the fleece.

ashlee

Photo by Wendy Laurel

One day last October, an unexpected e-mail popped up in my inbox. It said, “I’ve been watching Coffee + Crumbs for a while now; I was just curious if you’ve ever considered a book?”

This was before I had an agent coaching me on how to handle conversations with publishers, back when I was replying to e-mails all willy nilly, the way I always reply to e-mails—quickly and concisely and often with emojis.

Do you know what I told that publisher?

“I don't think Coffee + Crumbs is ready for a book of essays.”

Yep. I said that. I really typed those words.

I don’t know if that was just the fear talking, or doubt, or insecurity, or some bitter twisted cocktail of all of the above, but at the time, that was my truth. I practically scoffed at the idea, holding up a shield of resistance in front of my face.

Nope. It’s too soon. It’s too much. We aren’t ready for that. I am not ready for that.

Four weeks later, a new e-mail from a different publisher popped up in my inbox. It said, “We really love what you’ve made with Coffee + Crumbs, and we’d like to chat with you about writing a book.”

I wish I could say this is where all of the fear and insecurity fell away, and that receiving two e-mails from two different publishers in four weeks’ time was enough of an ego boost to convince me this book might be a good idea, but that’s not exactly how it went down. Doubt remained in full force, tugging at me, pulling on me, begging me to get down on the floor in the fetal position and hide behind my shield.

So I prayed about it. I told God I was scared. I prayed some more.

And then, He took the shield right out of my hands and told me to stand up.

***

There is a story in the bible about a man named Gideon who is probably better known for defeating an army of 135,000 Midianites with 300 men, and less known for the way he tested God.

While I love a good victory in the name of Yahweh, I have to admit—I am much more intrigued by the way Gideon worked up the courage to ask God for a sign (not once, twice).

When God told Gideon to gather the Israelite troops to defeat the Midianites, Gideon wanted to be sure it was really God’s voice he was hearing. So before complying with God’s wishes, he laid out a simple test. He put a scrap of fleece on the ground overnight and asked God to make the fleece wet with dew while keeping the surrounding ground dry.

And God made it so.

The fleece was so wet that when Gideon wrung it out the next morning, water filled an entire bowl. You’d probably assume that Gideon’s faith would be restored after this sign, but that’s not exactly how it went down. Gideon, bless his heart, needed just one more sign. He knew it was a lot to ask, which is why he prefaced his request by asking God not to be angry with him. This time around, he got super creative and asked for the opposite sign: that the fleece would be dry while the ground stayed wet.

Again, God made it so.

Finally Gideon believed, and went on to follow God’s instructions to defeat the Midianites.

Later in Hebrews 11, Gideon is referenced as a man of great faith.

***

Girl gets book deal. Shit hits the fan. Girl freaks out.

This is my very own Gideon tale.

***

When everything first happened: the e-mails from publishers, the agent, the book deal, one of the first emotions I felt (and was not expecting to feel) was guilt.

Publishers don’t just e-mail people like me out of the blue. There are writers on my very team slaving over this grueling process, day in and day out, pouring their hearts and souls into their manuscripts hoping that someday, someone will give them a chance.

My inner critic faithfully reminded me: You do not deserve this. You did not earn this.

It felt like I had cheated. Like I had walked up to the roller coaster everyone was dying to get on and skipped ahead to the front of the line. At night, I laid awake at 2am wondering if some of the other writers secretly resented me.

These nine women are like sisters to me; we are a family and we got to this point together. But things got complicated pretty quickly. There were lots and lots of e-mails and questions—valid questions—questions I myself might be asking if I was sitting on the other side of the table.

But I wasn’t really sitting on either side of the table; I was sitting right on top of it, smack dab in the center, as the official collector and distributor of all information.

I became the middlewoman between the agent/publisher and the writers. For two straight weeks, I did nothing but send e-mails. I became a machine, a human computer, information coming in and information going out. I took questions and forwarded them to the right people. I translated answers as soon as I got them. My brain became a vessel of constant input/output, to the point where I started getting nightly headaches.

With emotions and stress levels running at an all-time high, a few of those conversations left me feeling defensive and confused. Am I disappointing everyone? Is this book going to ruin us? What have I gotten myself into? Next thing I knew, I was driving to Chick-fil-A with tears streaming down my face to drown my sorrows in a carton of waffle fries.

I felt so fragile, so tired. Doesn’t everyone see how hard I’m working?

I cried a lot that night, and had to wonder: was this book really from God?

***

Things people don’t tell you about book publishing:

  1. You will spend more time sending e-mails than anything else.
  2. You don’t have as much say as you think you will.
  3. The whole process might wreak havoc on your marriage.

(Talk to me next April about all of the wonderful parts—I know they’re coming.)

***

In the two months leading up to the manuscript being turned in, I became a hermit. I was glued to my laptop at every opportunity dealing with e-mails about titles and cover images and contracts. I shut the bedroom door to write in peace and left town a few times to hole up in a hotel room to finish proposals and essays. I printed almost 300 pages at Kinkos and proofread them carefully in the backyard with a red pen in one hand and an iced coffee in the other.

I cannot remember exactly when I developed chronic insomnia, but somewhere along this journey, I started buying Zzzquil in bulk.

If I’m being real, gut-wrenchingly honest here, my marriage saw some of our Darkest Nights leading up to the manuscript being turned in. We fought a ton. We said things we couldn’t take back. We never had enough help with the kids. My husband felt neglected (he was), I felt like I wasn’t receiving enough grace (I wasn’t), and neither of those feelings were being communicated well. Instead, I expected him to read my mind and he expected me to read his, and after nine years of marriage, you’d think we’d both know by now that we are terrible mind readers.

It wasn’t the book’s fault, but the book was easy to blame. It was easy to point to. The printed manuscript sat right there on the bedroom dresser—all 64,488 words of it.

The day the manuscript was turned in, we weren’t even speaking to each other.

I celebrated in silence, threw up an obligatory Instagram, took my kids out for ice cream alone, and felt really, truly, sad. And it was that night, sitting isolated in my bedroom, feeling more empty and confused than ever, that I wondered for the second time: was this book really from God?

***

After the night of the waffle fries, I had a good heart-to-heart with the C+C writers. In some ways, I’m grateful that things got temporarily complicated because it opened the door for some bigger conversations about the future, about expectations, about roles and teamwork and trust. I realized how much my own insecurity played a part in my defensiveness, which is not the kind of leader I want to be.

Brett and I kissed and made up. (And also went to therapy.) A few weeks later, on the two year anniversary of Coffee + Crumbs, he brought home flowers and a box of coffee crumb cake mix—a perfect peace offering.

Last weekend we ran away to Calistoga to celebrate our nine-year wedding anniversary.

I left my laptop at home.

***

My publisher tells me this is normal, that every author feels this way, that I am in the thick of it, that the sun will come out soon. I believe those words. And the only reason I am writing all of this down is because next April, I want to be able to look back on the journey as a whole and appreciate the love and work and sweat and tears that have been poured into this book.

And I want you to know this part of the story, too.

So that when you see the glamorous side later: the book launch party and shiny new books propped up on shelves in the bookstore, you can appreciate the full journey—in all of its messy and beautiful glory—and feel like you were along for the ride.

Nothing good ever comes easy; we know this. Motherhood. Marriage. Running a marathon. Climbing a mountain. Writing a book. These things require perseverance, patience, endurance, loyalty, love, dedication, and heaps and heaps of grace. These things offer us the chance to grow, to adapt, to learn, to sacrifice, to push ourselves to the limits, and to lean on God like never before.

As far as work goes, this book is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m not sure what’s more exciting at this point: the mental image of this book sitting on shelves in actual bookstores, or all the ways I will be refined in the process.

***

“Writing is my calling.” “Music is my calling.” “Missions are my calling.”

I’ve heard lots of people—Christians especially—talk about calling.

God is calling me here; God is calling me there.

I’ve said that before. I’ve had days where I suddenly felt my heart stir for something, for someone, for someplace, and the feeling seemingly came out of the sky.

Do things like that come out of the sky? Or do things like that come from God?

I suppose it depends on whether or not you believe in God.

I’m definitely not an expert in callings (in yours, or mine). But I do know this: when I needed the fleece to be wet, it was wet, and when I needed the fleece to be dry, it was dry.

***

On November 13, 2013, the idea for Coffee + Crumbs was planted in my heart.

Six weeks later, in a city 45 minutes from where I live, a total stranger named N’tima Preusser wrote a blog post called Babies Ruin Bodies.

On February 5, 2014, Babies Ruin Bodies ran on the Huffington Post, and one day in March it popped up on my Facebook feed. I subscribed to N’tima’s blog that night.

On June 15, 2014, I e-mailed N’tima out of the blue, introduced myself for the very first time, and, like a total crazy person, asked her to write for a brand new website that hadn’t even launched yet. Seven days later, she said yes.

Five weeks after that, her first essay went up: When Love Feels Heavy.

That post was viewed over a million times that month.

Coffee + Crumbs was only four weeks old.

***

On August 8, 2014, a stranger named April sent me an essay called Bad Math that made me cry actual tears all over the dress I was wearing.

She sent me another essay in September called Brave Brave Brave and I cried (again) reading it at the coffee shop.

I wrote her back and casually said, “Let’s add you to the writer team.”

She replied, “I am going to go scream in the bathroom, BRB.”

Our e-mails turned into texts and our texts turned into 15-minute voicemails and at some point, she confessed that she had been reading my personal blog since 2010. I laughed hysterically. We wrote together and maintained a long-distance friendship for nineteen months before meeting in real life for the first time in Palm Springs for my 30th birthday.

She walked through the door carrying a giant cake with tiny cactuses on it.

I knew we’d be friends forever.

***

I have hundreds of little miracles in my pocket, just waiting to be written down.

I have more stories involving C+C writers, and more perfectly-timed e-mails I could tell you about. But generally speaking, you should know that every time I have ever wanted to quit writing, an e-mail has popped up in my inbox from a total stranger the same week. (And I have wanted to quit writing more than once; there are lots of e-mails.) They all say some rendition of the same thing: Keep writing.

***

I am no longer wondering whether or not this book is from God.

Because now when things get hard, I just remember the fleece.

***

“You’ve so earned this!” “If anyone deserves this, it’s you!” “All of your hard work is finally paying off!”

Well. Maybe.

The bigger truth? The more exciting truth? The truer truth?

Look at the fleece.

***

I don’t know what your calling is. I don’t know if you’ll ever get a book deal or an agent or that dream job or that dream spouse. I don’t know if you’ll get pregnant or adopt or start that business or move to that city.

But I do know that God is working, all of the time, in every moment, all around you. He is in every breath you take, every decision, every step, every move, every interaction, every…..thing.

God is in everything.

And if you don’t believe me, that’s okay.

Because all I have to do is check your fleece.

a walking contradiction.

Wendy Laurel Photography-19photo credit: Wendy Laurel

Over the past nine months, I have treated myself to not one, not two, but three solo writing retreats. Picture this: a gorgeous hotel room (with a fireplace), one takeout order from the Italian restaurant down the road, followed by a single scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream from the candy shop next door, a giant king bed, and hours upon hours of dedicated work time before popping a sleeping pill and falling into an 8-hour coma.

It is just as magical, wonderful, and amazing as one would think.

I always pack too much, anticipating that 18 hours will magically feel like 58 hours because when you are alone, time is supposed to multiply, right?

Only I am finding the opposite to be true, actually, because when I am alone for 18 hours, it somehow only feels like 7 hours. Half the items on my list remain unfinished, my face mask doesn't even make it out of the weekender bag, and the bottle of nail polish I’ve tucked into my purse mocks me the next morning as my hand grazes against it while I search for the car keys.

I tell my husband and kids I miss them upon my return, which is true (of course), but how can that sentiment be true when this is also true: it did not feel like enough.

It was enough in that I made a dent in the work. Between the three trips, I finished the book proposal, the sample introduction, the outline, the sales video script, a few essays, a blog post, some editing work. But when you are working against a deficit of what feels like hundreds of hours, it's easy to let discontentment creep in on the drive home.

I needed more. That wasn't enough.

The most amazing part of those writing retreats was not the eight hours of consecutive sleep (thank you, zzzquil), or the fancy robe in the closet (although I do love a good hotel robe), or even the warm lemon scones that were delivered to my hotel door at 7am each morning (hello, little luxury).

The truth is, those perks paled in comparison to the real gold of the writing retreat: uninterrupted silence. Alone in that hotel room, my mind finally had space to think, to process, to pray, to reflect, to dream, to just…..be.

Can I confess something here?

For the past year, I have succumbed to the pressure of More, More, More in my work. I have said yes to things I shouldn’t have said yes to, and I have committed to things I shouldn’t have committed to. I have jumped in, headfirst, to every growth opportunity that came my way. I thought I could handle the stress, the fast pace. I’m strong and independent and capable so why shouldn’t I simultaneously run a website and work on a book and co-lead a writing workshop and photograph some families and co-host a podcast and wouldn’t it be amazing if we also created an app?

For me, the problem has never been a shortage of ideas or opportunities; the problem has always been time and space to put my best foot forward in those ventures.

From the outside looking in, people assume I have it all together. They say things like, "you inspire me!" and "I don't know how you are doing all of that!"

I'll tell you how.

I am drowning.

My marriage has been ignored. My kids have endured the wrath of my constant impatience. I have forgotten how to write. I feel uninspired, unimaginative, unoriginal, and exhausted. I barely exercise. I eat too much cereal. I’m not praying often. And don't even get me started on sleep.

My to-do list has taken over my life. I've become a slave to productivity, held hostage by my own inbox. I can no longer focus on one thing---there are always eleven tabs and six windows open on my computer screen. I bounce around from task to task, too antsy and restless to finish any one project. My mind never stops moving, never stops working, never stops thinking. I lie awake at 4am every night making lists in my head, beating myself up, thinking of all the ways I am failing, all of the people I'm disappointing, all of the things I should be doing better.

I am…..a mess.

A stressed out, overly-ambitious, overly-committed, hot mess.

(Still inspired by me?)

***

I purge our home so often that sometimes my husband doesn’t even bother bringing items into the house.

“I know that’s going to end up at Goodwill,” he'll say, retrieving something from the car and tossing it into a paper bag that I keep in the garage for such occasions.

Among my list of addictions, purging is right up there with sugar and caffeine. My idea of a fun Saturday is one where Brett takes the kids to the park while I get rid of 20% of our belongings with a podcast playing in the background. Introverting and liquidating: my personal recipe for a happy weekend.

I have a deep affection for empty cabinets, space between the hangers, tables with nothing on them. I have mastered the art of the capsule wardrobe, and only keep around 40 items in my closet at all times. When the house is picked up, everything has a place (including the toys). I am practically ecstatic that my kids are now at the age where I can leave the house with nothing but a clutch. There's a single diaper and pack of wipes in the car for emergencies, and I no longer need to bring half a baby registry with me to the park.

I am free.

When there’s too much stuff in my house, my closet, the garage, etc, I immediately get overwhelmed.

My motto with stuff has always been: less is more.

***

Somehow I have become a walking contradiction: I am both a purger and a hoarder, tossing belongings out of my house without a second thought and collecting opportunities like seashells.

My whole life is starting to feel like a too-stuffed closet. Like there’s no room in here, like I can’t breathe, like I can’t find anything I need. I can’t figure out what to wear because there are too many skirts and shoes and dresses and where did all these scarves come from? I don’t even wear scarves, but suddenly I’ve got six wrapped around my neck and is this what it feels like to suffocate?

This is what happens, of course, when we add things to our closet time and time again without taking anything out. The hangers get closer and closer together, until everything smashes into an indistinguishable sea of fabrics and textures. Your favorite dress hangs in the back—shrunken behind an abundance of clothing—invisible.

What good is it to have a beautiful dress hanging in your closet when you can't even see it?

***

I don’t know how I got here. But I know I need to get out. And I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work, a lot of undoing. I lot of I’m sorry, I can’t do that’s and a lot of I wish I could, but now is not the right time’s.

Disappointing people is never fun.

But what good is it to create your dream job if you constantly feel suffocated by it?

***

Most days, I feel like a total and complete imposter. I'm flying by the seat of my pants, making up my own rules and figuring it out as I go along. Did you know that I've never taken a writing class in my life? I've completed exactly one photography workshop. I've never taken a business class. I know nothing about paying self-employment taxes or bookkeeping or publishing a book. Every day I feel like an idiot at least once, googling how to do something else. How did people ever live without Google? I ask Google the small questions, and ponder the bigger ones at 2am while everyone else in my house sleeps.

How do women start businesses and take care of their kids and not lose their minds?

How do mothers balance pouring their hearts into their work while also pouring their hearts into their marriage, their children, their friendships?

and the biggest question of all,

How do I keep running this business without letting it run me?

***

I have no black and white answer, no aha moment, no pretty bow for the end of this. But I do feel better after saying it out loud.

I am starting to seek refuge and freedom through small steps. Ten minutes in the backyard, journaling under the twinkle lights. Fifteen minutes reading a devotional in bed. Four minutes writing an e-mail undoing an unnecessary commitment. Seven minutes making a smoothie bowl with freshly sliced bananas on top. Twenty minutes talking to my husband on the couch, our legs entangled like a pretzel. Thirteen minutes playing toy trains on the floor with my kids while my phone stays in another room.

Less is more, less is more.

Somewhere along the line, I forgot how to do those things. I became a walking to-do list, a chart of accomplishments, a name on a book, an Instagram feed. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was exhaustion, guilt, and the overwhelming feeling of not being enough.

One of my best friends growing up was a guy named Kory. I spent a lot of time at his house when we were in high school, and every time we left to go grab dinner or see a movie, his dad would smile at us and say, "Remember who you are."

Remember who you are. Remember who you are. Remember who you are.

If you're looking in the mirror today struggling to see past the exhaustion and guilt and inadequacy of trying to do it all and be it all and have it all; if you're treading water and struggling to breathe, please know that I am right beside you.

Let's remember who we are.

We are daughters of the King.

And that will always and forever be enough.

tiny volcanoes on your face (let's talk about acne).

I would never ever say I had great skin, but I definitely had good skin for most of my life. With the exception of PMS breakouts and a rough 7th grade, I was mostly in the clear. Literally. And then one day, a few months shy of my 30th birthday, I woke up looking like a Proactive "before" picture.

I am not exaggerating---acne erupted on the bottom third of my face out of nowhere. And I'm not talking little zits, like the tiny flat harmless kind that can be covered with makeup. I'm talking monster zits, apocalypse zits, the kind of zits that are gigantic and painful and cannot be covered whatsoever even with eight pounds of concealer.

No time to waste, I ran to Target and bought every acne-clearing potion on the shelf. The acne shopping spree was followed by three eighteen hours of online research, which was both ironic and alarming considering that when my kids have a rash, I do one quick search on WebMD before diagnosing them with "nothing too worrisome." I do not ever research illnesses or symptoms online because---more often than not---it leads to diagnosing myself with a brain tumor, and also anxiety.

But acne? I researched that subject to death. Every night. For HOURS.

What causes acne? How do I get rid of acne? How do I cover acne? Acne cure Acne soap Acne cream Acne before and after Acne pill Accutane Do I need Accutane? Does Accutane make you depressed? Which is worse: acne depression or Accutane depression? Acne diet Acne regimen Acne celebrity regimen How hormones affect acne What is hormonal acne? How do I cure hormonal acne?

And so on. And so forth. Like I said, I did this for hours.

Based on my research (and the fact that I had just gotten my first period after Carson and was in the process of weaning him), I was 90% sure I had hormonal acne, but I also didn't want to have hormonal acne because everything I read online said over-the-counter treatments would not be able to treat hormonal acne.

Let me set the record straight. I am an over-the-counter type of gal. Doctor appointments and dentist appointments fall somewhere between "scrub the toilets" and "check voicemail" on my to-do list. Ain't nobody got time for that. (Well, I suppose responsible adults who are successful at life and self-care probably have time for that but I fall into neither of those categories). I have not been to the dentist in a very long time. Because I would need to book a babysitter to go to the dentist and that feels super lame. Doctor: same. Eye doctor: same. Chiropractor: same. Dermatologist: same.

I have fantasies of my children going to elementary school where I can finally catch up on years worth of self care and responsible adulthood. Massage Monday. Teeth Cleaning Tuesday. Workout Wednesday. Thank-you-card-writing Thursday. Facial Friday.

Doesn't that sound like a dream? I only have three years to go until this is a reality for me (if we don't add another baby to the mix, oof). Hopefully I don't gain fifty pounds and lose all my teeth before then.

But I digress.

Normally I'm an over-the-counter girl. If I can order it on Amazon prime, consider it done. And oh I ordered! I ordered so many things. I tried just about every over-the-counter acne potion on the market and they did NOTHING. Actually, that's a lie. I think they made the acne angry.

(And in case you're wondering, I also started washing my makeup brushes/drinking more water/cleaning my phone/washing my pillowcases/cutting back on dairy, and 12 other ideas from Google, all of which made not a lick of difference.)

Which is why, when my sweet friend Hilary from MOPS e-mailed me out of the blue one day offering to give me a complimentary facial at her spa, I almost cried.

"YES OH MY GOSH MY FACE IS EXPLODING AND I NEED HELP AND I HAVE NOBODY TO TURN TO AND CAN YOU HELP ME?!" was what I wrote back.

And my facial was amazing. I walked into that spa on a regular Thursday night half-asleep after a long day with the kids and walked out feeling like a queen. Hilary was fantastic. We talked all about my acne and she reassured me we would figure it out together. I loved her. She was like my acne midwife.

I was still hesitant to see a dermatologist, partly because the optimistic side of me believed the acne would clear up on its own and partly because when could I go to the dermatologist? I can't even make it to the dentist twice a year.

But the acne didn't clear up on its own. And I started to feel.....depressed. My face was making me sad. I never wanted to see anyone. I could not leave the house without eight pounds of concealer all over my chin, and even then, I was incredibly self conscious. I didn't want to be in any pictures. It was all so dramatic and lame and I confessed to my friends how horrible I felt, both about the state of my face and the fact that I could let something as dumb as acne bother me so much.

But man.....when your face is covered in tiny volcanoes, it's really hard to ignore.

I finally caved and booked a dermatologist appointment at the Laser Skin and Surgery center. If Hilary (my esthetician) was like the acne midwife, the dermatologist was definitely the acne doctor. Acne midwives hug you and listen to you and smile at you and reassure you that it's going to be okay. Acne doctors are no-nonsense. Acne doctors write prescriptions. She examined my face, asked me ten questions, and made a formal plan in two minutes (antibiotics! topical gel! retin-A! new skincare regimen! new makeup! new birth control!).

It was.....a lot. But I was at the end of the road and willing to try anything, so I took my little prescription sheets and paper bag full of instructions and ran out the door with a smile on my volcano-covered face.

HOPE. At last.

Sure enough, 10 weeks later, I was mostly cured. And today, my face looks like this:

Face-3

(Pardon my crappy grainy cell phone pic, but you get the gist, yes? I wish I had had the forethought to take a "before" picture, but I didn't, so just google "hormonal chin acne" and you'll get a good idea of what I looked like three months ago.)

DERMATOLOGISTS ARE MIRACLE WORKERS, YOU GUYS.

My skin is not 100% clear or perfect, but I have seen a 1,000x improvement from where it was. Other than a few tiny blemishes here and there, I haven't seen a single monster zit in over a month.

This was the plan that worked for me:

*Three months of antibiotics (doxycycline) *Acanya topical gel on breakouts *Retin-A before bed (note: my face shed like snakeskin for a month adjusting to this) *Off the mini-pill; start ortho tri cyclen (note: this made me nauseous the first week) *Skincare routine: cetaphil morning and night; CeraVe AM / PM lotion *Makeup overhaul: replaced everything in my makeup bag with new "oil-free" options.

Current makeup favorites:

Tarte Amazonian Clay Foundation (this stuff is AMAZING) Tarte Amazonian Clay Bronzer Urban Decay Makeup Setting Spray Phsyician's Formula Blushing Rose

Obviously, I hope this goes without saying: your skin is not my skin. Your face is not my face. Only your dermatologist can make a plan that's right for you. If you're looking for a dermatologist in Sacramento, I cannot recommend the staff at the Laser Skin & Surgery Center enough. Ask for Rebecca (acne doctor) and Hilary at the MediSpa (acne midwife). I OWE THEM MY FACE. And my confidence. If you tell them I sent you, they'll give you 25% off a deep pore cleansing acne facial. Treat yourself!

happy birthday, Everett!

Better late than never (my personal memory keeping mantra). Can I confess something? Memory keeping stresses me the heck out. I have so many goals, so many ideas, so many plans......baby books, photo books, memory boxes. Everything is unfinished; I am always behind.

However. The one thing I have managed to do (albeit late, always) is put together a video of my kids on their birthday. My digital files are half organized, half plopped into a folder called To File, so I figure this way: if my house burns down, I'll still have the best video clips of my kids' childhoods saved in cohesive movies once a year. Thanks, Vimeo.

And with that, happy 4th birthday to my sweet Everett! He brought home a glowing report on his preschool evaluation, and just last week one of his teachers stopped me at drop-off to tell me what a joy it has been to have Everett in her class. I may have shed a tear (hey hormones).

Everett: you are a joy at preschool, you are a joy at home, you are a joy (almost) always. I love the sweet and considerate boy you are turning into, and could not be prouder of how wonderfully you've handled your role as big brother. You make every room brighter, and I pray you never stop saying "hi!" to strangers on the street. Your smile is contagious, and I love watching you interact with the world. I love you forever.

Everett Turns Four from Ashlee Gadd on Vimeo.

Song: And The Birds Sing by Tyrone Wells

on signing a book deal and eating chips on the carpet.

February 25, 2016 Today I signed a book deal for Coffee + Crumbs.

And then my child pooped on the grass in our backyard.

……this is a story about having it all.

***

People always say you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. I have mixed feelings about that sentiment because the truth is: I really love wearing yoga pants every day.

However. On the rare occasion that I have a meeting scheduled, I typically put on real clothes. I always feel like Supermom when I’m wearing real clothes, as if the sheer act of wearing pants that button makes me more efficient. I race around the house sipping on coffee, getting everyone ready in five-minute spurts. You! Get your socks! Where’s your backpack? You! Get away from the curling iron! HOT HOT HOT DON’T TOUCH THAT!

I curl half my hair, then take a break to get a puzzle for the Velcro baby attached to my ankles. I curl the other half, then pack my bag: laptop, charger, wallet, phone, lipgloss, gum, day planner. Give one kid a yogurt pouch; brush the other kid’s teeth. Boom. We’re ready.

The babysitter arrives and Everett and I fly out the door on mission Get To Preschool On Time To Secure The Blue Bike (not the red bike, no mommy, I don’t like the red bike). I sign him in, kiss his cheek, and head off on mission Get Good Table At Coffee Shop (not near the bathroom, not under the AC, not next to the crazy man who watches loud YouTube videos).

The Starbucks barista knows me by name, which is sort of embarrassing but also makes me feel important in a pathetic sort of way.

“Hey Ashlee!” she smiles. She’s committed my high-maintenance order to memory, bless her (grande Americano, two pumps mocha, two pumps peppermint, shot of steamed milk on top – roll your eyes, I deserve it).

I set up camp at the community table to cram in as much work as possible in a 2.5 hour window. I spend half of that time with my bookkeeper, who informs me that I actually made money in 2015, which was very exciting for five whole minutes until I realized that I owed all of that money to the IRS (yay self-employment!). We talk about all sorts of official business – sales tax, shop reports, blah blah blah, we agree to meet again in a couple months and then she leaves.

Two minutes later, an e-mail hits my inbox. The E-mail. Finally. Official letterhead and everything. I celebrate in total silence, and contemplate telling the Starbucks barista about my Big News. She is nowhere to be found. It’s just me, at the community table, sitting next to a dude wearing headphones. Of course.

I carry the excitement home, and decide we should eat lunch outside to celebrate.

“It’s a beautiful day!” I tell the boys. “Let’s eat outside!"

I'm wearing pants that button, anything is possible today.

I prepare a quick lunch while they play on the patio, making sure to put Carson’s food on the orange plate and Everett’s lunch on the green plate.

“Mommy! I have to go potty!!”

I look outside and see Everett crossing his legs next to his scooter.

“Just go on the grass, honey! It’s fine!”

My phone rings; it’s my husband. I excitedly tell him about the book deal, about the fabulous meeting with the bookkeeper, about what a great day I’m having.

“Mommy!”

“Just a second, Ev, Mommy’s on the phone!”

“—but wait!”

“Mommy said just a……”

“—I went poop!”

Ummmmm, what?

I walk outside to find that Everett did, indeed, poop. Right outside on the grass. In broad daylight. Like a puppy......like it’s no big deal.

He pulls up his pants.

“Look, mommy! I pooped on the grass like Benjamin!”

I am too stunned to respond. A few weeks ago we had been at my friend Christina’s house for a play date. After playing in the backyard for a while, the boys informed us that Benjamin had pooped on the grass behind a bush. We never found evidence and thought they were lying.

I don’t know what to believe anymore.

I relay the story to Christina via text. She is mortified.

I take care of the poop and contemplate taking a picture of it on the grass to remind my husband that this is why I don’t want a dog. I’m dealing with enough poop inside the house; I don’t think I can handle any more.

Christina and I continue texting—I tell her about the book deal and suggest we celebrate that afternoon with Chipotle and margaritas. She offers to bring over the margarita supplies and I make a plan to order Chipotle through Postmates, a new delivery service in town.

I hop online and place an order for chips and salsa for us, and quesadillas for the kids, all to be delivered at 3pm. The plan was perfect: Chipotle would show up on my doorstep, we’d throw our kids in the trampoline, and clink margaritas on the patio in a tiny moment of celebration.

Cheers! I’d say. To the book! She’d say.

At 3pm, a giant Chipotle bag appears on my doorstep like magic. I text Christina again to see if her kids are up from their naps.

Bad news. The kids are up, but Grace is running a fever. We’re not going to make it.

I stare at the Chipotle bag on the counter. Of course.

I tell her that I’m sorry, and that I’d swing by in a bit to drop off the kid meals and an order of chips and salsa. Everett climbs up in his chair and I put Carson in his booster seat, ripping the quesadilla into little bites for him. While I grab a drink from the fridge, Carson squeezes his chocolate milk out all over the floor (and all over himself).

“CARSON! NO!” I cry out but it’s too late.

I spend the next ten minutes wiping up spilled milk while my chips get cold and my drink gets warm. Once the kids are done eating, I send them into the living room to play so I can mop under the kitchen table. I can't stand walking on a sticky floor.

I’m mid-mop, starting to sweat, when both kids start crying. I didn’t see what happened, but I’m assuming someone took a toy and someone hit back and now Carson is lying face down sobbing into the rug.

Really, guys? Today?

“That’s IT! Everyone outside! Into the trampoline, mommy needs a break!"

I grab a kid in each arm and use my foot to slide the screen door open.

“Five minutes in the trampoline. Go jump!”

My chips and salsa have been sitting on the kitchen counter for 45 minutes and my stomach is growling. I dump the kids in the trampoline and zip the net closed.

I retreat to the kitchen, grab my chips and soda (margarita would have been better) and head to my bedroom to watch the kids through our sliding glass door, which directly faces the trampoline.

I sit down on the floor of my bedroom and lean my body against the bed with my legs crossed in front of me, bag of chips in one hand and cup of salsa in the other.

Serenity now.

Not one minute later, Carson smashes his face against the trampoline net and starts sobbing. He wants to come back inside.

And I just......laugh. Out loud. To myself. This is my life. This is my loud, chaotic, trying-to-have-it-all, anything-but-professional, never-a-dull-moment, poop-on-the-grass, spilled-milk-everywhere, takes-45-minutes-to-eat-my-chips life.

Have you ever wondered what it looks like to “have it all”?

Because that, my friends, is how I celebrated on the day I signed my very first book deal. By eating Chipotle chips on the floor of my bedroom all by myself looking at this view:

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I wouldn't trade it for anything.

The Magic of Motherhood is coming to bookstores near you, April 2017. More here.

P.s. Yesterday I turned in the manuscript and Christina and I made a plan to get frozen yogurt with the kids to celebrate. 20 minutes later, we realized we had gone to different frozen yogurt shops. True story. So I sat outside at Yogurtland celebrating with my kids, while she sat one mile away at Yo Yo Yogurt with her kids. I don't even know.

four brands I love.

Since hopping on the capsule wardrobe bandwagon (winter capsule coming soon!), I have started paying more attention to what clothing companies I support with my dollars. Here are four brands I discovered last year that I love and highly recommend: 11906337_852396371526216_270299125_n

1) Everlane

What they do best: modern basics

Why I love them: Everlane is known for their unique radical transparency. They have found the best factories in the world, and have personal relationships with the people creating their products. They are completely honest about their pricing structure and will tell you exactly how much it costs to make their products.

Products I have purchased and love: Ryan Tank, Linen Tank, Ryan Pocket Tee, Silk Tank, The Ponte Short Sleeve Dress

Products on my wishlist: Silk sleep set

Sign up here.

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2) Nisolo (<---get a $25 coupon)

What they do best: shoes, jewelry, bags

Why I love them: Every shoe is made by hand and is seen as a work of art. Their products are created with quality materials made to last. Their styles are simple, effortless, timeless, and made to live in.

Products I have purchased and loveEcuador Huarache Sandal

Products on my wishlist: all of the jewelry, Austin Smoke

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3) Seamly.co (<----get a $10 coupon)

What they do best: versatile, effortless clothing

Why I love them: Seamly products are created with surplus fabric, and sewn right here in the USA. They produce clothing responsibly, with thought and soul and care. A lot of the products can be worn different ways, which works very well for a capsule wardrobe because you get multiple looks from one garment.

Products I have purchased and love: The Convertible Pantsuit

Products on my wishlist: No Sweat Pants

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4) Brass Clothing

What they do best: dresses

Why I love them: Brass offers designer-quality dresses at the right price. Their styles are flattering, well-made, and neutral in color so you can easily style and accessorize them to your taste. Brass is all about great fit, and they'll even pay the tab at your local tailor if you need to get a dress hemmed.

Products I have and loveThe Navy A-Line (SO FLATTERING, and it has pockets!)

Products on my wishlist: the tank maxi, the shirt dress

I'll be back next week with my winter capsule! Have you discovered any new great brands recently?

thriving, not surviving.

Thrive-1It's early. 5:30am to be exact. I am the only one awake in my house and it feels wonderfully peaceful at this hour. My coffee is hot and I'm curled up on the couch in my pajamas, listening to the sound of the heater warming the rest of the house. I wish I was a morning person, that I could do this every day. I wish I could wake up before anyone else and write in the dark. The only reason I am here right now is because I went to bed at 9pm. Yes, I went to bed at 9pm on New Years Eve. I'm not even sorry. My instagram and Facebook feeds have been full of inspiring posts the past few days. Everyone is setting intentions and goals for the year, picking one little word to guide them for the next 365 days.

To be honest, I haven't given it five minutes of thought.

Which is so unlike me, come to think of it.

I am usually all about New Years. New year, new me, new you. I love a fresh start, an empty page, for my life to be a blank canvas on January first.

Coming off the tails of 2015, I can say with absolute certainty that this was one of the hardest years of my life. Transitioning from one kid to two kids was more than a year-long process, one marked by severe sleep deprivation and a deeply needy baby who could barely function outside of my arms. I have been in a fog for most of this year: tired, exhausted, worn out, drained physically and emotionally. My body has suffered. My marriage has suffered. My writing has suffered.

If I had to put a word down for 2015 it would be survive. This past year I was barely treading water, kicking my legs as hard as I could just to stay afloat. There was not a lot of balance. I think I read less than five books all year. I saw maybe three movies. I drank way too much coffee, and ate way too much takeout. I cried a lot. Every day was a hustle, and not in a good way.

Ironically, 2015 was perhaps one of my best work years to date. Coffee + Crumbs continues to grow in all the right ways. We published 156 essays, ran a successful pledge drive, opened our online shop, and just this week launched a writing workshop. I signed with a literary agent and worked on a number of book ideas and proposals towards the end of the year. I attended my first photography workshop in October and, as a result, did an overhaul of my photography site, vowing to show more of the work I want to book. My brain never stopped working in 2015. I chased every dream I could think of and walked through every door God opened. Every night after the kids went to bed, I opened my laptop and worked till I couldn't keep my eyes open. It was wonderful and tiring, inspiring and taxing.

To put it simply, I am grateful and proud and exhausted at the end of 2015.

Today, as we enter a new year full of endless possibilities, I can only bring myself to make one resolution. One intention, one word.

In 2016, I want to THRIVE, not simply survive. 

I want to play more and clean less. I want to cook more and eat cereal less. I want to rest more and work myself into the ground less.

I want to flourish.

I don't want to tread water anymore; I just want to swim.

See you at the lake?

***

My favorite posts from 2015: You Just Had A Baby, Inconvenient, To Be Brave With Your Art, Mommy Doesn't Go To Work, When Love Is A Relay, The Hard Way, The Year We Didn't Sleep, When You Say Your Dreams Out Loud, Taking A Leap

and a few from Coffee + Crumbs: Meeting In The Middle, Enjoy This Time Dear, A Tale Of Two Birth Plans, Imposter Mom, Velcro Baby, The Battles We Choose