It Was Never About The Ceiling Fan.

After twelve months, one broken dishwasher, and thirty dinners burned in a temperamental oven, we moved across the street from one rental house into another. This was June 28, 2014. I was six months pregnant with our second baby, and spent the day pulling a haphazardly packed radio flyer wagon between the two houses. Back and forth, back and forth. Between the pregnant lady pulling dishes across the street in a child’s toy and a small crew of people carrying couches and tables from one driveway to the other—we collected quite a few stares from neighbors walking their dogs.

I remember hitting 15,000 steps on my Fitbit that day and earning every slice of pizza I ate that night. As I waddled from room to room, shuffling belongings and mapping out artwork for each wall in my head, I stopped in the hallway and noticed, for the first time, the ceiling fan in what would be our new bedroom.

I hated it.

I realize “hate” is a strong feeling to associate with something as trivial as a ceiling fan, but this is not a lie nor an exaggeration: every single day I looked at that fan, and every single day I thought about how much I didn’t like it.

This continued for 912 days.


Our bedroom is bright and modern, and probably my favorite room in the house. Our furniture is white and our bed frame is grey and when of all the clothes are picked up off the floor, this bedroom serves as an adult respite from the rest of our toy-littered home. The white tufted duvet comforter was a bit of a risk considering the ages of our children, but we’ve managed to keep it (mostly) untainted with regular washings. Every afternoon around 4pm, light dances across the wall where I’ve taped a few family photos next to the large mirror that hangs above our dresser. My favorite necklaces dangle from a birdcage jewelry hanger on the adjacent wall, and there are a number of candles around the room that I light regularly when I’m reading or writing in bed. The sliding glass doors open to the corner of our backyard, giving me a perfect view of the kids releasing their pre-dinner energy on the trampoline while I fold laundry or read a magazine on the floor.

The ceiling fan, by contrast, is dark brown with a yellowish frosted light fixture and brass details. On its best day, it looks like it belongs in the “free” section of Craigslist. This house was built in 1973, and while much of it has been updated—like the laminate floors and quasi-modern kitchen cabinets—there’s still plenty of 70’s charm, like the vintage tile in the entryway, the blue and white checkered countertops in the bathroom, and the stone fireplace. I actually adore those details, and think they give the house a ton of character.  

But there’s “charming” and there’s “ugly” and I’ll let you guess which category the ceiling fan falls under.

When you walk down the hallway, the doorway of our room becomes a frame, positioning the fan as the main subject. Everything else in our room is bright and luminous, but because the ceiling fan is dark, your eyes are drawn to it, like a real life What Doesn’t Belong game.

Not one to keep opinions to myself on the subject of home decor (or anything, really), I complain about the fan incessantly to my husband.

It’s just … awful.
That fan hurts my eyes. Doesn’t it hurt your eyes?
Will you take a picture of me and the kids right here? Make sure you crop out the fan.

I plead for a new one. A new fan, a new light, heck we could swap it out for a hanging lightbulb and I’d be thrilled. I need to get my husband on board because when it comes to spending any significant amount of money on something house-related, both parties need to agree. Also: I need him to play handyman and actually take the fan down.

The problem is—my husband doesn’t care about the ceiling fan. At all. To him, it is not an eyesore. It is a functional light and fan. And of course, his main argument: This isn’t our house. We don’t own this home. We rent this home. Why on earth would we use our own money to improve a light fixture that isn’t broken?

He says this calmly and matter-of-factly, which only makes me more angry.

“BUT WE LIVE HERE!” I yell one day in the middle of the same argument we’ve had 20 times. It’s become apparent that if the house belonged to us, he would have signed off on this swap a long time ago.

“I wake up in this house every day,” I persist, “I take care of our children in this house every day. I stare at that stupid ugly ceiling fan EVERY SINGLE DAY and I hate it!”

His eyes widen, not sure what to do with the adult tantrum I am throwing. I rub my temples, also not sure what to do with the big emotions I feel over something as stupid as a ceiling fan.

That is, until I realize my feelings have nothing to do with the ceiling fan at all.


Once upon a time, we put a 20% down payment on a brand new house. The year was 2006 and if you have any experience with real estate in the last decade or so, you know exactly how that story ends. The housing bubble popped, 3.1 million foreclosures were filed, and homes all over our neighborhood became vacant.

In that sense, we were lucky. We both had stable jobs. We did not lose our house, and were able to refinance before eventually doing a short sale in 2013. After living there for seven years, our house sold for 43% less than what we paid for it. Ouch.

I will never forget sitting on the couch with a real estate agent, going over our options:

  1. Get out now while you can.

  2. Stay in this house for another 10-15 years.

We had never planned to stay there forever—in that exact house or even in that exact city. We lived in a small two-story house with zero lot line and no backyard, 50 minutes away from my husband’s job. We had never planned to grow a family there.

We did not take the decision lightly. We talked to our parents, a real estate agent, and even our CPA. Everyone agreed: this sucks, but you should get out while you can. Rent for a few years, rebuild your credit, buy again when you’re ready.

Between our original down payment and the equity we had accumulated, we lost over $105,000 in that home. Just like that, poof. Gone with the swipe of a signature.


We’ve gone over it time and time again: where did we go wrong? How did this happen? How could we have prevented it? How could we have known? We were so young—why did we feel pressured to buy a house in the first place?

I occasionally think about the money lost and sigh a big sigh when I picture a hundred thousand dollars being flushed down a gigantic toilet, but the truth is: I still don’t regret getting out of that house. We now rent in a beautiful neighborhood. A dream neighborhood that we could never afford to buy in, actually. We live on a sweet street with good neighbors and incredible sunsets. I made a new best friend who lives five minutes from this house and I don’t think that would have happened had we not moved here. We found an incredible church. Our kids are enrolled in neighborhood public schools that we love. We live two minutes away from the pediatrician, dentist, and Carson’s eye doctor.   

Speaking of Carson, we brought him home from the hospital to this house. Everett learned how to ride a bike on the sidewalk of this street. The very first copy of The Magic of Motherhood that I held in my hands was delivered to this porch. We are racking up memories like a wedding bar tab.

And I guess that’s why I struggled with the ceiling fan so much. It reminded me, day after day, that this house is only a placeholder.

But the thing is: I don’t think of this house as a placeholder.

This house is not an in-between for me; it’s not a stepping stone to a bigger, better house with our name on the deed. This is the house where we’ve been fortunate to live for three and a half years, and it’s been good to us. It’s the only house Carson knows. Coffee + Crumbs was launched here—three days after we moved in—and grew beyond my wildest dreams under this roof. These walls have kept us safe and warm and provided space for thousands upon thousands of memories.

I’ve spent so much of my life waiting for the next big thing—waiting to graduate, waiting to get married, waiting to have kids, waiting to have the life I've pictured since I was 12.

And now look at me. I graduated, got married, had two kids, found my dream job, and this stupid ceiling fan is still taunting me every day: you’re not there yet.

After living in this house for 912 days, I made a proposition to my husband, Brett. One of my business credit cards accumulates cash back rewards, and I had been saving them for a rainy day. I offered to transfer that money into our checking account, get permission from the landlord, and order something new. I’d do most of the legwork; I just needed him to remove the fan and install whatever I bought.

Amused, he agreed.

Twenty minutes online, one secure checkout, and seven days later, we had a gorgeous new pendant sitting on the porch. He swapped it out in a single afternoon.

I could not believe the difference it made.

“I LOVE IT SO MUCH!” I said over and over again, fifty times the following week.

“Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Doesn’t it make such a big difference?”
“Doesn’t it look SO GOOD?!”

Brett didn’t even try to play it cool—he wholeheartedly agreed.


In the end, this story isn’t about a ceiling fan.

It’s about putting your feet on the ground in your very real circumstances and treating every part of this one and only blink-of-an-eye life like a gift to unwrap.

Maybe you also have an ugly ceiling fan in your life, or something else you’ve been waiting to change. Maybe you thought you'd be married by now, but you're not, so you’ve never taken the time to learn how to cook because you eat alone most nights. Or maybe you’ve got a dress hanging in your closet, but you’re waiting to lose five pounds before you let yourself wear it. Maybe you’re only going to be in the city you live for two years and it seems dumb to invest in friendships when you’re just going to leave anyway. Maybe you rent your house, and haven’t bothered to hang pictures on the wall because what’s the point? Maybe you want to write, but you’re waiting for your kids to get older so you have more time.

More time. Less body.
When I, then I’ll.

Wait. Wait. Wait.

Do you ever get sick of waiting for your life to fall into place?

I mean, what if you learned how to cook for one right now? What’s the worst that could happen? You’d nourish your body with a home cooked meal that you made with your own two hands. What if you wore the dress today? Do you think you might feel beautiful in it anyway, just as you are? Is there any harm in making friends, even though you’re going to move in two years? Do you believe friendships—even the ones that don’t last forever—are wasted? (I don’t.)

So maybe today is the day.

Maybe today is the day you start to write. I can tell you from experience that you’ll never regret writing a story down, but you will definitely regret letting one fade from memory. Maybe today is the day you hang pictures on the wall and finally take that hideous ceiling fan out of your room, even though someone else technically pays the mortgage.

(Oops, there I go again.)

Like I said, this story isn’t about the ceiling fan.

It’s about fully embracing where you are—right here, right now, in this place—and believing that you can find holy and sacred and extraordinary goodness even in the most temporary of circumstances.

After all, this side of heaven is one big placeholder already. A speck in the universe that God has graciously filled with sunrises and tulips and coffee creamer and capiz shells.

We might as well enjoy the blink, and add a little bit of beauty wherever we go.


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

a moment in time.

Heads up! This post was created in partnership with Artifact Uprising,
a brand I love and have purchased from many times. 

Artifact Uprising-4.jpg

Our family will never look exactly like this ever again. The boys are already taller, their limbs already longer. Everett is probably going to lose his first tooth soon (I keep forgetting that's a thing), and even though Carson is still <1% on the growth chart, he's looking less and less like my "baby" and more and more like a big (albeit tiny) kid every day. I want to remember this phase, this moment in time when it was just us four and these boys ran circles around us. I want to remember the way Carson still fits perfectly on my hip like a puzzle piece and the way Everett smiles with his whole face. I want to remember the way they turn every stick into a sword and how they always stop to pluck tiny yellow flowers for me. 

Artifact Uprising-6.jpg

We recorded a podcast a few months ago about preserving memories, and I'll never forget something April said during that conversation. She said something to the effect of, "I don't know anyone who has ever regretted taking family photos. I don't know anyone who looks back on pictures of their family and thinks: gee, I wish we had never taken those."

I don't, either. 

Artifact Uprising-3.jpg

I know I’m biased—as an occasional photographer myself—but I really do believe that family photos are worth the planning, the effort, the candy bribes, the chaos (and yes, even the money).

How else can you freeze a moment in time?

My favorite part is when the prints arrive on our porch. I stick a few in frames, tape a couple above my desk, tuck one in my bible, and put the rest in Everett and Carson's memory boxes. 

Artifact Uprising is one of my favorite one-stop shops for photo prints and gifts. Their quality is unmatched, and I love how many unique options they offer (prints! frames! wood blocks! books! easels!). Anytime I need a gift for anyone—parents, grandparents, even Brett—I can always find something special on their site. 

If you want to celebrate someone you love this Valentine's Day with a photo gift, you can use promo code AG10 for 10% off anything at Artifact Uprising now-February 4th. 

Happy shopping! 

p.s. 2017 family photos are by the talented Jillian Goulding

1 Comment

Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

How to support the writers + artists you love.

daria-shevtsova-411553 (2).jpg

Last week I watched a series of Instagram stories in which a photographer friend of mine showed two screenshots: an Instagram photo from six months ago, and an Instagram photo from two days ago. The picture from six months ago had over 4,000 likes. The picture from two days ago had around 1,000 likes. Six months ago, her following was much smaller. 

To recap: she now has a bigger following, but less people are seeing her photos. Because of that, less people are engaging with her content, and because of that, her website traffic is down and her bookings are at "an all time low." I nodded along in solidarity. Our C+C Instagram has also grown quite a bit this past year, and simultaneously our engagement has dropped. We practically doubled our following in 2017, yet only a fraction of our audience even sees the content we publish.

I'm not going to waste my breath bashing Instagram or Facebook. Do I wish Instagram still showed every single post from people I follow in chronological order? Of course. Do I wish my Facebook feed was not full of bra ads? You betcha. 

But we all know that Facebook is a business, being run like a business. Facebook bought Instagram, and now Instagram is run like a business. We do not pay any money to use these platforms; therefore, we have no say in how they work. 

That sucks.

I'll say it again. That sucks.

So, what can we do? 

It seems like every day a new e-course pops up on my feed. How To Get 100 Followers A Day! How To Start An Instagram Pod and Beat The Algorithm! How To Buy Likes and Sell Your Soul! 

(Okay I haven't really seen that last one offered, but it probably exists.) 

The truth is—I've never taken one of those courses. I don't read marketing blogs or keep up with the latest trends. Someone told me once that people buy robot followers on Instagram and I legitimately gasped out loud. Moral of the story: I am not a social media expert. Far from it. 

BUT. As a person who has been creating content on the Internet for almost ten years now, I *do* have some ideas on how we can better support the writers and artists we love, both on social media and beyond.

If you've ever wondered how you can support the people in your life who inspire and encourage you with their art, here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. If they write something lovely that resonates with you, leave a comment. When you leave a comment on a blog post or essay or article, that is your way of saying, "I'm here! I read this!" Comments (well, nice ones) make the writer feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. You don't need to leave a comment on every post---just once in a while when something really resonates with you. 

2. Share the link on Facebook. If I were to rate Facebook engagement options on a scale from 1-10, 1 being not helpful at all and 10 being the *most* helpful, clicking the SHARE button is a full on 10. Because the Facebook algorithms are what they are today, even really popular sites with tons of "likes" struggle to get their content seen.

For example, when I share a link on our Coffee + Crumbs page (19k likes), without shares—it might reach around 3,000 people. Out of those 3,000 people who see it in their feed, 200 people might actually click on the link and 30 people might actually engage with the post (via a "like" or a comment).

Now compare that to: a post with shares. I posted something a few weeks ago that got 308 shares. The result? 68,535 people saw it in their newsfeed. More than 15,000 people clicked the post, and almost 3,000 people engaged with it. 

To recap: shares can be the difference between 3,000 and 68,000 people seeing the content, the difference between 200 and 15,000 people clicking the content, and the difference between 30 and 3,000 people engaging with the content. In other words, sharing is caring! 

(And now please pardon me while I step on a soapbox.) 

Friend, I know there is a LOT of crap on Facebook vying for your attention. Cute videos of cats and clever listicles; memes and gifs galore. Add in a few click-bait political articles and this is what people are sharing on Facebook 24/7. And while I can certainly appreciate an occasional Tina Fey gif (obviously), the sad truth is: content like this takes up so much space that there's hardly any room left for anything meaningful. When I scroll through my newsfeed (which I curate regularly!), I am amazed at how little "quality" content exists there. So my challenge to you, dear reader, is this: would you please think twice about hitting share on that cat video? And would you please NOT think so hard about sharing that 1500-word essay that validated an experience for you, made you think, or otherwise encouraged you? 

I don't think the cat cares if its video was shared two million times. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that the writer who poured her heart and soul into that essay is validated by even one share of her words.

3. Send them an e-mail. Reader e-mails ... I could cry attempting to explain the impact these messages have had on my life. Every single one goes into a special folder called "Don't Quit Writing" and when I feel especially insecure or overwhelmed, I just read a few of those e-mails and I feel better. Those messages are like virtual vitamins. In other words: it takes less than five minutes to send someone an e-mail that says "Keep going!" and you might buy that person six months of confidence. 

4. Support them on Patreon. Tons of artists are hopping on this platform to invite their readers and fans to support them financially through small monthly donations. It is SO EASY. Consider: what is this content worth to me? $3 a month? $5 a month? $10 a month? Is it worth the price of a latte? The price of a movie ticket? More? Speaking from experience: setting up our Coffee + Crumbs Patreon account was life-changing for our  finances last year. We are still well under the dream goal I set, but every single month, money gets deposited into the C+C bank account, directly from PEOPLE WHO LOVE US. I can't even begin to explain how much that fills me up emotionally. Every dollar that comes through that account is one less dollar I have to worry about finding. I can pay my team, cover all of our expenses, and I didn't have to sell my soul in the process. Which is why, again, I'll offer this shameless plug: if you love the art we create at Coffee + Crumbs, you can support us on Patreon for as little as $1/month! ($5 and $10 Patrons get fun rewards 4x a year.) 

5. Leave them a review. Does your favorite artist have a book? A podcast? Something else that accepts reviews? Leave one! This always feels like a daunting task, but I swear it only takes a few minutes. Don't feel like writing? Goodreads and iTunes will let you leave a 5-star review with no description. YOU JUST HAVE TO CLICK THE FIFTH STAR. This is a two-second task! For podcasts specifically, this is a huuuuuge deal. Shameless plug: you can leave a 5-star review for the C+C podcast right here

6. Subscribe, subscribe, subscribe. Subscribe to their blog. Subscribe to their newsletter. Subscribe to their podcast. This really does matter (especially with podcasts!).

7. Tell your friends. Tell your online friends. Tell your real life friends. Word of mouth will never not be significant. Back when I used to do photography, my business was 100% worth of mouth referrals. This matters! 

8. Buy their things. Did your favorite writer publish a book? Did your favorite artist open an Etsy shop? Did your favorite designer create a gorgeous line of printables? Look. It takes a lot of courage to put your art out into the world. It takes even more courage to ask people to pay for it. 

9. Go on a liking spree! I saved this for last because it's easy, not because it's unimportant. The next time you have five minutes to kill, when you're sitting at a swim lesson or waiting in line at the post office, whip out your phone and go on a liking spree. Head to the pages and feeds of the artists you love and like! like! like! like! like! Double tap everything. Double tap all the things. Not only does that make the artist feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, but it also helps the algorithms. Every time you like, share, comment, or otherwise engage with a post, you're telling Facebook and Instagram: hey! I like this person! Show me their stuff more often! Seriously: treat it like a science experiment. Every time you get five minutes, go on a liking spree, and see how it affects your feed. 

Did I miss anything? Writers + artists, feel free to pipe in! How can people support your work?

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

Tips + Tricks for Planning A Solo Retreat


New Year's weekend I booked a night at a hotel to set goals for 2018, and promptly received 100 messages on Instagram about it. 

Everyone was like, "I need to do this!" and "Who is watching your kids?" and "Where are you?" ... and fifty other questions about the sweater I was wearing (it's from ThredUP). 

I started doing solo retreats in 2016 while working on The Magic of Motherhood manuscriptAbout five minutes into the book process, it became clear to me that I couldn't possibly do all of that work in twenty-minute increments, business as usual. The book workload simply piled on top of my regular workload, and all of a sudden it felt like someone had added a new part-time job (book) on top of my other part-time job (running Coffee + Crumbs), which already feels like a full-time gig most days. 

If you're still with me, two part-time jobs + two children + five hours of childcare per week = me, crying into a carton of waffle fries in the Chick-fil-a drive-thru. I started getting up early to buy myself longer stretches of time in the morning to get everything done, but it never felt like enough. Panic ensued. 

And that's what led to the solo retreats! It honestly didn't even feel selfish the first few times because I was so stressed out at home—I think offering my husband a 24-hour break from me was more of a gift than a burden. 

That being said: I've gone on about four or five solo retreats in the past two years, and have learned a thing or two along the way. Here are nine of my best tips for planning a solo retreat: 


1) Figure out your why. Why do you want to go away by yourself? Maybe you feel depleted emotionally, and need some time to recharge. Maybe you've been battling illness for weeks and need one solid night of uninterrupted sleep to care for your body. Maybe you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed and just need to be quiet with God for a while. Maybe you’re on the brink of a creative idea, and need a block of time to get it out on paper. There's no right or wrong "why" for getting away—but it's helpful to identify your mission up front (both for your own expectations and for the people covering for you while you're gone!).

2) Figure out how long you can actually get away. If you’re nursing a baby six times a day, an overnight trip might be a bit of a stretch. Look at your life and honestly ask yourself: what is a reasonable amount of time I can escape? Can I get away for 24 hours? 48 hours? 6 hours? 


3) Figure out your childcare. If you’re a mom of young children, this is probably going to be the biggest piece of the puzzle. Can your husband watch the kids? Or a grandparent? A babysitter or other caregiver? Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be upfront about why you need this. Be open and honest about your intentions and share how you plan to spend the time.


4) Figure out your budget. Can you afford to book a night in a hotel? Do you have any credit card points or AirBNB credits you can redeem? Can you ask for this as a birthday gift? If money is tight, consider asking if any of your friends or family are planning to travel soon and offer to housesit for them! (This is when it comes in handy to be friends with people who own a jacuzzi.)

5) Make a plan, and be realistic. It can be super tempting to bring a list of 15 things to accomplish on a retreat, but trust me when I say: 24 hours goes by really fast. Jot down everything you want to do on your retreat (ex: finish a book, write an essay, pray, do a face mask, clean your inbox, journal, finally design that photobook, etc), and pick your top THREE. What are the three things that are going to make you feel the way you want to feel when you leave the next day? If you want to feel relaxed, maybe your top three things are take a bath, do a face mask, and meditate. If you want to feel productive at the end of the retreat, maybe your three things are actual items from a to-do list. Either way—prioritize your goals, start with your top three, and work your way down. (Truth: I bring nail polish to every solo retreat. I have never once come home with nails painted. But it's okay! Painting nails is never in my top three, and I'm totally okay with that.)

6) Pack your bag. I like to overpack for retreats because I never know what I’m going to be in the mood for. I bring tons of books and journals. I bring a lot of pampering luxuries like bath bombs and face masks. I also bring all my own food because I like to introvert pretty hard and not leave my room till checkout. (I've also ventured out for takeout, but after doing it both ways—I definitely prefer to be a hermit. You do you.) 

7) Request an early check-in and a late check-out. Most hotels are willing to accommodate this if they can. Always worth the ask! 

8) Minimize your distractions. Because I am used to hearing "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" around the clock when I'm at home, I do very little music/TV when I'm on a solo retreat. The quiet is what I'm paying for! Music tends to be super distracting to me, but maybe for you that's social media or e-mail. I highly suggest doing whatever it takes to minimize your distractions. Maybe you take Facebook and Instagram off your phone for the weekend. Maybe you log out of your e-mail. Maybe you even leave your laptop at home, depending on your goals for the retreat. Identify any hindrances standing between you and the top three things you want to accomplish, and remove them altogether if possible. For me, that is ALL SOUNDS. 

9) Go in with an open mind—and ENJOY. Ditch any ounce of guilt you feel for leaving your kids. They will be fine. Remember your end goal: returning to your family rested and restored and grateful, a better wife and mom. This is time well spent. It's okay to enjoy yourself!

Have you ever done a solo retreat? Where'd you go? What'd you do? I would honestly love to do these quarterly but twice a year is probably more realistic for me. I might need to find somewhere with a pool for a summer retreat ... 

If you live near Sacramento, my favorite solo retreat location is The Hanford House in Sutter Creek. I've stayed in a few of the main rooms and a couple of the cottages and give them both five stars. It's an easy (and pretty!) 45-minute drive from Sacramento, no freeways and no traffic. You get fresh warm scones delivered outside your door at 7a.m. and all rates include breakfast at Element (coffee, juice, main entree and a side!). I love this place because it feels like I am really getting away without spending 4+ hours in the car roundtrip (like you would with Napa or Tahoe, etc). If a half-day retreat is more in your wheelhouse, Asha Urban Baths is awesome for that. 


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

Favorite books I read in 2017


In January I set a goal on Goodreads to read 17 books in 2017, and I fully acknowledge how pitiful that number is. I used to read three times that in a year (easily!), but at the start of 2017 I sat down and looked at my life—two young kids, limited childcare, a business to run, a book coming out (!), a marriage to care for and friendships to maintain and a plethora of other daily responsibilities to complete—and I decided: 2017 is a year for realistic expectations. I ended up reading around 20 books this year and today I'm telling you about a few of my favorites!


Wow - where do I start? Reading this book was like holding a mirror up to my heart in a rich and hard and necessary way. 

Excerpt: We live in a culture that's all about self ... This me-centered message affects every area of our lives--our friendships, our marriages, even our faith--and it breaks each one in different ways. The self-focused life robs our joy, shrinks our souls, and is the reason we never quite break free of insecurity.

Favorite quote: "The more we focus on ourselves, the bigger we will seem, and the greater a burden we become to ourselves. When we focus on God—his vast power and might, his unsearchable and unknowable ways—we realize our smallness. It's like standing on a mountain or beside the ocean. In that moment, you discover your true proportion. You feel small in comparison with the cosmos, and there is a beautiful lightness in that realization. You are tiny. You are fragile. You are not in control. The world does not rest on your shoulders, and that is good news. There is so much relief in accepting our smallness, and praising God takes us to that place."


This book! I could not put it down. Finished it on an airplane and cried real tears at the ending. 

Excerpt: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

p.s. The movie comes out in 2018! 

Best SPIRITUAL read 

I read None Like Him over the course of a few months on Sunday mornings. This book was so meaty, I had to read and process one chapter at a time. I will definitely read it more than once. 

Excerpt: God is self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, infinite, and incomprehensible. We're not. And that's a good thing.

Favorite quotes: 

“If I am fully known and not rejected by God, how much more ought I to extend grace to my neighbor, whom I know only in part?” 

“Knowing who God is matters to us. It changes not only the way we think about him, but the way we think about ourselves. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand.” 


I adore Lauren Graham and loved getting a peek into life behind the scenes of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. Easy, quick read. 

Excerpt: In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

Best ME TOO Read 

I love reading (and writing!) about friendship, and I found myself nodding through this entire book. Through personal stories and practical tips, Lisa-Jo Baker encourages readers to pursue and maintain friendships that last. I loved this book so much I ended up leading the We Saved You A Seat bible study with a few gals from MOPS over the summer! 

Favorite quotes: “This is the secret to finding and keeping lasting friendships: become women who want to see the women around them flourish.” 

“Friendship isn't something we passively receive. Friendship is something we actively do."

“If I wait for my house or my life to be perfect before inviting someone into it, I might never let anyone come through the door.” 

Best book of ESSAYS 

I love a good book of essays, and couldn't put this one down. My favorite story was The Wall (which you can read here).


This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage takes us into the very real world of Ann Patchett’s life. Stretching from her childhood to the present day, from a disastrous early marriage to a later happy one, it covers a multitude of topics, including relationships with family and friends, and charts the hard work and joy of writing, and the unexpected thrill of opening a bookstore.

As she shares stories of the people, places, ideals, and art to which she has remained indelibly committed, Ann Patchett brings into focus the large experiences and small moments that have shaped her as a daughter, wife, and writer.

I'm currently reading The Mothers and after that I'll be reading Born A Crime and The Road Back To You.

I'd love to know: what were the best books you read in 2017? What's on your reading list for the new year? 

Christmas morning in photos


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

Lessons I learned While Taping Leaves To The Wall

leaf wall-9.jpg

If I was a "good" blogger—you know, the type who keeps an editorial calendar and plans out content in advance—I would have blogged about this four weeks ago, just in time for you to attempt it yourself. 

But alas, I am a lazy blogger and I do not have an editorial calendar for this space. Also: I decided exactly two days before Thanksgiving that I wanted to make a leaf wall, so I don't really know how the pros stage their Christmas parties in July. The optimist in me calls this Living In The Moment and the realist in me calls this Ordinary Procrastination.

I digress. I am having the worst writers block on the planet. Really. Truly. It's excruciating. I have no ideas. No words. No titles. No endings. Nada. My mind is like a giant cotton ball. When I stand in the shower rubbing rosemary conditioner into my hair—which normally triggers a paragraph or two like some weird pavlov's dog trick—my brain is empty. 

So here we are.


Back when I was practicing photography, I never stressed out about writer's block too much because when the words failed me, I would turn to photos. I'd book a photoshoot, move my body around someone else's house chasing light, and then hop into Lightroom to make some magic. By the time I got bored with that, the words would return. Back and forth I went—words, pictures, words, pictures—a perfect game of creative ping-pong.

leaf wall-8.jpg

I'm not doing much photography these days—which, as it turns out—sucks for both my bank account and my writer's block. I digress again. With no words in my brain and no photos to play with, I started thinking about my Thanksgiving day table, which sparked a flicker of creative energy in me.

I already knew we would outsource the entire meal to Whole Foods, so I was willing to devote time and energy to the setting and decor. In my head, I could see what it would look like. I had a distinct vision of leaves trailing down the wall, but five minutes into making this idea come to life, I started to doubt everything.

Hmmm, I thought. Does this look dumb?

I taped three more leaves to the wall. Self-doubt settled in, put up her feet, and leaned back with an arrogant smirk. 

Having only used the Instagram Stories poll feature once (to determine what people thought was worse: acne or a life without cheese) (they voted life without cheese, but I don't think they understood how bad the acne actually was) (this is a different blog post, more on that soon), this seemed like a good time to try it again. 

I took a picture of the wall-in-progress, and asked people to vote: does this look terrible or pretty?

Around 30% of people said it looked terrible right off the bat, which (and I'm embarrassed to admit this) sent me into a minor tailspin.

I briefly considered giving up altogether. Then I briefly considered arranging the leaves around the picture frame gallery that usually hangs on the wall—per twelve suggestions from strangers—even though I secretly thought that would look terrible (no offense).

After hemming and hawing for another half hour, which was no doubt a complete waste of time, I decided to listen to my gut and keep going. And what do you know ... the more leaves I taped to the wall, the more I liked it.

And I guess the moral of the story is this: there is a time and a place to ask for feedback, and there is also a time and a place to listen to your gut and make your own vision come to life for the sole purpose of creating something beautiful for yourself simply because you want to. 


Trusting the vision in my head is something I'd like to do better in 2018. Not because what's in my head is always right, or always going to be pretty, or never going to fail, but because part of the creative process is learning to listen to your own voice, too.  

Tips + Tricks for Making a Leaf Wall:

1. If you're going to use real leaves, do yourself a favor and press them first. I pressed about 40% of the leaves, and the ones I pressed overnight worked the best (the others curled). To press leaves, I put them in between magazine pages and stacked a few heavy books on top. If that sounds like too much work, you can also buy fake leaves on Amazon for $6 and probably get the same effect. 

2. I used blue painter's tape to attach the leaves and it worked like a charm ... didn't leave any marks and was super easy to remove. I also tried glue dots on one leaf and there is still a teeny tiny piece of it stuck on my wall, so don't do that. 

3. Obviously I think the leaves look best on a plain wall, but if you have other ideas in mind, trust your vision! This was the closest I found online to what was in my head, but I also liked the look of this and this. If you want to be a real overachiever, you could gold dip the leaves beforehand and that would probably look stunning. 

I know; Thanksgiving is over. Feel free to pin this for next year. I only do crafts once in a blue moon but there's a 100% chance you will never see them on this blog before the actual appropriate holiday. Sorry about that. 

-Your Favorite Lazy Blogger

Make It Count

A few years ago I attended a photography workshop in San Francisco. I had been photographing families for a while, but found myself in a rut toward the end of 2015—my imposter syndrome at an all-time high, my inspiration at an all-time low.

I carpooled with two other local photographers whose expertise and related income surpassed mine on every level. As we sipped lattes in the car, chatting merrily on our way down the freeway, I wondered if I had made a huge mistake.

I’m such an amateur.
What was I thinking signing up for this?!
I don’t belong here.

Of course at that point, it was too late. I was in the backseat, and the car was driving to the city. I had no choice but to slap a smile on my face and pretend I belonged anyway.

Ninety miles later, we arrived at our destination—a charming house on a quiet street lined with bougainvillea. It was abnormally warm for San Francisco, and I immediately regretted wearing leggings.

Yan Palmer, photographer and workshop extraordinaire, greeted us at the door with the warmth and hospitality of your favorite grandmother. Freckles danced across her nose, and while I guessed she was slightly older than me, she looked like a sun-kissed teenager. She ushered us in and told us to take our seats in the living room where everyone else was already settled.

We sat in a circle and introduced ourselves, each taking a moment to explain why we were there. A few people cried. We watched a video and went through a booklet of Yan’s best photography tips, everything from lighting and posing to editing and workflow.

But the real magic happened later that afternoon, when Yan photographed Robyn and her family (whose living room we were sitting in).

“I’m going to shoot this one on film,” Yan said, strapping a fanny pack around her waist. She made a joke about looking hip while placing a few rolls of film inside.

Intrigued by her choice of camera, I hung back shyly as she started directing Robyn’s family in front of the window. She worked slowly. Thoughtfully. She offered clear direction in a quiet voice, placing Robyn and her husband on the couch into a resting pose. She pushed a side table out of the frame before adding the kids to their laps. Once the kids were in the frame, Yan began to speak in a glorified whisper. The room belonged to her. She metered the light, and began.

Watching her work was like watching someone direct a play. She moved around the room to the beat of her own careful choreography, whispering commands, tucking tiny pieces of candy into Robyn’s bra strap. Her kids, following the trick, climbed into the comfort of their mother’s lap, smiling wide as they dug for treasure on her shoulder.

The final product was a photo of a mother holding her children while they reached up to her face, moving her hair out of their way. It showcased closeness, love.

It was ... genius.

But the most interesting thing I noticed during that session—and the main takeaway I brought home with me—was how few photos Yan took. She was shooting film, and every so often, she’d have to pause to reload her camera. After setting up a scene on the bed with Robyn and her kids, she took maybe 12-15 shots and called it done.

There were huge pauses between each click.

I couldn’t help but compare this to my own photography process. At the time, I typically took 300-350 photos during a family session. I never wanted to miss anything, and the beauty (and curse) of digital photography is that I didn’t have to. I could show up to someone’s house and push click every 10 seconds for an hour. My process was frantic, always overcompensating for the underlying fear that I had no idea what I was doing.

If I just keep smiling and clicking, they’ll think I’m a real pro!
Maybe I’ll start to believe it, too!

At Yan’s workshop, someone else asked a few questions about film. Yan was an open book—she told us how many photos she usually takes during a session, where she gets her film developed, why she prefers film over digital. I made a comment during this conversation about what I had noticed, stating the obvious.

“It seems like you’re a lot more intentional this way. You’re taking fewer images, but you’ve put more thought and care into each one.”

A few of the other photographers nodded their heads in agreement, confessing how many photos they usually took during a session. It seemed I wasn’t the only one clicking 300 times and hoping for the best. Maybe I belonged there after all.

Yan smiled at us.

“That’s true,” she said, “With film, you have to make it count.”


When Instagram first introduced Instagram stories, I was vehemently against it. This is so dumb, I thought to myself more than a dozen times the week the change was implemented. First the ads, then the algorithms, now this?! Instagram had been so pure for so long, and I guess part of me had hoped it would stay that way.


I boycotted for several weeks.

Eventually the lure of the purple circle became too strong, and I started watching other people’s stories. I saw everything from their daily breakfast to their playlists to their outfits to their behind-the-scenes mothering. I was both intrigued and horrified by the people talking into their phones daily, a la selfie mode, creating their own little reality TV show among followers.

I became a regular voyeur, still refusing to be a participant. Every time I logged onto Instagram, I rolled my eyes, annoyed and overwhelmed by the tsunami of other people’s lives being forced on my eyeballs.

(It’s so much easier to blame Instagram for our own addictions, isn’t it?)

I held strong for a solid month before finally giving way to the desire to play the game like everyone else, to sit at the cool kid’s table, to belong.

Having never used Snapchat before, I fumbled around like a newbie, finding my footing. A few weeks into documenting my days via artsy boomerangs and 15-second video clips of my kids being adorable, I started to actually enjoy sharing my life this way, spontaneously and unedited.

I hated myself for liking it so much.


A friend said to me recently, “I’ve really been enjoying your long Instagram captions.”

It was a funny compliment, but one I appreciated nonetheless. I’ve been less active on Instagram lately, not necessarily by intentional choice but simply because I have felt quiet. The news continues to devastate me on a weekly basis—just as my heart recovers from one story, a new horror sweeps in to take its place.

A few of my friends have recently given up Instagram, either for the summer or the month or altogether. Their reasons vary from wanting to spend more time with God to wanting to spend more time writing to wanting a break from all the noise.

I’ve taken breaks myself at various points over the past 10 years since I’ve been using social media, and they have always been needed and fruitful. I find it's good and healthy to let my eyes rest, and to give my brain an intermission from the daily inner workings of every single person I know.


The more challenging part, I think, is learning how to use social media without letting it take over my life—either from the creation side or the consumption side.

I am constantly asking myself:

How do I create in this space, meaningfully?
How do I consume in this space, meaningfully?

The temptation is there, always, to create and consume more than we need to. We have all the power at our fingertips—the ability to frantically capture pictures and videos of anything and everything. Look at me! I’m drinking coffee! I’m walking outside! I blow-dried my hair! My kid is being cute! My house is clean! I’m at the gym!

We could, quite literally, document ourselves all day long—our food, our drinks, our errands, our outfits, our hair, our workouts, our vacations, our children. We can pop our faces on the screen and share our thoughts about politics, motherhood, and everything in between. Nobody is stopping us. Nobody is really holding us accountable to what we share in that space. 

These devices we carry around in our pockets can house thousands of images and videos at a time.

They’re like digital cameras on speed.

And I guess where I’m going with all of this is … aren’t you tired? I am. I feel like I’m living in a crowded amusement park, and every time I think I’ve carved out a little nook for myself, more people come inside shuffling against my body yelling about treats and roller coasters. I feel like I’m suffocating in a space that seems to thrive on more more more.

So, what to do?

Option 1: I suppose I could ditch Instagram forever.


Option 2: I suppose I could make it count.

I could ask myself a few questions before sharing, like: what is the purpose of this picture/video/boomerang? Am I seeking validation from strangers? Am I simply adding to the noise? Is this content going to encourage anyone? Help anyone? Brighten someone's day?

I could ask myself a few questions before consuming, like: what is the purpose of this picture/video/boomerang? Is this content life-giving for me? Is it adding anything positive to my life? Is it making me feel insecure or inadequate or sad or empty?

If this seems overly analytical, a recent study stated that the average person will spend five years of their life on social media.

Five. Years. Of. Their. Life. On social media.

Let that sink in.


I can’t help but read that statistic and think of all the other things I could be doing with five years of my life. I could go back to school! I could travel the world! I could learn to cook food that is not spaghetti! I could read 500 books!

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how all those minutes add up over time? 10 minutes on Facebook here, 15 minutes on Instagram there, a few minutes checking Twitter before bed.

It’s ... alarming, isn’t it?

If I’m going to spend five years of my life on social media—and Lord, I really hope I don’t—but if I do, I want it to mean something.

I want to write stories that make you think and pair them with pictures that make you smile. I want to encourage you, I want to cheer for you, I want to spread hope like wildflowers. I want to tell you about the hard parts of marriage and the best parts of motherhood and I want to tell you about Jesus and my new favorite non-dairy ice cream. I want to commiserate over mom guilt and adult acne and the way our kids are all growing up too fast. I want to speak life into you. I want to use this phone, this tool, this platform, this gift, to turn the mundane aspects of my daily grind into a psalm.

I want to walk beside you, on this very weird Internet thing, and be an uplifting voice in your day. I want to take huge pauses in between each click. I want to be intentional. I want to be slow. I want to be a good steward of this space. 

I want to make it count.


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.