Just One of Those Days!

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Our changing landscape: the harvested corn fields and fall trees look bare against the Autumn morning sky.

I woke up early this morning and knew it was going to be one of those days. A fabulous day! The sun is shining, the air is fresh and crisp, and I feel like I can conquer the world. Well, at least my tiny, tiny corner of the world.

I practically skipped as I did my chores, my steps light-footed, and my off-key singing barely bothered the chickens. What is it about some days that allow you to feel like everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be?

My schedule is full with necessary activities that I have to get done, but I felt optimistically confident that creativity and calm will reign supreme. My daily writing practice has been swept aside lately with the accumulated tasks that have piled up, but today is the perfect day to make my writing a priority again. I fired up my lap-top as I sat on the front porch, listened to the ‘girls’ softly cluck, and spent pleasant moments as I revisited my story in progress. I even got to share the calm with a deer as she crossed the barn lot. Thank goodness we always keep the camera handy and ready to roll for moments just like this.

A deer wandered into our barn lot, the chickens keep me company while I write on my porch, and the day-lilies always make me smile.

Monday is always clean house day, and usually I drag my vacuum cleaner around like it is a torture device. I grumble and sneer. Today I decided to open up the house one last time before the weather turned cold and give the place a thorough once over. Cobweb patrol, chasing dust rhino’s from under the furniture, and even washing windows gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. A good spit-shine can lift the spirits of an old farmhouse and it just feels good to sit back and ’embrace the clean’. This is a fabulous day!

 Kayla standing in front of our ‘Gandalf’ scarecrow, newly canned applesauce, and dinner: big ol’ chopped salad.

Maybe it’s just the Autumn season that provides this feeling of exuberance. The cooler temperatures and the shorter days give me many reasons to spend time ‘nesting’ and slowing down. Life doesn’t feel nearly as frantic and things get done as they get done. I have crossed many chores off my to-do list, like canning applesauce and dilly beans and freezing summer corn. Most of the outbuildings are secured and ready for the harsh Winter weather ahead. The chicken coop is almost ready for Winter and we’ve stocked up on bales of straw and feed. Being prepared does provide much impetus for a fabulous day!

My daughter Kayla has decided she would have a fabulous day today, too. Her special needs and her battle with schizophrenia can often cause her anxiety and stress, but how can anybody be ‘down-in-the-dumps’ when you have a friend like ‘Gandalf the Scarecrow’ to protect your pumpkins and make you smile? She decided to help me make our main meal and cheerfully began chopping vegetables and tossing in handfuls of walnuts and dried cranberries. Soon our salads will change over to thick, hearty vegetable soups but since today is so fabulous, chopped salad it is.

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Ninja toady. Can you see him?

As I brew a pot of coffee on the stove-top and look out the kitchen window, I notice the drain spouts full of dried leaves, old clay pots that need to be stored in the shed, and fallen limbs that need to be stacked on the burn pile. I will save those chores for my next fabulous day. Right now, I need to go take a peek at the big toad Kayla found next to the smoke house and have a mug of hot, fresh coffee.

It’s just been one of those days! I hope you have a whimsically fabulous day, too!

The Humble Gardener

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I was sitting in the orthodontist’s chair when I realized something – I was considered a master gardener (yes, I have adult braces — let’s ignore that and move on). The revelation smacked me as the assistant settled in to remove my rubber bands and explained, “Oh! I’ve been waiting for you to come in so I can ask you a question….what do you think of Zoo Doo? Is all the hoopla worth it? Should I sign up for the waiting list?”

Whoa there, when did I become a master gardener?

The title is emphatically undeserved. I’ve only had a real garden for two years. Yes, I’ve had a “potted” garden for years prior, devoured many soil and gardening books, even got my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences with a focus on soil and land use, but does that make me the go-to gal for advice on manure?

Let’s rewind this a bit. In fact, quite a bit. My love for growing things came about when I was about eight. I meticulously prepped a bed for my vegetables. I weeded, tilled, and worked all day until I had the perfect fluffy bed. When I excitedly showed Dad the fruits of my labor, he said, “That’s great dear, but that spot doesn’t get enough sun to grow anything”. You see, in my ignorance I had only accounted for 2 of the 3 necessary requirements to grow plants (besides a few tenacious weeds, anyway). I’d thought of land (soil, check) and I had thought of water (watering can, check) but I had neglected to think of solar requirements. The spot I had chosen was basically smack in the middle of a grove of rhododendrons. Barely a ray of sunshine made its way through the gnarled branches and thick leaves. My dream of being a farmer was immediately shattered. But only temporarily.

Fast forward about 5 years and I found myself transplanted onto a small island outside of Seattle. My mother had decided that she wanted to garden, and I was determined that she would not have all the fun. But I had no knowledge, no understanding of how to grow things. I just possessed an unexplainable desire. With a bit of whining (as teenage girls are prone to do) she conceded a small plot of my own to grow herbs. Perhaps not as exciting as tomatoes and cucumbers, but still important! And most importantly, less fickle to grow. This is where I cut my teeth and quickly learned growing things wasn’t as simple as scattering a few seeds in the soil, crossing my fingers, and letting Mother Nature take her course – that is if I wanted to cultivate anything other than dandelions and creeping buttercup. I learned quickly that gardening was a series of constant little battles. Is the soil to dry? Oh, I better water it. Is the soil to wet? Then maybe I should mound the rows to keep the roots from drowning. Not getting enough sun? Well perhaps I should chop down those darn blackberries that are towering overhead. And the battle royale? The slugs. Oh those pernicious slugs! The garden turned into a mine field of tubs filled with Miller High Life in the hopes of luring the slimy monsters to their death with the champagne of beers.

If gardening doesn’t teach you anything else, it will teach you persistence. It took me years to unlock the secret to successfully growing plump, tasty tomatoes. And I’m still learning to properly thin the carrots (it just seems such a waste to pull any of them!). And I’ve discovered that it’s not a single-season endeavor to cultivate the perfect soil bed that’s rich with humus and teaming with microbes and mycorrizae. In fact, it can take many, many years.

Regardless of all the “little battles” and the patience it takes to garden, I’m hooked. I can’t imagine at this point in my life not having a garden. Where else can I get dark red, super-flavorful tomatoes that put those hot-house fruits to shame? How else could I pick candy-like sugar-snap peas right off the vine? And how would I fuel my love for cool cucumber drinks on hot summer days? Yes I’m hooked. And I’ll enthusiastically share my love for all things gardening if you dare to ask. But am I a master gardener at this point? I don’t think so. Though it is a title I hope to earn one day. Instead, I think I just happen to be the only person many of my co-workers and friends know that gardens at all. And because of this, I’ve become the de-facto pro.

So back to that question the orthodontist assistant asked me. What do I think of Zoo Doo? You may be surprised to learn that I’m not a fan. Why? Other than fundamentally not supporting the confinement of wild animals, I’m also not confident that manure from the zoo is free of antibiotics and other residue (sedatives, anyone?) that is left over from treating the animals. These left-overs can have a negative impact on the soil biota as well as be translocated (taken up) by the plants you grow to eat. While most of these medications would have broken down during digestion, some simply do not. Heavy metals, such as arsenic and mercury, sometimes used in animal supplements, persist. I’d rather not risk it. Instead, I choose to compost the nitrogen-rich manure from my chickens. Chickens are little poop-machines – so why waste it?  And if you don’t have your own chickens, find a neighbor that does. If they are like me, they always have excess chicken poop. Otherwise, check out Craigslist or reach out to local farmer. It may take a little effort, but it’s well worth it.

Happy gardening.

Guest blog courtesy of Chelsie Johnson at Humble Bee Farms.

 

Growing a Cottage Business.

Herbal soaps and Whimsical minions, Salvia and Echinacea, Herbal apothecary, and a loaf of uncut lavender soap.

We have lived a year and a half on Whimsical Moon Farm now. A full growing season under our belts plus the original fall garden I planted while we were getting settled has given us much to be thankful for. As I contemplate what we have accomplished, I find myself already figuring out where to build new raised beds next Spring, how I want to increase the herb garden, possibly with a small turtle pond (our turtle Grover has almost outgrown his aquarium), plus I would like to create an herbal medicine wheel near the barn lot. We  have added a small flock of laying hens, a handful of farm cats, and we are researching Dwarf Nigerian goats for milk. (They are adorable!) A never-ending process of growing, experimenting, and enjoying the harvest.

Our local Farmers’ Market, raised bed, owl soaps, a loaf of soap ready to be cut, and my daughter Kayla holding one of our new chicks. 

 Mindy works off the farm so we can make ends meet while I handle the farm chores, the gardening, as well as regular care of my special needs fairy adult child. It dawned on me one morning, while enjoying my first mug of extra bold Sumatran coffee on the front porch, that a small farm business would be a pretty darn good idea right about now. I handcraft herbal soaps for gifts and for sale at the farmers’ market, I figured herbal body products would be a great ‘cottage’ business I could run right out of my kitchen. I grow most of the herbs I would need for the soaps and sugar scrubs and I could work around chores and my daughters needs.

I passed my brilliant idea by Mindy that evening and she said, “um….okay” and thus began my business adventure. I’ve always been a rather ‘shoot-from-the-hip’ type of person, and working for anybody but myself has always been rather unappealing but I did promise Mindy that I would put together a business plan. My research consisted of re-reading Chris Guillebeau’s book, “The $100 Start Up: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future” (which I highly recommend), Blake Mycoskie’s book, “Start Something That Matters” (of TOM’s shoe fame) and “Creating an Herbal Bodycare Business” by Sandy Maine.

I learned from Blake, “When you have a memorable story about who you are and what your mission is, your success no longer depends on how experienced you are or how many degrees you have or who you know. A good story transcends boundaries, breaks barriers, and opens doors. It is a key not only to starting a business but also to clarifying your own personal identity and choices.” Well, I certainly have stories. And the story about Whimsical Moon Farm certainly identifies my mission and is easily entwined within my business purpose.

 Butterfly on Echinacea flower, me holding Mamie, one of our Ameraucana chickens, and a field of wildflowers near the barn lot.

As I hammered out my business plan, I decided simple was best. So, I determined I had products to sell: herbal soaps, bath salts, sugar scrubs, and dream pillows.

I considered who my targeted customer base would most likely be (besides my loving family): those people, mostly women ages 16-90 (approximately) interested in lovingly hand-made, natural body-care for their personal use and as gifts. Although I also create a wonderful beard oil and soaps for men, I have found women are usually the ones initially attracted to my products.

And, I figured out a way to get paid, or how I would sell my products: an online market/website plus my favorite farmers’ markets and seasonal festivals. I chose Wix.com as my e-commerce site not only for its ease of navigating through the complex dashboards plus their on-going support, but also because the cost was budget-worthy and I thought the name Wix was catchy. Not to negate Etsy or Shopify, (or any of the other many possible markets out there) they are excellent sites as well, but I felt Wix.com would be a good fit for my farm soap business.

After stewing and fretting over my business plan, which now exceeded three paragraphs, I felt confident I could present to Mindy who, by the way was now listed as CO-OWNER, the details and the budget for OUR ‘cottage’ business start-up. I had determined a nice round figure of $1000 would be sufficient to get the business up and running with a little cushion for padding. Where we would get this $1000 was undetermined at that time but after an informative meeting with our bank customer service rep, we walked out with a zero-fee, zero interest-rate for 15 months, credit card with a cap of $3000. We still intend on keeping the business costs at or below the $1000 we planned for and figure if the business is not paying for itself in 15 months, then we would surely need to reconsider our options. I, however, am confident that between the two of us and the story woven throughout our farm business, we will be prosperous. Well, you know….something like that!

Our goal is to have our web-site up and running by early November, but we are shooting for Halloween because it seems rather auspicious and fun. I have been learning about marketing via social media (I had NO idea there were so many sites to get involved with) and I have been crafting soaps like a mad-woman. The kitchen smells incredible as does the pantry where I dry the soaps and any other flat surface in the house that isn’t occupied at the moment.

I am looking forward to growing, experimenting, and harvesting this newest ‘crop’ endeavor here on Whimsical Moon Farm, and I will definitely follow up with our experiences and adventures.

Stay creative and have a prosperous Whimsical Moon day!

Soul Cozy!

 

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    Cozy! Fluffy socks, flannel pajamas, a good book, and comfy chair.

There are times in our daily lives when we need to remember how to relax and just do cozy. Maybe it was a rough day at the office or the plant or on the farm, or a child woke up with a fever. Maybe your bad dog just piddled on your favorite rug, or the farmer next door loudly rolls into your yard from the cornfield with a combine spewing black smoke and wants to borrow your garden hose (true story). These are moments that require the practice of what I call soul cozy.

Starting a small farm from the dirt up, raising a special needs adult fairy child, and creating a cottage business from scratch has provided me many opportunities to breathe, let go of expectations, and just say, “okay, I surrender”. I have developed several options that I may choose from when I desire to refuel and nourish my soul. I would like to share some of my favorite soul cozies with you.

Fresh baked black raspberry pie, a hot mug of cocoa, a hearty bowl of potato soup.

I have found when I am troubled or frustrated getting in the kitchen and cooking or baking helps me to unwind and focus on simpler things. Whether it is something as elaborate as a home-baked black raspberry pie or as simple as warming up a mug of hot cocoa with whipped cream on top, the act of measuring, stirring, preparing, and then enjoying tasty food is a fulfilling soul cozy.

I believe a thick, hearty soup contains more than just vegetables, stock, meat/and or bacon, and cream. (Yes, I did say bacon!) For me, soup is the perfect accompaniment to warming the soul and rebooting my attitude. It possesses nourishment, many good memories, and can be easily shared with family and friends who also may be in need of a good soul cozy.  Throw in freshly baked yeast rolls and you have the perfect soul food.

Autumn snuggled in her blankie, Winter looks for loves, Mosey cozy on his couch, Sweetums and Bella Boo are relaxed and comfy.

Animals fully understand the concept of cozy and comfy. I have found I can learn a lot from my dogs and cats in both the easy attitude and the many forms that soul cozy can take. It seems my pets have a built-in soul radar that knows when I need a rub on the leg and a loud purr, or a big head in my lap to pet, or a puppy who will wiggle under the blanket and snuggle while I read. Animals are soul cozy in action.

Simple rituals like lighting a fragrant candle, picking up a favorite book of inspiration, or just sitting on the porch for a moment and taking a deep breath, often help me soften my attitude and count my blessings. Gratitude is my favorite soul cozy. I try to practice it often.

What do you do when you are in need of a good soul cozy? I would love to hear about them. I hope you are enjoying many whimsical blessings and moments of soul cozy.

Potato soup picture courtesy of http://www.happybellyfoodie.com

 

 

Walking the Path of Herbal Lore

Raised bed of Echinacea angustifolia (purple coneflower), Salvia (sage), Echinacea with a butterfly, apothecary counter, and raised bed of herbs and vegetables. 

                                 Featuring Echinacea (purple coneflower)

“True health comes from loving relationships, good food, time spent in nature, daily hugs, inner peace, meaningful work, and breathing thankfully of the richness of this life.”  Nancy Phillips, Herbalist.

It is time to do my early morning chores, so I bundle up in my thick sweater, fuzzy socks, and warm hat to ward off the chilly air of Autumn. As I toss the chickens their favorite scratch and apple slices, I find myself turning over in my head the contents of my herbal medicine cabinet. This is the time of year I need to make sure I am stocked up on all my favorite teas, tinctures, and salves. The one herb I turn to over and over again is always Echinacea. Whether in a tea, tincture, or even a throat spray, Echinacea angustifolia is the foundation of my herbal remedies and I want to make sure I am prepared for cold and flu season.

I have grown Echinacea for many years as I have found it to be a lovely perennial that is not fussy to grow. It can get to be three to four feet high and loves the full sun and warm weather.  Purple coneflower, as it is commonly known, blooms beautiful cone-shaped flowers and is well-loved by bees, butterflies, and many wild birds that enjoy their seeds in the fall.

Many herbalists and natural medicine practitioners believe Echinacea to be an important immune-enhancing herb with very few known side-effects. It helps protect cells against the many viruses and bacteria we are often exposed to, plus it has antifungal and antibacterial properties. This makes it an important remedy for many of our common infections and illnesses.

It is particularly useful against bronchial and respiratory infections, sore throat, and the common cold. I use it anytime my immune system needs a boost or I have been exposed to somebody sniffling and sneezing. Echinacea can be taken as a tea, tincture, or capsules and should be used at the first sign of a cold or flu.

 

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This is my herbal apprentice, Winter the farm Chihuahua

As a cottage herbalist, I usually practice with simple formulas rather than mixing several herbs together, so I take Echinacea either as a tea, a tincture, or in capsules. I prefer tinctures as it tends to be more potent when I begin to feel crummy, but it isn’t the most palatable going down. I often mix it with orange juice for that extra push of vitamin C, but it can still be gag-worthy until you get accustomed to it.

You can purchase the teas already made (just follow directions on the carton) as they are usually considerably tastier, especially with a dribble of honey in your cup, or you can make your own tea by placing 4-6 tablespoons of dried herbs into a clean quart jar and pouring boiling water over them, filling the jar. Let this steep a good 30-45 minutes, strain it well, and drink about a quarter of a cup every half hour for a total of 4 cups a day.

As I prefer the tincture, I usually try to get a batch started towards the end of summer so it will be ready for flu season. To create your own, you will need fresh or dried Echinacea root, a pint of 80 proof or stronger vodka or brandy, and a clean glass jar. Place these roots in the jar and pour enough alcohol over them to completely cover by a good 2 or 3 inches. Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid and place in a warm spot and allow to soak (macerate) for 4 to 6 weeks. Try to shake the tincture regularly. Once a day is fine, but don’t worry if you forget a day or two. Strain the herbs well and store in clean, dark bottles. Your tincture will last for two, even three years.  You should take 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of tincture every hour up to 6 teaspoons daily.

You can also purchase already made Echinacea tincture and tincture blends at most drugstores and many grocery stores.

I do keep Echinacea capsules on hand, but I usually purchase them from the drugstore as I have found I usually make a huge mess when I encapsulate my own pills. You can take 1-2 capsules every two hours up to 8 pills daily.

A wonderfully soothing sore throat spray I have discovered is to mix together one-quarter cup of your prepared tincture, one eighth cup of vegetable glycerin or honey, one eighth cup of fresh water, and 1-2 drops of peppermint essential oil. Mix that all together and place in a spritzer bottle. Spray directly into the back of your throat as needed, about every half hour or so.

 

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Porch Herb Garden

I believe we need to restore a healing tradition in our country that allows us to understand beneficial herbs and nourishment to our bodies and our souls. We need to learn how to rely on the wisdom of our bodies and community with each other for basic healthy living.

If we trust our bodies ability to heal and function in a balanced way, we will be able to make informed and wise decisions about our health and well-being.

Herbalism is about our connection with plants and how they can be used to nourish and heal each of us. As I walk this herbal path, I continue to learn how to listen to the plants and how to listen and trust my self.

Please note: This information is meant only to increase your knowledge about herbs and how they can be used in your own healing path. I am not a licensed medical doctor not do I ever intend to be one.  Always seek the advice of your doctor or health care professional for your individual conditions. 

Thank you to Rosemary Gladstar and Nancy Phillips for their inspiration and guidance along my herbal journey.