Day 300: Herbal Concoctions

Herbal skin serum 2

Being a bit under the weather today, I stayed close to home. It was easy enough to work on my laptop, since I didn’t have any showings or listing appointments scheduled. I needed a first that was just as easy. I turned to the garden and my love of creating my own beauty products, teas and potpourri. For my first today, I created these concoctions, using fresh and dried herbs from my own garden.

I usually buy loose dried herbs at my local health food store. And I’m sure I’ll continue to pick up herbs that I’m not growing in the garden and essential oils, at least for now. What a joy, though, this evening to make some of my favorite products, using herbs from the apothecary garden in the backyard. I picked fresh spearmint and peppermint and brewed a cup of mint tea first of all, to sip on while I worked. The light, refreshing tea cleared my stuffy head and settled my stomach. Perfect!

Herbal mint tea

I’ve been making my own facial serum for almost two years. It is a simple recipe that only takes minutes to make. I melt coconut oil for 30 seconds in the microwave, add two capsules of vitamin E oil, 10 drops of calendula essential oil, and tonight, I added a bit of dried crushed lavender blossoms from the garden. One of the things I’ve noticed is that my dried herbs are so fragrant. I loved the way the scent clung to my hands as I worked. The serum is stirred with a wooden toothpick and popped in the refrigerator to cool down. It congeals as it cools, unless it is very warm in the house, in which case it remains semi liquid. I dab a small amount under my eyes and over my face, blending it in gently. I love how the serum liquefies as it touches my skin and disappears. I also love how soft and smooth my skin feels.

herbal skin serum

As described in a previous blog post, I’ve also been drying herbs and storing them so I’ll have an ample supply. Tonight, as I crushed dried leaves and flowers and placed them in airtight containers, I mixed snippets of basil, lavender, lemon balm, mint, thyme and lemon grass in a glass bowl, creating my own herbal potpourri, and set the mixture aside. Before I cleaned up, I lit a small charcoal briquette, also purchased regularly at the health food store, and let it turn “ashy” in a fireproof holder I bought years ago. Once the briquette was ready, I added the potpourri. As it burned, it released a pungent smoke that rose in wisps to scent the room, and indeed, the whole house. This is my favorite thing to do with my herbal potpourri. I love the fresh, earthy smell and how it cleanses and energizes my living space. I let the herbs smolder until they are consumed and later toss out the ashes.

Herbal potpourri

The mint tea, the satisfying ritual of making the face serum and the cleansing aroma of the burning potpourri soothed my head and sinuses and elevated my spirit. I felt better immediately! And I look forward to discovering more products to make with the herbs from the garden.

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Day 292: Fall Floral Arrangement

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What a beautiful, tranquil fall day. Each warm sunny day is a gift, this time of year. I had time this afternoon, in the midst of much needed housework and completing the fall decorating, to relax in the garden, savoring a cup of tea while soaking up gentle sunshine. The garden never fails to bring a smile to my face and joy to my heart. It also inspired my first today!

As I looked at the last offerings of the flowers and herbs still flourishing in the garden, I decided to gather blooms for a fall bouquet. I don’t cut flowers very often, preferring to enjoy them in their natural state. However, with the first hard frost, these plants will go dormant for the winter. I cut a selection of blooms and sprigs of herbs and brought them inside.

Using a white pitcher, I created a fun arrangement. I’m certainly not an expert on floral designs. I just went with what was appealing to me. The bouquet has a mix of plants, including yellow Blanket Flowers, white Snow Hill Salvia and the delicate looking Pink Fountain Gaura and among the herbal plants, I included Russian sage, lavender and three varieties of basil. I like the casual way the arrangement came together and I LOVE the way it smells! I included the flower filled pitcher in the fall vignette on the dining room table. Every time I walk by, the fragrance makes me smile.

I am really happy with the arrangement! At first glance, it resembles a spring bouquet. On closer inspection, it is apparent that these blooms are fading, albeit, they are still beautiful, still smell wonderful. I love the grace of that. What a wonderful reminder of this past season and the gift of beauty and joy that the garden has given to me.

Fall arrangement boquet

Day 281: Transplant Herbs on Bakers Rack to Garden

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It was 80 degrees on this overcast day, yet there is no doubt that fall is here and cooler temperatures are coming. My backyard garden is in full splendor, alive with colors and textures, insects and frogs. I spend much time here, my heart and soul soothed and at the same time, expanded, by the peace and beauty in this space. I know with the first hard frost, the landscape of the garden will change. It is almost time to put my garden to sleep for the winter months. For my first today, I transplanted the herbs on the cheery yellow bakers rack, on the porch, to the garden.

Fall garden herb rack

This is my second year to have pots of fragrant herbs on the front porch. While waiting for the yard to be remediated last year, having the bakers rack full of green growing plants appeased my desire to be gardening. I enjoyed the rack so much that I repeated the experience this year, even though I planted an apothecary garden in the backyard. Last year, I wintered some of the herbs inside, and some I let die and tossed out after they became very leggy. This year, for the first time, I was able to move those potted herbs to a new home in the backyard, in the hopes they will reappear next spring.

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I lugged back containers of rosemary, lavender, common sage and pineapple sage, basil and cinnamon basil, Italian oregano and lemon balm. Keeping to the apothecary section, the plants were lovingly placed into the ground, tucked among the mature plants stirring in the light breeze. As I worked, the heady scent of the herbs filled the air around me. I am so pleased with the way the garden filled in this year and look forward to seeing what it does next year!

Fall garden 3

A couple of weeks ago the big black kettle arrived from Arkansas and was placed in the herb garden as well. For fall, I’ve planted yellow mums in it. Next spring, I hope to find calendula plants to fill it. The kettle belonged to Greg’s grandmother and was given to Greg’s parents years ago. Dad Moore passed it on to me recently. There was an azalea bush in the kettle that I estimate to be at least 16 years old. I transplanted that bush into a partially shaded spot on the east side of the house, where it will get morning sun.

Fall garden black kettle 2

After I finished my planting, I walked around the garden snapping pics. The grasses have put up their plumes. I love ornamental grasses and the interest they add to the garden. I sat for a time, the breeze cooling me off. Dark clouds were massing to the west. We have three days of rain in the upcoming forecast. The newly transplanted herbs should thrive with the cloudy, rainy days. There is nothing else to add to the garden this year. Phase One has surpassed my dream. Next year, I will begin Phase Two. For now, I am simply enjoying. And that is enough.

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Fall garden 5

Day 269: Afternoon Tea with a Friend

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What a special afternoon as my friend Cate joined me for the first time in my backyard garden, for tea. The day was gorgeous and the temperature mild. It was perfect for turning the bistro table into a tea table.

I’ve shared afternoon tea with family and enjoyed the experiences. What a treat to invite a dear friend to share a pot of Scottish Highland tea and all the goodies. I’ve told Cate about my work in progress in the backyard. I wanted her to see how the plants and flowers have grown and filled in the borders.

When she arrived we walked around the garden, Phase One, and I had the opportunity to share what the next phases will be.

The sun was still warming the brick patio, so we opted to move the table and two chairs into the meditation area, which was shaded. I dressed the glass and metal bistro table with a paisley shawl, in fall colors, and added rust colored cloth napkins.

While the tea brewed in the white porcelain pot, I brought out white tea cups and saucers, a small pitcher of milk, plates and silverware, and platters for the tiered serving set. We enjoyed cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, Elven Lembas bread, another first…serving it with afternoon tea…butter and strawberry jam, pumpkin spice cupcakes and Walker’s shortbread cookies. It was a simple tea, made more special because it was served in the garden, and shared with a friend.

Cate and I spent an relaxed afternoon chatting over tea. I value her friendship and her wisdom, and appreciate her views of the world. What a privilege to have such an amazing traveling companion. I look forward to the continuing journey and more afternoons in the garden, savoring cups of Scottish tea!

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Day 212: Dinner Al Fresco

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My first for today was delightful. I had planned on another first but discovered, late in the day, that the event had cancelled. I’ve learned not to fret over such situations. They’ve been a common occurrence this year and always, another first shows up and it is the perfect experience. Within 30 minutes, the first presented itself. Greg texted and suggested picking up dinner at Billy Sims, and dining in the garden. I loved the idea!

We’ve experienced unseasonably cool temperatures the past few days. After a day of steady rain yesterday, the weather shifted today to overcast but dry. The temps remained mild. It was an ideal evening for dining outside and my first time to get to use the bistro table and chairs for the purpose for which they were made.

It was a great dinner. A green plaid tablecloth covered the glass top and a single white candle with a green and yellow candle ring adorned the table. Smoked turkey from Billy Sims, with sides, transferred to square white plates, cloth napkins, and real forks rather than the plastic ware provided by the restaurant completed the setting. The view couldn’t be beat! After their soaking yesterday, the flowers and plants were fresh and practically growing before our eyes. The fresh cedar mulch scented the air along with various herbs and flowers. Lit tea lights filled the candleholders hanging on the wire partitions defining the meditation area.

We had entertainment during dinner. The cats love the garden. They played at our feet and romped through the Japanese garden. They especially enjoy the ornamental grasses, which have grown tall. I think they pretend to be jungle cats, hiding in the grasses, and take delight in pouncing on each other.

As we finished our meal, the bell rang at the Peace Gate, announcing visitors! What fun to welcome daughters Elissa and Adriel, grandson Dayan, and Elissa’s boyfriend, Josh, to the backyard. They pulled up chairs and we enjoyed chatting, laughing and watching the cats play.

I can’t think of a better way to end the day…good food, great company, peaceful setting. I hope that was the first of many al fresco meals in the beautiful surroundings of the garden.  Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who authored many essays about food, wrote about dining outdoors, “Seating themselves on the greensward, they eat while the corks fly and there is talk, laughter and merriment, and perfect freedom, for the universe is their drawing room and the sun their lamp. Besides, they have appetite, Nature’s special gift, which lends to such a meal a vivacity unknown indoors, however beautiful the surroundings.” I agree wholeheartedly. And I loved having the universe as my dining room tonight!

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Day 211: Complete the Pathway on the South Side

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I’m very thrilled with the completion of the garden pathway, on the south side of the backyard. This was a two day project, with the majority of the work taking place yesterday. It was an ideal day to work in the yard….cool, overcast, breezy. I’m very grateful to have accomplished so much yesterday since today my area has been blessed with a steady downpour. In spite of the rain, I added the finishing touches and called it for my first!

The southern flower border was completed last week, and I love the look of it! The pathway, and plantings, ended at the edge of the border and there was an unfinished gap between the Peace Gate and the border. It was time to bridge the gap. With Greg’s help, the remainder of that section was cleared of grass, the pathway dug to a depth of three inches, and the ground on either side prepared.

My first job was to plant ground cover in that narrow space between the pathway and the fence. That task didn’t take long. Next, I gathered an assortment of containers. I had envisioned the area between the pathway and the house as a space for potted plants and flowers. There is a length of concrete there that could not be removed, which left a narrow strip of ground to plant in. I chose to cover the whole area with cedar mulch and place the containers there, to brighten that area.

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I purchased a variety of succulents and flowering plants, all half price as we are nearing the end of the season. It was fun to pot these plants, using so many different types of containers. I had originally thought I would buy more buckets and metal containers, but I had so many other types of flower pots that I decided to make use of those. These flower pots have found their way to me via yard sales, store sales, and my favorite means….my mom, who picked up several for me at the Recycling Center. I focused on warm colors for the flowering plants, in shades of yellow, red, and pink, and added white begonias for contrast.

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The focal point of the container section is a vintage pot that has been in my family for as long as I can remember. My mom always kept a mother-in-law’s tongue plant in the green and white patterned pot. I have fond memories of that flower pot. Each time we moved, it moved with us. At some point, when I reached adulthood, my mom passed the container on to me. I’ve used it over the years, planting a variety of flowers in it each summer. As I planned the container garden, I knew this old favorite, full of portulaca, or moss roses, would become the centerpiece. I get my resourcefulness, and much of my creativity, from my mom. It seems a fitting tribute, in my garden.

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Lastly, dark brown mulch was brought in, thanks to my friend Tim. He and Greg helped me to fill the new pathway and top off the existing paths with the rich brown mulch. I like the contrast between the two colors of mulch. Outside the sliding door, which I’ve christened the Peace Gate, we set two large rocks. When the rain has moved on, tomorrow or Friday, I will place a few more rocks there and perhaps hang baskets of flowers on either side of the door.

I love the way the pathway leads the visitor past the entry and into the yard. The gentle curve of the path defines the flower border and leads the wanderer to the meditation area. As the flowers mature and fill in, the path will not be visible in its entirety. I hope it beckons and invites exploration.

I stood in the rain, before the closed Peace Gate. I rang the bird bell beside the gate, even though no one was on the other side to let me in. I rang it because I like the sound of the bell and how it announces a visitor. As I slid the door open, an image from The Wizard of Oz flashed into my mind, the scene where Dorothy opens the door of the fallen house and suddenly, the world is radiant in brilliant colors. On this gray day, I too slid open a door, and was greeted with an explosion of happy colors. There wasn’t a yellow brick road to lead me into the garden, but there was a path of dark brown mulch that invited me to enter. Enter I did, and walked slowly down the path, to the meditation area. Turning, I could look down the length of the flower border, to the container garden, to the Peace Gate. I know my smile reached my heart. Bliss.

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Day 206: Flower Border

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Today’s first celebrates a huge accomplishment in the backyard makeover. I completed planting and mulching the 36 foot border that runs along the southern edge of the yard. The border follows the contours of the garden path that curves to the meditation area and has a 12 foot width at its widest point. I was very excited to finish this project.

Because of the number of plants involved, and the time it has taken to tuck them carefully into the ground, this border has been weeks in the making. I began about six weeks ago, on the section closest to the meditation area, and I’ve been steadily planting six foot sections as I had the time. I sometimes wasn’t able to work in the border at all, on those days we had heavy rain. I had ideal planting weather the first two weeks of July and made good progress. And then the weather turned hot and I could only plant for a short time in the evenings!

Today I was determined to finish the border. Yesterday, Greg helped me prepare the ground in the last two sections of the border and last night, I purchased an assortment of flowers. Rising early this morning, I was able to get all those plants in the ground before I cleaned up and left for a closing. Surveying the small section that remained bare, I was encouraged to keep going. This evening Greg and I made a final run to Lowe’s to pick up more flowers after filling the back of his truck with two scoops of cedar mulch.

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This mornings planting in the Border

What I didn’t realize was how quickly I was losing daylight! By the time the plants were moved from the truck to the backyard, the sun was near the horizon. Greg brought in wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mulch and began spreading it over the plantings from this morning while I raced the sun and dug holes for the last batch of flowers. Greg brought out the rusty vintage cultivator and parked it in its new location in the border and then darkness fell. No worries! Running an extension cord from the utility room, Greg rigged up a work light that he clamped onto the fence. I planted the last few flowers, including a clematis to trail over the cultivator, in the welcoming light that pierced the darkness. I watered and added the final layer of mulch around the new plants.

I was dirty, tired, sweaty and oh so happy as I stood back and looked down the long border. It was too dark, even with the work light and the flash on the phone, to capture the beauty of that section of the garden. I will update in the morning with pictures of the border and the cultivator. The pathway from the Peace Gate to the existing path that edges this border will be added this weekend. And the chucks of concrete removed from the original sidewalk in the backyard will be repurposed to form a walk way along the brick patio to the back gate. There is still work to do on the north side of the garden, but this transformation is progressing so well. I am very grateful to Greg for his many hours of assistance and for the creation of the wonderful privacy fence and the unique entrance.

I love spending time in this peaceful, beautiful space. My soul expands here and my heart sings. My feelings of joy are expressed well by Victor Hugo, in Les Misérables …I’ve just changed the pronoun from he, to she… “A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could she ask? A few flowers at her feet and above her the stars.”

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Garden cats…Momba, Shy Boy & Marco

Day 191: Hang Mimi Leta’s Wind Chime in the Garden

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Showers earlier today kept me from planting my next batch of flowers. However, a break in the clouds drew me outdoors and into the garden. I decided today was a good day to hang a large wind chime in the backyard where its tinkling chime could be enjoyed from anywhere in the garden.

I’ve had wind chimes hanging on my covered front deck for years. I love the sound of the wind stirring the hollow metal rods. I currently have two dragonfly chimes adorning the deck. I’ve never hung a wind chime in the backyard before. We certainly used that space when the children were little. It was more of a play area with swings and a sandbox and various children’s pools over the years. And then it was just a yard. I didn’t have a seating area like I do now, or the Japanese Garden, herb garden or meditation area. It seemed fitting to bring such a joyful sound into this space that is developing beautifully.

And this were not just any wind chime. This set belonged to Greg’s mother, whom the kids called Mimi. My best guess is that these musical chimes are approximately 30 years old. Mimi Leta bought them before Alzheimer’s began to affect her memory and sap her energy. She selected this particular chime because of the music note attached to the clapper in the middle. Mimi was a gifted pianist. She played the piano most of her life, in churches, for choirs, and during special occasions, like weddings and funerals, but mostly she played for her own enjoyment. Music was important to her and was a huge part of her life.

The wind chime with the bright red music note was symbolic of her love for music. She hung the chime on her front porch, where its tinkling music filled the air around her home long after the piano in the living room fell silent. And longer still, after Mimi herself fell silent and no longer graced us with her presence.  Recently, as I sat on the porch with Greg’s dad, listening to the chime as the breeze played a soft song, he asked if I’d like to have the wind chime for my garden. I was honored. I didn’t want to take something that still brought him joy, but Dad Moore insisted that it was time for the wind chime to go to someone else.

This afternoon, I climbed up on a two-step ladder and perched there, secured a hook in the northeast corner of the detached garage. The wall of this structure is behind the brick seating area. I carefully hung the wind chime. The summer breezes can stir the rods and send music drifting throughout my garden. Mimi would have enjoyed sitting with me at the bistro table, sipping a cup of tea, chatting, and admiring the plants and flowers. Having the wind chime makes me think of her. And every time I hear the tinkle and see the music note, I’ll remember.

Near the top of the wind chime, suspended on the chain that holds the clapper, is a red heart. That ruby heart reminds me of her love of music, but more so, it reminds me of her love for her husband of 57 years, for her sons, for her grandchildren and for me. As the gentle waves of music fill my garden, I imagine her love radiating outward too, caressing each person enjoying the garden. The thought makes me smile.

Another first…adding a video. Mimi’s wind chime.

Day 183: Peace Garden Gate

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I have been very excited about this project. Before the backyard began being transformed into a garden sanctuary, a cedar privacy fence was built across the back and along one side of the yard. Greg did an excellent job of building this fence. It is a wonderful backdrop to the garden and offers, well, privacy. There is a functional gate at the back for access to the alley. At the front, I wanted something different as an entrance into the garden. My first for today was to see the completion of the garden gate.

Greg designed the entrance, using a great deal of consideration, care and creativity. Using 6×6 posts and cedar, he framed in the supporting structure and used the same tinted toner that he used on the fence. It goes beautifully with the fence. And this is a solid, heavy piece, held securely in place by 720 pounds of cement, below ground. Instead of building a matching gate, the entrance into the backyard is an old wooden door, salvaged from a house that was heavily damaged in the tornado. Greg saw the door being hauled out of the house and asked for it. Ask and you will receive! I love that instead of being thrown away the door now has a special place of importance in my garden.

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I helped a little with the support structure, mostly by holding a piece of wood or handing Greg tools. And on the day he was ready to raise the structure and secure it, I did call my nephew Scott to come help! My main contribution to the project was to work on the old door. It survived the storm well, with no damage to the door itself or to the nine panes of thick opaque glass. There was, however, old varnish on the door and a coat of chipped paint. I considered leaving it as it was, since I like chippy paint! Since the door will be outside and exposed to weather, it made sense to strip it and protect it with primer and a couple of coats of exterior paint. And that became my job, to help strip the door and paint it. I chose a teal color that leaned more toward jade green. It’s called La Fonda Artisan Green.

My favorite part about this gate is that the door doesn’t swing open on hinges. Greg designed it to slide open. He installed two small castors on the base and built the enclosure in such a way that the door opens by sliding, or rolling, behind a panel that is part lattice and part solid cedar. It is such a beautiful piece and very welcoming as an entrance. Friends and family who have seen the project in process have said they have not seen another gate like it. A friend gave me the bird bell that hangs near the door. I like the idea of guests ringing the bell for entrance into the garden!

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As Greg turns his attention to the final section that will enclose the yard on the north side, I have one more piece to add to the new garden gate. I will affix a sign, or lettering, that states:

Peace to all who enter here

And I truly desire that, for all who pass through the gate. I think of this entrance as the Peace Gate. May it be so.

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Welcome!

Day 177: Evening Retreat

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This has been a busy week with several long days of work and a day spent at the hospital while my stepdad had a lengthy and risky surgery. Thankfully, he is recovering well. And it’s also been an interesting week of firsts, as almost every day has seen a shift away from the planned first and the arrival of something unexpected. Today, in between showing property to great clients, I drove my grandson, Dayan, to a dental appointment and then to a friend’s house.  We were discussing my busyness and how my firsts had all changed this week. He asked what my first for today was, and I answered that I had not decided yet. “Yaya” he said, “It’s 1:30. You should know what your first is!” I love this young man and how he holds me accountable!

And then this clever teen proceeded to come up with my first for today. Dayan suggested that I have a quiet, peaceful time in my garden. That alone would not be a first, as I have spent many peaceful evenings in the garden. However, Dayan added that to lie down and gaze into the sky, while doing nothing else, would be a first.  What a lovely idea for a new experience. As I finished another longish day, I decided Dayan’s suggestion was perfect.

As the sun began to set, I gathered a variety of candles and placed them on the brick patio, near my metal containers full of sweetly scented petunias and blooming lavender. I lit candles in the meditation area and also in the Japanese garden and hosta garden. I started a small fire in the fire pit. And lastly, I placed a thick quilted throw, in shades of cream, yellow and blue, on the brick patio and added a couple of plump throw pillows. My beautiful, serene retreat area was ready.

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A cool, fresh breeze stirred around me as I settled onto the quilt. The warmth of the bricks radiated upward through the quilt in gentle waves, making the space surprising cozy and comfortable. I stretched out and inhaled deeply, enjoying the scent of the nearby flowers and herbs, and felt tension and fatigue leave my body as I exhaled. Bliss. The fire crackled and the candles, deep within their glass containers, cast a warm glow. Overhead, the sky turned a dark velvety blue and the first stars and Mars, the red planet, appeared. As I did when I was a child, I made a wish on the first star I saw.

Starlight twinkled above and below, flitting about the backyard, fireflies answered with twinkles of their own. I spent a very peaceful hour enjoying this sanctuary and allowing the busyness of the past two days to slip away. Before I put my things away, I sat on the quilt and held a few yoga poses, stretching, breathing, opening. Resting there a moment more, several other possible firsts came to mind that would allow me to enjoy the backyard further.

I am very grateful to Dayan for suggesting this restorative first. How important it is to my soul to seek solitude and quiet my mind so my spirit can soar. Mark Buchanan says, “Most of the things we need, to be most fully alive, never come in busyness. They grow in rest.” I agree, wholeheartedly.

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