worry about how my insecurities will make me miss out on healthy relationships. And how my lack of confidence & passivity will make me lose out on advancement at work or business opportunities. I feel alienated & worry people don’t like that I’m too emotional, too honest, too weird, too awkward, too passive, too introspective…but these are all things I love about myself.
Ira Glass once said something on an episode of This American Life that I related to: “I’m married to somebody who …I totally feel like every day I have to prove myself anew. That’s totally my personality. For me, I think that something went wrong when I was a kid, where I think that other people, they just accept that they’re “in”. They accept that this other person likes them, and they don’t have to keep proving themselves. Whereas for me, it’s entirely temporal. I’m constantly judging the whole thing moment by moment, and it could always fall apart. For me, it never ends.” (This American Life, episode 314:It’s Never Over)”

Dawn’s friends and family –

“My friend Dawn is a strong woman, a resourceful woman, a confident woman and a great friend. She is a beautiful lady, inside and out. 
Dawn has such a big heart. While I was working at VRads, she always had a hug for me on a bad day and gave me support without bias during a difficult time. 
She lights up when she talks about her special little kiddos and I love watching her interact with each of them 🙂 
She is a hard worker and has strong convictions.
Dawn, you have a great style that shows from within and your sexy savvy is sassy, Sister! I love you!” – Sasha

“I would describe Dawn with these adjectives;
stylish, smart, cool, honest, loyal and crafty.” – Eric


“Dawn… I’m not sure where to begin.  She and I have braved the mile-long friendship test that is IKEA and came out Laughing. We lost track of each other in the lamp section, and after about 15 minutes I was convinced she was pulling a fast one on me, like when kids hide in the center of clothes racks to freak out their parents.  Or, in this case, Mom hides in the clothes rack, and kiddo is left wondering which way he came from and how anybody could hide in all this extra light.  I remember her finally walking up, grinning and a little frazzled, asking “HEY, Where’ you been, I’ve been looking all over the place?”  It’s always fun to hang out with her.
I admire a lot about Dawn.
Her commitment to everything she’s interested in… her hobbies, now her business, her friends, Robb.
Her enthusiasm for finding anything to spark both her own sense of Being Alive, and encouraging it in those around her.  She’s the one who organizes the group camping trips, double dates, game nights… a night out for a friend who’s feeling low, just to get them out and moving and laughing again.
Plus, she’ll make you pillows!  For the new couch she drove you to pick up!
She’ll call you Sweet Tits!
She will goose you in the middle of an antique fair, and out-do you and everyone else on Halloween!
And she won’t bother to sugarcoat a hard truth – I don’t think she has any interest in that kind of thing at all.  She’ll be gentle about it, sure, but still give it to you straight.
She is Great, and I feel very fortunate to have her as a friend.” – Todd

“Hi Alana, just wanted to tell you about my daughter, Dawn.
She is a daughter to be very proud of – what she’s accomplished in her life, despite many adversities, she’s managed to stand up and keep on going.
Her honesty would be above most people, including myself.  She’s always been honest all of her life.
She is a very loving and faithful daughter, and friend. She always has time for me, and includes me in her life, and also shares her friends with me.
She is very creative, which shows in her handmade crafts that she carefully creates and packages.
Dawn is also a great godmother to April’s two girls, whom she adores and they in turn love her very much.
Dawn takes time to make all her friends feel cared for and important.
She has qualities that make me so very proud of her and the life she lives.
I’m happy she has so many friends and the ability to go on day-to-day, because when I’m not here anymore, I know all of you will watch over my daughter, my gift.” – Diane

“I admire Dawn for all of her qualities. She is confident. She wears what she wants to wear, she says what she feels. She’s just free to be herself. She’s an amazing friend to have. Dawn is vibrant, strong, and honest. She has always been there when I’ve needed her. She’s the kind of friend that you can accidentally spill an entire drink in her lap and she won’t get upset. She will just wipe herself off and proclaim to the entire bar that her panties are wet.
I love the way she loves my girls and my girls adore her. That is why we made her the Godmother of our children, after all.” – April

“Hey Alana,
Thanks for making my lady friends feel good about themselves. You do good work. So here’s some of the things I think are great about Dawn.

“Till the brink of Dawn, baby got it goin’ on!”
Dawn has a great sense of humor. I like joking around with her.
Dawn is inventive and crafty. It’s cool to see what projects she’s working on.
It’s pretty awesome camping or hiking with Dawn.
She’s a very good organizer and hostess.
I love her sense of style and fashion.
Dawn is very smart and witty.
Dawn is a great friend to have. She’s reliable and trustworthy. She truly tries to see where you’re coming from. She likes to get out and experience things. I’m glad I have her as one of my friends.” – Joe

“I just have to start with one of my absolute favorite things about Dawn: her laugh. She’s got this full, big, happy contagious laugh that goes for miles. It’s genuine, pure, and lovely. It’s one of the many beautiful things about my friend.
I have had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with Dawn over the last decade or so. Due to a chance meeting involving a mattress and a male friend (minds out of the gutter, now…), I was lucky to be introduced to this lovely girl. Turns out that we went to the same High School and knew a lot of the same people, but didn’t run in the same circles at that time. However, we did start hanging out at Magoos, drinking, and sharing stories and fun-filled times. I always loved being around Dawn. She has this charisma, this charm. It was always there, every time we were together.
We got closer over the years, and that’s when I got to know the depths of Dawn. She is one of the most honest and true people I know. If someone asks Dawn a question or for their opinion, they know that the answer they are going to get is genuine.  And the great thing is that even if the answer might not be what the person wants to hear, she has a gentleness and grace that comes along with her honesty.
She also has this amazing strength. She stands up for herself and for her friends, with fierceness, if necessary. She isn’t afraid to say what she thinks, stand up for what she believes, and to be herself no matter what the situation. She has this “realness” that I admire so. She has a outwardly noticeable pride in being a strong woman and I believe that people are drawn to her prowess.
And she’s so smart!  I have been thoroughly entertained listening to her debate a topic with a friend (or a stranger) and just school them like nobody’s business. She also listens and has an open mind, always willing to listen to other people’s opinions and take something away from a conversation.
I love that Dawn is always trying new things, gaining new experience and growing as a person. When she sets her mind to something, she does it whole-heartedly and makes it hers and it’s really inspiring to watch.
Dawn is fashion savvy and sassy! She has this phenomenal sense of style, and when she’s dressed up she’s a perfect picture of vintage class. She’s so beautiful! She has this ridiculously perfect, porcelain skin, stunning eyes, and beautiful hands. Even when we are camping for days, she looks fresh and adorable!
I love so many things about my beautiful friend, and feel honored to be able to write this about her. It doesn’t even begin to do her justice, but I hope that it at least taps the surface of the wonderful things I see in this amazing woman. I love you, Dawn!” – Sylvia

“Dawn

  • creative
  • smart
  • honest
  • loyal
  • generous
  • thoughtful
  • kind
  • determined
  • stylish
  • witty
  • a true friend
  • quirky
  • beautiful
  • fun
  • brings people together
  • supportive
  • outdoorsy/adventurous
  • free spirit
    –        Amy

“Dawn is a person who has learned to turn her life experience into meaningful and compassionate interaction with other people. The strength and grace she has shown whenever life has given her hardship has been an inspiration to all who know her.
Dawn is the kind of friend and companion who will be patient and supportive when you’re struggling, but also honest and open with you at all times. In other words, she’s a real friend.
Like all self-aware, considerate people, her life is a balancing-act, with patient, careful analysis on one side of the cable, and urgency and spontaneity on the other, and it’s always her love and consideration of others that keeps her balanced in the middle, moving ahead.
All cheesy metaphors aside, she inspires me every day to be a be a better person, and I’m thankful that we get to learn and grow together, side by side.” – Robb

anains

Ana ~

“When I think of what it is that makes me the most anxious, the most insecure, I feel my mind trying to shy away from it because it rattles me so deeply. 
Deep down in the core of me – that which informs everything I do and think – I feel as though I’m an obligation. That I’m so beyond redemption, so broken and damaged, that I’m a waste of the time and energy people have put into me…and everyone knows it. But because they’re obligated, because they feel honor bound to carry me, they don’t throw me away as they wish they could. Because I’m not clever, or lovely, I’m not good or kind or smart or brave or strong. I’m just damaged. And no one wants that as a companion, and yet they are stuck with me.
It leaves me in a constant state of anxiety, feeling clumsy and stupid in the company of other people. I t leaves me so exhausted from worrying that I feel like I can’t be a good daughter, or sister, or significant other, or friend, and making new friends is a harrowing and anxiety-ridden experience. I try to be good, of course, but I feel my nature leaves me incapable of being those things that I admire in others, and that leaves me as a burdensome obligation to people who are so much better than I am.”

Ana’s friends and family –

“I remember looking into her newborn eyes of an indescribable color and feeling like I had fallen into eternal wisdom…so I whispered to her, in those first hours of knowing her, that she would teach me the secrets of the universe.
She has been my portal to a realm of wonder – a flouncy, flitting fan girl whose squeals of delight can cause a smile to erupt across 2000 miles. She loves her clan, those related to her by blood or kindred spirit, with a fierce and passionate loyalty.
Her struggles have challenged her and fashioned her into the kind of person who chooses to practice compassion.  She dances with demons and angels, she knows tragedy and triumph, and her spirit, although sometimes wounded, rises again and again to meet the world on her own terms. She may not always triumph, but she is yet to be defeated.
Although I have wondered aloud how on earth such a chick could have ended up in my nest, I have no doubt she was meant to be mine from the founding of the world. My daughter, my child, my Ana.” – Amy

“Hi Alana, it’s hard to know where to start with Ana – I’ve known her pretty much since she was born.  She is easily the kindest person that I know and one of the strongest that I’ve ever met.  It’s hard enough to find one of those qualities in someone and she manages them both in the most genuine way.  Even though she doesn’t always see those qualities in herself, I know that those closest to her see her in the same light.  She also has an incredible mind; every time we hang out I’m surprised by it.  She will remember and tell you exact details of things that happened last week and 15 years ago as though they were the same.  It’s incredible, and even when there’s doubt she’s the one that comes up true, so you learn quickly not to doubt her!
With all of that, the quality about Ana I adore most is that she is always honest with others and with herself.  Right or wrong, angry or happy, she will tell you her true thoughts and not hide behind any kind of a false veil, and that’s one of the hardest things a person can do.  To stay exposed, open, and accepting in the face of everything.
To me she’s more than a friend…she’s family.” – Micah

“I have known Ana for over a decade. I have seen her at her best, and I have seen her at her worst! She is, BY FAR, the strongest person I know! She is misunderstood by many, but for those of us that take the time, she is a blessing like no other. She is the person that will NEVER give up on you! I am living proof that once you let her in, you don’t have a choice! She will change how you view yourself and the world around you! With all of the hardships that she has been through, she can still see the beauty in this world. There are so many that fail to see the beauty and at the same time, they believe that the horrors (like the ones Ana has seen) are just something of myth. Ana has gone toe-to-toe with pure evil and won! She often feels that she is weak for having relapses or panic attacks, but truth be told, most of us wouldn’t have survived long enough to experience the panic that ensues so many years later! She is one of the most kind, loving, forgiving people I have ever had the honor of knowing. I would truly be lost without her!” – Mat

“I’ve known Ana for a handful of years now, and while we’re not always central to each others’ lives, we’re never really out of touch or too far away.
Ana has always been a positive influence in my life. She is an insanely brilliant, creative and good-natured person. Ana has a unique sensitivity to the emotional health and well being of the people around her, and while I might not always understand it, it is something that has brought me comfort many times. She’s one of very few people I have ever met, that know: some things are worth the effort of doing, simply because it is good for the heart/soul/spirit/sense of self/whatever-have-you. She has had more than her fair share of trials and injustices inflicted on her, and I can tell you; she is capable of amazing amounts of grace; more then most people will exhibit in their lifetimes. I am proud and grateful to call Ana my friend.” – Cat

jillins

 Jill ~

My entire life I have suffered from a crippling need to make people like me. I want to entertain and charm and generally leave people with the impression that I am a joyful person. And I don’t think that’s false, I am generally joyful. But somewhere along the way I began to work too hard for this, to the exclusion of all else. Instead of developing real, meaningful, informed opinions on things, I churn on the words or an inspired twist of a joke I can make around the topic.  This isn’t always bad. But other times it is – a sort of manic anxiety that I know isn’t healthy.  Then the insecurity really kicks in; I start to fear that people I esteem – my friends and family – can see through my performances. And because they are actual sensitive, intelligent people, they know.

That I lack fundamental substance.
That I don’t care enough about things that are actually important.
That I’m not smart, just clever. 

 I look around at other people who are driven to make a difference and I admire them. I see people who are doing amazing things in life, and I feel pride for them while simultaneously wondering what they see in me. I feel like a fraud.  I don’t want my friendships to become a series of performances, I want real connection. But I don’t always know how to get it.
It is also part of my nature to gloss over the painful emotions in life. I just…decide not to feel them. I take sadness or anger and stuff it down. But in recent years I have come to realize it doesn’t stay down. And when it comes rushing up it’s confusing and painful and destructive. It causes me to need validation and approval to patch the holes I’ve created in myself. And so I entertain and charm and generally pretend to be a joyful person. That makes it better. For a minute.”

Jill’s friends and family –

“There are few friends who have known me since I was a child.  Few who have seen the changes in my life and held on.  Jillian is one of those friends.  I love her because she has the capacity to see past my dark places and still find light.  She doesn’t make me feel small.  In fact, she has the ability to draw anyone in. It is not just her wit that keeps me hanging on to every word, although she is terribly funny; it is the rawness that lies just beneath the surface…the layer that is vulnerable and honest and whole.

I love Jillian because she takes the world seriously while making fun of it at the same time.
I love Jillian because she is a good mother.
I love Jillian because she tells a great story.
I love Jillian because she does not judge.
I love Jillian because of her strength (the kind that makes me want to be stronger) and her beauty (the kind of beauty that slaps me square in the face).
I love Jillian because she is trustworthy.
I love Jillian because she would be an equally fantastic date to a funeral as a baby shower.
I love Jillian because she is a risk taker.
I love Jillian because she understands and appreciates the value of parenthood, friendship, and family.
If you stripped away her fantastic stories and witty remarks, I’d still like to sit next to her at a bar and sip cinnamon whiskey all night long.
I think I might like to be her when I grow up.” – Sunshine

“Jill is so fun, and it was so easy to get to know her. I remember when we first met we liked each other straightaway.. I’m sure she has lots of friends but she has this way of making me feel like an important person in her life when we are together. That feels great! She is also the funniest person I know. She always makes me laugh and look at life in a funny way – especially when it comes to our kids. Jill is also an incredible mother. Very patient, and always interacting with her kids with funny things to say and look at things. Being a mom of two myself, I know how hard it can be to stay engaged and have energy to make things fun for the kids, and Jill is a model mommy with regards to planning fun outings and when things get hectic she just rolls with it and makes everyone laugh all the while.
I think most of all, though, I admire her positive outlook on life. I’ll ask her how her weekend/day was, and it could be any old day, and she would say “the best!” It’s so uplifting to have a positive friend, someone who has great things to say about the life they are living instead of the alternative.
I really love this gal, she’s super!” – Heather

“This letter is harder to write than I thought. I honestly don’t know if I can quantify all that is what I love about Jilly, and love her I most certainly do.
She’s my sweet jilly. My funny bird. My favorite aeroplane to fly. Jilly is smart, and beautiful, and stronger than she will ever know. She, despite all of her attempts to avoid it, has some pretty astute insights and can always be counted on to mention an angle you hadn’t considered when a situation arises.
She’s brave and willing to try anything. I think technically Jill is what you would call ” a down ass bitch”. I can prove it. Well, not here and now…her dad is going to read all of these eventually and he really doesn’t want to hear anything I have to say on that subject. But, it could be fun because Jill would totally blush as this was being read out loud and I think that would be adorable. And so would you, because she is adorable. So, adore her. I sure do.” – Jamey

“I am honored to have been present at the moment of Jill’s conception. While hysterical amnesia has blocked that moment from my memory (no fault of Jill’s), every moment since combine to have made my life worthwhile. Jill and her kids are my mark on the world, and I could not be more proud of that mark.
But it is her qualities that you want to hear about, and it is those that make me most proud. Jill is fiercely loyal. Once you are a friend of Jill’s, you are always a friend of Jill’s. To this day she counts among her friends members of her second grade Brownie troop in addition to the legion of friends she has added through the years. And to a person they are fine people. Jill sees into people, and when she sees good, she makes a friend. Her friends adore her, and why not, she is riotously funny. Without really being conscious of it, Jill remembers everything she reads (which she does voraciously) and hears. When nuggets of that encyclopedic knowledge re-emerge they are invariably in the form of a pun (her favorite form of humor), a joke, or a witty bon mot. It makes her a joy to be with.
The mental machinations behind her wit make her a natural born writer, an artist whose medium is the English language. I like the art she creates.
Interview anyone she knew growing up and you would not have found a single person who would have described her as a “mother type.” But she is exactly that, a wonderful and joyous mom. She not only enjoys her kids because they are her kids, she genuinely gets a kick out of them. She treats them more as little people than as children. One of them may very well be the Kwisatz Haderach… Those who know her, know who.
In short, Jill is an accomplished liver, lover, and laugher. And I could not be more proud.

Her Dad”

“When I think of Jill I think of a beautiful, fun-loving, and interesting girl.  She makes people want to be around her and be part of her life.  She is lively and has an aura of welcoming light.  Don’t understand why she can’t dance…or doesn’t dance.
Jill is very creative in everything she does.  When she was young, she made me an apple core in clay that I absolutely cherish.  Anything she tries, she can do.  She is definitely a left-brain thinker.  She writes poems, limericks and stories that are fun, interesting, exciting, mind-blowing and always a joy to share.  I often wonder where that creativity comes from and I’m definitely glad she has that talent.  I think she could write songs if only she could put it to music.
Jill is an Aquarius and she fits the sign.  She is easy-going, accepting, forgiving, honest, head-in-the-clouds kind of gal.  She tells the truth and expects people will do the same.  I think she learned very early that she is a bad liar…it shows in her face.  I think the only reason she would even tell someone a lie is to spare their feelings…but it wouldn’t be in person.
Jill is so nice to friends, family and strangers.  I think she is naïve in that sense.  She always believes people have the best intentions. In this, I think she can put herself in dangerous situations because she trusts people to behave in an expected manner.  When they don’t, she is thrown off kilter and doesn’t know how to react.
She is mostly fearless of places and people.  We are different in this way.  Where I don’t fear places or people, I am more cautious than she is.  The things she does fear are the things I do not.  Maybe that is just an age and experience difference that she will grow into.
Jill is very sensitive.  She gets hurt very easily.  It was always hard for me when she was growing up to not hurt her feelings because I come from a family of jokesters…we tease and we never let it hurt our feelings.  Her sensitivity is what makes her so sweet.  She has an open heart that sometimes gets bruised but never for long.
Jill takes time to talk with people and is genuinely interested in what they have to say.  She is an engaging conversationalist and people love her.  She has a tolerance for people that I wish I possessed.
Jill is a very good mother.  It is obvious by how her children react to her.  She is a loving, patient and understanding parent.  She always wants to please her children when she can but understands when to say no.  She’s never going to regret loving her children too much.
I don’t think Jill sees herself as a beautiful, interesting woman who people want to be around.  I think she has doubts about her charm, intelligence and her appearance.  She doesn’t trust her instincts and lets others influence her self-esteem.  Recently she questioned why a handsome man would be interested in her…my response was “why wouldn’t he be?”.
Whatever credit I can take for being part of the genetic pool that produced such a fine woman, I’m taking it.  I am so proud of her and happy that she is my daughter.  She is the absolute best daughter a mother could ask for and I only hope she thinks that I the absolute best mom a girl could ever have.  I love her with all my heart with a fierce protection to protect her and her children from harm and hurt.” – Judy

michelleins

Michelle ~

All right, let’s just say it. Like most of us, I’ve got issues. And, like most of us, I learned very early that you should stuff those issues down deep to protect yourself. And then for the lucky ones (which is still most of us) our issues happened when we were so little that we don’t even remember what or why they are issues.

As I think about my greatest insecurity, far too many ideas come to mind. I’m just a giant ball of insecurity! What in the world ever possessed me to do this I still don’t know..? I thought it would be brave, or healing, or something. And, being so insecure, I can’t ‘reuse’ a word that another woman has used! But, some of them are my words, too. They run through my mind daily and hold it captive.
So much of my life has been about seeking acceptance from everyone else, and hiding the parts of myself that I thought others wouldn’t want to see. The biggest of those parts were my FEELINGS. When I think about growing up, I was always told I was ‘too emotional’ and ‘over-dramatic.’ Don’t FEEL so much, Michelle. Better yet, don’t feel. Period. It’s a nuisance. SUCK IT UP.

 So I learned to ‘feel less’ (not exactly – I just learned to stuff the feelings I had) – I never learned to manage my feelings. They became too big or too scary. Too much emotion shows weakness.

If I feel too deeply, I am weak.

If I am overwhelmed, I am weak.

If I don’t do everything right, everything PERFECT, I am weak.

If I can’t handle it all, I am weak.

I can’t be vulnerable – that’s WEAK.

I can’t let someone REALLY see me. They might think I am weak. 
But now I feel like there might be more for me if it don’t SUCK IT UP. If I FEEL. And so this seemed like a good place to start. FEELING. Period. I am feeling. Guh…”

 

Michelle’s family and friends:

“Hi Alana. This is Tyler, writing about how awesome my mom is. My mom makes me feel special by how caring and loving she is. It is really cool to see how she brought Jacelyn in as her own daughter. She also knows how to make me feel better when I’m not feeling well or am sad. She is super smart and can help me, by pushing me to do my best in school, and can help me with my projects. She is fun to hang out with. She has a lot of fun creative ideas for things to do. We also love to watch science fiction shows together. I am lucky to have her as my mom.” – Tyler

“Michelle, I have watched an intelligent, loving young girl grow into an intelligent, loving, kind, amazing woman. You are a caring compassionate friend, who tells it like it is and then offers good advice after praying about it. You are also an awesome prayer warrior, a great mom, and have the integrity to stand up for what you believe even if it isn’t the popular thing to do. I could always count on you to be in my prayer loop, even when you were younger. You are a talented woman in many areas, after all who introduced me to kale salad? I have always felt very blessed to have you in my life and I hope this helps you to know what a truly awesome person you are!

Love you, Judy”

“Michelle is the kindest, most empathetic person I have ever met. Heck. She’s the kindest person YOU have ever met. When we were little, Michelle was tall, and kinda goofy, and asked a lot of questions. This annoyed people and I remember them being pretty mean to her. I was probably pretty mean to her sometimes…but she never. ever. ever. held it against anyone. She would accept, absorb and forgive while barely batting an eye (this is a skill most never  even realize they should master). I remember watching her one day while I was waiting in line to play foursquare… she was walking and talking with a girl who had cerebral palsy (I think). This girl was the constant butt of cruel jokes and mostly ostracized…but not by Michelle. They were walking and talking and laughing and I will never forget that moment. I’m not even sure why it’s that one specifically that I’m choosing for this letter because there are more stories of her fighting off kids who were bullying someone less able. I think it’s that it is the stuff of a truly beautiful human being. Just being in that moment – at that time – with that person.  She can do that and make you feel truly loved.
Michelle and I have faced some demons together – I couldn’t imagine having been able to do that with anyone else. She’s brave, and fierce, and funny, and all of those questions that she asks? If you stop and listen…and try to answer them…you may learn something. She has that gift, that intelligence.  Here we are 30 years later…I am so very lucky to have her in my life.
She dedicates herself to protecting others. Others without a voice…I love her for that.
That and her wickedly dirty sense of humor…the way she talks her thoughts through out loud…she really considers herself and her place in this world. She’s great. Really and truly great.” – Jamey

“Michelle,

I thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this project. I feel blessed to not just know you as a friend but also as a colleague. Not only do you amaze me in your professional walk but also in your personal walk in life. It’s a blessing having you as friend. You always  have this attitude that is optimistic and positive. You are enthusiastic and fun to be around! I see you as hard working, knowledgeable and successful. Despite your workload you’re never too busy to listen and offer up words of advice to those around you.  You Michelle are brilliant, ambitious, fun loving, dependable, caring, energetic, a strong leader and one amazing mother.  The Lord is using you in so many ways. You touch so many lives and as He sees you as beautiful inside and out, so do I.  I’m very thankful for you!

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.

Psalms 55:22

Love, Shannon”

“Michelle R***** L**** (R***** now, except when I yell at you)

Keeper of my secrets
Holder of dreams
Peaceful voice in the craziness of this world
Teacher of wisdom
First real friend
True friend
Pollyanna and sunshine
Balance in this unbalanced world
An advocate for what is right
Compassionate even when none seems to be deserved

You are an amazing friend, woman, and sister.  To me you are all three.  We have gone through this word together.  It is a long hard journey and had I not had you by my side I am not sure if I would have made it.  The good and bad memories of my past all have the vine of you twisting and supporting. Memories of us flood through my mind.  You are an essence to me and this world.  You are strength in the quite.  And when nothing else is working you make people laugh.   Even if it doesn’t make it better, for a moment you made them forget and smile.  You are sunshine and light.  Never let anyone tell you that that is not a strength. If this world had more Pollyanna’s in it we would all be much better off.
Thank you for blessing my life with yours.  Don’t ever become what you are not.  To me, you are the best friend to have walking with in this world.  Anyone whom you choose to walk with is blessed.  Thank you for choosing me.

I love you so.

Nikki”

“Michelle is, and always has been, very concerned about others’ well-being.  Whether it’s a friend, family member, or someone else’s kid, she’s always ready and willing to help.  Michelle sees potential.  She often sees the potential in others long before anyone else – even before the person him/herself.  She uses this potential to feed her desire to help others become their best selves.  Because she sees potential and how to get there, she’s very celebratory of small victories.  This draws others to her like a magnet – because she’s so positive and encouraging and celebratory of every accomplishment along the way.
Part of why Michelle is so good at seeing potential and helping others move towards their best self, is because she’s also doing this for herself. Michelle takes whatever she’s given, combines it with whatever she’s been able to scrape together, and works to make herself better.  Her life better. Her family better.  Her home better.  Her world better.
Michelle is an example of someone on an eternal quest for improvement- always working to make things better- to make everything better.” – Steph

“Michelle is very strong-willed & determined. She knows what she wants and works to get it. Even though there may be detours, she gets right back on track and continues to her goal.  She worked a full-time job with a young child – all the while keeping her family together during stressful times -and still managed to earn her bachelor’s degree at night. At times she was even working a part-time job to supplement while her husband was out of work. Strong willed & determined!
She is very loving & patient. To see how she has raised her son to be such an intelligent, compassionate human being is amazing. Now she has also taken on the added responsibility of fostering a young girl with a huge amount of behavioral issues. It is wonderful listening to the stories of frustration as well as success in this endeavor. Somehow, she has also managed to have her husband and son behind the decision, making it a family affair to love and care for this forgotten child, despite the heartache & drama that follow her.
Michelle is family-oriented and the peacemaker. Always reaching out to keep her extended family & in-laws within her circle. Always working to smooth over the rough edges of arguments and such that happens in family life. Always bringing everyone together again, thus showing her son by example that there is nothing more important than family – no matter how far away they are or how much emotional distance they put between themselves. Family is important and you need to work to keep them together.
She has grown into a beautiful young woman with much to give the world. I admire her and am proud to call her my daughter. I look forward to the great things she will surely accomplish!  I love you, Michelle! – Mom”

“Michelle,

I’ve mentally written this and mulled it over a million times and, no matter how I try, I can’t break it down in a way that could make others understand what I have to say to you within a context they could grasp. So instead, I’ve chosen to write to you. To my person. How could anyone else understand who we were when we met and what we’ve each been through to become who we are now? Or who we want to be?  They weren’t there to see the two young teenagers sneaking around the corner to the grocery store during breaks, forging a new friendship. They weren’t there the first time you nursed me through heartbreak, let alone any of the others. They haven’t watched our children grow up as family or listened to us share our professional aspirations. They couldn’t possibly know you are one of the very few people in this world with whom I don’t feel like a schizophrenic freak, nor would they understand. But you do.
You may laugh at what has continually popped up for me as I’ve tried to wrap my head around choosing a word to describe my favorite part of you, but I ask you to then take a breath, believe that I’ve chosen it thoughtfully and intentionally, and let your heart feel it. When I think about the many forms of our relationship, the overriding quality I find myself emulating across the board is your intention to be graceful. Grace. You have such grace in you.
Your grace is so beautiful, Michelle. You fight for children everyday in such graceful ways. You mother your son with grace that inspires me to be more graceful with my own children. You are graceful in your relationship with your husband and have taught me more than you can possibly know about how to have a healthy relationship with he who may yet someday be mine. You speak hard truths with a grace I have always, and will always admire for your resounding ring of truth and kindness. And when your graciousness lapses, I see you feel its absence. I see you look for it to put back on, because it is you. You are grace. Your intention to be graceful in all you do is one of the many reasons I feel safe to trust you with all of me. Why you are my person.
I love you, Michelle. Thank you for sharing your grace with me and mine.

Sincerely, your person too,
Debbie”

“Hi Alana. I hope you are not looking for some eloquently written letter. I’m a relatively smart guy, but not a great writer. That is one of many areas where my lovely wife, Michelle, shines.
What are some words I would use to describe her? Beautiful, smart, caring, thoughtful, wise, patient (she’s put up with me for 18 years) I would almost say she’s a saint! Especially the way that she has taken Jacelyn in. This is a 4-year-old, hyper, emotional girl that most people would run from – yet, Michelle opened her heart, arms, and home to her and is raising her with the love she would give our own daughter. She is an amazing mother. Not only for our own son, but any other child that should be fortunate enough to meet her.
Michelle, is a very loyal friend. She may not have “a lot” of friends, but the ones lucky enough to be her friends, will be her friends for life. She loves every one of them very deeply and with all her heart.
This is tough. I have been with Michelle for 18 years and have been through so much with her that words can’t really describe how I feel. I guess I could say how lucky and blessed I am to have her in my life, and how fortunate I am to have her as the mother of my son. She talks about wanting to get a tattoo of an anchor, in honor of her father (Retired Navy), but I could get one in honor of her. Not in the derogatory term, but in the sense that she keeps me grounded when my emotions get the best of me. I guess you could say…Michelle brings out the best in me. I am one lucky man!” – Bryan

nicoleins

Nicole ~

 My insecurity is that I always feel like an outsider, even with people I know well. I feel like an afterthought and that no one really knows or understands me. It makes me think that either they don’t care to know or that they do and simply don’t like me. This causes me to be guarded with new people I meet and constantly second guessing myself with family and friends.”

Nicole’s friends and family:

“As Nicole’s Mom, I could list hundreds of great things about her, because she’s my daughter and obviously I think she’s perfect. But I will list just some of the many great things about her…

Excellent Mother to Victoria
Loving caregiver to her grandparents
Very big heart
Excellent artist
Extremely Smart
Very creative & resourceful
Very determined
Independent
Thoughtful of all family and friends
Always happy to help anyone who needs it
Self-confident
Honest
Good friend

I hope this will help your project!”
Danielle

“She is an active listener
Has a great sense of humor
Patient
Eager to learn
Open to try new things
Unique
Does not give into peer pressure
Creative
Independent
Kind

I apologize for the delay. This list can go on and on. She is an amazing soul!” – Daisy

“My Sister, Nicole…

Amazing caretaker…to so many people!
Strong
Extremely sincere
Independent thinker…she does not follow the pack, which is so admirable!
Loving Mom…gives so much for her daughter
Creative AND Ambitious…you need to have both!
So funny!
Beautiful hair 🙂

I am lucky to have such an awesome woman in my life.  Love you, Nicole!” – Gina

aprilins

 April ~


My biggest insecurities have changed over the years. Currently, it’s my body after having 2 children via C-section. I’ve always been a bigger girl. As I made my way through high school and onto college I came to terms with that fact. I had always done all sorts of sports and dance and was never thin. It’s not that I’m a different size then I was before I had kids, but somehow I just feel different. It’s not even the scars that bother me. Just something in the back of my mind that tells me that I’m less sexy and less desirable than I used to be. My husband tells me daily that he thinks that I’m sexy, but I just can’t let myself believe it. My insecurity with my body affects me daily. It keeps me from letting me be me.”

April’s friends and family –

“April is a very good friend to me and my daughter, and we also feel like she is part of the family.
She is an excellent mother, and you can tell she really loves being a mom.
She’s very calm and collected, and makes sure both girls get the attention they need.
April actually has 3 children including Dave, her hubby, lol.  She is a good wife, and manages to take everyday in stride. They have a great family and I love to visit with them.
I admire her strength and fortitude; being a wife and mother are both very exhausting jobs.
I think April is rewarded for all her good work by having a nice family to be proud of.
I hope to see her darling girls, Samantha and Ella, grow up to be wonderful and gorgeous young ladies.” – Diane

“I have know April since before she was even started. I helped name her. She is warm- loyal- thoughtful- loving- reflective -patient. She has a quiet reserve about her. I adore her. She was my daughter’s best friend as her mother is mine. I now look at her more with my heart than I should. But when you love someone unconditionally, that is how it is. April – you have all the qualities a woman of this day and age should have. Be brave and proud and move the mountains set before you. I know you will. I love you.” – Gayle

“April and I became friends at a time in our lives that was very difficult, our early twenties, ha! She has come to be a admirable friend. She is genuine, smart, strong, honest, dependable and patient. All qualities in a friend I hold in high regard. She is an excellent wife & mother. I admire her patience with her daughters. I’m proud to call Sam & Ella my goddaughters. I’m honored to be apart of their loving family.” – Dawn


“Hi Alana,

Here are some good positive things about April that I know anyone will agree on.
She happens to be my daughter and I love her deeply.
She is my best friend.
She takes me shopping and sometimes does the shopping for me.
She always gives me back the change.
April is a wonderful mother and wife.  She takes it all in stride.  She loves her ladies, as she calls them, to her very soul.
She is funny and well liked.  A bright ray of sunshine.
She is very good at her job.  She gets things done when they need to be done.
April takes charge of me when I’m not able to do so.  She is what holds our family together.
She is eager to help anyone in distress.  No matter what.  Even stray crippled cats fit into that category.

I couldn’t live without her. Everything I do, I do for her!” – Dawn (Mom)

charinsChar ~

 “Growing up I often felt different and never good enough, feelings that have incapacitated me as an adult.  As an adopted child, I rationalized that I must have been trash for my own mother to not want me.  My twin sister and I were eccentric – peacocks in a family of swans.
By 5th grade I had begun to lose hope in school.  I was a straight F student who was also taking gifted classes, told I just “needed to try harder”.  As a teen I was diagnosed with ADHD, anorexia and severe depression.  I tried to get by on charm and appearance but ultimately felt like a worthless fraud, incapable of success and ultimately of any true worth.
I left school at 16 and ran away, suffered a year on the streets (and rape) and left when I got pregnant (on the pill, go Planned Parenthood).  Due to my very religious upbringing, I married my boyfriend at 17 – who I had met on the street – and was pregnant again, this time with a daughter, two months after giving birth to my son.
The “marriage” was a disaster.  I was basically a single mom living with abuse.  I finally left, as it was hurting my kids, and chose to move away, striking out on my own.  I worked hard to provide for my kids, and besides a perfectionist work ethic, credit them with giving me motivation to get through life.
However, my oldest kids were adversely affected by what I can admit now was mental illness and my extreme shame in dealing with it (depression, anxiety, anorexia, hoarding and conversely, OCD).  I also have had autoimmune issues that made (make) me feel like a genetic weak link.  My self-imposed isolation and not seeking help have come at a great cost and have caused a burden to my family.
I am finally seeking help as I have a sweet 2-year-old son and 8-week-old daughter (and a loving husband) who need me.  I am in the grip of Postpartum Depression, Fibromyalgia and Lupus and need to come to terms with these limitations and MOVE ON.  I would not be such a harsh judge to a stranger; it is time to learn how to love myself and turn off the self-hatred.”

Char’s friends and family –

“I’m sending this message in regards to my mother Char, and I would love to give you my input. She is an amazingly trustworthy person, empathetic, and has always been an incredible mom.” – Demyan

“I have known Char for well over a decade. She is bright, sensitive, caring, and capable. Her love for family and friends is evident in everything she does.  If she is afraid to take on new challenges, she doesn’t show it. Whenever knocked off her feet, she gets back up and tries again. I’m glad that Char is a part of my circle, and happily foresee that she always will be.” – Traci

“Char loves us all. She believes in us. She believes we can do more than what we do. She will be there for us. She will help us.  She will inform us of imminent dangers. She will protect us. She does this for you and she does this for her family. Char is beautiful. Char is intelligent, strong, wise, weird and strange, and isn’t going to stop any time soon. Hold her hand, and you will smile. Love you, kiddo.” – Nicholas

“Strong
Wonderful mother
Beautiful
Charismatic
Hard working
Determined
Gentle and nurturing
Loyal
Unconditional love
Intelligent” – Sierra

“I couldn’t imagine anyone more open and honest than Char. It was that which drew me towards her and that same trait that characterizes any close friend that I have to this day. Ironically, often the most honest are the least likely to open up. At first they’re quite good at smiling and saying soft “hellos”. A simple gesture, a reply, can be difficult at first and intimidating. Their beauty radiates from within and then outward like a tropical trade wind visiting you on the driest hottest day of the year on the most lifeless side of an island that can sometimes go by the name of Life.
Char was like that for me when we first met. A godsend.
I was young and struggling with my identity and insecurities of my own. If I could go about my day in a hoodie with headphones to drown out my thoughts, I knew I’d be ok. It took a friend like her to help me realize what I was going through. It took a friend like her that went through enough that she wasn’t going to hide it if she met someone who was traveling along that same path. It took a friend like her to tell me all the things I couldn’t tell myself, that she couldn’t even tell herself, things that made my heart and mind stronger. Made me love myself a little more.
We met as co-workers at the Harvester in Stadium district. Perhaps she knew I was looking for something because she took me in under her wing. She was skilled at what she did, a master. From her I learned how to never waste a step and to maximize my potential. To feel good at the end of a hard shift. To help others in need. To care. To open yourself to all those patrons who so badly wanted to give, or at least, share a part of themselves with someone who had no judgment to give, just food.  At the end of some days we would often share a few drinks and joke about our permanent grins and how hard it was to stop smiling. Smiling is the number one addiction in the food industry. If your server is smiling, you’re definitely more likely to say yes to any invitation.  Oh, but to smile a real smile, now that was hard. For women like us. We hurt constantly inside and no one ever knew.
I don’t know what it is about women who have insecurities that draws them to a life of servitude. That’s Char. She’s constantly giving. You wouldn’t know it because of how youthful and beautiful she is, but she suffers in many ways. Her health burdens seem to only make her stronger. But she also has a past that could take a lifetime to forget and still she’s one of the strongest women I know.
Whenever holidays came around I felt blue and lonely and without family and there she would be with something small yet special in a tiny dainty box with cute wrapping paper and just the wonderfulness that could make even finding an empty box followed by a hug the most lovely gift in the whole world. Not to mention she would find a way to make this moment possible when she had nothing to give.
Honesty. Sometimes you can say something to someone and they look at you in disbelief and then suddenly become afraid of how fragile and possibly unstable you might be. Your words have more meaning than the emptiness that most speak and they don’t know what to do. They want to run because they were raised in households where you didn’t talk about how you feel or if there was a problem and that getting angry wasn’t OK. Char didn’t run and I didn’t run from her. We were OK with telling each other that we were not OK and that helped us feel OK. We weren’t alone anymore. We could tell each other that the things we thought weren’t true and we knew we weren’t lying. There was a trust and faith that only time could tell.
Here I am today, cured. Char and I parted ways about 7 years ago. Parted in the way that we no longer were in the presence of each other. It wasn’t until 5 years ago that I was completely cured. I know what it feels like to be better. And sadly, I sometimes feel like I’m not with my sister, Char, as much as I should be. And sadly, I sometimes think it will remind me too much of the old sad me. But, I know its not that at all and that I’m actually just really allergic to cats and she’s a stay-at-home mom now so……well……smiles. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about her and how she was there for me when I needed someone so raw and honest to love and be loved by.
I love her. To this day. And when I knew her, I knew nothing, and still to know that I had a friend like her by my side made every day possible because I knew she was there just a few blocks away. Unconditional love.” – Leilani

 

karinins

 Karin ~ 

“I figured out what is wrong with me…the fact that I think that
something is “wrong” with me.  I am imperfectly perfect in this perfect moment.
When I wrote this a few months ago, I thought I really believed it.
If only I could fully embody this, at the core of my being. To truly live from a place of pure love, not fear.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve strived for perfection. And guess what? I always ended up “falling short”….never quite enough. Like the “Little Drummer Boy” without a “drum”.
Over the years, I’ve “poisoned” myself slowly with the good ‘ole “negative self-talk tapes”. So many years of my life, wasted…secretly loathing myself much of the time, literally shoving down deep those parts of myself that were just too dark & too “ugly” to be revealed.
And beneath it all has existed within me the core belief that I’m not worthy of love.
Sadly…living with this core belief for most of my life has led to feelings of shame, unworthiness, fear, & despair. “Damaged goods”, a “lost cause” not worth “saving” with no hope of healing & finding True Happiness.
I’ve actually been called “Joyless”…how sad is that?!

This distorted view of myself triggered many self-destructive behaviors & led to moments, caused by my inner self-saboteur, which abruptly & seemingly without mercy, changed the trajectory of my life path. You know those moments, when you can never turn back & you are forever changed…Well, recently…some life circumstances, have brought me to my knees into a state of pure madness & surrender.

I believe the Universe finally intervened & made it an impossibility for me to focus on the healing of others, & instead, focus on “healing thyself”.  It has at times felt like a discouraging and lonely road.
Never in my life have I felt so isolated from those closest to me. And why? Because, unfortunately, I was depleting my own soul,  giving away too much of myself. And unfortunately, many times these good intentions of mine proved to be more detrimental, not only to me…but also to those that I tried to “help”. Co-dependence & enmeshment at its finest.
Also…I’ve developed an unhealthy pattern, that seems to have been engrained in me, of looking outside myself for the “magic answer”, to find “enlightenment” &  to “Live Happily Ever After”.
But, now…finally, the lesson is clear. I must first go through this initiation on my quest for self-love & acceptance, before I am able to enter the next leg of my journey…I must take pause. It’s time for me to embrace my True Self & create my own “Happily Ever After”.

It is my belief that this unconditional love can only be attained by accepting…without judgment…ALL parts of myself, even my “shadow-selves”, opening my heart to receive the pure love, that has been lying in wait…all these years. Forgiving myself, for hurting others & myself in my pain & confusion & having faith in myself, completely letting go of my Damn Ego, & trusting my connection to the Divine & to all living things.
To see the Warrior Woman in myself & others, & to believe in my own “voice” & trust it.

As excruciating  as “growing pains” can be, they bring with them Wisdom, Courage, & a true sense of awe & humility.
And…most of all, I pray to truly have gratitude, for all that I’ve learned so far during this this treacherous, yet exquisitely beautiful journey.

To deny your shadow, is to deny your light.
Open your heart & embrace your whole being.
Receive the love of spirit that exists within you.
Surrender your ego & return to your true self.”

Karin’s friends and family:

“Karin has the soul of an angel.  She is always concerned about others, wanting to heal the broken, while putting herself last.  She has a beautiful soul that I believe can never be broken.  I know it has been trampled on many, many times, yet, her soul always shines through.  She is amazing to me. How she keeps going, keeps getting up.
We don’t always keep in touch as often as we should, but she is always a constant in my life, my heart.  I know that she is always thinking of me, just as I am always thinking of her.  I know God has put her in my life not only to help me but for me to help her.  She has been through many lows in her life and I have been there, just as she has been by my side during my lows.  I am so thankful to have such a strong, beautiful woman in my life that will forever be by my side.  I hope and pray that she will see how wonderful she is and know that she is worth her weight in gold.  I want her to be happy, to have a smile on her face everyday and I hope she can find that soon!  I love you!” – Jenee

“This is what I know of Karin…

She’s a beautiful woman. Health issues that never seem to crush her positive spirit. Simple and careful free spirit by nature she seems to go with the flow of life enjoying the ups and downs life has to offer!
That’s all I really know about her, as I’ve not seen her in awhile… Praying she’s well! Hope that your work continues to flourish!” – Kendall

“Genuine!
Faithful!
Honest!
Kind!
Compassionate!
Intelligent!
Graceful!
Beautiful!
Simply amazing!!!!” – Honor

“Karin is………………….
Unique, Intuitive, Intelligent, Inspirational

Karin is…………………
Charismatic, Compassionate, Caring, Creative, Kind……..a healer

Karin is Loved…………

Karin is Resilient……..

Alana, as I read some of the words described by the ladies doing this project I was drawn to two words LIBERATING and EMPOWERMENT.  Hooray for your project . May it be the start of an ongoing dialogue between women!
Here’s to greater understanding of ourselves, acceptance of ourselves and foremost LOVE of ourselves.  We are wonderful, beautiful women and Karin is one of them !!” – Kathy

Karin

  • wise
  • beautiful
  • kind
  • spiritual
  • loving
  • gracious
  • nurturing
  • humble
  • funny
  • eloquent
  • generous
  • sweet
  • has an amazing speaking/singing voice
  • fashionista
  • talented poet/writer
  • brings peace & strength to others
  • a healer
  • the best little sister anyone could ask for.”

-Amy

lizins

Liz ~

“I’ve always been “almost.” 
All my life I’ve heard “You’d be so pretty if…”

If I was taller.

If I had better skin.

If I had a tan.

If I lost some weight.

If I had bigger boobs. 

I’ve heard how I never finish anything. I’d be such a good mom if I had follow-through. I’d prove my intelligence if I would finish school. I’d use my creative aptitude better if I worked faster and turned it into some sort of business. 

And, I’ve always felt incomplete. I’d fill that void with a baby, if I could have one. Or, maybe a dog, if my husband didn’t hate them. Or, a best-friend, if I got along with others.
I’m almost good enough. Almost pretty enough. Almost cool enough. Almost perfect. Almost almost.”

Liz’s friends and family:

“Best friend
Amazing mother of 3 beautiful children
Crazy talented
Beautiful
Caring” – Katie

“Some things about Liz that are AMAZING:

-She is a wonderful mother. Her kids always come first to her.
-She is inspiring to me, as a crafter, as a mother, as a human.
-She says what she means, even when it’s difficult to say.
-She is gorgeous, inside and out.
-She is genuine.
-She follows her dreams.
-She is trusting.
-She is supportive.
-She is kind and expects nothing but a smile in return, like she shares the life philosophy “Create the word you want to live in” with me. I don’t know if she really does, but that seems to be a sign of it.
-It’s not necessarily about her, but I wish we lived closer together.

I hope that is enough. I could go on and on about her, but I think I hit the top points here. She is incredible.” -Andy

“My words for her are: courageous, incredible, beautiful, strong, deep, dreamer, perfect.” – Ethan

“Hi Alana,

I’m writing about my daughter-in-law, Liz…she’s an amazing young woman.
Liz is open – what you see is what you get.  Her emotions are on the surface…she’s passionate about things, animals and people.  She lets you know how she feels and there’s no hidden agenda.
Liz is a wonderful mother – her kids know that they’re the center of her world.  She lets their creativity shine, and their happiness is a testament to her involvement in their lives and the love she gives them.
Liz is a free spirit – she marches to her own drummer in her own way.  She is on a quest to explore herself and her place in the world, and she’s willing to try new things.  She’s growing by leaps and bounds and her potential is endless.  With her intelligence, the sky’s the limit.” – Alvarita

“Intelligent
Loving Wife
Extremely dedicated to ANY project
Very creative
Artistic
A loyal friend
Imaginative
Resourceful
Inventive
Knowledgeable
Devoted
And…above all…an AWESOME mother!” – Duane

“Lizzy has had many experiences, good and bad in her 30 years, and I think the lessons she has learned are the most important “facets” of her life. She has compassion, empathy, and sincere tenderness for those in need.
She is very creative and, whatever she attempts, she does well.  I’ve always admired her ability to teach herself things that she found interesting …knitting, computer skills, gardening, home schooling, quilting, yoga, to name a few.
Her sense of humor is quirky and entertaining, especially when she bleats like a lamb or burps the ABC’s!
When Liz became a Mother, I think she found her niche in life.
Her parenting skills are imaginative, loving, patient, and nurturing.
I don’t think Lizzy has “found” happiness, I think she has worked hard to create a happy life for her husband and family by making wise decisions, backed by a thoughtful evaluation of her options.
I am proud to be her Mom!” – Diane

“Traits about Liz:

Fiercely dedicated
Fantastic mother
Hauntingly good singing voice
Wicked awesome & meaningful tattoos.” – Zoe

“Liz was an unmistakable and remarkable turning point in our son Ethan’s life.  Her independent spirit, willingness to take risks and explore, and appreciation of art and all things beautiful, both aligned with our son’s entrepreneurial nature and challenged him to see and appreciate new things himself.  She helped him come out of his social shell, sharing with him a zany and attractive sense of humor and that “sealed their deal” as soulmates.  And when they had children, they both grew themselves as they dedicated themselves to being great parents and rearing wonderful children.  Liz is inquisitive, exploratory, sometimes daring, very bright, articulate, and not afraid to voice an opinion…character traits that are shared in many respects by our son and by our family in general.  Ethan has said many times that Liz changed his life and made him a better person.  I completely agree.” – Rick

kaylains Kayla ~

“I’ve always been a generally shy person, and I don’t really open up very well to people.  After my freshman year of high school, I moved to a different school district and went to a new high school.  One night, my “best friend” from my old school told me that pretty much everybody that I knew at that school hated me because of how “annoying” I was. Every body talked behind my back.  She said she probably shouldn’t have told me, but she wanted me to know. It was weird because I was always shy.

Even though this was such a long time ago, it still affects me today. Sometimes I find myself at a loss as to what do say in social situations.  So, i withdraw. I’m worried that people won’t like what i have to say, so often times, I am unsure as to what to actually say.  Really, I like you-I just don’t know what to say!”

Kayla’s friends and family:

“What can I say about Kayla that doesn’t bring a smile to my face? She has been a part of my life since the moment her conception was first a reality. She has been the pride of her Mother and of so many others. The thing I most appreciate about Kayla is her empathic tendencies; as a young girl she would weep for the injustices that exist in this world, which was beyond the wisdom of a child.
As a woman I admire her willingness to follow her joy and her life’s purpose. Kayla has very strong influences in her life yet she followed her heart to her joy. I wish as a woman of half her age that I had the guts to do the same. I am so proud of the woman that she is and of the child that she never abandoned. The child who took pride in violins and celebrated the joys of life regardless of what others may have judged her for. I see her living a life that she chose and reveling in the joy she creates for herself everyday; and I am in awe, and I am envious. As my dad always said, “you have the world by the ass on a downhill pull” and if there is one person in this world who does, it’s my precious Kayla. We may not have been bred on the same bloodline but she is my family nonetheless and I love and admire her immensely!” – Erin

“Thank you for having me as part of this! Kayla is an incredible girl.

When I first met Kayla, what struck me the most in our first few conversations was the incredibly confident manner in which she welcomed me into the job. It wasn’t until later that I found out that she had only been working there about three months longer than me! I was impressed. This is a girl who thinks before she speaks/acts and treats everyone (*everyone*) with the same gentle humor and respect – something I always wish I could do. *Then* I find out how old she was… man, if I’d have had such a handle on my life and such poise at that age – sheesh…
And who doesn’t love that crazy mop! Those raven curls of hers that look so effortlessly chic and sexy at the same time.
And the way she lights up when Matt brings Max into the studio.
And that low, quiet laugh – so infectious.
Alana, I could go on and on – you let me know if you want more :D” – Kate

“Kayla is:

smart
honest
kind
thoughtful
caring
has excellent taste in music
supportive
friendly” – Matthew

“When I think of Kayla, I think of her big ol’ smile, gorgeous curls, and super contagious laugh.  Man, do I love to laugh with her.  We haven’t had as many opportunities in the last couple of years as we used to when we were in school together, which I really miss.
Kayla has always referred to herself as “shy,” but I must say that she was the one to reach out to me (via Myspace, woot wooooot!) before we started our first quarter at the Art Institute.  So, shy as she may think she is, that was not my first impression.  I’m so glad that she reached out, as, no matter that I was heading into college at 30 years of age, it was still super intimidating to do it alone.  It was nice to make an awesome friend before that that would be experiencing it with me.
And experience it, we did.  She was often my right-hand partner in the studio and we had some pretty fantastic times.  Though, when I think of Kayla, I think of those times outside the studio…outside of school…mainly at Pies & Pints.  The hilarious conversations that we would have over some beers and custom-ordered mac ‘n’ cheese.  YUMMMMMMM.
So many conversations about boys.  Holy crap.  So many.  I will always laugh my ass off thinking about those conversations and the times we had together.  (Going to a particular laser show with a particular Mara is also coming to mind…jeesh.)
We are always able to pick up where we left off, too, no matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other, which is important to me in any friendship.
Another thing about Kayla that I love – her obvious love and support of her mom, and vice versa.  They are super close and always there for each other, which I envy and love to see.
I’m super proud of her following her dreams and making a life for herself that makes her smile.  It’s super helpful that I really love her boyfriend, too…yay for finding a good and hilarious man!
I love you, Kayla!!!!!  Let’s go to the zoo!” – Alana

“My beautiful granddaughter Kayla…  She is the light of my life.  Kayla is so loving and caring, considerate of other people, she is more than her physical and mental self. She is a spiritual creation. Her capacity to think independently reflects her mental ability.  As I connect simple but powerful words, such as faith, love and peace, I am describing her true nature. She is an expression of God’s love and peace. She is faith in action. You will not find a truer or most loyal friend as Kayla.  She exercises this trait whether dealing with friends or in her place of business.  She is someone you can rely upon in good or bad situations.  She embraces the Truth of who she is and lives this truth everyday.  She is an expression of the spirit, contributing to a world of divine creation.  This describes Kayla as her Papa Fred and I see her.
Thank you for the opportunity to express our love for her and who she is.” – Fred and Dianne (Grandma and Papa Fred)

“I am not good at forming thoughts into words. I can draw, sculpt, or paint how I feel!! So please bear with me.
How I see my beautiful Kayla; well, I look up to five people on this rock that we live on and she is one of them.
She defines the word passion, when she believes is something she stands as a pillar – right ,wrong, or indifferent.
Because of her passion and how she expresses it, most people view her as fragile, but, in my opinion, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Unfortunately, people have tried to convince her that she is fragile .
When I view my beautiful Kayla, she has incomparable strength and discipline and would give anything to possess it. If you look at her accomplishments, it’s inspiring and keeps me trying.
Her brain, what I wouldn’t give to have some of that in my brain. Her thought on concept, design, and life, I love it and think she is brilliant artist!
She in so many ways has my respect as an artist, a friend, and most of all, a father’s love.

I’m not sure if this is what you were looking for and sorry it took so long as this isn’t something that I can just rush. Thank you for doing what you do, how rewarding it must be to lift the hearts of people and give the gift of sight.” – Dan

“Kayla,

My daughter.

My friend.

My rock.

My hero.

The woman Kayla has grown into is someone that I could only hope to mimic.  To think that this loving, tender, smart, kind woman is a part of me, is overwhelming.  She has taught me what true love really is. This child of mine came into my life and stole my heart with her sense of humor, her kindness, and her beautiful, beautiful smile!  There was not anyone who, when they met her, did not fall in love with her.  She just commands goodness from those that are lucky enough to be around her.

If you are lucky enough to be Kayla’s friend, you have someone that will be loyal to you until the end.  And will accept you for exactly where you are – exactly what you are – and exactly who you are.

I am honored to call Kayla my daughter and my friend.  She is the most beautiful person inside and out that I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  I am truly blessed.” – Mary

“Kayla is…

As gorgeous in body as heart.
Rare, indelible sense of humor.
Calm face, perfect smile.

The true her is hard to access,
thanks and no thanks to an
oft crummy past;

But to see her true,
even for a moment,
trumps all else.

And the passion, her passion,
it’s the greatest passion
I have ever seen.

Without her,
I would be dead.
Of nothing else
have I been so certain.”

– Matt

Group 1, Part 1: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/women-raw-honest-loved-part-1-2/
Group 1, Part 2: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/women-raw-honest-loved-part-2/
Group 2, Teens!: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/teen-version-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 3, 55+: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/55-version-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 5: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/group-5-women-raw-honest-loved/

don’t judge a girl by her cover.

So, I must admit, after doing the teen group of the women’s project I felt very…well…unsure.
Don’t get me wrong…it was emotional and felt beneficial at the time, but I walked away not knowing if it had really made any sort of impact on any of those girls.  Even my OWN DAUGHTER.  The conversation afterward went something like this…

Me: “So, what did you think?”

Her: “It was cool.”

Me: “Yeah? Did you come away learning anything new? Do you feel any different?”

Her:  “I dunno.  It was cool, though.”

Me:  “Do you think I should keep doing the project with other teen girls?”

Her: “Yeah, fersure.”

Yeah.
???
I don’t know if you know this, but, teen girls are very good at trivializing things and hiding how they really feel…you know, which is why so many of us women are REALLY good at it.

In any case, I’ve meant to do follow-up interviews with all of the participants in the project so far and have not gotten around to it yet.  I did receive quite a few responses from many of the women from the first group, volunteering how they felt after, so, that’s been awesome and super motivational.  But, nothing from the teen girls.  I’ve been REALLY in the dark as to the effect on that group.

Until today.

Today, my mail made me cry.

Really great happy tears.

Cassandra, who, while job shadowing me had participated in the teen group, sent me a beautiful card and a copy of the article she wrote for her school paper.  The card reads like this:

“Dear Alana,

Thank you once again for letting me job shadow you and participate in your project.  Doing so had played a big part in helping me graduate.  Besides the required job shadow, it also gave me more to talk about in my senior presentation and it made a good story for my newspaper, which I heard quite a few girls liked.  I hope you like the article, there was so much more I wanted to write but it already had taken up so much room.
Also, ever since I job shadowed you, I’ve been slowly getting better with my anxiety and I’m starting to be able to do things that I should have already been able to do years ago.  It might not be a big deal to most people, but, to me, it’s quite an accomplishment.  I hope that I can grow to be a little more strong and brave each day…
You’ve actually helped me a lot more than you know, outside of my graduating high school.  I hope to grow to be a woman similar to you.  I know I’ve only met you once, but I already know so many of your good qualities.  There’s so much more that I want to say, but I’ve already rambled enough.
Thank you again for everything.  I wish you happiness and success.

Love,
Cassie”

….Okay, I may be crying again…and if I knew how to put hearts in a blog without them just looking like arrows and 3s, there would be a whole string of them….

Here is Cassie’s article…

(p.s. I think I need to steal her title to use whenever anyone asks me what the project is about…)

(to see the teen version of the project, including Cassie’s story, go here:  https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/teen-version-women-raw-honest-loved/)

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