Get this: a garden, by definition, is a planned space set aside for the display, cultivation, and enjoyment of plants and other forms of nature. And a gardener, by definition, is someone who tends and cultivates a garden. So, if you are growing plants, whether in a raised bed or a couple pots of herbs, guess what?

You’re a gardener!

Whether this is your first year or your fiftieth, you are a gardener, my friend. You don’t need to have a perfect horticultural record (I don’t) or know everything about plants (I don’t), and you don’t need to have a huge “planned space.” This is the beautiful thing about gardening and our lives: you don’t need to be an expert or have a flawless growing history or be greatly experienced to cultivate good things. (I have an entire two pages in my upcoming book about all the plants I’ve killed as proof!)

So, hello my fellow gardener. It’s nice to have you here.

Lara Casey garden(Go, ahead… say it a few times to let it sink in: I’m a gardener. I’m a gardener. I am an imperfect excited plant-loving GARDENER. 🙂 )

Welcome back for part 2 of Gardening 101! In case you’re wondering, it’s not too late to start your garden. In fact, it’s way too early to plant things in most parts of the country. You’re right on time. Here are the first two posts in this three-part series, if you’re just joining us:

Part 1: The Story of an Unlikely Gardener

Part 2: Seeds, Supplies, Soil, and Sunlight

In part 1 we made our dream garden lists, and in part 2, we considered several factors that helped us to pare down those dream lists. Here’s my final roster of garden goodies for 2017. The circled items are new for us this year (I’m excited about trying peanuts and cotton!).

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Okay, so you know what you want plant, but where do you plant it all in your garden space? First, take a look at the different heights and sizes of each plant when they reach maturity. You’ll find the height information for each plant on the seed packets and in garden catalogs.

If I were to put all the tall things in the front, the tall plants might shade the shorter ones–and I wouldn’t be able to see the shorter things. If I planted something that grows on a vine, like cucumbers, in a tiny space with lots of other things, those cucumbers are no doubt gonna take over the space.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 5Our garden planning sketch from a couple years ago. Love that book on the top there!

So, when I am sketching out my garden, I think about space and size of what I want to grow. A great garden structure is not only essential for plants to have room to flourish, it’s visually appealing, helping you to enjoy the space more.

Make a list of the sizes and structures of what’s on your list. Here an example from my garden plans.

Tall stuff: tomatoes, corn, tall varieties of zinnias
Medium: peppers, carrots, peanuts
Short and sweet: marigolds, small varieties of zinnias
Vines: cantaloupe, watermelon, and pumpkins need a spot in which I know they will be able to spread
Space suckers: zucchini (our zucchini plant took over almost an entire 4′ x 4′ garden bed last year).

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 7A peek inside my Joyful Garden Planner – I clip the pics of each thing I’m growing from various seed catalogs.

A note on herbs: I keep all of my herbs in pots because some of them like to grow big and fast, and who needs more than a few sprigs of oregano every season? I also like having them as close to my kitchen door as possible for rainy or cold days when I need to clip something for dinner!

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Our garden plan for 2017: While the babies were napping this past weekend (I know they are both 1 now, but I’ll forever call them the babies), Grace and I broke the colored pencils out and sketched our garden plan. Remember, don’t compare your garden space to mine right off the bat! I have a lot of space (that expanded over time) and I’ve allocated time for tending to this space. Grow whatever is right for you in this season of life.

Now, if you are like me, it’s entirely possible your plans will change once you start planting. Many times, I get all my seedlings and seeds together and I end up shifting things around as I go. But, this plan helps me to prepare well and have an idea of what it might look like.

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Companion planting: If you want to get fancy, look up companion planting (here’s one simple article and another list that’s helpful). Companion planting is like putting two great friends together to work for a common goal–two are better than one and can help each other to be more fruitful. I plant marigolds at the base of my tomatoes and peppers to keep pests away (and because they are so pretty!). I also pair carrots and tomatoes together.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 2Look at those sweet “married” carrots near my feet!

If I was starting from scratch and had one 4′ x 4′ raised bed (or two larger trough planters), here’s what I would grow and how I would arrange it. I hope this sample starter veggie garden plan helps to get your garden wheels turning. (If you grow this particular arrangement, be sure and email me a pic–I’d love to see it!)

sample-garden-veggie-plan-lara-casey-gardening-101

I chose these plants because they grow well together (and taste great together too!), the shorter items are in the front with the taller items in the back, and this is a great garden plan to try if you have kids! The tomato spot in the back left would be great to fill with Sungold’s or Sweet 100’s (Josh and Grace looooove to pick these off the vine and snack on them). Be sure to give your tomato something to climb like this.

nrp-olivia-designmom-1057We love our Gardener’s Supply tomato ladders! Photo by Olivia from Nancy Ray.

If you choose the cucumber option for the back right, be sure to give it something to climb on too. Here’s a great structure, but even three bamboo poles put together like a teepee would be a welcome climbing gym for some pickling cucumbers.

LARA CASEY GARDENING 101 1 3Our lemon cucumbers made for great pickles a couple years ago!

What I love most about this sample garden plan is that it’s packed with flowers too! Marigolds are a great companion to peppers and tomatoes, and they come in beautiful colors. You have an option in the center for either marigolds (I usually buy mine at a local nursery–they are very inexpensive), shorter varieties of zinnias (like this favorite of mine or this beautiful mix), or chives (if you like them). If it were me, I’d probably go for the zinnias because I just can’t get enough of them. And if you do the zucchini, give him some space to spread. As previously mentioned, one small zucchini seed grows fast and wide!

Now that I’ve written about this sample garden design, I’m tempted to do this in one of my beds too! I’ll keep you posted.

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Gardening with kids is one of my greatest joys. Grace has learned so much from the garden! One of the best ways to create a kid-friendly garden is to think on their level (literally). What can you grow that will be easy for them to pick? What would you not mind them touching or plucking often (rose and raspberry bushes, for instance, are not a good idea)? What would they most enjoy nibbling on? We have a mint garden just for Grace to munch on, and it grows with zero maintenance. But, a word of caution: don’t plant mint in your vegetable garden. It will take over and you will never be able to get rid of it! We have ours planted at the base of a tree in the front yard where it can spread out as it pleases.

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Our tomatoes and pepper crop one year. So pretty and yummy!

I purposely choose to grow what I call “snacking tomatoes” like Sweet 100’s so Grace and Josh can pick and eat them. Herbs are also fun and totally harmless if your little one sticks a fistful of basil in her mouth! But, don’t do hot peppers within reach of little fingers and mouths. This all seems like common sense but it does take some forethought. If you want to get your kids to enjoy the gift of gardening, create a garden in which they can fully immerse their five senses–with nothing off limits.

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Grace loves picking marigold petals to throw in the air in celebration, and I don’t hinder her from doing it. Grace also has a little “fairy garden” in one of the flower beds where she plays make believe, and Josh has a dirt patch that he loves to dig in. I let her water the plants, prune with her little craft scissors, pick, pluck, eat and dig as she pleases. And this is growing something wonderful in her–a love and gratitude for cultivating. This garden was meant to be a place of nourishment, play, and wonder!

garden-robynvandyke-5 copyPhoto by Robyn Van Dyke when Josh was still growing in my belly.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, my friend. I have so enjoyed writing this for you, and now for an amazing giveaway! The fine folks at these great companies graciously agreed to give these items away to one lucky winner, and I wish I could enter myself.

Are you ready for this?

gardening-giveaway-lara-casey

This is everything you need to start your own garden–or bless someone else with one!

— Greenes 4′ x 4′ cedar raised bed kit (how cool is this!?)
— A collection of best-selling Burpee vegetable seeds:
Tomato, Gladiator F1
Eggplant, Meatball F1
Tomato, Madame Marmande F1
Pepper, Sweet Bell, Gold Standard F1
Pepper, Sweet Thunderbolt F1
— Gardener’s Supply Company tomato ladders (2) and cages (4) (the ladders are a long-time favorite here!)
— Floret’s Cut Flower Garden book
— Park Seed seeds
— A Joyful Garden Planner from my friend and co-worker, Amber! Amber was kind enough to donate this planner, and give you 25% your order with code “LARA” if you can’t wait for the giveaway results! The code is good through March 31.

Thank you Greenes, Burpee, Gardener’s Supply, Floret, Park Seed, and Amber for being so generous! I love you from my head tomatoes. 🙂

Enter below. Giveaway ends April 1st!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’d love to hear what you are planning to grow this year. Are you excited to give this gardening thing a try? I hope so! Remember, no perfection required, my gardener friend. Get growing!

Lara

P.S. Keep up with our gardening adventures here on the blog, on my Instagram account, and on the Gracie’s Garden Instagram.

P.P.S. I had planned to give you a few quick houseplant tips in this post, but I started writing them and ended up with a lot to share. Look for some happy houseplant tips in a separate post soon!

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I’m so pumped about this series, I wrote you a poem!

Oh, friends, today is gonna be fun!
Welcome to part 2 of Gardening 101.
Here’s part 1 if you’re just digging in.
Today we’re gonna talk seeds, supplies, and sources for your garden.

Well, I may not be the greatest poet, but I sure do love this gardening thing! Today we’re going to tackle how to choose what to grow, some thoughts on basic garden supplies, fun with seed starting, and how to make your own raised beds if you’re interested. I have some great–and simple–info for you!

IMG_6714.fullGarden planning with my mom and Grace.

In part 1, you made your Garden dreaming list of all the things you want to grow. Grab that list, and let’s work through it to decide what to plant this season.

We’re going to consider these five key things: money, time, space, sun, and soil.

1. Money. You could buy a seed packet for less than a dollar and plant in the soil you’ve got if it’s good soil. Or you could go with a few small containers to start. Or you could try your hand at a raised bed or two, which requires a bit more resources. Decide on a gardening budget that’s comfortable for you. If you need to start small, that’s okay! A little goes a long way, and you can always do more later! Gracie’s Garden started with a few containers and grew over the course of five years. We now have over 40 feet of raised veggie bed space and lots of flower beds. Our garden space and plantings expanded over time, and over that time we learned to care for it all. Choose what works for you in this season of your life.

E087E807-C399-4A48-B8A8-095168AC8B6AA great place to find plants is at the local farmer’s market if you have one!

2. Time. Growing a garden isn’t just about planting things once and never having to touch them again. Depending on what you grow, there’s a lot of ongoing tending that happens–which to me is the fun part! Planting our garden takes a few days, and tending and watering takes me about 15-30 minutes a day. Sometimes it takes much less time during a week when it rains, but there are also times it takes a lot longer, like when I need to prune. Consider the maintenance needed for certain plants. Tomatoes generally require staking and pruning, but they give you fruit over time. Carrots, however, grow, get pulled out of the ground once, and that’s it!

BAFA2723-3DC3-4BD1-BFF6-7F8BED508E96My little gardener giving the plants a drink.

3. Soil. The soil is what sustains the life of the plant, providing nutrients, and allowing deep roots to grow. Good soil is a gardener’s gold. But, let me tell you right now, that “perfect” soil is not required. Here’s a shortcut: call your local garden shop or garden extension service. First, ask them about the general soil in your area. Here in North Carolina, we have clay soil, which means that it doesn’t drain or allow plants to root well. So, raised beds are a must for us. In areas of our yard where I’ve done in-ground planting, I’ve had to dig out mass amounts of clay first to replace it with looser “loamy” soil.

74D94038-A552-4BD0-AA5B-FE5A40EBD0FATomatoes love marigolds and I love them both.

Whether you are planting in pots, or raised beds, or in-ground, you’re likely wondering what kind of soil to use. A reminder: I’m no expert here, and that’s why this series is titled Gardening 101!

Here are some soil basics. Plants need nutrients in the soil to grow, and when you grow lots of veggies and flowers, they suck the nutrients out of your soil. So, each growing season, you’ll need to add nutrients back to the soil to keep everything happy. This is called “amending the soil.” But, how do you know what nutrients to add? My farmer/gardener friends may cringe at this, but I don’t test my soil every year. It’s the only way to know what your soil needs, though. I found this test kit that I may use this year. Once you know what your soil is lacking, take a look at what you’re growing and see what nutrients each plant needs (Do a quick internet search to find that info. For instance, here’s a simple article on soil needs for tomatoes!).

25037B79-9485-4EBD-8A24-202418ADF135Dirt, beautiful dirt! Actually, that’s bags of vermiculite, peat moss, and mushroom compost.

Okay, let’s talk dirt. If you are starting from scratch, what kind of soil should you use? A couple years ago, we tried making Mel’s mix (read about it here) which was super labor-intensive and did not work well in the end for us. We had one raised bed with Mel’s Mix and one right next to it with another combination. Mel’s mix didn’t seem to make our plants as happy. We’ve also used bagged MiracleGrow vegetable bed soil and lots of other bagged soils.

FullSizeRender-10Tilling up the garden beds last year with a baby on my chest. : ) 

But here are our two favorites:

1. A local grower’s mix of organic mushroom compost, crushed shells and vermiculite (helps our soil to drain well), and organic topsoil. Lots of local nurseries and landscape supply places mix their own soil, so do a little research and ask around to find the best! This is the soil mix we started with in most of our raised beds.

2. Black Kow mixed with organic mushroom compost. Grace lovingly calls the Black Kow, “poopy cow,” because…. well, that’s what it is. And it just plain works. Every year, we (meaning me with Grace playing in the dirt while I do this) till up our existing soil with a big shovel and mix a few bags of poopy cow and mushroom compost into our raised beds for added nutrients. So far so good!

557B051B-A71D-465D-94AD-94D9C39784DDHusband of the year here, mixing soil for me and helping construct new garden beds.

What about fertilizer? I haven’t gotten into composting yet, so for now, I’m using traditional fertilizers. I sprinkle some ‘MaterMagic in with my veggie plantings once they have had some time to root. I use Dr. Earth’s fruit tree fertilizer for all the trees a few times a year, too, but the Black Kow mixed into the pots works just as well. For our bulbs, I use Jobe’s Organics bone meal. If we plant beans, I use a nitrogen booster. This all sounds very complex, but so much of what you need to know is easy to Google and, many times, written on the seed packets! : )

17A6D77E-883E-4267-8626-863BA21CEEACThe year we tried Square Foot Gardening.

4. Sun. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of direct sun. My vegetable garden actually only gets about 5 hours of full sun, but somehow it still does well. One end of the raised bed area gets a bit more sun than the other, though, so I purposely plant the more sun-loving veggies there like tomatoes and peppers. On the shadier end, I have some part-sun flowers and creeping vines that like a little respite from the heat every now and then. If your garden spot doesn’t get much light, you can still grow many leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach, but in general, the sunnier the better.

DB388171-E2BB-4ED3-BC44-8CBFA1027BEACarrots, corn, oregano, rosemary, tomatoes and a marigold living together. There might be a couple onions in there too.

5. Space. You don’t need a ton of space to grow a garden. If you follow the Square Foot Gardening method, you’ll be able to pack a lot in a tiny space. But, plants do need room to root and spread out. I made the mistake of planting too much in a small space my first year of gardening, and most of my tomatoes ended up pretty tasteless. Just like our lives, if you grow too much in one space, you won’t have enough nutrients to go around. So, consider your space. Like I mentioned in Part 1, gardens come in all shapes, types, and sizes!

FullSizeRenderI love Gracie’s sweet handwriting. : ) 

So, what are you going to grow?  Let’s look at that garden dreaming list you made from part 1. Considering the five keys we just discussed (money, time, soil, sun, and space), what on your garden dreaming list is a must-keep, and what needs to get crossed off for now? Another way to pair down your list is to do a little research to find out what will grow well in your zone and season, like we talked about in Part 1. This is very helpful info to have! I am purposely holding off on planting a few things till later in the season because they need more heat to grow (watermelons for instance). So, till then, I’ve got an open space in my garden that I can fill for a few months with carrots!

Widdle that list down to what works best for your particular garden, your season of life, and what you will enjoy most. Don’t have enough sunny space for all those veggies on your list? Grow what you have space for. Don’t have time to deadhead cosmos all summer (I learned this the hard way last year)? Don’t plant many–or consider cutting them off your list altogether. Don’t have the budget for raised beds this season? Start with a few pots! Or get creative and try these unusual garden planter ideas. My best advice is to start small. You can always add more later in the season–or in future years!

FullSizeRender-2All of our seeds spread across the dining room table!

Now, let’s dig into some seed and supply sources. This is not an exhaustive list, and you may have great sources I haven’t discovered yet. I’d love to hear your thoughts too! : )

Some of my favorite garden supplies and sources:

Numero uno on my list are the magical garden beings called Master Gardeners! Have you heard of Master Gardener’s before? I did not know this service existed until just a few years ago when I was trying to figure out how to deal with the hornworms on my tomato plants, and I met one at a garden shop. Master Gardener programs (also known as Extension Master Gardener Programs) are volunteer programs that train individuals in the science and art of gardening. These individuals pass on the information they learned during their training, as volunteers who advise and educate the public on gardening and horticulture. Do a quick Google search to see if your area has this program–they likely do! I’ve met several Master Gardeners at garden fairs and local events, and they are a wealth of knowledge.

6A9C634C-BF18-4714-88D0-3FB9DDABD3BFI store my seeds in the bottom of our refrigerator in Mason jars to help them last a little longer.

Seeds: 
Burpee (I have often ordered a few weird wildcard veggies from them like On-Deck Corn. We’ve grown it three years in a row and love it!)
Floret Flower Seeds (my favorite flower seeds and bulbs)
Park Seed (another favorite for flower seeds)
David’s Garden
Renee’s Garden
Botanical Interests (lots of heirloom seeds)
Southern Seed Exchange Catalog (You must get a printed version of this catalog. It’s so beautiful and informative!)

IMG_6744Mail-order veggies from Burpee above. They always arrive in great shape.

Supply sources:

First, I love local garden stores! I do shop at some of the big box stores that carry locally grown plants (Lowes often has lots of local growers highlighted!), but there’s something magical about going to the smaller garden shops. One of our favorites here, For Garden’s Sake, even has goats, chickens, and alpacas that you can visit. Local garden shops are often run by passionate gardeners who get excited when someone asks a question or needs advice. Use the resources in your area–you might even make a new friend or two!

A few supplies we use and love:
Greenes raised bed kits — We have several of these and they come in all different sizes. SO fast and easy to assemble!
Tomato ladders – These things are the best!
Tomato cages
Nitrile-coated garden gloves – Great if you have roses or pokey veggies like cucumbers.
My Joyful Garden planner

I do have a few trowels and clippers, but I often end up using soup spoons, Grace’s craft scissors, and my bare hands! You don’t need fancy tools to grow a garden. And larger sticks from your yard make great tomato supports too!

IMG_6603At our local garden shop getting some perennials for the front yard. Grace is more excited about the rocks!

Gardening books I own and love:
Cut Flower Garden
Square Foot Gardening
Carrots Love Tomatoes, an excellent resource for companion planting
The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible
A favorite children’s book I read when I was a child, and now read to Grace, The Reason for a Flower.
And I haven’t purchased this book yet, but I’ve had my eye on this one.

Do you have a favorite gardening book or resource? I’d love to hear!

IMG_9857A peek at our seeds today! Big Max is getting BIG!

Seed starting. Depending on where you live, starting seeds indoors can help extend the length of the growing season for many plants. If you have hot summers like we do, it can give you a headstart on growing things that don’t love the heat. And, it’s just fun! We didn’t start any seeds indoors last year because we were a little busy caring for two little new babies. But, this year, we jumped back in! This year, we started tomatoes, peppers, some zinnias, sweet peas, and pumpkins. After trying unsuccessfully year after year, we are determined to grow a pumpkin in 2017!

To start seeds indoors, you mimic the conditions needed for a seed to germinate and sprout outdoors: warmth, water, darkness, and once the seed sprouts, light!

FullSizeRender-8Following Erin’s instructions for starting sweet pea seeds. So excited about these!

You don’t need a grow light like we have (we purchased this one several years ago and it easily stores away in our front hall closet when we’re not using it) to start seeds indoors. You can simply use empty egg cartons, some plastic wrap, and a bright window. See this tutorial for more. And be sure to read this awesome post for more seed starting basics.

69D04D97-C7F0-48B5-AC1E-E9923BCAE89CTomato seedlings in paper cups.

How to make your own raised garden beds. I built two new garden beds last year that still look great–and all for about $40 each. I went to Lowes and picked out a couple untreated cedar planks, had the nice gentleman there cut them for me into eight sections – four 2′ sections and four 4′ sections. I got a small roll of landscape fabric, a box of 2″ long nails, and I already had a 1″ x 2″ board at home that I sawed into eight sections to bolster the inside corners of my garden beds. I built the boxes in a similar way to this tutorial, then used a staple gun and attached the landscape fabric (helps keep weeds and critters out) to the bottom of each bed before placing them where I wanted them. I filled them all with soil, and that was that! These two beds took about an hour to construct.

IMG_9228Our new garden bed, and my cute little gardener in her PJ’s!

There you have it! Like I said, this is Gardening 101. There’s so much more I could share, but I hope this gives you a great start in growing some fun things this year.

In the next and final post of this series, I’ll share our own garden plans with you, a sample starter veggie garden plan for those of you who want a great place to begin, as well as a few tips on houseplants and gardening with kids! (And there may be a huge gardening giveaway too!)

Your turn! I’d love to hear what you are planning to grow this year. What supplies or seeds you are considering? Feel free to ask any questions you have, too!

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Spring doesn’t officially start until March 20th, but it has been unseasonably warm here in North Carolina. Lots of things are blooming a full month early. We are likely getting snow over the weekend, so you may see me out with blankets and a hair dryer trying to protect all my early-blooming plants. Seriously. My peach tree is in full bloom and I just might have to run a portable heater out there and put a tent over it. (You guys, I have become a crazy garden lady! I do love my plants, and I especially love our Elberta peaches.)

I couldn’t wait to share this month’s edition of Little by Little with you. In these monthly posts, I share 10 things to help you make little-by-little progress on what matters. I hope these encourage and refresh you.

spring is almost here sign lara casey blogThis sign from Ashley at Under the Sycamore makes me giggle every time I read it!

1. Start your garden! If you haven’t always had a green thumb, or don’t think you could ever have one, part 1 of my Gardening 101 series is for you! Plus, get the first peek inside my upcoming book, Cultivate.

2. Watch an inspiring story unfold. If you haven’t been following my friend Millie’s foster care and adoption story, you must follow along. This was a big week for a very special little girl named Wren.

3. Step into my house. Besides both books, I’ve never prayed more over something I’ve written than this Living with Kids feature on Design Mom. I was grateful to share the story of our marriage ups and downs, thoughts on adoption, cultivating a life-giving home, and our first-ever home tour.

FullSizeRender-6Breakfast on the back porch with my loves and some dinosaurs.

4. Dig into March. I made progress on my PowerSheets goals in February, but some things needed to get shaken up a bit! Read about my February progress and my March goals here. I crossed off my first monthly goal last week!

5. Grow in the wait. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of two special books this week. First up, When God Says Wait by my friend Elizabeth Thompson. I got to read an advance copy and it’s just so good. Download two chapters for free here.

6. Step into the garden with Erin. Next up, I’ve been counting the days till my friend Erin’s book, Cut Flower Garden, released. And wow did it have a great first day! Before this week’s launch, they were already on their fourth reprint just with pre-order sales. That’s huge! But really, it’s no surprise. This book is stunningly beautiful, practical, and well-written. Erin has been a huge encouragement to me the last several years as an intentional business owner, mama, educator, and gardener. Get the book here, and take a tour of Erin’s flower farm here.

7. Read good words to your little ones. This has been a great week for books! I got three books in the mail for Grace from two creative and kind gentlemen. The first is When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner. Such a great message in this book and the artwork is colorful and fun. The second two are The Lion’s Pride and The Fox Hole by a local author, J.S. Davey. These are longer picture books and both are beautifully written and illustrated. Thank you, Matthew and J.S.!

8. Celebrate little Sarah alongside us. Sarah turned one a couple weeks ago, and I finally shared some thoughts on our adoption story. I love this photo that Gina took of us a couple weeks ago. 

IMG_9822Photo by Gina Zeidler.

9. Retreat. I got together with 10 friends a couple weeks ago for a faith retreat–a time to step away from our normal rhythms and grow in our faith and friendships. Read more about it here (and how you can host one yourself!), and there’s a HUGE giveaway we put together for you!

10.  Mark your calendars for March 22! I’ll be posting a special post here with my book cover and film release, and I will be live on my Facebook page that day at noon EST to give you the behind-the-scenes of the cover and the film. I can’t wait to see you there! Till then, I have lots more coming for you here on the blog. Gardening 101 Part 2 goes live on Monday!

IMG_9679Photo by Gina Zeidler at the NC Botanical Garden–we love this place!

I hope these links encourage you! I also shared lots of updates on life lately, and a peek at the new Write the Word journals, in my live broadcast this week.

Cultivating what matters with you, little by little,

Lara Casey signature

P.S. Many of you have asked, so here’s my daily #RunLiftPraise workout playlist. Enjoy!

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Sarah turned one a couple Sunday’s ago. Her birthday was a little different than any we’ve celebrated for Josh or Grace. While there were cupcakes and Grace made the sweetest decorations, there was also a different feeling of awe. We celebrated Sarah’s birthmom, her life, and God’s faithfulness to lead us into adoption in the first place. For God to entrust this child to two imperfect people is a reflection of His love and grace. This little girl is something special, and her story is too. We are so grateful!

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I haven’t done a family post like this in a long while, so I thought it might be sweet to capture the memory of her first birthday—and a few thoughts on our adoption a year later–here on the blog in words and photographs.

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Before we adopted Sarah, I scoured the internet for adoption stories. At the time, I didn’t understand why some blogger friends didn’t post about their adoption stories, or if they did, it was months–and sometimes years–later.

Now, I understand.

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Adoption is often private in many ways. There are many details of Sarah’s story and her birthmom’s story that are sacred and private. I wrote a bit of the story in Cultivate, but only the portions God told me to share to encourage others.

Adoption is hard and beautiful at the same time. We experienced so many emotions in the adoption process and after. For me, having just had a baby a few months before Sarah’s birth (Josh and Sarah are six months apart) gave me heightened feelings of tenderness for our birth mom. We were blessed with unexpected time—hours and hours of beautiful time–to be with her in the days after Sarah’s birth. I carry her with me often, thinking of her selfless love for Sarah, and genuinely missing her. She chose to make our adoption closed, asking that we send letters and photos through our agency every few months. But, our agency told us throughout this year that she hadn’t contacted them to get the letters. We prayed and prayed that she would one day ask for the letters, and feel encouraged by reading our prayers for her, and how much we all love her and think of her. I kept sending the letters anyway. Maybe at a year she would request them. But, when I emailed the morning of Sarah’s birthday to see if she had made contact, she hadn’t. (I have an update on that at the end of this post…)

Adoption is refining. Nothing has drawn us closer to each other and to God than the experience of the last year. The season of having a newborn and adopting another was unexplainably challenging, and it is in the hard moments that our faith grew. Good things came out of the hard things!

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Adoption is a gift. We get to see God’s miracles unfold in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We get to watch Josh and Grace pour love into Sarah. We get to watch our neighbors and family pour love into Sarah. We get to watch our friends pour love into Sarah. And all of this love feels like God pouring love on our whole family. It’s like God is saying, I see you. I love you. I am with you all.

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Grace spent two weeks making decorations and asking me about Sarah’s party. Every day she sat and made crafts and banners and cards for her.

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She wanted balloons for her and lemonade and purple plates and cups (Sarah’s birthmom’s favorite color is purple).

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We decorated with jasmine vine and daffodils from the garden.

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And as per our new yearly tradition (started at Sarah’s Sip n See last year that I have yet to blog!), we put a board of seed packets up.

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We asked guests to put their names on the seed packets and we’ll be naming each plant after them! This was such a meaningful touch for our garden last year. Here are a few of last year’s garden markers, lettered by my good friend Lauren

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We used some of our favorite Floret seed packets for this year’s board.

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Guests loved this! We’ll send them a pic of their special plant when things start sprouting.

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Grace begged me for this lemonade stand, and I am glad I said yes. She had so much fun serving everyone pink lemonade.

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Sarah loves our long-time friend Joslyn (who has been helping me pick out a few new classic wardrobe staples after several years of being on a clothes-buying hiatus – more on that soon)!

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And Josh loves his sister… and strawberries (the red stuff all around his mouth).

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There’s something magical about a house full of friends who have poured so much into your daughter’s life.

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Josh’s little legs in the bottom right of this pic make my heart smile.

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We kept this super simple since it was 2pm on a Sunday afternoon. We served cookies, cupcakes, strawberries, and some crackers for the kids. Oh, and lemonade of course!

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At the end of the party, Ari offered a prayer for Sarah, and in thanks to God for our friends. It was a special moment.

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After the party, these two were sufficiently filled with love and sugar, which made for an extra enthusiastic bathtime!

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It was a sweet day celebrating a very sweet girl and the God who made her!

Like I mentioned, I haven’t written much here about our adoption because it’s not just our story. It’s Sarah’s story. It’s her birthmom’s story. It’s also a story I don’t quite have words for. It’s beautiful and messy, but God is in it all. I’ll share a little more in Cultivate in a few months, but I hope this little post was encouraging. Here is a video I put together of her first year and her birth. I cry every time I watch this!

2016: The Year Our Family and Hearts Grew from lara casey on Vimeo.

And remember how I emailed our adoption agency on Sarah’s birthday and they said our birth mom still hadn’t contacted them? Well, an hour later she did. She asked for all of our letters. I’m tearing up typing this. Her message to us: “I am well and I love you guys so much!” God, you are good! 

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This morning, Grace came in early (4:45am-ish) and snuggled in our bed.

Me: Hi, sweet pea. Are you okay? 
Grace: I came to snuggle with you because I knew you were all alone. 

Ari was gone speaking at a conference, so this unexpected wake-up call was a welcome gift. I checked the time and decided to read the Bible to us till we had to get up and open Cafe Isaacson for breakfast at 5:30. (We have hungry growing kids. Breakfast around here is quite a production!) Grace snuggled into me and peeked at what I was about to read to us. The first thing that came up on my YouVersion Bible app was the verse of the day in this picture format…

bible verse from grace

Grace: Mommy, why is that picture there?
Me: It’s a way to share about God with other people, like in a message or on a blog.
Grace: Well, then why don’t you share it on your blog?
Me: Well, I don’t know. (I didn’t have plans to today) You know what, that’s a great idea. I’ll do that! 

To all who may read this impromptu post, here is my prayer for you today: May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. With love from me and Grace. : )

IMG_9781Outside this morning with my very energized crew. Our peach tree bloomed early!

P.S. Get my free Cultivating Faith Guide here.

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