rituals: the big pancake (megan gahan).

Guest Post Tuesday, exclamation point! Meet Megan, a lovely editor I’ve come to know through She Loves Magazine, and a person I’d like to be just a little more like after reading her Heart Words today. I believe I say this every week, but I’m pretty sure Megan’s words were written just for me …but since I’m nice, I suppose I’ll share them with you as well. Enjoy.

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I haven’t cooked dinner in two months.

Maybe a chicken breast here or there. But not much beyond that.

Coincidentally, my husband has been away for the last two months. Summer is his busy season, the time of year he has to disappear at a moment’s notice, leaving me and two little daddy’s boys to fend for ourselves.

Fending for ourselves looks a lot like cereal for dinner.

This is a hard season for a few reasons. As someone whose sanity is directly correlated to checked to-do list boxes and structure, the sudden unpredictability of our summers makes me a little crazy. I swing from a can-do-spirit to a fetal-position-on-the-floor-spirit in five minutes flat. It’s my oldest who feels Daddy’s absence the most though. Three-year-olds are not the best at expressing deep emotion, so whining, temper tantrums, and bowling over little brothers are the current coping mechanisms of choice.

A week or so after my husband left, I found a recipe for a pancake. Yes, a single pancake. Thick batter is poured into a pie pan, then baked in the oven until the center is firm but custardy. It sounded a little odd, but it also sounded like a lot less work than making multiple pancakes.

I made it that first week, on a grey Saturday morning. I measured out flour, salt and butter. I carefully cracked the eggs on the side of the mixing bowl, then spent the next ten minutes picking shards of eggshell out of the batter. My toddler was within an inch of me during the whole process, green eyes locked on the whisk as I rapidly swirled the ingredients together. The babe squawked at my feet, desperate to be part of the action.

With all our faces plastered against the oven window, we watched as the edges precariously rose several inches up and then rapidly deflated. The timer rang and I tentatively pulled it out of the oven, not quite sure what it was supposed to look like.

Asher stared at our concoction and declared, “Mommy, that is one biiiiiiiiggggg pancake!”

I heaped a slice onto each of our plates, and mashed up a third slice for the babe. A hearty serving of sugar soaked strawberries was piled on top.

We each took a forkful and silently let it melt in our hungry mouths. The tartness of the berries was perfection with the buttery pancake, and we ate and giggled until the pie pan was clean.

We declared the big pancake a success.

The following Saturday, we made the big pancake again. It felt strange to start a new tradition with a quarter of the family missing. But it also felt necessary. You see, I want to be intentional about these moments together, instead of just biding my time. I need to be reminded that though life looks different now, it is still good. And I can celebrate that goodness with sugar and ice cold milk and saucy fruit. I can slice through the soft centre and know we have a special something that is just ours, that reflects this season. This season of jammies until noon and simple food and Mommy locking herself in the bathroom for just a shred of peace.

This Saturday, I’ll pull out my yellow mixing bowl once more, and toast to making it through another week with vibrant berries and our big pancake. I’m not sure whether I’ll continue making it when my husband returns. Perhaps it will be one of those traditions that comforts and stabilizes for a season and then naturally fades away, returning when it’s needed most.

MeganGahanIf you call me Meg I’ll feel like we’ve been friends for a while, so do go with that. By day I run after two little dudes, but when the house is – finally – quiet I like to write, often a giant mug of Earl Grey Vanilla beside me. More often with a giant bowl of ice cream. I’ve worked in the fitness industry for over ten years, so talking body image and push-up technique gets me excited. I ponder those things, along with faith, parenting, and my desire to be a superhero over at my blog and SheLoves Magazine. Oh, y’all, it’s Cara again: I mean, did Megan capture the beauty of a ritual-filled Saturday morning or WHAT?! I am so grateful for her perfect, filling words to me, as I’m sure you are as well. Leave her some love!

the day i allowed myself to cry.

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I called her for an appointment because I thought I needed help dealing with a bad ending to a job I’d just left.

After we lined up our schedules, I drove 45 minutes to meet her, confident that after she heard my story, she’d provide me with neat and tidy next steps and send me on my way. Given our mutual friends, I figured we’d eventually become comrades ourselves, following each other on Facebook and exchanging updates at an annual Memorial Day BBQ.

But she was neither my friend nor my confidant. She was my therapist. And the gift she gave me was permission to cry.

I’m not sure what went haywire in my insides, but for a period of seven years between high school and college, I didn’t cry. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the need to cry or that I wasn’t emotionally moved by various events in my life—it was that I didn’t let myself physically shed a tear.

I remember cozying together with a bunch of girlfriends to watch the epic love story of Jack and Rose in Titanic. I recall the sound of saddened sobs around me; the tears that burned my own eyes, and the catch, the gulp, the tightening in my throat that yearned for emotional release. But clenching crumpled tissue between my fists, I refused to let tears stream down my face.

Major events continued to happen around me, with my tears seemingly oblivious: I watched with devastation the horrid events of 9/11, shaking my head in disbelief.

I stared at the television screen, horrified at the number of school shootings, including one on my university’s campus mere days before my own college graduation.

I held the frail hands of my dying grandmother, humming sacred tunes to a barely-there skeleton.

I clung to dear, best friends after an intense summer of campy, kindred friendships—mascara running down their faces, while I prayed the dab of a tissue might do the trick, might make them think I too could gulp a tearful farewell.

I hung up the phone one last time with an ex, saying a final good-bye to a boy I’d thought was The One for a couple of months there.

But through all of these events I refused to shed a tear, because I had somehow come to believe my tears were a sign of weakness. I’d thought that being my strongest, most jubilant, most Christ-filled self meant not succumbing to emotional fragility.

You KNOW it’s not over yet – click here to read the rest of this post, which was featured yesterday at She Loves Magazine. This is one of the most vulnerable pieces I’ve ever written …so I do hope you enjoy it. Otherwise, what is crying to you? How have you been given permission?

embracing the body (a book review & a giveaway)

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A few days ago, my almost three-year-old son pulled a small mirror off the bookshelf, stared at his four-by-four inch reflection, and said to himself, “Like you.”

Then, with mirror in hand, he walked over to where I was sitting on the couch, planted the mirror in front of my face, and said to me, “Like you.” He proceeded to bring the mirror around to Baby Brother and back to himself, repeating over and over again that simple, two-word phrase.

Like you, Like you, Like you. 

Tears stung at the corners of my eyes. Because for my little boy, nothing stands in the way of seeing himself as he really is, for beauty that resides in wispy curls and caramel-colored skin and one dazzling, beaming smile.

Life hasn’t led him to believe that he’s too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny, with hips too wide and knees too knobby and eyes too close together, and too many wrinkles and too much cellulite and too much wiggly, jiggly baby weight left to lose.

If you’re anything like me, we begin to believe that the “too’s” are who we are and all we are, letting lie after lie, mistruth after mistruth, not only shape but define both our outsides and our insides too.

We forget, as C.S. Lewis said, the dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures we are, that we might pulsate “…with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine …”

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Click here to read the rest and to join us at She Loves for this month’s Red Couch book club discussion! Also, I love this book SO much I’m giving away a copy over at the be, mama. be Facebook page …and I’d love for you to be the winner!  Check the page later today – one name will be drawn on Friday, June 6th so you can get to reading!  Otherwise, what part of your body do you need to embrace?  What needs to be rewritten?  

rituals: right foot first (idelette mcvicker).

Oh friends, you are in for a treat (always).  Today’s writer is one of my favorites, even if we still haven’t met face to face.  She’s a wild and sassy, leaning into the Holy woman; she’s a world-changer and a Seven on the Enneagram (so I feel especially linked, soul to soul). So join me in welcoming the lovely Idelette …and enjoy her words today.  

Flickr Creative Commons: Alex Cairncross.
Flickr Creative Commons: Alex Cairncross.

I always enter my sacred writing space in the basement of our home with my right foot first.

It’s the simplest of acts. Call it my Threshold Ritual.

It’s the way I step out of daily life and summon the Holy to come meet me. Please?

This is the place where the door gets closed and I can sit and pray and read and journal and be. It’s a place of deep gratitude.

Love has built this room.

It started with generosity from friends poured out one Christmas, when the women decided I needed a room of my own.

They secretly rallied and gathered and hustled and collected. And on the day of our monthly SheLoves editorial meeting, they gathered in our living room and turned the tables on me.

They surprised me in the most beautiful way. They handed me an envelope with a generous amount and said, Go. Make your room the way you want it.

This outpouring of Love watered my dry places and oiled the future I dreamed of.

So, we converted the playroom with the green walls and bleach stain on the carpet to my personal writing space. We ripped out the old carpet and Scott painted the walls a light blue deep into the night, in the midst of also opening our restaurant.

Now I get to play in here. I can close the door on four children, the telephone and my darling extroverted husband. Here, my soul can be restored. Hallelujah.

I found a tiny tufted blue leather couch on Craigslist. An orange juju hat on Etsy and shipped it in from France. I sanded and painted and waxed a discarded desk from my kids’ school. Slowly, but surely my global eclectic room began to take shape.

Still, something was missing. I wanted to honor it by establishing it as a sacred space in my mind. I needed something—a sacred ritual.

Then, while reading Natalie Goldberg’s book “The True Secret of Writing,” she described the instructions to students on her writing retreats. Note number two reads:

“Please be on time at beginning of morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. Step in and out of the zendo with your right foot.”

A tiny bell went off in my heart. I could do that, I thought.

I could establish my square space in the basement as a sacred writing space by this one simple act. It seemed easy enough.

The next time I walked through the door of my writing space, I remembered to put my right foot first. I walked in and immediately something felt different. I began to be mindful that this place is a gift. The time I get to spend in this room is precious. I imagined God meeting me right here.

I became mindful of the words God spoke to Moses: “… this place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

I began walking out in the same way, simply remembering my new practice, one day at a time. One entry at a time. One exit at a time.

I began to be mindful as I entered and it became a prayer: Thank you, God, for this space. Thank you for these friends who loved me in this way. Thank you for what You want to do in me in this space today. Thank You for wanting to meet me here.

Sometimes I pray in words. Sometimes my body exhales the big thank you as I step across the threshold. In and out.

It’s been nearly a year of always entering and leaving in this way. Right foot first. This small ritual a part of me already. Established.

I come to the door, grateful.

I come to the door, expecting to meet God.

I come to the door, hopeful.

I step right foot first, heart lifted in praise, body poised. Love has built this room. Together, we have sent an invitation to the future. When I enter, I imagine crossing the threshold of my dreams and then I sit to do the work.

In leaving, again I say, Thank you.

Always, Thank You.

Thank you, God, for what You’ve done here. Thank You for what You do in me. May my life and my words be acceptable in Your sight.

10441244_380013148844953_490242883243910659_nHi! I am an Afrikaner woman, born and raised in South Africa during Apartheid. That story has woken me up to the injustice and inequality in my own heart, my own neighbourhood and our larger world. I’ve lived on three continents and wherever I am now, I am home. Sixteen years ago, I married a cheeky Canadian and moved to Vancouver. We have three children (11, 10 and 7) and SheLovesmagazine.com is my fourth baby, now raised and nurtured by our beautiful village. I love Sisterhood and I imagine it as a beautiful, subversive antidote to injustice. This Chinese proverb expresses my heart: When sleeping women wake, mountains move. I bake bread, wear leopard prints and love dramatic shoes. I am happy sipping spicy chai, plain lattes or a bold red. I’d say my practice is charismatic contemplative and if I wanted you to know only thing about me, it’s this: Jesus is my hero. You can find Idelette in a number of places: on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook at Idelette, at SheLovesmagazine.com and on her blog at Idelette.com.  Otherwise, how did Idelette’s words touch you today?  Leave her some LOVE in the comment box below!

just mercy (a discussion).

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Hi. My name is Cara …and I judge people.

I take the gavel into my own hands, and I decide to play the Great Judge.

I judge the homeless man who shouts at his reflection in the window, the one who paces back and forth after our Sunday night dinner. I judge the workers clad in orange jumpsuits, the ones who dig ditches on the side of my busy four-lane highway. I judge the woman who sits outside the post office with her four children in tow, cardboard signs propped on every lap, five sets of eyes that plead at me for mercy.

And I think: I take my medicine. Well, thank God my sin isn’t as bad as theirs. At least I’d have the decency to keep my kids in school.

I judge, I judge and I judge again, feeling justified in my judgment of others.

But when the ugliness of my own heart astounds me, my own lack of mercy begs me get down on hands and knees, and plead heavenward for more, for some, for any.

So tell me, am I the only one?

Am I the only one who forgets to show mercy to the least of these, to those who need it the most?

Click here to read the rest of the post, which is a discussion at She Loves Magazine on what may be the best and most important book I’ve read this year, Just Mercy.  In light of all that’s happened this week in Baltimore – and beyond – I find talking about issues of race and social activism incredibly relevant.  

being our most dangerous selves.

Photo cred: Maria Portas
Photo cred: Maria Portas

I said no this week. 

I said no to a job offer and an opportunity, no to an “in” at an organization that could have been a really good fit. I said no to the comfort of a monthly paycheck and to the chance to put on my Big Girl clothes and break away from my two young boys for twenty hours a week.

But when I penned that final farewell, that good-bye-for-now e-mail, I also said yes.

I said yes to who I am, and I painted a picture of how my gifts and talents and experience might best fit into their world. I said yes, extending to them the invitation to dream big dreams for me and with me. I said yes to clearly communicating how we might make that next conversation a win for both of us.

I said yes to me.

Now, there are certainly times in which we don’t have the freedom to choose. When it comes to employment, sometimes a job that pays the bills is necessary just to put food on the table. But if choice is an option, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve relished in the choice to say yes to what I do best. In this discovery of self, I’ve delighted in finding out who I am, just as I’ve delighted in freeing myself from apologizing for who I am not. I’ve marveled at seeing how those unique threads of life-force have been woven in and out of my story since I was a little girl, how my me-ness most fits a given situation.

I’ve loved discovering what gives me life.

But this doesn’t just apply to the work force. This ability to dive into the essence of who I am and what I was created to do can be applied to friendships and to dating relationships, to marriage and to our fringe hours, to food and to books and to the way we worship. Because you and me, we are each a unique and delectable piece of Creation’s whole.

I liken it to the question of how we like our eggs.

You may recall Runaway Bride, one of a string of romantic comedies starring Julia Roberts and the coming-of-age characters she so effortlessly portrayed. In this particular movie, Maggie” always orders her eggs the way her former partners order their eggs, which for her is void of self, lost of preference. Called on her wayward ways, she has to figure out how she likes her eggs. Poached? Sunny-side up? Scrambled? She finally locks herself in the kitchen, preparing every kind of egg imaginable until she discovers her favorite. (Eggs Benedict, if you must know).

But that simple act of discovery – through a plate of eggs, no less – frees her to be her most authentic self. And might it be the same for us?

Because when I enter in to the Real Me, I become my most dangerous self.

And we become dangerous women and men when we are fiercely, unabashedly, wholeheartedly ourselves.

So when opportunities arise – which they always will – we learn to shout a most holy yes alongside a convicted, hallowed no. We learn to say, Yes, Yes, Yes, freely and unapologetically, because we believe in this vision, this direction, this dream of our most alive selves.

We believe this: This is who I was created to be.

This is how I was created to thrive and to serve, to love and to participate in my small slice of earth.

This is Gloria Dei est vivens homo: The glory of God in fully-alive woman and man. And His glory, as Saint Iraneous suggests, is most electric in me when I cling to and fight for and dangerously free myself to believe in who I am instead of who I am not.

So, let us be dangerous men and women.

Let us be dangerous individuals who seek to know our unique and passionate selves. Let us be dangerous humans who cling to Truth’s whispers. Let us be dangerous beings who fight for ourselves and for each other, trusting the paths laid out before us – even if we’re not quite there yet, even if that “yet” won’t ever be reached.  

Let us be dangerous people most fully alive in His glory.

Runaway Bride, sunny-side up eggs, vocational dreams, St. Iraneous, being our most dangerous selves – there are a lot of different thoughts here.  What resonated with you?  What comment do you have to add?  For more thoughts on this theme, check out She Loves Magazines theme of Dangerous Women this month!

on writing: set that timer.

It’s Thanksgiving.  And today especially, I hope you’re full in heart and tummy, in all the best possible ways.  I hope you’re surrounded by the ones you love, who perfectly love your messy, imperfect self in return.  So if the Macy’s Day Parade isn’t cutting it for you or you find yourself in tryptophan-induced coma and need something to do for ten minutes, consider grabbing that pad of Grandma’s flowery stationary to your right and limitlessly putting pen to paper.  Otherwise, get off the internet and love-squeeze that person sitting next to you.  Give thanks!

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I swim in a sea of irony, I’m certain.

When my friend Leigh asked our Red Couch Team for a creative post on Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, I replied with a hearty, Yes! Having never read the book nor obtained a copy, my insides remained chipper for the chance to belong; to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Eager for involvement and desperate for recognition, I didn’t anticipate reading a book that, at the time, found me far from actual subject matter.

You see, I’d declared September and October as “Input Only” months. I’d just had a baby: a perfect 8lb 10 ounce boisterous, bouncing boy we call Baby Brother. And babies are good and perfect little creatures–a slice of heaven’s pie, one might say–but through no fault of their own, they can wreak havoc on their mamas with their crying and their pooping and their love of eating breakfast at 3am.

So, in order to save my sanity and the sanity of those around me, I put a moratorium on producing, on writing in particular. The Next Piece of Literary Greatness via the blog and articles for submission could wait, and sermon prep for those Sundays in November would come in due time. My manuscript, the one whose book contract I surely thought I’d be waving in the air by now, could continue to simmer on the back burner … because my baby will only be a baby for so long.

Staring mindlessly at this little being, my little being, is the best writing fodder I can muster. I can stand to not keep up with The Writing Man. I can stand to let myself be.

I know, I know, I’m a broken record player of self ALL THE TIME.  But there’s a point …there’s always a point.  Click here to head to She Loves Magazine and read the read of the discussion post about Natalie Goldberg’s writing classic, Writing Down the Bones.  And, if you end up doing a ten-minute free write, consider sharing a sentence or two below.  Otherwise, is this bringing up too many repressed high school English class memories?  Don’t hate the player, hate the game.  Kisses!

prayer: then & now.

RedCouch

The gift arrived on a Sunday morning.

My husband and I sat cozied together on an over-sized reading chair, one of those perfect pieces of furniture that makes you wonder whether it’s built for one or for two, the kind that requires a cup of tea no matter the visitor. Almost by accident, we found ourselves at House Church that morning, apart from the norm of Apostle’s Creed recitations and formalized Eucharist indulgences. I feel my heart beating wildly as I lean in to cushion and skin, my body sinking further and deeper into the man I hold hands with for life. Our four-week-old son nestles into his chest and I close my eyes, just for a moment.

I breathe in this perfection, our own corner but a small slice of the halcyon morning.

I smell the coffee wafting from paper cup in hands, its energy waking my newborn-weary body. I hear the hallowed words the voices sing in repetition, the simple eight-word chant growing in strength and belief with each growing verse: “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s as if I can taste the Spirit. You are here. You are present. You are ours.

My senses are fully alive.

And in doing so, I am fully connected to the presence of God.

In Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, the reader is introduced to this very concept:

Prayer … is waking up to the presence of God no matter where I am or what I am doing. When I am fully alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer. Prayer is happening, and it is not necessarily something that I am doing. God is happening, and I am lucky enough to know that I am in The Midst (178).

Could connection to The Holy actually be this simple?

* * *

I return to House Church, to the twenty-five people gathered haphazardly together on the main floor of Mark and Lisa’s San Francisco flat. As luck would have it, our discussion that morning centers on prayer, around that same notion of entering into God’s presence. We read John 17 and Luke 24, and gathering in clusters throughout the space, we begin to unpack our previous notions of prayer next to the morning’s texts.

A memory floods my mind: I am a sophomore in college, and I believe in a big, boisterous, Spirit-filled God. Hundreds of us gather this particular Monday night, spread throughout the room, standing and kneeling, swaying and bowing. We worship, loudly, and we raise our hands upwards, fingertips gasping for air.

When it comes time to pray, I know the drill. I know how it’s supposed to be done: You raise your voice and sometimes you shout. You prove you know your Bible by inserting God’s Word into your prayer, which is deemed a holy success by the sounds of your peers. Because when a prayer is really good, everyone cheers and claps, with shouts of yes and amen.

This is what I want—because isn’t this what God wants as well?

I know, I’m leaving you hanging – but the story is far from over.  Click here to head on over to She Loves Magazine read about when I became a “prayer weakling.”  Otherwise, what is prayer to you?  How has your experience of prayer changed over the years, if at all?  

PS: If you haven’t yet read or heard of Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World, PICK IT UP!

Lessons from a Stranger.

Remember when I told you about that frazzled time I had at Target a month or two ago?  Well, that piece morphed into an article on leadership featured yesterday at She Loves magazine.  Enjoy!  

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She didn’t have to do it. But she saw the tears in my eyes and she saw the reddening frustration in my face and she saw the screaming toddler slumped over my protruding, bloated belly.

She saw me, and that was all it took. And in that moment, receiving her gift of kindness was the only thing I could do in return.

Because it was just one of those days: Thomas the Train wasn’t enough today, and Mama ran out of more “Berries! Berries!” All I wanted to do was lay on the couch and hibernate for another nine months, and all my son wanted to do was run and catch and throw, repeat—run and catch and throw, repeat.

By the time we arrived at Target, he wasn’t having the cart and I wasn’t having his tantrums, but what’s a girl to do when you’re already splitting the one remaining square of toilet paper in two, and all the baby-in-womb seems to crave is a bowl of Quaker Oats?

Although I could have—and perhaps should have—left the store the minute we walked inside, I remained determined to win. I’ll beat him at his own game, I thought to myself. But there’s no beating the stubborn will of a 25-month old—and by the time we met that Stranger-of-a-Saint in line, we’d both fought the good fight … and lost.

So somehow, perhaps because she saw me, she just knew. She knew we needed to not wait in line a minute longer than necessary: she began clearing her items from the conveyer belt, putting them back into her cart, motioning her young daughter to help. In broken English, she said, “Go ahead of us, please.” She waved and she motioned at me—and she, the giver of kindness—tacked on a please, to me, the recipient.

All I could do was receive.

All I could do was hope she saw the thank you, thank you, thank you of my teary eyes, and the bless you, bless you, bless you emanating from choked-up throat.

Now, a week later, I think and reflect on this little two-minute gift of selflessness, and I can’t help but muse that she is a woman who knows how to lead.

And it makes me realize that leadership looks different from my own original definitions of it, when I toted a leader as the one with wit and charm and good looks, to boot. A gregarious, up-front, hilarious attitude was naturally a part of the package, as was—at least in the Evangelical circles of my youth—the one who preached the best sermon, who loved Jesus the most, who emanated holiness the best.

Click here to read the rest of the article – otherwise, how have everyday experiences taught you life’s bigger lessons?  

getting down ‘n’ dirty.

BookClub-Cara

I found myself at it again: mindlessly staring at the chocolate-colored dirt on the computer screen before me, I see pictures of succulents and “small space gardens.” I wish for the birth of my own Inner Farm-Girl so I too might dig deep into the earth and actually, literally feel where it all begins. But as happens too often, instead of putting to practice this holy act of returning to my roots, my Pinterest folder is the only perennial that seems to bloom.

Author Fred Bahnson seems to so easily practice what he preaches in Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and FaithBecause for him—and really, as should for all of us, I suppose—“…working with the soil opens us inward where we find a God eager to lavish upon us God’s mercy and compassion and love” (249). Getting our hands dirty with the essence of earth opens us outward, and it reminds us of the joyous, unpredictable messiness of human life.

If I’m honest with myself, and with you, I want and I desire an abundance of the Maker’s mercy and compassion and love—so if becoming one with the soil is part and parcel of how I might get further in touch with these outpourings, then why wouldn’t I join in a bit of this messy, dirty-filled earth, even now? Why wouldn’t I embark on this journey even today, when I don’t seem to have the time, when digging in is just another thing on my never-ending to-do list…

This post was originally written for She Loves magazine – read the rest of the article here, and potentially join in the down ‘n’ dirty!

So, what about you?  How’s your Inner Farm-Girl shaping up to take root this summer?