Mother’s Day is coming up soon and I thought it would be a perfect time to share a co-post here from me and my niece, Cat. How is it that Father’s Day is different in America and Australia, but Mother’s Day is the same. As the expat in this family, I think I should get to celebrate that twice, not Alec!  

Things have been a bit crazy busy around here and I am so lucky to have Cat as part of my team now to help when things are nuts because we all know that Mommin’ Ain’t Easy. -Rachel

mom squad : sesame ellis

Take it away, Cat!

–/–

I’m pretty sure Taylor Swift is responsible for all the good in the world lately. Music lyrics that touch your soul no matter what your age. Bangs. Selena Gomez. Helping people finally figure out Kanye is a douche. But one thing I think she needs a huge high five for is her term SQUAD. So Squad is the term the cool kids are using these days for a group of supportive friends. I also love that pretty much everyone she comes in contact with is now in her squad. Victoria model she met backstage? BAM you are now a member! Fan that she reached out to through a letter or meeting? BAM here’s your squad t-shirt! I bet her barista is like her favorite squad member! I know my baristas are!

Taylor, I’m stealing the term and making it my own. Everyone I’m introducing the Mom Squad.

mom squad by catherine brink-flahaut for sesameellis.com

I’m talking about building up a community of people that you see daily, weekly, whatever that you have a real connection with. I have those people and I cannot tell you how important these relationships are to my daily sanity. That and coffee. And hard cider.

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  • Liz - I’m a single parent so my squad is very important!! I was in babies r us the other day watching a pregnant women stare at all the options for baths! I remember that overwhelming feeling! I am not a shy person and walked right up to her and asked if she would like any suggestions! I could see her shoulders relax as she smiled!! After talking baths she also asked about shampoos and bottles!! I was happy I could help! I just know I would have loved the help, it’s all just so much!!
    When they say it takes a village they weren’t lying!!ReplyCancel

When I was just eleven years old, my sister had twins. As the baby of my family and a good younger sister, I made a mental note to not be outdone and twenty six years later had own set of twins. I even inadvertently (maybe) gave them the very same initials as my sister’s set! Anyway, my twin nieces are all grown up now with their own families and I am so excited because this is the day that one of those nieces, Catherine, joins Sesame Ellis. I mentioned in a post upon my return from America that I would adding a few more contributors to the Sesame Ellis family and I am starting with Catherine because she has so much to offer. Great photography, funny stories and a spirit made of gold… She is the mother of five children with three in heaven and two on earth. She finds beauty in spots so dark that others would struggle to find enough light to see anything. She loves coffee and tattoos and is my American Target shopping proxy. She will be bringing all things baby, USA and shopping plus much more. She is a great photographer and I am just really excited for you guys to get to know her. So to get started with just that, here is her first post detailing her recent No Kids vacation with her husband.

—/—

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

People would say, “I bet you’re going to miss the kids!” “Oh yes, soooooo mucccchhhhhh!” was my reply as I calculated the ratio of days to the number of sunscreen we needed to pack. “How are you going to be away from you kids for that long?” “I have no idea. It’s going to be soooooo haaaaaaaaard!” was my response as I contemplated black bikini or purple one-piece? Bump-it! Pack them both!!!

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

Sure. My husband and I would miss the kids. I’m a mom and he’s a dad. I miss my daughter when she’s at school. I miss my son when he’s taking a nap. However, we knew they were in good hands and it was 8 days, they would be home, happy, and safe when we got back-how happy and safe would our marriage be if we didn’t carve this time out? We were going on vacation, not moving zip codes and not telling our kids where we were moving. I really didn’t feel that guilty about it; and, here is why.

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

We have been married 2 years. In 2 years we have gotten married, found out we were pregnant, been pregnant, been put on pelvic rest (which is the doctors nice way of saying stay 16 feet from your wife at all times husband), given birth prematurely, buried a beautiful baby girl, gotten pregnant again, been on bed rest again, gone to countless doctors appointments, fought off labor for 32 weeks until our healthy (yet preemie) son was born, spent weeks going back and forth to the hospital to visit him while making sure the 7 year old was happy (an impossible task all on its own), brought home a preemie newborn son (who is healthy thank God), had a failed surgical procedure, had a hysterectomy (me not him), had complications from that hysterectomy that almost cost me my life, spent 3 weeks in the hospital, had numerous doctors appointments (did I forget to mention we were still on pelvic rest this entire time and had pretty much been on pelvic rest our ENTIRE marriage-like-literally).

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

You know that paper you sign before a surgery that says, “oh, there’s a 1% chance this may happen-never does-just sign it anyway and we will get you the great drugs in a minute” wavier. Whelp-it did and it cost me a good 6 months of my life healing. No fault of anyone it just happens when cutting and surgery are involved but let me tell you-it was a real bitch. I’ve never been that sick or that scared in my life, and I hope to never again. During this time though as you can imagine I had pretty much been a patient for most of our marriage. What was our marriage during those months? With all of that stress plus raising a newborn-oh and did I mention the crippling post partum depression that I went/am going through it was realllllllllly fun around these parts. We had no real alone time, no intimacy, a lot of fear, a lot of confusion, and a lot of loss. We needed something big and not just dinner and a movie.

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

We had just taken the kids to Disney World so its not like we skipped out on a family vacation, but to be honest, if we had, I would not of felt guilty about it. Mom and Dad needed this for the kid’s security as well. There was tension and the kids could feel it. We needed to learn how to be Husband and Wife again and if that means forgoing a family trip for a couples trip once in a blue moon I say do it-its important. Trust me-YOU WONT REGRET IT!

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

We decided to do an all-inclusive resort because it was easy peasy!! We chose the Hard Rock Rivera Maya in Mexico and I cannot say enough great things about this hotel. It was incredible! The Hard Rock Rivera Maya in particular had an amazing staff, so many restaurants to choose from, and people NO paying $15 for the bottle of water in your room. You just drink it FOR FREE!!! Ok free being a relative term because you already paid, but it sure as hell feels free when you are guzzling liquor from your fully stocked refreshments cabinet and not thinking twice about it! I personally had never done an all-inclusive resort before so this fact blew. my. mind.

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

Yes, I will have another drink….and another….and….well you get the picture…

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

The resort also had an adults only side and a family side. One side was Heaven the other side was Hacienda. Ill let you guess which side is adults only… (it was Heaven…). I have to admit I did not realize how relaxed I had actually gotten until one night we decided to go to Hacienda to eat dinner at one of their restaurants. We literally crossed a bridge from Heaven to Hacienda and as we crossed the bridge there they were: pool noodles and tweens with selfie sticks. I almost had a panic attack! The vibe was so completely different from one resort side to the other I almost got into the fetal position and told Kevin to please take me back to Heaven before I hear the word Minecraft. I am thankful to say I survived and the food was great but that was the one and only time made our way over to Hacienda-we decided Heaven was where we belonged for our vacation.

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

Our adult vacation included a few outings to Playa del Carmen, swimming with wild sea turtles, sleeping in “late” (7am IS late when you have a baby that’s up at 5:30am), going to the beach with one bag and no inflatable anything, eating at places that didn’t serve chicken tenders, enjoying a massage given by something other than size two feet, and not a dirty diaper in site! Did we miss the kids? Hell yes! I would guess that about every 20-30 minutes we brought them up in some way. When we got in the states we rushed home to get them; and, I am now working on getting their passports so we can stay at, gulp, Hacienda next time we go because we can’t imagine not taking them and their damn pool noodles next time.

Catherine Brink-Flahaut for SesameEllis.com

However, on our COUPLES ONLY vacation did we leave with memories of why we married one another and made those vows after the toughest two years of our lives? You betcha! Did it improve our marriage and remind us of the honeymoon we never really had? I think so! Was it is worth missing our kids for a few short days? I would absolutely say YES! Plus, the swag we brought back helped relieve the guilt a little, too. 😉

—\—

Alec and I have only done one big trip away from the kids, but we do travel by ourselves at times while the other stays home. I feel like it is an important thing to do as a human, get some time to yourself and the kids, well, they learn to to miss us while safely being loved by other members of the family. 

Check back next week to find out from Cat’s next post, what they brought back from Mexico that has not been the most wonderful souvenir… To see more of Cat’s wonderful photos, find her on Instagram!

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  • Lojana Jenna Unenanond via Facebook - “enjoying a massage given by something other than size two feet” made me laugh out loud. 😄 Great writing and photos.ReplyCancel

  • Nicole - This was so funny and insightful…I see a couples only trip for us soon! Can’t wait to read moreReplyCancel

RSCPA Million Paws Walk 2016 : Team Chilli and Friends : SesameEllis.com

Brought to you by Nuffnang and RSPCA

Last year Gemma and I took Chilli for a very special walk. It was a wonderful day out with adorable dogs everywhere we turned. There were mutts in fancy dress, pugs in tutus and dachshunds in knitted jumpers. It wasn’t just dogs, I even saw a fearless bunny on a leash. You couldn’t look around without smiling the entire time. There were games and showbags, food and coffee stalls and vendors for endless pet products and accessories. The sun was shining and even with all the happy chaos, there wasn’t one growl. From celebrities being interviewed by local news to brand new babies sleeping in prams, everyone was there for one very important purpose. We were all walking to raise money and awareness for the work that RSPCA Victoria does to fight animal cruelty in our own backyard.

It is time for us to take that important walk again because sadly, the RSPCA workload doesn’t get any lighter. In fact, just last week RSPCA Victoria rescued 20 severely neglected horses who were found among the most horrible of circumstances surrounded by dozens of other dead or dying paddock mates. The animals still need us to protect them. RSPCA Victoria needs our help as their 17 inspectors statewide must handle more than 10,000 reports of animal cruelty each year. As we head into the cold winter months here, the neglect will only get worse and the demand for help will far exceed the RSPCA’s resources.

I am doubling the cute this year by bringing not only Chilli, but her adorable friend Audrey (and her humans) along too! We will be walking on the 15th of May in Melbourne and raising much needed money for the RSPCA Victoria. I am asking you to join me either on the day with your own fundraising team or by going online to support Team Chilli & Friends. We can fight animal cruelty together. Head to the Million Paws Walk Victoria website to register and fundraise and receive your free RSPCA Frisbee. There are excellent fundraising incentives to reach goals of $250, $500 and even $1,000 beyond the obvious warm fuzzies knowing that you are making a huge difference in the lives of defenceless animals throughout Victoria. Meeting those fundraising goals means you could get free entry to any of the Victorian walks (there are rural locations as well as the one around Albert Park Lake in Melbourne), VIP treatment through the 500 Club for you and a friend or even go into the draw for a once in a lifetime opportunity to see what great work the RSPCA does by spending a day at RSPCA Burwood East Animal Care Centre.

I will be online live sharing a few key moments of the whole event on the 15th of May. Please, join me, the kids, Chilli and our friends!

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I will not Snapchat. I will not even go on the app. I only ever went on Snapchat to secure my username, but then I got the heck out of there. See, Snapchat is where my tween hangs out. I have already ruined Instagram for her and Facebook was dead to the younger set long, LONG ago. I don’t need another social media outlet right now, but Gemma does.  Moms are ruining their kids lives in so many new ways now.

Managing risk : parenting a tween : and why I am not on Snapchat : SesameEllis.com

You might ask, “But Rachel, don’t you want to make sure you know what your kid is getting up to online???” “Don’t you want her to be safe?” And I would agree those are valid questions with the obvious answer to both being, YES! However, this is the way I see it.

Let me tell you a little story about this morning when it all became pretty clear to me. I was talking to a fellow mother in the school yard while her four year old son climbed the play equipment. No big deal, right? Well, yes, but he was climbing a piece built for much older kids and he was doing so on the outside of the structure…in slippery crocs! We were also chatting a good distance away from him. We could see him, but if he fell, there would be a few bushes and at least one set of monkey bars to navigate around before either of us could be at the bottom. Our talk turned to the fact that neither of us was making any move to get closer nor were we calling out for him to be careful, but understood our seeming lack of concern would make a lot of other mothers very nervous. We knew he was there and after seeing him navigate the first part of this climb, we trusted that he would get to the top safely or he would yell for help. This was an important moment for him to just figure it out on his own. As my friend needed to run and ask the teacher something, I stayed with my eyes on her son, but did not move. I knew I could help if he asked and my friend trusted that I would do just that. When he got to the top of the slide and carefully ducked under the bar to stand safely on the inside, his little face beamed with pride and he yelled over to his mom, “I did it. I climbed all the way by myself!” At that moment, it was clear to me why I am so adamant that I will not actively join Snapchat.

I trust my child in the real world and online. I have told her the rules, I have explained the risks and I have made sure she knows that if she feels uncomfortable, unsafe or bullied that she needs to close the app and bring her phone to me to discuss whatever has happened. Am I sure she will tell me everything that goes on? No way, so I have made sure a few older kids I know follow her and will report back anything untoward. Just like my childhood when I had safe houses in the neighbourhood where I knew I could ride my bike and have someone call my mom if I was being followed by some creep, I have enabled a bit of an electronic village for Gemma. It isn’t failsafe, but she needs to have the freedom away from her mother to make hard decisions for herself. She needs the opportunity to make mistakes. Might she do something silly? Is there a chance she will make some stupid choices?  Could she possibly see something that is gross or naked and probably both? Absolutely, but this is her playground now and I refuse to be there mediating the thrill. Heck, she has hardly even a quarter of the risk I had growing up as a free range 1970’s kid, so I trust her to make it through just fine. I did.

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  • Angela Wright via Facebook - I’m glad it’s not popular in V’s or B2’s circles so neither have asked to have it loaded. I’ve seen many fb posts from other moms about the drama and hurt feelings that it causes so I’m happy to avoid the issue, for now. Please post updates on how it goes.ReplyCancel

  • Siobhan Johns via Facebook - I am on snapchat. I follow 2 people, and 2 people follow me. My sister & niece who live in Ireland. I love seeing tidbits of my niece’s days at college. I am sure I only see the tame bits 😉 My 2 big boys (18 & 15) are both on it. I am never allowed to see their feeds, however, my 18 year old came home from a party on Saturday night, with a few drinks under his belt & I was privvy, for the first time ever, to his snapchat feed. Mostly funny, some were boring, and some & wish I didn’t see!! I am also sure that somewhere out there is a whole youtube channel of all the times the boys have filmed me screaming like a banshee at one of the other children, driving, watching television, walking the dog grocery shopping & generally just being an awesome mum 😉 I know their friends get a kick out of it, and I’m sure their mums feature on Snapchat too! I won’t let my 11 year old on it yet, however – I think there are some things better left until secondary school, so – 13 it will be for him!! (he does have insta though)ReplyCancel

  • Louise Fletcher via Facebook - I have all of this ahead of me and I think you have summed up my approach pretty well. We need to trust our kids and the values we have taught them and when “shit” happens, as it will, trust that they will seek us out.ReplyCancel

  • Jen Wright via Facebook - You’ve got a way with words, friend. I dig it.ReplyCancel

  • Fi Mims via Facebook - Love your words Rachel, as always!ReplyCancel

  • Pete Ark via Facebook - I feel the same way. Jess is on SnapChat with all of her friends. I’m not installing it and I won’t be policing her. I think we’ve taught her well and I expect she will make the right decisions. She’ll make mistakes and she will learn from them.ReplyCancel

  • Charlaine Williams via Facebook - Agreed on the trusting your kids and having a net they may not know about just in case. I only have snapchat because Lily loves doing the faces but I knew beforehand it wasn’t Blakes thing. Great job!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - I’m not on snapchat, and just recently let my older dtr have an account. Like you stated and rules have been established but I take it a step further. Every child is different, my oldest tends to spend to much time on social media so we each have the app on our phones with only me knowing the password. This way, she can check her SC on my phone when her homework is done quickly, but the temptation to spend mindless hours on it is gone. She logs into the account on her phone when all her homework, chores, practices are done and on the weekends. It’s a compromise.ReplyCancel

  • Marybeth Le via Facebook - I have it and use it, and my kid has it and uses it. We don’t interact on the app at all, and it’s nothing like Facebook in terms of how you interact with people. Aside from what you publish to your snapchat story (which someone has to want to click on yours to view it, it isn’t just “there” when you log in like with FB, etc), snapchat is a much more 1 on 1 type of app. My son and I follow each other but in no way does that allow me to police him or even know when he’s on, when he’s sending snaps, or when he’s sending chats.ReplyCancel

  • Andrea Farrell via Facebook - Good point, we can’t put them in a bubble and expect it not to pop, they need to learn, just as we did, just as we bought clothes for catalogues and shamefully got over our heads with the cost of everything, we had to learn to budget, to manage, to be safe. You are right to give your daughter the freedom to grow, to feel safe, know she is safe but also venture out of the “comfort zone” you can’t keep them safe forever, they are going to have to learn things, stretch grow and develop. Trusting our kids is the first step to their freedom and growing. Great example about the boy on the climbing frame. We all did something dangerous as children, tree climbing, wall climbing, and oh what a great adventure our childhood was for that reason. xxxReplyCancel

  • Dawn Klein via Facebook - I let my kids pretty much have free rein of the Internet when they wee younger. Nothing bad ever happened. We never used any kind of blocking software either and computers were in their bedrooms. They are young adults now and are just fine.ReplyCancel

  • Fiona Monteleone via Facebook - Yah look forward to itReplyCancel

I am sitting at my kitchen counter typing on the laptop I carted around but did not even open for the last three weeks as if I never left and everything wonderful was a dream.

SesameEllis.com

Yet the trip did happen, I was offline for most of it (except for Instagram) and it was packed full of adventures that I will be sharing on the blog over the next weeks. I overshot (64.33 gb of images) with headshots and a few family portraits as well as just my regular old visual storytelling stuff. I loved on new family members and even had time to quietly pay my respects to family members gone way too soon. I hugged great friends and my kids bonded with my friends’ kids. My emotional tank is overflowing. We did lots of touristy stuff too! For a little sliver of an example, I have tricks for doing Disneyland in just one day, a review of my first ever Airbnb experience, and even a heartfelt plea for Australians to join the rest of the world by using my new favourite app, Waze.

classic out the airplane window photo SesameEllis.com

I came away from this trip inspired to grow from within. Not only personal growth like the extra few kilos I put on while consuming Starbucks and Godfish crackers (yes, often at the same time), but Sesame Ellis itself. I have done a lot of navel gazing (both to search my soul and lament those kilos) about what this little space on the internet actually means. What it means to me and what it means to you who read it. Why people keep coming back to such a small niche site like this when there are huge juggernauts out there competing for your time online. After running into people who I had never met and only know at all because of sharing life online through Sesame Ellis, at Disneyland (among hundreds of thousands of people!) and a museum in DC (of all the wonderful museums there!), I realised that it is the open story that brings us all together. Sesame Ellis is a real life soap opera where we are never too proud to share our laughable moments as well as the ones that bring tears to our eyes. This is a beautiful community where you just might find yourself reflected back in our experiences that we share. Your comments help me feel less alone and probably others who just can’t reach out that far yet. We all put these things into words and images for those who can’t. I really do exist and so do you. Readers are just friends of the family.

While the regulars will be back too with wrap up posts of travel tips and food finds from Mr. Devine and some great tween “life gear” video reviews from Gemma, we are expanding the Sesame Ellis family with family… No, I am not having another kid. Ever. I mean that I am bringing on more contributors to this story and the one thing they all have in common is that they really are part of our life. They are best friends, colleagues and relatives. Next week, I will introduce you all to my niece, Cat, who has to be one of the strongest women I know. Her story will move you and give you hope and make you laugh. She will be talking about things baby and tattoos and living with loss and hope. Cat is not the only one to be joining us here. I am not going anywhere, I will be taking pictures and sharing life as usual. There is so much more to offer you now including video content with my trusty editor! That is all I can say about that for now, so please stick around, it is about to get even better.

It is all real. SesameEllis.com

This is my eleventh year online and I felt my focus slipping. I did not mean to take a “dramatic blogging break”, but it turned out that I needed this time away to make sure I was still sharing here for all the right reasons. Clicks are wonderful, it is proof you have been here, but I was tired of worrying about the numbers. You are not just numbers to me. Amy, (Blair – even though we never actually able to find each other in the crowds) and Annie, unexpectedly running into you out and about was just what I needed to feel connected again. Building this worldwide, tangible, huggable community is why I am back and happy to be here.

So welcome to the family, my friends.

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  • Andrea Farrell via Facebook - Glad your back in Oz safe and sound xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxReplyCancel

  • Emma Olivier via Facebook - Racheal you have a lot to share still .. I just read your blog for the first time and it is lovely .. Keep writing and sharing ..Welcome back home to sunny Hampton xReplyCancel

  • Tania G - Rachel, I am not big on commenting but I’ve read every single one of your blogs and posts. I’ve been following you on Flickr since the beginning and the joy your stories and photography brings is indescribable. Thank you for sharing your life and journey with us. You have an amazing talent and a gorgeous family! Glad you had such a great time in the states! All the best!ReplyCancel

    • sesame - Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! Your words mean so much.ReplyCancel

  • Leslie Gibson Young - I’ve been following you since the twins were born (?) and I’m so excited to hear about your new directions. 🙂 Love looking at your photos and learning, and hope that one day I’ll be showing you MY photos. 😛ReplyCancel

    • Leslie Gibson Young - (wellesleypiffy on Instagram. And hoping for some underwater photo tips…I’ll have to look back through your website and see if you’ve posted any. I just got the TG-4 and cannot WAIT to play with it. Unfortunately, we just got 4 inches of snow in Massachusetts [!!!] so it’ll be awhile yet…)ReplyCancel

      • sesame - You are going to love that camera!!!!!ReplyCancel

  • amanda - first time long time here….<3 everything about this. i'm enjoying growing old with you and your familyReplyCancel

  • Danny Douglas - Rachel, I know you were a pleasant surprise for Annie at the Air and Space museum. She was so excited that you were there. I was happy to see her grin from ear to ear when she came back to our lunch table. She really enjoyed the few moments you spent with her. I know she will treasure it for a lifetime.ReplyCancel

    • sesame - It was a treat for me!ReplyCancel

      • Annie - I seriously wish I had a better ability to think on my feet, because I realized after we left that while you were kind enough to introduce me to your family, I never introduced you to my Smalls. Nope, he was sitting back at the table with Danny happily munching on his french fries while his silly mother was busy chatting up one of her favorite photographers. LOL Honestly though, it was lovely to meet you!ReplyCancel

  • Lea - It’s easy to lose focus .. stepping away and taking stock is good for everybody – your family, your soul, your blog. Glad you found some clarity 🙂 xReplyCancel