Tips + Tricks for Planning A Solo Retreat

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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: 

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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? 

Then, 

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.

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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. 

Favorite books I read in 2017

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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!

Most CONVICTING read

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."


Best FICTION Read

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.” 
 


Best CELEBRITY MEMOIR

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).

Excerpt: 

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? 

Lessons I learned While Taping Leaves To The Wall

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Or,

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.

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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.

Morning Pages

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After I finished Whole30 a few months ago, I started getting up at 6am to write in the mornings. Pumped on adrenaline and confidence after going thirty days without sugar (or dairy, or bread, or alcohol), I was convinced I could do anything I set my mind to—including waking up before the sun.

This quickly became my favorite habit, starting each day by candlelight in my quiet office. I wrote lots of things … lists, prayers, essays, e-mails to my kids. I consumed entire cups of hot coffee, a miracle in itself. After an hour or so, I’d greet the kids with a smile on my face, refreshed and ready to start the day. My tank was full. There is something to be said for consuming 200 milligrams of caffeine before seeing your children on any given morning.

But then school started.

Gone are the days of eating Cheerios on the couch and watching cartoons in our pjs. Our new routine forces us out the door at 7:45am, which means the minute our feet touch the floor we are hustling to finish breakfast, get dressed, brush our teeth, comb our hair, pack snacks, remember the homework, get our shoes on, etc.

Then, soccer started.

Gone are the lazy afternoons of jumping on the trampoline for hours on end. Three nights a week belong to soccer, which means our afternoons are short, our dinners are rushed, nobody can ever find the soccer socks, and bedtime has become later and later.

I fell off the bandwagon, is what I’m trying to say.

It started slow, after a late night of soccer. I moved my alarm up to 6:15 thinking those fifteen extra minutes of sleep would buy me the rest I desperately craved. Then 6:15 became the new normal and when my husband left town for a week, I bumped my alarm up to 6:45 because the stomach bug was running through our house and do you know how exhausting it is to solo parent while also cleaning vomit out of the carpet? Very. It’s very exhausting.

Once 6:45 became the new normal, it started to get cold, which made it even harder to get out of bed, which meant I started snoozing the alarm until 7. I needed to wait until the heater kicked on, obviously.

I’m failing at writing in the mornings, is what I’m trying to say.

I was feeling pretty bad about it until I remembered Daylight Savings is this Sunday. Imagine that! An extra hour falling out of the sky—a fresh start, a chance to reset and re-dedicate myself to the morning pages.

I know social media will be full of memes about children getting up early come Monday, but the good news is: we are in charge of our own attitudes. I might be tempted to roll my eyes when I hear tiny feet running down the hallway at 6:15. I could be annoyed with the interruption, throw my hands in the air and give up. Or, I could toss some Cheerios on the couch, turn on Paw Patrol, head back to my candlelit office and shut the door. 

I think I'll choose the latter.

Want to join me? Monday morning, 6am. Let’s do this thing. 

Worth It: A Backyard Trampoline

A lot of people have asked about our trampoline, but they typically ask the same three questions:

1) Does it ruin the grass?
2) Does it take up the whole backyard?  
3) Is it worth the money?

The answer, for all three—for us—is yes

Yes, there is a ring of dead grass hiding underneath the trampoline. Yes, it takes up half of our very small backyard. Yes, it was absolutely worth the money. 

Every afternoon around 4 or 5, I throw the kids in there and zip them up like monkeys in a cage. They jump for an hour, sometimes more, with little supervision. You can see the trampoline from our kitchen and master bedroom so I'm usually floating between the two rooms—working, cooking, cleaning, folding laundry, listening to Voxes. Sometimes they bring their "babies" with them (i.e. stuffed Paw Patrol characters) but usually it's just them and a few soft soccer balls/basketballs. They invent games. They do "flips" (Everett can actually do a flip, Carson just somersaults and calls it a flip). They run, chase each other and jump their brains out until the soles of their feet are black and sweat is dripping off their heads, at which point they go straight into the bath, and then it's time for dinner and bed.

Voila! We just killed the afternoon. 

Honestly, I do not love the look of a trampoline in our backyard, but entertaining my children > aesthetics. Anything that helps us survive 4-6 p.m. in this house is worth its weight in gold. We've had this trampoline for over two years now and it's bought us approximately 400 hours of entertainment. Sold!

Do you have a trampoline? Was it worth the money / hassle to set it up?

The gift of Interruption

"The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day." - C.S. Lewis


I can’t recall what song was playing, but I remember singing along with the radio when I saw her body being flung like a rag doll into the air bag. My sing-a-long was interrupted by the sound of glass shattering, followed by my own gasp.

Our light turned green and we coasted around the accident to the side of the street, where my first instinct was—uncharacteristically, I should say—to jump out of the car. I wasn’t the only one. A small group of people quickly flooded the four-way intersection. All around me cars were left running in park with the doors thrown open.

I ran to see if the lady who had been hit was okay. Before I reached the car, someone yelled, “Call the police!” and my fingers began dialing 911. I answered a dozen questions, quick to note the sketchy characters stumbling out of the other car, a truck, which was parked across the street. No visible injuries to that party; they were too busy removing what looked like beer cans from the inside of their vehicle, tossing them into the bed of their truck.

The victim, an elderly woman named Dolores, appeared to be okay, and a few of us remained in the street for a minute hovering around her damaged car. One lady wearing teal scrubs asked Dolores a few questions. “She’ll be fine!” she said to me before returning to her vehicle.

Another young woman gave me her phone number, insisting she caught the whole accident on her dash cam. “I can’t stay, but you can give the police my phone number!” she said as she ran off.

I stuck my head in the car and asked Dolores if she was okay. Her hands were shaking. She didn’t look fine to me. The group of helpers scattered as quickly as they appeared and in a matter of minutes I was the only one left standing in the middle of the intersection, next to a puddle of glass, trying to comfort someone else’s grandma.

“Are the police coming?” she asked, her voice just as shaky as her hands.

“Yep, I called them myself,” I said with a smile. “They’re on their way, and I’ll stay with you until they get here, okay?”

She told me she didn’t want to be a bother, and asked if I was sure. I told her she wasn’t a bother, and that I was. I took her cell phone and offered to call a family member. She asked me to call her daughter Tara. I left a voicemail.

Traffic started building up around us, and a man finally got out of his car and shouted, “Hey! Can she get out of the car?”

Her door was jammed, and although I have no medical training or knowledge whatsoever, I’ve seen enough episodes of Grey’s Anatomy to know that regular citizens are not supposed to move the injured after an accident like this.

“I don’t think we should move her!” I yelled back.

Dolores had mentioned having a lot of pain in her legs, and I didn’t want to risk doing further damage to possible injuries. My husband Brett, who had been keeping an eye on the guilty truck, ran over from across the street to assess the situation.

“We need to get her car out of the middle of the intersection,” the man told Brett.

We asked Dolores if she could steer, and she nodded. Brett suggested I get in the car with her, so I climbed in while they pushed us to the side of the road.

“That’s it,” I directed, “A little more to the right …”

Once we settled next to the curb, Dolores asked for her glasses.

“Where are they?” I asked.

“I was wearing them when I got hit … I think … I think they were hit off my face. I don’t know where they are,” she stammered.

A minute later I found them tucked underneath my seat. I held them up in victory.

“Oh thank you, dear,” she said, putting the frames back on her face, looking at me clearly for probably the first time.

She started asking questions: where I live, what I saw, where I was going that night. I told her we were on our way to dinner. I did not tell her my mother-in-law was home with our kids, or that she had been there all day and was doing us a favor by staying late. I did not tell her we were starting Whole30 in the morning and that I had been dreaming of my last meal (chicken tacos) for the past three hours.

Over and over again she thanked me for staying with her, telling me I was kind. Over and over again I reassured her I had nowhere important to be. It was the truth.

The fire trucks arrived thirty minutes later, and a police officer twenty minutes after that. When I watched the firefighters pull Delores from the car onto a stretcher and she shrieked in pain, I was thankful we hadn’t attempted to move her ourselves.

It wasn’t until a week later when I spoke to her daughter that I’d learn she had fractured her pelvis.

I also learned she was 88.

-----

I open Voxer and find a new voicemail from a friend, the fourth one this week. She is crying, confiding in me that her son has been biting other kids. She tells me how hard and exhausting it is, how she’s read 100 articles about what to do. She describes all the methods they’ve tried, the discipline strategies they’re implementing. She is worried this is all people see when they look at her son: a biter. She tells me about all of the other wonderful qualities her son possesses—his friendly and outgoing personality, his adaptability and spunk. I hear a mixture of guilt and sadness and frustration in her voice. I feel helpless. I want to reach through the phone and hug her.

A tear rolls down my face while I listen.

And then she says, “I’m sorry I keep calling you and crying. I don’t mean to burden you with this.”

-----

I sent Dolores a get well card a week after the car accident. A few days later, we spoke by phone. And a week after that, a card turned up in my mailbox.

Dear Ashlee and Brett,

It is seldom I am at a loss for words, but at this time, I am. My everlasting gratitude for the attention and care you showed me at the scene of my auto accident. What a beautiful world this would be if there were more of you.

In sincere appreciation,
Dolores

A $100 gift card was tucked inside to a restaurant Brett and I had been wanting to try. I felt guilty accepting something so extravagant for such a small deed. We were an hour late to dinner, who cares?

But to her, I realized, that hour was everything.

-----

I’m sitting at the head of a long white table, jotting down one more note in my journal. The air conditioner is blasting cold air on my shoulders, and the little hairs on my arms prick up as 20 women wander in, chatting and giggling, to take their seats. I’m leading them in a 7-week bible study on the topic of friendship.

Today we’re talking about showing up and the willingness to be interrupted.

Prior to this study, I’d never really noticed that quality in Jesus before. I mean, I’ve read the bible; I know the miracles. But I never paid much attention to the fact that almost every miracle Jesus performed was completed on the way to somewhere else. His whole life on earth was, essentially, a series of interruptions.

For example, one day while he was sitting with his disciples, a man burst through the doors begging Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead. On the way to that house, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years reached out and touched his cloak. She was healed, as was the man’s daughter, and when Jesus went on from there, he encountered two blind men and a demon-possessed mute. He healed all three.

Four miracles back to back, each one an interruption.

Right before this happened, scripture says Jesus had been “reclining” at the table. That’s my favorite part. How many times have we mothers sat down to recline for a minute when someone suddenly needs a snack, a puzzle, more batteries for their toy, a new diaper?

Jesus feels us, I joke.

We spend the rest of the morning talking about interruptions as it pertains to friendship. One woman, Sherri, tells us about a friend of hers who always says, “It’s never a good time. So just call me anyway!”

It’s never a good time.
Call me anyway.

I love that.

I think about how rarely I call people on the phone. I text, I vox, I e-mail. All communication from me is sent in a leisurely, get-back-to-me-when-it’s-convenient-for-you fashion. And to be honest, that’s how I prefer to receive communication back. I don’t want you to interrupt my day. And I don’t want to interrupt yours.

It’s 2017. This is what people do.

We get in car accidents and feel terrible for interrupting a couple on their way to dinner. We cry on the phone and immediately apologize for interrupting someone else’s pleasant day.

I’ll be honest here. I try to avoid interruptions as much as possible. I drive past car accidents all the time. I often ignore homeless people on the street, either because I don’t have money—or, most likely—because I don’t “have time.” I do not ever answer my phone if I don’t know the number (sometimes I don’t answer even if I do know the number because if it’s important I assume they’ll leave a message and I can call back later). At the heart of it, this is selfishness. I value my time and energy, and I want to remain in control of how I spend those things. 

But Jesus was never annoyed by interruptions; he welcomed them with open arms. He stopped every single time. Jesus was always on the go heading to a new city, but no matter where he was going, the most pressing mission always became the one right in front of his face. Every interruption was a gift; an opportunity to love someone, to offer hope, to provide a miracle on the way to dinner.

There are 24 hours in a day. Think of everything we might be missing by making ourselves unavailable.

It’s never a good time.
Let’s call anyway.