Sunday, December 27, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Almost Christmas

“I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas, as if whatever it was the pine boughs and the candles and the silver and gilt-ribboned presents and the birch-log fires and the Christmas turkey and the carols at the piano promised never came to pass.” 
― Sylvia PlathThe Bell Jar

It's the third week in December that always gets us.

Wherein the span of seven days we do our best not to fall to fall apart. Rising early, riddled with stress over shop issues and orders being closed out in time for the big day. Festive school parties and pageants,  playdates, and presents, countdowns, and birthday celebrations to prep, wrap, and plan for. Where every minute of every hour feels like it's got it's own working arms against us.

Seven days, wherein the school's annual "breakfast with santa" kicks off the start of a stacked Saturday. Offering up three dollar pancakes in a mess hall crammed with familiar faces clad in flannel pajamas lined to take their turn on his lap. An event that comes an hour after a quick phone call with my best friend where I admit my disappointment in knowing that the possibility of one of those "classic" santa induced screaming shots, is slim to none because this baby loves him so. A conversation that makes me smile when seeing him in mad hysterics once he finally has his turn, so intense he's ripping the wire rimmed glasses off of the nose of a notably annoyed Mrs. Clause while I stand helpless, pleading for him to stop behind a shaky hand held camcorder while his brothers stand beside him with well trained frozen smiles.

A long walk home, a car drive across town to a puppy party for Claire where the squeals of twelve overly thrilled seven year olds in a ring of tiny dogs slice our ears from down the street. Dogs, cuddles, presents, candles, sword fights in the front yard and then off to dinner at their grandmother's. More food, more cake, different squeals from a new set of cousins to replace the one's we left behind. Then a cold Sunday morning that has us pulling the last of our holiday boxes from the attic, preparing for the school week ahead, buried in holiday "to -do's." The highlight being: Kindergarten's Christmas pageant in the auditorium where we watch adoringly for the third time as our boy sings his heart out alongside his classmates to the songs he's practiced and stumbled over for weeks. Little hands concentrating on dashing sled motions, wearing red dotted noses and oversized reindeer ears that keep slipping as they sing. A baby vomiting to the right of me goes unnoticed. A little girl in the front row cries in response to the thunderous clapping that erupts in front of her from a room full of strangers made up of adoring parents. Everyone is crying.

We make it through mid week, swallowed by the lists of contributions that keeps growing. Calling for wrapped books, canned food, party supplies, teacher's presents and birthday decor (of which only comes together around 4am when I wake to replace the green garland with a bright banner after I finish up the last of 32 little felt snowman finger puppets I started too late the night before, and promised him in the first place, by mistake) But come to feel prided on when I see how happy they make him when I hand them over in a basket for all of his friends to choose from.

I cross things off my lists but it doesn't make much difference.

Early morning I blow up balloons in the five minutes I can spare before they are downstairs over a plate of white powered doughnuts, seeking gifts. We all sing happy birthday. And just like that, a decade of motherhood is marked in the dim light of a rushed December morning.

Five hours later, his after school celebration in the afternoon at a local trampoline park with ten fourth graders that brings a knee injury that will ruin his time there. Tears, pizza, candles, kids, exhaustion. All before the stomach bug claims two boys within two days. One, in the backseat while driving down Candy Cane Lane with Burl Ives on the radio wearing bells on his wrist that jingle against that little green bucket I find in the backseat that feels God sent being how it' the only thing in the whole car there to catch his vomit when it comes without fair warning.

Fevers, chills, throw up, tears, Christmas carols, old cartoons, laundry piled in all corners, presents still unwrapped.

Thursday brings the last of the school parties. I make the rounds early with a baby buttoned in a red striped wool sweater buckled in his stroller and drop off wrapped goods that bear a decent resemblance to the pretty presents I pinned on Pinterest a year ago. Teachers praise the green wreaths twined with Olive branches from the backyard on their gifts. I tell them all the greenery comes from the foliage around our yard and they seem strangely impressed. The compliments are kind enough to make me feel good about my handiwork, (momentarily) letting go of the fact that my whole house has fallen apart in the wake of these late night wrapping endeavors.

Saturday finally arrives and I rush to clean up and build a party playlist as Mike strings lights from the roof rafters and all of the random boxes get stuffed out of sight to make way for a full night of dancing and laughing in sequined dresses and dark wool coats that arrive bearing bottles of booze and home made gifts quaintly packed next to flowers on the table. We kiss and dance, and let it all go because it's the one night a year we are all together without children, allowed to soak up the music of the season and get drunk and be merry with people we know we aren't likely to see again through the new year. The party goes till close to three in the morning, until my body aches with a weariness that feels rooted deep down in the hallow of my bones. The way it never did just a decade before, dancing with the same people, in the same outfits, under this same roof.

We collapse and wake late Sunday to more rain and a hungry baby in red striped pajamas wanting breakfast. The house is destroyed. An array of beer cans scattered atop our kitchen island. Trashcans overflowing and muddy footprints from the rain still apparent all across our wooden floors. The clean up is slow and steady. An old joy attached to clearing away evidence of our last big event. Proof we made it through another Christmas party, another year, another third week in December with a couple days left to rest up and reflect on the new year approaching.

Christmas, almost over.
But for now relishing a new contentment settling around this house. All six of us resting happily, watching the rain, waiting patiently on it's arrival.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Gifts for Ladies

A few things I'm currently crushing on this season. 

Santal 33 from Le Labo fragrances  I was gifted this last month and am now hooked for good. Two of my friends share the same love for it. A little spray goes a long way. 

This little Brass Keyring is one of the best gifts I've received because I swear, for some reason, it's managed to thwart my tendency to misplace my keys (daily) Maybe because this particular shape is so well suited to a key hook I never paid much mind to before?

 Crocheted coasters to add a nice bit of texture to wood table tops. 

 These Steven Allen blankets I swear by. Thin, lightweight and easy to fold up and keep stocked in your car for those spontaneous picnics or beach days. And they come in all kinds of great tones and colors. I absolutely love the one my best friend gave to me. 

 An antique Indigo cotton kimono that I imagine looks just as pretty hanging on the wall as it would  around my shoulders. The whole shop is beautiful.

 The ultimate sweater companion to my "Dude" inspired White Russian Winter nights, no?

 THIS stunning bedspread. 

 The bold colored San Jose bathrobe. I've been eyeing it for so long now. And then finally tried one on at a friends house and fell hard for it. As much time as I spend in a robe, the $180 price tag seems almost justifiable. . .?

Photos, or any nature in any setting are a great gift for grandparents and family in general.  Artifact Uprising's calendar version seems a great gift to kick off a new year.

 The Quilt of Gee's Bend - a book every woman should have on her table. I go through it every so often and find new ways on inspiration with every sitting. The names of the women in the book, the stories behind their styles, the patterns, craftsmanship and love in these pages are so incredibly touching. Buy it for a friend. Or two. 

The pretty sleek saucepan no one will buy me and I won't likely ever buy myself. But still worthy of this wish list. 

Striped socks from Tap Root. I could use a pair now. But everything in their shop is darling (In the best sense of the word) 

 Glerup wool felt slippers. I live in mine through winter and count them as the best gift you could possibly give your poor mother's cold feet. Just don't let her walk on pavement in the rain in them. No grip. A lesson I was reminded of one too many times last year. 

 Chincharmaloney's 14 karat birthstone ring. Though every piece in this jewelry shop I adore. 

And as far as a little pampering is concerned:

Puralee's black soap is 12$ and fantastic!
Red Moon Apothecary's lavender citrus facial cleanser is the highlight of my morning routine
And these little wooden combs  I'll be handing out to a few myself.   

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"If I got a phone I would not be on it all the time you can set boundaries for me. Lately my grades have been really good. I've been getting As and Bs. I caught up on my reading to. The main reson I want a phone is so I can call people like grandma my friends and you and dad. It I had a phone I could watch my brothers. you could drop me off places. I would pay for my own service and if I got a phone I would call you when were waiting for you to pick up up. I could be found if I was missing by tracking it down. If I had a phone I would prove I can be responsible. Please. I will keep my chores going like feeding jack, taking out trash, and doing dishes."

- Arlo's essay on why he should be allowed a phone. 12 / 08 / 15

Monday, December 14, 2015

Revised Advent Calendar

This year's revised and most practical (and affordable) version cut out half the month and replacements gifts with notes of small, festive promises.

A dozen little brown bags strung from twine in the dining room to mark the 12 days leading up to Christmas filled with some sweets, gum balls, wood tree decorations, spinning tops, and a few loving "coupons" for things that are already typically part of our traditions. A movie night, a slumber party, frozen yogurt date and a walk down candy cane lane to see the houses lit up at night with hot chocolate in hand.

We've yet to find Burke, our Elf on the Shelf this time around and as much as he's become a cult staple in families around the world during the season, I have to admit I'm kind of enjoying this round without him and the pressures he adds to our days. One less thing I have to worry about. And the kids so far they aren't complaining. Seems this stripped down brown bagged countdown serves as a fair substitute for the anticipation each new bag brings.

One of the notes in one of the bags - the last pick - will direct them to a hunt around the house where they'll find three of these under their bed. Which, for me, is all about my own childhood memories. Hope they love it just the same.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

18 Months

Came too fast.

When just yesterday you were so tiny and new. Against my skin till the last slip of the afternoons those first few lazy weeks in May, while your dad was home to keep the world downstairs running it's routines without need or attention to us.

And here now, a year and a half later still curled up to me every morning before the rest of the house wrestles awake to catch time with another day. My small, sleepy boy warm and content by my side for the better half of that first dark hour, that we both know still belongs to you. Bones stretched, skin soft, thin blonde tufts against my cheek. Then fiercely a toddler by breakfast. Hot temper and destructive hands spilling dog food, smashing bananas. Screeching out in place of words you cannot find yet. Fighting for your toys, fighting for your brother's toys, a battle for autonomy amidst the reckless ways of a loud and restless household you arrived most determined to fit in with.

One finger tells me your age. A dog barks, a cat cries. A bird is a bird. A moon is a moon.
And the faces in the photos on my dresser make you smile.

18 months come and gone just as fast as they arrived sweet. With those familiar blue eyes already steadying themselves on what's up ahead, just a' ways outside of this step in time. That shall too come to pass too quickly for mothers to find fair.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Felt Board for Claire

One of my favorite memories from Mrs. Farr's kindergarten class was the big felt board she kept propped on the ground for us to play with. Arranging bold letters and numbers during free play. Something I'm hoping to try and recreate this year as a Christmas present for Rex, so my niece's birthday this weekend proved a good excuse to practice using various colors shapes and ideas to get a good feel for what works best. For her kit I stuck to three basic categories: Homes & landscape, Little women with mix & match babes and dresses, and larger ladies to dress and arrange faces, shoes and accessories on. I didn't have time to photograph much of the finished product but can say that it's a really fun craft with very little hassle involved. Meaning no sewing, no measuring, and only a sharp pair of scissors as far as tools go.

Now I'm itching to get started on the one for our own house this week. I'm thinking space, monsters, cities and maybe some letters too, because, well, we're still working on learning a few.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Gifts For Boys

When it comes to toys we rarely purchase many new ones through the year. Aside from an occasional hot wheel or random trinket at Target on lucky days, my boys usually wait for things they want to arrive with birthdays and holidays. And because they do get so much from our extended family on Christmas, I tend to stock up on slightly more unique gifts to balance out the regular big name brand loot they always come home with. Sometimes it's hit or miss, but the items I've included in this list are a combination of things they need, things they want, a few items I'm hoping they enjoy and some stuff I have in mind for other special little boys in our life.

These Pretty Wooden Swords are a more polished version of the ones Mike makes for them sometimes out of scrap teepee wood, which they LOVE.

Technology Will Save US is a fun eco friendly brand that appeals to modern "gamers, musicians, hackers, coders and makers" offering up really cool gadgety items that come boxed and ready for kids to explore.

This Owl Kite is not nearly as amazing as the vintage hand painted hawk we found (and broke) this year from a thrift store, but it's the best replacement one I could find seeing how much they all enjoyed flying a big bird in the sky.

This Star Light Projector is mind blowing. My friend showed us hers one night and we all sat in starry eyed wonder over the beautiful and realistic glowing masses covering her celling. Of all the the projectors lights I've seen, this one is by far the most incredible.

Magna Tiles still the best toy I've ever purchased. Two years after our first set made it to the playroom, they remain the most regularly played with toy in our house. This year I'm adding a black and see through set to their collection seeing how much time they spend in their daily constructions.

Levis Sherpa Denim Jacket - because there is nothing cuter than a boy in Levis.

Grimm Puzzles are also a sure bet when it comes to lasting entertainment. They aren't cheap but as much imaginative play as they provide, the splurge feels worth it. (Also ava. on Amazon)

Wooden Tops for the advent calendar because it's become tradition. (On Amazon)

Book about the 50 States for Arlo, who loves that kind of stuff.

An adorable Elephant House 

Beru Kids Harram Pants - we own a couple pair and they are seriously super soft and a favorite lounge pant in our house. With a company back story that adds special perk to the purchase.

This Grateful Dead Tee is one of Leon's most beloved. Can't blame him, right?

Vintage style Cap Guns I realize are not a popular pick with modern parents, but I have to say, of all the things my boys have received over the years, these cheap little western guns have been one of their favorite gifts. And it's something special they know they have to keep at home and play amongst themselves to avoid any outside controversy.

With denim jackets come the start of a patch collection. Namely: the Alien abduction. Which will serve as another cute addition to the advent calendar goods I'm putting together tonight.

My boys also love anything magnetic, so these Tetris Tiles should prove good fun.

Felt Slippers as gifts, because I worry my boys won't likely appreciate them enough.

A couple other Items I Lean On (not pictured)

Cheap and cozy Haynes Thermal Pjs
Retro Twister Reissue
Mad Libs

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Start of December

Came abruptly as always. As I can never quite seem to brace myself in time for what the season throws at me soon as the calendar flips it's page. I woke last weekend finally healed of that awful head cold, only to find a new pressure in dressing up the house for the Holiday. Pressure prompted by logging on to Instagram and finding within a day, households across the world decked in fresh garland, wreaths on door frames, families in snow specked tree farms trying up all the loose ends of a holiday that, as far as I knew, had just begun. It was the 1st of December. Relief replaced pressure and I returned to slowly working through the weekend, putting up a few things when I could. 

Though Leon sat all of Saturday morning diligently perched atop the bar stringing cranberries and popcorn for tree garland (seeing that I've yet to find our box of tree ornaments so making a fun craft out of the mishap helped ease the possibilities of meltdowns) and I collected some greenery after the grocery store run, packed in my trunk from the roadside brush down the street from our house that I know I will have to replace probably a couple times this month but decided that it's so pretty it's worth it.

Sunday evening we went for a tree and came home with the biggest once we've had yet, though I'm still not sure how I feel about it. Seems sort of strange and slightly awkward there nearly brushing our celling. And I suppose I can't help harbor lingering regrets over not buying the smaller, slimmer, sparsely sprouted one I had fallen in love at first glance with but failed to convince everyone else of it's odd glory. "Usually, mom just picks the tree and everybody has to deal." The guy with the hand saw at the tree farm said to us, having stumbled upon our apparent indecision. Next year, I'm sticking with that.

This week I'm now focused on clearing out shop holiday orders, planning a birthday party for a special 10 year old, sprucing up a guest bed room, sewing a little birthday present for my niece and constructing a revised version of an avant calendar that seems far more practical for four kids. All things I'll be sharing bits and pieces of here with you in good time.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Gifts for Baby

We usually limit what we buy the youngest to take full advantage of the short stage when they're more interested in everything that isn't a toy, and still a couple years from being stuck on gift equality, like everyone else in the household who will surely be counting presents as they slowly make their way under the tree.

As of now, I have a handful of quality items to keep in mind for Hayes this season. A couple he needs, and a couple I think he might enjoy. Here are a few favorite shops / items on my online radar these days.

An amazing modern plywood rocker seat built to withstand older / heavier kids too. A pretty piece  I know my boys would play with for years.

My all time favorite baby slippers

Cute wooden cars

A small broom all to himself because he's always stealing mine

Rainbow stacker (small version) because the large gets so much attention we need two

Home, makes for the cutest gifted book for little friends

"Eric Napton" "John Linen" "Nod Stewart" - this rock star bedding by from Dazed & Amazed is one we have in our home and such a fun ode to so many of Rock's greatest guys. Plus it makes the phrase "sleeping with rock stars" sound cute.

The perfect (reasonably priced) hand knit hoodie

Wood Bowling pins in great primary colors 

Other items still up for consideration:

Jelly cat stuffies
Wood dump truck 
Battat Bells
Westco Bongos

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Things I am Guilty of

This Month so far.

1. Feeling the new Adele song, strongly. Embarrassingly so. Most especially while sick in bed watching the house around me fall into complete anarchy, mirroring the ways of a jr fraternity pad with kids drunk off power aid, orange lip stains, crazy eyes, baby shirtless and banging like a tiny manic on drums with bags of ships strewn around the loft and lego's sprinkled everywhere I looked and stairs lined with blankets to allow plastic snow sleds I didn't know we owned launch them from the top of stairwell down to landing that I had to face while stumbling around to find the medicine that could not possibly drug me enough to escape the sad fact of it all. Meanwhile, doing my best to not get stuck begrudging their father in the driveway making teepees with ear phones pouring sweet country songs into his ears as we all come edging towards a loud fiery end 12 feet away from the assembly line he's focused on. Because when he's not "keeping on on them" I'm just as bothered.

2. Burning the boxed brownies, and throwing away the pan that they ruined just before the house keeper walked in because I fear her judging me, and my every move, and my strange craft riddled basket, and my every filthy mistake, every time she come to clean.

3. Falling in love with two properties in two months, declaring them both my "ultimate dream homes" even though we've yet to make it through Christmas. To find ample time dedicated to cleaning up this house in time for it's own sale.

4. Eating black olives like candy when I'm stressed.

5. Neglecting regular center tasks while working my teacher aid gig, gossiping with kindergartners. Asking about Rex's behavior in class, what his manners are like, and casually other things like "so, what does your mom do?" or "do you like the smell of this perfume?" instead of teaching simple math facts.

6. Wearing my prettiest dresses to impress my favorite five year old girls when I do help in class. To balance out the apathetic attention to style that comes with living in a house full of five men who could care less.

7. Having Rex repeat, and sleep with, and repeat, and trace, and hold, and repeat his flashcards - with specific attention to the "J," which he consistently deems "H" every time I quiz him. Still. Making me want to scream and cry at the same time.

8. Buying a fairly pricey coat on a whim late one Tuesday night. Then spending a good five minutes the following morning complaining, debating, anguishing over the sick fact of 6 dollar organic eggs.

9. Waiting in a long line on a Monday morning at Starbucks only to reach the window and discover my ATM card missing. Then returning, with card in hand, only to have it declined due to an expiration issue. #hideme

10. Finally relinquishing the pressure on myself, to ever find any matching pairs of boy socks, ever, again. And feeling utterly, stupidly liberated by the surrender.

11. Feeling like a pioneer woman because I've grown accustomed to manhandling a whole chicken without feeling queasy.

12. Voting Rex "best dressed member of the household" publicly. In front of all members of the household to try and inspire healthy competition and ease them away from a newfound love of basketball shorts.

13. Trying to find suitable chat groups where I can dispense my love (and sharp theories unfolding) about the Leftovers because it's the best show on Television that no one I know in real life is watching.

14. Thinking Leon's elf dance moves are possibly the best thing I've known in life.

15. Killing it with the low ways of reverse pyshcology on Arlo - telling him that we can't "really afford" piano lessons for him just yet, because when we "could," he wasn't the least bit interested. And now that it's "not really an option" - he's dying to get in. #Learnyourkids.

16. Feeling genuinely sad about the the fact of Hayes refusing to share his cookies with me, in spite of desperate begging and fake cries, and then seeing him feed the dog half when I turn my head. Twice now, if we're being honest. Like he doesn't even remember who birthed him a little over a year  ago  . . .

17. Accidentally promising Leon AND Rex that I would make Christmas puppets for both their classes, while answering emails and not coherent enough to realize what I was agreeing to or just how daunting 70 sewn finger puppets, the week before Christmas, on top of EVERYTHING else will prove.

18. Googling charter schools to see where you can put kids who don't care about learning letters and only want to play music, to know they still have a "decent shot" at life.

19. Talking myself out of a sudden urge to want to hang photos of John Kennedy and Carolyn Bessett in my room like my 15 year old self would have been quick to do upon finding an old Vanity Fair magazine in my closet yesterday.

20. Telling my kids they don't know what good music is after seeing how downright unimpressed they looked by my fierce rapping skillz when the Fugees came on the radio. #reppinclassof98

*oh, and don't forget being interviewed for a recent podcast about women's birthing stories in which I seemed to repeat the phrase, "wanting to go out to dinner and drink champagne" following each birth. 

Little Folk Alphabet

"Watch the kids. Do like they do. Act like they act. Yell like they yell. Dance the ways you see them dance. Sing like they sing. Work and rest the way the kids do. 
You'll be healthier. " - Woody Guthrie 

The first of a series of new print work to be added in shop after the holidays, is our Little Folk Alphabet poster inspired by the letter font used on old Woody Guthrie and Ramblin Jack Elliot's album artwork. Hand drawn and printed in Nashville. With free shipping though the month of December offered here.

Little Folk Flashcards & Postcards a'comin soon.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

About Paid Posts

Another college flashback:
in which I reflect on long afternoons at the pub across the street from campus spent trying to pull tougher a working newspaper with fellow classmates to create a space to house all of our otherwise underappreciated fiction (and poems, and essays, and abstracts, and what not) in hopes of showcasing writings we feared would otherwise never see the light of day in the publishing world. The end result wasn't pretty. We were too divided in our interests. And maybe a bit lazy when it came to actually making things happen. Especially when one of us was consistently hung over, another dead set on ripping off Tarantino, in combo with N's acid flash backs being the basis for all her submitted story lines. Ultimately, we came to see that if the feat at hand didn't involve happy hour priced pitchers of bud light and Dylan karaoke in between breaks, we were more or less useless as a whole.  Eventually we gave up and my dreams of publishing stories - mine, and my friends alike, unto a wider collective community, simply fell by the wayside.

What I didn't see coming was the blogging phenomenon that sprang shortly thereafter, in the mid 2000's that served as a viable alternative to the wayside writers. Particularly the surge of mommy sites making big money with blogs that detailed some of the most mundane aspects of child rearing. Kiddie crafts and crock pot recipes. With a spotlight on family life that seemed to garner major appeal and in turn, gain loyal readership that would come to peak the interest of big Whig sponsors who took note of the money to be made on the backs of regular folks adoring, well, other regular folks. So goes the way of the endless array of "for profit" mommy blogs that abound now.

Outside of any kind of marketing allure (anyone who starts a blog to make money on, I am slightly weary of) I saw in blogging a sweet way to rehash a love of writing I had set aside after Arlo was born. A new forum to reconstruct an old penchant for scrap booking, and other means of sentimental musings I had stirring in my increasingly scattered mind. The ups, the downs, the lulls and highlights of birthing and raising a string of boys in a modern era that seemed to be leaning more and more on the wings of modern media. In the five or six years that I've been doing it however, there have been numreous stretches of time where I've considered letting it go because it either starts to feel dull, insignificant, or worse: edging on self indulgent (anyone who keeps a blog, who thinks their life on any scale, is worthy of weekly updates, has an indefinite sense of ego, no?) But continue to somehow  uncovering fresh ways of inspiration that kept pulling me back in. Now days I would say that I seek to write more openly. Freer in how I expose myself and maybe my family too. The only way it's maintained a pleasurable outlet for me up to this point. To not be second guessing myself for fear of how those on the outside might view or misread me. Which is not to say that I don't genuinely care for the audience I built here. I do. But I think they (you) already know that.

Here's where social integrity comes into play:
I've seen countless nasty comments on the feeds of ladies I follow recently, chiding them for their inclusion of paid posts. Namely, my friend Denise, whom is currently supporting herself and her two girls solely with the income that comes by taking on sponsors via Instagram. Surely I get that people aren't prone to be in love the idea of one of their favorite feeds suddenly slinging shampoo and phone contracts, but I can't say I really blame her. Considering the fact that she is able to remain at home, working minimally, and on her own accord and still afford to cloth, house, and feed her children. I know if I were in the same boat I would have no qualms taking all and any sponsors or paid posts that came my way so long as it meant I didn't have to find a job waiting tables for eight hours away from my kids to come home with half of what she's getting for a single paid photo. Point being: if it irks you, the unfollow is an easy hit. But maybe don't publicly ridicule a woman for making a living choosing to shoot product, especially when it's become an aspect of the app that is now down right unavoidable nowadays. Sad as that may prove.

My complaints land more on popular influencers who seem to totally disregard their followers in the midst of their product pushing. I'm sure you've seen some of them, ignoring comments, deleting remarks, etc. Take for instance the IG shot of a well known blogger a few months back, who's main appeal is rooted in her savvy ability to inspire overt consumerism, who tried to pass herself off as a #minimalist (because apparently that was the tag of the moment) by donning a sweatshirt with that very type font splayed across the front of it. For me, a loyal follower back then, it was the last straw. It showed me she viewed her audience as dumb enough to swallow whatever she put forth. And reason enough for me to move on. And yet then there others who seem to nail that certain sweet spot in including #ads and make it easy to scroll on by when it doesn't interest me. Respect and consideration being the only defining difference I can make out.

In examining the start of Instagram that has, in many ways, come to replace the need for "real" blogs in general (so many of my friends don't read them anymore) you have to look at how it's evolved (or devolved depending on your stance) as a mainstream marketing tool used by major corporations. Initially Instagram seemed to birth a whole new dimension to aid in the voyeuristic tendencies inherent in us all. In the early days it was an app I logged onto and was easily delighted to be granted access to every day people sharing every day live happenings outside of the ones I was experiencing  (I had already worn myself pretty thin on Facebook seeing that I had befriended everyone I ever talked to in high school, in addition to my grandma AND my gynecologist, and had literally come to dread logging on to see a host of lives I didn't really care to keep up on) But boy was it just as quick to switch gears. Suddenly the whole point of the app switched from real time shots of stranger's breakfast plates and mid morning wanderings, to glossy edits boasting digitalized images strung together like perfected pieces of a gallery line up that more of less - thanks to the addition of VSCO editing - have now all come to look mostly the same. Seamless, "polished" feeds where "in the moment" candids in bare essential filters use to reside. To this day, I can't help but feel guilty any time I post anything other than a phone shot, if only due of a stubborn allegiance to the days of ole --- INSERT BLUSHING EMOJI FACE --- Which I actually still prefer. Once the DSLR images took precedence it started to feel a bit too tried for my tastes. And then came the sponsors and before you knew it, everyone everywhere was selling you something to the point that now that I would argue anyone without a private account has their own best interests in mind. Be it vying for sponsors, slinging a jacket, a shoe, a blog post, an event, a shop, whatever. Sometimes a mere image we wish to sell or convey to the online community we've acquired. Partly contrived to secure the best of our envisioned selves. The minimalist with the paired down wardrobe and the enviable home decor, the herbal wild medicine woman, the old school iron jewelry maker, the traveling florist, the modern day farmer, the bohemian girlfriend with a peacock chair and a nose ring. The ever grateful breastfeeding mother with ripe sunflowers atop gleaming kitchen counter tops, wearing the same shirt and sentiments as every other overwhelmingly "grateful" mama hanging there blissfully inspired on the sidelines. And so on and so forth. Everything we're seeing now has sort of morphed into a dizzying mix of stark white walls, token green potted plants, Kilim rugs and all kinds of other exhausting points of trending style and decor that rolled in to wash away the modern aesthetic of IG's yesteryear. Replaced by an army of Kinfolkian copy cats tossing out their Eames chairs faster than their chemex's could fill a cup. Still destined to suffer the same fate as the season of the black and white geometric fad, remember that? Or the pretty poised latte shot? Or the blogger + ukulele pairing who blossomed right alongside the chicken coop obsession. All of them fading away, one after the next to make room for the latest fad. All of which is slightly humorous when considering the lengths we go to keep up with people we'll never meet, and houses we'll never replicate. Chickens we'll never adore. Imagining all the ways our children will mock us one day. Because trust me, they will.

So, to pinpoint the turning factors:
One being Facebook bought Instagram. From there I think we all knew where it was headed, right? Mass marketing, aggressive advertising, and such. Another shift being the inclusion of the sponsored post. Advertising was quick to jump on board the bustling social media land mine where suddenly big companies who were formally forced to pay big budget campaigns could now source out downsized, rescaled points of focus divided into the feeds of a handful of reliable "influencers" armed with ample followers, equipped with valuable user engagement that all help sale a product - or message - to a direct and profitable audience without breaking the bank like the old days when they were having to shell out big bucks to reach (respectively) about the same numbers they get using this stripped down method of real folk selling to real folk.

It took me awhile to understand it all. In fact I spent a good year ignoring all the generic emails that rolled in greeting me as a media "influencer," (a term I still find so strange...) offering money in exchange for sponsored posts. It was only when I mentioned it to Mike, in a casual "in the kitchen making dinner" kind of scenario that my whole perspective was turned upside down. I was complaining about the companies who wrote, requesting ridiculous hashtags they wanted me to use, explaining how sorely my integrity would be blighted by such endorsements. He listened and when I finished he asked how much money they were offering and when I told him he looked dumbfounded. He proceeded to remind me of how he wakes at 4am and drives in 3 hours of traffic to make it home after a long day doing all kinds of things he doesn't "like" only to return to a second job that requires him to finish up what's left of our shop orders before finding what little time he can to sit down and unwind for the night. And here I am atop this silly suburban soapbox, complaining about an unattractive hashtag and all of the money I am so pridefully turning down in the name of social integrity.

It was then that I started to warm up to the idea of marking on social media. Seeing how it seemed I was somehow putting thousands of stranger's ideals of me, ahead of the better being of my family. Turning down "easy" money when - like so many others families I know - extra income isn't something we have any room to scoff at. No matter which way it comes. The more I thought about it, the more I started to even embrace the challenge of handling the way product is presented. When I wrote this post last year, one of the major questions posed was whether or not there was in fact a better way to expel modern advertising in the hands of blogs and social media. What I came to conclude was yes, so long as it didn't compromise overall respect for the audience at hand.

Which means I stuck to partnering with brands I genuinely liked and used in real life. Things I could genially stand behind that were suited the middle class lifestyle I'm assuming I appeal to. With that decision I repeatedly turned down offers tossed at me that didn't sit right  - the food places we don't frequent and the designer kiddie brands I know my followers would never believe my boys might be wearing in real life settings, the waist trainers and the potato chip gigs, so that the nature of my inquires came to slowly reflect my tastes. For instance, vacation companies interested in trading lodging for reviews that I really enjoy writing, or inquiries to help spread word of newly launched apps that I as a parent found truly beneficial, the Harry Potter book release (which, truth be told I would have shared for free had a copy made it to my doorstep in time) and countless other campaigns linked to small clothing brands I adore, or bigger companies who allow me free reign in what and how I choose to present their product. None of which I feel the least bit guilty for endorsing on my feed. Because they come from a place of personal authenticity. And I would be lying if I denied there wasn't something semi empowering about taking the reigns of the advertising world and molding it into the kind of ad I myself as a consumer, might appreciate. Where I can only hope that the care I take in what I choose does transpire. But if not, I'm OK with that too. I know anytime I share a sponsored post I run the risk of losing long time followers and even irking friends who might be bothered by it, but it's a choice I stand behind and an opportunity I feel fortunate to have in this strange new market where the voice and vision of an everyday woman (a housewife with an unused degree) can make decent money doing something so simple as sharing a "lifestyle" photograph with a hash tagged attached.

I also realize this isn't going to last forever. And agree that it's certainly shifted the way this beloved app now looks and feels, but as they say, all good things must eventually come to an end. Indefinitely when once they're adopted by Facebook.

For now, I take it as it comes and am grateful it's affording me the occasional plane ticket to NY to visit my best friend when I miss her too much, and a house cleaner twice a month who's promise of clean bathrooms every other week is something I would gladly sell my soul for at this point in life, living with five boys. Outside of that, I keep my heart's work here in the same non profit blog space I've had from the start, a site that's helped see me through so much of my life these past few years. And here, where I get to sift and sort through so many amazing stories written by all kinds of amazing women that I take real pride in keeping up. It's not the literature magazine I dreamt of those beer soaked days at the corner bar a decade ago, but slower, smaller, and so much more fulfilling. And I have everyone of you here to thank for that.

As always, many thanks for reading. In a follow up post at the end of the week - to leave the conversation on a high note - I'll be sharing some of my personal feed favorites.
And hope you might feel inclined to as well.