Best Reads in 2016

30 December 2016

These year I read - or at least remember reading – 29 books.  Which averages over half a book a week.  Pretty good!!  Considering Andy Andrews, my Best New Mentor from 2 years ago, said that a person should read a least one book a week. 

Although I don't read with that level of consistency on a day-to-day basis, unless it's an intellectual book where I'm learning self-discovery, then I can dabble here and there.  But if it's a novel, I binge.  Once I start, my life ceases to exist as is, and I become consumed in the plot, rushing through all my responsibilities of the day, so I can get back to that book!  So I read through entire books in mere days, and then I swing back to another hobby for awhile.

Anyway, below are my author awards and top reads for the year!

Best Discovered Novelist:  Francine Rivers.  I read everything of hers this year!

Best New Mentor: Christiane Northrup

Best Writing:  Morgan McCarthy.   She puts together the most descriptive, and almost lyrical, sentences.

Below is my bookshelf of best reads in 2016:

(I also made a Best Reads for 2015 and Best Reads for 2014!)

Upward and onward,

2016 in the Rearview

28 December 2016

Well, we are now in the rearview of 2016!  It has been a great year for us, full of so many adventures and blessings!  Here we begin the year as two.  This picture was taken before we each left for work one morning, right at the beginning of 2016.

We moved into our house just before Christmas one year ago, and we spent the first part of the year remodeling, sanding, painting, and decorating.  We also vamped up our basement to use entirely as a rental.  Later, Ryan built a full kitchen down there in 2 weeks! 

And then tax season starts!  And, we find out we are.... pregnant!  And later, we discover she's a Baby Girl!

Just after tax season, we fly to Cabo with some friends!

Not yet through with our travel bug, we go on many more trips! 
Flaming Gorge
Lake Powell
Lake Hebgen
Oregon Coast

We go on many other adventures near home!  Our adventure closest to home was a neighborhood crawfish boil!  We made some new friends in the neighborhood, while peeling and eating tons of these crustaceans.

We are invited to a really important exclusive business launch.  Tons of people are flown in from some country in Asia to participate.  Ryan and I could not take this business seriously; it all seemed like such a huge joke.
Then we celebrated our one-year anniversary with massages and dinner at Tiburon!  Such a happy day to celebrate an incredible year!  A little later, we go wake-surfing with friends!  I even got out there at 8 months pregnant!

Ryan wins our ward chili cook-off!  He won 1st place in his category of chili, and then he won the overall contest.  Ryan also goes hunting and shoots a huge bull!  He showcases just one of the butt cheeks below, haha!

Meanwhile for me,
Baby Girl continues to grow straight out.

And just when I'm about to POP...
Our angel, Charlotte Rae, is born!

 We just adore this baby girl!

  Our first night out as parents!  We go to a Carrie Underwood concert!

In just one month, Charlotte develops and matures so much!  Wide eyes and big grins! 

And now we end the year as three.  :)  Family selfies become a bit tricky with such vast height differences.  I love my little family so much!

Upward and onward to 2017!  Love to all of you too.  Thanks for being here with us!

Oh my heart.

20 December 2016

Baby Girl is still asleep and it's almost noon.

I am definitely mothering Ryan's daughter, and I LOVE it! My baby and my husband love to sleep, and I could not be more grateful for that.  Because I LOVE morning hours!  I love the rising sun; I love time to workout; I love time to stretch; I love time to study; I love time to vox some of my friends while I eat breakfast.  And today, following these activities, I went back to the bedroom, and Charlotte is still squish-faced, deep sleeping on the mattress.  So, I turn back around and now I'm here to blog.  What a Christmas miracle!!  Not to mention that after a really busy few weeks, work is slow these next couple of weeks, so I feel ease towards taking time to write.  Self-indulgence is an art form, and I am too keen to shouldering all responsibilities before I allow myself to partake. 

I am really grateful for my life right now.  It is a very happy time.  Just the other night, Ryan and I were huddled over Charlotte as she was tucked into our bed, and I thought my heart was going to explode.  Charlotte has begun focusing her eyes on Ryan and I, and just really recently, within the last couple of days, she has begun really smiling back at us.  Having our tiny little gal smile at us is... well, it's indescribable.  And the other night, as we were all in our bedroom together, Ryan was talking with Little Buddy, and for the first time, she locked eyes with him and gave him a huge grin.  I could hear the happiness in his voice and could practically feel his joy radiating out of his body.  So there's little Charlotte grinning at Ryan, Ryan is on cloud nine smiling back at her, and I'm filming it all on camera watching both of them and thinking I'm about to have a heart attack from joy.  (This is the recent video on social media).  I just pulled Ryan close and we held each other while staring at Charlotte, feeling like this is all that exists in the world.

I feel peace because I feel that everything is so right in our lives right now.  I really value the health of my body, both in growing and delivering this healthy baby, and my insanely rapid bounceback.  I really love my body and the power it holds.  I see my nutrition and my fitness as my highest responsibility because my body is the vessel to bear and feed children, and I like placing my health at the top of my priorities every day.  Ryan and I are also just in such a settled place in life.  We've secured our home, our food storage, our healthy homegrown food sources (more on this later), our finances, our future, and our careers.  And though my career has vastly scaled back, it still feels good knowing I've scrimped and sacrificed so much along the way to produce a career that can be picked up and quickly monetized if need be.  All this alignment makes the time for parenthood full-focused. 

And I also feel such spirituality in motherhood.  I've settled into this role like it's been my calling all along.  Other roles I've needed study and guidance and training, but this role pairs with my intuition more than I've ever experienced, and I feel a true match here.  I also feel a palpable closeness with Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, really seeing how their guidance through Gospel principles is so important for the growth of a person's soul.  And because I really, really want to provide that for Charlotte, I can feel how much my Heavenly Parents (and biological parents) wanted that for me, and I feel close to Them.  I feel honored that I get to instill a little being with God's principles, sharing all my enthusiasm for the Gospel with Charlotte's little heart and mind.

I value this Gospel so much.  I really believe the principles, and I find so much strength and peace within them.  I am grateful to have Higher Knowledge that lifts me.  And I know that the accounts of men and women who have spent their lives representing this Gospel are true.  I read the first 2.5 books of The Work and The Glory just before Charlotte was born, and I really grasped Joseph Smith's gentle and loving character.  And now I am reading a Christian novel that personifies Mary's life, as the mother of Jesus, and I am really appreciating Christ's loving and wise nature.  I know these men were real and as valiant, if not more, than these talented authors portray them to be.  I'm so grateful for their examples to inspire me upward, including Ryan's example that aligns just with theirs, right in my own home.

More than ever... Upward and onward,

image source

Charlotte SMILES at me!

15 December 2016

Charlotte has become infinitely more aware and engaged in her 40 day life span.  

While her eyes have de-puffed, opened wider and wider, expanded their general gaze, and slightly begun focusing on items of close distance, I have not even removed my eyes from Charlotte once in these last 5.5 weeks.  Literally, I've looked at nothing else.

And today, OH MAN!  Guys, today, I had just completed a mediocre diaper change.  I say mediocre because excitement metrics change in motherhood.  I get super stoked about a well-filled, plump little diaper.  Yeah! Go baby go!  Juice that thing up!  So a lightweight diaper is like, meh.  

Anyway, her diaper is wrapped securely to the side, Little Buddy has her ruffly pink pants taut around her waist, protruding her incredible belly bulge, and I am peering down over her face saying all the innane things that people say to babies on repeat.  "Hello!  Hellooooo.  Hiiiiii.  Hi Little Buddy!  Helllooo.  Look at yooouuu.  You are so cute!  Hiiiiiii."  And her little bobble head steadies itself in my direction.  Then she locks eyes with me and stares at me with wide-open wonder.  

And then,

She smiles!!  

Open mouth, HUGE smile!  

I nearly fell over. 

So I swooped her into my arms, and while texting Ryan, I ran to the bedroom to repeat the scenario.  I didn't take my sights off Charlotte while I wobbled my camera around, and I still gratefully captured the below snaps of her in a matter of seconds.  Here's our moment:

What's that? You have a story, mom?     //     Ooo sounds interesting!     //     Okay, I'm listening.

 Hmm, okay, I'm hearing ya.       //       That's actually pretty funny!       //        Actually, it's hilarious!!

Mom, YOU'RE TOO MUCH!!       //       I'M DYING OVER THIS!!       //        MOM! SERIOUSLY, I CAN'T EVEN!!

Okay, stop.  Out of my face now, mom. 

Ryan came home shortly thereafter, and we have yet for a 3rd instance of seeing her gummy grin.  I hope Charlotte has not decided today in ultimatum that her parents are a bore.

Upward and onward,

Mothers Climbing Towards Godhood

02 December 2016


Nora just texted me a thought regarding Mary and the birth of her baby, Baby Jesus.  And she related Mary to myself and my birth of Charlotte.

I read her text in passing because Charlotte had just fallen asleep - little window of *GOLDEN HOURS* - and I had just zoomed through a shower and was lapsing through my bedroom to get dressed and ready, and I glanced at my phone and inhaled Nora's words.  While standing in my closet, her thoughts lulled through my mind, tapping so many thoughts in me about women and their journeys.  First really thinking about Mary and her own  thoughts and emotions regarding motherhood.

The scriptures are so so so dear to my heart.  Though, they are not chalked full of female journey's and the feelings therein.  Just the other day, I was reading during my morning feeding with Charlotte.  I'm dead center in the war chapters of Alma, and I had to pause and laugh to myself.  Pride, Aggression, Fighting, Appeals for Prisoner Swaps, etc.  And there I was nursing my perfect, delicate baby in the gentle morning light, listening to her soft coos and swallows.  What could be more polar?  And the thought came to me, albeit with a little intrusion of bitterness - "what in the world am I supposed to connect with here?"  And then I quickly turned my heart back to Heavenly Father, as though we just arrived at a trailhead together and the realization that there is a spiritual knowledge climb here for me.  I absolutely believe that we can find anything through the scriptures.  Perhaps not in them, so to speak.  But through our studies of them, Heavenly Father will brighten our minds with His direct knowledge.  Maybe that's where most people stop.  "Breastfeeding isn't in the scriptures, so therefore, the book is irrelevant, and I am done."  But we keep reading, and God will bring knowledge to our mind.  So I've been praying.  I want to know the women, and I want to know their journey's; I want to know their emotions.  I'd like this unwritten knowledge to be revealed to me, and I believe it can be.

When I was pregnant with Charlotte, I came across a study on Heavenly Mother.  Two researchers at BYU had scoured for every LDS Church resource they could find that made mention of Heavenly Mother.  Any discourses, talks, essays, as far back as they could go.  And they assembled the information into one report (I have it if you want me to email it to you).  I drank up that article like a parched desert wanderer.  And to my dismay, my read ended abruptly just halfway through, because half of the pdf pages were citations.  I did not learn near as much as I wanted to about Her.  Not even close.  But there was one little piece that filled me with peace and made Her feel so near and connected to me.  Heavenly Mother went through her own journey just like us.  Starting from mortality, all the way to Godhood.  She went through the "2 steps forward, 1 step back" process that I go through all the time - in my weaknesses, in my talents and confidences, and in my heartaches:

Some statements by Church authorities have led to the understanding that before Heavenly Mother became exalted and helped beget us, she was once mortal and dwelt on an earth. Elder Orson F. Whitney (bishop, July 14, 1878–April 1906) explained that “there was a time when that being whom we now worship—that our eternal Father and Mother were once man and woman in mortality.” The soul-making trials of her earthly experience, coupled with continuing growth after a celestial resurrection, helped her hone the qualities of divinity to move her from “womanhood to Godhood.”

I love that thought! 

Then I thought about my sweet little Charlotte, and her journey, starting three days after she was "due."  I have already decided that for my next child, I will announce the due week.  Because the process of deriving at a "due date" is comically subjective to me, and then I swear people carve that date into their stone calendars and freak out when it comes and goes with no baby.

Physician: "What is your estimated first day of your last period before you got pregnant?"

Me: Well....  Here's my best guess on the range of days that it possibly could have been.

Physician:  Okay.  Here is your singular due date.

--Meanwhile, the entire pregnancy, the due date estimate shifts around due to technician ultrasound assumptions, the midwife measurements of my belly, and historical data that first-time moms generally go at least a week over term.  So Ryan and I just sail with whatever wave.  Baby Charlotte will come when she is ripe.

--Due Date Arrives:  no baby.  *Cue people's reactions*

"You better eat this food."  "You better jump on a tramp, go for a run, fly a kite, ride on a polar bear!!"  "You need to get her out!"  "Your baby must be so stubborn."

But really, whaaaat?  My precious child has not even stepped foot  (or for accuracy, "head plummeted") into earth yet, and already she is being judged and pushed along other people's timelines.  According to the world, she already needs to be somewhere and be someone on day -3.  Haha, okay people, all in good fun.  But really, a baby's journey starts when it needs to, and they come to earth in the exact starting place of his or her character and soul that is necessary.    

And I guess what this all comes down to is that I'm not just climbing on a journey for myself anymore.  I'm now holding a little hand and pushing sticks and thorns out of her way, so she may have her journey too.  And I'm craving, more than ever, the feelings of women in the Gospel who walked this same path.

Part of my journey with Charlotte includes deflection, like the story above.  Swatting away anything low and harmful, untrue and toxic.  Though the more important part of our journey is keeping our eyes on the glory and essence of Heavenly Mother all the way up ahead.  Little Charlotte really only knows me (and Ryan) as her sights.  We are her points of exemplification for heaven.  And my sight is absolutely set on Heavenly Mother and what I crave to have confirmed about her in my heart.  With examples of other women along the path, in the scriptures and in real life, heading upwards to Her as well.  I want their companionship.  I want their stories.  I want their peace.  Because I want Charlotte and I to keep our intentions and hearts high, continually pushing in that direction.

Thank you Nora and my other friends here for being some of those faithful women in my sights.

Upward and onward,

Elder Glenn L. Pace (First Quorum of the Seventy, October 3, 1992–October 2, 2010) at a 2010 BYU devotional: “Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and you look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”

image source
quote source:  “A Mother There” A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven

A Day in the Life with Little Buddy

22 November 2016

Good morning, Charlotte!  Looks like your cute little hands broke free last night, haha!  So cute!  
(But seriously, any time Charlotte moves or doesn't move or changes clothes or poops her diaper, I need a picture of it).

Last night was a great night of quick feedings and back to sleep.  You woke up twice and let mama sleep until 10.  She feels so rested and has until 10:30 to go to the bathroom and do every possible normal morning item before you wake up.  

Once you're awake, you cluster feed and snuggle for a few hours, while mama works with one hand and sings little songs for you.  (I need to take a self-study on baby lullabies because I'm quickly running dry on material). Around 2, you finally doze off for another nap, and mama blazes through some more work before it's time for your pediatrician appointment.

You and mama sit in the pediatrician's office, waiting for him to come do the heel prick - PKU testing.  Mom hates seeing you cry from pain.  Mama can distinguish your needs from your type of cry, but that is a cry that breaks her heart.

The pediatrician says repeatedly what a perfectly healthy baby you are.  Go Charlotte.  You weigh 8 lbs and 15 oz. at this 2 week appointment.  You are already so strong!  Your chiropractor says you're a gymnast in the making!

Afterwards, mama takes you grocery shopping.  This is perhaps the most enjoyable grocery trip she's ever had because you are so precious to look at.  Mama shops slow and just enjoys her time with you.  You sleep the whole time because you have been awake most of the day.

 Mama takes you home and you are ready for dinner.  Mama has to jump in a call with a tax client in California and nurses you while she talks.  You let out tiny little farts the whole time, and mom giggles into her hand.  You curl up into mom after you are full just like a little kitten.  These are some of her favorite moments of the day.  She calls you her kitty cat and basically pets you, while telling you what a special little girl you are.

Then right at the end of the call, you tuck your face underneath mama's arm and throw up.  It's wonderfully-timed.

 Right then, daddy walks through the front door!  He immediately comes to find you and sweeps you into his arms.  Mama catches his face on camera as he picks you up for the first time today.  He loves you so so much!  Mama nearly cries from the sight of you two.

Daddy swaddles you in his jacket.  He carries you around tucked deep inside, bringing you around the bed so mom can peer into his jacket and see your little eyes looking all around.  Mom and dad laugh and laugh.  They laugh because you are just so cute!

We all enjoy some dinner and snuggles.  You doze off again, and dad goes outside to work on the yard, while mama does a little post-natal workout and catches up on your scrapbook. 

Then, Little Buddy, you beat us to bed.  

We love you so much, and no matter what you do, it's the cutest thing in the world.  We can't stop staring at you and taking pictures of you.  Being parents to you is so fun!  We feel so blessed, and this is such a happy time.

Upward and onward,

Chantel & Charlotte Slumber Party

18 November 2016

Charlotte and I had a sleepover last night.

Ryan was so tired yesterday, so we wanted to give him some rest.  So when Charlotte wasn't settling into her rocker in the middle of the night, she and I went to the nursery, and we slept like two little girls on the same twin bed, holding hands for most of the night. In the morning, Charlotte and I just laid side by side and observed each other. Then she had some breakfast. When she was finished and was a little fussy, I patted her back, rocked her, and sang lullabies. When I laid her back on the bed, her eyes followed me as I sang softly next to her. Then I put her on my stomach, and she let out a huge belch. She then nuzzled right into me and went to sleep.

She is so sweet.  Little Miss Charlotte.

Upward and onward,

Part 2: Our Little Buddy is Born!

16 November 2016

Ryan has headed off to mutual for awhile, so I have decided to write some more about Charlotte's birth and the following days. 

So in my last post, I am delivering Charlotte.  I share the intensity, the adrenaline, the power, the pride of myself as the most powerful animal on earth for a couple moments in time.

This post is the softening, the processing, the shifting.

Several hours after Charlotte's birth, my placenta has been delivered, I'm all stitched up, I am hooked to an IV because of my high loss of blood, and I've been given several shots in the thigh because my uterus wasn't hardening to stimulate blood clotting.  (You thought the fun stopped at the birth of the baby?  ;)  For the most part, so did I..)

And now, Charlotte is in a bassinet on one side of me, and Ryan is in bed on the other side of me.  My midwife and apprentice doulas surround us, one still rubbing my arm and holding my hand.  They tuck us in bed and say their good nights for the evening.  They depart and close the door of our room, the same room of Charlotte's arrival hours earlier.

Our new family is alone together for the first time.

The adrenaline rush of the last 24 hours begins a mild settling, and all I can do is weep.  I cannot find a place to start processing the enormous whirlwind of birth.

Ryan and I huddle close together in bed, grab hands, and I request that we take turns noting the highlights of the day.  Everything else is just too much for me.  We share softly, our foreheads close together, appreciating the moments that the other found so special.  Then we decide to have Ryan administer priesthood blessings for Charlotte and myself.  He comes around the bed and places his large hands on Charlotte's tiny head.  He gives her her first blessing on Earth, blessing her with safety and a quick recovery.  Then he reaches over her and places his hands on my head, offering me similar blessings of a quick and healthy recovery, and expressing Heavenly Father's love for me and what I have just done.

Afterwards, Ryan retreats to the bathroom to finish getting ready for bed, and he can overhear me talking softly to Charlotte.  That is the first moment she and I had.  I felt like I should greet her properly and help comfort her after all her hard work and long day as well.  I don't remember anything of what I said, but Ryan says he loved listening to me; it melted his heart to hear my voice whispering to her.  He remembers very distinctly that I talked with her openly about my birthing experience with her and telling her that I've been through other really hard times in life.  Then I told her through my tears:

The world is very hard sometimes.  But we will make the best of it.  I will teach you what I've done.

The next day, Ryan and I are ready to go home.  We sit on the bed and talk with both my midwives, of which my primary midwife stayed up all night at the birth center, taking care of us and finishing up my clinical records.

We arrive home and welcome Charlotte to her house!  My mom shows up several hours later.

The next several days are a tumble of emotions and continual transformation of my body.  So grueling.  With the intensity of delivery, that seems like a likely finish line.  But this movie can't roll the credits yet.  We can't leave out the swelling and the itching and the engorgement.  My crotch hurt, my belly hurt, my chest hurt, and my hormones are like an unsupervised field day at an elementary school - just a free for all of unpredictable and irrational swings.  Oh and also, this baby must eat, so take off your shirt and expose your breast and push baby's face onto you and ....."AHHHH!!!  THAT HURTS SO BAD!"  My friend Jo told me this summer that the early days of breastfeeding are toe-curlingly painful.  Indeed.  Yes.

And due to all these changes, for the first three days, I felt so disconnected from Charlotte.  All I associated her with was pain.  And when she came close to me, that only meant more discomfort to me.  Ryan later recalled to me that each time she was brought to me for nursing, I would begin shaking and could hardly hold her.  I would watch as Ryan held her, and lifted her, and talked with her, and loved her.  And I couldn't yet do that; I couldn't even kiss her because of cold sores that had arrived from all the stress inside my body.  I felt lower and lower.  I remember reading my Book of Mormon in these first couple of days and feeling a sweet, sweet peace.  Just a small comfort to my soul that all would be well.

And each passing day, a new pain would arrive.  On the evening of the third day, I began to experience stinging symptoms of a UTI.  Oh joy!  Welcome to the party!  If there is any other intolerable consequence of child birth, please join us!  Luckily, Mr. Hemorrhoid did not come to my party.  But nevertheless, I just cried.  There was just no release.  One thing after the next.  I physically and emotionally could not keep up with all that was happening to me.  And I couldn't even feel comfortable or connected to this baby I just delivered.  My best friend Chelsea, who is now a doula in Idaho, reassured me of this normalcy in so many new mothers.  And Joelle and Steffanie also comforted me and helped me feel better about this transition.  I felt extreme gratitude for the support and understanding of my friends.

Ultimately, however, because of all the pain I was in, we had to call my midwife, and she came over to my house at 10:30 that evening.  She and I sat and talked for quite awhile, and she brought pills from her own cupboard to help me.  She was so understanding and loving.  I wish she could be the midwife for everyone.

Then on the fourth day, a switch.  For one, I had my placenta encapsulated, and I had begun taking the pills, which are not only extremely nutritious but largely help with recovery.  It absolutely leveled out my hormones and helped me emotionally cope so much better.

And the prized moment, indicating this shift- I was in my bedroom, all alone with Charlotte, deciding that I would like to try nursing in complete privacy.  Just to allow myself a little more space.  Processing is best done in solidarity for me.  I remember Charlotte in her pink-striped footies.  Thumper jammies, as Ryan family calls them.  She was wrapped in the absolute softest pink polka-dot blanket.  The touch of it to my skin is exquisite.  My own baby blanket was folded at the foot of my bed, just as it has been my whole life.  And I had my "spa" station playing on Pandora.  I settled comfortably against my pillows and brought Charlotte to me to begin nursing.  I braced the pain, breathed deeply, reactively flexed my feet with such vigor.  And after a little time, we were off - she was latched and swallowing rhythmically.

And there I held her, letting her entire hand grip my finger so tightly.  Her cheeks moving with the sucking and swallowing.  Her eyes closed and soft.  Her whole face tender right against me.  And I just sat in the whiteness of my room, the sun coming in the window on my back, our white down comforter cushioning and enfolding me, and the melodic music floating around us.  And I just watched her, letting myself feel proud to be her vessel of nutrients, feeling very satisfied and achieved. And ultimately, I felt connected to her.  I felt like this was my little being.  To love, and nourish, and hold.

And that moment was our beginning. 


And some photos my midwife texted to me last night of the delivery:

That braid in my hair is Ryan's doing.  After 10 hours of laboring, I was tired of sweeping my hair out of my face, so he braided it for me.

Look at Charlotte's little hand clinging to my bra.  I LOVE it!  Her head is green, because my midwife applied chlorophyll to help my body widen and loosen for her head's grand entrance.