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.

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the pop-up portraits.

Ashlee Gadd_pop up portraits-2

Ashlee Gadd_pop up portraits-1Ashlee Gadd_pop up portraits-3Ashlee Gadd_pop up portraits-4Ashlee Gadd_pop up portraits-5

There are few things in life I enjoy more than making women feel beautiful.

***

The Pop-Up Portraits

June 30th – 5 spots available
July 5th – 5 spots available

$95 / 10 minutes / 10 digital images.

Wear something that makes you feel pretty. Flower wall is located in Sacramento near Loehman’s Plaza; time slots will be assigned between 7:30-8:30pm. E-mail me to reserve your spot: ashlee.gadd@gmail.com. First come first served!

More of what you can expect here.

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about that “mom hair”…..

hair

Photo by Wendy Laurel

Yesterday I came across a New York Times article titled, “Mom Hair: It Exists. Now What To Do About It.”

If you don’t have time to read the entire piece, allow me to give you the gist: apparently moms are cutting their hair after having a baby, and it makes them look bad.

Here’s an excerpt:

Indeed, Mr. Maciques recommends that new mothers wait about a year before they make any drastic changes. “By then, you’ll know what you’ve got,” he said. “It’s not just your hair that’s changing. Your body is, too. You might not be at the weight you really want to be yet. And the truth is, long hair can be a little bit of a distraction. When you go short, you are more exposed. There’s less, literally, to hide behind.”

Let me get this straight. According to this MAN, women are supposed to maintain long hair after having a baby to serve as a “distraction” from their postpartum bodies?

No.

Here’s a thought. Hey new moms: wear your hair however the hell you want to. Your body carried a human being; it stretched and changed and transformed into an actual home for an actual child. You do not need to distract the world from that feat with mermaid hair or anything else.

You are a warrior.
You are beautiful.

The male hairstylist continues: “Ideally, you’d start planning while you’re still pregnant,” he said.

Because yes, when I am pregnant, and struggling with insomnia, heartburn, incessant peeing, back pain, leg pain, and the myriad of emotional and hormonal internal battles, let me assure you: I am totally thinking about my hair.

Oh wait. I’m not. Do you know what I’m thinking about when I’m pregnant? I’m wondering if my baby is okay in there. I’m thinking about childbirth, and how much it’s going to hurt, and how my lady parts are going to be affected. I’m thinking about adding a child to our family, and what that means for my marriage and my career and my home and my heart and my soul. I’m thinking about breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. And snacks. I’m thinking about sleep, and college funds, and baby toes, and the next eighteen years (and beyond) of holy work and sacrificial love I am going to pour into this child. I am thinking about how grateful I am for this baby, and how terrified I am, and how wonderfully hard this is all going to be.

Do you know what I’m not thinking about when I’m pregnant? Taking care of my hair once the baby comes.

Call me crazy, but when I get home from the hospital, I’m a little more concerned with taking care of the baby. 

And while I’m taking care of that baby, and not sleeping, and adjusting to my new porn star sized boobs, I can assure you, male hair stylist, that if and when I feel like styling my hair/coloring my hair/cutting my hair, I am going to do what makes me feel good about myself. Because my pants still don’t fit right, and my boobs are leaking, and I’m working on 4.5 hours of interrupted sleep—so pardon me while I disregard your generalized opinions and choose a hairstyle that makes me feel confident.

New mommas, listen carefully: you do you. You cut your hair short, wear it long, tie it back, throw it up, straighten it, curl it, color it, highlight it, make dreadlocks, tease it up, slick it down, get bangs, cut layers, add extensions, wash it, don’t wash it; I don’t give a crap.

Your beauty and identity cannot, are not, and will never be defined by a stupid haircut.

And as for you, Mr. Maciques, I certainly hope male pattern baldness doesn’t accost you later in life, lest you lose any self-worth along with your luscious locks.

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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!

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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

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