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December Book Nook | Heaven Is Here by Stephanie Nielson

Heaven is Here

In 2007 I was a brand new mom, with a brand new baby, spending most of my time in our little apartment in Rexburg, Idaho. I began blogging as a way to keep in touch with my family back home in Oregon, and show them all the cute things our baby, Stella, was doing. BFF Rachel and I spent hours, maybe even days, coding our sites to perfection. Scouring the internet for the perfect digital scrapbook papers and embellishments and new fonts to make our little corners of the internet our own. I remember day-long conversations consisting mostly of, “Hey, when you get a minute could you check my blog?” or, “I just can’t get this spacing right, what was that code again?” or, “Seriously, could you just log in and fix this for me…”. Blogging became a bit competitive. Who’s was prettiest, wittiest and most commented upon?

I tried so hard not to get sucked into the competition of it all, the comparison game was something I had long ago decided I didn’t want to be a part of… but my competitive nature just could never leave well enough alone. I soon set my blog to “private” just to give me a bit of peace over who was reading, commenting or not commenting, etc. and decided I was blogging for me, for my family, and no one else. But, Google Reader kept me abreast of all my favorite blogger’s most recent posts. I was invested in so many young moms through their writing and photos, most of them I’d never (and probably will never) meet. One that inspired me most was Nie Nie. Her cheerful, beautiful, clean and simple life gave me so much to aspire to. I wanted to be that apron-wearing, husband wooing, child-adoring, book reading and mini-Martha-Stewart mom. The glimpse into her world gave me hope that what I desired was achievable. Better yet, she’d disabled comments on her blog and I somehow felt comfort knowing that while she did have a following, she didn’t really care. She was doing this for her. That made it seem more personal each time I read her words, more “just for me” and less for show.

For those who are unfamiliar, Stephanie and her husband Christian were in a terrible plane accident in 2008. It was a tragedy that shook the internet – the blogger community as well as our church community (which always seems more tight knit in these tragedies) came together and watched with our breath held while our beloved Nie Nie lie sleeping in a coma for months, her sweet babies being raised by  her sisters and her husband by her side.

Needless to say, I was “there” the day that Cessna fell from the sky. My mom and I bawled to one another over the phone, we prayed every day and fasted, too. Mom participated in the online fundraiser auctions, I proudly wore my “I Heart Nie” shirt. I became obsessed with Courtney “C Jane”‘s blog (Stephanie’s sister who provided a home for 3 of the Nielsen kids while Christian and Stephanie recovered) and fell even more in love with those beautiful Nielsen kids. My heart broke for them, those kids were on my mind every day, but somehow Courtney made it all seem so manageable… positive, even, most days.

Reading Heaven is Here is something I can’t believe I have put off for so long. With the end of Google Reader, I lost track of most of my favorite blogs and I never really got the hang of the new blog readers. They just weren’t the same. Anyway, I think losing touch with that minor obsession and all the bloggers involved was probably a good thing in the long run, but due to all that, it’s just something I haven’t been focused on for a few years. Even though I was aware of Nie Nie’s book, and had thought about buying it for myself a few times and had it on my Christmas wish list for years (haha!) I just hadn’t gotten around to getting my hands on it yet!!

I was listening to an NPR program a couple of months ago and the interviewee was discussing how literature is life changing and how we should not carry guilt about books we had not yet read. You know, a lot of the time we feel we have something to prove when it comes to the books we’ve already read. It can be embarrassing, for some reason, to admit we have not read something that everyone else seems to have read. But what he said really stuck with me… and this is paraphrased, I can’t track down the exact quote… but he said that books are there for us when we need them. We are drawn to read them at a time when we needed their message and at any other time their impact may  have been lost on us. I think that’s exactly what happened with Heaven is Here. I needed Nie Nie’s voice in my life this week. As expected, I left this book edified and inspired in so many ways.

Stephanie tells the story in three parts: the courtship of she and Christian and their early marriage; the accident; the time after the accident leading up to now.

Every time-frame she tells of is filled with raw honesty. She shares her testimony of God, prayer, hope, motherhood and love so openly and in such a way that you can’t help but feel a deeper connection to your own story. Their courtship was adorable – I hope for these types of experiences for my daughters. Reading about her becoming a mother and wanting so much to fill her home with children was inspiring. And then, the accident… wow. I mean, I had “lived” that through C Jane’s blog and through the snippets we got on Nie Nie’s blog, but as heart-wrenching as it had been to watch through the lens of the blogs, it was nothing compared to reading Stephanie’s first hand account of those dark and trying days. I can’t even imagine. The accident itself and the recovery was harrowing and humbling. Reading all that she overcame… I just… I had no idea it was such a dark time.

I’m not a literature critic, so I can’t possibly give this book a professional review. I can tell you that the writing was beautiful. The memoir was beautiful. And Nie Nie is beautiful.


“Maturing as a mother is a gradual, but steady, process, if we let it unfold, and this decision to stop nursing before I’d originally planned to was one of my first steps. I can only do my best, and that’s all that matters, I’d tell myself. It wasn’t the last time that the physical demands of motherhood overcame my ideals. I’d never let go of the truly important things, but my criteria for what the important things were often realigned.”

“Let them look all they want. Let them go ahead and look at me, the luckiest mother alive.”

“I know, now, without a doubt that the true source of happiness, self-worth, and authentic beauty doesn’t come from the outside. Women are constantly being persuaded to want something unachievable, to look younger or thinner and above all to fit in because being different is too painful and embarrassing. I have accepted myself in a world that does not accept me, because I have learned [ . . . ] that our hearts matter most… It’s a beautiful heart, not a perfect body, that leads to a beautiful life.”


The moment I turned that last page I had to quickly hop onto the Nie Nie Dialogues and catch up on the last few months worth of posts. I follow her on Instagram, so I have seen their newest baby girl and their beautiful new home… but there is something so sweet about her written words. It was like receiving a phone call out of the blue from an old friend. I highly recommend this book, especially if you are feeling the need for a pick-me-up or a bit of perspective in your own life. Did not disappoint, and I know I’ll read it again!!


Nie Nie Dialogues

C Jane Blog

Buy Heaven is Here on

Disclosure: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to The opinions and views contained in this post are honest and entirely my own.



Mori | Class of 2016



Meet Mori. Beautiful inside and out, genuine, funny and kind; soon, she will move mountains.



Not a tourist, here…

CAR_1287webConfession… I’m a judgmental person. I try to fight it but it’s deeply ingrained. Being aware of this character flaw, I feel, is a step in the right direction of becoming a less-judgmental, more loving and kind human. That said… nothing flips my judgement switch quicker than gift-shop kitsch. Not what you expected? I’ll explain.

You know the t-shirts, earrings, necklaces, pencil pouches, pins and buttons… for music lovers, travel lovers, coffee lovers, photographers. These are items possessed by those who fell in love with the idea of something but never married it. They wanted to feel it deeply in the core of their soul, but it never quite clicked, so instead they express outwardly what they subconsciously wish they understood… I’ve seen these enthusiasts as “tourists” rather than long-time residents. Passers-by that are out to prove they “saw and did and got the t-shirt” but that could never truly understand the life experience of a card-carrying citizen of the place. The people who “get it” – the ones who do feel it deeply, in the core of themselves, are too busy living out that passion to toy around with such kitsch.

Over the past few busy “workaholic” style years, a growing, gnawing feeling in my stomach has been telling me to slow down, shut down if I had to, turn it off and allow myself to breathe. With my last pregnancy, resulting in the birth of a beautiful and amazing little boy (who will be a year old next week and no I don’t want to talk about it…) I was forced to slow my roll and figure things out. While the decision to slow down was natural, final and freeing there have been many emotions and mini-freak-outs to deal with. Inner peace with a side of uncertainty.

I am asked frequently if I’m still “doing photography” – a question I cringe at. Yes. I’m still “doing photography” – if by that you mean, I’m still married to photography. I still love photography deeply; it’s in my soul in a place that it aches when the shutter clicks and the light is right and the photo is locked in place and I can share that beauty and evoke an ooh and an ahh and create something that will last longer than me… create something that’s bigger than me. I could never give this up. I’m a permanent resident. I’m not a tourist, here. I’m never leaving. It’s never leaving me.

I’m shooting once or twice a month and about half of that I’m sharing on social media. Not because I’m displeased with the results, but because I don’t have time or brain space to care about self-promotion or affirmation like, “Carly, you are fantastic, your work could cure cancer,” because my priorities and goals are so different now than they have been in years. And I am so, so at peace with that. Forgive me, though, that I struggle to say it out loud. To admit that perhaps there is a season in my life where, on the outside looking in, it may appear that I am a tourist here. I’m a judgmental person as I have said. It’s easy to assume that there are those judging me back…

All of this said, I bought myself a little something and I wear it proudly – a tongue-in-cheek statement to myself, a reminder that I have nothing to prove and I don’t need to explain myself, that I am a permanent resident and I got the t-shirt.  Mom is gonna snap. That’s the season of life I’m in; I’m wearing it on my shirt. And my heart.


And I am not a tourist here.

A few of my favorite things + a sneak peek or two

I’m always on the hunt for good beauty products. I’m pretty picky, I’m kinda cheap, but I also understand somethings are worth investing in… skin care is so important. Regular washing and moisturizing helps our skin to age well, so take care of yourself!!

These are a few of my favorite skin care and beauty products – it takes a lot to make a big ol’ pregnant lady feel good and these guys are like my little buddies every single day. I love them. :)


First Aid Beauty | Ultra Repair Cream <- click for more info!

I have always had combination skin, parts are oily and parts are dry. Around my nose, especially, is super dry to the point of cracking and peeling in the winter. Gross. A few months ago I was at Sephora and decided I needed to try something new – all my go-to products that have worked a time or two but never consistently were just on my nerves that day. I asked one of the clerks (what do you call the people that work the floor at a make-up store?? No idea…) and he flamboyantly and emphatically shoved this jar of awesome in my face.

And, now, I use it every single day. I use it on my kids sun burns and mosquito bites and it helps immediately. I use it on my face every single morning after my shower. It. is. awesome. It has completely done away with the dryness around my nose and the other weird patches I had, but it’s still light and airy feeling. I have not had any breakouts or anything since I started using it, too, I think it’s helping me have clearer skin that is oh-so-soft! It comes in a good sized jar (think 6 month supply if all you’re using it for is your face… maybe longer). Oh, and, PS it’s made without yucky ingredients like parabens, fragrances, sulfates, dyes, pthalates, GMOs, etc, etc…


albaBOTANICA acnedote Face & Body Scrub <- click for more info!

I have been a loyal Mary Kay user since I was like 13. I still love Mary Kay and would never say anything bad about the brand or the products, because, seriously, I love them. But I have had some recurring breakouts that I just could not get to go away so I wanted to try a new product and see how it went. This albaBOTANICA acnedote scrub has quickly  become my absolute favorite face & body wash I have ever used. And my husband uses it too – it has shrunk his pores (mine, too, but seriously to get a man to use a facewash that shrinks his pores is so awesome! haha) and my skin is so much more even and smooth all over. I use it every day and my skin is so glowy and fresh looking all day. I love love love it. And it smells good. Like. Naturey delicious. Locals- I get mine at BiMart. Shop local, y’all (plus… it’s cheaper locally, ha!)

No bad stuff in this product, either, 100% vegetarian, too! :)


 Younique Moodstruck 3d Fiberlash Mascara <- click for more info & to buy via my party – closes Monday 6/30!

 I love this stuff. I was super skeptical and it took me a few months of thinking about it to finally give it a shot. When I realized they have a love it guarantee I decided it’d be worth a shot- if I hated it, I’d get my money back. Well, unfortunately for my pocketbook, I LOVE it. :) So I’m hosting a party for my friend Tiffany, if you click on the link it’ll take you directly to shop from my party and help me get some of this new addiction for free!

I literally have zero lashes naturally, so being able to swipe this on in the morning has been revolutionary. I have been really happy with a couple other drugstore brands of mascara but that’s because I had no idea what I was missing. Once I gave this a try I was like “Ohhhhhhh, I get it now…”

Also love that it’s all natural, cruelty free, cry-proof (as in, I watched The Fault in Our Stars, bawled through the whole thing, left looking like a normal human with eye lashes and no Alice Cooper running down my face), washes off easily with warm water at the end of the day… long-wearing… love it.

Want to see a few more natural beauties? :) Just a couple of sneak peeks from my most recent senior sessions. I have one shoot left before my maternity leave is officially ON. It’s pretty unreal to me that the time is passing so quickly and before we know it I’ll be “mom” to THREE kiddos. What the heck! Anyway- check out these good lookin’ seniors and head over to the Facebook page to see more!

senior girl 2 carly carlson photography

senior girl carly carlsonsenior boy carly carlson photography