The Sway

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The day I found out I was having a second boy, I ordered a book off Amazon called How To Choose The Sex of Your Baby.

Yes, you’re understanding that correctly: I started plotting my third pregnancy halfway through my second pregnancy. The book arrived in the mailbox two days later, and I believe my husband’s exact response was, “Really?!”

I am painfully aware of how this looks, and how it sounds.

First, it makes me sound crazy. Worse: it makes me seem ungrateful for the second boy—the velcro baby who lived his first 18 months attached to my hip clutching my shirt and my skin every minute of every day. This is where I feel compelled to tell you how much I love and adore him, how wanted he was and is. This is where I feel the need to tell you that every night I tiptoe into his room before I go to sleep and lean into his bottom bunk, running my fingers across his sweaty head as I kiss his cheek, his nose, his ear.

My two boys are best friends. They live in a perpetual world of dinosaurs and hot wheels, nearly inseparable most of the time. At ages six and almost four, they practically take care of themselves these days, making up their own little races and games in the backyard, pushing each other on the tree swing and sharing popsicles in the grass. I love the way they love each other, and their friendship is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever experienced as a mother.

I know I don’t have to tell you how much I love my second boy, but here I am telling you once again just for good measure: I love my second boy with every fiber of my being. I cannot imagine our family without him, and I have never once wished he was anything or anyone other than who he is.

Having said all of that, here is another simultaneous truth: my heart still aches for a daughter.

It always has. Perhaps it always will.

***

I first learned about gender selection strategies from a preacher’s wife of all people—which, to be frank—curbed my conscience. She said the theories, when combined with lots of prayer, seemed to work. (And it did, for them; they had two boys and then a girl). She’s the one who told me about the book I ordered back in 2014 when I was pregnant with my second boy.

In 2017, someone told me about a new and improved method called Babydust, which proclaims a 94% success rate. I ordered the book the day I learned of it.

At a routine OB appointment, I casually mentioned to my doctor that we were ready to start trying for another baby. I asked her if she’d ever heard of gender swaying methods and she gently laughed in my face, stating confidently, “Your chances are 50/50.”

“I know, I know,” I conceded with a chuckle. “But hey, can’t hurt to try to help the odds?”  

***

And so, it was decided. We would try the Babydust method, coupled with a lot of prayer. I ordered the book, the ovulation sticks, downloaded the app, made paper charts, and texted a small handful of friends specifically asking for prayers for a baby girl.

I prefaced many of those prayer requests with the following disclaimer: “I don’t know if it’s wrong to pray for this.”

In the winter of 2017, I started charting my cycles like a mad scientist, taking my temperature each morning and peeing on sticks every afternoon, meticulously taping them to a sheet of paper with the date and time. Hardly anyone knew I was doing this, only a few close friends. It became my biggest secret, like an undisclosed shopping addiction, only instead of hiding a mountain of credit card debt, I was hiding a mountain of sticks I had peed on.

Each stick displayed various shades of two purple lines. When neatly organized into rows, they created an ombré effect, kind of like a gross urine-based Pinterest project. Examining that ombré effect became my full-time job. I studied those ovulation strips like a meteorologist studies the atmosphere, obsessively searching for any and all patterns.  

I found solace in a Facebook group filled with women doing the exact same thing.

Every other day someone would post a gender reveal with twenty exclamation points, a successful sway!!!! I can’t believe it!!!!! Thank you, Babydust!!!!!!

No doubt, the positive posts filled me with false hope, which only made me question myself more. Is it wrong to do this? Am I playing God? The sensible side of me argued this was no different than tracking ovulation and trying to get pregnant in the first place; it was simply adding a little extra math to the equation. I still felt weird about it at times, praying more than once: Lord, keep my faith in You, not this.

The Facebook group became a car accident I couldn’t turn away from. I poured over the posts, the questions, making mental notes of every stranger’s experience. More than anything, I found camaraderie in the sheer collective desperation of the group. Even though I never wrote a post or commented, it felt like a safe space to exist. Because in spite of my strong desire for a baby girl, there was a much bigger emotion at work: overwhelming guilt.

I have two healthy boys. I’m relatively young, and we’ve never had fertility issues. I’ve never miscarried. What right do I even have to be desperate? I should be on my knees every day in gratitude for what I have, not greedily begging the Lord for a baby girl. I have built my entire career on stories about motherhood—how many have I read about loss, illness, complications and heartbreak? Hundreds? Thousands? Look at everything I have. Miracles abound.

I'm a walking blessed hashtag.

How dare I ask for more? How selfish can I be? I hated myself for wanting this so much. And yet, there I was. Begging God for a specific child and finding secret companionship in a group of total strangers doing the same. All of us equally desperate. All of us equally crazy. I found a surprising amount of comfort in the mutual longing.

After four months of negative tests, Brett finally said one night, “Maybe we should just relax and forget about this whole Babydust thing.”

He said it nonchalantly, with love. I couldn’t believe his nerve.

“I have not been peeing on sticks for six months to give up now,” I snapped back.

***

“Are you going to try for a girl?”

It’s the first thing people ask when they learn we have two boys and we’re not done having children.

This question doesn’t bother me. I know it bothers some people, but my answer is, quite plain and simple, yes. Yes, we are going to try for a girl. As in literally—I have read and studied and diligently researched a method that will allegedly increase our chances of naturally conceiving one. I have begged God to bless us with a daughter more times than I can count. My prayer journal holds this request dating as far as seven years back. I can trace the actual desire to around age five, when I first started putting pillows under my shirt pretending to be pregnant. Even back then, it was a daughter I dreamed of.

This is the part where I feel the need to remind you again that if we were to have a third boy, he would be loved and wanted beyond measure. He would be the missing puzzle piece, one more best friend for the two precious boys I already have. I feel like a walking contradiction, but both of these statements are true:

  1. I would always regret not trying one more time for a girl.

  2. I would never, ever regret having a third boy.

***

I am mentally preparing for a third boy. I am already dreaming up his nursery, thinking about his name, wondering if he’ll have blue eyes like Everett or hazel eyes like Carson. I have bins of baby clothes in the garage just waiting to be worn one more time. I can picture our life with a gaggle of boys: I can imagine them all running around the backyard, playing video games, inhaling pasta at the dinner table as teenagers. I can see all three standing taller than me in future family photos.

This thought doesn’t make me sad. I love my boys fiercely, and to be blessed with another one would be nothing but a gift.

My mother-in-law desperately wanted a girl, but had three boys instead. That third boy? I married him. I know God doesn’t make mistakes.

He didn’t make one with Everett.
He didn’t make one with Carson.
And He certainly didn’t make one with this baby, either.

***

I’m actually the one who started it. One night, while getting ready to go out with a bunch of girlfriends, I casually told the kids I’d be leaving for the evening. They weren’t sad, per se, but to soften the blow I widened my eyes and said, “You know what this means?! It’s BOYS NIGHT.”

Everett grinned, “Boys night?”

I could see the wheels turning.

“Boys night with Daddy!” he jumped up and down, “NO GIRLS ALLOWED!”

And just like that, ‘Boys night’ became a thing around here: fun, silly, sacred. I don’t really know what they do on boys night, but I’m sure it entails staying up past their bedtime. This is really just one example of the world they’ve created without me.

“Gadd Boy Sandwich!” Everett often yells as he and Carson dogpile on top of my husband ten minutes before bedtime.

“Daddy is the bread and I’m the cheese and Carson is the other bread!” he explains as they settle into their grilled-cheese-themed pyramid.

“What about mommy?” Brett grunts from the bottom of the pile.

“Mommy’s not a BOY,” Everett retorts, “This is a Gadd Boy Sandwich!”

“It’s fine,” I sigh, stretching out on the carpet. I feel a twinge of jealousy, not from being excluded from the sandwich, but for not being fully part of their world. They love to wrestle with their dad. They love to do secret handshakes and watch back-to-back episodes of Dude Perfect, a YouTube series of grown men doing stupid stunts that I have tried to get into but just … can’t. They have their boys night and their boys club and their Gadd boy sandwich and their inside jokes.

I am simply a spectator of it all. Outnumbered.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to add a girl to our mix. I’ve wondered what it would be like to have her and hold her and raise her and teach her everything I know (and am still learning) about being a girl.

I’ve wondered what it would be like to sometimes have Girls Night, no boys allowed.

***

I thought I’d be eager to order the blood test, but I found myself procrastinating instead, leaving the piece of paper with the phone number on the kitchen counter for five days before finally calling. When I got a text the following day telling me it wasn’t possible to get an appointment on the day I had requested, I waited another three days before calling to reschedule.

This is the first pregnancy I’ve been able to find out the sex of the baby this early, but oddly enough, I wish I had more time to live in the unknown. At this time, I still get to vividly picture both outcomes for our last baby—what if this life, what if that life.

Today is my last day in limbo, in between knowing, where there is still a glimmer of hope that I will ever have a daughter. I’ve never known a more palpable longing in 32 years of life.

Tomorrow I surrender it at the feet of my Father. Tomorrow we will know for sure. I am nervous and excited, anxious and grateful. I will probably cry either way.

And if not, He is still good.

***

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;

   you formed me in my mother’s womb.

You know me inside and out,

   you know every bone in my body;

You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,

   how I was sculpted from nothing into something.

Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;

   all the stages of my life were spread out before you,

The days of my life all prepared

   before I’d even lived one day.

Psalm 139, MSG

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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.

On Wooden Hangers & Deciding To Get Out Of The Weeds

Before we moved, I considered myself a minimalist.

Perhaps "aspiring minimalist" is more accurate, because I recently read a story about a woman who accumulated exactly one mason jar worth of garbage in an entire year and that will never ever be me.

In all seriousness: it’s easy to assume you don’t have that much stuff when your stuff is neatly organized in drawers and cabinets. But take away the drawers and cabinets and you’re left with ... a lot of things you didn’t realize you had. Nothing makes you face your literal stuff quite like moving into a home with half the storage  of your previous one.

My friend Sarah recently gave me 40 wooden hangers. She listed them on a Facebook resale site (for free!) and I greedily claimed every last one, ecstatic to replace the white plastic in my closet. I’ve wanted wooden hangers for as long as I can remember, but could never justify the expense (if I’m going to spend money on my closet, I’d rather have a new dress, you know?).

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The first time I did a capsule wardrobe, I focused on the number: 36 items of clothing, and 9 pairs of shoes. That was 8 items more than the recommended 37, but it was the best I could do at the time (or so I believed). In my defense, I was also breastfeeding and regularly covered in spit-up, so it seemed fair that I’d receive a few extras to save on laundry.

That was three years ago, and I've kept a capsule wardrobe ever since.

As time progressed, I fell more and more in love with the overall concept and practice of maintaining a capsule wardrobe but less in love with the idea of keeping to a rigid number. Math aside, I know when my closet feels too full, and I know when it feels too scarce. However—having exactly 40 wooden hangers makes it easy to re-commit to an exact number, which is where I find myself this summer. 

A couple months ago I was lamenting to a friend how full life has felt lately. Full of good things, I should mention, but full nonetheless. I've been trying to find a better work-life balance, or perhaps just a work-life balance, and she offered a kind word of encouragement: 

"Sometimes getting out of the weeds is as simple as deciding to get out of the weeds."

Right there on the spot I promised myself that this summer, I would decide to get out of the weeds.

For me, my closet is a good place to start. Keeping a tightly edited wardrobe is less about the clothing and more about the gift of limited options. It's about less decisions, and more brain space. Less chaos, more beauty. Less clutter, more room. 

Here's to the right kind of less.
Here's to the right kind of more. 


A FEW PIECES I'M WEARING ON REPEAT THIS SUMMER:

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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.

friday stream of consciousness

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How’s this for original: it’s Friday, and I am tired.

I work too much. It’s wired into my personality, according to the Enneagram. Type 3’s are achievers and obsessed with performance. Do you know how exhausting it is to perform 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year? I know what you’re thinking: Ashlee, you don’t perform in your sleep, but you’re wrong because I fall asleep thinking about all the work I need to do the following day, the e-mails I need to respond to, the boxes I need to check off my list. Even in my dreams, I am hustling. It’s disgusting.

“There’s an ant on the fwoor,” Carson informs me while I type this.

He’s concerned it’s going to crawl on his puzzle. I don’t know why there are so many ants in this house. There are at least five or six in every room at any given time. Sometimes I vacuum them up. Sometimes I spray Raid, which the pros have repeatedly told me not to do. I don’t care. It works.

He’s smooshing the ant with his foot now, which is just what I need: dead ants on the bottom of toddler socks in the washing machine. Perfect.

Carson’s preschool sent an evaluation home yesterday, sort of like a report card for three-year-olds. It named him a “good listener” which gave me a good laugh. He is actually a terrible listener, one of the worst listeners I know. He has his moments, though. Last night we got frozen yogurt and he called his marshmallows mushrooms. I typed that into a note in my phone because I didn’t want to forget to write it in his journal.

I have a journal for both kids that I haven’t written in this year. I don’t even know where they are, probably in a box somewhere. Our garage is full of boxes. Our front bedroom is also full of boxes—you cannot even walk in there. I have no idea when we’ll unpack them. We need to organize the closet first but there’s wallpaper in the closet and the thought of stripping that makes me want to cry. The bathroom wallpaper nearly did me in. I can still smell the glue. My arms hurt just thinking about it.

I wish I knew where those journals were. I always write the kids a letter on their birthday and Everett’s 6th birthday has come and gone without a letter. I always make them a birthday video, too, but I didn’t do that either. I always make them a photo book, but I didn’t do that either. At any given time, I can give you a list of 42 things I haven’t done. He had a good birthday, with cake and friends and a bounce house in the backyard. But all I think about is the unwritten letter, the unpublished photo book, and the unfinished birthday video. It’s wired into my personality, according to the Enneagram.

I’m reading The Road Back To You and in the chapter about Threes, it says, “Threes grow up believing the world only values people for what they do rather than who they are.”

I did grow up believing that. It’s hard to unlearn things at age 32.

My heart is racing this morning. I’ve had too much coffee. Two cups in forty minutes to be exact. I didn’t need the second cup, but I drank it for comfort. I ate the banana bread for comfort, too. It’s Friday and I’m not supposed to work on Fridays. On Fridays I am supposed to allow myself two cups of coffee and a slice of banana bread and a Netflix show and an hour of reading in the backyard.

I’m not supposed to work on Fridays.

I have worked every Friday since February.

Running your own business feels like a trap sometimes. I don’t know how else to explain the dichotomy of having the ultimate freedom in your work and also feeling enslaved by it at the same time.

It’s been more than four years since I’ve taken a break. I remember the day after I had Carson, I sat in my hospital bed editing an essay. The worst part of that is: I didn’t think it was weird. I had a one-day-old baby in a rollaway crib next to me while I typed, my body still bleeding. I did not take a maternity leave. Last summer my husband and I traveled to Nicaragua for our ten-year wedding anniversary and I still checked e-mail twice a day. Not because I thought anything urgent would come through one of the four inboxes, but more so because I didn’t want to have to play catch-up when I got home.

I recently calculated how many hours I work each month and how much I pay myself.

I make $4 an hour.

I’ve never been in this for the money but now that we have a mortgage and ants and a broken lawnmower and an oven that burns everything I put in it, I’ve been thinking more about the fact that I make $4 an hour.

I’ve been thinking more about the push and pull, the tension to grow grow grow and slow slow slow. My Threeness tells me to kick it up a notch, that I’m right on the brink of making it, and by making it I mean paying myself more than $4 an hour. My enlightened Threeness tells me to par down, to simplify, to stop killing myself, to believe I am loved for who I am and not for what I produce.

Here’s a confession: sometimes I feel like the world’s biggest hypocrite for running an online community for mothers while ignoring my children to do it.

Here’s another confession: I started this work because I loved to write and I never write anymore.

Running the business of writing about motherhood takes up 90% of my creative time and energy. If I am lucky, I can muster up writing in the 10% that is left over.

I often feel bitter about that.

I want to write more here, on my personal blog, but who has the time? I have a stack of seven books on my nightstand begging to be read. Good writers are good readers. I believe this. I am no longer a good reader so I am no longer a good writer. Maybe I never was one to begin with. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to end a sentence with the word with. There I go again.

Here's another confession: I let Carson play on the iPad for thirty minutes and kill ants with his feet so I could write this.

Writing this did not feel like work, which is good because I am not supposed to work on Fridays.


We all need to hear we are loved for who we are, but Threes need to hear it until the day comes when they look in the mirror and see not an image so much as the reflection of a son or daughter of God. The healing message for Threes is “You are loved just for who you are.” Angels sing when this message penetrates a Three’s heart.

- The Road Back To You
 

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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.

bittersweet

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Remember that one time I wrote about an ugly ceiling fan and the importance of loving where you are?

Well. I still stand by that. But there's been a new development. 

You see, seven days after I wrote about the ugly ceiling fan, our landlord raised the rent. It was almost ... eerie? Ironic? If I didn't know better, I'd think he was retaliating. (He wasn't.) The truth is: our rent was a steal. We've lived here for almost four years—of course it was time to raise the rent. 

Brett and I looked at each other after reading the e-mail and gave each other one of those are-you-thinking-what-I'm-thinking? looks. 

Three days later, our realtor (who up until this point, was simply on standby) sent us a house listing. We saw it the following day, made an offer the day after that, and our offer was accepted 24 hours later. 

To recap: 

January 31: published this post
February 7: landlord raised rent
February 10: realtor sent us a listing
February 11: we saw the house in person
February 12: we made an offer
February 13: our offer was accepted
March 2: we closed escrow

We have not stopped moving since February 10th. For the past two months we've been scrambling to sign papers, meet with inspectors and electricians and roof repairers, make hundreds of decisions (big and small), second guess everything we're doing, pack boxes, pick out paint colors, the list goes on and on. We bought a fixer-upper and let me just say—it's not as effortless as Joanna Gaines would have you believe. 

I actually find it quite easy to walk through a house and think, "This has potential!" Making the 'potential' a reality, on the other hand, is a whole different world. We are bleeding money. Every time we walk through the house, we notice something else that needs to be fixed or replaced. The work is never-ending. We could work on this house for 10 years and deplete every cent in our back account and there would still be something to fix. 

Which brings me back to the ugly ceiling fan! We're coming full circle here. 

This new house has a proverbial ugly ceiling fan of its own. Let me tell you about our pink bathroom! If I may paint you a picture: the tile is pink, the tub is brown, and the toilet is grey. Is it dreadful in your mind? Good. Go deeper. Add ugly wallpaper. Remove all natural light. Is it horrible? You bet.

It's going to be a while before we can afford to update the pink bathroom. Sometimes I envision hosting parties in our new house, and I think about how I am going to apologize for that bathroom. (I know this is ridiculous; I can't help myself.) Related: stay tuned folks, I might be coming out of photography retirement soon. 

Anyway. As I wrote last time around:

This story isn’t about the pink bathroom.

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.

Those words held truth with our rental house, and they hold true with all the work we're doing on our fixer-upper. Patience and gratitude and contentment go a long, long way when you're attempting to turn an old, dirty, broken house into something beautiful.

We're on our way. We can't wait to move in. 

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(This is the room that sold me.)

We move tomorrow, and while we are crazy excited, I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel bittersweet leaving this house. I have so many memories here: bringing Carson home from the hospital, signing a book deal at the kitchen table, watching Everett ride a bike for the first time in the front yard. I could list 100 more, easily.

Before we pulled art off the walls and packed everything in boxes, I asked my friend Lee to snap some pictures of us here. We may not have paid the mortgage, but this place was always home. 

Thank you Lee. I will treasure these forever. 
 

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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. 

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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.