rituals: tribute to a t-shirt (crystal cochran).

Guest post Tuesday! Just because I’m still swimming in the land of warm ocean waters, potential hurricanes and daily banana smoothies doesn’t mean you don’t get to hear from another writer. Crystal is an old friend from college, whose story of an ordinary ol’ t-shirt is so much deeper than an ordinary ol’ t-shirt. This part of the ritual tells a story of her life, and as we all know by now, those not-so-boring parts of our lives make the story deeper. Enjoy! 

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I’ve been racking my brain for almost a year now. I’ve been reaching into the far corners wondering if I do anything ritualistically. And then, this morning, it happened. I looked down at my pajamas and the light bulb turned on.

I basically stole this shirt from my roomie, 14 years ago… and that’s where my ritual began.

I started wearing this t-shirt to bed. It is made of cotton that was soft and it has worn into an even softer, more comfy shirt over the last (gah) 14 years. This morning I looked down and thought – wow, this t-shirt has been through a lot of night times. Faithfully being worn, washed, and re-worn.

I don’t wear the t-shirt every night (I’m sure my husband is super thankful for that fact) but I wear it weekly, for sure.

Because, really, this t-shirt has seen so much…

It was with me through silly college nights and then finals and living as a single woman, beginning to work my first real job.

It was with me through engagement and the nights just before getting married.

It was with me at the time I got married and, can you imagine (??!?) I almost threw it out – what new wife would bring an old t-shirt into the marriage bed?!?

Me. I guess it was already becoming a ritual.

This shirt has seen me through the best nights of marriage when we talk late and laugh together. And the worst nights, when I clutch the hem in my hands, as comfort, and wonder if we will make it.

The BETHEL SOCCER t-shirt has seen rough times when the twins were born and milk was leaked, spit up or spilled all over it. Then Ben and I (and good ol’ t-shirt) added two more kids, which quadrupled the milky splatters.

It’s seen stains and been washed clean for the millionth time.

This old faithful has seen sleepless nights, nights on the couch, nights on the kids room floors, nights with 4+ people crammed into a queen size bed.

It has seen early mornings and late mornings, many cups of coffee and all kinds of breakfast.

This comfy t-shirt has seen the 10 (!) places I have lived in the last 14 years – from dorm rooms to apartments, to duplexes, rental homes and now a home we own. It’s been packed and moved and loved enough to make it through countless “Goodwill donations”.

And yet, I’m starting to think that the small worn holes are telling me the ritual is almost over.

And then what?

What do I do when something I never thought as a ritual is actually a most-cherished custom? It must be something I’ve unconsciously treasured all these years, and now it’s time is running thin (literally).

Do I frame the shirt or keep it safe in a box?

Do I try to find a new one, or let this run its course and trust another ritual will spring up in its place?

I don’t know. And maybe this is why I don’t do a lot of things purposely, as “part of a ceremony,” …because when the winds of change come, I have a hard time letting go.

img_5151Crystal Cochran is a stay-at-home mom and part-time math teacher.  She is married to the best man on the planet, Ben, and they have four kids: a set of “SURPRISE, you are pregnant with twin boys”, a sweet, bright-shining daughter and a firecracker of a four-year old son. Life with these people is an adventure every day from which she collapses into bed after a glass of Cab Sav. They love each other, camping, Jo-Joes with milk, Jesus, the real Friday night lights and dreaming about someday traveling the world. Cara again here: I love Crystal’s story because it reminds me that there’s always so much more to the story. How did Crystal’s words touch you today? 

rituals: 88 meals & the meaning of friendship (dorothy greco).

Today’s words on the theme of #rituals involve a story of friendship, and specifically one that has spanned the course of twenty-two years and eighty-eight quarterly meals. My friend Dorothy’s story is inspirational, and one that I’d love to see happen in my own life with a group of women. Love to all and enjoy! 

Most of my rituals are practiced in solitude: morning prayer, daily exercise, flossing. My two communal rituals involve food: our family’s evening dinner and the eight-eight meals I’ve shared with the same three women over the past twenty-two years. While I’m hopeful that our family dinner is not simply about replenishing calories, I’m certain those eighty-eight meals are about something more.

Kimberly, Margaret, Beth, and I all attended a small church in downtown Boston during the mid eighties. We had such similar backgrounds, temperaments, and faith journeys that friendship was inevitable. They were the obvious choice for bridesmaids and not long after they proceeded me down the aisle, we decided to make the relationship more intentional by connecting for dinner once a quarter. At the time, I had no idea how this soon-to-be ritual would teach me the meaning of friendship.

Photo courtesy of Evan Goodman.
Photo courtesy of Evan Richman.

When we gathered around the table in the now defunct Chinese restaurant, I was pregnant with our eldest son—the one who got married last summer. No wrinkles defined our faces and no gray hairs poked defiantly upwards. Our bodies were trim (with the exception of my swollen midsection) and powerful.

That first night, we picked spicy noodles and greasy rice off each other’s plates as we shared our doubts, fears, and triumphs. Though surely no one was listening, we huddled around the table, dropping our voices, apparently concerned about what others would think if they overheard our stories.

During those early dinners, I was somewhat guarded. Like everyone else who has lived a few decades, I experienced my share of betrayals and disappointments.

In response, I hardened and created a facade that concealed both my wounds and my limitations. This ruse spared me further pain but the energy that should have gone into maturing and loving others was diverted to propping up my false self.

By saying yes to this quarterly gathering, I was unwittingly choosing to dismantle that facade. I was opting for vulnerability over safety. This has not always been an intuitive choice, particularly during the past few years when my husband and I have experienced profound losses—including parents, jobs, and our church community. Though it might seem that a season of hemorrhaging would increase my desire to break bread with friends, a palpable resistance crept in.

Fear propelled that resistance. I feared that they would fail to notice the blood or unwittingly say something hurtful and in my fragile state, that I would respond uncharitably. For though our twenty-two years together have blessed me immeasurably, we’re all imperfect. Sometimes we say too much, too sharply and hurt each other. Yet despite our jagged edges, none of us have ever canceled. Ever.

We’re now either grey—or concealing our grey. Our once firm bodies bear witness to the battles we’ve faced in our half-century of living. We’ve stood shoulder to shoulder as we’ve changed jobs, battled cancer, bought and sold houses, lost our parents, and struggled to make sense of an often overwhelming world. We’ve also laughed until we cried, spoken profound words of affirmation, and prayed passionately for each other.

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Since that first night, we’ve eaten well and poorly. We’ve picnicked, discovered Okdol Bibimbap, and lingered far too long in crowded, urban coffee shops. The truth is, our relational hunger exceeds our need for calories making the food mostly inconsequential. What matters far more than whether we eat Indian or Korean is that we keep saying yes to each other.

Eighty-eight times we’ve dismissed the legitimate reasons we could claim we’re too busy and instead, set aside the requisite four hours. We’ve done this not because we’re particularly admirable women (though I hope that’s true). We continue to meet because we need each other and because we’re slowly learning that this friendship—perhaps all friendship—is a gift that should never be taken for granted. After twenty-two years, we understand that being a good friend isn’t so much about being perfect as forgiving each other when we’re not—that friendship isn’t so much about overlooking each other’s limitations as it is acknowledging them—and choosing to love anyway.

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*DLGport-Jun-0612-016-©DGrecoDorothy Littell Greco lives with her husband and two of her three sons outside Boston, MA. She is a member of Redbud Writers’ Guild and will have her first book published by David C. Cook in January of 2017. She also works as a professional photographer. To read more of her words or view her images, follow her on FaceBook, Twitter, or subscribe to her websiteCara again: I don’t know about you, but Dorothy (and Kimberly and Margaret and Beth) make me want to find a group of friends to journey with for 88 quarterly meals in a row, and then 88 more. How about you? How did Dorothy’s words touch you today? 

8 rules of vacation reading (or not).

In less than forty-eight hours (because you’d better believe I’m counting), our little family of four will hop on a plane and fly to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We will embrace sunshine and time together, grilled fish every evening for dinner and shaved ice in the afternoons. We will hike and rest, play and laugh, visit friends and family and relish in being. 

And we will read.

Frodo will stare at the same page of his current favorite book, Curious George’s ABCs because he’s a simple man, and he doesn’t need more than a single page to occupy his budding literary mind. Cancan will likely pack his larger-than-life backpack full of books, blocks, cars and swim goggles, or so he told me this morning as we discussed the topic of vacation over scrambled eggs, strawberries and milk. As the HBH (Hot Black Husband) finished packing last week, his Kindle is loaded up already.

And me? Well, apparently I’m hoping for a generous sprinkling of pixie dust and my very own fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and grant me a full-time nanny, because people, I’ve got books to read.

First, this is the stack:

IMG_5508I’m most excited to read Orphan Train and Desmond Tutu’s book on forgiveness – I’ve heard great things about the former, and the latter, well, he’s the holiest of geniuses. I anticipate giddiness if I have the chance to listen to The Girl With All the Gifts, and since I tend to pound out books on Kindle, Astonish Me is at the top of my list.

But here’s the deal: As the likelihood of pixie dust and fairy godmother wishes remains slim to noneI have to be open to where the Spirit of Vacation might take me (and my reading).

So, second, here are my vacation-reading rules:

  1. Always read with a view. Just do it. Sometimes the best reading is spent not staring at the text on the page, but embracing the more-than-word-filled story in front of you.
  2.  Bring back-ups. I think I’ll really like Rules of Civilitybut if it’s not the book I’m to read on this trip, back in the suitcase it goes.
  3. Bring the charger. For it all: the phone, the Kindle, and any other electronics you’re toting along. (Note: you can, as I prefer to do, completely turn off all online technology while you’re sitting in that tropical sun. Who cares what the world is doing in the land of Facebook? You’re on vacation. Live and lean into it).
  4. Do the Marie Kondo before you pack your bags. I started choosing my books for vacation about a month ago …because I’m just that nerdy and just that desperate for a six-hour flight with a three-year-old and an eleven-month old. But the other night, I took each of the eight (paperback) books I originally intended to take with me, and I held them in my hands. “Does this give me vacation joy?” I asked of each one of the books. And by Jove I think it worked!
  5. Don’t read for work. Read for you. My worst vacation reading ever involved assigned reading for my last seminary class, “An Introduction to the Anglican Church.” While the class itself was terribly fascinating, do yourself a favor and take a needed separation from your work, from that which you have to do. That’s why it’s called vacation.
  6. Share a nugget of your reading with your honey. I’ll never forget reading Bittersweet on my honeymoon, sharing a paragraph here or there with the HBH and then watching him consume Shauna’s book as soon as I finished it.
  7. Put the book down. Does your son want you to build a sandcastle with him? Put the book down. Is your almost one-year-old itching to go down the pirate slip slide for the 40th time this morning? Put the book down. Does your honey want you to sit on the porch and sip mint mojitos with you while the sun goes down? Put the book down. Real Live People trump books, every time.
  8. Don’t follow any of the aforementioned rules. This is vacation, after all, and if you’re anything like me, the last thing you need or want while on vacation is another to-do list. So, please, ignore all of the above post.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to start an hour by hour countdown. Saturday morning, you can’t get here soon enough.

xo.

So, what other rules that aren’t rules would you add to the list? As per summer or vacation reading, what are some of your favorites from the past couple months? Also, this post was written before Wild in the Hollow arrived in the mail from my friend, Holly – I am most excited to sit with Amber’s words. Otherwise, but for guests posts it’ll be pretty quiet around here …see you after Labor Day!

*Amazon Affiliate links, yo.

Nothing Ordinary

The search for Beauty can consume me.

I think about the adventures I’ve been on: hiking into the middle of Yosemite with a week’s worth of food on my back, surfing for the first time on the shores of Thailand. Staring with awe at the historical magnificence of the Roman Colosseum and taking in The Tempest and the Shrew in Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Breathing in the fresh air of the Swiss Alps and tickling my toes in cold water off the shores of La Maddalena.

I could go on, for the memories are many. Because if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to spot Beauty when we’re viewing the Big Sights and visiting the Most Beautiful Places and having the Adventure of a Lifetime.

But it’s that much harder to spot Beauty in the ordinary everyday.

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My muscles have to work harder to find holiness when I haven’t slept through the night, and when my three-year-old keeps asking the same question eleven times in a row, as if I didn’t hear – and didn’t respond – the ten times before:

Can I have Cheerios? Mama, can I have Cheerios, Mama? Can I have Cheerios, Mama, please? Mama, can I have Cheerios? Can I have Cheerios, please, Mama, please?

I see why the Quiet Game was invented.

It can be hard to remember to open my eyes to seeing the Beauty that’s already around me, the Beauty who’s been present with me all along, when I’m lonely or when I’m sad, when I’m burn out and when I’m in need of a break. 

But I think that’s why when I find Beauty in the most unlikely of places, when I see Beauty in my ordinary, everyday mama-life, it’s that much more breathtaking.

One of my favorite podcasts once said that there is nothing ordinary for those who know how to look for the difference between ordinary and extraordinary.

I want that Nothing Ordinary. 

I want to train my eyes to see Nothing Ordinary when I’m chopping onions for dinner, dreaming about the sizzling perfection of garlic, onions and olive oil.

I want to hear Nothing Ordinary when that same son who asks for Cheerios eleven times in a row sings “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and “Mary had a Baby” in the middle of August.

And I want to feel Nothing Ordinary when my husband opens the sliding door to conversation and wraps his arms around me, refusing to let go until I believe his love for me.

Because this Nothing Ordinary is true beauty.

This Nothing Ordinary is Beauty Himself.

And this Nothing Ordinary is the beauty I yearn to find.

Is it the same for you?

The #wholemama journey continues, even though we’ll be switching things up a bit. This week’s topic is BEAUTY – so, what is beauty to you? And how, of course, do you find Beauty in the most unlikely of places?

Whole Mama

rituals: one cup funnel (lily jensen).

Guest post Tuesday is back! (Feel free to sing that to the tune of “Backstreet’s back, all right!” You won’t be sorry). And just like all the Tuesdays before it, today we enter into ritual, into those not-so-boring rituals that make the story deeper. I’m grateful to share this space with my dear friend Lily today, and I think you’ll love the chipper way her words gather us in to give us a picture of her everyday. Enjoy!

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Rituals are hard for me — at least I am not sure I am that ritualistic.

I really, and I mean really want to have more rituals in my life. My job is what I make it: I don’t have to show up to an office at the same time every day. I don’t have the same routine 2 days in a row in my work and thus my personal life doesn’t have an enormous amount of structure attached to it either.

As I think about what I do most frequently that makes for a ritual in my life it’s likely true for most people I know… I make a cup of coffee every morning.

Several years ago, while living in San Francisco, my mom was out visiting from Colorado and we decided to hit up a cooperative grocery store called Rainbow Grocery in the Mission District. You see, I’m not the most picky person about coffee, however, I have lived in places that it’s sacrilege to NOT have an opinion about your coffee, where it comes from and how it’s made. While at Rainbow Grocery I saw a one cup, pour over funnel and made the purchase more on the basis to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” than to have the most perfect cup of coffee every morning.

I don’t have the right pouring nozzle/ spout deal that you’re suppose to use for said one cup funnel. Don’t tell anyone, but I just pour boiling water from my tea kettle and it splashes around a bit and then drains into the awaiting mug. I do buy nice beans, you know, $12 a pound kind of beans. Never would I be caught drinking some instant stuff; well that’s a lie, I’ll drink Starbucks Via in a pinch.

But, this ritual, that most people partake in, leads to relationships and isn’t that what life’s all about?

I sit with my coffee in the morning in the kitchen that I share with 3 and sometimes 4 roommates. Some days I am with Jesus and coffee, other times I am with a roommate catching up on life. There are many times where forces combine when one roommate shows up and we make a delightful breakfast on a Tuesday morning before heading off to the day that awaits.

This little ritual that I partake of every morning extends into the deeper story. Plans are made, stories are shared, dreams are dreamt and life is richer. The need to awaken is aided with a good cup of joe, sweet friends and early mornings.

I just returned from 10 days in Hawaii where I would rise and fall asleep with the sun. The Big Island of Hawaii is only 19 degrees north of the equator which means the sun rises and sets at the same time all year long. This place is a that ritual comes alive for me — just the same as at home, but early mornings with a view, coffee, Jesus and the sounds of the island make the mundane magical. This I take with me to the deeper story of life in the everyday, the ritual of the common man that becomes what’s most meaningful about existing.

1510892_10152138448986469_1462185463_nLily loves to have fun, because like Cara, she’s a 7 on the Enneagram. There’s no adventure too big or small that she wouldn’t partake in. Lily has been on Young Life staff for almost 11 years and enjoys the variety of her job, though it provides no routine and all the space in the world for ritual. An avid cyclist, Lily loves to crank out tons of miles in favor for a good beer and burrito at the end of the day. She loves people and will do nearly anything to be with fun people enjoying the wonder this life holds. So, what say you? What part of Lily’s Rainbow Grocery-inspired cup o’ joe (with nods to Hawaii, San Francisco and Seattle along the way) captured you today?

an ode to the 80’s & to my childhood.

A few weeks ago, our three-year-old spent a good 30 hours holed up on the couch, consuming copious quantities of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Sesame Street. A bad applesauce packet led to food poisoning, which led to complete exhaustion when every ounce of his insides seemed to spill out over the course of six hours. So he took it easy, drinking apple juice and watching way more television than I’d ever readily admit to in a public space.

As Cancan watched his favorite shows and played with his favorite toys – the pizza truck, Batman and his “electric” dog-shaped guitar, in that order – and read and reread his favorite books, I realized that his childhood is being created, one show and toy and book at a time.

And it reminded me of my own childhood.

It reminded me of the 80’s, of Care Bears and Lite-Brite and Barbie’s Dream House – you know, the three-story cardboard mansion with moveable plastic elevator. I thought about the scrunchies I wore in my hair and the jelly bracelets I wore on my wrists, and all the many books I consumed as an elementary school student.

I thought about the songs we sang: the Kookaburra song on Tuesdays in music class, and “As the Deer” on Sunday mornings in church (and lest one forgets, the ever-popular and theologically horrifying, “Oh, You Can’t Get to Heaven” at summer camp).

But let me not just tell you about these memories, let me show you them instead.

First, meet my second grade self:

1930590_75772100371_4099_nIf memory serves me right, I held simultaneous dreams of being a supermodel and a nurse. The former, as evidenced by the picture above, most obviously came true.

My favorite stuffed animals lined my bed each day, including the girl who most influenced my wardrobe choices:

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I wore scrunchies and banana clips in my hair, and once I learned how to read chapter books, filled my shelves with the likes of these four friends…

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And these two girls…

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And, like almost every red-blooded American girl in the late 80’s, I questioned my identity and tried to pinpoint which character I was most like from this set of books:

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I too watched Sesame Street, even though I eventually graduated to Reading Rainbow, Square One and 3-2-1 Contact. Our family erred heavily on the side of PBS, but Gummi Bears and Muppet Babies still topped my Saturday morning cartoon choices.

And then, every Tuesday night, I was allowed to stay up half an hour late so I could watch my favorite night time show:

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Until D.J. Tanner came into my life, I considered Samantha (played by Alyssa Milano) my television best friend, the celebrity I’d most likely be voted to look like in a school-wide poll.

While I wasn’t allowed to watch Dirty Dancing (but did eventually sneak a viewing at a middle school slumber party), I begged my parents to let me watch my favorite, Adventures in Babysitting, and simultaneously hoped that TBS would be showing another rerun of my favorite sea creature:

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Dear Sweet Baby Jesus, I prayed, please make me a mermaid, just like Daryl Hannah in Splash. I’ll do anything, anything I tell you. I yearned to wake up in the bathtub, orange fin beautifully transforming the lower half of my body. To each prayer warrior her own, I suppose.

And finally, there was the food we ate: Pop Rocks and Cracker Jacks, absurd amounts of All Things Jello, after I’d saved my pennies, a package of the Awesome Original, “10 Feet Mega Roll Mega Gum,” Bubble Tape:

22110067704Hubba Bubba, indeed.

So, let’s just make a pact, you and me: Next time I’m holed up on the couch, sick as a dog, will you mail me a care package including but not limited to any or all of the above items?

I’d appreciate it. Really, I would.

And just remember:

xo, c.

So, what’s in your stash of childhood memories? What was your favorite book and show, toy you cradled to your chest and food you couldn’t stop consuming? I’d love to hear! Otherwise, today’s post was inspired by the folks over at Man Crates, who ship a crate of pretty awesome stuff (and a crowbar!) to the man in your life. Be sure to check out the Old School Crate, which includes some of the food listed above. 

celebrating life’s marrow-sucking (#wholemama).

I believe in celebrating.

I believe in countdowns, numbering the days on chalkboards and tearing loops off of construction paper garlands.

I believe in finding one thing, every single day, to fist-pump or high five or cheer for, because this not-so-ordinary life, these more-than-mundane hours of existence, are worth all the celebrations we humans have to offer.

Photo cred: Shelley Pimentel Photography.
Photo cred: Shelley Pimentel Photography.

You may have noticed my participation in the Whole Mama series this summer, an invitation to embracing the Holy Creative alongside Esther and Jamie, Erika and Sarah, and a whole crew of most should-be-celebrated women. I wouldn’t – and won’t – trade the relationships formed through that for anything, but am grateful for the time we spent in community, cheering one another on, being for each other in this journey of motherhood and authenticity.

So, we’re going to take the rest of this post to celebrate and to remember how we did a damn good job of sucking the marrow out of life. We – as in me, myself and I – are going to try our hardest to name all all the little celebrations that are the big celebrations of this past summer. And I’d love for you to do the same, whether in your head or on paper or in the comments below, celebrate the life you’ve lived the past couple months.

We’ve…

Made jam. Pitched tents indoors. Hung out in pitched tents indoors. Instigated and relished in Family Movie Nights. Ridden bikes two blocks down the road to the neighborhood pizza place for a certain three-year-old’s birthday dinner. Grilled. Eaten chilled crab and avocado soup. Taken road trips to Santa Cruz and Davis and everywhere in between. Worn our parkas in San Francisco. Been to the Oakland Zoo and the San Francisco Zoo. Cheered on a brave little boy in his first round of swim lessons. Left said little boy at preschool for the first time. Sweated in the heat of our living room. Bought the last fan Home Depot had in stock. Had the most amazing writing weekend, (as you know, as I can’t stop talking about). Hosted hoards of friends, all of whom are too numerous to count, whose stories I still hold heart-side. Celebrated the 4th of July with this girl and with our neighbors. Gotten to know the gift of our neighborhood. Walked countless loops around Lake Merritt. Become a regular at the Farmer’s Market. Hopped on a plane to Idaho to just be with family. Hosted my parents, the greatest Gaga and Papa our boys will ever know. Read, read, read because it’s summer and because summer reading might just be the best invention known to man. Gushed over Go Set a Watchman and Stargirl and Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome alike. Locked ourselves out of the house, with baby inside. Learned how to wear red lipstick and set an intention in a book store, thanks to one wise and witty friend.

But we’ve also…

Taken the time to sit down, side by side on the couch, just me and the HBH (Hot Black Husband), that is. Asked each other the hard questions. Snuggled. Kissed. Held hands. Talked about and leaned into and believed in what really matters and who really matters. Said I’m sorry. Offered forgiveness. Accepted apologies. Realized that marriage takes work and parenthood is not for the faint of heart. Taped this to our refrigerator:

I’m sorry for…
That was wrong because…
In the future I will…
Will you forgive me?

And somehow, as it should, it’s then made us talk about and lean into and believe in the most important things all over again, as we should have been doing all along.

So, all in all, I’d say it’s been a most successful and a most significant and, like the perfect pair of jeans, a most lived-in summer.

What about you?

xo, c.

I’ve loved participating in the #wholemama movement this summer, and do check out Esther’s blog to see where and how the journey continues. Otherwise, how have you celebrated life this summer? How have you sucked the marrow out of life? Start a list! Type out a few in the comments below!