The biggest lesson I learned during whole30

I want to start by telling you that I learned a LOT of things during Whole30. I learned there is sugar in (almost) everything. I learned that cooking real food for every meal results in a crapload of dishes. I learned that meal prep is key to staying on track. I learned that less is more, and sometimes the simplest recipes are actually the best recipes (much to my surprise and delight!). I learned that 80% of my social life involves food, and usually not-very-healthy food.  

I learned that I am both an emotional and mindless eater. Prior to Whole30, I ate all the time. I ate when I was happy. I ate when I was sad. I ate when I was bored. I almost always ate when I watched TV. And, 9 times out of 10, I ate whatever was quick, easy, convenient, and pre-packaged. If my kids were eating goldfish crackers on the couch, I ate a handful, too. If I made them mac-n-cheese for dinner, I'd eat some, too. If I was at a restaurant with a basket of bread on the table, I'd eat that because someone else had put it front of me. If I was at a birthday party, I'd eat a cupcake because everyone else was eating cupcakes. 

There is nothing wrong with eating bread.
There is nothing wrong with eating cupcakes.

But, if you're always eating bread and cupcakes (and chips and candy and whatever other crap you're mindlessly consuming in front of Netflix) without thinking about why you are eating those things, you might not be caring for your body as well as you could be. 

Prior to Whole30, my eating habits were not intentional, proactive, or mindful. Eating was just another thing I did, like walking or breathing. If my stomach growled, I grabbed whatever was within reach. If I was sitting down to watch a show, I'd make myself a bowl of popcorn, even if I had just finished dinner. I never meal planned. I never gave food a whole lot of thought, to be honest. A lot of times, I was not eating to serve a purpose for my body; I was simply eating for the sake of eating. 

We had Robin Long on our C+C podcast a few months ago and one message she repeated a few times that I really loved was this: Do the things you need to do to feel the way you want to feel. 

Simple in theory; not always simple in practice. It's easy for me to pop a waffle in the toaster and call that breakfast on the way out the door. It's less easy for me to make scrambled eggs with sausage, chop up fruit, and sit down to eat a proper meal at the beginning of my day. And I'll tell you what: only one of those options makes me feel good, both in the moment, and for the next several hours.

But the real lesson I want to share with you today is the biggest epiphany I took away from Whole30, and it has nothing to do with food and everything to do with me. 

I learned I am way more disciplined than I've ever given myself credit for. 

My greatest fear upon starting Whole30 was that I wasn't going to be able to do it. I was scared I would cave, or cheat, or give in to temptation by the second week. But I didn't. Not once. 

And honestly? It wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. 

Did it suck to go to a BBQ and not eat the pasta salad? Yes. Did it suck to go to the coffee shop and not order a bagel like I always do? You bet. Did it suck to not have coffee creamer for thirty days? HELLS TO THE YES it did. 

When it comes to most things, I don't consider myself to be a very competitive person. As in, I am cheering for you, always. I do not believe in the myth of scarcity; I believe wholeheartedly in the truth of abundance. I believe there is more than enough room for all of us, for all of our success, for all of our gifts and talents.

There is someone I am really competitive with though, and that person is me. When I committed to Whole30, I knew I was going to be competing against ... myself. I knew I was going to have to fight the lazy, sugar-addicted, quick-fix, mindless eater version of me. I really wanted the healthy version of me (or the "aspiring" healthy version of me), to come out on top. 

And she did (!).

Which leads me to believe just about anything is possible. If I can do Whole30, what can't I do? I thought this was going to be the hardest thing in the world for me to finish ... and it wasn't. 

Which leads me to believe:

If I can do Whole30, surely I can get up at 5am to write. 
If I can do Whole30, surely I can stick to an actual budget.
If I can do Whole30, surely I can run a half marathon (lolololol, just kidding).

... you get my point though. 

Nothing feels impossible to me right now. Before I started Whole30, I was feeling weak. Not physically, but mentally. I felt like my own health was spiraling out of my control, as if I didn't possess the will-power to do anything to change it. And that's simply not true. I had the will-power all along; I just needed something as bold as Whole30 to show me what I was capable of. 

My next venture? I'm going to take a stab at getting up early to write. My girl Katie Blackburn promised to be my accountability partner. 

And after Whole30, I really believe I can do it.

Especially now that I have my coffee creamer back. 

Whole30 Results, Recap, + FAQs

It is 6:10am and I am drinking coffee again, with almond milk hazelnut creamer. It is JUST AS DELICIOUS as I remember. At the start of Whole30, I had a long list of ailments I was hoping to cure. The book implies you can fix almost anything by eating real foods, and I was skeptical but hopeful. The biggest change I can report is that I feel generally healthier. In the same way that after I eat five slices of pizza, I feel generally unhealthy; after doing Whole30, I feel generally healthy. Here's a breakdown of the ailments I was hoping to cure at the beginning, with the results after 30 days.

RESULTS:
(the honest truth!)

  1. Insomnia - stayed the same. Whole30 did not improve my sleep quality at all, which was disappointing to say the least. But, toward the end of Whole30 I decided to start taking a magnesium supplement to see if that helped and IT DID. For the past two years, my nightstand drawer has hosted a collection of sleeping pill bottles. If I’m struggling with allergies, I reach for Benadryl. If I have a headache, I grab a Tylenol PM. If I feel otherwise fine, I bounce back and forth between Zzzquil and Unisom. I don’t take one every night, but I take one most nights. If I don’t, I’m up tossing and turning and thinking about All The Things from roughly 2am-5am. I’ve tried Natural Calm in the past without success, but recently bought this magnesium supplement and it’s AMAZING. I take it 30-60 minutes before bed with a small snack, fall asleep quickly, and stay asleep all night.

  2. Bloat - huge improvement. I lost 7 pounds during Whole30, which is way more than I expected. We didn’t own a scale prior to Whole30 so I bought one just for this. Brett and I weighed ourselves on Day 1 and Day 30; I lost 7 pounds and he lost 9. I can see this almost everywhere on me -- my stomach is flatter, my face looks less puffy, a few of my once too-tight shorts now fit perfectly. I don’t know how to better describe this, but for the past couple of years, I have felt constantly … bloated. At some point I think I gave up and assumed this is just what my body looks like after two kids. Turns out, no, this is just what my body looks like when I eat a lot of chips and ice cream.

  3. Seasonal allergies - huge improvement. I had TERRIBLE allergies even up until the week before we started Whole30. Aside from a few random sneezes here and there, I haven’t had a single allergy attack the past 30 days.

  4. Energy levels - moderate improvement. I have to be honest, I was feeling REALLY discouraged about this, because for the first 25 or so days, I did not feel a difference in my energy levels whatsoever. I felt less sluggish overall, but didn’t necessarily feel less tired. I tried to give myself grace in this area because I consumed significantly less caffeine on Whole30 and figured that might be working against any natural improvement. But, around the last few days, I definitely saw an uptick in energy levels, most noticeable in the afternoon (when I am typically the most tired).

  5. Headaches - worse. I think cutting back on caffeine is to blame to this, but I'm not sure. I had way more headaches on Whole30 than I usually do, and was hoping Whole30 would cure me of headaches altogether. Enter: girl shrugging shoulders emoji here_____.   

  6. Mental clarity - huge improvement. This change also came toward the end, probably around the 20-day mark. I noticed that every day during naptime, when I usually plop in my bed with lunch to watch something on Netflix and/or scroll my phone, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to get on my laptop and write, or work … or do something productive. Toward the end of Whole30, I’ve felt sharper, more focused, and more motivated. I’ve had an essay brewing in my head for a while and last week I finally sat down to get it out and dumped nearly 2,500 words in a few short sittings.

I dove into the Whole30 forums a lot to see what results others were having (or not having), and the one consistent message I found was that everyone's body reacts differently to Whole30 on a unique timetable. Some people start sleeping better at the end of the first week; others report higher energy on week two. I was feeling a bit discouraged halfway through because I didn't feel any of those things. I didn't feel bad, necessarily, but I didn't feel AMAZING either. Someone else reported feeling the same way and a Whole30 forum leader suggested she try sticking it out for 45 days to see if she just needs more time on the program. 

I was like, lol I have a paper chain for when I can get my coffee creamer back so Ashlee OUT.   


RECAP:
(key takeaways + what we plan to change moving forward)

We actually really love eating a big breakfast. I never thought I’d say this, but scrambled eggs and I are a pretty good match in the morning. 

Meal planning is key. I cannot stress this enough: I never ever meal planned before Whole30. We generally bought the same items from the store each week, and I probably cooked, on average, 2-3 nights per week. The other nights we ate cereal for dinner, ordered takeout, or foraged through the freezer for frozen burritos, lasagnas, etc. Meal planning is a whole new world for me, but I gotta say: it's growing on me. 

Cooking enough food for leftovers makes the mess worth it. On Whole30, we ate dinner leftovers for lunch almost every day, and both of us would like to keep that habit. Brett used to eat out 5x a week (!), and now he’s aiming to eat out 1x a week. I'm trying to cook bigger batches of food each night, and be mindful of our serving sizes so we can save enough for a second meal. 

Speaking of the mess, splitting the cooking and cleaning really works for us. I think Brett cooked 2x total on Whole30. I was pretty exasperated at the end of week one; I was carrying the mental load of figuring out what was for dinner, plus the physical load of grocery shopping, prepping, and cooking. One night he asked, “What can I do to help?” and I said, “You can do ALL OF THE DISHES.” This was a really perfect trade-off for us; I cooked and he cleaned. I didn’t have to stress out about the mess I was making while preparing dinner because I knew at the end, someone else was going to clean it up.

Brett is done with soda. I am done with processed sweets. We both made small lists of personal things we’d like to change / give up / do better. All of it feels really doable after enduring such a strict regimen for 30 days.

Brand recognition is the gift that keeps on giving. We discovered a few "clean" brands/products on Whole30 that we plan to keep buying (Tessamae's, Primal, Epic). I also feel better equipped to walk through a grocery store knowing what to look for on an ingredient list. Knowledge is power. 

We don't always need a grain with dinner. Prior to Whole30, we ate a LOT of rice and pasta. I like rice and pasta and have no plans to give those items up, but it's nice to know we can make filling meals without those things, too. 
 


FAQs
(from the kind people of Instagram):

1. What were your favorite savory / sweet snacks? Favorite savory snack: roasted almonds, applegate beef hot dog dipped in guac. Favorite sweet snack: Pressed by Kind bars, apples with cinnamon dipped in almond butter.

2. How hard is it, really? How hard is it mentally? For me, Whole30 was 100% mental. That was the hard part. It wasn’t hard to not eat certain foods, or to eat better foods; it was hard to go to the coffee shop and not order a bagel. It was hard to stand at the birthday party while everyone is eating homemade cupcakes and not reach for one. Being super mindful of every single thing you eat for 30 days (and thus, resisting temptation all around you) is the most challenging part.

3. Did you feel like you missed out on life events / social stuff? YES, yes, yes. Honestly, we were practically on house arrest while on Whole30 because it just wasn’t fun or enjoyable for us to attend social gatherings. We felt super high maintenance about the whole thing, like “sure, we can go to this BBQ, but we need to bring our own meat and our own ketchup and our own snacks and our own salad dressing.” Who wants to be those people? Not us. We actually picked our 30 days strategically because we didn't have very much on the calendar. That was a good decision, and I would take that into consideration again if we ever do Whole30 in the future. 

4. Did Whole30 feel too extreme, or did you feel like it’s what you needed? For me, it was exactly what I needed. I cannot tell you how many Sunday nights I have said to myself: this week I am going to meal plan! This week I am going to be healthy! And then by Tuesday afternoon, I am stuffing my face with cheddar popcorn like oh well, I’ll try again next week. I really needed something concrete, with rules, to whip my butt into shape. Having said that, it IS extreme. But, the thing I really loved about Whole30 is they don't tell you how much to eat. It is all about quality and not about quantity. Whole30 is not a diet (they say that over and over again in the book). They don't tell you how many calories to consume each day, and they specifically ask you not to weigh yourself during the 30 days because they don't want weight loss to be your motivator. I found a ton of freedom in this, in knowing it wasn't about how much I was eating, but rather what I was eating. 

5. What was your favorite and least favorite part of doing Whole30? Favorite part: discovering healthy new weeknight recipes that aren't intimidating. Least favorite part: all the damn dishes.

6. What surprised you the most? Reading the ingredient lists of foods I had previously deemed as “healthy” and realizing there are some weirdo things in them that I can barely pronounce. Also, realizing that there is sugar in EVERYTHING (meat, ketchup, marinara sauce, geeeeez).

7. What are your best Whole30 lazy tips? Trader Joe’s actually has a LOT of Whole30 ready-made compliant items. The chile lime chicken burgers and grass-fed beef roast were ridiculously easy meals! When in doubt, make a meat + a veggie and call it a day (add a baked potato if you're feeling fancy). I got a ton of ideas and grocery lists from Pinterest, like this one, this one, and this one

8. How did Whole30 affect your grocery budget? I wish I had tracked this better. We spent a LOT of money on groceries, but we also didn’t really eat out (three trips to Chipotle in 30 days). Before Whole30, Brett was eating out 5 days a week for lunch, and we were probably eating out, on average, 3 nights a week? So, while our grocery bill definitely increased, our eating out budget definitely decreased. I think it probably evened out, mostly, but we spent WAY more money on groceries during Whole30 than we typically do. I also grocery shopped more often. We have a small kitchen, so we don't tend to buy a ton of stuff in bulk. Because we were eating more food from home, I felt like every 4-5 days, I needed to go to the store again.

9. Did your kids eat the same food as you? Did you modify meals for them? Did they try anything new that they really liked? Carson is a fantastic eater and usually eats exactly what we do. I think I noticed on Whole30 how much he likes meat (and potatoes!) which was fun to see, especially because he's so dang small. I am always looking for ways to help him get bigger, and I'm happy to know he can clear half a plate of beef by himself. He liked almost everything we served him while on Whole30. Everett on the other hand, is a super picky eater, and did not try anything we made (he never does). We offer him bites of everything we make each night, but he never touches it. He's got some sensory issues with food and it's an ongoing problem in our house; I didn't expect anything different from this.

10. Can I seriously do this? YES YOU CAN. Might I remind you, pre-Whole30 I was spending just about every afternoon standing in front of the fridge dipping animal crackers into an open can of rainbow chip frosting. Let that visual sink it. If I can do it, anyone can.

Anything else you want to know? Obviously I am not a Whole30 expert, but I'm happy to share about our experience!

Whole30 Lifesavers + Easy Weeknight Dinners

On a scale from 1-10, there are some people who unabashedly take Whole30 at a level 14. I'm looking at you, crazy people in the Whole30 forums. I would like to state, on the record, that I'm taking Whole30 at a solid level 8. While I have not broken the rules or "cheated" so to speak, I have not followed the "recommendations" perfectly. And by that I mean, I eat snacks every day. And I make a smoothie every day. 

Snacks and smoothies are not "recommended" on Whole30, but to that I say, pssshhhhhhh. Have you seen me when I'm hangry? It's not cute. 

Anyway, I've got five days left of this program, and have had lots of people asking lots of things on Instagram, so I'm going to do a few posts over the next week or so about our favorite items, recipes, strategies, etc and then I promise I'll get back to regular programming and stop talking about food.

I really want to share my top Whole30 lifesavers (not to be confused with candy lifesavers, which are definitely not compliant). If it weren't for these items, I don't know that I would have survived 30 days. If you're planning for your first Whole30, I highly recommend stocking up on: 

  • Almond butter (buy it anywhere)
  • Chile lime chicken burgers (Trader Joes)
  • Wellshire Farms sugar-free paleo bacon (Whole Foods)
  • Applegate chicken + apple sausage (buy it anywhere, best deal at Costco)
  • La Croix (buy it anywhere)
  • Everything But The Bagel seasoning (Trader Joes)
  • Zest tea (Amazon)
  • Tessamae's ketchup, BBQ sauce, salad dressings (Raley's)
  • Trader Joe's grass-fed beef roast (Trader Joe's)
  • Ghee butter (anywhere)
  • Teva black iced tea (anywhere)
  • Pressed Bars by Kind (Target)
  • Apple pie larabars (Target)
  • Primal Foods mayo + dressings (Nugget Markets)
  • Unsweetened almond milk (Nugget Markets)
  • Wholly Guacamole cups (Costco)

And now I bring you ... a few of our favorite week-night no-fuss-no-muss recipes:

1. Trader Joe's Chile Lime chicken burgers with guac over a bed of lettuce. HOLY YUM. Brett likes to use butter lettuce to make burger wraps, but I prefer to cut the patty into pieces and dip three ways (ketchup, mustard, guac, in that order). Pairs well with cherries or pineapple on the side. I could easily eat this once/week moving forward, and honestly don't miss the bun at all. 

2. Shredded BBQ chicken inside a baked potato topped with ghee butter, everything but the bacon seasoning, and green onions. DELICIOUS. Will definitely make this a regular meal after Whole30. Great with a side salad, or roasted veggies. I put raw chicken breast tenders in the crockpot at noon, dump 1/3 of a bottle of Tessamae's bbq sauce over it, set to low for 5-6 hours, and voila! Shred with a fork, and you're good to go. I usually make a ton and it lasts for 4-5 meals. 

3. Ground turkey with sugar-free marinara sauce over zucchini noodles. Aka: Whole30 spaghetti. Three cheers for three-ingredient meals! I borrowed a spiralizer from a friend without realizing the full extent of dishes and cleanup that was involved in Whole30 ... which is what led me to buying pre-made zoodles from Whole Foods for $5.99 (#worthit). Also, I thought it was going to be really hard to find sugar-free marinara sauce, but it's not. I found great options at Target, Costco, Raley's, Nugget, and Whole Foods. 

4. Trader Joe's Grassfed Beef Roast with baked potatoes + roasted veggies. This is a one-pan meal and if you use foil on the pan, there is practically NO CLEAN UP. Praise hands. The roast is already fully prepared; you literally take it out of the package and plop it in the oven for 20 minutes. For this meal, I do baked potatoes in the microwave for 5 minutes, and then put them in the oven on the same pan as the roast for 7-8 minutes, along with whatever veggies I want to cook (we've done a lot of summer squash and asparagus). Boom. Whole dinner, done. I pack up leftover meat for the following day's lunch with half of my baked potato and a scoop of veggies; Brett usually makes a big salad and puts the leftover meat on top. 

Two other recipes we've made (and really loved!) that take a bit more time/prep are these paleo Italian meatballs and this chicken piccata. Dinner was really the most work for our Whole30. We ate scrambled eggs + sausage (or bacon) + fruit every single morning for 30 days. Lunch was almost always leftovers, or a salad + chicken, or chicken salad (primal mayo is perfect for this!), or some days when I was super lazy and out of good options, a couple of applegate beef hot dogs + guac and a side of fruit. But most days, we ate leftovers. 

I'll be back next week with a post about my favorite items from Nugget Markets, a full recap of our results, and the biggest lesson we learned while completing Whole30 (spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with food and everything to do with ourselves). 

If you've done a Whole30 and have any go-to items that you ate over and over again, will you tell me in the comments? I love hearing what worked for others! 

When Pigs Fly (Let's talk about Whole30)

Well friends, I drank the Whole30 koolaid. Today is day 20. I'm still alive.

(Let me back up.)

Two years ago, I bought the Whole30 book after seeing a dozen people raving about the program on Instagram. I was intrigued by the miraculous list of ailments it could allegedly cure, and, to be frank, I was also desperate to lose the last 10 pounds of pregnancy weight. The only problem? I was still breastfeeding. And not just breastfeeding, but breastfeeding an underweight baby. I was on fenugreek, lactation cookies, the works -- trying anything to increase my milk supply and help my tiny baby grow.

After reading the intro to the book (and receiving encouragement from a friend!), I decided it would be wise to wait to put myself on such a strict food regimen until after I finished breastfeeding. And so, I continued eating four lactation cookies per day and surviving on a mix of cereal, pasta, and in-n-out cheeseburgers that first year of Carson's life. 

While I've never been much a health nut, there's no denying that I've felt myself falling into a downward spiral the past couple years. I'm going to go ahead and blame Carson for this because he didn't sleep through the night for fifteen months and needed to be held all of the time and when you're in survival mode, of course eating half an entire pizza in front of the television sounds like a great idea. I deserve this, I'd tell myself, polishing off my sixth slice in the middle of our eighth time binge watching The Office.

I wasn't a terribly unhealthy eater, per se, but on average, I was probably eating more unhealthy meals than healthy meals. And had I not been actively chasing two kids around the house, breastfeeding like crazy, and occasionally eating nothing but a granola bar for lunch (because the fridge was empty -- have I mentioned I'm a horrible meal planner?), I certainly would have gained 20 pounds in the aftermath of adjusting to life with two kids.

Which brings us to: 2017. 

A couple months ago, Brett and I were taking our evening walk around the neighborhood when our conversation turned to health. Both of us agreed that we felt really unhealthy. He complained about his ailments: tiredness, joint pain, allergies, digestion problems, and I complained about mine: exhaustion, insomnia, lack of energy, bloated-ness, headaches, moodiness. I threw out the idea of us trying Whole30, and much to my surprise, Brett said, "I think we should do it."

Knowing what I know now about this program, it would have been completely impossible to do without Brett. I have needed the accountability, the commiseration, the help, the encouragement. Also: can you imagine if Brett were eating burritos every night while I was roasting vegetables? I would have wanted to stab him. Our marriage might not have not survived.

A few weeks ago I re-skimmed the book, printed off some Pinterest recipes, and we took the plunge. For reference: the week before we started Whole30, I was regularly dipping animal crackers into a can of leftover rainbow chip frosting. As a snack. So. That's the "before" I represent.

We did a complete fridge and pantry clean-out two days before we started. Bye bye pasta, risotto, salad dressings, coffee creamer. Goodbye ice cream. Farewell bread. Hasta la vista cheese. See you never, rainbow chip frosting.

Three weeks in, I have learned a ton about food. But, to be honest, I think I have learned more about myself.

I'm planning to do a full recap at the end, and I'll be sharing a few more posts in the next week or two about our favorite recipes, brands, stores, and items. Don't worry, this isn't turning into a food blog (lol can you imagine?)! But I owe a lot of my Whole30 knowledge to various blog posts I found on Pinterest, so I'd like to return the favor to the Internet. 

Have you ever done Whole30? How'd it go? I have 10 days left so if you're hoarding any good recipes, plz link below! Here's to good health, eating your vegetables, and getting my coffee creamer back in 10 days. 

A writing home

vsco_030317.jpg

Tap, tap. Is this thing on? 

Heeeeey, there. You know that thing when you stop blogging regularly and then you come back and it feels a bit ... awkward? Like when you bump into someone you haven't seen in a while and it takes five whole minutes of uncomfortable small talk before you start to feel at ease again? 

That's how I'm feeling right now. 

So how about we get the five minutes of uncomfortable small talk out of the way? I'll go first.

I'm goooood! Everett just finished preschool, yep. Uh-huh, starts kindergarten in the fall. I know. They grow so fast. Mmmhmm. Carson's 2.5. I know, he's really small. Yep. We do feed him a lot. Work? Work is great ... yep, the book just came out. How's it doing? I have no idea. Yes, really. Nope, nobody tells me anything. I think it's doing okay? Yeah, people on Instagram seem to like it, so ... I think it's doing fine. What else is new? Well, Brett and I just started Whole30. Mmmhmm, if we finish that without divorcing or killing each other, I think we'll call it a success. 

(You insert your small talk here.)

OKAY, I'm feeling better. That was a good warm-up exercise.

In fact, can we just start over now?

Hi. Thanks for being here. As you have definitely noticed by now, I have a new blog with a very boring name. The long story involves a blog identity crisis, a writing crisis, a name crisis, and like seven other millennial-ish crises, but the short story is this: I outgrew Where My Heart Resides. And when I say I outgrew it, I simply mean ... it didn't fit me anymore. Like your favorite old dress from freshmen year of college that you wore all the time, but then, two babies later, one day you realize you can't zip it up.

Over the past year, I have thought about quitting blogging more than a dozen times. 

My inner dialogue went something like this:

Nobody reads blogs anymore.
This is a waste of time.
This is a waste of energy.
This is a waste of (Internet) space.
But seriously, didn't the experts say personal blogging is dead?

And while I wish I could tell you I came to a crazy aha moment where I defeated all of those thoughts and proved them false, I didn't really.

I came to a super simple aha moment instead: 

I really love having a writing home. 

That's it. That was my great epiphany. I enjoy writing, and I enjoy having a place to put my words. 

I know tons of writers who have mastered the art of submitting their work to online publications and magazines. I thought about doing this for a while. I thought maybe I could give up my blog and just pitch my writing around the Internet instead, a vagabond writer of sorts. However, that process has never appealed much to me. Don't get me wrong -- I've dabbled and submitted writing here and there over the past few years. I've been accepted a few times and rejected more than a few times. But I always seem to land back here, at the ole personal blog. With a growing site to run and two tiny kids under my roof and super limited childcare, turns out I'd rather spend my time writing and hitting publish than worrying about whether or not other people want my writing. 

And I know that's easy for me to say, because I've had my "big break" so to speak. I've got Coffee + Crumbs, and the book. I know what it's like to have a post go viral and what it's like to see my work on the Huffington Post. I am incredibly grateful for all of those things, always have been and always will be. 

But if I'm being honest, with myself and with you, I now see those things for what they are: a sheer moment on the peak of a mountain. You work your butt off to climb to the top and immediately stop to enjoy the view. This is amazing! It's beautiful up here! Wow! 

Eventually, though, you have to descend to flat ground. You can't live at the peak of a mountain forever. And I guess what I've come to learn over the years is this: my personal blog has always been my best flat ground.

This is where I get my equilibrium back. It's where I rest. It's where I don't have to try to be anything other than myself. It's where I feel safe, and grounded, and the most ... me.

Keeping a personal blog is not about chasing anything. It's not about the numbers or the stats or some random editor's opinion. It's about feeling at home. It's about feeling free. It's about making connections, big and small, with the people who occasionally read these stories. It's about taking the words swirling in my head, transcribing them into (hopefully) something beautiful, and hitting publish with a big exhale. 

So, whoever you are, whether you followed Where My Heart Resides for years or you're brand new here today, welcome. While I can't promise you this blog will entertain you or inspire you or challenge you or change your life (definitely not), I can promise you two things: 1) I will continue to show up here for as long as the act of writing brings me joy, and 2) I will offer you my best work. 

This is not where I publish my rejected stories, or my second best, or my leftovers. This is my writing home. And if you were in my real home, I'd offer you my best -- the best dishes, the best food, the best lit candles, the best of everything. Same rules apply here. Welcome to my house.

I started writing on flat ground, and I believe I will stop writing on flat ground. No matter how many mountain peaks I see in between, this is where I begin and end. 

So RIP, Where My Heart Resides. We had a really good run, and I owe you a lot. Personal blogging may be dead, but I think I still have some life left in me. 

one very important acknowledgment.

for Brett

We were up till midnight last night. Well, I was up till midnight. It was 12:07 when I plugged in my phone and I’m pretty sure I disappeared into a Benadryl-induced coma shortly after that.

You were still working.

Propped up in bed, headphones in your ears, you were editing “um’s” out of our podcast a mere four hours before it would go live. You messed around with the pre-ad music for a while before finally whispering, "I think it sounds pretty good."

I caught you smirking a few times, probably around the mark where us girls were discussing bras and monthly cycles. You joked that you know too much about the writers, and I laughed because it’s true.

Everyone is excited the podcast is back today. They have no idea you put in five whole hours on that episode last night, or that you spent an entire Monday evening making our voices sound much more polished than they really are.

Almost everything you do for this cause, for this tiny dream of mine, is done in secret. I know how much you love to be anonymous, but there is a time to be incognito and a time to be seen, and today is the latter for you.

Today I want to tell people how much you do behind the scenes.

I want them to know that when our website is acting up, you always know how to fix it. I want them to know that all I have to do is draw a picture on a napkin and you know how to magically translate my chicken scratch into code.

I want people to know that in the midst of working on The Year of Creativity, I hit a button called "reset default" and accidentally broke our entire website with a single click. I undid hours and hours of work you had done on our Squarespace template in exactly one second. I want to tell people how in that moment, you did not panic in the slightest, but instead, you grabbed a Dr. Pepper from the fridge, rolled up your sleeves, and rebuilt our entire website from memory in one hour.  

I want to tell people that every time I say, "I have an idea," you say, "That's a great idea."

I want to tell people how you take the kids to the park whenever I need to write, and that you held down the fort on five separate weekends last year while I escaped to a B&B to work on the book. I want to tell people how much room and space you’ve given me to pursue this passion, even when it hasn’t made us any money. I want to tell people how much you don’t care about the money, and how because this is my passion, it’s become your passion, too.

I want to tell people that my dreams are your dreams, and the minute something is important to me, it becomes important to you.

I was all of 20 years old when you slipped a diamond on my finger, and I couldn't have possibly known how much I would need this quality in you to do anything I have accomplished in the almost decade we've been married.

I want to tell people that you brought our book into your office and proudly showed your coworkers. I want to tell people about that one time we were at Bandera for dinner and you told the waitress all about Coffee + Crumbs. She mentioned she had young kids and the words came flying out of your mouth before I even had a chance to blush. I want people to know that sunbeams practically shine from your face when you talk about me, and when you talk about my work.

I want people to know that chasing a dream is not easy or effortless, for the person chasing the dream or their spouse. I want people to know that the book was stressful on our marriage and that one night we screamed at each other in the middle of our bedroom. (I also want them to know we went to therapy and worked it out, and apologized and forgave one another like we always do.) I want people to know that sometimes sacrifice leads to resentment and that our marriage is not immune from this combination. 

And yet: for every time this work has been a stressor on our marriage, it has been a gift and blessing 100 times over. How many times have we laughed and celebrated and praised God and pinched ourselves because who ever thought a simple blog could turn into all of this?

I want people to know that as soon as the book deal was real, I knew I would write one whole story for you, for us. I want people to know that that essay was the easiest one to write, the one about us.

I want people to know that this blog, this podcast, this book, this dream, would not exist without you. Behind the scenes, you have picked me up off the floor more times than I count. You are the constant force of confidence breathing life into me when I am drowning in insecurity. You’ve never doubted me. You’ve believed in this mission from the very first day. You’ve been the backbone and my greatest support system from the moment I first uttered the words, "I think I want to start a collaborative blog about motherhood."

None of this would be possible without you. 

And today I want to publicly thank you -- on behalf of myself, on behalf of the other writers, and on behalf of any person who has ever benefitted from the work of Coffee + Crumbs. You play a role in this work, and it's not a small one.

Thank you for taking my dream and making it your own.

Truly, it's the best gift you've ever given me.

on getting dressed and keeping our sanity.

One of my dear friends recently removed half her daughter's wardrobe from the closet. "She won't wear any of it!" she tells me in my kitchen on a Thursday afternoon, exasperated.

"She only wants to wear Elsa leggings and cat shirts. If I try to get her to wear something else, she throws a tantrum and refuses to get dressed."

I try not to laugh, but I cannot help myself. My (stylish) friend is 35 weeks pregnant and clearly losing this battle with her strong-willed daughter. I don't blame her for giving up. You have to choose your battles carefully when you're that pregnant.

"I've got a whole box of practically brand-new clothes sitting in the garage now," she sighs with an eye-roll.

I make her promise to give it to me if we ever have a girl.

My boys, while not fixated on Elsa leggings or cat t-shirts, are also surprisingly opinionated about their wardrobes. Everett started caring about his clothes around age three, and Carson (adorably and annoyingly) copies everything he does.

Janie and Jack-1

At first, I thought I could just buy them the types of clothes that I wanted them to wear, but then grandparents showed up with Paw Patrol t-shirts and what kind of mom throws out Paw-Patrol t-shirts?

(this mom.) (just kidding, I'm not heartless, I simply hid them at the bottom of the drawer.)

I know that dressing oneself is an essential life skill that requires practice. I try to embrace this idea when Everett wants to wear a dinosaur pajama shirt with corduroys and light-up shoes, instead of the skinny jeans and striped polo combo I picked out for him. But there is a time and a place for letting kids dress themselves.

And there is also a time and a place for ... helping them.

Janie and Jack-2

So here's a trick we use in our house: I curate; they choose.

On preschool picture day and birthday party days and certainly on church days, I present two options per kid and let them point their tiny finger to the outfit of their choice.

It's a win-win.

They feel empowered and independent; I feel happy and not embarrassed to be seen with them in public.

(just kidding, I'm never embarrassed to be seen with my kids in public!*) (*only when they're misbehaving.)

Janie and Jack-4

My current "we're-going-to-be-seen-in-public" outfit of choice arrived compliments of Janie and Jack - linen-blend shorts and a button-down shirt for Ev; white pocket tee and suspender shorts for Carson. I mean, look at them. They might be rocking mismatched pajamas and socks behind closed doors, but when they try, they clean up well.

(lollipop bribes help.)

Janie and Jack-6 Janie and Jack-7 Janie and Jack-8

Janie and Jack-10

Here's to our sweet, adorable, opinionated kids. May we occasionally leave the house looking better than boxcar children.

Janie and Jack-3

Janie and Jack-12

Janie and Jack-11

This post is sponsored by Janie and Jack, a company we love.

keeping her valentine.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset I ask the same questions every time.

"How was your day, sweetheart?" "What did you learn about?" "Who did you play with?" "What did you have for snack?"

The ride home from preschool is only four minutes long, so we stick to the basics. His answers are usually the same: his day was good, he forgot what he learned, he played with Benjamin and Isaac, he had apple slices and popcorn for a snack. Occasionally he mentions something specific -- a game they played, a song they sang, a worm spotted in the dirt. But generally speaking, his answers are as predictable as the questions I ask.

That is, until he mentioned Caroline.

My eyebrows went up as I glanced at him in the rear view mirror. Who's Caroline? Benjamin and Isaac are 2/3 of the boy posse that Everett's been a part of for two years. He's never uttered a word about playing with anyone but them ... let alone a girl.

But there it was, a new answer to the old question.

"I played with Caroline today. She is sooooooooo funny, mommy."

I was intrigued, but upon further investigation, didn't learn much. They played in the sandbox; no big deal. We moved on to the topic of snacks (he opted not to eat carrots that day).

Little did I know, Caroline would become a household name in the following weeks. Caroline this, Caroline that. His face lit up like a Christmas tree when he talked about her, a crush if I've ever seen one. But is it too soon? He's only four.

My suspicions were confirmed the day before the Valentine's Day preschool party, when Everett seemed especially concerned with which valentine Caroline would receive. We sat around the coffee table together Sunday afternoon. I cut printable dinosaur valentines, while he carefully wrote "Ev" on each one.

"Mommy, I want to give Caroline the purple one, because Caroline loves purple," he told me. I nodded and handed him a purple valentine. He smiled while writing "Ev" along the bottom.

"Mommy, do you think I can put a special sticker on Caroline's?"

Oh my. 

"Sure, babe ... what kind of sticker?"

"A flower sticker, because Caroline loves flowers."

This was the extent of my knowledge of Caroline: she liked purple, she liked flowers, she had a good sense of humor. Well, and my son was smitten with her.

We finished the rest of the valentines, attaching red suckers to the back of each one with decorative tape. I got up from the table to get ready for a yoga class, but not before Everett grabbed Caroline's valentine and told me he "just wanted to hold it" for a little while.

The next morning, in our typical rush to get out the door, I was zipping up my jeans with a toothbrush in my mouth when Everett asked if he could wear hair gel. Everett never asks to wear hair gel.

"Why do you want hair gel today, Ev?" I asked.

"Because I want to look handsome for Caroline," he said with a bashful grin.

What's a mother to do? I obliged.

We arrived at preschool a few minutes late, and I walked in with him to help put the valentines in the kids' bags. Carson made himself at home near the train table while I walked from bag to bag with Everett, reading the name of each student to him.

"This one is Benjamin's ... this one is Jake's."

Everett reached into his bag of valentines and made thoughtful choices. He told me which kids would like a T-Rex best or which kids preferred blue.

And then we got to Caroline's bag. I fished out the special valentine with the flower sticker and Everett held it carefully in his hands for 10 whole seconds with a dopey smile on his face before dropping it in her bag in slow motion.

When the last valentine had been delivered, Everett whispered to me, "I'm going to go find Caroline!"

I carried Carson out to the parking lot on my hip, but not before noticing Everett standing next to the playhouse with a little girl in pigtails. She was wearing a navy blue shirt with a pink heart. Aha. I tried to gage the situation. Everett clearly adored her, but did she adore him back? Was the feeling mutual? Did she talk about Everett to her parents, too? My heart ached at the possibility of a one-sided crush.

When I returned around 11:25 for the valentine party, the kids had just finished their cookies and milk. Everett waved at me before pointing to Caroline on the swings and running to join her. I watched them swing in unison, rays of sunshine beaming off the tops of their dirty blond heads.

I snapped a picture for his preschool yearbook.

She hopped off eventually, and so did he. They parted ways for a few minutes; Everett joined a friend on the seesaw and she sat down at a picnic table with another kid. At 11:50, Mrs. Brown rang the bell, signaling that it was time to come back inside to gather backpacks. Everett leapt off the seesaw and sprinted to the picnic table. I watched in amusement as he waited for Caroline to get down so they could walk inside together.

When we got home, Everett couldn't wait to dump out his valentine bag. He turned it upside down and let all the valentines fall to the floor as Carson let out an excited, "Wooooooow!"

Together we sifted through tiny cards, candy, crayons, and small bags of goldfish crackers. I knew what we were all looking for, even before he asked.

"Mommy, which valentine is from Caroline?"

In a sea of Paw Patrol and Minions store-bought valentines, hers stood out among the rest. A simple pink heart, with a red heart glued in the middle.

Happy Valentine's Day! From: Caroline

Simple. Handmade. No candy attached. Well played. I handed it to Everett and watched his face light up. I couldn't help but wonder again: is Caroline looking for Everett's valentine right now? Did she notice the sticker? 

He carried that valentine around for the rest of the day, stopping to stare at it any chance he got. When all the candy had been eaten, I threw away the bag full of valentines, but not before placing the pink heart in Everett's memory box.

He has a lifetime of falling in love ahead of him, and I know he won't always confide in me. Keeping her valentine is just as much for me as it is for him: to remember this first crush, when he was only four and asked for hair gel and wasn't embarrassed to tell his mom all about a girl.

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

***

p.s. The following week, Everett's preschool teacher sent me this:

16804607_10211490738760406_1594608061_o

I guess the feeling is mutual.

(I should probably meet her parents soon.)

***

This post was inspired by a writing prompt from The Year Of Creativity. Want to join us? Use ASHLEE15 to save 15% off here. Every month comes with a lesson prepared by a C+C writer, writing prompts, creative exercises, and more!