Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tonight, my family made the four hour trek from Dallas back home to Oklahoma. We generally do our best to stay away from road trips (two parents, five kids, and a dog all squished into a suburban isn't always the most relaxing situation), but we made an exception to attend the annual Christmas party with the extended family down south. Everyone but myself and the driver had fallen asleep,  the backseat a tangled mess of heads on laps, legs in the air, with a snoozing dog inexplicably woven through. My face was pressed up against the cold, foggy glass, and I gazed out the window as the black silhouettes of trees against a sky of deepest blue, peppered with stars, fell into the distance behind us. The lines from one of Frost's poems ran through my head over and over, stuck like a broken record: The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

Though the Christmas party was the official excuse for our visit, the real reason was my great-grandmother (known affectionately to her family as "Nanny"). Her health had taken a sharp, downward spiral and, with more than a handful of scares under her belt, we felt she deserved the company of all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren this Christmas. We all went to drink her in, the "just in case" sitting silently on our tongues.

Nanny is a very tiny woman with thin lips, straight white hair with sharp, Dutch-boy bangs, and clear hazel eyes that glow from behind her glasses. She likes things "just so." After tipping my hat to the cousins, I clung to her side like ivy for the duration of the party. I held her heavy oxygen tank, awkwardly attempting to not step on her heels as she walked from the living room to the kitchen and back again. I explained the concept of a "white elephant" to her and tried to keep her from getting a bum deal from the crafty relatives.

She has never really been one for stories, but that night she told me about how, as a young mother in the fifties, she saw an African American woman walking home from the grocery store carrying big bags of food. Nanny pulled over and offered her a ride, but the woman shook her head and said that her parents taught her to never get in the car with a white person. Not to be deterred, Nanny offered to at least drive the woman's groceries back to her house and leave them on the porch for her so that she wouldn't have to carry them home. Every week after that, Nanny would drive the woman's groceries home for her.

I laughed maybe a little too hard at the comments she made about her two husbands ("Frank had hair covering his whole body, but Mack had hardly any at all. And that wasn't the only difference, if you know what I mean..." And then she graced us with a ladylike wink.)

As we said goodbye before my family squeezed ourselves back into the suburban, Nanny clutched my hand and said, "Think of me when you get married someday." She caught herself and quickly said, tightening her grip on my hand, "Or maybe I'll just stick around to see it myself. How about that?"

I've never really understood the poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" before. Now I think I do. As I looked out at the dark forest through the frosty window, I imagined my Nanny walking between the trees, unhindered by her oxygen tank or her walker. Maybe she was carrying someone else's groceries. I wondered to whom she had promises to keep. To past husbands? To dead mothers ("It's so nice you have a mom you can talk to. I was always able to talk to mine. I wish I could now.")? To me? Her image faded in the yellow light of an approaching town, street lamps, a boarded-up bar called The Watering Hole, gas stations, trees, forest, blackness...

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The Personal Story of One Girl's Addiction to Pornography

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I have a dear friend who has struggled with a pornography addiction for seven years and who bravely agreed to let me interview her as a way to reach out and help others (both women and men) who may be struggling with a pornography addiction, as well as give insight to those who may know someone who has an addiction. She is an active member of the church and a student at Brigham Young University. This interview is for an article that will be published next year in a much-edited form, but I wanted her sincere, unabridged voice to be heard the way that I heard it. Speaking with her has touched me and has changed my perspective on sin and the Atonement, as well as having changed my life. 

(Her name has been omitted to keep her identity anonymous. "A" merely stands for "Answer.")

M: How did this all start? When did you realize that you had an addiction?

A: The first encounter I had was the summer after seventh grade. It was just on YouTube. It wasn’t super explicit or anything, but it was the first time that curiosity was aroused. Like addictions always do, it just kind of escalated. I guess I admitted I had a problem to myself in 9th grade. The first person I told was my older brother at the end of 9th grade. It wasn’t until a few months later that I told my mom and she encouraged me to see my bishop. I saw my bishop when I was sixteen. Then I worked with him, and then we got a new bishop, and I kept working with new bishops and leaders and told more and more people. Then, when I was 18 I went to college. When I got here, that’s when I found out about the addiction recovery group and started going to those meetings.

M: What was your family’s response?

A: They were incredible. My brother was the first person I told. He just sat me down and put his arm around me and kept telling me that it was okay. He told me anything he knew that he thought would help me. He told me he wouldn’t tell anyone until I was ready. When I told my mom, I remember, it was after a young women’s activity. I was really active in young women’s. Everyone got along with me, everyone was my friend and it came really naturally to me. But I always felt really guilty, like a fat liar all the time. Leaders would always tell me how great I was. But I was like, “You don’t even know who I really am.” Everything they said was invalid because of a secret I kept. 

I got home from mutual one night. I was sitting in the kitchen, and my mom was just cleaning dishes.  I just said, “Mom, there’s something I need to tell you.” And after I told her, she just said, “That makes so much sense.” It was because I had this aversion to being touched. She always asked me if someone had been molesting me, but I said no. She said, “That makes so much sense that you would feel so… you don’t want to be violated, you don’t like being touched.” She sat me down on the couch and straight-out asked me questions, because our computer is in the family room. She said, “Aren’t you afraid that people will come in?” And I said, “Yeah, but I did it anyway.” After that, she put locks on the computer. She started checking up on me.  But she always asked me, “Do you think this will help you?” She never acted like disgusted or shocked or anything. I didn’t understand that other people’s reactions would be different. I think my mom kind of understands because she was a convert to the church as a teenager, so she’s more realistic when it comes to things in the world. 

While I was in the middle of telling her about my shame, my young women’s leader called me right at that moment. She just called to tell me how awesome she thought I was. She said she knew I wasn’t perfect, but she just really loved me and thought I was amazing. When I hung up the phone, my mom was like, “That was God speaking to you and telling you what He sees in you.” She never negated any other good thing I was doing, even though that was my natural instinct—to feel that any good thing I could do was counteracted by the bad things I did. She encouraged me to see my bishop even though I didn’t want to at all.  You technically don’t have to see your bishop, but I would definitely recommend it. She never pushed me, though. 

I decided to see my bishop. It was hard because he had been my bishop since I was eight. He was there when I got baptized. It was really hard, but it was good. He said it was a really common problem in the church, even for women. That was the first time it occurred to me that it wasn’t normal for a woman to have this problem. He said, “even women”. He kind of said it in a way that seemed like it was a man’s problem but women can sometimes have it, too. Then I realized I had never had a young women’s lesson on it. There was a lesson on media, talking about how you shouldn’t watch bad media. I remember feeling really guilty. But I remember mostly feeling really guilty because they didn’t even mention it. I felt like, “Oh, my gosh, they don’t even feel like they need to mention it.” I guess it’s just not a thing on most women’s radars… except for me. My bishop gave me an assignment of a few scriptures to read. I read all of them, and I came back and I remember he was so shocked at the work I had put into it. He said, “I’ve never seen someone work so hard.” And I said, “I really, really, really want to be over this.” 

I thought that would be it. I just kind of assumed it would go away. But it didn’t. It was really frustrating to me that I had repented so many times, since I was thirteen and I realized what I was doing was wrong, I would pray and repent and read my scriptures—I read my scriptures every single day to try to compensate, because I read that if you read your scriptures you’ll be able to overcome temptation, so I read the whole Book of Mormon when I was thirteen. I read it every single day for six months, and I was convinced that if I would do that I would be able to get over it. But I didn’t. And I felt betrayed that it didn’t work. Satan made me feel like I wouldn’t ever get over it, and that it wasn’t going to work because it wasn’t working right now. But I definitely think that, because said my prayers all the time, read my scriptures, wrote in my journal everyday—I did everything I could do to make up for what I was doing. I definitely think that it helped me. It helped me gain a testimony, like doing those things always will. It also helped prevent me from doing other, worse things I could have done, which I’m grateful for. Even though I have this addiction, I still have a testimony of the Church. If I hadn’t kept being obedient in the other areas, my addiction could have taken me off the deep end.

M: So you went above and beyond what is expected of young women as a way to try to compensate. Would you want to tell the other people who may be struggling with this that their addiction does not negate the good things that they’re doing?

A: For sure. That’s still something I’m working on every single day, something I have to tell myself over and over again. Some days there’s just a really strong... like Satan has a really good strategy. “You’ve already messed up today, so why read your scriptures? What do you think—that you’re going to be a good person because you read your scriptures?” I am a firm believer that there’s not some chalk board in heaven where they’re saying, “Good thing, bad thing, good thing…” It’s a way of life. Failure in one area of your life isn’t going to take away from all the good things that you’re doing.

M: I know we read and hear a lot about how a man’s addiction to pornography affects the women in his life and the way he sees them—because you are a woman, how do you think that affects you?

A: It’s definitely been hard. A lot of times in General Conference they’ll say this is a problem for men and women, but somehow our culture doesn’t catch up to that idea. It’s talked about all the time in priesthood. Even culturally, not in the church, there’s this idea that women are not as much sexually driven, and that it’s women’s job to fight men off. You try to make sure that you’re not a temptation for men. 

M: I was recently watching a TED talk about the difference between guilt and shame—guilt is “I did a bad thing”, shame is “I am a bad person", and I think in a religion that emphasizes good works it can be hard to differentiate between the two, which sometimes makes it hard for us to truly accept the Atonement. It’s difficult for us to realize that God’s love never wavers and our divine nature never changes.

A: The difference between guilt and shame, I think, is a huge thing. I remember one experience I had. It was my sophomore year in college. I remember I messed up again for the millionth time, and I was so frustrated with myself. I was praying, but I was yelling at anything that would listen, “Heavenly Father, how can you forgive me? I keep doing it, then I keep apologizing, but I keep doing it and then apologizing. Why do you keep buying it? I’m not even buying it anymore!” 

But then I got this overwhelming impression saying, “Stop pretending you understand how much I love you or how I can forgive you, because you never will be able to. Just trust that I can. That’s all you need to know.” 

It just hit me that we try to project our own understanding on God. We think that because we keep messing up He should stop trusting us, but that’s not how God sees it. He sees our potential and our desires. He sees everything about us, things we don’t even know about ourselves yet. So obviously, he has a different perspective on our mistakes than we do, because He’s God. We need to stop projecting our human, our tiny, tiny perspectives on Him. I feel like when we look around at the world for understanding, it often doesn’t come. That’s been really hard for me since coming to school. I go to one addiction recovery meeting a week because there’s only one I’m allowed to go to. It’s a men and women, general addiction, drugs and alcohol, eating disorders, everything like that. And it’s awesome! I love it! But it gets hard being with the people there who have normal meetings specifically for their addiction. 

I’ve called the administrative offices for addiction recovery and asked, “Are there any meetings for women?” And they say, “Yes, we have meetings for women—women who are affected by their husbands’ addictions.” But I say, “No… do you have any for women who have addictions?” And they say, “Yes, but they’re in Springville or Draper, not here at BYU. Sorry!” 

I went ahead and went to a women’s meeting, but it was all about helping women whose husbands keep messing up all the time, that they should be patient with them, don’t take it personally.  It helped a little, because I thought, “I should be patient with myself.” It didn’t help very much, though, because it was this attitude of “boys will be boys.” There’s just this idea that a woman having this problem would be appalling. Every time I go to a meeting, it’s the same: “I have an eating disorder.” Or maybe it’s self-harm, because that’s what college girls struggle with. College boys struggle with pornography addictions. They have a men’s pornography addiction meeting literally every day of the week, two, three, four times a day. And I can’t go because it says, “Men only.” It’s just so frustrating to me because I feel like for guys it’s like, “It happens a lot. Just repent.” But I know that there are girls out there who struggle with this addiction! 

You wouldn’t guess by looking at me that I have an addiction. I was on the seminary council, I went to church and mutual and the temple every week. I read my scriptures and say my prayers every day. You look at me and you think, “She has it all together.” Every time I tell people, they’re completely shocked. I know that there are other people like me that exist. I know that they’re there. It just makes me sad that they can’t come forward. I had to claw my way out to find help, I had to force people to help me. I have the kind of personality where I can do that, but some people can’t. Some people don’t have parents or a support group like I do, who will help them to not have that shame. So they’ll stay in that little shell. I went through personal counseling with a sex addiction counselor. I went online and I found an online women’s support group. For people who don’t have help like that, I honestly don’t know how they deal with the shame. Things my counselor has told me are, “Don’t be ashamed, because shame is not productive. Shame only makes addictions worse because it leads to despair, not hope.”

But about what you said before, I remember my sophomore year I had a breakdown. I was curled up in the fetal position on my couch, just crippled by my shame and despair. Not only had I been struggling with this since I was thirteen. I’d been repenting since it started. I had been seeing bishops since I was thirteen. I felt like I had been exercising faith throughout the whole thing. But my roommates came in and I didn’t want to tell them what I was going through because they weren’t the type of people who would understand. One of the girls was just so good at life and it’s so hard for her to understand weakness. She has a very “just do it” personality. The other one was kind of judgmental, someone who would look at another girl and say, “Her skirt is so short.” I didn’t feel like I could tell them, but I had an impression that I should probably tell them what was going on. After telling them, I said, “I know I’m disgusting. I know you may not want to be around me anymore.” 

My judgmental roommate said, “No, I don’t feel any differently about you.” I retorted, “I’ve heard you say that you think porn addicts are disgusting, and that you don’t want to be around them. Now you’re telling me you don’t feel any differently about me—you’re lying.” She said, “It’s different when you know them.” I said, “It shouldn’t be, because that’s who I am.” 

It’s hard because people say things like, “Porn addicts are so gross, they’re so disgusting. If I’m around them, they’re probably looking at me all weird.” They don’t understand that they are talking about people. That those people exist. That they have other things about them. I mean, yeah… I do think about sex a lot. I try not to. It’s really hard. That’s a big reason why I do have a testimony of modesty. I know how hard it is. I don’t think it’s our responsibility to dress modestly just so others won’t have bad thoughts, but, you know, whatever we can do to help each other out—that’s good. I like it when people do the same for me.

Different people’s addictions stem from different things, there’s different things about it. It’s been a long journey for me to remember that people, if they knew, they wouldn’t say things like that. It’s so hard. Satan tells you, “If people say that they love you, they’re lying to you. You’ve heard your friends say that they would never marry a porn addict. You’ve heard guys say that they want a girl who is virtuous, whose price is above rubies. And you’re not.” But that’s not how God sees it.

 M: I think this will be a good thing for people to realize, that the people they’re talking about—if they knew those people they wouldn’t feel that way. I think one thing people may not be able to understand about people who are addicted to pornography is why. For men, they like looking at naked women because it’s sexually stimulating. But for women—what is the why behind that?

A: Honestly, I don’t know. I ask myself why every single day. After a certain point, it’s not that you enjoy it—it’s that you’re crippled without it. At first, I was curious because I didn’t really know anything about sex. It was new. One thing leads to another. There are so many different things to explore. I’m just a curious person by nature. I like knowing things. I wanted to know what this was. They’ve done studies that show that pornography stimulates the same receptors in your brain that crack does. It stimulates the pleasure center in your brain. There are so many different kinds of pornography. Women are frequently addicted to romance novels because that caters to the more emotional side of things. There’s a spectrum of things that appeal to different wants and needs. It goes deeper and deeper down. I've viewed things that appealed to the side of me that likes hot guys. I've also viewed things that dealt with the desire for an emotional connection. But, at a certain point, it’s just addiction. You need something to stimulate that part of you, so you’ll just go to the next step, which makes you need it even more. Honestly, half the time, when I’m done… I’m disgusted. I can see why people would be disgusted, because it is disgusting. But you’re brain gets on that track of, “This is the only thing that will make me happy.” With drug addicts, too, after you’re done you feel horrible, you don’t even feel good. It’s just what your brain tells you you need. A lot of it isn’t even about what you’re seeing, it’s just what it evokes in your brain. Pornography has so many facets. It can get anyone on anything. There are so many ways to get you.

M: If you could give one last message for anyone who might be struggling with this or need a different perspective on this, what would that message be?

A: I have two messages—one for people who are struggling with it and one for people who want to know how to treat people who are struggling with it. 

 To people with addictions, I would say to remember that your addiction doesn’t define you. We know that God has a plan for our lives. I know that God plans for our mistakes. He knows you so well and He knows what will make you the person you need to become. Your mistakes are part of that plan. Christ can take those mistakes and make them into something positive. He doesn’t just erase them—He takes them and uses them to make you into a stronger person. I wouldn’t trade my addiction for anything. Because of it, I know without a doubt in my mind that Christ lives and that He atoned for my sins and that repentance is real. Because of this, I know Christ. When I’m down on my knees, in the pit of despair, He’s the one that comes to me. Because of this, I’ve developed compassion. Because I’m still not over it, there’s still more things that it can teach me. I don’t know what they are, but I know that I’m a much stronger person than I ever would have been without it. Allow Christ to be there for you. Don’t confuse your mistakes with who you are.

To people who want to understand more about people with addictions: They all say, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” The Atonement covers all sins. Instead of focusing on sin, we need to focus on how great the Atonement is. Focusing on how bad sin is isn’t going to help anyone—it leads to despair, hopelessness, and isolation. The most important thing is to remember that the Atonement covers all sins. Luckily for us, we don’t have to deal with the darkness of sin if we choose to focus on the light of the Atonement. 

Portrait of a Night-Cleaner

Saturday, October 19, 2013

It is currently 3:29 in the morning and I am sitting here eating my favorite treat of Greek yogurt and berries as a way of rewarding myself for a kitchen well-cleaned. It was the kind of deep, cranny-cleaning that required country music and a little dancing. In my head, I played this game where I pretended that it was actually 5 years from now and I was living in a small, yellow house out in the country, my husband and children long since gone to bed, and I was up late finishing the chores.

It was absolutely perfect.

I certainly did not used to feel this way but, for some reason, that is the most beautiful scene I can picture, the greatest thing I could aspire to at this time in my life. I hope it's because I'm older and wiser and mature enough to realize that family life/motherhood/homemaking is the greatest joy I can have on Earth, the best gift I have to offer. I hope it's because I've stopped trying to avoid all semblance of my dear, dear mother, and am instead trying to learn from her incredible example.
My beautiful mother in high school (on the right)

My mother is a night-cleaner. Of course sleep is usually the preferred activity, but there is something so serene about feeling like the only soul still awake in the world, polishing and perfecting the little corner you possess. It seems to be such a small thing compared to the women who hold powerful corporate decisions involving huge sums of money, such a small thing to cut out coupons that save you a couple of dollars on jars of peanut butter, such a small thing to fold tiny pairs of socks, such a small thing to give baths and read bedtime stories, such a small thing to stay awake until the early hours to clean a kitchen.
The two of us having a girls'-night-out

Growing up, I always had an uncanny knack for knowing when my mother was awake. I would wake up at two, three, four in the morning and go sit by her while she would finish cleaning the dishes from the nightly dinner circus. Sometimes (should have been all the time, but that's a kid for you...) I would actually help. But mainly, I just wanted to whisper back and forth to her and feel that calm, sweet, motherly love she would exude. I loved that feeling, those whispered conversations so much I would stay up until the sun rose just to be with her. Was it such a small thing? Not at all. Not to me.

Because I Don't Believe in "Beauty"

Monday, August 26, 2013

On Instagram, there's a button you can push called "Explore", and when you hit this magical button, dozens of pictures appear, pictures from all different kinds of people all over the world. Sometimes I like to hit this button just to remind myself that life exists outside my sphere, to remember just how small I am. One day I pushed this button over and over and there were so many pictures-- Norway, China, Italy, Russia-- snapshots of life, slivers of earth, tiny telescopes offering glimpses of people and places I have never seen before and will never see again. But as I pushed this button (over and over and over again), I read the comments at the bottom of the pictures. Sometimes they were actually in English.   In every picture that contained a busty brunette, a tall, lithe blonde, a skinny, puckering wafer of a toned, tan twenty-something, there would (unfailingly) be the trailing comments of her preteen fan club.

"You are so beautiful! I wish I could be as pretty as you!"

"It's not fair how beautiful you are!"

And most damaged of all:

"I would die to be as pretty as you!"

Die. Die? DIE. No matter how you say it, dead is dead is dead. That a thirteen year-old, still a child-- glasses, braces, and boy bands-- should be willing to sacrifice the gift of her very life to be tall, skinny, blue-eyed, and blonde. To have the conventional brand of "Beauty".

I was disgusted. I was shocked. But more than that, I empathized so very, very deeply with these girls whose parents had put extensive safety measures on their daughter's Instagram account to prevent creepy old men from looking at their pictures, yet who couldn't prevent the violent mind-rape and soul-twisting of their little girl by a cannibalistic, sex-obsessed media.

I'm sad because I know and I remember the ugliness of her jealousy and despair. I never vocalized it like her, but I felt like a different species, subhuman, when I stood next to someone who looked like how a person was supposed to look. "Beautiful."

So I changed myself. I changed my size and my colors and my texture and my type. I changed my conversation and my clothes. It was such a slow, subtle transformation that I barely noticed. But I didn't even really look like myself anymore. I was still there, small and quiet, on the inside. But the "better", "prettier" me was on the outside. I could fake it and it worked. I attracted the kind of people who valued "Beauty", the right kind of shallow, flat people who cared more about their body than about their heart.

That kind of violence, however, can have debilitating consequences-- physical and emotional. After months of hurting I needed to heal. I knew that I needed to find a fact, a hope, an idea, a truth that I could hold to that would keep me grounded, keep me sane, keep me happy and hopeful and grateful.

I was on the top of a mountain in the English Lake District when I found my idea, my truth to keep me safe.

Picture height-- Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England. Picture the depth of the drop, the worn, ancient grayness of boulders chipped and stones heaped, the whiteness and coldness of air molecules decelerating their incessant dance of bounce-and-swap-and-flee in the high altitude, but most of all the deep view, the vast view, the gargantuan and archaic and god-like view of cloud-shadowed, stone mountains and cavernous, gouged valleys and sky-filled lakes and the endless horizon that extended from the boots I had torn my muscles and rattled my bones to plant upon the peak. If a picture is worth a thousand words, even millions of words could not accurately reconstruct my attempts at mountain goat leaping between the giant, lichen-stripped boulders that balanced so delicately and disorderly upon each other up the side of the mountain, the desolate, dust-filled air and moon-like landscape of the paths between the peaks, the suddennness of unbroken, crystal swaths of snow, the surprise of Indonesia-green cliffs and waterfalls, and the fear of shattered ankles and vanishing into the forever downwardness as I found myself careening down the side of the mountain, alone as far as the eye could see, just to catch the last coach to Keswick.

I saw myself so clearly then. I was a broken pilgrim who had come to the mountain to worship... something. Something bigger and better and infinitely more real than glossy magazine ads and perfect hair and skinny, skinny bodies. I felt myself leaking out of my body, the earth rushing in through the cracks. The prison of my skin dissipated, or maybe it unraveled and blew away in the wind. All I knew is that the facade was gone. I saw the real, real, real, real, REAL beauty all around me. It was wild and raw and natural and everything it was created to be. If some person had come and replaced the jagged, organic, unrestrained beauty of this place with perfect, ordered lines, smooth artificial turf, had trimmed and tucked and taken away-- the thought of it made me crazy. No one could possibly top the real, wild beauty of an untouched mountain. I thought of myself. Why couldn't that be me? If the mountain was perfect just the way it was, pure, existing exactly the way God intended it to-- then why not me?

I felt as though I had finally woken up, that I had finally come home to a place I belonged to but had long since forgotten. Here, in a space crammed tight with air molecules peeling off trees, with leaves and blades and stalks rich with chlorophyll and carotenoids, with jagged igneous rock, I was earth-- timeless, faceless-- I was everything. I was simply the raw, untouched, wild Morgan I was meant to be.

I stopped starving myself and ate wonderful healthy foods instead. I stopped coloring my hair and trying to look and act a certain way. I read more poetry. I love the earth and my family more. My friends are adventurous and original and wild. I have never felt cooler in my life.

My advice to the young who are dying to be "Beautiful"-- stop.

Stop believing in and reaching for a standard that will leave you feeling ugly and sad and empty. Embrace your texture and your color and your type. Love the things in your heart and say the words in your brain. Be with the people that fill you with joy. Eat the natural foods of the earth. Be kind and serve others. Be grateful for the goodness in your life.

Love yourself.

Love others.

Live responsibly and frugally and do good deeds.

Choose to be happy.

Favorite Things Friday

Friday, August 23, 2013

On Fridays, I like to think about "a few of my favorite things." Last Friday I posted about one of my favorite things, I talked about a song my step-dad would sing to me that I still love to this day. Today, I'm thinking about one of my favorite books.

If you are looking for a super engaging, different, and interesting book, I would recommend my favorite biography, Ada Blackjack

I know that many people tend to get turned off of nonfiction, especially biographies, but this book is so, so great. Trust me. After I checked it out of the library, it literally did not leave my clutches until I had come to the last page. This story is absolutely spell-binding, riveting, gripping... you know, all that good stuff. 

This book is the totally true story of a 23 year-old Inuit woman from Nome, Alaska joining an otherwise all-male expedition to the uncharted Arctic in the 1920's to earn money to provide for her young son. What happens after they arrive on the desolate Wrangel Island is something out of a nightmare-- loss of communication with the outside world, harsh environmental conditions, polar bears, starvation, abuse, sickness, death... 

When a rescue ship finally brought Ada home years after she was originally supposed to return with the rest of her company, she was the lone survivor of a totally harrowing experience she refused to talk about. Controversy and murder accusations swirled around the timid, broken young woman who had returned to find her son years older in her absence. I don't think we'll ever know the truth of what happened on Wrangel Island, but that mystery is part of what makes the book such a fascinating read. If you love bizarre, disconcerting, true survivor stories, you'll love this book. Jennifer Niven, the author, is a wonderful writer and the book reads just as fluidly as any novel. I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book. Pick it up and give it a read!

Happy reading!

12 Healthy, Versatile Foods to Always Have Handy

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I currently have several wonderful and inspiring friends who are trying to make healthier choices in their diet. It can be frustrating finding healthy staples to buy that you actually want to eat. There are WAY too many food products at the grocery store that promote a "heart healthy", "organic", "green" image, or whatever... Tasty as these food are, many of them more often than not contain unnecessary ingredients that harm your body (sugar, added sodium, artificial flavors and colors, MSG, various toxic preservatives, etc.). It ends up being counterproductive. Just to lend a helping hand, instead of posting a recipe, I decided to compile a list of staple foods that I always have in my fridge and pantry to help me whip up a tasty, guilt-free dish quickly.

  • Gluten-free oats. These things are just so necessary. If you're craving sweet, bread-y foods, just bake some oat cookies. Cereal? A scoop of oats, stevia, cinnamon, some berries with almond milk poured over makes a delicious substitute. Granola bars? No problem. Muffins? Easy enough. Oats are super, super cheap and are friendly to all dietary restrictions. They're low in calories, have plenty of fiber and protein (for a grain), and are low in fat. They contain lignans which protect against cancer and heart disease. They remove bad cholesterol, and stabilize blood sugar which reduces the risk of diabetes. And they're yummy. So buy them.
  • Plain, 0% fat Greek Yogurt. Don't buy the sweetened, flavored kind. Not only does it always contain sugars and flavors that add carbs and calories, but it's so easy to sweeten with a splash of vanilla and some stevia extract (stevia is zero calorie and is a perfectly lovely sweetener). You can freeze it with some fruit to make fro-yo, you can add oats and berries for parfait, go half-and-half with some pureed pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, and blueberries for a delicious, low-cal treat, plop a dollop in your smoothie or milkshake for a more filling, protein-filled drink. Or totally nix the sweetener and use it on a taco salad instead of the more fattening sour cream. Greek yogurt has a tangier flavor than normal yogurt. Learn to love it. Embrace it. You'll get used to it and the sweetener definitely helps. Greek yogurt is a great source of protein (attention fellow vegetarians!), calcium, potassium, zinc, and vitamins B6 and B12. If you want to lose weight, THIS IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. It will help you feel fuller longer.
  • Quinoa. I've talked about the benefits of quinoa in previous posts (here), so check out the link if you want to know why you should be eating this grain. This is a wonderful substitute for rice. Asian food lovers, buy this by the case. It cooks very quickly and doesn't require much thought or effort. Combine this with some veggies and you have an easy meal. If you're craving rice or pasta, this is what you should be eating instead. You can also make this into a breakfast food by adding sweetener,  cinnamon, fruit, and nuts. It's good stuff.
  • Stevia. I know I talk about this a lot. It's because I love it more than anything in this world. Not really. (But yes...) This sweetener can either come in a liquid extract form or a powdery white form (more common and can be found at most supermarkets). It's zero calorie and carb (YAAAYYY!!!), tastes plenty sweet and cooks well. There were a few studies in the 1980's that indicated that there may be a few health risks related to stevia, but these were disproved in further studies in 2008. Make sure you don't buy a blend, but a type that is 100% stevia. I think the liquid extract (though more expensive) is healthier. The stevia plant has sweet leaves that can be broken right off and consumed, which is where we get the healthy extract. It's practically a spice. Stevia is an antioxidant and helps your body fight off aging free-radicals. It has also been proven to improve insulin productions (good news for diabetics!). It's good stuff.
  • Frozen Fruit and Frozen Vegetables. Buy bags of both. Make sure you buy the kind that doesn't have ANY preservatives (excess sodium is a preservative), sauces, spices, or sweetener. Fruit is great for smoothies (put it in a food processor with handfuls of spinach and stevia, and you have yourself a detoxifying meal replacement). Frozen veggies are great steamed (I prefer not to stir-fry things, but that's an option, too). It's great to have these things on hand since they make for quick, healthy meals and energizing breakfasts. Frozen fruit is great for my fellow sweets-lovers.
  • Greens. Buy spinach. Buy arugula. Buy them deep green and luscious. Put them in smoothies and make them into salad. I don't need to tell you why. Make a goal to eat a giant salad for dinner each night. Put berries or pears and nuts with your greens and pour some low-fat raspberry vinaigrette over it and just eat it. Cut up some avocadoes, some portobello mushrooms, some tomatoes, toss them with some greens, and pour a low-fat Italian dressing over it. Stay away from creamy dressings and stick to oil-based vinaigrettes. Go easy on the dressing and actually use only the recommended serving size and no more (normally two tablespoons). Iceberg lettuce is not going to give you the nutrients you need, so buy the deep, leafy greens. The more you eat them, the more you will like them. So don't give up just because you don't think they taste fantastic at first.
  • Almond milk. Buy the unsweetened, 30 cals/cup kind. It has more calcium than cow's milk and is free from the hormones and chemicals that can aggravate acne and make menstrual cycles more difficult. Dairy is tricky that way. Pour a bowl with oats, stevia, cinnamon, and sliced bananas for breakfast. Blend with frozen fruit for a milkshake. Freeze with stevia and berries for popsicles. 
  • Egg whites. Buy the cartons of 100% egg whites for an easy, light source of protein. Cook in a pan with garlic powder and cayenne powder, add some sliced avocados and bell peppers for a great, filling breakfast. Pour in muffin tins with spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms for a portable pick-me-up. Blend with a dollop of Greek yogurt, stevia, cinnamon, cook in a thin layer in a pan, smear with sweetened Greek yogurt and drizzle with a sugar-free berry sauce for crepes. Egg whites are super great because they are super versatile. 
  • Legumes. Black. Northern. Garbanzo. Black-eyed peas. Lentils. Buy bags of dried legumes, soak overnight, and let cook in a crock pot or large pot over the stove all day, then come home to a great, filling source of protein. Don't buy canned beans. They have a ton of unnecessary sodium that makes you retain water weight and are considerably more expensive than the dried variety. Dried beans can last for years, as well, so they're great for food storage. Plus, they taste waaaay better. Cook them with garlic powder, a dash of salt, pepper, and cayenne. Dried basil and thyme is good with Northern beans. You can make your own hummus with chickpeas. Lentils are wonderful in winter soups. Legumes are fantastic.
  • Bananas. Freeze these in a Tupperware container for a quick, sweet snack. Bananas go great with oats, both as cookies and as breakfast cereal. I normally buy a couple bunches at a time.
  • Fresh Fruits and Veggies. For on-the-go snacking, buy oranges, apples, carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, avocados, pears... anything your heart desires. If you bring your own healthy snacks, you'll be less tempted to accept unhealthy foods when you're hungry. It's harder to make good decisions when you're hungry.
  • Nuts. You need your healthy fats and protein, so buy nuts to snack on. Almonds, brazilians, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, pecans... buy them unsalted and unsweetened. Don't buy the sugary trail mixes the supermarket sells. Dry your own fruit and make your own.
I hope this is helpful to anyone who needs some ideas for healthy groceries to always have on hand!

Banana Oat Cookies

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Confession: I have a major sweet tooth. Like, if I could eat cake all day I probably would. However, a couple of years ago, we found out that my nine year-old sister, Lillian, had Type 1 diabetes. It's been really, really hard on her. At first, she felt ostracized because she couldn't eat what the rest of us could without having a painful shot of insulin. So we decided to give up sugar and white flour so that she wouldn't feel quite so left out. I've been surprised by just how easy it is to cut out sugar and white flour. Eventually, I decided to cut out all flours and breads, which has made a huge difference in not only how I feel and how much energy I have, but also in how I look. I tested out the difference for a month by eating just a little wheat bread and a few things with sugar and then going back to totally cutting them out-- there is definitely a huge difference. When I eat flour and sugar, I feel swollen and bloated. When I don't, I feel light and energetic. If you feel sluggish or just a little heavier than you would like to be, cut out sugar and white flour all together. It's so worth it and there are so many ways to satisfy your sweet cravings AND still eat healthy.

This recipe is the best. It's simple, quick (eighteen minutes start to finish!), super easy to modify, and complies with almost every dietary restriction. It's gluten-free, vegan, sugar- and flour-free, and friendly to diabetics. Also, these cookies are so yummy and taste delicious dipped in almond milk.

Banana Oat Cookies

You'll need:
1 banana
between 1-3 cups of gluten-free oats (depends on how big your banana is; rolled and old-fashioned are both fine)
a dash of cinnamon
stevia or honey
1 tsp of vanilla

The following ingredients are optional suggestions and can be added as you please:
2 tbs flax
chopped/slivered nuts (pecans, macadamia nuts, walnuts, and almonds are good with this recipe)
dried fruit (raisins, pineapple, cranberries, and blueberries are all good dried fruits to try)
a small spoonful of pumpkin puree
coconut shavings
white or dark chocolate chips

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a cookie sheet with Pam. Then put your banana in a big bowl and mash the heck out of it. Chunks are going to give the cookies a weird, fiber-y texture, so mash it. Mash it real good.
Cover the banana in oats and stir and mash. If you see banana, add more oats and stir and mash some more. By the time you're done, you should have a bunch of sticky oats but no banana chunks. Add a dash of cinnamon and as much stevia as you please (just keep tasting the mixture until you're satisfied-- but don't eat too much). Add the vanilla and stir it up. Add whatever extras you like.

Spoon clumps of your scrumptious mixture onto the cookie sheet and form little circles. Because there's no yeast, don't count on them changing shape or rising at all so you can place them as close together as you wish. Sometimes if I have a lot to make or I'm in a hurry, I'll just make a solid sheet of the banana oat mix and cut granola bar-shaped rectangles out after they're cooked. Again, just make it however you would like.

Your cookies should be golden brown and have a thin line of dark around the border. It's usually around 10-15 minutes. Just check. You'll know that they're done when you don't have trouble sliding them across the pan. They shouldn't stick any more. When they're done, take them out, let them cool, and enjoy!

Happy eating!

Chinese Veggie Quinoa

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Guys-- quinoa is the best. Ancient Aztec warriors used to eat this grain to get srong. Not only does it have great taste and texture, but its health benefits make it a heavyweight as well. Quinoa is a great source of protein (good news for non-meat eaters!) and contains all 9 amino acids. It's high in iron, calcium, fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin B6. It's been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. It's also gluten-free! That makes me very happy.

Another thing that makes me happy? Asian food. For those who agree, here is my super healthy take on the conventional fried rice.

Chinese Veggie Quinoa (vegan and gluten-free)

You'll need:
a box of uncooked quinoa
frozen or fresh veggies (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and sugar snap peas are all good choices)
low-sodium soy sauce (I like Kikkoman's)

Honestly, this is such a simple recipe, I almost feel bad for posting it. Cook your quinoa for fifteen minutes-- either in boiling water on the stove or in a rice cooker (two cups of water to every one cup of quinoa-- just cook it the same way you would rice). While your quinoa is cooking, steam your veggies either in a steamer on the stove, or pop some frozen veggies in the microwave if you're pressed for time. Just make sure your veggies stay somewhat firm and green-- you don't want them to be brown-ish and mushy. Overcooking produce kills the nutrients, so steaming  is the lightest and least harmful form of cooking. Steaming also allows you to have moist vegetables while avoiding fatty oils.

When both are done, combine the two. Make sure you have way more veggies than quinoa. To cut down on carbs and calories, make the vegetables the staple of the dish instead of the grains. Pour some soy sauce on it, but measure it out so you avoid overloading on the sodium and killing the flavor of the grains and veggies. I recommend two tablespoons for a single serving.

Happy eating!

Pumpkinberry Flax Smoothie

Monday, August 19, 2013

Now that autumn is almost upon us, we must prepare ourselves for the peak of perfection, the dowager of deliciousness, the sinful slut of cinnamon-y scrumptiousness-- that's right, we must prepare ourselves for pumpkin.

Pumpkin is not only delicious, but it is also a super food. It is low in calories, high in fiber and carotenoids. It's known to lower the risk of heart disease, many different kinds of cancer, macular degeneration, and cataracts. Eating alpha- and beta- carotene like the kind in pumpkin has proven to slow the process of aging as well.

Here's a wonderful vegan and gluten-free smoothie recipe that is chock-full of health-boosting goodness-- give it a try!

Pumpkinberry Flax Smoothie

You'll need:
a handful of spinach or two
1 banana
1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 tbs ground flax
a dash of cinnamon
as much stevia extract or honey as you desire

Process in a food processor or blender. Taste and adjust spice/sweetness as you like.
Bada-bing, bada-boom.

here's to the entrepreneurs!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

So here's the story-- my sweet little friend, Kolbi, is starting up her own business called "Kolbi's Bracelets Galore." She custom makes these beautiful little friendship bracelets in any color you could possibly want, and (here's the kicker!) the prices start at only a buck-fifty each! The prices vary according to the design. All you have to do is send her the money in the mail with instructions on the colors and design you want for your bracelet(s) and she'll send you the friendship bracelet of your dreams!

Friendship bracelets are marvelous, wonderful things. They are kool (with a "k", because that's the koolest kind of kool) and indie and boho and say awesome things like, "I'm a free spirit! I do what I want!" They make great gifts, and at only $1.50 each you can buy, like, a lot of them.

Plus, when you buy these bracelets, you are supporting entrepreneurship! You are telling a preteen girl that she can dream big and have her own successful business! So buy one! Buy three! Buy twenty-five of them!

If you'd like to buy a bracelet, you can email Kolbi at:
Check out her designs and rates at

autumn wishlist

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The last weeks of summer are upon us and that means it's time to start prepping for autumn.
Whoo hoo! Yay! Yippi-ki-yayayay! I LOVE AUTUMN!


Here are a few great little dinglehoppers I've had my eyes on that would be marvelous buys for anyone. (But repeat after me-- "This is not a fashion blog. This is not a fashion blog. This is not a fashion blog...")autumn wishlist

The Magic Wishing Hair

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Last night I found my first gray hair.

I was washing my face when I saw this wiry, silver unicorn hair protruding from my scalp, gleaming like the Star of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. My first reaction was to pull it out, trichotillomania-style, throw it away and pretend it never existed. 

But then the significance of my discovery began to sink in. It was a milestone, much like my first tooth, my first word, my first period-- but so much scarier. As far as my body was concerned, I had hit my physical peak and it was all degeneration and decay from here on out. I was shell-shocked. Twenty years old just feels so young. I feel like I have my whole lifetime ahead of me, like I've accomplished relatively nothing in my short 7,450.941 days I've been post-uterus. I began noticing little wrinkles around my eyes in the mirror, moles on my arms and back I need to have checked for melanoma, stretch marks on my inner thighs and spider-veins where I cross my legs. I wondered how long that gray hair had been hiding in there and if there were any more lurking out of sight. 

I texted my dear friend, Andee, a picture of my special new hair (below).

She responded with these wonderfully wise words:

"Maybe it's a magic hair."

I snorted to myself and quipped, "Yeah, maybe it's a magic wishing hair." But, I let that idea stew around all night, thinking about what that would mean-- a magic hair.

In a way, that one hair symbolized my sweat. It symbolized my determination. It symbolized all the of the late nights I've spent working on school work, the early mornings trying to get myself to work, the trials and travels and heartache and good friends and adventures and everything I've lost and loved and learned in my life. It symbolized everywhere I've been and everywhere I'm going-- hopefully, a lot of really wonderful places. So I guess it is a magic wishing hair. I guess I'm kind of proud of it. Getting older is kind of a beautiful thing.

Let the aging process begin!

One Man's Vision: How Yeah Samake Will Change Mali Through Education

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Progeny to a nation of opportunities and facilities that would be the stuff of miracles in a worse-heeled country, the ignorant, gluttonous exploitation and thanklessness so ubiquitous between the white picket fences of the middle-class American breed happy, smiling Frankenstein monsters of political leaders too plastic and unacquainted with critical issues like poverty, illiteracy, and corruption. That breach between quandary and captain remains inaccessible if the Babel of dissimilarity obstructs resolution from being reached. To remedy social ills, a leader must speak the language of the crisis. He cannot expect to understand an issue having only observed it from the comfort of a white picket fence. The parallelism of sympathy is required. Though too few from the bottom are able to persevere to positions of power, 2013 Malian Presidential candidate Yeah Samake, a man born and raised in poverty, has come forward to offer change for his country through education—change made valid through the success he has already achieved.       
After my interview with Yeah Samake. I'm on the left, Yeah is in the middle, and Michael Devonas (founder of the BYU chapter of Empower Mali) is on the right. It was such a wonderful experience being able to meet and talk with him! He's a wonderful man, an incredible leader, and an inspiration to us all!

Raised in Ouélessébougou, a town he would later be elected the mayor of, Yeah was no stranger to the hunger that accompanied the brutal penury he and his family were subject to. “Some nights, my mother would come and hear us sobbing in bed, and she would tie our stomachs so that they would shrink to reduce the pain of our hunger.” Though he had never been to school, Yeah’s father had a dream that each member of his family would receive an education: He had a vision that only through education we could break the cycle of poverty, so he sent all of his children to school. In our community that was unheard of… the people of the community warned him, they said, "If you send all of your children to school, your family will go hungry." He was so determined that, when he was asked, he said, “My family will go hungry, but my family will not know the darkness of illiteracy.”
Despite being obliged to surrender such basic necessities as food, Yeah believes every sacrifice one can make for education to be advantageous.
"We paid an enormous price to be there. Like I said, we had to forego the daily meal to be there. We had to give the pain, the hunger, to go to school, but every sacrifice that you can make for education is good… It gives you freedoms that you have never had. Freedom to provide for your family. Freedom to get yourself trained. Freedoms that cross incredible boundaries. Together, we can break that chain [of poverty]. We have the power to go out and be better citizens—to have hope that tomorrow will be a better day than today."
After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Bamako, Yeah traveled to the United States to obtain a Master’s degree in Public Policy at Brigham Young University.
“I had numerous experiences at BYU that helped build a foundation of leadership… The rigorous training at BYU through this program has truly helped me better understand how we can make the right decision for the right cost. Whether it is the current value or the future value of any decision, it is very important for a leader to have this background. There are also immeasurable, intangible qualities of a leader that you don’t learn from schools, like integrity, like help and service, but even then I feel that BYU truly promoted, instilled, and augmented my sense of service for others. As we know, BYU’s model is: 'Enter to learn, go forth to serve. So, it has served me to serve others."
Through the Kennedy Center for International Studies, Yeah was able to obtain an internship at the United Nations, where he first discovered he wanted to serve in a nonprofit organization. It was out of this desire that sprung the Daily Dose Foundation, which became Mali Rising, finally growing into the Empower Mali Foundation. Overall, Yeah has built no fewer than fifteen schools:"These schools are innovative. They're cost effective and environmentally friendly... But the [bottom] line is that every community that we approach, they pay 20% of the cost, the government provides the teachers so we build this incredible partnership that is unique where the government provides the teachers and the villagers provide the land… Empower Mali raises the money… the remaining 80%. Once we build the school, it becomes immediately self-sustaining. We don’t go back and put money into any of our schools. The villagers, once we are done, they keep the schools, and we come back to check how the schools are functioning. That’s how we are transforming lives, helping children in Mali."
After completing his formal education, Yeah viewed the corruption of his hometown’s government with new eyes. He now had new ideas, new knowledge, and a new vision—and felt as though he had the obligation to make them reality. He ran for the position of mayor of Ouélessébougou, winning by a landslide on the platform of transparency and honesty. He promised tribe leaders he would not pocket a single tax dollar, but would consult the tribe leaders as to where the tax money would be applied based on what deficiencies existed in each chief’s community. Not only did he make good on his promise, winning the trust and support of the citizens of Ouélessébougou, he completely transformed the town’s economy, improving employment rate and increasing the rate of citizens who paid their taxes from 10% to 68% in a single year. His success attracted the attention of American sponsors and national Malian leadership and both began to pour money into Ouélessébougou, making it possible for the once deteriorating town to become a model community, complete with modern public schools, a state of the art hospital, as well as other superior civic, educational, and medical amenities. 
He was then approached by the Malian President’s entourage as a potential candidate in the upcoming elections. Yeah was motivated to revolutionize Mali the same way he revolutionized Ouélessébougou. Before the 2012 elections, however, mutinying soldiers distraught with the government’s handling of the Tuareg rebel situation overthrew the government in a military coup. Though he was deeply disappointed, Yeah continued to tirelessly struggle for peace and progress. After great effort and an interim government, Mali is now ready for democratic presidential elections—and Yeah is eager to lead the country into a golden age of a better education system, medical programs, and an improved economy. Yeah is also an inspiration for all those who wish to get more involved, especially students, and he offers this advice:
"You cannot do it alone. I cannot do this alone. It takes people to believe that change is possible. You know, a Harvard professor said, 'How do you measure the worth of your life? It’s not in terms of things you accumulate, but in terms of the impact you made on the lives of others. That’s how you measure the worth of your life.' We cannot self-pity and believe that we’re too small to do anything, that we’re too alone to do anything. We need to get started. We need to get involved. The greatest happiness, the greatest joy, does not come from the things we have, but from the service we render to others… However big the challenge is, let’s get to work. Most people can make a big difference. With an organization like Empower, all you need to do is ask the members of it. You will be directed to do small things that will not take your focus away from you education, but it your spare time you can use it to get people involved, to inspire other students. That’s where it starts. You cannot wait until you’re city councilman to do things in your city. You can start now, as a student. Not only will you help others, but you will be the first recipient of the benefits of your service. It’s a training program for leadership skills. So, while doing so, you will build personality for yourself while you’re making an impact on the lives of others. Today, you don’t need to travel to New York to raise money in New York. We are in the age of technology, where we can do a lot of things… You are special because you believe and can make a difference. You can look into the eyes of the children in Africa without even traveling, saying, 'We can provide education for this girl, or for this boy.' You are doing it from here. Tell others about it. Most people want to help but they have no idea where to start. One day at a time. One evening at a time. One meeting at a time. You can encourage each other, you can inspire each other."

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