didi and the milky way tradition.

I stumbled through the security line yawning, wondering if it was possible to be mentally hungover from a four-day writing conference. I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the airport window and regretted the 5:30am decision to not wear makeup. With my feet planted on the rising escalator, I could feel hope waiting for me in the form of coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. As soon as I stepped off the escalator, that hope was crushed with a simple sign typed on white paper:

Sorry for the inconvenience the espresso machine is out of order

I sighed heavily and bought a bottle of water and a small box of Apple Jacks. I dragged my heavy suitcase to Gate B4 and practically tripped on a man’s legs as I found a seat at a charging table. A little girl sat next to me, his daughter. She was wearing patterned leggings with a light blue hoodie and brown suede boots. I could tell she was both stylish and smart.

I had been sitting for less than five minutes when the announcement came over the loudspeaker: “Due to a maintenance issue with the plane……” blah blah blah. I wasn’t surprised or shocked because every time I fly Delta, there is a problem. On the way to South Carolina, the first flight ran out of food and the second flight sat on the tarmac for roughly two hours. I almost started to laugh, in a delirious and crazy sort of way. Of course the flight is cancelled! Of course!

The little girl and I started chatting, bonding over our shared disappointment. I learned that she was flying to Atlanta with me, and then continuing on to Portland, where her mom would pick her up. She had been in Ashville visiting her dad, and was flying alone as an unaccompanied minor, a term she tossed around casually. Her name was Didi and she was in the fifth grade. She reminded me a lot of myself at that age, ten going on nineteen and such. We talked about school and her favorite subjects and her new baby sister.

I showed her a picture of Everett and her sweet eyes lit up.

“He is sooooooooo cute!!!”

We jokingly whined about our cancelled flights and overwhelming tiredness. I had been up since 5:30; she since 4:30. I told her about the broken espresso machine and she sighed and said she “understood”, a comment that made me smile.

I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she confidently replied, “An actress.”

If you would have asked me what I wanted to be when I was ten, I would have offered you the same response. I told her that I was a writer. I didn’t stumble on the word as I normally do, but instead that title came pouring from my mouth just as confidently as her answer did. I guess I wanted her to know that it’s okay to want to be an actress when you’re ten, and then become a writer when you’re 27.

Her dad had been on the phone trying to reschedule her flight and finally informed me that they were going to drive the 2.5 hours to Atlanta. Before I knew what I was saying, I asked if I could join them. I assumed I’d be better off trying to get home from Atlanta than from the airport with the single broken espresso machine.

Didi looked at her dad excitedly, “Can we take her with us, Dad??? Please??”

I knew nothing about him, not even his name, but I knew this much: he was a good dad. And I was 99% sure he wasn’t a serial killer. We ventured downstairs to collect luggage while I called the Delta helpline. Soon I was booked on another flight, set to leave eight hours later. I was relieved to have a way home, but also sad for the lost opportunity to take a spontaneous road trip with Didi. We sat on the floor together and she opened her backpack, fishing out a tiny leftover goody bag from a birthday party. She held four pieces of candy in her hand and told me I could pick one.

“I’ll take the milky way,” I smiled.

“Are you going to eat it right now?” she asked.

“No, I think I’ll save it for later.” I winked at her and stuck the piece of candy in the front pocket of my backpack.

Her dad collected their luggage and I said goodbye to Didi, assuming I wouldn’t ever see them again.

Ten minutes later I wandered into the airport diner, determined to use the oh-so-generous $6 meal voucher. Much to my surprise, I spotted two tiny legs in familiar patterned leggings, dangling from a barstool at the counter. She was now wearing a pair of furry striped earmuffs that I had seen in her backpack just minutes before.

I plopped down next to Didi at the diner counter, happy to eat with my new friend.

We chatted some more about life and family, and I asked her what she was going to be for Halloween.

“I’m going to be a Renaissance Katy Perry,” she informed me.

(For those of you who also need clarification on this: Renaissance Katy Perry wears Renaissance clothing with a blue wig and fake eyelashes. Duh.)

Her dad was on and off his phone, occasionally listening in on our conversations. We all finished breakfast and just before it was time to part ways, Didi looked at me with a sudden sense of urgency.

“Wait! You have to eat your milky way! It’s tradition!” she said.

I laughed and asked if she had another milky way in her backpack. She dug around the plastic goody bag and fished out another one. We unwrapped them carefully together, smiling, not breaking eye contact.

I held mine out to her and said “Cheers!” as we clinked our milky ways together.

It was the perfect dessert to scrambled eggs and toast, that piece of friendship chocolate.  We hopped off our barstools, just in time for her dad to ask, “So, what do you write anyway?"

I told him that I write a blog about life and motherhood, and other things in between.

“Did you hear that Didi? You might end up being a story on her blog!”

Her little eyes sparkled again and she asked eagerly, “Do a lot of people read your blog?”

I nodded. Not because it’s necessarily true but because I knew it would make her feel special.

I said, “I think I’m going to write about our milky way tradition.”

“Really?!!!” she asked in disbelief. “Then I’ll be famous!!!” she exclaimed, wrapping her tiny arms around my waist.

Then she went her way, down the escalator, and I went mine, right back to the gate with the busted espresso machine. I opened my laptop and wrote this post, because I wanted to make Didi a tiny bit famous.

***

Didi, I don’t know if you will EVER read this. I don’t even know if I spelled your name right. Thank you for sharing your milky ways with me, and for making me smile on an otherwise miserable day stuck at the airport. I am so happy to have met you. You are smart, beautiful, and capable of doing big things in this world. It is my prayer for you today that God continues to use you for years to come as a source of joy to passengers in airports and beyond. Every time I see a milky way, I will always think of you.

Love, Ashlee

the leap.

www.mikefiechtner.com Everyone I know is having a second baby.

Okay, not everyone, but basically everyone. I would name names but that's awkward so I'll just tell you that three of my friends just welcomed their second babies and four of my friends are pregnant with their second babies.

C'mon now, that's a lot of second babies.

Naturally, every time I turn around, someone is in my face asking, "SO, LIKE, WHEN ARE YOU GUYS TRYING FOR A SECOND?"

To be completely honest, the thought of having a second child right now makes me mentally break out in hives. And then I remember that it takes nine months to grow the baby and I feel a tiny bit better, but not really. Brett and I both want more children (him: yesterday, me: sometime in the semi-but-not-too-close future), but that desire makes me no less terrified.

There, I said it. I am straight up terrified of having two children.

Mathematically speaking, I'm one to one during the day. Right now I only have one mouth to feed, one butt to wipe, one tiny heart to love, one body to bathe, one knee scab to kiss, one Elmo to keep from getting lost (okay technically we have five Elmos but he does have a favorite), one carseat to buckle/unbuckle, one high chair to clean, you get the idea.

For some reason the leap from one baby to two babies seems bigger than the leap from no babies to one baby. And let me tell you: that was quite a leap for us.

Is it just me? Is anyone else terrified of having two children? I know people do it all the time but I don't really understand the logistics behind it. When do you take a shower? How do you go to Target? How do you coordinate two nap schedules? What if one child doesn't like Elmo? How do you potty train a toddler while breastfeeding a newborn around the clock? How do you get a double stroller in and out of the car by yourself? How do you survive and feel human and find time to breathe?

It took a while for us to get to this point, but Ev and I are in a pretty good groove right now. We're Ashlee and Everett, partners in crime like Batman and Robin. We laugh, we play, we wrestle, we tickle, we go out for ice cream, we watch Elmo, we read. He sleeps for 2.5 hours in the afternoon while I edit photos and write and pretend there's no laundry in the dryer.

Life is sweet and fun and (dare I say) manageable right now. What's that saying? Don't mess with a good thing? We've got a good thing going right now. I hope someday having two babies will be our good thing too, but for now, I am perfectly okay with having one mouth to feed and one butt to wipe and one Elmo to look after.

Mommas of two babies: you're my hero. Feel free to share encouragement & tips in the comments for all things related to having second babies. I know there's plenty of women that could benefit from it, including me someday.

on amani & the importance of buying handmade.

I'm a Target girl, through and through. In-store Starbucks is my jam; red clearance stickers are my kryptonite. I love Target because I love a good deal, and Target is full of good deals. I also love any place where I can simultaneously purchase a new pair of shoes, batteries, ice cream, and an Elmo doll. Wham bam, thank you ma'am. Because I frequent Target so often (and I do mean often), I'm ashamed to admit that I rarely spend the time and money supporting handmade businesses. I always intend to buy handmade items (especially gifts), and sometimes I manage to do it, but more often than not, it's the day before my friend's birthday and I'm already running to Target for diapers and laundry detergent so WHY NOT pick up a gift while I'm there? It's convenient! It's cheap! It's on SALE! When faced with the decision to buy something from A Big Store or buy something handmade---I have, historically---defaulted to the first. I have always gone with the cheap option, the easy option, the lazy option.

But then I went to Liberia and had a major wake-up call. 

Amani-1

It was there at Amani that for the first time in my life, I saw with my own two eyes the work and love and devotion and pride that goes into a handmade item.

It was shocking, impressive, and most of all, convicting.

I saw women sitting at the sewing machines with their babies strapped to their backs and a permanent look of concentration on their faces. I saw the pride they took in their work and the pure satisfaction they received when they finished an item. I saw product after product stacked neatly in the showroom: beautiful, well-made, created from start to finish by the gracious woman standing next to me. I saw her baby on her back, her children on the floor, her joy and her gratitude for that place and that job.

I saw, with my own two eyes, the impact---the food in her belly and the sparkle in her eye and the humility and sheer thankfulness in her heart. I heard that woman praise God every afternoon during devotions and thank Him for every blessing under the sun.

I saw all of it. With my own two eyes.

And it was good and it was powerful and it made me think about every item I've ever bought. Where does this stuff even come from?

During my trip, I witnessed the entire life cycle of an Amani product: shopping for lapa in Monrovia, driving the lapa eight hours to Yekepa, watching the products be made/approved/priced/tagged, moving the products into the showroom, sorting through inventory to fulfill U.S. orders, wrapping the orders in blue plastic bags, carrying all of the products back to Hannah's house via suitcases and a wheel barrow along the side of the road, carefully packing four suitcases with exactly fifty pounds of Amani products in each one, loading the van with all of those suitcases, driving the Amani products eight hours back to Monrovia, hauling the suitcases through security at the airport, flying with the suitcases back to California, and then finally, FINALLY, shipping the Amani products to two Amani stores and one Amani warehouse across the United States where they are now available for you and I to purchase.

This is what we call a labor of love, my friends---emphasis on labor, equal emphasis on love.

The whole time I was there, I kept repeating, "This is crazy!" as I watched the incredible amount of work and effort put into the Amani products. There were no big machines or factories or robots or computers. It was just one giant room full of people, humming to the tune of the day, cutting and sewing and ironing with hot charcoal. It was just four suitcases traveling one bajillion miles, canceled flights and customs be damned.

And then I remembered something from a documentary about food....something along the lines of the importance of voting with your dollar. And I couldn't get that idea out of my head because you see, I so rarely think about voting with my dollar, despite the fact that I vote with my dollar every single day. I vote with my dollars at Target and Starbucks and I tell them on a regular basis, "I like this! I need this! Keep making this so I can keep buying it!"

And this isn't a rant about Target and Starbucks because I love Target and Starbucks; this is more about sharing the wealth and voting with your dollar when voting with your dollar makes sense. Because I will still need a place to buy cotton balls and granola bars and Elmo toys, but there are other places I can buy cosmetic bags and backpacks and laptop cases and baby gifts. I can buy those things from Amani and in doing so, I can vote with my dollar. I can use and wear those products free from guilt because they were not made in a sweat shop or under inhumane circumstances. They were made in the room where I stood, the room with the bright green walls and big open windows. The women and men who made those products were paid for every single item they created and were able to use that money to put food in their bellies and shirts on their babies.

While I'm no longer in Liberia (where 85% of the population is unemployed), here in the United States I can still vote with my dollar and support this beautiful, life-changing, fair trade organization that is offering opportunities where opportunities do not exist.

Ever since I got home, I've been trying to figure out how I can help Amani moving forward. And while there are no simple answers, today I simply rely on my storytelling so that if and when you consider purchasing an Amani product, you know exactly where it came from and exactly who you're supporting. You are supporting Annie and Vic and Ophelia and Morris and Ellis and Hannah and many, many more.

Liberia-1 Liberia-2 Liberia-3 Liberia-4 Liberia-5 Liberia-6 Liberia-7 Liberia-8 Liberia-9 Liberia-10 Liberia-11 Liberia-12 Liberia-15 Liberia-13Liberia-16

It's easy to feel defeated and helpless when it comes to making the world a better place, but if I am learning one thing this year, it is this: every single day I have the power and ability to make tiny decisions that make a difference, somewhere, to someone.

So today, this week, this month, this holiday season, I am making a commitment to spending a little less money at The Big Stores and a little more money on fair trade, handmade goods. I hope you'll join me.

______________________________________________________________

*I am currently working with Hannah and the founder of Amani to potentially host an Amani pop-up shop here on this blog, featuring some of the products that we brought back with us. Fingers crossed we're able to make it work!

our love story.

where my heart resides

Two weeks after high school graduation, my friend Robby and I were leaving the county fair when he asked if he could stop by his friend Brett’s house to return a video game.

“Brett….Gadd?” I asked nonchalantly.

“Yeah, it will just take a second.”

I hid a smile and not-so-slyly reapplied a coat of lip gloss. I didn’t know Brett personally, I only knew of him. We had attended the same high school, but not at the same time. He, five years my senior, had graduated before I started as a freshmen, yet his reputation preceded him. Brett was somewhat of a basketball legend at our small high school, with plenty of trophies and MVP awards to show for it.

Needless to say, I was slightly giddy on the car ride to his house. We arrived around 9:00pm, and Robby reassured me again that we wouldn’t be there long. I tousled my hair and told him I wasn’t in a hurry.

Brett opened the front door wearing blue basketball shorts and a white t-shirt. His hair was a total mess. He wasn’t expecting us, and immediately began apologizing for his unkempt appearance.

“Sorry, I’ve been really sick. I just got over strep throat,” he smiled at me.

I was totally smitten.

The three of us retreated to Brett’s room for a few more minutes of small talk. Him and I exchanged a couple words, although I mostly listened to him and Robby chat. At one point he turned on his computer and logged onto AIM (if you don’t know what AIM is, you might be too young to be reading this). I made a mental note of his screen name and privately congratulated myself on my romantic stealthiness. The minute I got home that night, I crawled into bed with my laptop and immediately logged into AIM, adding Brett as a buddy.

To this day Brett and I still argue over who made the first move. Brett will tell you that he signed onto AIM on purpose, so that I would subtly see his screen name and initiate an online conversation later, which is exactly what happened. I will tell you that whoever actually initiated the first conversation (me!) gets the credit for making the first move. I can’t remember what I said in that first AIM chat but I’m sure it was equal parts dorky and clever.

We talked on AIM for an hour that night, and an hour the next night, and the night after. Pretty soon I was rushing home after my glamorous waitressing shifts at Chilis to get on my computer. Online chats turned into text messages and phone calls, and finally, a few in-real-life dates. Four weeks later, on July 9th, we held hands and kissed for the first time in the middle of the street next to my car. It was 80 degrees outside and his knees were shaking. He said he was cold, but we both knew he was just nervous. On July 16th we went to a baseball game and he asked me to be his girlfriend under the fireworks.

He came to Chilis, too often, and left me flirty notes on the receipts after devouring entire orders of chips and queso. One time he even left behind a tiny bag filled with perfectly curated orange skittles, my favorite. Three months later he whispered, “I love you,” and I couldn’t say it back fast enough.

I will never forget that summer of 2004. We have other significant years to remember.....the year we got married, the year we went to Greece, the year we had our first baby.....but 2004 was the year we fell in love and I’m not sure if any other season can top that. Every thought I had, every minute of the day, was about Brett. We were together nonstop---sharing meals, running errands, watching movies. Every Tuesday we went to Baskin Robbins for dollar scoop night. I ordered mint chocolate chip with rocky road and he ordered two scoops of orange sherbet. We held hands, we kissed, we laughed constantly.

We were young and in love and nothing could stop us.

We talked about everything; no topic was off limits. One time we drove to the movie theater and got so wrapped up in a conversation about faith that we spent two hours sitting in the parking lot talking about God and completely missed the movie. We talked about our hopes, our dreams, our secret ambitions and fears. Days felt like months and months felt like years.

That Christmas, after six months of dating, Brett presented me with a huge box on Christmas Eve. It appeared to be an appliance of some sort, although the unbranded cardboard box threw me off. I was confused when I opened it and found a bunch of towels inside, until I realized the towels were meant to throw me off as well. At the bottom of the box was a smaller box, which I quickly identified as a jewelry box. I opened it to find a thin silver band with a small diamond in the center. We sat in the dark, just the two of us, in front of the lit Christmas tree in my parent’s living room.

“It’s a promise ring,” he said. “Some day, I’m going to ask you to marry me.”

It might as well have been an engagement ring, because that’s how much it meant to me. I put that ring on my wedding finger and didn’t take it off until March 19, 2006, when Brett got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife.

IM000813.JPG{ summer of 2004: I was 18 and he was 22....babies! }

Nine years, one baby, and a few more wrinkles later, here we are---still standing, still committed, still smiling most of the time. Tomorrow we celebrate six imperfect-but-wonderful years of marriage. These six years have been extraordinary and hard and messy and glorious and complicated, but I think every day we are learning how to love each other a little bit better, and maybe that's what this marriage thing is all about.

Happy anniversary, Brett. Thank you for putting up with my ridiculous antics, for showing me grace when I least deserve it, for letting me chase every dream I can think of, and for loving me the incredible way that you do. I'm so blessed to be your wife.

what I learned in my first year of motherhood.

whatilearned-1the bump // one week // one year

When I think back on that giddy and grateful mom propped up in the hospital bed holding her baby boy in one arm and a barf bin in the other, I can't help but smile. I had been a mother for less than an hour and was already struggling to find a balance between taking care of myself and taking care of him.

My first year as a mother I learned all kinds of things. I learned how to swaddle and breastfeed and avoid getting peed on while changing a diaper. I learned how to use a moby wrap and a puj tub and a bumbo and a bunch of other words/things that made no sense to me prior to creating a baby registry. I learned how to survive on very little sleep and how to look relatively presentable without showering, skills that will probably serve me well for a while.

I learned how to love my body again. And again. And again.

I learned how to strap a baby in an ergo carrier using only one hand in the middle of a crowded parking lot. I learned how to handle a temper tantrum in Target and the importance of carrying an entire container of puffs on an airplane. I learned how to breastfeed in the car, in a restaurant, at a wedding, during church, on the beach, in a bathroom stall, and a variety of other places. I learned how to pee while holding a baby and how to wash my hands while holding a baby and how to cook pasta while holding a baby and how to send e-mails while holding a baby.

I learned how to love my husband as a father. And can I just say....dang. Fatherhood looks good on him.

I learned how to be patient when patience is absolutely necessary, and how to forgive myself for not being patient the rest of the time. I learned that I do have a threshold for the number of minutes I can listen to a baby scream before I start screaming myself. I learned how to make homemade baby food and where to draw the line with homemade baby food (see: pureeing ground turkey and/or meats of any kind ).

I learned to trust my motherly instincts and not freak out when the doctor lectures me about growth charts. I learned to pay attention to the habits of my baby and the curves and marks on his little body. I learned that baby hernias are not exactly common, but can easily be fixed with a routine surgery. I learned to trust God (again) and trust doctors (again) and trust anesthesiologists (again).

I learned how to love fiercely and wildly without expectations, how to give myself fully and wholly to the greater good of another person. I learned how to sacrifice my body and my time, day after day and week after week and month after month.

I learned that it's really hard not to silently judge other mothers, but it's a task I am committed to carrying out. I learned that almost all of us---the biological and the adoptive, the breast-feeders and the bottle-feeders, the working moms and the stay-at-home moms---are doing the best we can. I learned that my friendships with other mothers are stronger, better, more vulnerable and more powerful when we both accept this truth.

I learned that God is real and present and with me every second of every day, because without him, I never would have survived this year with a smile on my face. I learned that motherhood is hard, and that it's not for the faint of heart. I learned that motherhood requires bravery, selflessness, perseverance, courage, and creativity.

I learned that it is entirely possible to spend a whole day with a baby, and miss him the second he goes to sleep.

I learned joy. Real, un-fleeting, permanent, here-to-stay-forever joy.

And above all else, I learned that God loves me even more than I love Everett---mightily, profoundly, perfectly, and unconditionally---a truth I never fully understood until this year. 

I have never been so grateful to be a child of His.

the fine line.

I've noticed a lot of posts popping up on the internet recently discussing how our social media content affects others, and what we should and should not post online. The discussions delve into sensitive topics like intentions, envy, comparison, etc. But the overall notion remains the same: social media makes some people feel like crap.

Some people are fed up with perfect Instagram streams and over-the-top happy Facebook statuses. They want to see the real life, the whole picture, the messy and unfiltered stuff. After reading some of these articles, and specifically the comments that followed, it seems to me that people tend to fall into two different camps:

1) The people who blame the posters

and

2) The people who blame the viewers

I'm left to wonder: if someone posts 20 beautiful pictures to Instagram from their amazing vacation, and someone else looks at the pictures and feels jealous, who is at fault? If someone posts 10 beautiful pictures of their smiling baby on Facebook, and a tired momma who is home with a colicky baby looks at them and feels sorry for herself, who is to blame? If someone tweets about their promotion, or the lavish gift their husband gave them, and someone else reads it and feels resentful, who is at fault?

Is anyone at fault, really? Should the person posting pictures and statuses cease to do so in case it upsets someone? Should we follow up our beautiful pictures with ugly ones to even it out? Should we shell out complaints immediately following every joyful Facebook status?

Sometimes when I read articles like these, I feel defensive. And I'm trying to figure out if I feel defensive because I'm guilty of these things, or if I feel defensive because I genuinely believe the message is wrong. Or both.

And for me, I guess it boils down to: what is social media for? What standard are we holding it to, and why?

I'm all for real life. I'm all about getting real and honest and vulnerable and sharing things that are hard to share, both in real-life community and in appropriate online spaces like personal blogs and forums. I get that, I support that, I live that. But Instagram? Instagram is a photo-sharing platform, it's not a window into our souls. And if my Instagram feed suddenly filled up with pictures of dirty diapers and messy kitchens and screaming babies and bickering spouses, I just don't think I would like it anymore. I want to see the good stuff, the celebratory stuff, the vacation photos and smiling babies and picture-worthy moments. These photos make me happy. I know that a stream of pretty pictures doesn't mean the person taking the pictures has a perfect life.

I'm not so disillusioned by social media that I can't see the difference.

When I scroll through Facebook I don't want to see a giant collection of complaints and political stances and passive aggressive comments. I want to see links to funny articles and inspiring stories, pictures of friends who live far away, clever and joyous status updates and much-needed birthday reminders.

I don't want to live in a fake online bubble where people can't be "real", but I also don't want to live in an online place where people are so focused on being "real" that they feel ashamed of being happy.

I struggle with envy and jealousy as much as the next person. I'm jealous of good writing, good photography, good style, good blogs. I compare and occasionally feel badly about myself. It's an area in my life where I've asked God, time and time again, to soften and mold into something more Christ-like. It's a void I've asked Him to fill. But when I get this way, when I spend too much time online and find myself comparing my clothes/blog/house/life to others, I certainly don't blame anyone else for making me feel this way. I don't blame the person with the perfect Instagram stream or the person with the happy-go-lucky Facebook page. Why should they be held accountable for my area of weakness?

To throw it the other way, I guess another question to ask is: what is the intention behind the perfect pictures? What is the intention behind the happy status? I know that for me, I like taking pretty pictures. I'm a photographer. There is intention in that, from both a personal and business standpoint. For every 80 pictures I take on my cell phone, maybe one makes it into my Instagram stream. Of course I pick the best one, the prettiest one, the one that will best showcase my photography skills. I order prints from Instagram on a regular basis, and even ordered an Instagram calendar for Brett for Christmas. We use Instagram as a scrapbook of sorts, an online memory-keeper, so of course I post the pictures where we are smiling and happy. I don't need pictures of Everett throwing a tantrum in my photo albums (well, maybe one to laugh at later).

What is the intention behind the happy Facebook statuses? To brag? To get attention? Or is it simply to share something wonderful with online friends in hopes that people would share that joy with them? Does it depend on the person, or the day, or the circumstance? Are we sitting at our computers judging the intentions of others without really knowing what the true intention is? Is that any better than having a poor or selfish intention to begin with?

I feel like I'm rambling, but I guess all of this is to say: why are we trying to hold social media to the same standard we hold our real life? Is it not impossible to portray your life in its entirety---good and bad---on the internet? And if we know this, if we accept this, then why are we so obsessed with attacking the partial-truths that people share online? If we know that a beautiful instagram stream doesn't equal a perfect life, then why does it bother us? Is there harm in simply using a photo-sharing app to share and view "pretty" photos? If looking at those pictures makes us feel resentful or jealous, should we maybe take a break from looking at them, and look at our hearts instead? Do we expect people to share an equal amount of good and bad online? Is that the goal here? Are we more inclined, by nature, to keep our heartbreaks more private than our triumphs? If we are sitting at home crying over a terrible day, do we have an obligation to share that with our online world? Why?

I'm asking a lot of questions because I don't have the answers. At the end of the day I can only be accountable for myself: for what I post online and what I view online, for my intentions and my heart.

And maybe, in its simplest form, there is a fine line to it all, and we just need to find the balance. Maybe there's a fine line between real and fake, between truth and lies, between humility and pride. Maybe there's a fine line between jealousy and contentment, resentment and peace, bitterness and good will.

Maybe every day we dance on that line, and need to make more of a conscious effort to step down to one side.

Thoughts? Comments? Let's chat about it....

friendships worth fighting for.

Oh, friendship. So good, so hard. My friendships have changed a lot in my twenties. I think that's a pretty normal post-high school and post-college transition for most girls, right? It's a time where most of us are soul searching and changing, chasing dreams and getting married, a time where we are hopefully becoming more comfortable in our own skin and more grounded in who we are.

As I've gotten older, my friendships have also changed. In my early twenties I went through a process of letting go of a few friends, while one close friend let go of me. It's ironic how being on one side doesn't feel like a big deal, but when you're on the other side, it can be The Biggest Deal In The World. In my mind I had plenty of reasons to let go of friends (We've grown apart! She's so condescending! We have nothing in common anymore! I'm the only one putting in effort!). Friendship can often be selfish in that way---as soon as we're not getting what we want out of it, we can choose to walk away. At the time I felt justified in my actions, but after being on the other side of the coin, I often wonder: did I give up too easily?

I have been the friend who leaves and I have been the friend who is left. By far, the latter is much harder to accept. This happened to me once a few years ago and it cut me deeply, like a wound that never fully healed. This friend and I were close. Very close. Like, she-was-in-my-wedding-and-I-was-in-hers close. To this day I am still unsure of what really happened between us. There was an e-mail full of accusations, and then it was over. I tried to understand, I tried to reason, I tried to defend myself, but it was over before I really got the chance to do any of those things. She was done. Years and years of friendship, gone, poof! Just like that.

I was crushed. How could she give up on our friendship so easily?

I remember telling the story to a group of close friends right after it happened, repeating the hurtful e-mail contents through tears on Sharon's couch. Everyone consoled me and reassured me that it was her and not me, which is irrelevant but probably what I needed to hear that night. Sharon e-mailed me the next day and promised that no matter what happened between us, she would never abandon our friendship. She told me that if an issue or conflict ever arose between us, she would bring it to me and we would work it out.

It was one of the most profound, yet simple e-mails I had ever received from a friend. Sharon was, essentially, promising to fight for our friendship.

Her words made me feel surprisingly safe. No argument or misunderstanding would rip us apart over an e-mail; our friendship was too good for that. Our friendship was too strong for that. And what an amazing feeling that is, to be secure in something as essential and life-giving as friendship, to know that your relationship is not contingent upon your ability to always do the right thing or say the right words. How comforting to know that we are all human and we all mess up from time to time, but that with forgiveness and grace, we can move forward together in friendship with one another.

I'm not a perfect friend. I'm not even always a good friend. I certainly try to be. Sometimes I wonder what friendships would look like if we treated them more like marriage. When Brett and I get into a disagreement, for example, it's not my first instinct to walk out the front door. I don't hire an attorney and file for divorce every time there is conflict between us. We are committed to each other, forever and always, no matter how hard things get.

That level of commitment is obviously designed for marriage, but sometimes I wonder what would happen if we applied a lesser version of it to our friendships? What if we vowed to love our friends for better and for worse?

What if we stopped giving up on friendship so easily and vowed to fight for it instead?

Make no mistake, I understand that there is a time for letting go of friends. I've been there. But once you get to the point in your life when you've found your inner circle, your people, the ones who visit you in the hospital after giving birth and bring you chocolate when you're having a crappy day and let you cry on their couch about the hard things and pray for you on a regular basis, isn't that worth fighting for?

I believe it is.

Have you ever experienced a friendship breakup? Did someone give up too easily, or did you fight to fix it? Let's chat about it in the comments...

an ode to our first little house.

Ode to Our First House | Where My Heart Resides
(Disclaimer: this post is long, but our house deserves it.)

I still remember the day we came home from our honeymoon with tanned faces and full, happy hearts. We excitedly put away new dishes and towels, filling up cabinets and drawers with wedding gifts. I made room for Brett in the closet, generously offering 1/8 of the space I had occupied during the nine months I lived here alone while attending UC Davis.

This was our first home.

This is where we learned the weird things that you can only know about a person after living with them, like how Brett always gets water in the toothpaste cap and how I never replace the toilet paper roll. It was here in this house that we learned how to be married, for better and for worse and everything in between. This is where we kissed against the kitchen cabinets and threw socks at each other from across the bed, laughing till we cried on the carpet floor over something I've now forgotten.

It was here in this house that we learned how to manage our expectations and priorities, balance our finances and goals, communicate openly and honestly, and love each other well.

It was here in this house that we spent many nights curled up on the couch watching reruns of The Office, munching on popcorn with our legs tightly intertwined. This is where we talked about our hopes and dreams late at night in the darkness of our bedroom, planning for our future and discussing things like Greece and babies and retirement. This is where---early in our marriage---we created Dance Parties In The Bathroom, a tradition that will surely remain with us wherever we may go.

It was here in this house that we stood in the kitchen and cooked meals together: spaghetti with meatballs, stir fry, turkey burgers, rosemary lemon chicken, Parmesan risotto, grilled cheese with tomato soup. We found our groove, our tastes, our standard weekly rotation. This is where I learned how to garden in our tiny backyard, reaping the fruits of my labor for the first time in the summer of 2011 in the form of fresh lettuce, carrots, squash, zucchini, and miniature strawberries. This is where we hosted our first Thanksgiving, eight of us crammed around the table bumping elbows as we passed the butter.

It was here in this house that I started chasing my dreams of becoming a writer and a photographer. I stayed up late writing blog posts and researching camera lenses while Brett helped me redesign my blog a dozen times. We sat in the office side by side, him with his iMac and me with my MacBook Pro, working on this blog and my photography site for weeks on end. It was here in this house that I took a leap of faith and started Ashlee Gadd Creative. This house is where I work, every day, while Everett naps.

It was here in this house that I took my first pregnancy test and learned of Everett's existence. We stood in the bathroom in happy disbelief, hugging tightly and thanking God for the tiny miracle inside my belly. This is where we prepared for his arrival---arranging furniture and bookshelves, painting globes and cutting maps, folding onesies and assembling strollers. We sat on the couch perusing baby name books, and it was here in our living room on a cold November evening that we chose the name Everett. In December we stood in the middle of our kitchen surrounded by friends and family as we cut through a bright blue cake, confirming what my mother's intuition already knew: our baby was a boy. Everyone cheered and clapped and we drank peach champagne in celebration. This is where I spent nine long months being pregnant, working from bed in my sweatpants with my laptop and a full bag of Cheetos.

It was here in this house that we attempted to turn Everett from the breech position to the head-down position without success. We propped an ironing board against a chair and I lied on it upside down for 30 minutes at a time with frozen fried rice on the top of my belly and a heating pad at the bottom. This is where we spent the night before my scheduled c-section, down on our knees in prayer, equally full of anticipation and fear.

This was Everett's first home.

It was here in this house that Everett smiled for the first time, laughed for the first time, crawled for the first time. This is where we learned about the challenges of sleep deprivation and projectile vomiting, and where we first experienced the joy of watching the world through Everett's eyes.

It was here, standing in the front yard, that we learned that Brett's dad had passed away. This is where we both broke down crying, where we hugged each other tightly with Everett sandwiched in between us, and I prayed harder than I've ever prayed before. This is where we grieved, and continue to grieve, and through the grace and love of God, have slowly started to heal.

It was here in this house that we have grown closer, made mistakes, offered forgiveness, and learned what marriage is all about. We have spilled secrets and fears, yelled and screamed, cried from both sadness and laughter. This house has seen us at our best and seen us at our worst.

But I know that if these walls could talk, they would only tell tales of love. Real, rich, beautiful love.

May our next house be just as good, just as warm, and just as willing to graciously capture the next chapter of our story.