Photo credit: Chelsea Laine Francis
For a couple of years now I’ve been interested in attending some sort of blogging event or weekend, if only to make new friends with similar interests. Last year, when I was considering making a bigger push to monetize my blog, I began actively seeking conferences to attend. Nothing felt right.
But then my friend Indiana, who I had met through a mutual friend before either of us knew the other were bloggers, announced that she’d be putting on the fifth and final Texas Style Conference. It would be scaled back, totally non-glitzy, at a camp, with a theme of creating meaningful presence. I loved this. And since it was to be held within driving distance and all meals & lodging were included in the price, I signed up the first day registration was opened. Right away Indiana asked if I wanted to be a volunteer, and I knew I had to say yes.
Driving into camp last Thursday I had mixed emotions, but when I left on Sunday (and now, as I sit reflecting) I am filled only with gratitude that I got to be a part of it, that I got to meet and befriend so many women, for the creative inspiration, and the warmth of sisterhood.
Day 1 / Thursday
So! Let’s talk about what we did. After dropping the kids at daycare early Thursday morning I drove into camp and arrived a little after 10 a.m. This was a work day, and we got right to work. We made beds, unloaded the moving van, distributed boxes, swept, and cleaned. I also spent a few hours with the Birch and Brass team moving and setting up furniture. I got a peek into the life of an event stylist (spoiler alert: it’s not glamorous) but they were so sweet and everything looked amazing.
By the end of the day I was already pretty sore (not used to real manual labor!) but I loved having a job to do. I think it allowed the conversation and camaraderie to flow more freely between all of us that were working. We finished up with a volunteer pizza party where we went around and got to know more about each other, our background, why we were there, and what we wanted to get out of the weekend.
So I guess this is a good place to say that I had a hard time promoting myself as a blogger at first! Since I have no intentions of turning my blog into a business and I was there mostly to make new friends and have fun, I felt a tendency to really downplay myself. Most of the people in my offline life don’t blog, even though they may read mine. So it felt strange being so up front about it! But after answering the question, “Do you blog?” and “What’s your blog about?” over and over again, I began to get more confident in my answers. Indiana was also very encouraging with me about promoting myself because of how frequently I post. So although at this point it is definitely still a hobby, it is one that I take seriously. I am still open to collaborating with brands that I believe in and pursuing different types of posts & affiliate opportunities.
Photo credit: Chelsea Laine Francis
Back to the weekend! After the pizza party on Thursday I headed back to the cabin. I had to figure out the pumping & milk storage situation, and unfortunately it was a good little trek from my cabin to the fridge in the pitch dark. (I ended up pumping every morning and every night.) Then I settled in on my bunk for what I hoped would be a deep sleep sans kids in my bed, but I was already so sore and the mattresses were SO hard that I tossed and turned all night and was up for the day at 4:30 a.m. Oh well…good thing I am used to early mornings. :)
Day 2 / Friday
A new batch of volunteers came in on Friday morning, so we didn’t have to work quite as hard that day. After some coffee and breakfast I went back to my bunk to rest and was about to lie down to read when I heard there was an extra space for horseback riding. As tired as I was, I don’t get to ride a horse often so I said yes! It was a dreary and wet morning so we mostly stayed in the barn but we did get to do a short trail ride. We had a quick lunch and then I went back to the cabins to finish setting them up for the rest of the campers who would be arriving soon. Then I got to go ziplining in the rain! Fun fun.
At this time lots more people started showing up and it started feeling very busy! I hung out at the registration desk for awhile in order to meet people and talk. Then it was time for dinner and our first keynote session with Jenny of The Bloggess (who is hilarious in real life just as she is on her blog). We found our seats using place cards for forced mingling and I had the honor of sitting by Erin from Design for Mankind and Jen from Jen Loves Kev. They are both incredibly sweet and calm. Sadly Erin had completely lost her voice but since we were right next to each other we did get to communicate a little. :)
Photo credit: Chelsea Laine Francis
After dinner on Friday was one of my favorite events! It was called a “create + connect mixer” and basically we made a bunch of really cute crafts. Of course I loved it! You could make leather friendship bracelets, buttons, a yarn wall hanging, paper doll, paint your canvas bag, get a temporary tattoo, and more.
Day 3 / Saturday
I slept better on Friday night and wasn’t awake so insanely early. I decided to go to the sunrise yoga session which was taught by Cyndie Spiegel. She was so down-to-earth and encouraging and relaxing and I really enjoyed it.
During breakfast we had a guided journaling session that Erin led via powerpoint slides. She basically asked us (very eloquently, of course) to write down what our dreams are for this life, and we were not supposed to edit ourselves at all. I found the exercise incredibly helpful and touching. Right after this session Bethany Joy Clark from TOMS presented. I have loved their company for a long time, but Bethany made it clear that they are a mission with a company, not a company with a mission. She led us through a visualization exercise that had people tearing up right and left, and then surprised us all by gifting each woman with a new bag that provides maternity care and a birth kit for a woman in need.
After the main morning gathering it was time for our breakout sessions. As a volunteer I had to help set up for the evening activity during the first hour, but I got to attend the second and third sessions. For the second I chose to attend one led by Jessie of Style & Pepper and it was all about how to gain confidence and live a flavorful life. I took three pages of notes so I’m not going to go into it here but I loved it.
For the third session I attended a chat led by Jen of Jen Loves Kev, Julie of Orchid Grey, and Amy of Crompton Collective. It was about friendship and how to build each other up instead of feeding unhealthy competition, envy, and falling into the comparison trap. I was nodding along the entire time since my whole purpose of being there was to make friends. :)
After lunch and the smaller sessions it was time for another keynote with two of my favorites: Caroline from Unfancy of capsule wardrobe fame, and Jess from The Lively Show. They each talked about three lessons they’ve learned, three they are currently learning, and what they hope to learn in the future. Again, I took a bunch of notes during this presentation – it was my favorite one. They are both almost exactly like they appear online, super positive and encouraging and happy.
Photo credit: Logan Pearce Photography
Photo credit: Tagspire photo booth
That night’s event was a “khaki cool jamboree.” Some people went all out with their outfits and I only wish I had asked my mom if she still has my old girl scout uniform (she probably does). Instead I kept it super casual as usual, but lots of people did because it was cold and rainy. Again there were lots of activities and crafts to keep us occupied – making a painted beaded necklace, s’mores, temporary tattoos, photobooths (see above), bag painting, a dance floor, and pop-up shops. I finally bought one of the fashionABLE scarves I had been wanting for so long! It was a lot of fun.
Day 4 / Sunday
I was up late on Saturday, so thankfully we didn’t have to be anywhere on Sunday until 10 a.m. I skipped yoga in favor of sleep and made it to the dining hall for coffee a little after 9 where we just hung out until it was time for the final keynote session led by Sophia Rossi, co-founder of Hello Giggles and Zooey Deschanel’s BFF. She talked about friendship and sisterhood (and also she is just super funny and likable). We all got a copy of her soon-to-be-released book A Tale of Two Besties, which she signed for us.
We went right into closing ceremonies after that, where awards were presented and I was honored to be presented with a new bag for connecting so well with the gals from fashionABLE. I was already such a fan of their products and mission, and was so happy to meet them. Indiana gave us a tearful farewell and then we were sent outside (where the sun had finally come out) for one final activity.
We were instructed to gather into groups and form two lines facing each other. (We were all a little nervous that we’d be doing a trust fall, but thankfully that wasn’t the case.) Instead, each woman took a turn closing their eyes and walking down the center. As she walked, the women on the sides would whisper a word or phrase of affirmation in her ear. I can’t even describe to you how powerful it was. “Friend.” “Beautiful mother.” “Brave.” So many other soul-affirming sentiments that seemed to go straight to my heart. I felt like I was being lifted up and strengthened by these amazing new friends and sisters. There were tears.
It was hard to go from that to clean-up crew, but that’s what we did! After several more hours of cleaning and loading up, the remaining volunteers got treated to a delicious dinner at Bacon Bar. Eventually I had to pull myself away in order to make the drive home, but not without making plans to get together with those that live close and hugs for those who don’t.
As you might have picked up on, there was a strong theme of sisterhood throughout the entire weekend. Almost all of the presentations and lessons learned were things that can (and should) be applied to life in general, not just the online world. But most importantly, I was so encouraged by all the women I met. There was Nicole, the volunteer coordinator, Kristin, the co-founder, Christie, my bunk-mate who lives super close to me, Marisa, the lovely fashionABLE rep, and so many more. I especially connected with Bryn, whose kids are the same age as mine, and Miranda, who is also a nurse with little kids making a go at this blogging thing. And then there was Indiana, who I hadn’t gotten to see in awhile and I don’t know when I will again. She has an infectious personality and she made this thing happen according to her vision. Love her.
This was the perfect first blogging event for me. I feel seen, known, validated, encouraged, and inspired. Thank you so much to all the staff and other volunteers for putting this together. It will definitely stick with me for a long time.