The Alchemy of Ritual!

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A recent thunderstorm caused our power and internet to go out. The farm got quiet and calm, even during the storm.

Alchemy: (Noun)

  • The medieval forerunner of chemistry based on the supposed transformation of matter.
  • A seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.

Ritual: (Noun)

  • A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.
  • A series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone.

“Life is the ceremony. How we live it is the sacred ritual” — Wind Hughes

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Oops! There’s a peeper in my tea cup.

I was recently chatting with a friend of mine over a cup of Earl Grey tea and munching on some tasty scones. We were laughing over some of the habits we find ourselves doing as we move through our days. For instance, I often turn on  music when I am doing my housecleaning, even though I can’t hear it over the vacuum cleaner. And she rubs her Saint Christopher medal she keeps in the console of her car before driving to the city (for protection), even though she’s not Catholic.

As we sat there shaking our heads and sipping our tea, we both paused at the same time. “What if we looked at our daily habits and practices and called them rituals? How magical would those moments in each day feel?” my friend asked.

A few days later, I paid attention to my daily chores and routine and looked for the rituals in each moment.

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Sunrise on the farm.

I am almost always up and stumbling around at the (ass) crack of dawn. Ginger-roo, the rooster, usually crows until he sees that I am upright and semi-alert. The first ritual I perform is to look out the door and check the sunrise (or cloud layer), shush the rooster, and determine how I’m going to dress that morning. Then, I fill the tea kettle and put it on the stove medium-low so the water will be hot by the time I get back from chores.

After all my morning jobs are finished, I always sit down with my hot cup of tea, light a candle, and write in my journal. This is my daily writing practice, no matter what. It does feel more sacred when I call it my daily writing ritual.

Bella insists on helping me with my farm duties.

Bella has her own rituals. Each morning she greets me as I step out onto the side porch and follows me everywhere I go. She enjoys helping with the chickens. Although she can make the rooster a bit nervous, she can be counted on to participate in the feeding, watering, and cleaning of the chickens. We have two working coops at the moment, and she takes her responsibility seriously.

Her most import ritual as the farm cat is to rub against my legs and make sure I admire her soft fur and fill her cat dish full of kibble.

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The fresh baked apple pie ritual.

I didn’t realize it until my daughter Kayla pointed this out to me one day, but whenever I bake, I usually hum. Nonsensical humming. It doesn’t matter if I am kneading bread dough, rolling out pastry pie crust, or scooping cookie dough, I hum. Kind of like a baked goods humming mantra. I especially enjoy the repetition of kneading bread dough and often find my mind wandering through a possible blog post or story plot while I push the dough back and forth. And hum. It’s therapeutic.

The ritual of baking: turning yeast, water, and flour into a fresh loaf of bread. Alchemy at its finest.

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My writing nook.

Writing, for me, is practically a ritual all in itself. Mostly a forced ritual, if truth be told. I have to actually talk myself into placing my butt in the chair and working on a project. Half of the time, I am staring into space. The other half, I am putting words on paper or on my computer screen and hoping that somewhere in all of these sentences and paragraphs there is actually a line or a thought that lights up my imagination. Or sounds profound. Or at least, makes sense.

Writing consists of much pacing back and forth, furrowing my forehead, and copious amounts of ice tea. Or coffee. It just depends. And I can find so many other things that need my immediate attention beside actually meeting the page head on.

The thing is, I have found when I take a moment to light a candle, have my beverage of choice already in place, and give a quiet nod to my muse, I create an inner space around my writing nook that kind of transports me to this notion that it is now time to write. This ritual of preparation sets the focus for my writing. Usually it works!

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Sunset on the farm.

The alchemy of ritual is finding the magical transformation that each moment can possess when we look at our day with renewed perception. Who knew that humming, or pacing, or even greeting the morning with a hot cup of tea could take on the quality of a delightful ritual? Certainly, there are some days that are full of tedium and frustration. I can easily succumb to gloom and doom. But when I find myself humming while I roll out that pizza dough, I can practice the magical art of ritual, right in my kitchen.

 

Please take a moment to gander at our hand-crafted herbal soaps at whimsicalmoonfarm.com.

 

A little side adventure:

Several weeks ago, I found a most amazing sight right there in the parking lot of our local Tractor Supply store. I don’t usually get all giddy over such things as this, but when you are used to seeing beat up farm trucks, tractors, or hauling-ass grain trucks rolling along your narrow rural road, something just lights a spark of delight when you espy such a sight as this (well, it does for me):

BEAUTY!

This gorgeous, mint condition, 1977 Chevy Corvette belongs to Randy Hill. He was most generous in letting me drool (on myself, not the car) and take pictures. He told me it has a factory 4-speed 350 under the hood, but assuredly the headers, cams, and other enginey things he’s upgraded gift it with 450 hp.

Big thank you to Randy and his companion Jessica for letting us enjoy (while ogling) this treat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mischief, Mayhem, and Chaos on the Farm!

The three Furies (although furry, as well) Ichabod, Ozzy, and Piscus.

Yes, it has been a busy Autumn. Beside the usual fall chores around the homestead, we have acquired a few new residents to our farm. When Bella lost her sister, Pookie, a few months ago, she seemed inconsolable. Of course, I figured she needed a buddy. We visited our local animal shelter, and well….found a sweet little kitten. With two other siblings we just couldn’t separate.

A few weeks later, there was a knock at the door and two young ladies stood on my porch with a tiny black kitten. “Is this yours?”

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Ophelia. The little princess that rounds out the bunch.

As soon as she was placed on the floor, she claimed our home as hers. She immediately made her way to the food dish. The boys clamored around her and impatiently waited for her highness to finish eating. She licked her paws, cleaned her face, and promptly fell asleep in the dog’s bed.

The kittens grow daily, it seems, as they create chaos, mayhem, and mischief all throughout the house. Bella is fine, as long as they stay out of her way. She has taken a special liking, though, to the little princess, Ophelia.

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Bella, the matriarch of the bunch, seems nonplussed with the new additions. As long as they stay out of HER chair.

Early in August, we noticed a sign at our local Tractor Supply store. Fall chicks are here! We had already considered adding a few more chickens to our flock as we wanted to continue our small egg business next spring. I already had an idea of what breeds I would like to try, and we were happy with the chicks available. We came home with six new additions.

We purchased 3 Silver Wyandottes (or so we thought!), 1 Black Austrolorp, and 2 Brown Isas. Good future egg layers with sweet temperaments.

As the chickens quickly matured, we realized that our Silver Wyandottes were displaying unusual feather manifestations on the top of their little heads. After considerable research (thank you Google), I discovered our Silver Wyandottes were not what they seemed.

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They are actually, ahem, Silver Polish chickens. The ‘punk rockers’ of the chicken world.

https://www.mypetchicken.com

This is what our chickens will eventually grow up to look like. (Image from mypetchicken.com)

Not exactly what I originally had in mind, but I laugh every time I go out to their chicken coop to attend to them. They are flighty, erratic birds with friendly dispositions when they settle down. They lay white eggs, instead of my favorite brown eggs, and are not known to be as productive of layers as I had hoped, but they certainly do bring a particular ‘Whimsy’ to our farm.

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The young pullets graduating to their new home.

So, Whimsical Moon Farm continues to grow with each season. Signs of Autumn surround us as the raised garden beds slowly get cleaned out and orange and red leaves fall from our maple and locust trees around the property. Mornings are cool and misty and the days grow shorter and less intense.

A fat, pumpkin colored spider, bumblebee on a late Echinacea bloom, and Mosey inspecting newly harvested corn field.

Autumn has always been my favorite season of the year. As always, I look forward to the cooler weather, sitting around the fire pit drinking hot cocoa of an evening, and finding quiet, less frenzied moments to curl up with good books and write in my journal.

Here’s to a Whimsical Moon Farm Autumn season.

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Autumn, ready for Autumn.

Take a peek at our soaps! Whimsical Moon Farm

 

 

 

Molly Mooching!

Morels

Freshly picked morel mushrooms.

My roommate Mindy and I picked our way through the woods, carefully stepping over fallen tree limbs and budding brambles. The morning was warm and the sound of bird call echoed through the trees. Mindy knew these parts of the woods well, pointing out a slight rise as she explained to me what I was looking for. You see, Mindy has been roaming these woods since she was knee-high to a grasshopper and she was about to share with me one of her family treasures: the coveted morel patch.

The previous evening we had a warm Spring rain and this particular morning was clear and bright. Perfect conditions for the tasty morsels to make their appearance. Mindy explained to me that they were a rare find because they require such specific conditions including old growth hardwood forests; the deer enjoy dining on them, often before we can find them; plus, they are only harvestable for about three days.

Mindy showed me areas around the rotted wood and spongy lichen where they are usually known to grow. Dried brown leaves from last Autumn still littered the forest floor, so we gently pushed the leaves aside as we walked hunched over like a couple of elderly nuns.

Suddenly, Mindy let out an excited squeak as she reached down between some flowering wake-robin and pinched off a small, wrinkled, knobbily gnome shaped fungus. “Got one”, she said as she held it out for my perusal.

Within a few minutes, she had discovered four or five more of the mushrooms in the vicinity. I had yet to find one myself.

Molly mooching, as morels are often called in the Appalachians and West Virginia are actually Morchella esculenta. They are a highly prized delicacy by both professional chefs and home cooks. Currently, you can purchase 16 ounces of these dried mushrooms for $305.40. From Walmart.

I had read earlier that mushroom ethics mandate a mesh bag for gathering the gems, so the spores can scatter to the ground as you carry home your harvest. This time, we were not quite as technical as we carried our small bounty back to Mindy’s mom’s house in a grocery bag. Mindy’s mom, Joy, submerged them in a bowl filled with water and placed a plate on top of them so they would stay submerged for a period of several hours. This was to purge them of dirt and crawly things.

When it was time to cook the mushrooms, Joy placed a couple of eggs lightly beaten in a shallow bowl and whole wheat flour in another bowl. She melted half a pound of butter in a large skillet on medium low heat. The morels were sliced in half and Joy first dipped them in the eggs then dredged them in the flour before placing them in the skillet to fry. She seasoned them with a little salt and cracked black pepper and allowed them to cook just until golden on one side before turning them over. She then cooked them a few minutes more on the other side, until lightly browned, and then scooped them onto paper towel to drain.

Fried morels

Fresh batch of butter fried morels. YUM!

There is nothing I can compare these tasty butter fried mushrooms to in flavor. They are uniquely mild and earthy with a savory umami deliciousness. Crispy and crunchy, they are a delightful treat.

Our harvest this time provided Mindy, Joy, my daughter Kayla, and I a taste of an elusive prized delicacy. After we were done licking our fingers and exclaiming our pleasure to one another, Mindy informed us she would be going back out again tomorrow morning.

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Nessie’s pond located in the middle of the woods where we picked the morels.

We would love it if you took a gander at our handcrafted herbal soaps made right here on Whimsical Moon Farm.

A Bump in the Road!

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The bridge over Middle Fork Creek creating a slight bUMp in the road. This picture was taken late this Winter from our barn lot.

Many people consider a ‘bump in the road’ to indicate misfortune, a detour, or an obstacle to overcome. Here on the farm, we consider it to be a windfall or an opportunity.

You see, we live on a narrow rural road, straight and flat for miles, running East and West from one state road to another. Large grain trucks, a few commuters, and beat-up old farm trucks run up and down this road, often at indecently high speeds. The little bridge spanning our creek creates a slight bump in the road, and if you don’t slow down, may cause a jolt to the driver, and in some cases, loss of cargo in the back of the truck bed.

For instance, one day I was bemoaning the lack of straw that I needed to line the chicken run area. Lo and behold, there on the side of the road next to the newly planted soybean field, I saw a straw bale tilted at a funny angle. Huh! Where did that come from? I peered up and down the empty road looking for the owner and realized it must be up for grabs.

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My scavenged straw bale found on the side of the road.

So, I fairly sprinted down the road pulling my favorite garden wagon, hefted the bale onto the wagon, and made my way back to the chickens, my loot in tow.

It was probably a few months later when we were coming home from grocery shopping and found  three rustic wooden crates stamped with One Bushel Bean Crate  on the side. They were scattered across the road and the side ditch just past my now favorite bump in the road.

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Battered but useful green bean crate. 

One of the crates was damaged beyond repair, but we now use the remaining two as storage and porch tables for holding chilled ice tea. Perfect ‘farm chic’ decor.

Opportunity and fortune continued to fall on the farm (literally) when one morning, while savoring a hot cup of coffee on my front porch, I noticed a wood pallet sitting right square in the middle of the driveway. Seriously, I can’t even make this stuff up.

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The scrounged wood pallet.

As of this writing, we still haven’t figured out what we will use it for, but rest assured, it will find its purpose and destiny right here on the farm.

Another recent addition to the farm probably didn’t fall off the back of a wagon, but it did wander onto the front porch one evening meowing and purring, all cute and cuddly. Cats often show up out of the blue and soon move along, but this cat decided to adopt us as his own.

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Luna Kitty stretching in the early morning sunshine.

We made him a home on the front porch with our critter cage and moving blankets until we can get him ‘fixed’. Kayla named him Luna because he has a round, moonly face. It has taken a lot of hissing and meowering from our girl cats to finally warm up to him, but they seem to have worked out some sort of agreement and tentatively get along.

Last but not least, for the moment, the latest edition to the Whimsical Moon Farm menagerie is a fine young rooster named Ginger.

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Ginger Roo is an Easter-egger with beautiful shiny feathers and a robust singing voice.

Ginger came to us from my daughter, Chelsie one early morning via parcel post. Chelsie has a small flock of laying hens in her back yard in Seattle, WA. One of the two recent additions to her flock grew up to be a rooster. With a heavy heart, she called me one evening and asked if I would be able to take her rooster. The city, and her neighbors, frowned on his newly developed vocalizations.

Several days later, I received a call from the local post office at 7:08 am. “Hello, is this Terri May? Yes, well….we have your rooster here. When can you pick him up?”

A nice postal worker greeted me at the back door and allowed me into their ‘inner sanctum’. I could hear Ginger, plainly it was him, as the worker had me sign a form and quickly placed a large shipping box with a handle and air vents into my waiting hands.

 We got him set up in his temporary cage with fresh water, chicken crumble, and a few slices of his favorite apple. After a few days in a separate cage next to the hens, we slipped him in the roosting area late in the evening while the hens were sleeping. The next morning, the ‘girls’ woke up to a new dude in the chicken coop. What a pleasant surprise.

When Ginger-roo crows early in the morning, I always have to smile. It feels like we are really a ‘farm’ in the capital F sense of the word.

What is that saying? When life hands you lemons, make lemonade? Well, faced with a ‘bump in the road’, we find it quite easy to see it as an opportunity. The universe saying, “here, I bet you can use this straw bale”.

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Life on the farm!

We would love it if you found a few moments to check out our hand-crafted herbal soap cottage business at Whimsical Moon Farm.

OH! You’re One of Those Farmers!

 

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Harriet greeting the morning, “I’m a farmer!”

So, there I was standing in line at the local Tractor Supply store, my cart loaded down with a 50 pound bag of Layer Pellets, a 50 pound bag of Scratch Grains, a small bottle of liquid wormer for the farm cats, and a diet cherry cola.

“Are you a farmer?”

I turned around and there sat a bright-eyed, smiling little girl in the basket of a shopping cart. Her mom was impatiently paging through last months issue of Capper’s magazine. “Don’t bother the lady, Cindy Lou.”

“Well, yes I am,” I told Cindy Lou and winked at her as I turned back into the line.

“Do you grow lots of corn like my pop-pop?” Cindy Lou asked.

I turned again and smiled at this darling girl. “No. I grow vegetables and herbs for the farmer’s market and my family, and I have a small flock of laying hens.”

I heard Cindy Lou’s mom snort from behind her magazine as she mumbled “oh, one of those farmers.”

“Next please,” the cashier said. I really wanted to ask Cindy Lou’s mom what she meant, but it was my turn to check out. I pushed my cart up to the register and moved the heavy bags around so the cashier could scan them. By the time I was finished paying for my items, Cindy Lou and her mom had already moved to a different register and I needed to get out of the way for the next customer.

By the time I got back to the farm, I had worked myself into a dither. What did Cindy Lou’s mom possibly mean with her snorting comment? Did I own or lease 250-300+ acres of land and plant it in agri-corn and soybean subsidized by government programs and supplemented by herbicides and pesticides? No. My tiny farm sits on 4+ acres right smack dab in the middle of those vast corn fields and I grow vegetables and herbs. I prefer not to use chemicals but rely on permaculture techniques, crop rotation, and just plain weeding and observation. Did that make me one of those farmers?

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One of many raised vegetable beds.

I continued to consider my position as a farmer. What are the requirements and standards? Did I have to be raised on a generational farm to call myself a farmer? If so, I was again out of luck. I grew up in a small mill town on the banks of the Columbia river in Washington state. I grew a scrappy little herb garden in my mom’s old iris bed. I did want to grow up to be a farmer, though.

 

SONY DSC              The Columbia River gorge as seen from the Vista House near Corbett, OR.

How did I decide to call myself a farmer?

Well, I roll myself out of bed each morning at the (ass) crack of dawn with several of my chores staring me in the face. Mosey, the St. Bernard licks my hand while the two Chihuahuas, Winter and Autumn dance around my feet, eagerly waiting to be fed. The cats need to be let outside as they chase each other from one end of the house to the other, and I must put a pot of coffee on the stove. Strong (fair-trade) coffee just makes sense on the farm. For me, it’s a necessity, not just a fancy.

The mornings are cold now and I have to make sure the chicken’s water isn’t frozen. I grab a couple scoops of layer pellets and grain scratch to toss in their bowl, and I gabble and cluck at the chickens as I clean their nest box and check for eggs.

During the summer time, I try to get my garden and outdoor chores completed early  in the morning while the temperatures are moderate. Now that Winter is knocking at my door, I still try to get as much done in the morning as I can so I can get back into my toasty kitchen and determine what needs to be done for the rest of the day.

As one of those farmers, I have learned how to tolerate dirt under my nails, random chicken feathers stuck in my hair, and ‘farm fresh’ as my new favorite fragrance. Work gloves are my go-to accessory and muck boots and garden clogs now sit  forefront in my closet while the designer heels and loafers are piled way in the back gathering dust. Heavy duty Carhartt pants and t-shirts or flannel shirts round out the ensemble topped with a baseball cap; my hair pulled in a long pony-tail sticking out the back.

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Dusk on the farm.

More importantly, being one of those farmers isn’t about what I can take from the land, but what I can give back. How can I make this tiny piece of earth a better place than it was before I began calling it my farm?

I have chosen not to use herbicides or pesticides on the land, but choose to restore the earth with compost and manure, cover-crops, and vermiculture (earth worms). I plant only heirloom and traditional (open-pollinated seeds) so I can both save the seeds for next year’s gardens and be assured that I am not eating genetically modified organisms. I consider rebuilding the soil on the farm just as important as feeding my family and my animals.

I grow a variety of different types of vegetables, herbs, and even flowers in my gardens as I follow a permaculture system of maintaining diversity and building miniature eco-systems in each bed. This means I try to create habitats for the birds, beneficial bugs, and butterflies to help me sustain a healthy, co-operative farm. With permaculture I tend to plant my seedlings closer together so that as they grow they create a canopy that will reduce evaporation and block the weeds. (Generally.) I rotate my crops from season to season to maintain healthy soil and hopefully fool the invasive insects into thinking dinner is no longer available here. Plus, I grow many different types of crops in the same place. For instance, I have learned that I can grow sweet corn with pole beans and squash in the same bed. As the corn grows taller, the pole beans grow along the corn stock and the squash with its broad leaves ramble around the base of the plants which again hinder weed growth and reduces water evaporation. This technique is often called planting ‘the three sisters’ and is credited to our Native American elders.

As I focus on what I can do to create a healthier farm, I attempt to maintain mindful consumption and conservation. Waste is such a huge issue for me and I find myself not only recycling every little thing that I can, but trying to figure out other uses for items that would ordinarily be tossed in land-fills. Admittedly, this is not always possible to do, but I limit my purchases of items that I realize will end up being tossed and try to use things to their maximum output. If I must throw it away, I want it to be as small, used up, and compact as it can be.

As I work towards a simpler lifestyle, I have found so much stuff that no longer benefits me. As I decide what needs to go I always try to ask around to see if somebody else could use it. If not, I pass it on to Goodwill or one of the many ministries at the local church.  When contemplating a purchase, I spend time determining if this is an absolute necessity or just a passing whim. I have come to realize that each purchase I make has an impact on the planet. Will my money benefit or diminish resources on this tiny piece of earth I leave for the next generation?

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Wildflowers growing in our barn lot.

I have found that this farm has helped me to reconnect with the land. It has challenged me to learn new skills and to create a more socially responsible lifestyle. Whimsical Moon Farm has pushed me to be more creative and passionate about what I value and how I display those values to my family, friends, and community. I am absolutely doing what I love while I live in alignment with nature and the seasons. If this makes me one of those farmers, than I embrace that calling wholeheartedly.

 

Please feel free to check out our new Whimsical Moon Farm website featuring hand-crafted herbal soaps and products crafted right here on this farm.

Whimsicalmoonfarm.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!