June 2010


Some time ago, I was researching ideas for making my daily life a bit easier.  I found myself perusing large-family websites to find solutions to common household issues.  One of my favorite pages is the Household Center, where I found all sorts of ideas.  One that really peaked my interest was the idea of a family closet. 

Picture a typical laundry day.  Perhaps it involves several loads of laundry that must be washed, dried, and folded.  I like to sit and fold on some type of table or bed, which allows the toddlers to unfold things as fast as I fold (all in the name of “helping” of course).  I often delay the folding until after the kids go to bed.  Then, I’m stuck with piles of neatly folded laundry that must be shuffled all over the house to the different bedrooms, but then again, they can’t be put away in the kids’ rooms because they are sleeping.  When the kids woke up and were assigned the task of taking their clothes to the rooms, the younger ones often dropped a few items on the way, and I would later find everything mixed together in a drawer somewhere.  There was just no easy flow to the laundry sessions.

Supposedly, the family closet solves this entire dilemma.  The great thing is that it is totally flexible based on the space you have available.  There are no rules!  You can decide if you want it in your laundry room, or a seperate area altogether.  In my case, I decided I wanted everything to be in the same area, with an additional area for storage space and seasonal clothing.  My big dream plan for the farm will be a significant investment, so I decided to start small and experiment, tweaking the plan as I go.  God blessed us in this new house with a huge utility/laundry space that I figured would be perfect!  So here is what we came up with:

S completed this project for me a week ago.  I am able to sort, wash, dry, and fold all the laundry within an arms reach of each area.  Then, I pre-match outfits for each child, sort into piles of play-clothes, dress-clothes, and others, then divide the kids clothes into their designated section of shelves or hanging racks.   We also had an extra 5-drawer chest that we put in there, and each child was assigned 1 drawer for underwear, socks, and PJ’s.  It is a limited-shelf area, so S stores most of his regular use items down there in the remaining spaces, but I still have my stuff  in our bedroom. Despite the limited area, though, I have cut my shuffling of folded laundry down to my clothing and my bedroom.  EVERYTHING else (clothing-wise) is in the family closet.

A quick sketch of my layout

Next to the closet space is a makeshift table for folding and sorting clean items. Just to the right of that is the washer and dryer.  Directly across from it are the hampers used for sorting.

 The plan is that the family will make their way downstairs each evening, select the clothes they want to wear the next day, and take those items to their rooms.  Dirty laundry is collected either in a basket in the bedroom, or in a hamper in the laundry area–dependent on where the bedroom is located.  Each week, on the designated day, as part of chores, the clothes are removed from any bedroom baskets and sorted into the laundry room hamper.  Each child (older ones) is responsible for their own clothing.

I may do a few tweaks as the time goes by, but so far I absolutely LOVE IT!  It just seems that my laundry time has somehow been cut in half.  I no longer stress about an unexpected visitor because my pile of laundry is laying on the couch in the middle of the living room. In one glance, it is easy to see who is running low on what. 

I am just thrilled that I have this opportunity to experiment with the concept prior to creating my final version back at the farm.  Be sure to check out Lots of Kids’ Family Closet site for more ideas.

We have 3 new family members.  Check out these adorable little faces!

Meet "Smokey," "Clara," and "Stew"

If you have been following our blog for any length of time, you know our ultimate self-sufficiency goals.  Well, after the whole house-buying thing didn’t work out for CO, we wanted to at least do what we could in base housing.  I figured I could at least have a garden, learn to compost, and have a few rabbits to learn about rabbits and meat.  Well, as it turned out, the base housing regs do not allow you to grow anything edible, or compost outdoors due to the risk of attracting the large, wild animals in the area.  I can’t even grow a flower garden without a ton of paperwork!  So, in great dismay, we looked at our last option…meat rabbits.  By this point, the kids were all excited about having some kind of animal, so we figured it was safe to promise them rabbits.  Unfortunately, the breed I have my heart set on, the American Chinchilla, is essentially impossible to find within a full day’s drive.   I finally found someone willing to sell me two, but he won’t have a litter ready for public sale until late fall. 

So, S and I talked and decided that we would go with something local and smaller than a standard meat rabbit as a first step.  I found some mini-lop babies that had just been weaned, and for a reasonable price.  We decided the smaller rabbits would be less intimidating and easier for the kids to handle and learn with.  At 6 pounds mature weight, they will still pose enough of a challenge though.  We also decided to forego the breeding and get 2 does, and focus more on teaching rabbit care and handling to the children.  Thus, it was determined that we would actually invest in simple pets.  A bonus to me would be easier care, and we could house them together.  Since these animals will be indoors, I also don’t want a house smelling like bunny, so 2 little girls should be much easier to deal with and clean up after. 

So, we are creating a bunny condo.  To save money, instead of buying  a new cage, we decided to use our large, unused dog crate.  It is not yet in its final form, as I am having to experiment a bit.  It will eventually have several levels the bunnies can play in, but already has a litter box (which I am really hoping they will figure out soon to make clean-up easier!) They seem to be in absolute heaven already, though, with all the free-choice hay.  It’s so much better than the bare rabbitry cage they came from.

So, how did we go from 2 to 3? Well, I went to pick up the bunnies, and the lady only had 3 left.  One was obviously very healthy and lively.  JR got first pick since he was buying with his own money.  He chose this one, a smokey colored with the broken pattern.  Despite the fact it was a doe (girl), he wanted to name it “Smokey.”  Next in line, and the one M wanted was a broken orange color.  Although it seemed healthy in every aspect, it was very thin, and about half the weight of sister, Smokey.  Due to her small size, neither the breeder nor I was able to figure out for sure what sex it was, though I suspect it is a buck.  I was concerned it may not make it, as it was so thin.  The only other option was a little dk. brown bunny that appeared to have only one eye.  The breeder explained that it had “next box eye,” and the infection had already caused the eye to be completely lost.  It still had to be cleaned daily though.  So my choice was between a thin, possibly dying one, and a cycloptic one.  This one was also hard to tell, but I suspect it’s a doe. Not good options, but they were the only small rabbits within an hour and a half’s drive.  The breeder sensed my hesitancy and offered me both for the price of one.  If the little orange one did die, the black one would replace it for M.  If it survived, I could do what I wanted with the black one.  So, I agreed.  M aptly named her bunny “Clara,” and we contemplated a name for the darker one. 

Look at that adorable face!

After getting them settled into their new home, and giving them a lengthy rest, I watched and inspected them more closely.  When tiny “Clara” came out and started eating, she wouldn’t stop!  She was obviously famished!  My theory now is that the other weanling kits in the cage with her were bullying her out of food.  There is no such competition now, so I expect she will do just fine.  We’ll see in a few more days. 

“Smokey” is no doubt the adventurer.  With a bit of a rambunctious streak, she is already a handful for JR. 

When I used my past vet-tech experience to further inspect the eye of the brown one, I discovered that it likely did not have nest box eye, rather, it seems to have an inverted eye-lid.  This essentially means that the eye-lid turns it slightly, allowing the eye lashes to rub the eye ball and cause irritation and inflamation. After I cleaned it and gently turned it back out, within an hour, the bunny actually opened her eye about half way!  There is definitely an eye-ball in there still, though it is very inflamed and I have no way of knowing if she is blind in it or not. Of course, with all the inflamation, the eyelid continually flips back in, but with me periodically correcting it, the eye has shown vast improvement and all signs of infection seem to be gone already. 

When S saw 3 bunnies, he was a bit surprised.  I suppose in typical “homesteader” fashion, though, he immediately began looking at an opportunity to learn.  He started researching dressing out rabbits.  As it turns out, apparently mini-lops, though on the smaller side, dress out very effeciently as roasters.  Thus, he named the black one “Stew.”  Yeah. 

So I don’t know yet if  Clara will actually survive.  However, I do know that if all three bunnies survive and begin outgrowing their cozy quarters, one of these cuties is destined for the dinner table.  Which one will be determined by temperament and gender.  We will know more in a few months.  All in the name of experience I guess.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying goodbye. 

My dear husband hates to waste.  Mind you, he is not a pack-rat by any stretch of the imagination, and is quick to pass on things that have no use to us, however of the things he does use, he hangs on to.  He will wear shirts until they are literally falling off his back (or until they are so bad I take them, rip them up, and turn them into shop rags!)  When it comes to shoes, he happens to have very wide feet.  So, when he finds a pair that fits, he hangs onto them. 

Well, he had a particular pair of dress shoes he got in high school.  It’s really his only pair, he wore them to high school graduation, and has worn them to almost every dressy or church event since.  Just for the record….he has actively used them for over 20 years!  Those poor shoes have been “gooped” together, super glued together, and I’m sure they have even see tape a time or two.  Those soles wore so bare thin, you could almost see his socks through them.  Finally, over the last year, they began coming apart in layers, and no amount of stickiness could hold them together.  It was time to say goodbye.  After he seriously considered an official burial, complete with memorial service, I convinced him to just toss them in the trash.  I just had to promise to memorialize them here. 

So there you have it.  Time to go get him so new shoes.

We decided to hit a new trail today on our bikes, and this time, M was going to ride her bike.  Mind you, she is 3 years old (almost 4), and has only been riding without training wheels for a few months.  Thus, we picked a relatively easy trail this time, but with enough little challenges to build confidence in both the kiddos (and mom!). 

We headed out between thunderstorms, and discovered the trail winds through beautiful meadows, along a running creek, and a myriad of rock formations and little foothills.  

Biking down the trail

S and the babies

The trail was being used by other bikers and hikers, and I think all were impressed with the ages of our children biking.  S even had the two babies in the bike stroller.  However impressed we may have been though, M still had her limits.  Like going up big hills.  She would make it about half way and then need to be pushed, pulled, assisted, or something.  Let’s just say S and I got just as much of a workout as she did!

Reaching the top of a steeper hill.

 When we had gone as far as we thought M could handle (and still make it back to the van), we stopped at a spot where the trail crossed the creek.  It was so pretty there.

All in all, we estimate that we biked about 3 miles.  Considering we are still adapting to the lack of oxygen here at 7000+ feet altitude, JR and M are so young and new to biking without training wheels, and S was pulling the stroller with about 55 lbs. of baby weight plus all of our water bottles, I am quite impressed. We had a great time out there, and the kids feel so grown-up to be biking like all the big folks we passed on the trail.  This may become a weekend tradition around here!

Several years ago, I read a book called “Open Heart, Open Home” that discussed the importance of Christians welcoming people into our homes.  It posed challenges to help me see that having a spotless house before welcoming someone in is not the most important thing.  I took these challenges to heart, and began striving to have a home where people are welcome to come anytime.  I have (only half-jokingly) told people “If you want to see me, come anytime; if you want to see my home, you might want to call first!” 

Shortly thereafter, I witnessed the opposite of this welcome when we moved to a new base.  It turned out that the family living directly across the street were old friends of S, and the guys had worked together for several years.  S eagerly took me over to introduce me to them.  It was rather hot and muggy out, the mosquitoes were biting, and it was getting to the point of being somewhat uncomfortable.  The wife apologized and explained that her house was messy and she would be too embarrassed to have us inside, so we spent over an hour standing on the front porch chatting.  Over a year and many front-porch conversations later, we moved, still never having been invited into their home. 

On the other hand, I have been in homes that were almost in pristine condition (even with kids! I’ll never know how they did that!), such that I was afraid to touch anything.  I even visited one home that went so far as to post a sign in the bathroom posted above an old, well-used hand-towel, that said something to the effect of  “Guests, please use this towel rather than the guest towels.”

Although I am pretty adaptable and can understand how these women feel, such situations made me strongly resolve to ALWAYS have a welcoming home.  Over time, I realized how difficult it would be to have any kind of effective ministry outreach from our home if people did not first feel welcome and loved here.  I desired clean, but never wanted guests to fear touching or even breaking something.  Things can be repaired or replaced, people cannot.  As the years went by, we really worked to create a home that was inviting.  I tried to decorate in such a way that induced comfort and invitation to sit and visit for a while.  S really helped me learn to keep the place relatively tidy, though I certainly still have days where it looks like a tornado just went through the living room.

Since moving here, in just one week, we have become friends with our back-yard neighbor.  It was strange at first, as I daily had other young children playing on my porch as I tried to unpack, but my kids loved having the playmates.  Then, my children began asking permission to go play on the neighbor’s porch.  My children have never been old enough, so this was new to me.  Nonetheless, I felt more and more comfortable, as I could still see and even hear all that was going on, and it freed me to unpack.  We eventually extended an open invitation to join us for worship, and now, they randomly show up. 

Frankly, it has been wonderful!  Our worship time is immediately after dinner, so they often show up while the dining room table is only half-cleaned off, the dirty dishes are still in the sink (or actively being washed), and the counters have not been wiped down.  We never really know when they are coming, so we don’t really plan for it.  We just stick with our routine of starting worship at the same time each evening.  I realized they are not coming to see a spotless house, but to join us in Christian fellowship and worship of our Lord.  It is truly amazing to me that this relationship has developed so quickly, but at the same time, it is so rewarding to think that, perhaps, we have finally reached a place in our journey where people actually feel comfortable dropping by, completely unannounced, and feel welcome to do so. 

I challenge any Christian out there to evaluate how you treat your guests.  Are you a front-porch talker who is more concerned with the cleanliness of your house than in building relationships?  Or are you the friend that people know they can turn to any time they need to?  As our former pastor used to say, Christianity is all about relationships…with Christ, with family, and with others.  Nothing is more important!

One of the “joys” of moving is the fact that I have to get creative with my organizing.  Over the years, I have learned to buy items that are multi-purpose, like baskets, racks, and hooks, and then just change out what they are used for in each house, based on current need.  One issue I have always had, however, was in my kitchen.  

As I have sought healthier, safer kitchen items, and gotten rid of plastics, I wound up with a large collection of stoneware, crystal, pyrex, cast iron, and stainless.  This has resulted in a big problem organizing the large items, all the lids, and all the non-stackables.  I did some research before the move, had a few ideas in mind to try, then arrived here in the new house.  This house is 1500 sq. ft, and the kitchen is hardly setup for someone who almost lives there, so I was forced to get really creative.  So far, I am liking it.  Here is what I came up with:

Although I had this hanging rack for my cast iron back in NV, when I arrived here, there was absolutely NO place to hang it. I remembered an idea I had seen some time ago, where a lady had used her cast iron and stainless cookware as her window decor. Well, circumstances didn't allow me to go that far, but I modified the idea by hanging the rack over the curtain and window, as the was the only space it would fit. As it turns out, it is quite handy there, within arms reach from both the stove and the sink!

Oh, the cookie sheets, pizza stones, serving platters, and misc. other big stuff! I have fought with that stuff for years! I decided I wanted to have everything side-by-side for easier access, rather than stacked precariously on top of the other items. So I bought a large rack that would allow me to do so. The only place it would fit was the bottom of my pantry, but it is perfect! I actually have a smaller one for my other, smaller, cutting boards and platters. I have dreams of nice wooden rack built into my cupboards serving this purpose when I move to the farm and renovate the kitchen.

Similiarly, my pot lids were at risk of breaking every time I opened the cupboard. I have spent countless minutes trying to stack, organize, or find the size I needed. I bought a smaller version of the other rack and used it for my lids. It's working beautifully!!

Not to belabor the racks, but I am so proud of these! This was a really small one made of wooden pegs, and it just perfectly organizes my pyrex lids by size. No more lids hiding under heaps of other lids!

I will say that I have found a store I love called “The Container Store.”  It is the ultimate place for organizing any area of your home.  The only thing I don’t like about them is that their supplies tend to be somewhat modern, and there is nothing that works well in a country-decor type home.  They have lots of plastic stuff.  Nonetheless, I have found quite a number of very useful items there, to include the racks and barrel jars you see above. 

So now, despite my small kitchen and very limited cabinet space, I think it will all work well!

In typical fashion, we took our routine “PCS trip” to the farm.  This trip was a bit more stressful with all the changes going on, but nonetheless, we always find a way to enjoy ourselves on the farm.
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The big project on this trip was moving about 600 feet of a main pasture, post and rail fence line out about 4 feet.  This will reduce the mowing on the outer strip between the driveway and fence, and open an additional 1/2 acre or so for grazing animals later.  Then the old fence line had to be removed.  Since losing my horses, I have definitely become more of a “city girl” in terms of my brute strength, so between that and my sprained wrist, I wasn’t much help.  Thankfully, S’s oldest brother lives nearby and loves to work on the farm, so he helped S.  I primarily focused on being mom and entertaining the kids while resting my wrist a bit.  I managed to get a few smaller projects accomplished though.  So, to keep it simple, here is a quick pictorial of our 10-day visit:

First, they drilled post holes. Then set the posts for the new fence line (has the fresh clay at the bottom). Then they tore down the old fence. God truly blessed us for the visit by limiting the rain to about 1/3 of what was originally predicted.

Due to the wet ground, we tacked old rails onto each posts temporarily to prevent the posts from shifting while they settled.

On our next trip, we hope to stretch the 2x4 wire and add a top rail to make the new fence match the adjoining one (seen here) that was installed last year. If you look closely here, you will see little orange flags. I spent one afternoon measuring off our orchard and perennial area, which we hope to plant next spring. The plan is to plant probably 3 each of 4 types of fruit trees (with option to expand later), some berry bushes and grape vines, and an asparagus patch. It was exciting envisioning this little food plot. Once planted, this area will be fenced off with some type of t-post and electrical tape to keep the sheep out. We were disheartened to find they had managed to kill off the 3 apple trees previously growing there.

Next door (about 5 acres away), we were excited to see the progress on S's mom's house. She currently lives in our farm house and takes care of the place, but purchased the adjoining acreage a few years ago. She started building her house this spring, but the wet weather has slowed it quite a bit. Since they had a bit of a dry spell while we were there, the builder jumped at the chance to get the roof trusses up. Unfortunately, he was short on man power that day, so, in small-town fashion, he asked S and his brother to help out. They jumped at the chance to play with wood and big toys (a crane to lift the trusses), and spent most of the day helping out.

The kids and I would periodically walk down and take the guys cold ice water and home-made granola bars. It was fun watching their progress. JR was enthralled and would probably have spent the whole day down there if I'd let him. He has definitely reached an age where his daddy is his hero, and he wants to be by daddy's side for everything. Notice the backwards hat. When we left the farm house, his hat was on with the bill forward. When we got to the new house, he noticed daddy had turned his hat around backwards and asked about it. I explained it was so he could see a bit better with the trusses flying overhead. Next thing I knew, JR had turned his around. I love this picture.

I kept busy with the kids. One of our favorite activities was berry-picking. We would pack the babies into the wagon and head down the drive. All along the way are wild black raspberries that were absolutely delicious. It was impossible to walk down the drive without snacking as we went.

Before long, we got into a routine of collecting every to every-other day since they were maturing so quickly. We found it was a race to get to the mature, sweet, black ones before the daddy-long-legs ate them.

Unfortunately, the berry bushes are thoroughly enveloped in poison ivy plants. We had to keep the babies in the wagon to keep them out, and we tried to save the outer berries for M to pick. I would wear jeans and go further into the brush to pick. Fortunately, I don't seem to have any senstivity to poison ivy, and have, so far, never developed a rash. JR did come down with a small one around his ankles at one point, but we treated it with old-fashioned Fels-Naptha, and it cleared up pretty quickly.

The results of one-morning's picking.

We tried black raspberry porridge, snacking on raw berries, we had them room-temp, outside-temp, and cold out of the fridge. I envisioned making jams and pies. I think our favorite way to eat them, however, was atop a yummy bowl of vanilla ice-cream, and this quickly became a daily ritual! I'm drooling just looking at the pic!

We also ventured out one morning to visit a friend's farm. We got to know her when we bought our farm, as she was the previous owner. She moved just a few miles away and started a new farm, which the kids and I love to visit until we get our own going. She breeds black Irish Dexter cattle, and I will be purchasing our starter stock from her, as well as using her bull for breeding. She has also agreed to let me purchase a few already-laying hens from her when I get there to help us get started.

Of all the animals there, to include horses, cattle, dogs, cats, and chickens, the kids definitely enjoy the baby chicks the most. She always seems to have a new batch in the brooder when we visit.

M loved being allowed to be more independent in holding the chicks this visit. She has really developed into a gentle, nurturing animal lover.

A, on the other hand, absolutely LOVES animals, but is far from gentle at this point. He was fascinated by the chickens though, helped collect the daily eggs (which had been saved for the kids), and wanted to touch as many chicks as we would allow. I had to work on teaching him how to gently stroke them. He was a fast learner, though, and did very well.

I think it has almost become tradition that she lets the kids collect the eggs, then sends all the eggs collected home with us. This time, we received not quite 2 dozen, including this massive double-yolker. Poor hen! FYI, that's my husband's massive hand holding it! In any case, we feasted on omelets and scrambled eggs several times, and snacked on boiled eggs. We even had enough boiled eggs to take some home to CO.

The kids enjoyed their ritual viewing of "The Nutcracker Ballet." I remember being terrified of the bad king mouse as a kid, but my kids love that movie.

 A really neat aspect of this trip was that it was the first time in about 4 years when I have been there in the spring.  I got see all the flowers, bushes, and trees in full bloom.  Gardening is quite new to me, so some plants I am learning about, and others I still know nothing about. I am still envisioning which plants will be left, which will be transplanted, and which will be disposed of or given away.  Some of the larger shrubs may look better if properly pruned, but that is a an area where I have a lot to learn.

Hostas

Ferns

something-oak shrub. I can never remember the name. It has beautiful blooms once a year, but the rest of the year, it is a scraggly, weedy looking bush. I'm still debating whether to keep these, as there are several in the garden.

Hostas and Bleeding hearts

Butterfly bushes. Like the oaks, these things bloom once a year, they attract a ton of butterflies, and actually smell quite nice. The rest of the year, they look like a lush bunch of scraggly weeds. Debating whether to keep, transplant, or throw out.

My MIL likes to give her sheep full access to the barn, but doesn't understand the whole carbon:nitrogen bedding concerns with livestock, so the barn had gotten pretty mucky. We spent one afternoon cleaning it up. S shoveled out the muck and spread it on the pasture, and I spread on some lime and covered it over with a deep bed of straw. It smelled great after that....assuming you think the smell of fresh bedding is great. The sheep have gotten pretty wild, only coming near at feeding time, but we still said HI! a few times. They watched us curiously as we cleaned their stalls, and were very unhappy to be locked out for the day. They are still waiting for weather dry enough to allow the wool time to dry so the shearer can come.

 A big surprise on this trip was a gift from a friend of my MIL.  She was re-doing her house and did not have room for a love seat that she had had for years.  She offered it to MIL, who didn’t have a use for it, but explained that we could use some furniture in the house for our visits there.  The lady happily gave it to us, and we arrived to find it sitting in our living room.  A beautiful antique!  I am envisioning it re-finished in a lighter stain.  What do you think?

It never fails that a trip to the farm results in a great deal more activity then when we are home.  Not long after driving away to head back to CO, we turned around to find this:

M completely unconscious.....but at least it meant she wasn't vomiting!!

That pretty much sums up our trip to Red Gate Farm.  Each time we visit, we feel one giant step closer to being there permanently.

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