Monthly Archives: February 2024

The Life She Was Given

This story made me think of the quote by Harper Lee: “You can choose your friends, but you sho’ can’t choose your family.”  Meet heroine number one, Lilly, who survives daunting familial abuse only to face even more when she is sold to a circus sideshow traveling through the town in which she lives.

Lilly is a beautiful child, but because it’s the 1930s and she’s a child with albinism, she’s turned into a freakish oddity. Her family locks her away in their attic until she is sold by her mother to the circus at age 10. Having never been allowed to venture outside of her attic domain, she is terrified by her new surroundings and struggles to adjust to them. Ultimately, she develops friendships, finds love, and becomes a featured star performing with her beloved elephants in the Big Tent.

Fast forward several years to when heroine number two, Julia, inherits a horse farm, including the family mansion where Lilly was incarcerated as a youngster. As Julia explores the house, she uncovers hidden areas and secrets to which she is determined to find the answers. She finds her father’s diary. For what horrible deeds did he seek forgiveness? Who is the mysterious Lilly? Her father’s mistress perhaps? Or?

This is not a particularly happy story. However, it shines with the resilience and determination of strong women who refuse to be defeated by adverse circumstances. It also is an insightful look into the bonds created between animals and humans as well as behind-the-scenes life as a circus performer. Does Julia solve the mystery of Lilly? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Go to Great Finds and Giveaways for the chance to be the new owner of my copy of Ellen Marie Wiseman’s The Life She Was Given.

Giveaway: The Life She Was Given

Giveaway! There’s a clue due for this book giveaway. What is The Life She Was Given about?

I’ll put your name in my hat of names, pull one out, and my copy of The Life She Was Given will be on its way to a new home.

Sisters of Fortune

Tell boredom to take a hike … with Sisters of Fortune in hand. Released just six days ago, has anyone read it? Is this a book that interests you?

photo of Sister of Fortune

It’s a law. Where, you say?

Craving a quiz?

Here’s one that’ll cause you to scratch your head in puzzlement before you even begin pondering the answers.

Photo by Asdfasdewdsewd via Wikimedia Commons

The following is a list of incredibly kooky laws from around the globe. Try guessing the locations that passed the laws (answers revealed next Sunday 8:30 pm 3/3/2024 ANSWERS REVEALED!!!).

  1. In this city, you must smile at all times (except during funerals or hospital visits). If you frown, you may face a fine. Milan, Italy
  2. In this small town in Italy, kissing in a moving vehicle is forbidden. Eboli, Italy
  3. In this city, it’s illegal to vacuum your house from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. during weekdays and 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekends. Melbourne, Australia
  4. It is against the law to have a sleeping donkey in your bathtub after 7 p.m. in this U.S. state. Oklahoma
  5. Don’t host a luau after sunset in this city if you plan on singing loudly (i.e., breaking the law). Honolulu, Hawaii
  6. In this Celtic country, if someone knocks on your door and needs to use your toilet, you are legally required to let them enter. Scotland
  7. In this Texas town, it is against the law to make furniture while you are nude. Devon, Texas
  8. In this state, which was one of the original 13 colonies, it’s illegal to tie a dollar bill on a string, place it on the ground, and pull it away when someone tries to pick it up. Pennsylvania
  9. In this Polynesian country, it’s against the law to forget your wife’s birthday. Samoa
  10. Carrying ice cream cones in your pocket is illegal in this southern U.S. state. Kentucky
  11. Taking a lion to the cinema is illegal—not in Kenya, but in a city on our own country’s east coast. Baltimore, Maryland
  12. In this country, it’s illegal to name a pig Napoleon. France
  13. In this forested Canadian province, it’s illegal to kill a Sasquatch. British Columbia
  14. You must not fish while sitting on a giraffe’s neck in this windy city. Chicago Continue reading

Hear Ye!

Below are the Merit Badges that were approved today.

Congratulations Sisters!!

Merit Badge Awardees (click for latest awards)

Debbie Fischer, #1582, Blessed in Colorado

Beginner Outpost / Farmgirl’s Best Friend

Beginner Make It Easy / Let’s Get Physical

Beginner Make It Easy / Relaxation

Krista Butters-Davis, #528, maryjanesniece

Beginner Each Other / Calligraphy

Expert Stitching & Crafting / UFOs

Hannah Frankowski, #6994, GinnyBelle

Intermediate Make It Easy / Relaxation

Denise Thompson, #43, levisgrammy

Beginner Stitching & Crafting / Embroidery

Tina VanDaam, #8431, TinaTina

Expert Stitching & Crafting / Quilling

Joanne Seruto, #7580, JoanneMS58

Beginner Stitching & Crafting / Sew Wonderful

Beginner Stitching & Crafting / Knitting

Beginner Stitching & Crafting / Cross-Stitch

Intermediate Stitching & Crafting / Cross-Stitch

Beginner Stitching & Crafting / Quilting

Heather Neeper, #4701, nndairy

Beginner Farm Kitchen / Kitchen Renegade

Intermediate Farm Kitchen / Kitchen Renegade

Expert Farm Kitchen / Kitchen Renegade

Ode to Abby

Today, I’m feeling grateful for our farmhand Abigail and want to say so right out loud. Known as Abby to her university cohorts, she’s Abigail to me. Abigail responded to a help-wanted ad I placed on Craigs List two summers ago looking for someone to help me run my B&B. Having worked hard to obtain her PhD in math and then secure a professorship at one of our local universities, she bemoaned the fact that she had “next to zero practical knowledge.”

She’s still working here part time during the school year and full time in the summer, and as it turns out, she and I make a darn good team. When needed, she pitch-hits order fulfillment in our food facility, with a smile and a willing attitude. Always. Plus she’s really good at navigating computers and I am anything but.

And when one of my granddaughters, who excels in math, said she was bored in school and needed help beyond what school had to offer, Professor Abigail came to the rescue!

And Abigail was enthusiastically willing to pitch in when I put together a team of helpers to plant native flower plugs in my prairie using an auger. It was hard, hot work, and the days were long.

And then there was that wintery day she was itching to be outside so I lent her my insulated suit and out the door she went to move help move lumber and firewood.

For my b-day, she gifted me a precious rendition of Farmgirl that she painted free hand.

Last summer, she chose our Valley Lutheran church for exchanging vows with her sweetheart. The night before her wedding, her gaggle of girlfriends camped out here in the B&B venues that Abigail fusses over.

Now you know why I’m grateful for Abigail’s friendship and help.

When the Jessamine Grows

I have a sweet little step-back-in-time gift box looking for a home that has Donna Everhart’s book, When the Jessamine Grows, recipe cards for two of the recipes mentioned in her book (Joetta’s Switchel and Idiot’s Delight), an engraved wooden spoon, a hankie, Donna’s upcoming book-signing schedule, plus a few other bookish surprises. 

My gift box is all yours if you’ll share why Donna’s book appeals to you. I’ll toss your name into a hat and voila, it might be headed your way.

When The Jessamine Grows book cover

Model Manners

I wasn’t sure what to think when I took a call from a woman late last summer representing an agency hired by a chain of retail stores saying she wanted to rent my farm for a couple of days for a photo shoot. When I hesitated, saying I didn’t really have my B&B “open” and in good enough condition for a photo shoot, she said, “They told me to beg if need be.” Once she told me a little bit more about the kinds of photos they’d be taking, I jumped at the chance to host them, thinking it would be a playful, fun-filled two days for me, my employees, and my granddaughters. I wasn’t wrong. Why? Manners. Gallant GOOD manners! They worried about their impact on plants and they cleaned. Actually, they left my farm cleaner than they found it. And one week later, one of them wrote to say she’d ended up with one of my hand towels and would drop it in the mail. “I’m so sorry.”

It was pure delight loading people and gear into the back of our farm trucks and/or our little utility “golf cart” vehicle for delivery to a forest and/or field location that one of their many scouts had picked out. Abigail and I prepped our guesthouse for their make-up/hair technicians; and I put the woman in charge in touch with a local restaurant for meal catering. It, of course, made us smile when we heard them talking on their cell phones, saying things like, “The brunette from the UK has arrived at the airport, ETA 30 minutes.”

It was hot. And dry. And in some of the shots, the models were wearing sweaters! Those attending to them rushed forth in between shots with ice packs and cotton towels for dabbing away beads of facial sweat. Did they complain? They did not. Not even once. Did my modelesque granddaughters take in every detail and nuance? They did; some of models were only a few years older.

And then, a few months later. There it was! Pieces of my farm were everywhere on their website. Their scouts really had an eye. In one instance, they chose an old tree stump off to the side of my wood shed, right next to my clothesline. Who knew!? But the photos turned out fabulous. They wore fall clothing so my farm isn’t currently featured on their website, but I did snap a few photos from the two days my farm became famously glam.

Here’s one of my granddaughters afterward utilizing her newfound skills. Right before they left, they pulled my granddaughters aside and let them pick out several outfits.

Get Out! Getaway Farmstay

The April/May 2024 issue of my magazine, MaryJanesFarm, will have two pages that showcase my fresh-air B&B, along with an invitation to come! Join me! For more details, go to the B&B section of my website:

(To read the text on the two pages below, scroll down.)

Outside, even if only a fantasy, can be better than an endless dose of inside. And a little bit of outside can go a long way toward improving your outlook on your inside life. If you get outside, you’ll more easily grow into its companionship, its comfort. It needn’t be a trip or a planned excursion, gear, and lots of outdoor know-how. A sleeping bag thrown down in your back yard can do the trick. 

My mother gave me outside at an early age (often only a flannel bag and a pup tent 30 feet from her door), and it made an empiricist out of me. In other words, rolling gracefully with life’s punches isn’t all that complicated, because I know I always have the moon, the wind, or my own two feet … a soft place to rest, a walk alone at night. Nothing outside resembles the complexities of four walls and a roof, when behind the everyday modern-day door lurks an array of gadgetry—devices that overschedule, over-obligate, and overwhelm us.

Armed with my mother’s outside nourishment, I left home at age 19, headed for the wilds of Idaho. I landed my first outside job saving trees as a fire lookout, perched atop a 100-foot tower. After that, I moved back to Utah for two summers to work as a wilderness ranger in the Uinta Mountains. Then I came back again to Idaho to live year-round in the heart of the wilderness—the Selway-Bitterroot, 27 miles from road’s end, all of it before cellphones, before the excess of constant yammering, before the angst of 24-hour news.

Years later, I put what I had learned from my outside work into sharing what my mother and others had given me—outside how-to.

Helen Butters (my mother), 1925 

“To have a mother who loves you for being independent is to have a mother who fosters rebellion in your heart and revolution in your bones.” – Judy Chicago

Not just how-to, more an approach, a runway with a soft landing, a starting place, where outside is readily accessible, obtainable—a space and place without fear of failure or judgment. When I broke ground on my wall-tent B&B in 2004 and launched the term glamping, outside was more hardcore—backpacking, skiing, water sports, gear. And regular old camping was still the domain of guys-in-charge-of-the-know-how, if you know what I mean. I wanted to change all that. Twenty years later, I think I have changed all that, one reader at a time, one B&B guest at a time.

2004 wall B&B wall tent

What started out as a canvas wall-tent bed and breakfast in 2004 morphed into a bed and outdoor bath (providing guests with kitchens to cook their own meals). Given the number of different tent cabins, pavilions, cottages, vintage trailers, and RV hookups we’ve created, your spring/summer 2024 getaway farmstay will be based on several factors—family w/young children, family w/teenagers, soloist, girlfriends’ retreat, couple, family reunion, wedding party, etc. Each venue has an outdoor claw-foot bathtub, shower, flush loo, full-service kitchen, wood stove/campfire, organic bed linens, nap hammocks, and access to our farm store (chock-full of antiques and collectibles), U-pick gardens, and orchard. Right beyond your doorstep, our private 115-acre native plant and wildlife preserve provides stunning views anywhere you choose to wander. 

Currently, we’re taking reservations for May 31 thru July 8. Depending on your needs and length of stay (we have a two-night minimum), creating your unique configuration will require going back and forth via e-mail (no phone calls please). For more details, visit the B&B section of my website.

Wild Bread

Yesterday’s loaf of Dutch Oven wild bread (no store-bought yeast used, just 1/2 cup of my refrigerator sourdough mother) was so happy when it hit the oven it exploded sideways. This loaf was destined for my daughter’s household. I have perfected this kind of loaf so that it’s airy inside but super moist by working with a more wet dough when I knead and fold it. If you haven’t yet toyed with the idea of nurturing a sourdough mother, I encourage you to take the leap.