On mastering communication and my mini graduate

master mama

Ok, world record books, listen up. My baby recently graduated from a master’s program! She attended classes (in utero), patiently let me write my thesis during maternity leave, and sported her own mini cap and gown. Yep, she’s quite the accomplished 12-week-old. Ha!

All jokes aside, it was a thrill to graduate last week from the Master of Professional Communication program at Weber State University. Being in the Class of 2014 came with special allure during the university’s 125th anniversary year. You can see sheer joy in this picture. I felt such relief to have pulled off my degree as an exhausted new mom, and literally could not have done it without an ultra-supportive husband. He’s the best.

There are many reasons folks go after advanced degrees. I wanted to polish my skills, and increase my professional confidence (double check). Besides the new line on my LinkedIn profile, less in my bank account, and a fancy piece of paper for my wall, what did I get out of grad school? Allow me to share a few key takeaways.


This very blog was launched as part of an Advanced Writing class assignment in summer of 2012. It’d been a long-time desire of mine to start a blog, and getting school credit (and editing on my initial posts, a la Dr. Josephson) was enough to jump-start a launch. I made a marketing plan, threw myself a “blog party,” and here you are, reading the outcome. By having a digital platform, I’ve had many, many people approach me who I never would have met otherwise. It’s been wonderful to make these new connections and learn so much from professionals featured on Spotlight Saturdays.

New video skills

I’d never once edited a video before the MPC. After a summer of practice in our New Media class, I felt comfortable enough to try my own video. Little did I know it would go viral. My pregnancy announcement on YouTube has had 38, 600 views to date.

Published master’s thesis, presenting at an international conference

It’d been one of my goals of grad school to be published. That meant I needed to write an original paper worth publishing. I learned through the process that sometimes when you shoot for the moon, you hit it head-on. I submitted an abstract of my thesis topic awhile back and was delighted to be not only accepted, but asked to present at an international corporate communication conference. My thesis is titled, “Perceptions of Thanks in the Workplace: Uses, Effectiveness, and Dark Sides of Managerial Gratitude,” and it was the most challenging academic project I’ve ever done. After nearly 150 hours recruiting, researching, data-analyzing, writing, and editing (all during pregnancy and maternity leave), I’m really pleased with the result. I’ll be sharing key findings on this blog in the coming month, so stay tuned.

2014 Graduation hoodingConflict resolution capabilities

The class that stretched me most was Clair Canfield’s “Conflict Resolution” class and his “trust the process” mantra. Before that eight-week block class, I saw conflict as something to be avoided. He opened my eyes. I came away liberated from old fears, willing to see conflict (two parties expressing seemingly opposing needs) as an opportunity. Don’t make me mediate Russia and Ukraine, but I do have tools now to creatively work through my own personal conflicts.

Associations with intelligent professionals and mentors

Our 22-student cohort has spent many, many hours together in the past two years. I spoke at our master’s hooding ceremony, and as I shared then, I literally have learned from every one of my student peers. We’ve laughed together, worked through group projects, and shared much of ourselves.They are a fun, talented bunch, and I will miss them. I’ve also really appreciated the supportive MPC Director and my empowering Thesis Committee. Kathy, Sheree, and Susan, your belief in me and my ideas has helped me believe in myself.

My mini graduate

Saved the best for last. My favorite line of my 46-page thesis is in the Acknowledgements section: “And finally, thanks to little Lydia, who made the author a mother during the course of this research.”  Being her mother is the best thing I’ve ever done, and having her during my master’s program made it all the more memorable.

In sum, I grew in grad school. Grew my skills. Grew my network. Grew a baby. You can say I’ve gained two new titles in the past three months, both of which I cherish. Call me Mama, MPC.

Mama and me graduation day

The kind of writing I could spend my life doing

March 18, 2014 |  by  |  Live life fully, Wordbliss  |  , , ,  |  No Comments


Like people, words come in all shapes and varieties. Some are much easier to swallow, and much more fun to write.

I’ve been chin-deep in writing my master’s thesis lately. While I can pull it off, this type of academic writing is true work for me. It’s detailed. It’s exact. It’s stretching me in ways that make me feel I’m really making my graduate degree more than a piece of paper. (If you’re interested, I introduced the topic here.) I guess I’m a glutton for a good challenge, because I chose to include quantitative research. While I’m really proud of myself for putting together a publishable academic article (my thesis abstract has been accepted at an international corporate communication conference!), this is not the kind of writing I’d want to do every day.

mamalode publishedNo, in my heart of hearts, I have a thing for writing (and reading) essays. Personal narratives, to be specific. Pouring my heart into words does make me feel vulnerable, but it’s such an exhilaration to know snapshots of my life have been recorded in word.

Happy to share the first paragraph of my recently published essay, “The Pregnant Lady in My Mirror,” on Mamalode:

One day I met a pregnant lady in my mirror. She appeared there suddenly, after two positive lines indicated a big change was coming. Her eyes sparkled with joy; she’d dreamed of this for a long time.


Read the rest of this essay here.

Eating humble pie: The long memory of the Internet

February 27, 2014 |  by  |  Live life fully  |   |  No Comments

humble pie


Ever ate humble pie? I had a serving recently and want to share about the tart taste, lest I forget.

I received an email from a gal I lived with in college. (Believe it or not, I had 47 roommates during my undergraduate years, so that’s not a giveaway of her identity. Out of respect, I want to keep her name and the specific issue at hand anonymous.  Let’s call her Ally.) I hadn’t heard from her in ages, and was quite surprised to see her name in my inbox. In eight eloquent paragraphs, Ally let me know I’d hurt her feelings. She wrapped up with, “I hope you treat (someone else) with more dignity and grace than you did me.”


Let me back up. This Ally is a mover and shaker, a real spitfire kind of woman. She thinks for herself, and has been a public spokeswoman about an important issue. She and I have strong, opposing feelings when it comes to this particular topic. Nearly a year ago a popular blogger wrote about it and I’d added an angry, judgmental comment, referring indirectly to Ally.

Fast forward to now, and I don’t feel the same way. Not at all. But when I clicked on the link she sent me, there were my old thoughts about her, posted for anyone on the Internet to see. Ally was completely justified in being upset about the cutting words I’d left behind. I responded to her email, apologizing with words like these:

Rather than giving you the chance to hear what I thought directly, I wrote a hasty comment on the ___ blog. A comment I quickly forgot, until you sent it to me nearly a year later. The Internet has a long memory.

Indeed it does. As one with a communication background, you’d think I’d know better. But I’m human. And this is the lesson I learned:

The words we leave in our digital wake can make waves long after we’ve forgotten them. Post wisely.

I reached out to the blogger, asking for my comment to be removed. As for Ally and I, she forgave me and we’re moving forward as friends.

Turns out tart humble pie can turn sweet, mid-bite.



The pleasurable act of reading

Why I read


Know that thrilling feeling when you meet someone by happenstance and the two of you instantly connect? That’s how I feel about a book I started this week.

As part of my pre-baby nesting rush, I asked a dear friend to take me on a library run a couple weeks ago (thanks, Priscilla!) Knowing I’d have hours of feeding time ahead, I ambitiously brought home an armful of books, hoping for potential “friends” to keep me company. Granted, I’m going at it slower than I’d like (already had to renew library reservations), but I’m so glad Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books (2014) caught my eye in the “Popular” section.

The book’s theme (writing about reading) complements this blog’s intentions of “writing about writing.”  She’s endeared herself to me, this author, knowing just how to phrase poignant feelings I have about reading, words, and literature. A few share-worthy gems from her introduction:

Reading has, at any rate, the virtue of being one-to-one. It’s just you and the book, enclosed within a private space; it some ways that means it’s just you, alone with an inert object you are temporarily bringing to life. (p. 6)

Isn’t that lovely? It’s true, reading is such an intimate act. Yet, there’s also a sense of conversational partnership between the reader and the writer. I also love this:

Reading literature is a way of reaching back to something bigger and older and different. It can give you the feeling that you belong to the past as well as to the present, and it can help you realize that your present will someday be someone else’s past. This may be disheartening, but it can also be strangely consoling at times. (p. 6)

I completely agree. Reading (and writing) allows one to transport through time and space, experiencing another’s thoughts. Lesser’s words on revisiting books mirror my recent assertion that “books are friends to be revisited again and again,” with the beautiful analogy:

Even the second or third or tenth time you read it, a book can surprise you, and to discover a new writer you love is like discovering a whole new country. (p. 4)

A whole planet of reading awaits. For now, I’m content keeping track of my when-I-can-get-them moments with books on my new Goodreads account, admiring the tiny sleeping beauty in my arms.

Please share: What are your suggestions on authors and books you love?


7 things I want to teach my daughter about books

7 things I want to teach my daughter about booksHere I sit, belly ripe and heart full, ready to welcome my first baby. At 39 weeks along, she’ll be making her world debut very soon. As I told my husband recently about this coming babe, I believe if there’s one thing we can do to grant her a head-start on living life fully, it’s teaching her to love reading. Here’s an open letter to our daughter; my take on why books matter so very much.

Dear little one,

We are so excited to meet you! We’re here to help you learn and grow, and feel honored for the privilege of being your parents and love you already. As your mama, I will teach you to educate yourself, explore the world, and become familiar with the thoughts and lessons of those who have come before you. Thanks to my sweet auntie who hosted a book baby shower for you, and many people who love you, we have a little library prepared for your earliest days. Here are seven things I’ve learned about books:

1. Books are friends to revisit again and again.

From the picture books of your childhood to the chapter books you’ll read later on, books can feel like friends. C.S. Lewis wrote, “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once…” and “Clearly one must read every good book at least once every ten years.” When you go back to books from yesteryear, you read from a different perspective. Some of my very favorites, like The Princess Bride, I reread every year.

2. Books allow you to visit new places without ever leaving the room.

See the world! From Winnie the Pooh’s sweetly simple Hundred Acre Wood to the intergalactic space visions of Ender’s Game, there are many places your mind can go when reading. Your imagination has the power to paint mental pictures that feel more real than watching movies.

3. Books feed your mind. Choose to fill it with the good and uplifting.

In one of my all-time favorite speeches, Douglas Callister said, “If we know the books located at the bedside, we know much about the man.” This is true. He added an important thought from President David O. McKay: “With companions, so with books. We may choose those which will make us better, more intelligent, more appreciative of the good and beautiful in the world, or we may choose the trashy, the vulgar, the obscene, which will make us feel as though we’ve been ‘wallowing in the mire.'”

4. Don’t waste your time with books you don’t like.

In addition to choosing good books, explore what interests you. Berenstein Bears books? Good call. Books on ancient Aztecs? Cool. Books on how to make finger puppets? Right on. I’ll warn you now there may be school-assigned books in the future you don’t prefer. But when selecting your own reading material, never feel you have to finish a book if it becomes drudgery to read. Life’s too short! There are too many hundreds of thousands of fascinating books out there to waste time with books you don’t like. As Wendy Lesser said in her book Why I Read, “there is nothing shameful about giving up a book in the middle: that is the exercise of taste.”

5. It’s OK to write (and even color) in books you love.

Make sure you own it, though. We never write in library books, k? When I say this, I’m thinking about all the scriptures I’ve highlighted, and non-fiction books I refer back to again and again. Some words merit highlighting so you can find them again later. Plus, adding your own thoughts and drawings gives you a snapshot later of who you were when you first read them.

6. Books are a tangible manifestation of knowledge.

While the Internet is a source of limitless information, there’s something about physically turning a page that can’t be replaced. Of course, make use of computers and whatever other wiFi-driven inventions that will arise in your lifetime, but also keep books close at hand. Especially books like journals, which let you touch the written word. I’ve written decades of  journals with the intention of sharing them with you someday, when you’re ready.

7. You can write your own stories!

When you’ve learned how to write words, you’re never too young to write your own stories. As I shared before , when I was six I crayon-illustrated and wrote my first books on copy paper, and created library cards for my family to “check out” my growing collection. You don’t have to do that if you don’t want to, but I’ll be giving you notebooks and journals to capture your own stories.

I can hardly wait for our adventures together to begin.

Love always,

Your mama

My beautiful daughter



February 6, 2014: I must add, our lovely daughter made her world debut the day after this post. She’s a Groundhog Day girl, and meeting her has filled places in my heart I didn’t know existed. I’ve already read a couple books to her, and so have her grandparents. Welcome, little one!

Sundance and my chat with Robert Redford

Robert RedfordEvery Sundance season reminds me of my own one-on-one with Robert Redford. I had eight perfect words, exactly when I needed them.

We’re in the thick of Sundance season here in Utah this week, and the internationally recognized film festival is close to home. In fact, one of the film screening sites is literally a four-block walk from where I live (going to see a film this week!), and I love seeing the Sundance banners boldly waving on street signs throughout Ogden’s downtown.

They bring me back to my encounter with the film festival’s founder.

I was a full-time flight attendant at the time, greeting passengers in SLC as they boarded our flight to LAX. The gate agent came to me, whispering giddily we’d have a VIP on this flight. I’d met a few celebrities working my flights, but never before went into the fits of girlish squeals of some of my co-workers. I wasn’t one to ask for autographs or to take pictures. But when a living legend took a seat in 1A, I was giddy as could be.

Robert Redford!!??

From head to toe, he wore white: white hat, white jacket over a white t-shirt and white pants. They matched his teeth. And he could pull it off in a I’m-Robert-Redford-and-this-outfit-was-custom-designed-for-me kind of way. He carried only a brown briefcase. The lines of his aging face surprised me, as well as how attractive a man could be in his seventies. That chiseled jaw wasn’t quite as sharp as his Butch Cassidy days, but still there. So was the squinty-eyed, ravishing smile. I remember hanging his jacket in the First Class closet and putting his briefcase below it before take-off.

As I served First Class, I must have been the smiling-est flight attendant taking orders in the sky that day. I brought him the requested hot drink (from my recollection he had hot tea…or was it coffee with Baileys?) and a snack basket to choose from. I got out his suitcase and he worked on papers throughout the hour and a half in the sky. He was courteous, but not wanting to rally a lot of attention. Although my fellow flight attendant and I would peek at him from the front galley, I respected his space beyond the typical flight attendant-passenger interaction and tried not to look as starstruck as I felt. At one point, he engaged a conversation with me:

RR: Have you ever been to Sundance resort?
Me: Yes, it’s sure beautiful up there. I’m glad you’re preserving that area.
RR: Hmm, well, you look familiar to me. (Here comes my big line, people. No hesitation.)

Me: You look familiar to me too, Mr. Redford.

He smiled that heart-stopping smile and even laughed a bit at my comment. (Robert Redford thought I was funny!) That gave me the courage to ask for his autograph, which holds a special spot in my journal:

Robert Redford signature

And those were my words with the one and only Robert Redford. Share with me: How were your celebrity encounters? And what about your Sundance experiences?

Robert Redford picture via  The Marquee Blog on CNN.com

How to find time to write

January 18, 2014 |  by  |  Live life fully  |  , , ,  |  2 Comments

find timeNo matter our gender, age, or socio-economic status, we’re all granted the same daily salary in minutes and hours. When’s the last time you did something you truly, completely love to do? For me, writing is a high thrill. Stringing words together in fresh ways gives me a rush. It’s my creative outlet, it’s my sanity.  All that being said, the title of this post deserves a question mark more than an authoritative colon.

I’ll admit, this post is mostly for me. For someone who really is “delighted to write,” I confess I keep struggling to make time for it. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the daily minutiae, while my lists of writing ideas sadly stack up on my desk, waiting for me to give them legs. Granted, working full-time, finishing a master’s thesis, and being 37 weeks pregnant does take a toll on a person. But I hope to live my life making time for the people I love and and doing things I truly love to do. As I’ve thought lately about how I hope I’ll use my time as a mom, these are ideas on how I’ll keep my writing aspirations alive:

Keep a notepad nearby.

A couple months ago I heard NPR’s classic Diane Rehm interview best-selling author John Grisham about his new book. It struck me how he wrote the entire manuscript on legal pads through handwritten snatches of inspiration. It took him three years. He enjoyed the process so much, he was reluctant to hand it over to publishers. Lesson learned? Be ready to capture ideas as they come.

Close all browsers.

With a bachelor’s degree and (soon to be) graduate degree in communication, I consider myself an educated media consumer. Yet I still get sidetracked by email notifications, social media updates, and other Internet traps. I’m fully aware content is designed to pull one in, and have still been a willing victim to virtual distraction. In William Powers’ life-changing book, “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age,” he points out “unnecessary interruptions and consequent recovery time now eat up an average of 28 percent of the working day.” He adds:

Unlike computers, when we switch tasks – either by choice or because we’re suddenly interrupted – it takes time for our minds to surface and focus on the interruption, and then still more time to return to the original task and refocus on that. (p. 58)

I’m going to do a better job of closing all other browsers and limit my computer’s power to distract me when I write.

Set the smartphone aside.

My smartphone both liberates and imprisons my time. Sure, I have access to the world’s knowledge in the palm of my hand, but it’s alarming how much time I waste  checking out social feeds, app updates, etc. My “only two minutes” on Instagram turns into 20, and my days get eaten away. I do see great value in keeping in touch with people, but recognize the need for self-discipline. When I’m writing (like now), my thoughts can’t flow through my fingers if they’re busy texting. The phone can wait.

Pick a time and stick to it.

I’m willing to give others appointments of my time; why not myself? Sure, some days are more time-committed than others (I’ve avoided the term “busy,” ever since I read this NYT article), but I can have semi-weekly times reserved for me. I featured my writing friend, Amy Wilde, who wrote her entire memoir in the hours after her children went to sleep. She dedicated that time to writing, and now has an inspiring book published.

How do YOU find time to write (or whatever else it is you love)?


Revolutionize resolutions, one #hashtag a month

Still holding true to your new year’s resolutions on day four? Cassie NielsenFor some inspiration, welcome to the first Spotlight Saturday of the year, which also happens to be my birthday. As my present to YOU, I’m excited to introduce goal-setting, social-savvy Cassie Nielsen with her fresh take on conquering 2014 goals. Cassie calls her brilliant, year-long movement #HashtagResolution. She shares her journey of monthly goals through social media, each dubbed with a hashtag, like #meatless January. Her drive to improve inspires me. Meet Cassie, and join the resolution revolution.

Q. Why the #hashtag?

#hashtagresolution is about accomplishing one resolution each month during 2014 (and hopefully beyond!). By using a hashtag for each month, we’ll create documentation of our journey and, more importantly, a community for support.

Q. By becoming socially accountable, you’re allowing others to witness your resolutions experience. How does that feel?

I have a long list of Instagram role models, and I have watched them put themselves out there on social media. I have watched their successes, their challenges, their failures and sadly, I have watched the criticism they have endured by haters. But I have also witnessed the uplifting and supportive communities created by their bravery, and know we are all better off for it. In so many ways, I am terrified by this project. I am afraid to let myself down. I am afraid of criticism. I am afraid to fail. But I have a mantra that pushes me forward: “feel the fear and do it anyway.” I have so much more to gain than I do to lose.

Q. Have you always been big on goal-setting? What prompted this year’s efforts?

hashtag resolution

Yes, goal setting has always been important to me; however, I have been more formal about my approach in the recent years. I’m still trying to identify methods that work best, and I have had plenty of failures. Like so many others, often my goals are focused on health and fitness. Sometimes I’ll try abstaining from sweets until a certain vacation, never missing a workout for a period of time, or following a strict training regimen to prep for a half marathon. But I had the idea that maybe I didn’t always find success with my goals because I was missing the component of fun. Shouldn’t goals be fun? This past year I embarked on a journey to video record one second of my life every day – a visual journal, if you will. The project helped me look for the good in each day, and (goal accomplished) it was fun! Feel free to check out my finished product at www.vimeo.com/cassienielsen.

For 2014, I wanted a way to improve my overall well-being in a fun, goal-focused way. I have never successfully completed a new year’s resolution and challenged myself to find a way to be one of the few (very few) who can make claim to accomplishing this clichéd goal. I chose the monthly format for two reasons: 1) I just couldn’t settle on one resolution, and 2) Let’s be real…I’d be setting myself up for failure trying to make everything in my life picture perfect. I also want to give credit to a very innovative author Gretchen Rubin who wrote The Happiness Project, among many other books. She pioneered the idea of focusing on one goal each month for an entire year, with the added difficulty of combining her goals month after month. Mad props to her!

Q. Which month will be hardest for you?

Actually, as funny as it might sound, I think I will struggle most during #sevenhoursanight in December. It’s not that I don’t love sleep. But my days can get so busy, my mind doesn’t want to turn off. December will be a reminder I do not always need to multi-task a million things at once. I believe I will actually accomplish more by cramming less into my day and rewarding my mind and body with rest. Truth be told, I also think it will be more difficult to maintain an interesting Instagram feed during this month but that’s also why I gave myself 11 months to brainstorm.

Q. How do you see hashtags changing the way society communicates? What’s your take on the future of the #hashtag?

I believe hashtags will monumentally change how we search and find information, much like Twitter has done for current events. In its current form, hashtags are an amazing way to categorize information and find like-minded communities. Social media, Instagram in particular, has allowed us to forge very real bonds with people who previously would have been strangers. I am most curious to see how companies will leverage hashtags for marketing. Traditional advertising no longer has the impact it used to. Instead, successful brands are directly engaging with consumers through social media. It is only a matter of time before we create sophisticated tools which will allow both individuals and companies to capitalize on the value of hashtags, and in some ways there are already pioneers who are testing the market. What new innovations will be created to optimize search and engage capabilities? How will the clever few find opportunities to monetize hashtags? How will “big data” extract new hypotheses about culture, trends, consumerism, and almost any other topic using the wealth of data created by hashtags? I am excited by the horizon of opportunity and thankful to play a very small role in its evolution.

Connect with Cassie

Instagram: @hashtagresolution
Twitter: @HTResolution
Email: hashtagresolution@gmail.com
Blog: http://hashtagresolution.tumblr.com
Video (Watch my One Second Everyday project): www.vimeo.com/cassienielsen

A housekeeping item:

Updated page! For more Saturday Spotlights, go hereIn 2014, I’ll be posting a new featured professional who has a way with words on the first Saturday of the month. #myownresolution

Christmas words that thrill like music

December 24, 2013 |  by  |  Live life fully, Wordbliss  |  , , ,  |  No Comments

Christmas angelWrapped as a gift, some words speak to our souls. I’m sure you’ve also heard phrases that made such an imprint, you tucked them away to pull out at a later date. Years ago, I heard a talk that comes back to me every Christmastime, especially this paragraph:

I suppose that the language of heaven, properly spoken, may approach a form of music. Did C. S. Lewis have this in mind when he wrote:

“Isn’t it funny the way some combinations of words can give you, almost apart from their meaning, a thrill like music?”

At Jesus’ birth the angels appeared and spoke, not sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” We now try to capture that beauty in song, but the original angelic utterance was in spoken words, which thrilled like music.

I have no words to add to those phrases – they inspire and delight me so much, I can read them over and over.

May your Christmas be merry, and your new year bright.

Source: “Your Refined Heavenly Home” by Douglas Callister, emphasis added

Five little words that mean “thank you”

November 27, 2013 |  by  |  Live life fully  |  , , ,  |  No Comments

Thank you very muchA few months ago, an admired mentor gifted me a lasting lesson in five profound words. At the time, I felt stretched on multiple fronts: spearheading a demanding project at work, keeping up with a pile of graduate school assignments, all while growing a new person. He gently asked how I was doing, not in the generic supposed-to-ask way, but sincerely inquiring on my health and happiness.

I honestly told him I was tired. I felt overwhelmed in the balancing act of being a professional, an academic, and soon-to-be mother. He nodded, understanding I had a lot on my plate.

His reply struck my heart:

“Enjoy it while it lasts.”

I remembered, momentarily ashamed, that he’d recently lost a loved one. His intent was not to make me feel bad, but remind me about the preciousness of each phase of life. I wrote down his words, putting them in a place I see them every day. I’ve thought often since about how fortunate I am to be in the midst of opportunities, enjoying great health, and wonderful associations. As he reminded me, I hope to enjoy each phase, and recognize at every season that I’m truly blessed.

You are too. The fact that we’re alive in this era of time, with technological advances in communication, medicine, transportation – you name it – allows us an ease of life never known before to humankind. It’s a good time to be alive. With Thanksgiving tomorrow, let us all take time to thank the people in our life who make it worth living.

To my admired mentor: a heartfelt thank you for your five words that mean so much.

And to you reader friend, wherever and whoever you are: Thanks for being here.