Contentment Challenge

It’s October…how did we get here already?


Oh right. First Sean was a two-headed cow and tuberculosis (From Orchids to Octopi), then we were Iago and Desdemona (Othello), then we were Mollie Ralston and Sgt. Trotter (The Mousetrap), now I’m Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie (Steel Magnolias).

I love theater, always have, always will. It’s how Sean and I met, and a passion we share. And this has been an incredible year for roles. But it never seems to fail that I allow a show to bring discord into my home. I’m gone 3 nights a week. My home falls into disarray. We eat like crap. I feel like I’m always kissing my daughter good-bye as I head out the door. Natalie now mimics me, purse over her shoulder, waving bye and blowing me a kiss. I ask her where she’s going, and she says she doesn’t know. Now, as a daycare provider, I’m with her all day, it’s not like I’m an absentee mother. But for some reason this strikes a chord somewhere in me. Looks like I’m the one with separation anxiety issues, not the toddler. We’ve been constantly on the go, so much that it feels weird and I get antsy if we don’t have anywhere to be. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to just BE.

So I’m calling a time out.

Ok, maybe not a time out…a sabbatical?


Something has to change. I read about a Contentment Challenge first on photographer Nancy Ray‘s blog, then on my friend Lara Casey‘s, and I thought ‘maybe this is what I need’. But I decided that, instead of throwing myself into it immediately, I’d pray about it. Ask God if this is what he meant for me, if this is what I truly needed. I prayed for 2 weeks, and the pull never left my heart. Then, sitting in our friends’ apartment last Friday for our first Financial Peace University class, Dave Ramsey talked about how people forget about true contentment.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  (Phil 4:12-13)

Ding Ding.

My life is over run with STUFF. Clutter. Both physical and mental. Natalie’s incredibly impressionable, and I want to provide the best environment for her as possible, because this is her foundation.


The Contentment Challenge : October, November & December 2013

We will give up shopping for clothes, accessories, household decor, and “stuff” for 3 months, to focus our hearts and minds on the root of true contentment. We will actively pursue fulfilling activities that will replace our addiction to material things.

The Guidelines:

• For the next 10 days, your homework is the following: prepare your heart, organize your closet, and make any necessary purchases that you might need during these months. (This is not a last minute shopping spree! This is one final trip to the store for items you will need, and the opportunity for you to say your goodbyes to Target.)

• Choose 1-3 inspiring books to read during this time. There are so many great options at your local library. I will be choosing Love Does by Bob Goff and Captivating by John and Stasi Eldridge

• Gifts are okay! If someone gives you a new dress or piece of decor during that time, receive it graciously! If you need to buy someone else a gift, by all means, do so. The point is not to be rude, but to learn more of ourselves and the Lord. Personally, I have a gift card to Ruche from my birthday that I am savoring  and will be utilizing at some point, but it will be for an item that is needed to .

• Necessities are okay! If you drop and break your phone, please go get a new one! If you lose your glasses, buy a new pair. Just don’t start justifying new purchases for items that you already have. (“I really NEED this bathing suit, even though there are 8 in my closet already.”) My exceptions to the challenge include a few extras for Natalie’s birthday (maybe some balloons to surprise her in the morning) and a Christmas tree.

• You must actively pursue something – anything – that replaces your tendency to buy stuff. Begin thinking about something you love or a hobby you’ve always wanted to do, and make preparations to actually do it. I will be focusing on creating, simplifying and creating memories. Gifts for Christmas, planning my garden for 2014, purging our home and having a yard sale.

So, who’s with me?



Ten Months

Oh my beautiful girl. I don’t know how, but we’re already at ten months together as a family. And each day is interesting.

You’ve sprouted eight teeth, and we have a feeling your one-year molars may make an early appearance. But it makes meal time fun! You’re already eating table food (in a sauceless, saltless form) and you are most definitely a carnivore. You love chicken and pork, and you enjoy broccoli, sweet potatoes, green beans, and carrots. Thanks to you, I’m making healthier meals.


While you tend to jump from toy to toy with little interest, you are fascinated by books. You’ll sit in my lap and make me read Are You My Mother? or Is Your Mama a Llama? or your alphabet book over and over and over.


You are into EVERYTHING! While you don’t make many attempts at walking (you will take steps with us holding your hands), you are constantly pulling yourself up, opening cabinets and doors, pulling clothes out of drawers, and dashing about on all fours. Typically you want to get at or into the stuff you shouldn’t have. We’ve been going to play groups, and I’ve got the downstairs set up for my daycare licensing visit, and you love being able to go nuts in those spaces.


You are definitely pushing your boundaries. You’ll pitch little fits if we take the remote or phone out of your hands, and the biting is back. But unlike last time when you’d fuss when I’d sit you down and tell you “No Biting”, you now give me a sly smile, shake your head and dive right back in. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with you. We’ve also entered a clingy phase. You want nothing to do with playing unless you’re in mama’s lap, and while you’re still very social, you’ll lunge from person to person until you’re back in my arms. Tricky little bugger. This photo session was particularly difficult since you’d fuss and crawl into my lap every time I tried sitting you down.


You’ve been fighting a cold for the past month or so, ever since the season’s changed. Runny nose, congestion, cough, it hasn’t been pretty. We’ve been doing our best to run the humidifier and air purifier at nights to try and help. But, knock on wood, no ear infections or medications needed yet.


You are getting such a personality, I love it. Words I’d currently use to describe you are: spunky, mischievous, dramatic, inquisitive and loveable. You love animals, and strangely enough, you are drawn to chickens! You’ve been to a petting zoo a couple of times, and the chickens and turkeys always get you the most excited.


You’ve got my nose crinkle, and when you smile, your whole face absolutely lights up. Particularly when Daddy or I walk into a room. We’ve had to have family watch you a lot lately since Daddy had to step into a role in my play, and I feel so guilty. But it heals my heart a little when I see you beam at me as soon as I walk in the door.


New things we’ve learned: kisses, clapping, ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ (properly), how to pet the kitties gently, dancing (you do the cutest little bob up and down), and peek a boo.


You love to point to things so that we tell you what they are, or take you over to them.


Apparently technology is for the young. You are drawn to our cell phones, and constantly hang up when we’re talking to Daddy on speakerphone. Grandpa showed us an iPhone app that you absolutely adore. Chippy the Chipmunk will react or sing or even toot depending on where you press. He was the first one you made ‘kisses’ at.

It’s hard to believe you’re getting so big by the day. I see less and less baby in you and more toddler. Slow down sweetie! We’ll be celebrating an entire year pretty soon.


Seven Months

You are growing by leaps and bounds these days.

You’ve become so interactive, and I love your personality. You’re such a happy girl, though the sweetness is currently replaced by a chew-crazy monster. EVERYTHING goes in your mouth, including mama…we’re trying to teach you that people aren’t for chewing. Nobody likes a biter.

You’ve been having a great time at Grammy’s day care, playing with all your friends. When I drop you off you’re ready to have fun, but you always greet me with the biggest smile at the end of the day. Thank you for making me feel so special.

Your new favorite thing to do is pull yourself up to standing. Sitting isn’t enough for you anymore. We’ll be playing on the floor, and you’ll reach for my hands (which, of course, I’ll give you) and up you go!

But pulling yourself up means you’ve had your share of tumbles too, something I’m learning just comes with the territory.

You are into everything you can get your hands on. You aren’t crawling yet, but you’ll get up on all fours and reach as far as possible with your tiny fingers.

I love to listen to you babble. You’ll test out your whole range, from sweet little “singing” to all out shrieks.

And you’re always so proud of yourself.

Eating is progressing as well. We’ve started giving you puffs that will dissolve in your mouth and you love them! At first you’d get pieces stuck in that awkward spot where you couldn’t swallow it, but it wouldn’t come back forward, but now you are chewing like a pro.

You are such a blessing my darling girl, and your dad and I are so happy to be your parents. It’s hard to think that a year ago you were a bloated belly and still “the peanut”. Our lives have changed so much.

Six Months

My darling Natalie,

I cannot tell you all the ways you’ve changed me in the last 6 months. And can I say how awesome it is that you turned 6 months old on Father’s Day? Seeing your Daddy become, well, a dad, has been one of the most incredible experiences as well.

This month was very strange for us. Your great grandma had a fall over Memorial Day weekend, and can’t live by herself anymore. So with two days notice, you and I packed up and headed to Maine for three weeks. You brought such joy to her, smiling and babbling and giggling as she walked about with her cane.

Thanks to that trip, we celebrated many firsts for you, sadly mostly without Daddy. We went on a picnic to a lighthouse, we went to the beach, and you met a lobster!

You have two teeth, bottom center, and you love to show them off. You jut your chin out a little when you grin and it melts me. I call it your bulldog grin. You also delight in licking and chewing everything, including people.

You sit up like a pro now! I’ve started leaving the car seat in the car when we go shopping and you sit in the carriage seat where you can see everything. You smile at everyone who passes by and dance and babble, and we can’t take two steps without someone proclaiming how beautiful you are. Yesterday we were mobbed by five women just stepping in the door to Wegmans!

Sweet potatoes and avocados are your favorite new foods. We tried applesauce, green beans, and homemade carrots to a less than enthusiastic response (you gagged, spit it all out and wiped your tongue with your bib…can you say drama queen? No? Well, we’ll work on it), but OMG!!!! Avocados and sweet potatoes are the AWESOME!!!!! Like, lick your tray awesome, you can’t get enough.

It won’t be long before you’re mobile. You’ve learned that you can go after things you want by lunging  and grabbing, which makes holding you difficult these days. You’re getting the lifting your chest up with your arms, and pushing with your legs to get your butt in the air, but not at the same time. You look like you’re doing cobra pose from yoga, and downward dog, only using your face instead of your arms.

Animals are cool. We’re working on petting, not grabbing. London’s less than pleased with you. One of these days he’ll learn not to dangle his tail where you can get it.

You’re such an inquisitive and and analytic little girl. You take in every new experience or sensation with a slightly furrowed brow, and you can almost see your brain examining and recording every sense.

Then the object goes in your mouth.

You’re starting to identify me as Mama. You’ll get excited when I come in a room, kinda sorta reach for me, and if someone else is holding you, you always keep an eye on me. What can I say? You know how to make a girl feel special.

I’m starting to miss the new baby phases, but I love the new stuff you’re coming out with! When they say that every phase is special they were right. You get more and more beautiful and spunky by the day, and when you “talk” I want to bottle your sweet voice and preserve it forever.

I love you baby girl with all my heart,

Your Mama

PS: This one was too sweet not to share…

Five Months


“If I could make these moments endless
If I could stop the winds of change
If we just keep our eyes wide open
Then everything would stay the same”


– Josh Groban “Awake”

I’m trying desperately to capture every moment of you growing, but with each day I forget how little you really used to be. Thank God I’ve been diligent with this monthly update, last night I sat and flipped through every photo I’d taken of you, and my mind couldn’t wrap around how much you’ve changed in these past 5 months.

It seems like every day you’re learning something new. Grandma gave me a calendar to mark all of your firsts, and this week alone I marked 3 things 3 days in a row. On Sunday you rolled back to front for the first time, on Monday you cut your first tooth (bottom center right with its brother not far behind), and on Tuesday you ate your first rice cereal (and LOVED it!).

You are a Daddy’s girl. If he is in the room you have eyes for no one else. I have never seen you give anyone the attention and constant smile that you give him. I think it makes him feel special, so keep it up.

You’re almost sitting up on your own now. We use your boppy for support, and you’ll sit for a minute sometimes before leaning too far one way and flopping.

You have this grin now that is a mixture of pure joy and mischief. Combine that with your new interest in EVERYTHING, and I have a feeling Daddy and I are going to have our hands full with you.

You are starting to know what you want, primarily with your toys, but also food. You’ll become fixated on something and lunge after it, trying to get your hot little hands on it. You’ll scoot (millimeters, but it’s something) after toys.You polish off your bowl of cereal, grabbing at the spoon, and are antsy for more.

Toes. You have discovered your toes. While I’m changing you or you’re playing on your mat, you’ll reach out and grab them. They’ve almost made it to your mouth a couple times, but you haven’t been able to taste them yet.

We made it through your first cold, and you are such a joy, even through that. You’d be playing away, paying no mind to the hunk of snot dripping from your nose. We used up almost all the grape Boogie Wipes that Aunt Stacey gave me at my shower.

You’ve discovered screeching, which you employ when you’re very excited. Also it starts off the few laughs that we can get out of you. I have to kiss you on your cheeks and zerbit your neck to get them, but I love to hear it.

The biggest news is that we opened our show! This weekend is our closing weekend for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and you have gotten nothing but rave reviews. You have been so good, we still have a little work to do on learning our backstage voice, but when you’re on stage you are all business.

First Bites

 Last week Natalie became terribly interested in everything we were eating and drinking. She’s reached the grabby phase, where she’ll lunge for whatever she wants: the TV remote, a pile of mashed potatoes, a coffee cup…

…oh dear.

Time for the next step, it seemed. Rice cereal.

rice cereal

After a few uncertain bites…

baby in walker

baby eats cereal

…she decided it was the awesomest thing since toes and dove after bite after bite, grabbing for the spoon.

baby eats cereal with spoon

messy baby face cereal

She finished the whole bowl.

messy baby face cereal

And still squealed for more.

messy tray baby fingers cereal

At this rate I won’t need the “starving kids in Africa” bit.

The Hardest Job Ever

I’d dreamed about being a mom for a while before the two lines showed up on a test, and now, I sometimes still can’t believe that the title has belonged to me for the last 5 months. It is the ultimate blessing to watch this tiny being grow, thrive, and develop. I am able to pass on the traditions and teachings that my parents and Sean’s parents instilled in us. Yesterday I celebrated my very first Mother’s Day.

But as much as I’d looked forward to being a mother, I didn’t realize how hard it would be. Labor was nothing compared to what came after. Babies bring attention from strangers EVERYWHERE you go, and those strangers bring their opinions.

Everyone has their own opinion on child rearing, and they each think it should apply to how I raise my child. I’ve been questioned on how I feed her, how I dress her, how I carry her, what I give her to play with and what I don’t give her to play with. I’ve had a woman at the grocery store hover over me as I put Natalie’s car seat in the shopping cart, and a man at a gymnastics meet inquire about whether I breastfed. I didn’t realize how vulnerable I would feel as a mom, and how hard it would be not to see these encounters as a personal attack on my abilities.

When I sat down to write this blog, I had hoped for it to be loving and full of my wishes for Natalie and how I hope to raise her, but it’s taken on a voice of its own. It won’t be shiny and positive, but it will be needed.

I went to the Making Things Happen Intensive this past week and as I broke down and chipped away all the negatives that I’d been harboring inside of me, I found myself admitting that my life is too short not to assert myself as Natalie’s mother. My life is too short to allow thoughts that I’m not a good mother keep me from being the most amazing mother possible.

This revelation compounded with the recent Time article and the ridiculous question “Am I Mother Enough” that’s rocked the media, I’m taking a moment to take a stand for mothers everywhere…or just me, because that is enough.

There are so many “methods” to parenting: attachment parenting, cloth vs disposable diapering, breastfeeding vs formula, schedule vs on demand, pacifier vs no pacifier, co-sleeping vs bassinet vs crib, the list continues. Women face this mountain of options, opinions, and research daily and agonize over which to choose and whether it will destroy their child’s future. And it seems like as soon as we receive this information, it changes. But in the end we find this balance (if you can even call it that) of what works for us and is the best possible option for our children.

When I was pregnant, I dreamed of cloth diapering, baby wearing, breastfeeding, staying home, only offering battery-free, self powered toys, and growing organic foods to make baby food.

My reality? I breastfeed, stay home with her, have kept most toys battery free, and will wear her occasionally. I also use disposable diapers, her stroller, a battery operated swing, and my garden remains in the sprouting stage while she will be eating rice cereal any day now.

Before you start scoffing, saying how I got what I wanted for the most part, let me say that I AM VERY LUCKY!

Do I envy my cloth diapering comrades? A little, but in the end, it’s not realistic for me. Instead, we’ve found a brand of disposables that leaves Natalie dry and rash free.

I know there are pumping and formula moms who envy my ability to breastfeed, but because of schedule or physical complications they’ve had to find their best alternative. And while I’ll probably wean Natalie around a year (if she hasn’t already), there are moms who will breastfeed for years after that. That is their decision.

My point is that for every well adjusted, cloth diapered, attachment parented child, there’s an equally well adjusted disposable diapered, working mama/day care child. As long as love and the child’s well being are the center of the home, how the mom approaches tubby time is purely a method. Just as every child’s nursery is unique, so is that mom’s parenting style.

While you may not agree with another’s methods, that does not entitle you to judge them, label them as “wrong”, or even feel like less of a mother. You do not know the reasons and circumstances behind their decisions. I have to admit that I have found myself giving a side eye to parenting practices that I’ve witnessed, so this is ,above all, a reminder to myself.

When Natalie was born I was inducted into the Mom Club. Every day I bust my butt figuring this role out, and I am not alone. So rather than tear down your fellow moms, build them up, respect them as you’d like them to respect you, and question their methods only to educate yourself.

Rather than define myself as an attachment parenter or any other label from a book, I shall humbly define myself by this one:

I am a Natalie Rose Gardell parenter 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day!


Two Months

Two months.

Your personality is beginning to shine. You seem to be a morning baby…not really sure where you got that from. But my favorite time of day is picking you up out of your crib in the morning and seeing your darling smile. I’ll change you and by that point you’re gasping and cooing with excitement.

smiling baby on chair

Oh, and did you see that key word above? Your CRIB. You’ve been sleeping in your own room and love it. You sleep through the night, which makes morning all the better for us. That first night I thought I’d be a mess, but I slept like a rock and woke up to Daddy’s alarm. I heard your coos through the monitor shortly after.


Daddy and I will do anything to get your beautiful smile to shine back at us.


We’ll sing silly songs, nibble your toes, blow raspberries on your belly, Daddy even tickles your knees.


But sometimes you just look at us and the corners of your mouth draw back into that toothless grin that makes us feel like the best people in the world.


You don’t like tummy time very much, so we don’t do it as much as we should. But your neck is getting so strong anyways. You love sitting up on our laps, and you’ll stare at the red curtains in the living room window.


Your eyes are taking everything in these days. You’ve discovered the flower and bug mobile that I made and hung above the crib. I’ll blow to make the white and pink blossoms sway and you’ll smile or stare inquisitively. It’s like I’m watching your mind bloom.


You do get cranky at times, particularly in the evening. You cluster feed and you can’t seem to get enough some nights.


Sometimes you’re so tired, but you just won’t sleep. I’ll bounce and rock and swaddle you, but you’ll keep fussing, occasionally nodding off for a moment. Then you’ll let out a belch, snuggle into my shoulder and your long lashes droop closed.


We await your first giggle. You’re almost there, you’ll suck in your breath a couple times and smile. We like to say you laugh like Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory.

Only you’re way cuter.


It’s a Good Thing

It’s Wednesday. 

I’m not Martha Stewart. Actually, I think I could be a better TV host than her. Have you watched her show? It’s rife with awkward moments and bitchy subtext. I love it.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about today. I only mentioned Martha because I am borrowing a phrase from her for my blog title.

And actually, this blog post was supposed to be the opposite of snarky, so I kinda feel bad for that.

Sorry Martha.

Back to the point of this post. Here are some things I experienced today that made me think “It’s a Good Thing”:

  • the wee princess does a better Warrior in her sleep than I do in class
  • the convenience of living on a main road – I dropped my car off to get inspected and got some exercise walking to the grocery store and back, all within a quarter mile of my home
  • a woman who got such delight in the cute things around her, including the wee princess and a puppy in the grocery store parking lot
  • a woman who was sweet enough to offer me a ride when she saw me walking back to the garage with the wee princess strapped to me and a grocery bag in each hand
  • the sheer comfort of putting on my husband’s baggy sweatshirt straight out of the dryer
  • the way my heart sings when the wee princess smiles and “talks” (Sorry, for some reason I couldn’t get this to embed)
  • finding a free lunch seminar for online marketing and having the flexible schedule and child care to attend (thanks Ellen!)
  • digging in and exploring the beauty that is my new 2012 Simplified planner by my girl, Emily Ley

So what was your Good Thing today?