The Revival {Elevate 2014 and Me}

getting my selfie on.

 When I woke the Friday before Elevate I said a short prayer. I prayed for peace, grace, and comfort. I prayed that our family road trip would be easy and safe. I prayed that we would leave the house on time. I prayed that I would find the answers I was looking for by the end of my trip. Even with a million things left to do before we could physically leave for Southern California, I had this overwhelming sense that on Saturday it was all going to come together.

The week before Elevate was one of the hardest in recent memory. I worked every day up until the day we were going to leave. My business cards came in and were cut off at the bottom again. My iPhone decided to die Wednesday afternoon and took with it all my pictures and contacts. I got back the contacts, not the pictures, but thank you to Instagram for staying alive this year and being my backup. Thursday I found out about some “politics” and drama that was afoot at work, and by the time I arrived home on Thursday night, I wasn’t in the mood to pack or prep. I laid in bed and wondered what the hell I was doing with my life. And what on earth I was going to do with this blog.

I knew I was unhappy. I was unhappy working outside of the home. I was unhappy with the direction my blog was going, as I’ve had to cut down on the attention I pay to it, and I’ve had to almost cut all interaction with my readers. There are so many things that I have to say yes to, my children, my husband, my life, and since this blog generates no money or income, its the one thing that gets cut off my priority list. Sadly it’s also one of the things that brings me great joy. Writing and interacting with my readers is one of the best things about blogging and when you cut that out, blogging just seems like a lot of work. So there I was, Thursday before Elevate, in bed crying for the seventh time that week. That’s not even an exaggeration. I wish it was. 

It took close to seven hours to get to our hotel. That’s with plenty of stops for the girls and traffic. It also allowed for a lot thinking time. Was my employer the best employer for me? Was the job the best job for me? How is the stress of working affecting my children? How is the stress effecting me? How many nights do I spend away from home only to come home and kiss by sleeping children on their heads? Question after question, all leading to answers I wasn’t ready to admit. Answers I really didn’t want to face. So as we pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, I sighed. We had made it and I was ready. I was ready to breathe again. I was ready to breathe new life into my blog, into my family, and into me.

Of course I couldn’t sleep on Friday night. I was just so excited. I stayed up talking to the Hubbs about the speakers. How I couldn’t wait to meet so and so, and how I couldn’t wait to see my bloggy buddies. I also couldn’t wait to reconnect with some people I had briefly met last year, but felt like I knew since I’ve been social media stalking them for a year. He asked a lot of questions about the blog world, since honestly, he still after three years doesn’t understand it. That’s also an issue we have between us and this blog. Before Elevate he was still at a place where it just seemed like a thing I do. A place I go to vent, then spend hours on my phone on Instagram and Twitter, wasting time. And no matter how many times I try to explain to him a blogger’s life, he still didn’t get it. But lucky for us, Elevate changed that.

I woke on Saturday with a feeling of peace. I had some truths I needed to face. Some cold hard facts about how unhappy I had been for the month. I finally felt like I had uncovered some answers about where I wanted to be in my life and where I was. I was excited to see friends and listen to speakers, but I was also excited to be inspired. I wanted to reignite the fire that I’ve had for this blog. I wanted some better direction. I wanted to find that spark that I felt like I’ve always carried to write in this space, because I haven’t felt that spark since January.

I don’t have to tell you about being at Elevate. At this point I’ve written three recaps about being there. Elevate is about the women. The women who inspire. The women who lead. The women who gather and make new friendships over painting frames or making garlands, when that is definitely not their forte. It’s about going up to women who inspire you and saying, “You are such an inspiration”, and then they hug you and embrace you. Elevate is about connecting with women who are so different from you, yet so very much the same.

What I loved about Elevate this year was that within minutes of being there I knew it was exactly where I needed to be. These were my people, this was my tribe. The calm that came over me as I walked in and put my bags down. The excitement in seeing old friends and meeting new ones. The words of wisdom and courage that spoke directly to me. The fact that no one admonished me for Instagramming or Tweeting. No one was offended if I took another selfie in the middle of a program. It was welcomed and expected. At dinner I commented that I loved being at Elevate because no one was upset that I was Instagramming at the table. Because every single woman at Elevate understood the need to reconnect with those readers who were not able to attend. They understood that while we were enjoying ourselves and the day, we were and are constantly running a business and a brand. Something that is so hard to explain to those on the outside. I don’t tweet and Instagram because I’m bored, I do it because I’m trying to create a community, a business, and a brand. And yes, sometimes it’s in excess, but many times it’s necessary.

I didn’t have to explain the tears or the frustrations I’ve had over the last five months. I didn’t have to explain how my quest for balance is one I’ve almost abandoned. I didn’t have to go into detail about my feeling about this blog and how I feel like it’s slowly dying every day I don’t publish a post. All of my fears and worries, all the responsibilities I had waiting for me at home, all the emails I’ve neglected: they were all understood, embraced, and overlooked. Because we all have them waiting for us too. But on this day, we celebrated. We celebrated our blogs, we celebrated our lives, and we celebrated each other.

The Hubbs and the girls picked me up Saturday night, and sadly the party wasn’t over yet. But I wasn’t upset that I had to go. I was on a high. So filled with inspiration and light. I got the confirmation I had been looking for: yes, this blog is the right thing. Some days it’s the answer, some days it’s the remedy, some days it’s the salvation. No matter what form it takes, its the right thing for me. It’s exactly what I should be doing. The time spent on my laptop, on Instagram, time spent writing into the wee hours of the night, they are not hours wasted. They are hours spent, getting me to the next step, they allow me to follow my dream. The time spent allows me to grow into this person, that for the first time in my life, I really, really like. I even enjoy her.

And the Hubbs enjoys her too. He got to see me, surrounded by this world I love and that he doesn’t really understand. He received hugs from Nay and Kristine, which surprised him, but didn’t surprise me. They feel like they know him, and they kind of do, virtually. I was told one more than one occasion that he was going to be greeted with a middle finger, since that is what he is known for in my Instagram photos. His reputation precedes him. My girls, the “absolute girlies” were met with open arms. Which to me seemed like poetry in motion. They are what built this blog, and they continue to fuel it. But for the first time in a long time they saw their mommy in her old life, her happy life. Yes, Elevate did that. It made me realize that I want to be happy again. I want to write again. I want to breathe new life into this blog again.

As we drove back to our hotel, I was giddy with excitement. I wanted to share anything and everything with my family. It was such a good day and I couldn’t hold back. Then from the back seat Caitlin asked, “Mommy did they have wine there?”, “No why?” I asked, “Because you act like you’ve had a lot of wine”. I laughed for ten minutes. Especially after John replied, “Mommy’s not drunk, she’s just happy”. If that wasn’t a bittersweet, slap in the face, get your life together moment, I don’t know what is.

So many good things came out of our family weekend at Elevate. It wasn’t the quick trip to Downtown Disney, although that was good. It wasn’t the change of scenery. It was the fact that my family got to see a little bit of the blogging world from my eyes. The Hubbs better understands the relationships and the work required to maintain a blog. He even confessed to following along on Twitter all day since he still doesn’t have an Instagram (I know, right?). He said he could see just how much fun I was having, but also the opportunity that is there for me and my blog. Which is a break through for us on so many levels I can’t even begin to explain.

As you can see and read, Elevate was so much more than a conference this year. I needed inspiration and confirmation so badly. I was in desperate need of some direction. I also needed to redefine what my happiness looked like. I’ve been home for over a week and I’m very much back into reality. But there are some definite changes I want to make. There are things I want to put into motion. And there are goals I have set with specific time lines. I never set time lines or deadlines for that matter.

Elevate was a unique experience for me, which is the way it should be. No two blogger are alike, so no two experiences will be alike. But I’m sure that I’m not the only one who left with a new resolve. I’m sure I’m not the only one who continued to float on an Elevate high for a couple of days. And I know without a doubt that not a single one of us is unchanged after that beautiful Saturday in the dunes.

I’ve heard many stories about other blogging conferences. The classes and the sessions and the celebrities in participation. And I’d love to attend another conference where bloggers meet up and inspire. But I’m totally biased when it comes to Elevate. It’s so personal and intimate, and it’s so much more than a blogging conference. For me, Elevate 2014 was a revival.

Building your community with Lisa Leonard {Elevate2014}

The highlight of my day. Meeting Lisa Leonard and being inspired by her.

I find that I follow so many people on social media. Real life people, celebrities, bloggers, bloggers that feel like celebrities. A person can really get lost in all the appearances. People look good in social media. Their lives look perfect. Their families are flawless portraits of well behaved children and loving devoted husbands. Not that I post anything remotely like that, but you know what I mean. Sometimes I wonder if some of the people I follow on social media are as genuine and amazing as they appear. In the case of Lisa Leonard, she is exactly who you see on Instagram.

Lisa is a truth speaker, which says a lot because the truth isn’t always beautiful. She is the walking definition of kindness and grace. Her smile not only lights up a room but is contagious. And then, she speaks, and you can hear the kindness and the love in her voice. It’s inspiring. If you follow her at all then you know that her life is far from perfect. She has two beautiful sons, one David, with special needs. You know that she is an entrepreneur and a small business owner. A business which she owns and runs with her husband. You also know that she is a driving force in the blogging community and the creative community. So with all of these things that she is, you might be surprised to find that she, despite her twenty five thousand followers on Instagram, is very much like you and me. A mother, a wife, a blogger, a woman. But it’s her approach to building a community that sets her apart.

At Elevate Lisa presented the 5 “B”s of building a community. Whether that community is with your blog, or if that community is the one you choose to live in, there are five things that can take your community to a higher level. In addition they are also five things to take your life to a higher and happier level.

The 5 “B”s to Build the Community You Want! - Lisa Leonard

Be Loving:
This sounds so simple. But to be loving is really hard. Lisa shared that she wakes each morning with the intent to “meet and greet” with love. Even when she receives discouraging comments and emails to her blog and shop. Even when the world is presenting itself in a hard way. She said that to be loving is to free yourself. Because when people are mean or say harsh words against us, it is not about us, our children, our families, or our businesses/blogs, it’s about the person speaking the harshness. That person, with hate or hatred in their heart, needs loving the most, and if you can find love for that person, then you are free from the harshness. You free yourself from the hurt. Do you realize how incredibly powerful that is? I cried when she spoke about being loving in a world and blog world that can be anything but. To be loving is an incredible power that we have inside all of us. Yet it is one of the hardest things we can task ourselves to do. I can tell you from hearing Lisa speak and meeting her in person, she is very loving, and let’s this guide her in her freedom to live.

Be Yourself:
“When you love yourself, you can love”. So true in it’s simplicity. Lisa talked about always being dissatisfied with things in her life. The extra ten pounds, hard created ideas stolen, the way she felt about herself. She said she has felt disappointments and dissatisfaction at times in her life. She shared times when she was so overwhelmed and scared at what she faced in her life. How could she love, when she didn't love the person looking at her in the mirror? But once she found that she could let go of all her worries and skepticism she had for herself and really love herself and her fears, she could love with her whole heart. She realized that if she could love herself flawed, she could love anyone. Her message to us was to be our flawed selves. And to love ourselves anyway. Embrace who we are and allow ourselves the love we deserve. In turn we will be able to be loving. I’ve built this blog on being myself, and embracing my flaws and fears. Once I could admit that motherhood wasn’t my strong point, it became my strong point. I strive to be myself everyday, and love that person that I am, even on my worst days.

Be Brave:
Lisa posed this question to us, “What if the goal is bravery?”. Could the real goal in life be bravery? Are we on this journey for love and life, and all the while those are not the goals, but the end results of being brave? Pretty powerful questions don’t you think? Lisa talked about big acts of bravery versus small acts of bravery. She shared that she knows someone who battles chronic depression every day, and every day they get up. They get up and face the day. In her mind, that is a daily act of bravery, and to some it may be so slight, but to a person battling depression it’s the world. It made me think about bravery in my daily life. Am I taking chances? Am I putting myself out there? Or am I too afraid to be brave. It gave me a lot to think about when it comes to my writing and to my blogging.

Be Careful:
Lisa encouraged us to be careful with our opportunities. Every opportunity may not be for you. It may sound good and it may have real attractions like money or earned success, but is it really for you? She shared that she had the opportunity to host a segment for a television station in another state. She loved the people she would be working with, and she loved the opportunity to show her creative/DIY side, and it was going to be wonderful PR for her business. In the end, she had to commit to being away for almost a week every month. She knew that was not the best fit for her family, and in turn would not be a good fit for her. So she walked away from that opportunity, because it didn’t feel right. Being careful in the face of opportunity is important in the blogging world. Especially if the opportunity isn’t you, isn’t your voice. She encouraged us to say “no” to posts that don’t carry our voice, posts that we don’t identify with, no matter how wonderful the opportunity. Being careful allows us to be true to ourselves.

Be Persistent:
“If you are determined and you do not give up, you will succeed”. Again, so simple in theory, and so hard in practice. Being determined takes hard work and patience. Two things that I am inconsistent at best. Determination is more than not giving up, it’s believing that you can, it’s waking up every day with the same goal in mind, it’s evolving and moving forward, no matter the obstacles. Lisa encouraged us to ask for opportunity again and again, don’t wait for opportunity to find us. Be persistent in how you operate your blog or your business, continue to evolve to the next thing, but don’t change so quickly. Being persistent while being yourself means that you have to grow into your blog and into your business at a pace your readers will respect. According to Lisa be persistent and success will seek you.

At the end of the day, before I left, I made sure to thank Lisa for her words of wisdom, but I also wanted to tell her something. I wanted to tell her that even though I’m sure she gets comments and emails daily about how wonderful and kind she is, how beautiful she is inside and out, that she is the most genuine person I have ever met. She practices what she preaches and is a good human. She is kind and loving, but also just as flawed as everyone else. When I asked her during her session, how she finds balance in her life she said, “I don’t, and I probably never will, but I try, and I’ll always try”. She is that kind of woman, and that kind of inspiration. It was an amazing opportunity to meet her, shake her hand, and hug her. But what amazed me more is that this kind of human exists. That there are people in this world so beautiful you want to surround yourself with their light. Lisa has the light.

Whether you use the five “B”s to build a community or inspire your life, use them. Remind yourself of them, and in the end live them in your daily life. Maybe I won’t ever live all five “B”s at once, but I will try, I will always try.

Everyone has an accent {Desiree Campbell}

Desiree of The 36th Avenue. Image courtesy of The 36th Avenue.

I’m probably the only person who had never heard of Desiree Campbell prior to Elevate this year. Desiree has built a DIY blogging empire at her site The 36th Avenue, which until a few days ago I had never visited. She has also built an impressive following on Pinterest, which I also had no idea. I only tell you this because in true Elevate fashion, meeting Desiree was exactly what I needed this year. Two thousand and fourteen has been a rough one. One of doubt and worry, one of second guesses and the urge to wave my white flag. In the weeks leading up to Elevate I had begun to question myself and my direction with this blog. After three years was it becoming too much? Was I about to fizzle out? Then, Desiree happened.

I cannot accurately describe the firecracker and explosion that is Desiree. She is the definition of passion. She is five feet of combustible energy. She started out by saying that when her husband asked her what she was going to teach the women of Elevate, she replied “Women cannot be taught, only inspired”. Well, Amen sister.

What you notice first about Desiree is her thick accent. When she speaks you feel like her words take on a life of their own. You can feel her words, as if they want to dance with you. The surprising thing is that Desiree’s accent wasn’t always her prized possession. It was something that she was once ashamed of. She told us a story of being new to the United States and new to a secretarial job where she had to answer phones, with what she says was her broken English and her heavy accent. At one point she says she cried in the bathroom at her office and wished she didn’t have her accent. She didn’t want to sound the way she did. She didn’t want that piece of her that made her who she is. She says that in her moment of weakness she realized that her accent tied her to years of lineage. Her mother, her grandmother, her grandmother’s mother. In addition she sounded like her sisters and her aunts. Why would she wish such a thing away? She says today she is most thankful for her accent because it’s what brings people to her. She is so right about that, her accent is magnetic. You can’t listen to her speak without wanting to know more about her, you literally gravitate towards her.

Desiree said that now she is proud of her accent. That she owns it one hundred percent, because at one time it brought her so much shame but now it brings people to her. People gravitate toward her for the one thing that she had been ashamed of. That my friends brought tears to my eyes.

Because this blog brings people time and again to read about the thing that once brought me such shame, my battle with perfecting motherhood. At one time in my life I was so ashamed of the kind of mother I was. I was ashamed that I wasn’t the perfect mother with babies who slept through the night, and good boobs that produced breast milk. I was ashamed that my kids slept in my bed and ate chicken nugget dinners five nights a week. I felt so alone in my struggle and was so embarrassed at how I let motherhood get the best of me. Until I decided to share those follies. It was only then that I realized that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only mom out there trying to be perfect in an imperfect world. By sharing what once brought me shame, I was able to find redemption and confirmation. I was able to leave the shame and find solace in knowing that motherhood wasn’t my biggest failure, but my biggest achievement. According to Desiree, motherhood is my accent.

According to Desiree, everyone has an accent. Maybe it’s your life long struggle with your weight. Maybe it’s your recent battle with depression or anxiety, or a recent battle with motherhood. Maybe you have your grandmother’s nose, or her butt, but no matter what you have, you too have an accent. You have something that makes you uniquely you, and let me tell you something, it’s what people like most about you. Your accent makes you human, it makes you real, it makes you, YOU.

There were so many other lessons that Desiree taught that day. Lessons on social media, lessons on interacting with your readers, lessons on having an assistant. But for me the biggest lesson was that I have an accent. An accent that I am proud of. An accent that makes me human and flawed and perhaps even beautiful in my own way. An accent that has been such an instrumental part in growing into the person I am today. I was lucky enough to thank Desiree when I was leaving Elevate. I cried, and then she cried and then of course we laughed and hugged, and I left knowing that once again Elevate knew exactly what I needed that weekend.

Everyone has an accent, so don’t be ashamed. Embrace your accent, and you just might find, it’s the absolute best part about you. It’s what makes the people in your life gravitate towards you.

Life happened {five twentysix fourteen}

Last week I wanted to write. I wanted to take everything I learned and everything I heard at Elevate and share it with you. Honestly I just wanted to re share it with me, but then there was life. Last Sunday we drove four and a half hours back to reality and once I walked in the door, as inspired as I was, I knew it was over. I knew that I was back to my real life and Elevate was just a dream. I gave it the best college try that I could. I stayed up well after midnight Tuesday night to get my first recap up. It was just what I needed to get my mind in line to really recap the rest of my Elevate experience. But then I found I didn’t have time. I worked all week, and then I chaperoned a zoo trip in the middle. With little time for myself and little time for my family, my holiday weekend was spent outside with my family or at work. 

That usually means my writing and this blog take a back seat. Some days I’m sorry about that. I feel guilty for abandoning my blog, for choosing the season finale of Madmen or a Grey’s Anatomy double header on Lifetime with some ice cream instead of cracking down and pounding the keys. Then I have to remind myself, no one wants to read about a boring life. People want to read about a life lived. A life full of mess and chaos and trips to Target. A life of zoo trips with daughters that are entirely too big and so grown up. A night spent with people who you didn’t know three years ago, but now wonder how you lived a life without them. 

This blog, some days it saves me, some days it’s my refuge, and some days it drives me insane as it nags me and taunts me from sidelines of my life. Like all things worth fighting for, I keep waging the war of time and dedication. I keep writing even if it’s in the wee hours of the morning, or the ten minutes in the middle of the afternoon. The one thing I can say about my Elevate experience is that it confirmed that this blog is exactly what I need to be doing. I need this blog, just like it needs me, and like every good relationship, it’s worth all the pain and the progress.

So much life can happen in just a week. Here is a short and sweet recap.

My mama had a birthday over Elevate weekend so I shared this picture of us.
It's one of my favorites. And how cool is my mom for saying ok to be being gone her birthday weekend?

Caitlin's birthday is at the end of June so she didn't want to miss out on classroom celebrations. Monday following Elevate I took cupcakes to her class. I forgot the napkins, and the cupcake order was messed up at our grocery store bakery, but none of that mattered. Cupcakes all look the same on the other side.

Our neighborhood of sister wives were reunited again this past weekend. We laughed until we cried, our husbands got drunk, and we planned another getaway. These gals make me so happy, and I would totally live on a compound with them.

Thursday was my only day off between my Elevate trip and Memorial day. I spent it chaperoning a zoo trip for my gals first grade class. It was hot, but so much fun, and we snapped this pic outside the reptile house. Then we watched a giant ancient turtle eat his lunch. Very, very slowly.

Caitlin snapped this picture on our dinner date at Panera. We were sneaking out after sister decided to take a late nap and dad had no interest in Panera and Target. It would seem the finer things in life allude him.

Caitlin has moved from the kids menu to the "you pick 2" menu. Cold cheese sandwich and tomato soup, which is odd since she hates tomatoes. This was her cheese face.

This photo of baby Mac popped up on my time hop and I couldn't resist sharing it with the Instagram community. Since her father is the king of hidden middle finger in pictures, I thought this was perfect. Obviously she is her father's daughter.

Friday two of my favorite Instagrammers asked followers to post their summer traditions as part of their #fridayintroductions. Our family tradition as of late is to spend every single night in our front yard with our neighbors. Friday night was no exception, kids playing, music blasting, beers in the fridge, and me in a lawn chair. Friday night said, "Summer is here".

I tried all week to get my self together and post to this blog. But as you can see, life happened. It didn't get in the way, it didn't force any major changes, but it happened. And I'm so very happy that it did.