June 26th, 2007

The morning my daughter was born, I cried quietly in the bathroom before getting dressed for the hospital. At the time, I didn't know that this was going to be the day my daughter was born. I was hopeful though, after missing not one, not two, but three consecutive due dates. Would this baby every come out? Would I ever become a mother? I asked myself those questions, but I really didn't want the answers.

I was terrified.

There I was peeing and crying and realizing that Holy Shit, there was a kid about to come out of me. Maybe even that day! I wasn't crying because of the pain of labor, although I was afraid of that. I wasn't crying because my life was going to change. Duh, people. I knew that, and even if I hadn't, everyone I encountered since the two pink lines showed up, had something to say about it. I knew that I wasn't going to get a good nights sleep ever again. I knew I'd never eat a hot meal again for many years. I knew that I'd never be alone again, not even to pee. I got that. I knew that. I was ready for that.

Still I was terrified.

Because everyone kept telling me that motherhood would come naturally. Motherhood would be the most natural thing I ever did. Yet, there was this little voice in my head, nagging me. Nagging me hours before I'd be bringing a life into this world that said, "Nothing is ever that easy".

It wasn't. Motherhood wasn't the most natural thing I had ever done.

Caitlin was born at four twenty-six in the afternoon, and by five o'clock I was seriously questioning my decisions in life so far. I looked at that little bundle of joy, and wondered, when is her mother coming to pick her up? Then I'd realize, oh, stupid, that's us. We're the mother. Who was going to change this kids diapers? Breastfeed? Tell her how to make good and solid life decisions? How the hell am I going to do that?

The first diaper I ever changed was Caitlin's. The breastfeeding went terribly. The bottle feeding swimmingly. She never slept, and neither did I. I was too stubborn and didn't really feel right about the "crying it out" method. I second guessed by self the entire way through her first year. Because two months later, six months later, one year later, I was terrified.

I was so afraid of not being perfect. I was so afraid of letting her down. I was so afraid that she could tell I totally sucked at motherhood. That she knew I didn't have one ounce of my shit together. I was terrified that people thought I was a horrible mother because she took a bottle, and because she slept in my bed. I was terrified that someone would realize what a terrible, no good, fuck up of a mother I was and take her away. I was so afraid that the world would know, finally know that I wasn't good at everything like I had always led them to believe. That everyone would finally know I was a fraud.

Funny thing is, I wasn't a fraud. I wasn't terrible or horrible. I was just a mother. I was just a human. My baby wasn't the only one crying. My baby wasn't the only one who took a bottle. My baby wasn't the only one who slept with me on the couch or in the guest bedroom bed. I wasn't the only mother who felt like a failure. In fact, according to some, I wasn't a failure at all.

It took time and a lot of phone therapy with my best friend to come to those conclusions. Eight years ago motherhood was a lonely place for me. I didn't blog or read blogs. The only parenting books were the "how to" kind, and who the fuck needed those? There were a million and one books to tell you how to me the perfect parent, and not a single one to tell you just to be a parent. Not a single book to reassure me and a million others that we were doing just fine, that we were writing the rules of our own stories.

June 27th, 2007 was the day I became a mother. There were no backsies. Ready or not, there I went into the great unknown, without an ounce of natural talent. Tomorrow I will probably cry while peeing again, because we did okay, her and I. We made it to eight. Which eight years ago seemed impossible. I'm so grateful for her, for all the challenges she brought, for all the joy and love she has given me. Without her I would have never known that I could do great and amazing things. Even when I was on my knees begging for just an ounce of sanity, I did and will continue to do great things. All because I became a mother. Her mother.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Preschool Graduations and other heartaches

My baby graduated from preschool and I lived to tell the tale. What started with the tiny cap and gown hanging in my closet for a month, ended with a store bought chocolate cake and a gallon of chocolate ice cream. This entire school year passed like someone else's life, and yet there I was, in the same hall as the Christmas program just six months before, watching my little one grab her "diploma".

I didn't cry. Maybe I should have, but while it was bittersweet, it was also a relief. It was an exhale of all those harried mornings, all the missed show and tells, all the school parties I couldn't be at last year. I teared up a few times, especially when they played this sappy Taylor Swift song about growing up or something like that, and then I felt like as ass for tearing up. All around me parents and grandparents were crying, and I was sitting like a heart of stone.

I guess it's because I cry at other times.

Mackenzie really has grown up this year. We now buy her clothes in the "girls" department, not the toddlers. She has decided to grow out her hair, and so her little a-lined noggin is a thing of the past. She likes to paint her nails and her toe nails. She knows all the words to "Blank Space". She can also count to one hundred and say her alphabet. She can even write her name.

Mackenzie seems so big and so small at the same time. And so I tear up and my heartaches when she does those little things that remind me that she is the baby.

She still rubs my earlobes when she's tired or scared. She still wants me to snuggle her in the morning. She will still crawl in my lap and pretend she isn't tired, when it's so obvious she is. She is still afraid of the dark, and of loud noises outside her window. Just last week when we were watching a movie, she covered her eyes at the part where the kids were going to get into trouble, then began to peek through her fingers so she wouldn't miss it. She still wants to be a princess and a teacher when she grows up. She still wants mom when it gets dark.

And even though it sometimes feels like I still have a baby in the house, I found myself at a preschool graduation. My daughter's preschool graduation. I wasn't quite ready for my last baby to say goodbye to preschool and hello to kindergarten. I wish that I could extend summer another month, to make sure we put off the new school year as long as possible. Because after kindergarten it all starts to fly. That is really what makes my heartache. It's not just the idea that there aren't any babies left in this house. It's that there is nothing we can do to stop them from becoming grown ups. They keep growing up. I keep growing old, and I guess, nostalgic.

There was no pomp or circumstance for this preschool graduation. There was cake and people who loved her. There was a cap and a gown, and for whatever reason her insistence on wearing rainbow socks with that cap and gown. She also demanded shorts and a t-shirt, and thankfully, I talked her into a new blouse instead. We had a quiet good-bye to great teachers and a fantastic school. I had a quiet good-bye to a part of my mothering life that is over. Those years right before school is a constant. When going to school is optional, and it's for half a day three or four days a week. I said good-bye to homework free nights and optional field trips. I've said good-bye to an era that I thought I couldn't wait to get out of, but sadly am now regretful to leave. Why do we spend so much time looking forward, and not enough time looking around? Why are we always in such a rush?

I'm not rushing this summer. I want to enjoy every last minute before I have a kindergartner. I want to cherish and hold every last second before I finally realize nothing will stop time or the little heartaches along the way.

Finding the right fit {WIW: Elevate Conf 2015}

I wore shorts to Elevate this year. If you have followed this blog for more than a year, then you must know that I struggle with what to wear to the conference every year.  This year I just wanted to be comfortable. I didn't want to bake in the sun (it was actually unseasonably cool this year) and I didn't want to be pulling at my sweaty clothes all day. Shorts and a flowy tank were perfect, and when I look at this picture I'm pretty happy with the way I look. The shorts are one size bigger than I normally buy, but they sat better on my hips than the smaller size. The tank hid any flaws in my mid section and the sandals were just perfect. There is something to be said about feeling confident in your skin, let alone in your clothes.

This hasn't always been the case. For the better part of the year I've been struggling with my weight. I'm sure most people look at me and say, "She is so tiny", because I'm short and could fit in my husband's pocket. Yet for me, this is a size I'm not used to even though I weigh exactly what I weighed when I got pregnant with Mackenzie. Back then I was happy with that size, even though I never could fit in my pre-Caitlin jeans. I just bought new jeans and kind of started a new life. I would have been happy fitting into those jeans after having Mackenzie and I did, until I didn't. After having Mackenzie my body went into shock. I suffer from autoimmune deficiencies, and found that everything I ate made me sick. I was exhausted, and because I was eating a really restricted diet I lost a lot of weight. So much weight that I found myself a size I hadn't been since my freshman year of high school. I didn't hate that size, I'll admit it. I was really tiny, and I had to buy jeans in a size I had never fit in before. My clothes fit in such a way that I loved the way looked. For the first time in years, I really did love my body.

Then I got better. With the help of a new diet and some really good supplements, I started eating again. I even started exercising again, running if you can believe it. And I felt good, I felt really good. I felt like I was finally healthy. Then something strange started to happen, my tiny jeans got tight. Shirts I was comfortable in, weren't so comfortable anymore. I started to see flaws when I looked in the mirror. Then I stepped on a scale and was shocked. Up almost six pounds.

That was almost two years ago. Those six pounds eventually turned into eight. Now those eight are actually more like ten. Those tiny jeans went in the giveaway pile. Some of those shirts have been passed on. I've had to buy new jeans. I've had to buy new shirts. Most importantly I've had to "buy" a new attitude. I've had to look in the mirror and buy into this person looking back at me. And let me tell you, it's taking a really long time.

In March I turned thirty seven, and on my thirty seventh birthday I woke up and worked out in my living room. Some Jillian Michaels torture session. I didn't make a big announcement on social media. I was proud of myself, but I also didn't want to fly my would be failure on social media. I say that because I was pretty sure I wouldn't keep up with it. I knew that I'd do really well for three weeks and then when nothing had changed, not the scale, not the way my clothes fit, I would look at my five in the morning alarm and say "fuck it".

But I didn't. I told myself that I didn't have to work out every day. I challenged myself to use my birthday "gift" three times a week. Since I had at least two days off, those became mandatory work out days. The first month was awful. I hated getting up that early, but when I did, when I worked out, I felt so much better about the day and myself. Oh, God. I know what you are thinking. I'm that person who is going to tell you how amazing exercise it. Don't worry. I'm not. I still hate waking up early to exercise. I still have a special kind of hate for Jillian Michaels at five thirty in the morning. I still gasp for air and spell the eff word while doing jumping jacks. But... I really do feel better when it's all said and done.

The changes haven't been drastic. I'm not sure anyone has really noticed, but I have. When I was in Disneyland last month my jeans were bigger. My tank tops didn't cling like they did a month before. My shorts were so loose I could have used a belt. Those were changes I was okay with. Maybe no one else could tell, but I could. I knew I was finding the right fit. The right fit for me.

I've said before on this blog that I will never have flat abs. I will never run a marathon (at least I think I probably won't because it's not a desire of mine). I will never work out every day of the week because sleep, duh. And everyday is a cheat day if it's going to be a good day. But I really want to like the body that I see in the mirror. I really want to find the right fit. I'm quite happy with the way I look currently, even if I hate what the scale says. It's funny because I don't feel like the number the scale says. I feel lighter than that. I feel fitter than that. I finally feel like I no longer want to worry about enjoying chocolate almond cupcakes or coconut milk ice cream by the pint. Years ago I read about people who were throwing away their scales. I'm making it a point to only step on them at the doctor's office.

I look at that picture from Elevate and I feel like it fits. That's me. I'm not sick anymore. I'm not sad anymore. I'm not post baby or prebaby or in training for anything but living a happy and full life. I like being healthy, even if I hate the five a.m. wake up call. I like that my clothes feel like they fit. I like that I don't make myself feel bad if I decide to sleep in, or if I decide to eat french fries. If I decide to eat an entire pint of coconut milk ice cream, I want to be able to face myself in the morning. When I look in the mirror today, I feel like I'm finally looking at me. Flaws and all. Smiles and all. That's a welcomed change after a struggle with finding the right fit for the better part of two years.

I didn't work out this morning. Sleep and the silence of the house was too tempting. I stayed in bed. I ate a frozen banana in my night shirt, while sitting in our recliner. I finished a book I started on Sunday.

I have to admit, it felt really good. In fact, it fit perfectly.

Mouse Ears {recapturing the magic}

Four years ago, a dear friend of mine, called to tell me that she was planning a trip to Disneyland. She went into great detail about the planning and the excitement, and I played along like a good friend should, but I was also jealous. Our daughters are the same age, and four years ago, a trip to Disneyland was not in the cards for us. Not for our highly sensitive, very anxious daughter. Four years ago we gave up Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and any team mascot that walked by at our local AAA baseball field. From an early age crowds and noise were problems, she even spent part of her third birthday in my bedroom as there were too many people in our house for her liking. It's only been since age five that we can allow singing when we do birthday cake. For many years Disneyland was just a dream, an idea, something that I thought we'd have to postpone until her teenage years.

Then one day, she started to ask about Disneyland after seeing commercials on the Disney channel about the park. She asked if we could go, and John and I began to tell her about the park. We tried to give her a good idea about how big the park was, and how many people like to go to the park. We found videos on YouTube that showed parades and rides, and she seemed open to them. The more questions she asked, the more questions we asked ourselves. Was she ready? Could we really make a trip to the Happiest place on Earth?

Last year after our Elevate trip, we took a detour to Downtown Disney on her way home. The idea was that if she could see how massive the park was, if she could see just how crowded it would get, maybe we could get a better idea of how she would do if we went to the park. From the moment we stepped on the Toy Story, she was overwhelmed in the best way. Her excitement was getting the best of her, and by the time we got to the park gates, she was all smiles. We hit the big Disney store in Downtown Disney and she was beside herself. We walked and talked and enjoyed a nice lunch, and before we knew it, it was time to go home. That's when she cried and begged to go to Disneyland. "Can't we just walk inside the gates for five minutes?", she asked.

It was time.

As we made our way to the park that exciting morning, she gripped my hand, as we hurried our steps. She whispered over and over that she was so nervous. That she was scared. What if it was too big? What if she didn't like the rides? What if? What if? I told her over and over that it would be fine, but as we got in line at the gates to Disneyland, I looked over at her, and then looked her in the eye and told her that I was here. I was right here next to her, with her hand in mine, and we wouldn't do anything that she didn't want to do. If she didn't want to ride a ride, we wouldn't. If she just wanted to walk the entire park, we would do that. If all she wanted to do was eat Dole Whips all day while shopping on Main Street, so be it. But I promised that I'd be right there to hold her hand. She smiled, squared her shoulders, and dived right in.

She had done just fine at the Character Breakfast, so I knew that seeing the characters in the park would be okay. But I had no idea just how bravely she would face those characters. Two hours into our adventure, and Peter Pan himself asked if she would like to go on an adventure with him. And to every one's surprise, mine especially, she said yes.

Peter Pan took my once shy and anxious, almost eight year old girl by the hand, and led her on a short adventure to scare Captain Hook. They ran and skipped and plotted. I took picture after picture, not believing my own eyes. She was excited and brave and smiled ear to ear. It was everything I had always wanted for her and her first trip to Disneyland.

It occurred to me that this was only the beginning. She was just beginning to find her brave heart. Only starting to stretch those wings that so many of her peers have already stretched. She's growing, before my eyes everyday, but the monotony and chaos blind me to it. Second grade has taught her to be more independent and age has taught her to leave her fears behind. And though she gripped my hand so tightly over the course of this trip, it wasn't because she was always afraid, it was because she was finding her brave.

This big trip to Disneyland was also a growing experience for the both of us. Our relationship has been rocky at best since little sister came to town. I didn't mean for that to happen, but as I've written before, as my first born, I project more responsibility and expectation onto her. Unfairly of course. Most days are spent arguing because my expectations are so high, and her need to please me is comparable. It breaks my heart to write that, but it's so achingly true. We don't always get along, even in the best of circumstances. I didn't want that for this trip. I wanted us to have fun, enjoy each other, and for the love of God, not fight about clothes!

So we did. We took selfies. We held hands. We rode rides together. I covered her eyes when I though it would be scary. I didn't push her to ride any rides that she was nervous about. I made it a point not to lose my temper. I made it a point to pick my battles. I said yes, every day in the park was a "yes" day. Even when it meant indulging in a famous Mickey Mouse ice cream bar post breakfast. I just wanted her to remember this as one of the best experiences as a kid. It's my hope that she will.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't perfect. There were some tears. Pirates of the Caribbean was too dark. The Goofy Sky School Coaster was too fast. World of Color was so loud and it was cold. The last night in the park, she and I took a detour to get away from the fireworks, that she didn't like at all. Instead of staying with Dad and sister near It's a Small World, we made our way to Frontierland. We rode The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh three times. And sure, I'm told I missed some amazing fireworks, but I'd never trade those fireworks for the little adventure I had with my girl.

I've been working on this post, in my mind, since we spent that first day in the park. I knew we had turned a corner, her and I. It's as if we floated into this sweet spot, that would help me mind my temper. A sweet spot that would give her pause before she lost all sense of herself. We still have our days, where she tries my temper, where I yell, where we both look at each other and just have to get the last word in. But it's different. We find little ways to sneak out for Target trips and Starbucks without the rest of the family. We stay up late and watch The Golden Girls. We watch music videos on YouTube. I've always wondered if I could recapture some of our magic. The magic between mother and first born is a strong one. The magic that we had all those years ago when she was just a baby sleeping on my chest. I feared that it had been too long, that I hadn't made the effort to recapture her heart. I love her, and she loves me, but somewhere along the way we got lost. There was a piece missing, and I was worried we would never find it again.

Imagine my surprise when I found it. That little missing puzzle piece that would put life and love back together again magically. Would you believe me if told you it's shaped like mouse ears?

Dear 2014-2015 School Year {I was that Mom}

Dear 2014-2015 School Year,

I'm sure it's obvious to both of us that I was that Mom this year. You know the one who forgets the permission slips or loses them all together. The mother who waits until the last possible second to pay for the field trip, the class pictures, to sign the progress reports. I was her, I'll own that. I'll also own the fact that I'm not really sorry about it. I'm not going to apologize for being less than perfect. I'm not going to apologize for not having my shit together. I'm just going to ask that you let it slide.

I see the other Moms. The ones that come to school in their clean jeans and freshly washed hair. They have their toddlers decked out in bows, and I take a minute to morn that kind of mother I once wanted to be. I'm happy for them, I watch them and wonder where they got their cute boyfriend jeans, and wonder how they get them to fit that way. Most mornings I'm in whatever I can pass as business casual, with a pony tail, or erratically flat ironed hair. Some mornings I'm still in my pajamas, or workout clothes, to give off the appearance that I actually work out and take care of myself. Although in reality, I go home and watch Grey's Anatomy in the recliner all day while my kids are at school.

This was a very hard year for me. Kind of like last year but more pressure had built. I started working full time. I lost that extra day off during the week. I stopped volunteering in the classrooms. I stopped checking homework religiously. Most weeks I didn't know if my kid passed her spelling test, or if she even had a test. I spent less time on campus, relying on Dad or Grandma to take the kids to the school library, make sure they got their homework done, to make sure they took the right ingredients to school for the right recipes or projects. I lost more notes and pieces of important paperwork in my pile of crap in the dining room. I forgot to send cereal on cereal day, and occassionally forgot to pack my kids snack for morning recess. That ususally happened on the mornings when she didn't get breakfast either. I know, I never meant for it to get this way either.

This year I forgot about "Twin Day", Picture Day, and somehow lost not one, but two "Character Counts" t-shirts. I really wish you'd stop inventing those special school spirit t-shirt days. I forgot to pay for Spring Pictures for Mackenzie after I worked for a week to help her get her outfit right. I realized a month later when I cleaned off the fridge and noticed the envelope still attached to the flyer, still empty and incomplete. I can only slap my head so many times when I make assholes moves like that.

I didn't send a special class room gift for Halloween, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas. I did make photo cards for Valentine's Day because it was easier than sitting with both girls and hand addressing them. The only party I made it to, I showed up late and missed all the fun. No matter my kid was happy anyway. We even skipped the pumpkin patch this year with preschool and the Girl Scouts. Whatever.

In all the madness, I have to say that the Teachers are what saved us this year. I handed over crying children on countless mornings after losing my voice in epic shoe and hair battles. On those mornings with little time left to cuddle and soothe, the teachers took charge and changed the subjects, helping them look forward to school. I can't thank them enough. I had to accept that I couldn't wipe those tears or hold those hands, because I had to get to work, or drop off another kid. Most mornings I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was royally effing up the entire thing. But the teachers, they swooped in and saved the day.

The sad thing is, I've always wanted to be super mom. I never wanted perfection, but I did enjoy volunteering in the classroom. I have fun making those classroom gifts that I pin on Pinterest. I missed being on campus and knowing what days were twin days and what days were crazy hair days. I like being in the loop, writing down important days in my planner. I've always been the mother that gets the eye roll because I bring the candy bar bats at Halloween and the personalized ornaments at Christmas. But not this year. This year I had to let that go, and while I was sad, I'm wasn't sorry. This year, while becoming that mom, I've also become a better mother. The one who says "aw eff-it, let's be late to school and stop at Starbucks first". I've become the mother who buys the classroom gifts, like individually wrapped hostess cupcakes, which are really like gold to second graders. Honestly, this year Mac took donuts to school for her birthday and Caitlin is taking Jamba Juice smoothies. It was easier and way more exciting that mom's haphazardly iced cupcakes. I've become the mother who sends money in place of my time, realizing that there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing bad or wrong about being that mom. I am her, she is me, and that discovery has been so freeing. There is so much freedom when you let go of all that pressures you. After a year without the luxury of time and weekends off, I'm okay with that now. We should all be okay with being that mom.

It's almost summer, and I'm not sorry to see you go 2014-2015 school year. You were a beast, a challenge, an unforgiving shithead. You gave us your worst and your best. We all had growing pains this year, and I learned a thing or two about myself and about school years in general. For every bad morning, there were two or three really good ones, where I didn't yell, where we all got to school/work on time. Thankfully my kids didn't notice much. They were too busy learning, playing, and growing up. I can't promise much will change next year. I'm still me, and my kids will still be late on most days. The best I can do is promise that they will be dressed, be wearing shoes, and be ready to learn. Just don't be surprised if I'm still in last nights make up. 

Have a great Summer,

When you find your tribe {Elevate 2015}

A little over three years ago I started this blog. In the beginning my corner of the Internet was a quiet place. I wouldn't say it was lonely, but little more than four people read my blog. One of them was my mother. But I kept chugging along, writing my heart out, telling truths about my life and motherhood. It wasn't until I googled "cake pops", that I found "life style blogs", I had no idea they existed. I found a favorite and followed it religiously, and wouldn't you know it I found other blogs. I started participating in link ups and ad swaps. When this little bloggy that could hit it's first birthday I had made some friends. Internet friends. Blog friends. Friends that I connected with online and via email. And everyone in my real life thought that was so weird.

I would have never guessed that those "Internet" friends would one day become real life friends. Friends that I would email, text, and call. Friends that I would one day hug, hold their babies, meet their husbands. Friends, that would understand a part of me that many never would. Why is this spot of the Internet so important to me? Why would I cry buckets over losing the HTML for a guest post? What is the big deal that my original Instagram account was deleted? Why would I cry over such things? Laugh if you will, but my blog friends understood.

Every year I come home from Elevate with a renewed spirit. I'm exactly what the conference promotes, Elevated. I get inspired, not just by the speakers, but by the women who participate. The women who move mountains, farm out child care, save every single penny that they have to their name to make their trek to beautiful Southern California. Those are the women who fill up my cup, with their talk of endless nights mothering, writing, working, making. They craft, they worship, they lead, they inspire. They are the reason I will return to Elevate again and again. I will move my own mountains, bring my children with me, and scrape up every single penny. Because these women are my people. They are my tribe.

These are the women who start small business that turn into big businesses. They are women who write down the ugly, who promote their platforms with integrity, who love life even among the chaos of everyday. These are the women, who like me, worry that they are doing it wrong, and work tirelessly to make sure there is food on the table and roofs over all the heads. The women of my tribe understand that sometimes our dreams get put on the back burner, that our goals sometimes feel so out of reach, that some days are just a wash. But they are also the same women who will not give up, they will not let go, they will do whatever it takes to make their dreams come true. They will one day call me, text me, or email me to say, "I did it", and I will finally say, "I always knew you would".

Without my tribe the blogging world would never feel as safe as it does. It would be a boring and lonely place. Without my tribe I wouldn't push myself to the limit, I wouldn't expose so much of me, I most likely would have quit a long time ago. Because contrary to what people think, blogging life is not easy, it's not glamorous, it's not a get rich quick scheme. Blogging is a bear. It will chew you up and spit you out if you let it. So we gather together, online or in real life, and commit to not letting this blogging life get the best of us and our spirits.

Elevate 2015 was a beautiful experience. I met a new group of blogger and makers. I met small business owners and big business owners. I met women who are changing the face of women owned media and women owned businesses. Their stories were inspiring, but it is there life that makes them real life leaders. The grass always appears greener, but great successes take hard work and sometimes great hardships. Nothing is perfect, even if your Instagram account says otherwise. Elevate is always a place that the tribe can gather and be themselves. A place to be honest and open about what really matters in our lives. Every year I'm blown away by the experiences that got us all in that one room in New Port with that beautiful view.

This was Elevate's fourth year, and my third. The women who coordinate Elevate are beautiful inside and out. They work tirelessly for a year to make the day fantastic. They pick the right mix of speakers and vendors to put our hearts in the right place. Summer and Jen lead this tribe every year and inspire us to be our best selves. I can't thank them enough, because they want every single attendee to succeed. They want every single participant at Elevate to dream bigger, work harder, and be their best self.

There are so many conferences that I could attend every year, and every year I debate if I want to save my pennies for another experience. I think about me, and how I could self promote, take those classes and sessions on how to grow my blog, increase my content, maybe even publish a book. But then I remember how I feel when I leave Elevate. Elevate is so much more than a place to be educated about content and followers and self promotion. Elevate is a place where you find a better sense of self, not just as a blogger but also as a human. Sure I could learn a million ways to self promote, but would I walk away feeling like a a better person? Would I be as inspired to do better? Would I feel like my vision was more in line, that I had a handle on my dreams, that I would push my self to take the leap faith needed to accomplish said dreams? Probably not, because Elevate is still a small enough conference that you really could hug every person in the room. And I love that.

There is something special in the connections that you make with people you see on your screen. You see them everyday, you see their family vacations, you know when they are sick, you know when they are hurting. You share your successes, new homes, new jobs, new babies, new hair cuts, and come fall their Starbucks red cups. You get to hug those people who inspire you and who you have helped inspire. You get to hug those women who needed it that day in September when they hated their season in life, when they had to do the hard things, when they wanted just a little bit more out of that day. You get to embrace them for who they are, and they embrace you back with the same intensity. Because they are your tribe.

I am so incredibly lucky to call these women my friends, my tribe. This year I had a quick dinner with Renee and Kristine on Friday night, my girls joined us. It was heaven, and we decided that we could do this every Friday night for the rest of our lives. Without Nay and Kristine I wouldn't have made it this long. I would have quit blogging a long time ago. It's their support, sometimes daily, that keeps me going. It keeps me inspired and motivated. It makes my scary posts less scary, and it allows me to be comfortable when I ugly write out my heart. Their hugs validate that sharing my life in this space is exactly the right thing for me. Even when I give too much information and make my Husband blush. These women, my tribe, they have my back.

Every year, when I come home from Elevate, I know I'm doing exactly what I supposed to be doing. Elevate confirms that I'm exactly where I should be, with my tribe.

The Happiest Place for Us

"Mom. This is the happiest I've ever been", Mackenzie age 5.

I thought I understood the Magic of Disney. I've been to Disneyland over a dozen time, the first time when I was just five years old. I love Disney movies, I think Mickey Mouse ears are a rite of passage, I sing Let It Go at the top of my lungs, I cry when I watch Up, Toy Story, and that one time during Wall-E. Last year about this time we took the girls to Downtown Disney just for fun. We were doing a test to see how they would do with a real trip to the Magic Kingdom. Mostly because we really couldn't explain how large and expansive and overwhelming Disneyland can be. As soon as we stepped off the bus I was five all over again. When we walked into the big Disney store in Downtown Disney I wanted to buy everything, go on every ride, and take my picture with the Mouse himself. Watching the train depart from the Main Street Depot, listening to the music being pumped at the gates, the smell of churros all around, I knew, this was it. This is where our family vacation dreams were going to come true.

The girls agreed. Crying and begging to go into the park as we left. So last June we started planning to return the following year.

We picked our vacation dates without the knowledge that it would be the kick off weekend for the 60th celebration. I worried as we counted down the days that the parks would be too crowded, too overwhelming, and that we wouldn't get the most out of our trip. I couldn't have been more wrong!

Since we live in central California we made the drive south. Loading the iPad with movies, packing snacks and Capri Suns, making sure we took our American Girl doll and our Anna and Elsa Dolls, wearing our Mickey ears the entire ride. It was a long trip, and we were smart to take a full day to travel, because by the time we got to the hotel we were hangry and tired, and no where in the mood to walk the park.

I had been told that there is something special about taking someone to Disneyland for the first time. That to see the magic in their eyes is like experiencing the park for the first time yourself. I thought I understood what that would be like, but really I had no idea. My girls were beside themselves that Thursday morning. Their outfits had been planned for weeks. We had to wake up so early to make our character breakfast, but they didn't care, it didn't phase them. They loved riding the bus to the park, they loved the walk (read hike) to the character breakfast, and they loved the character breakfast. They were too excited to eat, they were so concerned with getting autographs and pictures for "your Instagram, Mommy". They even pulled out their gift cards from Santa to buy their first souvenirs, Mickey Hands.

As we walked back to the park, Caitlin held my hand tight. I'm nervous, Mommy, she whispered as we approached the gates. I reassured her, that Disneyland was a happy place, that we wouldn't do anything she didn't want, I told her that I would be right there, holding her hand. So we walked in and immediately saw Ariel, Donald, and the Main Street Train. She couldn't wait to talk her picture next to the Mickey flowers. She wanted to ride It's A Small World immediately.

Mac, who had already taken a ride in the stroller by this time, asked to walk, and took my hand. As we walked through Sleeping Beauty's castle to Fantasy Land, she said, "Mom. This is the happiest I've ever been". It was only then that I realized, me too kiddo. It was absolute magic, the kind people write about, when everything is just so. When the planets and the starts align. When both kids can find their shoes and get to school on time. When you hair curls the right way.

It's A Small World was our first ride. A memory I hope both my girls will cherish when they take their children back one day. We rode Dumbo, Pirates, The Jungle Cruise, and a few others. We got Dole Whips and Churros. Since we were with our in laws, John and I got to sneak away and ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad alone. We giggled and people watched in line, we screamed annoyingly on the ride, John yelled inappropriate things as we went around corners. It was bliss.

We tried to pack in so much that first day. We shopped a little, had hot dogs for lunch on Main Street, took pictures with Goofy and Ariel. We laughed so much, we held hands, we looked and wondered and planned on what to ride next. There were minimal tears, not much to argue about, and when we were tired it was a good, satisfied, I gave it everything I had, tired.

We closed the day in Downtown Disney, in a busy store looking at too many things and not making any decisions. We did buy some pins to keep, not to trade, and started our new obsession of all the pins. When I looked in the stroller, Mackenzie was fast asleep. A wonderful day had by all.

They say Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. I truly believe that, but I've also discovered that Disneyland is the happiest place for us. It was the perfect place to take a vacation from our life of chaos. To slow down just a bit and talk about important things, like Dole Whips and the pin traders, as we waited in long lines for rides. Somehow the Hubbs and I didn't fight. I found myself not losing my temper over minor tantrums as I would usually. But how can you, with the music piping all around you, fourteen dollar Mickey balloons at every turn, and the sheer joy that shines on your children's faces? It's no surprise that I didn't want to leave.

Today marks two weeks since we have been home, and we still pine for Disneyland. Mackenzie has asked to go back to Disneyland almost every night since we've been home. Caitlin is already looking forward to all the other rides she wants to go on when we return. As for me, I'm secretly plotting to convince "Santa" to bring annual passes for our stockings this year. Because this is the vacation we needed, this is the one that we will always remember. This is the one that showed The Hubbs and I that all that hard really does pay off, even if it will take years to forget the price tag. Honestly, I would have gladly paid double, for what priceless memories we got back in return. Disney may have celebrated their 60th Anniversary, but we celebrated our first successful Family Vacation.

If you follow me on Instagram, then you know I took a million pictures.
Knowing me they would forever stay on my phone, except for the first time I tried Chatbooks.
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Otherwise if you want to see all of our Disney Vacation Pictures, search #absolute_vacay15 on Instagram.

Hello June {2015}

Hello June. I feel like you got here too quickly. As if we just rang in the new year and here you are, ready to party. Every year we are so happy to see you June. We need those lazier days. Where we lounge by the pool or watch movies in the living room with the lights off to stay cool. I'm happy to see you June, it means late nights and sleeping in and dates for mini fraps with my girls.

Mini Frap Madness.

Hello Laundry. We just can't break this cycle can we? I ignore you for as long as possible and while you may be clean, you sure aren't going to fold yourself. Why? Can't you just do me one solid? Fine. Maybe we will have a date night. Maybe next week. It's not you laundry, it's me. That's a lie. It's totally you.

Hello Disney hangover. I'm still pining over you, and all your excitement. Seeing you through the eyes of my children made me fall in love with you all over again. I needed more time. I needed to ride Dumbo one more time, and suffer through It's a Small World another day. I now spend my days thinking of ways to get back to Anaheim. I didn't know that I would feel this way, but you truly are a magical place. And having this kind of Hangover isn't so bad.

It says "No Climbing", but nothing about Selfies.

Hello mama milestone. I did it. I actually took my girls on a road trip to Costa Mesa. With the help of my iPhone we didn't get lost, but we did have to pull over a lot, and stop to pee, and even argue over the iPad, still, WE DID IT. In my early years of motherhood I would have never attempted such a feat. This year, if I wanted to go to Elevate Conference, I really didn't have a choice, but still I was nervous. I still white knuckled the wheel. I still told Jesus to take the wheel more than once. As I've learned over the years of being a mother, there is something sacred and gratifying about overcoming an obstacle on your own. Even if it's as simple of driving your five and eight year old to Southern California without your husband. After years of horrible road trips to the coast with crying children in the backseat, this was a huge win. This was me, proving to myself once again, that I can do the things that scare me.

Stopped for fries and Dr. Pepper. Of course!

Hello Elevate Swag. I'm starting to work on my Elevate recap, but I have to say, Elevate is like Oprah's Favorite Things. Except that you don't know you want these things and that they will be come your favorite. You have no idea that some of them exist. And then boom. Here you go, enjoy. I haven't even gone through all of it yet, but here is a taste. Every year the women of Elevate knock me out with their generosity, their hearts, and their message of inspiration. That alone is enough, but then, you get some serious swag. Holla.

Modify Ink, Agnes & Dora, BabyLitBooks, Woven Pear

Hello Inspiration. You can't meet with your bloggy friends and not walk away inspired to do more, write more, achieve more. I have been inspired to do great things, and not just in my blog life, but in my real life too. I feel like a weight has been lifted, as if I've gotten new glasses and can see my goals and dreams a little clearer.

Emmymom, Pink on the Cheek, The Foley Fam, Shaping Up

Hello new work life. It's been a fantastic vacation, but it's back to the grind for me. Except this time it's in a whole new world, and that is exciting. I'm so excited to learn a new business, and I'm excited to see how I can use more of my creative side in this industry. Sometimes all we need is a bump, a push, a little opportunity to bring more of ourselves into our work life. I'm really looking forward to doing that.

New hair.

Hello Me. How are you? Yeah, I'm super tired. But how amazing was May? How many new experiences did you/me have? How many times were you/we inspired? Do you feel like this is just the beginning? I do. I have no doubts that you are going to feel renewed. Let's do this. Let's do great things. Let's create and write and be present. Let's choose happiness. Let's choose this life, and stop waiting for another. Sound good? Yeah. Me too.