Author: Lara

Never in my life did I think I would be writing a series on my blog about GARDENING. What is happening here?!

nrp-olivia-swfruitfulsummer-1113In the garden with Josh by Robyn Van Dyke.

Friends, I am an unlikely gardener. I have killed a lot of plants in my life! For the majority of my existence, I didn’t understand how people loved spending time with plants or getting their hands dirty. My mom and grandfather were always out in the dirt, but I just didn’t get it!

And then something unexpected happened. Here’s the very first peek at my upcoming book, Cultivate (comes out June 27th!):

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Gardening seemed like a gentle hobby for those who had more time on their hands. Yet here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type, much less live: God was transforming a plant killer like me into a gardener.

Gardening was not a hobby I randomly picked out of thin air; it was a craving. As my life was being changed by God’s grace, my hands followed. I began to feel an insatiable desire to nurture what I had been given—and even more than that, to grow things I never imagined wanting to grow!

One spring day, I decided to get my garden growing. I stood in the yard and opened a pack of yellow pear tomato seeds. As I unsealed the packet, I steadied my hands. If you’ve ever enjoyed an heirloom tomato in the summer, you may have noticed the seeds. They are tiny and delicate. I reached into the packet and touched one with my pointer finger. It grasped onto me as if I now held some responsibility for its life. I could choose to cultivate it or let it remain dormant.

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Inside a seed is something powerful: potential. And potential is scary, isn’t it? It calls us to grow—to take action, to become, and to step forward in faith.

Lifting the fragile seed carefully out of the packet, my breathing slowed.

Planting seeds is risky. It’s putting our trust in something bigger than us. It’s optimism and faith. It requires letting go, and I don’t like letting go. I like being in control. I like efficiency, security, routine, and predictability. I like having a plan.

As I looked down at the seeds, I knew I held possibility in my hands.

What do I do now? How do I plant this? When is the right time to plant tomatoes? How deep in the soil do I plant them? How much should I water them? How many seeds do I plant at once? What if I don’t do this perfectly and it doesn’t grow?

I had a choice: risk imperfect progress to grow new life or regret not growing anything at all.

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What do you think I chose? It will surprise you! You’ll find out what happened with that little seed in June when the book comes out. : )

But, I did, in fact, start a garden.

Or rather, it started me.

lara casey gardenGracie is so little here! Watering the pineapple sage by Faith Teasley.

I get asked a lot of questions about this gardening thing (step inside Gracie’s Garden here on Instagram) and let me first tell you: I am no Master Gardener. I’m just a gal who happens to think growing things is the greatest thing ever. I have learned a thing or two, and I love seeing friends discover that they can learn to garden–no previous green thumb required!

So, let’s start with some basics. This is part 1 in my Gardening 101 series, with much more to come!

sJEddEmZbLzsgRoIzgFSa4WrmRpB8t0uqD45jpiXg-EOur zinnias (my favorite) by Emily March

1. Define why you want to grow things. What kind of garden do you want to grow, and why gardening in the first place?

For food? If so, what do you like to eat?
For teaching? This is why I first started our garden. I wanted Grace to experience the miracle of growing things–from start to finish–and all the garden has to offer!
For fun? My grandfather loved growing the weird things: pineapple sage (we love growing it too!), huge tomato varieties, and unique hybrids.
For beauty? Maybe you love the idea of creating a garden space as an environment to enjoy. 
For filling vases? We love growing several flower varieties just for cutting and sharing with neighbors.
For attracting butterflies, birds, and bees? This is why we plant zinnias–the pollinators that love them help to grow all of our veggies.

What is it for you? You may have one reason or 10–there are no wrong answers here. List your priorities and it will help you determine what to grow, and what not to grow.

Maybe you are living in an apartment and only have space for a few pots by the windowsill–that’s great! Maybe you have just enough space for containers–that’s great too. Maybe you prefer low-maintenance air plants or you only want a few great house plants–wonderful. Or maybe you don’t like to eat veggies and you just want pretty flowers–that’s awesome too! The bottom line here: use what you have, and use it in a way that’s unique to you.

‘There are countless ways to grow a garden, just as there are many ways to grow an intentional life. There are kitchen gardens, vertical gardens, cottage gardens, raised beds, roof gardens, square foot gardens, window boxes, rose gardens, wildflower gardens, container gardens, terrariums, herb gardens, water gardens, butterfly gardens—and the list goes on. No two gardens are exactly alike. Imagine your life as a garden. Unique. Purposeful. Unlike any other.’ – another little snippet from Cultivate : ) 

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2. Find out your growing zone.

Like learning your Myers-Briggs personality type, this is very helpful information. Essential, actually. Knowing your growing zone will allow you to know what types of plants might thrive in your area in each season. This is like knowing the gardening language that allows you to read seed packets and plant labels. Most plant labels and seed packets have recommendations based on each growing zone. Look yours up here!

Lara Casey GardenSpotting seedlings growing (with Josh growing in my belly at the time!) by Robyn Van Dyke

3. Find out your ideal date to plant, and put that date on your calendar.

This tip is going to help you cool your jets about gardening for a bit, and help you to plan well! Unless you live in Florida, it’s not time to plant things in most parts of the country. You are not behind if you are just getting started on your garden dreaming–you have time. If you are going to garden outdoors, you’ll need to know what the last date of expected frost will be in your city. Find out here. For us, the ideal date to begin planting is not until after Tax Day – April 15th! Now, let me tell you, I have ignored this recommendation several times. And every time I’ve regretted it. In our area, the weather gets lovely in late February and March is magical, and it makes everyone want to plant things right away. But, wise gardeners know to be patient. I’ve gotten over-eager a time or two and planted tomatoes in March only to have to dig them out before a freeze and give them a temporary abode in my kitchen. Be patient in planting, my fellow gardeners. You’ll be glad you waited. You can also find a full list of exactly when to plant different varieties in your location on the Old Farmer’s Almanac site. Here’s my list for Chapel Hill! So helpful.

img_7959My mom and Grace planting our winter garden this last year.

 4. Go ahead and do a little Garden Dreaming. Knowing why you want to garden and when you can plant things in your area and zone, it’s time to start dreaming about what you want to grow. We’ll get more in-depth on this next (what grows well with what, etc.), but for now, start browsing seed catalogs and making your dream list. Grace and I did our Garden Dreaming a few weeks ago. We broke out all the seed catalogs (I love Park Seed, Burpee, Floret Flower Seeds, David’s Garden, Renee’s Garden, Botanical Interests, and the Southern Seed Exchange Catalog), and we circled and chatted and had a ton of fun making our dream list. Later, when we sketched out the garden (coming next), we paired down our list. For now, get garden happy and write out all the things you’d love to grow–what you would love to eat, share, or cut–depending on your answers to question 1. We’ll work through our lists in the next post. I can’t wait to hear what you’re dreaming of! : )

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5. Repeat after me: you do not have to know everything about horticulture to grow a garden. Every year, some things grow and some things don’t! I still kill plants. I sometimes forget to water. I sometimes don’t weed. And you know what? My garden still grows! Even though I am imperfect, I am a gardener.

(And for some reason, I couldn’t help the tears typing those words.)

You can be a gardener, too, my friend. I’m excited for you!

Next up, we’ll tackle how to choose what to grow, some thoughts on simple garden supplies, fun with seed starting, how to make your own raised beds if you’re interested, and the five things you need to consider before finalizing your growing list: money, time, space, sun, and soil. I have some great (and simple) info coming for you!

Till then, it’s your turn! I’d love to hear your answers to what we just chatted about–and let me know what other questions you have too. 

With love from my head tomatoes,
The Unlikely Gardener : )

P.S. We’re hiring!

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Whether we vocalize it or not, we often crave fast results and overnight success. But, what if we’re missing something? What if overnight and instant aren’t the most fruitful ways to grow things?

I was reading Exodus a couple weeks ago and was blow away by these verses (Exodus 23:29-30):

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If God did it quickly, they wouldn’t be ready. Instead, He does it little by little so they will be prepared and readied over time! What a powerful story for our lives. Little by little progress adds up, and in the wait, we are ripened and readied.

Here are 10 things to help you cultivate what matters, little by little, in the week ahead!

1. Start writing your book. I felt unqualified to write books, and to share about how to write one! But, I wrote this anyway.

2. Shake on it. Grace and I have a secret handshake we do every night before bed. This simple connecting point for us has grown our bond, and it makes us giggle every time! This teacher made up handshakes with every kid in his class (and more!). Check it out.

3. Spend 40 days cultivating your faith. This Lent devotional from Amen Paper Company is beautiful!

4. Clean your kitchen. : ) Some awesome tips from my mom. The tip about clearing out your spices is one I need to do!

IMG_8974Lettering by my friend, Lindsay, from Jennie’s opening session at IF. 

5. Experience fresh faith. IF Gathering 2017 knocked my socks off. I pre-ordered the digital download so I can watch it again. I cheered out loud during almost every session, and couldn’t help the tears listening to Roce, a Bible translator from the Philippines. It was powerful! Pre-order the download here.

6. Explore the new CultivateWhatMatters.com. Finally! The new site has officially launched, and it’s awesome. Read all about the new features, and get your free profile started!

7. Win a farm. Really! Even if you aren’t local to NC, wouldn’t this be amazing for someone to win? If you have farming friends, let them know about this.

8. Refresh your marriage. Valentine’s Day wasn’t always one of my favorite days, namely when my marriage was in turmoil. Read more here, get my free marriage guide here, and check out this marriage conference from Jen at Unveleied Wife!

9. Set goals with your significant other. Need some tips to get your sweetie on board with goal setting, or need a place to start? Here you go! These tips have been tested and approved–Ari doesn’t do goals, but he loved sitting down with me to do the Couple’s Goal Guide!

10. Start over, or start fresh. Cultivate What Matters Week was intended as a week of encouragement for all of you, but I have been double blessed by it myself! I wanted to give up earlier this week, and I learned something in that moment. Read all about it here.

Next up is something many of you have been asking for: Gardening 101! Sign up for my email notes below, if you haven’t already, and you’ll be the first to know when the series goes live next week! Have you thought about starting a garden? I’d love to hear any questions you have below so I can consider incorporating them into the series!

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I almost gave up yesterday. I woke up feeling anxious about all I needed to get done, the kids were being wild (Sarah has been pulling Josh’s pants down lately–all the big eye emojis!), and I considered skipping my weights. This may seem small, but it’s the seemingly-small decisions we make that add up over time. Even if I had decided to skip strength training that morning, it would have been fine–progress matters, not perfection–but I learned something in that moment. I stopped, I got still, and I asked myself why I wanted to quit. It’s so easy to get narrowly focused on today, and lose sight of what will matter when we’re 80. For me, being healthy so I can live strong and healthy for my family is part of my big picture. The to-do’s that felt so urgent, causing me to consider not cultivating what matters, suddenly paled in comparison. So, I took a deep breath and pushed through. I’m so glad I did.

You see, it wasn’t about pushing through a workout. It’s never really about what’s on the surface.

It was about laying down the worry I was experiencing, which was really about not trusting God in that moment. I was trying to get ahead instead of get still. Trying to achieve instead of abide.

That’s big. These decisions add up.

Making progress on goals isn’t about checking something off of a list, or making perfect steps forward; it’s about growing something that lasts longer than us. When the big picture is in view, real motivation happens. Real motivation is the kind of fire you can tap into when you don’t feel like it. (Hand raised here on tapping into that a lot!) Real motivation is grace-filled, and gives you the freedom to change plans and miss a step (or ten) on the path, as long as you are still on the path.

IMG_9183Out in the garden yesterday morning.

Get this: February is statistically the month that gym membership attendance goes down, and fast food consumption goes up. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Many of us feel burned out, or guilty for not starting the new year like we had hoped. (Are you feeling that?) Here’s what happens: 50% of the US population sets goals in January. Come February 15th, half of those people give up.

But, not us.
Not you.

No matter how imperfect our progress has been so far, we. are. not. caving.

We are getting back up and shaking things up.

Instead, we’re celebrating the power of little by little (sometimes imperfect!) progress, and we’re flipping this statistic on its head together!

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Peonies grow through the dirt, and so do we.

We believe that growing an intentional life is possible, right where we are: in the mess, in the tension, in the wait, and in what may feel imperfect.

We believe the imperfect is rich growing ground. We do not have to have it all together or do it all to live a purposeful life.

We believe that goal setting can be life-giving instead of guilt-inducing. We believe that good goals have the power to simplify our lives, and give us our time back!

We believe that good things grow over time, through little-by-little progress

We believe that cultivating what matters isn’t magic: it takes hard work and intentional decisions. From tilling up the earth and planting seeds, to tending and pruning, to the harvest, growing good things takes muscle, heart, and leaps of faith.

We believe in growing together, in blooming where we’ve been planted, and in helping others do the same.

We believe cultivating what matters changes everything.

For tips and ideas on how to get motivated, refreshed, or how to start over on your grace-filled goals completely, we’ve got you covered! Join us on the new CultivateWhatMatters.com today.

You get two choices this week: become a part of this statistic and give up, or shake things up and cultivate. We’re excited to dig in with you! Which one are you choosing?

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Here’s how this conversation went:

Me: God, what do you want me to share this week?
God: How to start writing a book.
Me: But I am not qualified to talk about that. I haven’t written perfect books, and I made such imperfect progress in writing both of them, and I DON’T KNOW ENOUGH.
God: You’re right. But, when you wrote your books I was always with you. Tell people your story and how to get started when they too feel imperfect and unqualified.
Me: Okay. But I’m afraid.
God: I am with you! Do it anyway.

I am unqualified to write this post. If you are looking for advice from someone who has written perfect words and made perfect progress in writing books, that someone isn’t me. Writing both of my books was a miracle (more of my story is in the video at the end of this post!)–something done not by my own strength, but His. Writing books is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, childbirth included. I don’t say that in jest. I haven’t written a post about this till now because that sounds dramatic if you’ve never experienced it. For me, putting my story into words–all the messy parts included–has been an act of surrender. Maybe some people find great joy in the process of writing books. I am not one of them.

Lara Casey Writign CultivateNotes I posted on my wall while I was writing Cultivate.

Now, having said that, let me tell you why these experiences have changed me in powerful ways, and why great joy–greater than I ever imagined–came through writing Make It Happen and Cultivate (releases June 27th!). How often do you get the opportunity to wrestle with your thoughts, and talk to God all day about them? As I struggled to put words on the page, there was a constant inner dialogue with God–sometimes complaining that the right words weren’t coming, sometimes crying as I relived the hardest parts of my journey, often worrying that my words weren’t perfect (and God reminding me that He didn’t call me to write perfect words!), yet in it all, drawing closer to Him. That is a gift I would never trade for easier experiences. Like spring flowers growing through the soil of winter, good things grow through hard things! I am so grateful!

I often get asked about this book writing thing, and where to start. Like I said, I’m no expert, and my book writing experiences may be totally unique to me. But, if I were to give myself advice before starting, this is it!

Here are 10 tips to get started on writing your book:

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1. Start by answering these questions:

– Why do you want to write a book? Why book format specifically versus blogging, or some other medium? Book format may seem glamorous in many ways–you may envision your book on the shelves at a bookstore, or getting to add “author” to your bio (and there’s nothing wrong with those things!), but choose the format for your message intentionally. It’s entirely possible that your message will reach more people–or more of the right people–in a different format.

– What is your message? What do you hope to communicate in your book? This may seem like a basic question, but this question is everything. I struggled to answer this question about Cultivate in the early stages of writing because it wasn’t clear to me yet. I started over on the book completely for several reasons, but one of those was because my message finally became clear. I’m so grateful I started over!

– Who are you writing this book for? I wrote Make It Happen to one specific person. Yes, I hoped it would help a variety of women in various life stages, but God kept bringing one person to mind and I wrote the majority of the book to her. It helped me to make the book a conversation, and helped motivate me to get this message out!

– Are you willing to sacrifice your time and heart and resources and pride for this message? Because, for me, that’s what it took. Writing books, just like doing anything meaningful, comes at a cost. It’s not like writing a blog post. Writing a book is an all-consuming experience from start to finish. Are you ready to dig in?

2. Learn from other writers. Reading great books is helpful to learn how to be a better writer and communicator, and many writers have excellent training resources! My friend Lysa started Compel Training, and I used it when writing both of my books. Registration is currently closed, but get on their email list and you’ll know when registration opens again. You can also read this collection of advice I contributed to through Proverbs 31 for first-time writers. There are far wiser writers in there than I who contributed, and their advice is golden!

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3. Sketch out your book. Make a detailed and clear outline of your entire book, and the key points you hope to deliver. There are millions of ways to do this, but the point here isn’t do make a perfect outline, it’s to just make an outline! I wrote the key points I wanted to deliver on paper first and brainstormed stories I wanted to tell to illustrate each point. Then, I put all those points and stories on PostIts above my desk and tried to put them in an order that made sense. This was so helpful for me! (Thanks to my friend and author Renee for helping me with this!) Later on, I typed up an outline on my laptop, and it changed a ton as I went! A note of freedom: you have permission to change your mind, start over, and re-do your outline as you go. In fact, it’s inevitable that you will. The chapters of both of my books were re-ordered at least four times. The chapter titles changed a dozen times. And the outline I started with is nothing like the one I finished with!

4. Don’t start writing with a blank page. A tip I learned from Lysa! Once you have a working outline and you open up that blank document to get started, start with something on the page. Try adding your outline text for that chapter to the page before you begin. This helps to keep you focused on what needs to be communicated, and gives you a starting point. Staring at a blank page is no fun, and doesn’t help you to get the words flowing.

5. Capture your thoughts. When you are in the thick of writing a book, it is like doing an all-consuming puzzle. Pieces may come together in the middle of the night, in the shower, on a walk, or while you’re cooking dinner (speaking from experience here). So, be prepared with something to capture your thoughts! I found it helpful to keep notes in a little notebook, and when that notebook wasn’t around, I’d jot them down on my phone or on any scrap piece of paper in sight. Evidence below.

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6. Use helpful writing software. Most publishers want your files in Word format, but writing in Word is not ideal when crafting a 60,000-word manuscript. That can be challenging to navigate between chapters. I used Scrivener to write both of my books and LOVED it. Definitely worth the $45 investment. When I was done, I reformatted everything into my publisher’s desired Word format. Everyone’s process is different, though! My friend Hannah writes her books longhand on yellow legal pads, then transfers them to type.

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A screenshot from my Scrivener file (which has drastically changed since I captured this–most of those chapter titles have been changed!). But, you can see how easy this is to navigate. Love this software!

7. Compose your words in good form. Whether you go the traditional publishing route or choose to self-publish, you will likely still have (need!) a copyeditor and proofreader. Learning to compose your thoughts in good form from the start is very helpful, though! I’ve had many editing rounds where words were changed into proper grammar, and they lost my voice in the change. So, I had to go back and change entire paragraphs to communicate my message authentically and naturally–in proper grammar. A great resource: Grammarly.com has been a great help to me in this arena. You can sign up for a free account and it checks your writing as you go.

8. Clear the clutter. I have learned to be a better writer over time by learning how to communicate thoughts more clearly–and avoid words that clutter.Here are some words to avoid. And these too. There are always exceptions to these suggestions but wow these have been helpful for me!

IMG_1440-2Have you ever used the word sagacious? ; )

9. Stop typing. : ) Yep! Try voice typing. I have used Dragon dictation software, the free voice plugin on Google Docs, and the voice-to-text feature on Scrivener. When you are working through a challenging section, this can be a great alternative to get the words out, and go back and edit them later.

10. Read your words out loud. This has been huge for me! When I read my words out loud (or use the speaking feature on Scrivener), I can hear what needs to be changed to make my message clearer. It can be helpful to read your words aloud to someone else too!

One final bonus tip: just do it. If God has told you to write a book, get to it. Don’t wait till you are “qualified,” or your circumstances are perfect, or you have it all together. As I wrote in Make It Happen, God does not need you to be a superhero in order to use you for His great purposes. He just needs your humble, willing heart. He will help you.

Here’s my writing story and more tips from Facebook live today!

P.S. Thanks to my friend Amy for encouraging me to write this post! Go write that book, my friend. (And you too, dear reader!)

P.P.S. Have you considered writing a book? What has been holding you back? I’d love to hear from you. I’ll choose a few people who comment to win copies of Make It Happen (for you or a friend!). I loved hearing your thoughts here too!

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I don’t know about you, but February is typically a wonky month around here. We’ve historically had extra cold weather: February was the month of two epic storms we dubbed Snowmageddon and Icepalooza.

But, there’s one big reason why February tends to be a tricky month for many: the forward momentum of January. We get so excited about doing new things, starting fresh, and growing new habits, that we often burn ourselves out by February 15th. It’s statistically the month that gym membership attendance goes down, and fast food consumption goes up. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Knowing these things, I’ve set out to turn the wonky month of February into Flourishing February. I shared lots of practical tips on Instagram stories this week (above!). It resonated with many of you so much that I compiled my stories here for you.

I’m ready for this month!

My monthly PowerSheets goals for February:
– Settle into a new Cultivate What Matters work rhythm (more on this soon)
– Finish my final book edits
– Build what I’m calling a “Cultivated Calendar” + blog it (in the works!)
– Write my Gardening 101 Guide
– Memorize good words for goal number 3
– Take the next steps in garden planning and start some seeds indoors!
– Continue to gather good homeschool info (post coming next week about this!)
– Start my “little by little” painting (a painting I decided to create in celebration of what I’m learning in my Bible reading goal — more on this soon)
– Finalize 2018 PowerSheets
– Prayerfully prepare for and experience the Faith Retreat (a biannual retreat my friend Nancy and I are doing with a few friends to spiritually recharge)

Lara Casey Blog February PowerSheets Goals

Weekly goals:
– Sabbath – lifegiving weekends
– Meaningful connection with Ari
– Learn and cultivate new sleep habits
– Pray through my prayer journal (seen in the pic above)

Daily goals:
– Read my chronological Bible reading plan (I have been loving this!)
#RunLiftPraise
– Eat more raw foods
– 40 days of prayer with Ari
– Be active in my work day

Your turn! I’d love to hear: how are you feeling about February? Do you have goals for February? What are you doing to cultivate renewal this month? I’ll pick one of you to send a special surprise box of goodies to from the Cultivate What Matters shop. I love sending real mail, and I love hearing your thoughts!

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