April 2011

While I am on the topic of milk…

This post is intended primarily for my non-goat-milking family and friends.  I fear you more experienced goat-handlers may yell at me for something if you read it….

As I’m sure everyone getting into this lifestyle has experienced, goat-milking seems to be quite the attention-drawing oddity, and tends to bring about lots and lots of questions.  So, I thought I would give you a run-down of my milking process.  Before anyone yells at me about any of the methods I use, please understand that we are still learning and researching ways of doing this.  I will probably make several changes over time.  However, so far, I have been researching for several years now, and have realized that every single goat owner has a different way of doing things.  So, while some of my ways may be somewhat un”traditional” in modern speak, some are very traditional in old-fashioned speak.  I have developed good reason and basis for each step I take.  I’m sure as I gain experience, many things will change.

First, I prepare.  I grab my pail, which I previously milked directly into.  In order to get the milk colder faster, and keep it cleaner, though, now I use another method I have heard of several times.  I fill my pail with ice, put a sterile, empty jar in the middle to start cooling, and lay my filter rag on top.  I will explain the rag in detail later, but I do wet it, wring it out really well, then lay it on the jar.  By moisturizing prior to filtering milk, I reduce the amount of milk it soaks up. 

The pail with ice, a jar in the middle, and a filter rag about to be laid across it.

 I grab another bowl for the actual milking, carry it all to the garage, and prepare the milk stand.  I make sure it is relatively tidy, the grain bowl is full, and the headgate is open. 

My milk stand. Obviously, it needs a little more work, and we hope to get it finished in the next couple weeks (before milking the more troubled Sara), but it is working for now.

After everything is prepped, it’s time to get the goat. Meet the milk donor, Lilac, an alpine/nigerian dwarf cross.  I talked a bit about her in a previous post.  She has proven to be a perfect beginner’s goat, and I am in love with her! After I prepare the milk area, she is always waiting at the fence, ready to be milked.

I'm ready!!

I lead her across my front yard, and into the garage, which is a bit of a hike.  I tried just letting her out of the pen to see if she would go to the garage on her own, but when she discovered she was free, she proceeded to taste every thing along the way.  After a good 5 minutes, we didn’t get any closer to the garage, thus I continue to leash her. 

Lilac leading the way to the garage.

Once we arrive, she easily hops up onto the milk stand, sticks her head through the head-gate, and starts munching her grain. 

Ready for milking.

I lock the head gate, then have a seat and get comfy. Just so you know, goats can be playful, and they can be fidgety.  The purpose of the head gate is to encourage them to stand still.  The gate closes behind their head so they can’t pull their head back out, and once they learn this, they are content to munch their grain and stand still.  Next, I use baby wipes (usually just 2) to wipe her teats and udder down.  If she is really dirty (not typically), then I might give her a quick brush (she hates being brushed, in case you were curious) to get the excess debris off her fur.

Cleaning her up.

Then I give her a udder a gentle massage to encourage let down, and give each teat (she has 2, in case you were wondering) a squirt onto the milk stand rather than into the milk bucket. 

Let me explain those last couple steps.  All my research and reading and talking to more experienced milkers has taught me, among other things, that there are about a million ways to prep the goat for milking.  Many folks use very harsh chemical cleaners, antibacterials, and/or soaps to wash the udder.  Others used a simple rag with soap and hot water.  Some used absolutely nothing to clean with and just went straight to milking.  I was not enticed by the harsh cleaners for several reasons.  First, I have a child that will drink any liquid thing he finds.  It wasn’t worth that risk.  Second, the harsher the cleaner, the more drying and irritating it is to the udder.  I nursed three children.  I know how painful dry and irritated can be!!  You have to take gentle care of those girls!  The final discovery I made was when I read about some studies that had been done regarding the bacterial content of raw milk.  What they found was the very first squirt of milk contains roughly 20,000 bacteria–good and bad–that tend to collect in the teat.  That number didn’t change much with any type of udder/teat cleaning or preps.  So, frankly, it really didn’t seem to matter how thoroughly you cleaned the outside, it was what was on the inside that could make you sick.  So, after taking my goat-milking class a while back, I was introduced to basic baby wipes to ensure some cleanliness, but with gentle, non-drying convenience.  I like that idea best of all.  So, that is why I use simple baby wipes and waste the first squirts (though they aren’t really wasted, as my dog loves to clean the milk stand when we are done!!)

 Then, I put the bucket onto the stand, and proceed to milk her out.  She has actually improved her production a bit, so I am now getting between 5-6 cups a day.  Not a huge amount, but enough that it is making it a little more fun as I get into the groove of this milking thing!  Lilac typically has about 3 let-downs.  Basically, I milk until the flow slows, then briefly, I gently massage her udder, “butt” it with my hand a bit (the way a nursing kid would do), and gently tug, which causes her to let down more milk.  I repeat this process until her udder feels empty.  It goes from feeling similiar to a full water balloon when I first start, to feeling like skin with soft tissue underneath when she is empty.  Hard to explain, so just take my word for it. 

I should probably clarify here, that milking does not involve just tugging on the teats in a downward fashion like it appears in the movies!  It involves more of a rhythmic massage with your fingers, that happens to be in a downward motion.  It requires a surprising amount of coordination and rhythm, neither of which come naturally for me.  So, it took me a good 2-3 weeks to get to the point where I could look away from the bucket and still squirt the milk into the bucket!  I still miss once in a while, but I think I’m doing pretty good these days.  I digress….

After I finish milking, I pour the milk from the bowl, through the filter rag, and into the chilled jar. 

Filtering the milk.

I set the milk aside in a safe place, release the head gate, Lilac backs out, we love on each other for a minute (I don’t think she got much plain ‘ole lovin’ before, but she sure sucks it up these days!!  The way I see it, it’s kinda rude to just take her milk twice a day and stick her back in a pen.  She deserves a little lovin’ when I can!!) I return her to her pen, then come back to the house to finish up.  Later, when I milk Sara, I will simply repeat the process, adding Sara’s milk to the jar in the ice pail.  When I’m totally done, I clean up the milk stand, take my jars, pail, and bowl back upstairs to the kitchen.

So, before you single-use filter fans have a complete hissy fit, let me explain my filter rag.  During my research, I learned about several studies that have shown healthy, raw milk from animals not overly exposed to antibiotics, contains so much good, beneficial bacteria, that the good bacteria will often destroy the bad, illness-causing bacterias.  At least one study supposedly injected E. coli into this raw milk, and a few hours later, it was not traceable, as the good bacteria had wiped it out.  So, before I get into filtering methods, my point is that the way you filter is apparently not nearly as important as the health of your animal.  Even the best, smallest pored, milk filters can’t remove bad bacteria, but, on the other hand, no filtering at all could be fine if there is enough good bacteria to kill off anything bad. 

That being said, most people use specialized, expensive dairy filters, with little single-use filter pads.  The problem is it is easy to run out and around here, it is hit-or-miss whether the stores have them in stock.  I know of others who use cheese-cloth as a filter, but it doesn’t filter the small stuff that well, and it doesn’t hold up long either–especially if you try to clean it between uses.  After much research, and since we love re-usable items so much, I decided to go with a plain ‘ole wash cloth as a filter.  I learned this technique also at my class, and I realized that she has hundreds of people every year (who aren’t necessarily immune to farm bacteria) sampling her milk, and no one has ever gotten sick or complained.  I’m not a complete idiot though, so for hygiene sake, I did go buy some brand new, crystal clean, pure white wash cloths that I emphatically instructed my family not to touch!  They were reserved specifically for filtering milk.  To make you feel better, I bought enough for almost a week, and each rag is used only once before being cleaned, then stored in a clean area for the next use.  For cleaning, I just run it through a very hot, soapy wash cycle in my washing maching, then soak them all in bleach water every week or two (or sooner if they turn any color other than white, but always after just a few uses).  So, back to the filtering…

I lay the rag over the top of my jar, form a “cup” in the rag with my fingers, then pour the milk through.  Although it is pretty disgusting to see what gets trapped in the fibers of the rag (goat hair, dirt, hay, straw, who knows what else?), the milk that comes through is pure, white, and delicious. 

I put a lid on the jar, the milk goes into the fridge (behind any older milk, so we rotate it properly), my rag gets rinsed and set aside for cleaning, and my bowl goes into the dishwasher for its hot-water sterilization.  It’s a very simple method that seems to be working well so far, though I am considering a few changes.  Time will tell.

A number of my blog readers are familiar with adoption in some way.  It occurred to me that we do something with our babies that is not well-known to most adoptive parents, so I thought I would share.  FYI, this is a post that is intended more for women, so be forewarned, guys!

R, 3 months

When it comes to feeding baby, there are so many choices out there!  Where do you start?  Anyone who know us, knows that we strongly believe God’s way is always best, so for human babies, that would be mother’s breastmilk.  This is not always possible in adoption, though.  Notice I didn’t say NEVER possible. 

I nursed my first two, biological children.  When we adopted A, I heard about inducing lactation, and thought I’d give it a try.  Adoption definitely throws a few kinks into inducing, though, so I also invested in a Supplemental Nursing System.  I did not have a great deal of success at lactating, though I did produce some milk for a while, but I used the supplemental system until the inconvenience and difficulty remaining modest caused me to give it up.  Eventually, we wound up turning to the bottle, with standard commercial formula. 

Soon after, though, I became familiar with donor breastmilk.  Essentially, the most well-known places for donor milk is milk banks, where lactating women are carefully screened, blood tested, and then they voluntarily collect their excess milk in the required manner and donate it to the milk bank.  The milk bank then pasteurizes and cleans the milk, and stores it in freezers.  Then, they turn around and sell it to babies in need–most often preemies in NICU, but for other reasons as well.  The problem here, is that typically (though not always–each bank is different) the bank sells the milk for $20-$40 per ounce.  OUCH!  Furthermore, you often can’t just go purchase some, but must have a physician’s prescription for your baby, so it is carefully controlled.  The option excited me, though, so I started doing a little research into the dangers of donated breastmilk. 

Not longer after, I realized that my sister-in-law, who had a baby just a few weeks prior to A’s birth, had a surplus of milk in her freezer.  She offered to mail it to me, and we excitedly agreed to it.  She would carefully pack the frozen milk in newspaper and dry-ice, and ship it 2-day to wherever we lived.  Although it was never enough to fully sustain our baby, it offered a wonderful, God-created, supplement to our baby, who had had a rough start anyway.   When N was born the following year, he, too was started on bottle feeding commercial formula.  Then, just a month later, my sister-in-law gave birth again.  Once again, she supplied us with her surplus milk, so our baby had real mother’s milk as a supplement to give him the best start we could. 

Later, though, we discovered a problem.  Both A and N had a battle with eczema for the entire first year.  I tried everything to treat it–creams, coconut oil, prescriptions (for A), airing it out, you name it.  As they got onto solid foods, I closely monitored to see if it could be a food allergy.  The boys had completely different genetics, and they both ate formula and breastmilk from the same person.  The breastmilk was only available at certain times, though, but the eczema problem was constant.  Over time, A was given more solids, yet the eczema continued.  Finally, I attributed the problem to their African American heritage (A is bi-racial, and N is full AA).  I had heard that AA’s have a much bigger problem with eczema.  When A turned a year old, however, I noticed his eczema cleared up.  I had heard they could outgrow it, so didn’t give it much though.  Then, when N turned a year old, his too, cleared right up.  I found that VERY strange and far too coincidental.  There had to be a reason and a cause for it.  So S and I sat down one evening to lay out all the facts.  That is when we realized that during N’s early infancy, we had switched our family to raw cow’s milk.  As soon as the boys turned 12 months old, we took them off the formula and put them onto the raw milk.  It was the only common denominator, and we were certain it HAD to be the formula. 

Then, R came along.  I did not want to give her the commercial formula, but didn’t have a lactating sister-in-law this time.  I also knew that cow’s milk can cause quite a bit of tummy upset for young infants.  So, I decided to do the best I could and try some organic formula.  Very quickly, we realized that the organic formula really irritated R’s tummy.  I didn’t know why, but had no choice but to put her back the on the hospital-issued formula, which was the same type we used with the boys.  Her irritability went away, but I wasn’t happy with the risks of it. 


Then, a friend told me about an organization called “Eats on Feets.”  This is a voluntary group that has formed around the country (and in some other countries), where nursing moms prefer to offer up their fresh, unpasteurized milk to other moms with babies in need.  They donate and do not charge, although it is usually understood that the recipient mom will purchase and provide the needed supplies.  It is a wonderful idea, but of course, using a complete stranger’s milk can be risky.  It becomes the responsibility of the recipient to screen the donor mom for her health issues, and make as educated a decision as possible. 

I decided this was an option well worth pursuing.  Thankfully, my friend happened to know a nursing mom who was willing to donate.  They were good friends, and my friend trusted her health.  I did a bit of research, came up with a list of diseases that the milk banks test for, and requested lab info from the donor mom.  She willingly and understandingly supplied the info, direct from her midwife.  I was able to look over her labs, and since I am a diabetic, I am very well-versed in reading lab paperwork.  Her numbers were clean for everything I was concerned about.  So, we agreed to move forward.  I purchased the bags and some basic supplies she needed, she pumps milk throughout the week in between nursing her own baby, stores it in the freezer, and then I pick it up about once a week.  R then benefitted from the crucial mother’s milk as a supplement to the formula. 

Then, when we moved to the farm life, we took it a step further.  While cow’s milk is hard on an infant’s belly, fresh, raw goat’s milk happens to be a wonderful substitute for breastmilk.  The only real downside of goat’s milk is that it is a bit low in iron.  Orphan babies around the world, however, have still managed to thrive on goat’s milk.  Well, I suddenly found myself with a dairy goat, studied the safety of giving her milk to my baby, and decided it was well worth any risk. 

So now, little R gets about 50% of her diet from her formula (which also counters any iron deficencies in the goat’s milk), about 25% from donor breastmilk, and about 25% from raw goat’s milk.  I think she is the healthiest baby we have ever raised, is absolutely thriving, and has yet to get sick, despite having 4 siblings who bring home all sorts of viruses and bacteria.  Even her pediatrician has been thrilled with her rapid growth, happy demeanor, and overall health. 

In closing, I want to offer several encouragements.  If you are an adoptive mom, or a mom with a baby in need of supplemental milk for any reason, don’t just assume you have no choice but formula.  There are options available.  You just have to do the research.  You may be able to induce your own milk, put word out to your close friends (not-so-close friends might think it a bit strange to help out!)  that you would like to find a donor, or you can look on www.facebook.com and find a local “Eats on Feets” chapter to perhaps start your search for a breastmilk donor.  If you happen to have access to good, clean, healthy, antibiotic-free, raw goat’s milk, that is also an option.  There are tried and proven recipes online where you can even use goat’s milk as a basis for making your own homemade, nutrient-rich infant formula to feed at every feeding.  Information on goat’s milk suppliers can be found at www.realmilk.com, and a good recipe can be found at http://westonaprice.org/ (use the search function).  Finally, if you happen to be a mom, blessed with good milk production, consider donating to another mom in need.  It does take a lot of effort and time, I know, but consider the fact that God has blessed you with the ability to sustain your baby with the healthiest milk available to human babies.  Perhaps using that blessing to bless others less fortunate in that area, and having the satisfaction of using what you have to sustain 2 (or more) young babies, would make that effort worth while.  Your local Eats on Feets chapter would be a good place to start.  There are frequent requests on there for milk.  Just please don’t be offended if the recipient mom requests health info on you.  It means nothing personal–she is simply trying to look out for the wellfare of her own child, and wants to protect that baby as much as possible in a less-than-ideal situation.

Over the last few years, as God has turned our hearts toward being better stewards of our possessions, our children, and His creation, we have made countless changes to our lifestyle.  With the faltering economy, we grew eager to become more self-sufficient so we wouldn’t have to become reliant or indebted to others to support us.  With the addition of a son who has a drinking/liquid fetish, we all but eliminated toxic chemical cleaners from our home, and I started learning to make what I could from scratch.  Two things I think we forgot to consider in all the changes, however, was, first, how every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and second, and more importantly, how we must also be stewards of our time.

So, I am going to confess a few things:

First confession:  I HATE cloth diapering!  At first, I loved it.  I loved what it stood for, I loved knowing I wasn’t over-polluting the landfills with paper diapers or supporting an industry to mass-produce chemical-laden diapers for my young infants.  I loved the simplicity of never running out of diapers and having to rush to the store to grab some.  But, when it came to the actual, practical, real-life part of it, I HATED it!  I hated the constant smell of urine and poop in my laundry and diaper-changing area.  I hated the fact that it seemed like every diaper leaked, and I had to change the babies entire outfit 2-4 times a day.  I hated pre-treating the diapers with vinegar because my home-made detergent couldn’t get the smells out on it’s own.  I hated having to run extra rinse cycles with a just a handful of diapers, which wasted water.  I hated hauling the soiled diapers around in the diaper bag during outings, even if I did have one of those fancy dirty-diaper storage bags.  I was determined to hang in there though.  After all, we had invested several hundred dollars in them.   I loved what they stood for.   Then, at a baby shower, I was gifted a couple packages of traditional, paper diapers.  I LOVED their convenience, lack of odor, lack of laundry, etc.  I remembered the days gone by with my other children, where I could get through most days with just 1 or 2 outfits, and half the laundry.  It got me to thinking.  I went back and forth, and I decided to give it up. 

My dear husband, however, wasn’t so enthusiastic.  He also loved what it represented–probably more so.  He also didn’t have the day-in-day-out experiences with them I did.  So, when I mentioned it, he had his concerns.  The biggest of which was our initial investment into them.  So, I promised to use them until I could find a buyer for about the same amount we payed.  Then it hit me, the friend who had sold me the diapers had decided to become a foster parent.  I called her up and told her the situation.  God totally works!!  She explained how disappointed they had been that they had sold them now that they would have more babies in the house.  She jumped at the chance to buy them back, and now I think everybody is happy!  She has her beloved diapers back.  Although, I will once again be polluting landfills, I have found a source to get discounted, bulk, environmentally friendly, chlorine-free diapers, which seems to be a decent compromise.  I also have probably regained HOURS of my time because I won’t have all the diapers to pre-treat and launder and fold, and I also won’t have all the extra outfits to clean and launder and fold.  Overall, I guess part of me hopes that being a better steward of my time and water (in reduced laundry), will compensate for the poor stewardship of polluting landfills and continually purchasing diapers. 

Second confession:  I HATE my homemade laundry detergent.  I have tried and tried and tried, for a couple years now, to make it work.  Again, I love the concept behind it.  I love having what I need and being indendent of the grocery store.  I love not having to postpone laundry if I run out.  I love the fact that it costs about a half to a third the price of traditional laundry soaps.  I love that is is environmentally friendly.  Then again, because it does such a lousy job on stains and odors, I have to invest in tons of vinegar which increases the cost.  I also have to sometimes wash things multiple times, or do a cold rinse prior to washing, which wastes water, and uses energy, in turn increasing my cost.  Most of all, I hate that all my whites and light colors have become dingy and dull looking over time.  Since moving to the farm, the stain and dinginess problem has only become worse! 

I discussed the issue with S, and he decided to let me make the decision.  So, I have decided, at least for the time being, to finish out my current bucket of soap, then move on.  I have heard about a good, environmentally friendly, commercial version I can get, so I think I will try it first.  I may try a few different types if necessary.  However, I am hoping again, that the time I save in mixing my soap, doing the extra laundry, the water I save by reducing the excess rinses and washes, and the money I save in less vinegar pre-treatments and reduced energy costs, will hopefully counteract the expense and pollution of commercialized detergents. 

Now that that is off my chest, I feel much better.  I’m sure I can come up with a few other confessions, but I’ve written too much already.  Maybe my next post can be something with lots of photos in it!!

Our Easter was a bit different this year–to say the least! 

First, we woke up to almost 2 inches of snow (it melts quick around here).  By mid-day, the snow was totally melted, and then by dinnertime (suppertime for you southerners), it was snowing again. I’m just thankful our current church didn’t plan some sort of Easter morning outdoor sunrise service like they did when I was kid!  I do believe we would have gone hypothermic!

Unfortunately, for the first time that I can recall, I missed the Sunday Easter service.  One of the kiddos wasn’t feeling quite up-to-par the night before or that morning, so we decided it would be best if I stayed home with child and the baby, and S took the other 3 children to church with him.  The following photo is for my mom, as the dress is one I wore when I was M’s age.  Oh, and Mom, I know I made a total fashion faux pas with the black shoes, but I think you were with me when her white ones were stolen at the mall.  I haven’t had a ton of free time available to take her shoe shopping, sorry.

   I decided to use the opportunity to take a much-needed easy day of rest that morning.  As many projects as I would love to have been working on, I forced myself to just sit down, relax, hold my babies, catch up on some reading, and I must admit, it felt WONDERFUL!   After the rest of the family arrived home from church, we fed everyone, put the kids down for naps, and S decided we should both continue our day of rest.  When the kiddos started waking up, we did some tidying up, and I began preparing dinner in anticipation of our first dinner guests since moving here. 

Note to self:  Entertaining dinner guests on a farm is not the same as in the city.  There are a lot more things folks want to see, and a WHOLE LOT more not-so-great things that can happen. 

After S gave our guests a quick tour of the place, we enjoyed dinner, then chatted a while while the kids played together — 6 kids between the ages of 2 and 6, mind you.  Things were going along great until they were getting ready to go, and thought it would be fun to see me milk the goat.  So, since it was close enough to milk time, I grabbed my pail, and we all headed down to the garage.  I trudged out in the snow, collected the goat, and brought her into the garage.  After cleaning her up a bit, I proceeded to start milking.  Then, I got the great idea to let them give it a try.  This goat, Lilac, happens to be one that was used to teach milking classes (which is where I first met her), so she was plenty used to beginner hands on her.  She seemed perfectly comfortable, chomping away at her grain, and they jumped at the chance to try.  We switched places, and after the wife had no luck, her husband tried.  I don’t know if it was the unusual commotion in the garage (6 kids playing and 4 adults chatting away), or just a fluke, but suddenly, as soon as he got the first squirt, for the first time since her arrival, Lilac proceeded to plant her foot squarely into the milk bucket!  Uugh!  I think my guests were mortified.  I quickly thought about the situation, knew the risks of hoof-tainted milk, and decided to make a quick call.  I only had one milk pail, her feet were clean (for a goat) since we had just trudged quite a distance through fresh snow, and there hadn’t been but a few squirts in the pail to begin with.  The big delimma I faced was that, since we are a fairly chemical-free home, my method of sterilizing my bucket requires a run through an extra hot (hottest water in the house) and soapy dishwasher cycle followed by a heated dry cycle, which takes about 2 hours.  I didn’t exactly have that kind of time.  I decided to toss what was in the pail, go ahead and finish milking, filter as usual, then just freeze that batch of milk for cooking with later, rather than drinking.   I think that may have mortified my guests even more.  I tried to explain that nothing would survive freezing and cooking at high temps.  I can only hope that they aren’t afraid to eat food at our house again. 

After the milking, my children decided to introduce our guests to the poultry.  After passing around a few chicks, someone grabbed a turkey and set it on one of the other kid’s lap.  Everyone was thinking how cute it was, and the parents were wishing they had a camera.  Then, without warning we realized that a 5 pound turkey poult produces very large poops!  And they seem all the larger when they land in a 2 year-old visitor’s lap.  I think the poor child is so traumatized, Thanksgiving may never be the same for them. 

The bad situation quickly turned worse.  We left the oldest children playing with bunnies, and went upstairs to collect coats and boots.  Their daughter walked upstairs talking about how yummy the salt tasted.  They were puzzled, and then it dawned on me that my daughter must have introduced her to the rabbit salt lick!  Uugh, again!  For some strange reason, my oldest 2 children have decided that they love licking rabbit salt licks.  When I found out, I immediately told them to stop doing that, and assumed they had.  Apparently not.  Needless to say, I apologized to our guests, and after they left, had a nice long talk with my children. 

Thankfully, these guests were neighbors at our last house, and we are pretty good friends.  At least we were.  Time will tell if we ever hear from them again!  We have more guests coming over on Tuesday for dinner, so hopefully things will go a little smoother.   If any of you experienced farm folks have suggestions for making guests’ experiences here more pleasant (and hygienic), PLEASE let me know!  In the mean time, perhaps I could at least invest in some hand sanitizer for their children.

OK, based on the comments, I guess I am going to have a lot of upset readers.  Would you believe we didn’t get a single picture?  Sorry.  I’ll try to keep it mind for next year’s Dining Out.  I have decided to get rid of the dress though!  Honestly, I would of been a little embarrassed posting a pic of me wearing it on my blog.  Let’s just say, when I walked out and asked my children how I looked, my 6 year old exclaimed, “MOM!  You are showing waaaaaay too much of your chest!”  Then, after fighting with keeping certain areas covered all evening, I decided that dress wasn’t worth it! 

We had a wonderful evening, though.  The grog wound up being a pretty funny mixture though.  A young engaged captain was in charge of the creating the grog, and due to his hectic schedule, he called his fiance’, who by the way knows NOTHING of military life, and asked her to come up with a recipe.  Apparently, she assumed it was just punch, so she went to allrecipes.com, found a yummy recipe for spiked punch, mixed it up, and all evening, the staff rather enjoyed being sent to the grog.  The handful of senior cadets in attendance particularly enjoyed the grog, and by the end of the evening, it was completely gone–probably the first time in history!  Afterward, a few of us more experienced attendees gave this young captain and his poor fiance’ a lesson in what the grog was supposed to be.  They found it dispicably funny, and are looking forward to next year’s event.  Oh, and by the way, S did wind up having to visit the grog at one point. 

This year, there was no dancing or hanging out afterwards, and S and I were left with about an hour and a half before we had to get home to the sitters.  So, we stopped at a local Mexican food diner to just sit and hang out together for a few minutes.  I got one of my favorite drinks, a virgin Pina Colada, which is a very rare treat for me for many reasons.  We sipped at our drink and just enjoyed each other’s company sans children. 

Then, we returned home, I quickly changed into my ugly but warm flannel PJ’s, threw on a coat and some loafers, and went out to milk the goat.  Back to life as normal–but with painted nails!

In military officer life, roughly once a year, there is a very formal event known as a “Dining Out.”  Like most fancy parties, it consists of an hour or so of cocktails and appetizers, followed by a formal dinner, sometimes followed by dancing, which is closely followed by lots of alcoholic beverages.  There are usually a few games involved, the favorite of which (of spectators, anyway) is the grog bowl.  This is worth mentioning solely because it is so disgusting.  Basically, at the start of the dinner, a designated serviceman approaches the “grog bowl table” and mixes a horrendously disgusting combination of liquids.  You never really know what goes into it.  It usually involves some type of carbonated soda, tomato juice, and strong alcohol, but then they throw in unidentified bottles of unrecognizable materials, which they nick-name “sewage,” barf,” or some other appealing name.  I even attended one where they threw in anchovies too!  Oh, yeah, this is a high class party!  To be nice, they usually mix a second grog bowl of the same liquids, but minus the alcohol, for boring tea-totallers like us.  Then, a list of rules are passed out.  Every Dining Out’s rules are different.  Generally, the rules only apply to the active-duty members (not their spouses, thankfully, which is I why I can enjoy the entertainment so much!).  When a member breaks a rule, he must proceed to the grog table, perform some designated act such as a salute, serve up a full cup of “grog” and drink it.  To ensure he drank it all, he then must tip the cup upside down and place it on his head.  Yes, drinking the sludge is better than staining their mess dress with it, so they always drink it in it’s entirety!  I told you it was a disgustingly entertaining game!  The rules can be anything from a breach of proper ettiquette, to an unzipped fly, to taking a restroom break at an inopportune time, to a failure to not speak in rhyme.  S is such a good boy, that in the almost 10 years we have been married, I think he has only had to drink the grog once.  OK, moving on….

This event is a big deal for active duty servicemen, and although it is not written as a requirement to attend, it is an unwritten rule that the event is mandatory participation without a really good excuse.  With the exception of a few of S’s assignments where they did not offer one, we have always made a point to attend.  Believe it or not, I very much enjoy them.  It is always so much fun to get all dressed up, look good for my hubby, see him all fancied up in his mess dress (extra fancy military uniform for those of you who aren’t military), and shadow him all night acting like some sort of trophy wife.  It is the one night I get to feel like a woman and his wife, rather than the run-down, plain jane mommy/ housekeeper/ cook/ maid/ schoolteacher/ goat milker/ gardener that I usually feel like.

So, to prepare for the evening, as is our custom, the night before, I modeled my dresses for S so he could pick one for me (it’s technically his event, so I like to wear what he wants for this occasion).  He surprised me by picking a rather revealing, tank-top, above-the-knee, cocktail-type dress and my 4-inch black platform heels.  Armed with the knowledge of what I would wear, this morning started out a little different.  With the anticipation of the evening, I planned the day so I could spread out the “getting ready” over the course of the day, seeing as how I still had to play mommy/ housekeeper/ cook/ maid/ schoolteacher/ goat milker/ gardener until later that evening.  This year, I also had to do all the prepping alone, as S works about 30 minutes from our new home.  It only made sense for me to pick him up at work and we head to the event.  So he won’t be coming home to help out while I get ready. 

So, right after breakfast, I started filing and painting my nails.  I never paint my nails.  I can never sit still long enough to let the paint dry.  This time, I decided to take a different approach.  I thought I’d try painting in stages, one thin coat at a time. That’s when I realized that my once beautiful, long nails have disappeared with the addition of babies, dairy goats, chickens, turkeys, and general farm life.  I also discovered my nail polish cap was totally painted on to the bottle.  After spending an hour trying to file and shape what little nail I had left, and another hour trying to open my bottle of polish, I painted on the first thin coat.  And waited for it to dry.  Then I had to get back to normal life and go tend the kiddos, milk the goat, get JR started on school, and clean the house a bit.  While doing a little paperwork at my desk, I licked an envelope in preparation for mailing it, and got a papercut on my lip.  OUCH!  No biggie, I can hide the cut with lipstick later. 

Then, it was time for the 2nd coat of nail polish.  Afterward, I figured it was a prime time to sit down and relax, rock the baby, and read up on goat kidding preparations (ours is due in 3 weeks).  Of course, I wound up messing up my polish when the baby got fussy.  Oh well.  I did my best to repair the damage, waited a bit longer, and then went back to life as normal.  I fed the kids lunch, put them down for naps, and decided to use my 2 hours of quiet time to focus on getting ready for the big event.  I decided to take a shower and get all cleaned up.  That’s when I learned it is nearly impossible to get the dirt stains that go hand-in-hand with farm life completely out from under the nails or the dried-out cracks in my skin.  No problem!  First, I pulled out my hydrogen peroxide and liberally applied it to the dirtiest areas around my nails.  Worked like a  charm!  Then, I just applied another coat of nail polish and a bit of extra lotion!  Maybe with enough jewelry accents, no one will notice the remaining dirt, soil, and chicken poop stains.

Next, it was time to lotion up, pluck the eyebrows, get dressed, and fix my hair and makeup.  Of course, fancy dresses seldom use normal undergarments, so I had to take some time to mix-and-match the appropriate items.   As a diabetic, I also wear an insulin pump.  When I wear the rare, fancy, one-piece dress, I have to strategically locate my pump under my clothing where it can’t be seen.  It involves a specialized garter, uncomfortable clips, and velcro.  That is why I don’t typically wear one-piece dresses.  Unfortunately, this also makes it completely inaccessible.  So, I have to use a remote control to take my insulin.  Now I don’t own fancy “equipment” to go with those fancy dresses.  I do, however, own safety pins and double-sided tape!  A few strategically placed safety pins and tape slivers, and voila, the dress totally works!  Until I need to use the restroom or sweat.  But I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.  Note to self: throw a few extra pins and rolls of tape in purse.  Oh, shoot, I can’t.  The fancy purse that goes with the chosen dress is about the size of a wallet, and I have no room for such extras.  SIGH….  Look at the bright side.  At least I managed to get my nails looking acceptable.  Now….to find that pump remote! 

S had made his request for little makeup and his favorite hairstyle–slightly curled, down, with only small amounts pulled back.  Make up and styled hair looks great, but takes quite a bit of time and lots of effort to do, so it is totally not conducive to daily homeschool mom or farm life!  Today is special though, so I decided to go for it.  I had over an hour before the kids woke up, and the main part of the house was clean, so why not?  Then I discovered I had almost no make-up, and what little I did have was well over 4 years old.  Good thing S likes “little” makeup, ’cause that was all he was gettin’ for this event!  I also had none of the hair clips he had requested.  So, I had to get creative and make do with what I did have.  I don’t like getting creative.  It makes my brain hurt.  Now, fixing hair for such an event requires holding my arms up and behind my head for great lengths of time.  That’s when I remembered that, since I live on a farm now, I had brilliantly decided to update my tetanus shot a couple days ago.  That leaves very sore muscles in the upper arm for days!  It’s OK, though.  I’m a pretty tough cookie.  I mean, hey, I went through induced labor.  Once.  Never care to try that again!  I can handle a little soreness to pretty up for my beloved.  I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….

Finally, it was almost time for the sitter to arrive.  I quickly tried to get things prepared for the kids and the baby-sitters, and then it was time for the 4-inch, strappy, platform heels.  Now, I am a tennis shoes or cowboy boots kinda girl.  I am also a complete klutz.  All the time.  I have poor balance and even worse coordination.  I have a big, ugly bruise from who-knows-what right on my kneecap to prove it, and, oh, by the way, it is very visible under that above-the-knee dress!  So, it’s a miracle if I can wear these fancy shoes and not break my ankle.  But, hey, it’s a special night, right?  Maybe, hopefully, they’ll let me sit down some time during the first 2 hours, which would drastically increase my chances of survival and pretending to be graceful.  I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….

Finally, I take care of the final touch ups.  I think I look pretty hot, actually.  Can’t wait until S sees me.  I don my thin black shawl to cover my bare back and shoulders.  I open the front door just to discover the winds are howling, and the temperature is quickly approaching the 20’s.  And I have perfect hair, a sexy dress that leaves my skin mostly bare, and a silly, thin shawl that is supposed to keep me warm.  Right.  At least my nails look good!  And I have the entertainment of the grog to look forward to.  In fact, after all I have gone through, and the discomfort I am about to go through, I think there is a little piece of me that would find some value in seeing S visit the grog. 

YIKES!  Did I just say that out loud?!  I love you, honey!

We don’t do Halloween, but over the years, I had collected quite an assortment of costumes.  I have many of the typical thrift-store finds, and a few grandparent gifts.  When my dad used to deploy, he would buy the native outfits for that country and send them home.  I have clothing from Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.  They come in very handy for cultural lessons, but we do so few of those right now, that finally, one day, I put all the costumes in a drawer for the kids to play dress up with.  They love it!  Although, it does make for interesting conversation when visitors drive by and see Winnie the Pooh or Fairy Princesses running around.  And I have no idea who this is:

I think it's part Peter Pan, part little Korean boy, and no clue what else.

Here are a few snapshots of what is keeping us busy in our new life.

The outside:

Everyone gets involved in farm work! JR is trying to pull up an old T-post.


We managed to give the chicks and turkeys a new, temporary home. A friend lent us a stock tank for the turkey brooder, and we used the turkey box to expand the chick brooder. They seem pretty happy for now.


Our latest project...new, customized, extra large, outdoor rabbit cages. We are still waiting for our last roll of wire to arrive, and then all the pieces can be assembled. We are so excited!


My little garden has expanded a bit. Now, in addition to rhubarb, horseradish, and lilies, I also have strawberries. I have several other things started in pots inside, and lots of seed packets just waiting their turn. I just have to find the time.

The inside:

When I get a little further along, I hope to do some before-and-after shots of everything.  Things are coming along though.  Every evening, we sit down for our family worship time.  Daddy plays his guitar, and we sing songs of praise to our heavenly Father, and I can’t help but reflect on everything He has truly blessed us with over the last few weeks.  I cannot express how much I am loving my life right now.  I only wish I could have more hours in the day to experience it and accomplish all that I want to.

Isn’t it great how God always provides what we need, just when we need it?!  Through this move process, I could go on all day about everything He has done to help us.  There are so many things I could talk about.  Some are trivial little things, while others are more than miraculous. 

When it was forecasted to rain during our entire farm trip, He allowed the rain to wait until the day we left.  He allowed us to close on a foreclosure very quickly, which is almost unheard of in this area.  He provided us with an absolutely wonderful realtor to get us through the difficult parts of the process, and even now, she calls just to check in periodically to ensure we are settling in OK.  We were blessed with over 30 people who took time out of their busy schedules to come help us clean the house or babysit so we could move in.  The day we moved in, it was forecast to rain, but the rain held off until that night.  The next day, just when I was going to start miking a goat, we had no fridge.  God allowed it to snow for the next 2 days, and it was just cold enough that I could keep my cooler on the back deck and everything in it was cold, but didn’t freeze.  The day we got our fridge, the temperature was sunny and in the 60’s, and remained like that for the next week (roughly).  With all the animal projects we have scheduled, he has more than blessed us with free lumber from all over.  And have I told you about our new neighbors?  Turns out they are a young, Christian family with 5 children currently, and 1 on the way.  They homeschool and just started living the homesteading-type life last summer.  They have a couple of cows and got a couple goats to milk, so they are a few months ahead of us.  We have hit if off very well, and our kids love to play together.  We have even agreed to swap farm-care when need be so both of us can vacation.  I don’t want to bore you with too many details, but I am just in awe at what He has done. 

I couldn’t help but think about this as I was trying to figure out some financial issues we are dealing with.  REALLY long story short, due to some mistakes made by the seller of our home, we were forced to overpay, with the assurance we would receive a refund of the difference.  We have been fighting for the the last 3 weeks to get that refund they owed us.  Today, a friend–who, by the way, happens to be a lawyer, stepped up and offered a nice little letter of encouragement to the title company.  Suddenly, we have been assured a check is in the mail! 

We have learned so much through this process.  One thing that has always puzzled me spiritually, though, is why God would bother doing trivial little things for little ‘ole me.  I know what the Bible says, and I know that he takes care of even the smallest sparrow.  I guess I just can’t wrap my mind around the concept that when other people are having major crises in life, or when nations are falling apart, or the economy is crashing and people are physically suffering, WHY would He even consider allowing me such silly conveniences like perfect weather, a great home, and new, good friends at just the right time. 

It may never make sense to me, but I marvel at the wonder of it, at His infinite mercy and grace to each of His children as individuals, and at how the little blessings He gives can make me feel truly special and loved by my Heavenly Father.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”    –Luke 12:6-7

We are almost through week 3 of our new mini-farm life, and loving it more every day!  It has been a busy week, but I am starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.  Sort of.  I guess it depends what tunnel you are talking about. 

I am basically done with unpacking.  There are still a few messes around the house that just haven’t found a permanent home yet, but I have developed mental plans for most of it.  It’s just a matter of putting those plans into action.  Most involve something I need S to build or hang or move for me, which is the factor that slows me down.  He sort of has a full-time job with his mistress, the U.S. Air Force.  I have to give him credit, though.  He has still managed to pull off a TON of work around here.  He did make the difficult decision, though, to cancel violin lessons for a while.  I think it was a wise choice.  There are only so many hours in a day, and his are totally used up already.  I am trying to squeeze in school, in addition to the setting up house, running a home with 5 kids, and caring for our new animals.  Trying to pressure either of us to keep with violin this month would have been insanity.  He and the kids will pick up their practicing again as soon as we are able to finish the inside-house projects (hopefully in the next week or so), and then decide later as to whether to continue with formal lessons, or go off on their own again. 

The outside is a whole ‘nother story!  Accomodations for our growing menagerie of critters is quickly gaining top place on the priority list.  Here is our current head count and the increasingly critical situation:

We have 9 meat rabbits.  Our doe, buck, and their rapidly growing litter.  We originally had 8 kits, but gave one to a friend to start their mini-farm journey.  I read all the books and websites.  I had it all planned beautifully….according to everything I researched, babies can easily be housed together in one standard sized cage until they are harvested–around 8-10 weeks.   Sounded great, no problem.  Except we had a bit of a rush vacation and then moved around the 6-8 week mark.  Then, S decided he didn’t like the effort that would be involved for just a few pounds of meat, so he decided he wanted to wait until they are somewhere between 12 to 16 weeks.  Do you have any idea how fast meat rabbits grow between 6 and 16 weeks?  Let’s just say they about double their body weight, in this case, around 4 pounds.  When you multiply that by 7 rabbits, we are talking 56 pounds of rabbit in one cage…..NOT GONNA HAPPEN!  They are already pretty cramped in their quarters, so we have begun designing our permanent, outdoor rabbit cages before they become wedged too tightly in that cage.

Don't worry, the cage is quite a bit larger than this pic. It just happened all the bunnies were cuddled into one corner that also has their cardboard box.

Then there is the matter of the King Kong turkeys.  Again, I read everything I could to make sure I had this figured out. Other then my time working in a farm store and being in charge of the newly-hatched turkeys for sale, I have no experience with turkeys. Everything I read said they could be reared in a chick brooder just fine, as long as there was enough floor space for them. Easy enough. We had just moved, cardboard boxes were something I had plenty of! So, I chose the largest wardrobe box we had, cut one side out to be my open top, and assembled my turkey brooder. WHO WROTE THAT BOOK?! and have they ever seen how fast these overly-hybridized, broad-breasted things grow?!! So now, I have 4 turkeys, all weighing about a pound at this point, and standing almost a foot tall! And they can flap those wings and jump out of their box without a second thought! 

Then came the the much-anticipated, long-awaited and dreamed of baby chicks.  26 baby chicks, cozy in their shipping box. We have only lost 2 little runty ones so far. 

26 baby chicks, cozy in their shipping box. We have only lost 2 little runty ones so far.

 The chicks arrived on Monday.  Most hatcheries seemed to be sold out of specific breeds this time of year, so I was left ordering the “Assorted Bargain.” That means I have no idea what I ordered, I just got the leftovers after other orders were filled.  I got a good price, though, and I think I got some pretty good breeds.  Considering we want meat and eggs, we are bound to get at least some of both.  For those who are interested, I THINK we got a few cochins, a few red leghorns, a golden polish, perhaps a barred plymouth rock, and a few I have yet to identify.  In fact, if you happen to have a clue what the majority in the photo above, of yellowish with black-speckled backs are, please let me know. 

Now I have raised chickens before.  No big deal.  What I didn’t think about was that I raised them in south Georgia, in an outdoor brooder, during the late spring and summer.  Now, I am in Colorado, in very early spring (is it spring yet?  I really don’t know), and we had 1/2 inch of snow last night.  What that essentially means is that my little chicks don’t leave the brooder to play outside this go around.  No sir, they stay in their box, right along side my mutant turkeys.  They also grow faster than I remembered.  After a few days in their nice, cozy, medium-sized box, I realized they needed a bit more space.  I had to cut the side out of their box and attach it to another box.  Space-wise, they are doing ok now.  The neighboring turkeys, however, caught wind of the addition, and decided to frequently fly the coop to perch on the edge of the chick box and watch the goings-on down below.  I had to do something, so, I brought out baby gates to make a lid.  The turkeys aren’t happy about it, but it works for now.  Aesthetically, however, my garage is starting to look like redneck-ville–a place I am VERY familiar with, bein’ from south Georgia, ya’ll! 

I am truly embarrassed to put this picture on here. But, I keep telling myself, a major purpose in all of this craziness is to learn, and, no doubt, I am learning tons! I just pray the poor critters survive this learning process!

Needless to say, a multi-use, portable, simply-constructed, outdoor, chicken/turkey “tractor” is on the list of priorities.  It should get us through a couple months until the turkeys are big enough to go in a seperate pen we have planned, and until we get the chicken coop built in the coming months.  Pretty good plan, huh?  We’ll see how that works out!

Then, of course, there is the goatie girls, with one hopefully due to pop in about 1 month.  Thankfully, there is no real critical issues with them, although, waaaaaaaay down on the priority list somewhere, we have plans to expand their little shed by adding a better, covered hay/feed storage room and key-hole feeder box on one side, and perhaps a summer/warm-weather milking area attached somehow.  It would be nice to not have to leash them up, one at a time, and walk across half the property to get to the garage to milk.  Twice a day.  And by the way, I have learned Lilac does not like to walk on leash if it is thundering outside, raining outside, if Will (the dog) is within 100 feet of her, or if she just decideds she doesn’t feel like it.  I’m not complaining though, and I’ll do what it takes.  Our current way may not be ideal, but it works for now, and I am loving this country life!

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