August 2009

N, 7 months

N, 7 months

I think the most common question I get these days is, “How do you manage to do all that and care for 4 young children?” 

I have learned that the 2 most difficult times to manage is when I am sick and when I am trying to prepare for a trip.  Just the fact that I have to spend 1/2 as many days packing and preparing for the trip as I will actually spend being on the trip should give you an idea.  Nonetheless, I thought you might enjoy a more detailed overview of just how I get it done.  Here are a few examples of time spent preparing for this upcoming trip:

Scenario 1

  • Start cleaning master bathroom
  • Go wipe M so she can get off the potty
  • Resume cleaning bathroom
  • JR and M want to help
  • Assign JR and M to wipe down tub and demonstrate
  • Resume cleaning bathroom
  • Finish cleaning toilet to discover JR and M playing doctor in the shower, using the cleaning wipes as bandages on their legs
  • Give up and move on to next project

Scenario 2

  • Start packing using freshly laundered, folded, and put-away kids’ clothes
  • JR attempts to help by pulling out a pile of pull-ups and dumping them all over clean bedroom
  • Help JR clean up pull-ups
  • Find M adding undesirable clothes to the pile
  • Thank M for her help, send her downstairs to play, and separate the desirables from the undesirables
  • Get JR and M’s clothes stacked and hide them in master bedroom
  • Go into A’s room to start packing his clothes
  • Discover that A has opened his sock drawer and strewn socks all over floor
  • Clean up socks
  • Resume selecting A’s clothing, stack, and hide them in master bedroom
  • Forbid children to touch piles of clothing in master bedroom

Scenario 3

  • Ensure children are distracted with safe play
  • Sit down at computer to organize trip
  • Research and select hotel and call to make reservation
  • Hear a cry
  • Hang up phone and take care of child issues
  • Return to office and make hotel reservation
  • Hang up and hear M misbehave
  • Deal with M, then re-distract her with play
  • Return to office to plan trip
  • Pull up mapquest on computer
  • Hear a loud bang and then JR scream
  • Run to kitchen to find JR and blood
  • Locate source of blood (mouth)
  • Try not to lose my hearing amidst screams as I grab ice
  • Sit JR on counter and hold ice to control bleeding
  • Ask M to take care of A for a while
  • Slow blood flow and locate source (cut inside upper lip)
  • Clean up JR and blood in kitchen
  • Research when to take child to doctor for cut lip
  • Have no luck finding info
  • Use best judgement to decide that the cut will heal fine on its own
  • Hold JR for a while to keep ice on lip and control swelling
  • 30 minutes later, bleeding stopped, and JR emotionally recovered, convince JR that I have to get back to work if we are going to go to the farm
  • Ensure JR is comfortable
  • Return to computer and research mapquest
  • Finish trip planning
  • Check on JR and discover he has a very fat upper lip
  • Double check cut to ensure I didn’t overlook something
  • Feeling comfortable that it will heal fine, move on to the next project

Scenario 4

  • Actually get a lot accomplished while children play outside for several hours
  • Wake N, put him in his Bumbo seat, and go to kitchen to get his food
  • Hear a loud crash and the sound of water running
  • Locate source of sound near N
  • Realize that N has grabbed a handful of my flowers and pulled the entire vase over, thoroughly soaking my clean carpet with dirty flower water
  • Pry flowers from N’s fingers
  • Clean up mess as best I can and lay light blanket over damp area to keep kids off
  • Feed N (away from flowers)
  • Put N down to play (away from flowers or vases of water)
  • Go to kitchen to prepare lunch for children
  • Check on N to find the M has decided to use the wet and yucky blanket to cover up N
  • Thank M for taking such good care of N, remove blanket and toss in laundry pile, and give up protecting wet spot on carpet

As you can see, I can still accomplish the things I need to.  Sometimes, it just takes 2 or 3 times as long and twice the effort as when I did it pre-children.  Hey, kids keep life interesting!

M, 3 years old

M, 3 years old


It doesn’t take much to make me appreciate our decision to homeschool.  Today, I am seeing the advantages once again. 

While there are students all around this country who are starting school today, we are taking our first school break of the year.  Well, actually, the break started late last week.  Homeschooling allows me to control the school term and vacations.  So, we were able to time the trip outside of tourist season, taking into account S’s busy work schedule.  Based on the dates we chose to vacation, I started the school year the first week of August.  We got a good 2 1/2 weeks of school in before our first break, which means we will be right on target when we return. 

It doesn’t stop there, though.  Homeschooling has allowed me to assign lessons based on JR’s ability.  Because he is quite advanced for his current lessons, we are working through them at a pretty hefty pace.  So, in 2 1/2 weeks of schooling, he has already successfully completed 25 days of assignments. 

I love homeschooling more the longer we do it!  Soon enough, we will be enjoying our biggest vacation in a couple of years, with no pressure to complete homework assignments or do busy work just to stay caught up with a class.  I can’t express to you how wonderful that feels–and how rewarding it is for our decision to homeschool.

Have you ever wondered how difficult it is to take a decent photo of multiple young children?  We are quickly learning.  At a recent photo shoot, it took many, many, many tries to capture that almost-perfect shot!  (I have learned that the perfect shot very possibly doesn’t exist at these ages!)

JR must have been more interesting than the camera

Take 1: JR must have been more interesting than the camera


Take 2:  M and A didn't seem to interested

Take 7: M and A didn't seem too interested


Take 3:  M trying to kiss A

Take 10: M trying to kiss A


Take 10: Oh, M!

Take 14: Oh, M!


Take 15:  Mom, are you ready to give up yet?

Take 18: Mom, are you ready to give up yet?


Take 20:  Finally!  Not perfect, but I'll take it!

Take 20: Finally! Not perfect, but I'll take it!

OK, so I don’t actually know how many photos we took of this gang, but what I do know is that it takes a lot of attempts to get one or two that work!  A big thanks to Mrs. K, the photographer, for your patience in this shoot!
M and A in one of their frequent "hug" moments.

M and A in one of their frequent "hug" moments.

I was reading through my blog recently and realized I had written several posts about what I planned and hoped to learn to reach our goal of being self-sufficient homesteaders, but there were no update posts.  So, I thought I would get you caught up.

I have spent the last few months really making a lot of changes.  My goal is to learn something new every month, but most months I exceed that goal by learning several things.  Since we really started making major changes only last year, it has literally been not quite 12 months that I/we have incorporated the following:

  • Started eating organic
  • Started drinking raw milk and cheeses
  • Tightened our budget
  • Learned the benefits of and started using coconut oil
  • Begin replacing pantry items with the purest, natural things I could (ie. sugar with rapadura, regular honey with raw honey, etc.)
  • Began baking our bread in the bread machine
  • Learned how to purchase a whole cow, and work with the butcher for custom cuts of beef
  • Learned how to cook different beef products (ie. soup bones, stew meats, rib meats, different steaks and roasts)
  • Saved a couple pounds of beef fat for future learning
  • Learned to make butter from fresh, raw cream
  • Learned to seperate the cream from milk
  • Experimented with eliminating plastics from our lives, and although I discovered it wasn’t entirely possible, I also learned to be more conscious of the supplies I do purchase
  • Learned to make homemade crackers and other healthy snacks
  • Experimented with gardening (not very productive, but highly educational!)
  • Learned/learning to cook with natural sweeteners like rapadura, honey, maple syrup, and stevia rather than sugar
  • Learned/learning to make and bake bread by hand
  • Purchased stoneware baking supplies
  • Purchased wheat grinder and learned to mill our own flour ( also learned how handy my husband is in this area!!)
  • Learned to make cheddar cheese
  • Learned/learning to make bread and other foods from freshly milled flour (works a bit differently)
  • Learned/learning how to use by-products of other foods such as buttermilk from butter, whey from cheese, tallow from beef cuts, etc.
  • Learned how to blanch vegetables (I think)
  • Learning to buy in bulk to save money, and to use the supplies I have–even if it is 20 pounds of tomatoes or 10 pounds of zucchini!
  • Purchased a stand mixer to help speed things up in the kitchen (still waiting for it to arrive!)
  • Learning how to render tallow to make baking grease
  • and most importantly, I learned that I have a WHOLE LOT more learnin’ to do!!!

There are some days I feel like I have made so much progress toward our goals, and there are other days where I feel overwhelmed at all I still have to learn.  I have found the greatest difficulty to be trying to learn without having someone to watch first.  The first time I do everything is a challenge, as I have to match my results with photos on the internet, descriptions given in articles I am using, or calling friends to find out their secrets.  All in all, however, I have truly enjoyed learning so much in the last year.  It is been so rewarding stepping back in time, when a woman’s place was in the home, caring for her family.  I have had the utmost pleasure in teaching my children that there is so much more involved in food production than just going to the store to buy it off a shelf.  They are able to watch me, and in many cases help me, spend hours preparing their dinner.  They are able to see first hand how much work goes into their meal, and, as a result, are learning to be appreciative for the food I set before them.  Sure, there are nights they may not like the finished product, but they are quickly learning polite ways to deal with that issue. 

I have always enjoyed baking, but I am now taking such great joy in caring for the health of my family.  I love knowing that they are eating food the way God designed it to be, and seeing our health improve as a result.  I am learning that there is an art to cooking as well, and there are skills which can only be learned through experience.  I pray that my children will grow up to understand and appreciate these efforts, and that God will continue to bless us in this endeavor.

Still on my ever-expanding list of things to learn is:

  • Learn to use that new stand mixer when it arrives
  • Learn to make pasta from scratch
  • Learn more about fermenting our grains
  • Learn to can foods for long-term storage

If there are any other suggestions you more experienced homesteaders have, please let me know so I can add it to my list!

What do you get when you cross a 3 year old little girl with a strong nurturing instinct and a love for babies, a little info about her and her siblings’ births by c-section, and her limited knowledge of a c-section based on the photos in her scrapbook? 



How about a very interesting interpretation of how to get babies out of tummies using a saw!

M walked in this morning with her baby stuffed into her dress, telling me she had a baby in her tummy.  She said it was almost time for the baby to be born, so she went into the playroom, picked up her toy wood saw, and proceeded to tell me that the doctor had to cut her tummy open to pull the baby out. 

Obviously I have some explaining to do…..

Either that, or the poor girl will swear to never have children!

I made my monthly dairy run this weekend.  My coop has gotten too expensive, so I make the lengthy drive myself to pick up our raw milk.  Because the dairy store is right across the street from the actual dairy, we arranged to take a tour this trip.  I thought it would be a perfect homeschool field trip for the kids, and great opportunity for us to educate ourselves as well.   It was quite impressive!

There are around 150 cows in milk, with seperate fields for dry cows on their annual 3-month break, young calves, feeder calves, and breeding cattle.  They only milk 18 cows at a time, and the actual milking room was so clean I could have eaten my lunch there (not that that says much, since I would eat just about anywhere!)  Seriously, though, the place was impressively clean.  

I asked about how they ensured cleanliness of the cows udder, and he explained that that they dipped the teats into an iodine bath, and wiped them clean.  Pretty simple.  Our guide explained how the milk is cooled, filtered, and then allowed the kids to look down into a 2000 gallon milk holding tank, and then took us into the processing room.  He showed us where where milk is divided into the raw-milk containers, and the section where they have to process the pasteurized, homogenized milk for sale in regular stores.  Then he took us into the cheese room and explained the process of cheese making.  Our questions caused him to go into great detail.  He showed us how the milk is put into a 1500 gallon tub for culturing and seperating out the curds and whey, then explained the process of pressing the cheese.  Their presses put the cheese under 30 psi of pressure!  No wonder my cheese seeped liquid for several days!  I’ll bet I didn’t have 5 psi!  Amazingly, the entire process takes about 29 hours, with 24 hours of that being just draining in the press.  After the 24-hour draining and pressing period is up, they immediately seal it up, box it, and put it in the fridge for aging.  Now I know why mine got so dry! 

He then showed us the cheese refrigerators and aging rooms.  The real bonus came when he allowed us to taste his personal stash of cheeses.  We were able to taste and compare fresh, unaged cheddar, 3 year old cheddar, 6 year old flavored cheddar, and 15 year old sharp cheddar. 

15 year old cheddar is SHARP!!!  It was also surprisingly rich and creamy. 

In case you are wondering, he explained the difference in mild, medium, and sharp cheddar is only the length of time it aged.  Mild is any cheddar that sits less than 6 months.  Pasteurized cheddars sold at the grocery store typically are aged about 30 days, whereas raw milk cheddars are over 60 days.  Medium cheddars have aged over 6 months.  Sharp cheddars are over 1 year.  He said most grocery-store sharp cheddars are aged about 12-18 months.  This dairy ages their sharp, raw-milk cheddars for 3 years before selling. 

Now I know why their cheese is so much better tasting than what I buy at the store! 

We learned so much from our guide, and I look forward to putting it into practice.  Did you know they have to skim 6-7 gallons of fresh milk in order to get 1 gallon of cream?  That explains why it is so expensive.  Here are a few other facts you might be interested in:

The skim milk left after skimming is perfect for cottage cheese.

The whey left over after cheese making is typically sent down the drain.  However, for home-steading types, whey is an excellent source of protein that can be substituted for buttermilk (if soured) or water in most recipes.  It is a wonderful feed for hogs, dogs, cats, and chickens.  It is also a great lawn and garden treatment.  Apparently, instead of chemicals, you can spray a good coating of whey over your grass and crops and it is a bug repellent.  If you spray it good with water after application, then the whey will soak into the ground and rid the area of several pesky species of under-ground bugs and worms.  I had no idea! 

Another fun, though totally useless fact we learned was that, in that small town of around 5000, there are over 50 families who have one milk cow and do their own dairying at home.  I found that fascinating.  You just never know what your neighbors are up to!  (Unless, of course, they share their milk!)

So there you have it….Dairy 101.  I think I’ll go have a glass of raw milk.  Have a blessed day!

Most of my garden experiment has petered out in our triple-digit summer heat.  However, the tomatoes have proven to be an interesting lesson in nature and fruiting.  About 8 weeks ago, just as summer was getting hot and we had about given up on getting any tomatoes from the plants, we suddenly had around 8 green tomatoes.  They grew a little bit (to about a grape tomato size), and then several just up and fell off the plant.  We continued waiting around for our remaining little “Big Boy” tomatoes to perhaps turn red and provide us with a snack. 

Did you know that if the weather is too warm or there is just a hint too little water, tomatoes will stop growing and remain green?  I picked one and took it inside to see if it would turn red indoors where it was cooler.  No such luck.  It just began to rot.  We left the others on the plant to see what would happen. 

6 WEEKS went by, and, once again, just as we gave up hope, we noticed them taking on an orange tint, and still looking edible.  Once again, we started getting excited.  The size didn’t change at all in the 6 weeks, so they grew to about an inch-and-a-half diameter, and then literally just stagnated there for all those weeks.  Once the orange started though, each day, they looked a bit more red.  One in particular looked more promising than the others.  The size still didn’t change, but it was otherwise a pretty, reddening, uniformly shaped tomato.   The day before we were planning to pick and taste it, wouldn’t you know something beat us to it!

Our much-anticipated snack

Our much-anticipated snack

After, literally, a whole summer of waiting, our single, most promising tomato was hopelessly attacked.  I am assuming a bird started the hole, but by the time we discovered it, it was filled with ants.  S, determined to not lose his one tomato, picked it, brushed the ants off, and took it in the house.  Later, when he had the chance, he sliced the bad section off, and cut a nice slice for himself. 

His response?  “It tastes like a tomato….though definitely NOT the best tomato I’ve ever eaten!”

I may attempt some leafy greens this fall, but otherwise, I think I am going to give up my gardening attempt while living in such an unforgivable location! 

Of course, I may always change my mind.  I do have a tendency to forget what I say!

Isn’t life funny sometimes?  I have spent the last 24 hours or so, taking glimpses into our not-to-distant past.  S has been recording our home videos onto DVD’s, and I poke my head in once in a while to reminisce.

You know how it is when you are dating, and you have to somehow record all the special moments –be it in a journal, photos, videos, whatever.  Then the wedding day comes, and you have the professional photographer, the back up photographer, the best friend to get the behind-the-scenes shot, and the other friend to do the video.  Oh, and of course, you have those cheap little disposables set out for the guests to take candid shots of each other (of course, I would forget to take them out of the “wedding closet” and place them out for the guests!)  –all in the name of remembering that special day.  Life goes on, with you recording along with it. 


Then the first pregnancy, birth, and baby.  You don’t want to miss a single moment in time when it comes to the new addition!  If you don’t already own a video camera, of course, you will rush out and buy one!   I watched the video and was reminded of my attempt to be a good mommy and make a healthy cake for JR’s first birthday.  It was a fruit-juice sweetened carrot cake, with all homemade ingredients (mind you, I knew nothing about organics at this point!).  Oh, it was a miserable failure!  JR didn’t mind it, and I had to smile watching that video of him digging in with both hands.  He had no idea how awful that cake really was!! 

And I swore that I would never attempt to bake another cake from scratch as long as I lived!

JR at Red Gate Farm in 2005

JR at Red Gate Farm in 2005

Then the second pregnancy, birth, and baby comes along.   As we go through the pregnancy, I realized there is a bit less video of M.  At least I took lots of still photos.

M at 8 months

M at 8 months

By that point, I was a scrapbooking consultant, and am a firm believer in photos and albums!!  JR and M grew and so did my collection of photos of them and our life together.  Yet, the videos begin to thin out.  The still images are there in the photo pile, but the personalities, actions, and behaviors that can only be captured on video are dwindling down. Then, as we watched the few remaining videos, I realized that never, in almost 17 months, have we taken a single video of A or N (or JR or M for that matter!) Thank the Lord, I kept up with my regular photos, or those poor boys would feel completely unloved! 

A at 2 weeks

A at 2 weeks

I mean, seriously, what happened to my attentiveness to capturing detailed memories?!  Does life just get that busy?  Have I been there, seen it, done it enough that I don’t need more?  Do the priorities change?  What causes this neglect in memory preservation? 

N at 1 week old

N at 1 week old

 I can just picture the day we sit down, 10 years from now to watch old family movies (assuming DVDs are still around then!), and A looks at me and says, “Uh, Mom, why aren’t there any movies with me as a baby?”  Oh, how embarrassing that will be!  I guess that’s when I will shrug my shoulders, and try to change the subject by handing him his baby scrapbook album.  Maybe I could point out, “at least you have twice as many still photos as your brother, N!”  Ok, so maybe that won’t work. 
In the mean time, I guess we should start taking a bit more video!  Better safe than sorry.  I suppose it’s better to have the videos and never watch them, than to want to watch them and they not exist. 
I don’t think I am alone here.  What area of memory-preservation are you lacking in?  Is there an area you would like to improve in, so you don’t forget another single detail about your children (or dog, cat, life, whatever)?

We were sitting outside on the back porch, enjoying the sunrise this morning.  As usual, our large dog was walking around “self-petting” under S’s legs, and, in the process stepping all over S’s feet.  M was looking on, chatting with us.

S:  “Will, why do you insist on walking on bare feet?”

M:  “Because Will’s a dog!  Dogs can’t wear shoes, so they have to go bare feet!”

Today, I watched a documentary called “Super Size Me.”  You may have heard about this, as it was produced several years back.  Basically, a guy becomes curious what would happen if he just lived on fast food for a month.  Doesn’t sound that interesting?  Actually, it was fascinating, and very well made!  He did a wonderful job putting together a team of medical professionals to follow him, and the changes to his body, while performing this little experiment.  While I expected the physical issues he experienced, I did not expect some of the “professional” opinions he interviewed.  For example, the woman who headed up a school lunch menu.  This lady was truly in denial!  She was standing there watching this young children purchase candy bars, sodas, and french fries as the staples of their daily lunch, and then tried to explain that (paraphrased) “it is our job to teach them how to make wise choices, not take away their choices.”  What a poor excuse!  I won’t spoil it for you, but I think it is a highly educational documentary into the American way, and every adult should watch!  I will caution you that it does contain a bit of strong language, some gross and graphic scenes such as surgery and vomit, and some references to pre-marital sex (in the context of how the “subject’s” sex life is affected by his diet).  So, please do use caution with children. 

All in all, though, it was an eye-opening, entertaining, fascinating look at what our fast-food society as a whole has become.

Just for the record, I did not watch this entire link, as I saw it in a Netflix stream.  As I am limited on pc time, I watched just enough to ensure it was the correct video.  This seems to be the same thing, however, if it isn’t, please let me know so I can remove it!

Now, I am going to go work out!

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