Faith and Life Lessons


Have you ever stepped outside, especially if you live near woodlands, and considered the variety of edible foods that may exist there?  This is something we have tried to become more in-tune to since moving to Red Gate Farm.  This year, we really became curious about the bounty of mushrooms we found everywhere we looked, it seemed.  S is always fair game to experiment and sample things.  Mushrooms, of course, can be dangerous if you go about it wrong, so we knew we had to be careful.

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Did you know most edible mushrooms were determined to be so over the years by men brave enough to sample, wait a few days, and see how their bodies reacted?  Now, of course, we have more elaborate tests available to determine toxins and such, but there is still a great deal of information that has just been taught to the next generation for many years.  As it turns out, there really isn’t even one “best” reference book you can purchase to help you, as there are just too many mushrooms, and more importantly, too many “look-alike” mushrooms.  The more experienced mushroom hunters will tell you to get several books so you can cross-reference and compare.  So, that’s what we did.  S, being the adventurous sort, was willing to taste the possible good ones, to help us learn, since many of the toxic ones have a spicy or bitter flavor (though certainly not all!)

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Some mushrooms are widespread, while others are very regional.  And they can grow almost anywhere!  Lawns, forest floors, dead tree stumps, live trees, mud bogs, leaf litter, animal manure, you name it.  Thankfully, those who have gone before us have taken many excellent notes and recorded their findings in the many books and resource science available.

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Giant Morels! An expensive delicacy in most of the U.S., and valued at roughly $40/lb, yet they grow right in our backyard!

We have had a great time this year learning about our mushrooms.  We have oysters, hen of the woods, chicken of the woods, pheasant backs (which taste like watermelon!), truffles, and the much-sought-after and valuable morel mushroom, among others.

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Pheasant Backs….although edible, these were a bit old and tough. We will try to find them younger next year.  These are easily identified by, interestingly, their watermelon flavor!

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Hen of the Woods Mushroom. We found this one a bit late, so it was tough, but we did enjoy a few meals from it!

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A large winter oyster mushroom. This one is now cleaned, dehydrated, and waiting for the next stew I cook up!

We are still in the early phase of learning about our mushrooms, but it is eye-opening, indeed, just how much food is available in nature.  Mushrooms are barely the tip of the iceberg of the bounty we can find if we but look around.

Winter of 2014/2015 proved to be a challenging one for us.  It was a rough winter to begin with–bitter cold, with little snow.  We had to cancel several of our scheduled carriage ride events due to the bitter, frostbite-inducing chill, which was a little hit from a financial standpoint.  The ground was often iced over, preventing conductivity of our electric fences and risking bad slip/falls for the horses on our pasture slopes.  As a result, we spent much of our time hibernating from the chill, trying to homeschool and get some indoor projects completed.

One day, we finally got a bit of snow, and it was warm enough (finally in the double digits!), so the kids decided to go sled.  Somehow, while inspecting the kids’ sledding attire–coat, check! gloves, check!  hat, check!–I missed the fact that R was wearing tennis shoes with no socks, rather than socks and snow boots.  I decided to take the opportunity to work the horses.

I had just gotten finished plowing snow and unharnessing the horses, when I heard a blood-curdling scream from R.  About that time, I heard N say, “Her foot looks like Nick’s knee!” (referring to Nick’s injury, posted here).  S and I came running at the same time, and by the time we arrived to the sledding area, R was already up and walking, well, limping, toward the house.  A quick inspection proved that this was definitely worthy an E.R. visit.

Many hours later, we returned home, not much worse off than before.  It was determined that, in some freak way, while sledding, R had collided with a post, which wouldn’t have been all bad except that her body had slid forward, and the wooden corner of the sled had somehow wedged its way up inside her tennis shoe.  The edge, blunt as it was, somehow managed to literally filet the top of her foot off by several inches.  Thankfully, all parts were still there, and there was no ligament or tendon damage.  The doc cleaned it up, sutured the skin back together, and she was ordered to stay of her feet for a couple of days.  By the time the sutures came out the following week, the scar was the only sign of the trauma of that day.

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Remember I said it was an icy winter?  Well, one day a month or so prior, we had an issue with the truck and trailer sliding down an icy hill and jackknifing.  The horses were used to pull it out of it’s quandary, which was a pretty impressive feat, by the way!  It was a Chevy 2500 pickup, in a very tight space, on ice, and the horses with their studded traction shoes, pulled that thing right out!

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The incident, however, resulted in our forecart (the red work cart we hitch to the horses) having to be shoved over the nearby hill to get the truck free.  We didn’t get much of a break, when, a few weeks later, the weather finally improved enough to work the horses again.   First, I needed to get my forecart out of it’s quandary.  What happened next is a really long story, containing a few not-so-great decisions on our part, and involved chaining the rear of the forecart (the exposed area) to the horses and having the horses pull it up the hill.  Theoretically, the idea should have worked, but the worst decision was turning the brake off, which in turn allowed the wheels to turn freely.  This creates an unstable mass (in S’s engineering terminology!).  When you combine an unstable mass with a certain horse we had at the time who had a lot of “GO!” and very little “WHOA!”……..well, we set ourselves up for trouble!  I, as the driver, was safely positioned uphill.  S, on the other hand, was safely out of the way until the horse sped up, the forecart became unstable and flipped quickly through the air, and S found himself trapped in a corner.  He attempted to go the only open direction he had—straight up!  This act (and a whole lot of God’s protection!) probably saved his life, but nonetheless, the roughly 500-lb forecart caught him mid-jump, scooped him up, flipped over with him and on him several times, and then dragged him up a hill.  Mind you this all took mere seconds before I got the team stopped, but when it was over, we were all shaken.  I had seen it all happen out of the corner of my eye, and feared my husband was dead.  I had no choice but to stop the horses, who were slightly spooked at this point, before they bolted and created havoc on who-knows-what-and-whom.  Once they stopped, I looked over toward S, and he gave our long-time sign of a raised hand to signal he was still alive and at least partly functioning.  This gave me the time I needed to get the horses untangled and secured, while yelling instructions to the children on how to help their father.  As soon as I could, I ran to S and my medical training kicked into high gear.  I checked him over, looking for major breaks and areas of pain.  He seemed beat up, but mostly OK, except for a very-rapidly-swelling foot and some blood coming out of his ear (not really a good thing).  We assumed he might have head trauma and the foot was severely damaged, based on the fact that something had sliced through both his boot AND his sock, though interestingly the foot itself wasn’t cut.  I ran back over, got the horses put away, called my mother-in-law to come babysit, and loaded S for the E.R.  We live in one of those remote areas where sometimes it’s a better option to drive to the E.R. than to wait for the ambulance!  Poor S was wincing in pain at every bump, railroad track, and turn we made.  He hung in there, and we finally arrived.  I ran in to tell the E.R. staff about his situation, and surprisingly, it was as if they were expecting him!  A whole trauma team ran outside with a gurney, got him onto the gurney, rushed him into the trauma room, and within an hour, he had x-rays, a CT scan, and was examined by the attending doc, a plastic surgeon, an orthopedist, and I forget who else.  By God’s amazing blessing, and an awesome E.R. staff, just 4 hours later, S hobbled out of the E.R., and headed home.  Turns out his ear lobe had been sliced, but his brain was fine.  His foot had some soft-tissue damage, but not a single break.  His torso was covered in scrapes and bruises from the gravel driveway, but nothing there was broken.  In fact, the only major damage was 3 fractures to his facial bones.  He was put on crutches and told to wear a boot for a few weeks to give his foot time to heal, as the crush was pretty significant.  In fact, he still suffers numbness from nerve damage almost 18 months later.

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I learned later how God had set everything into motion to take care of S, though.  As it turned out, just before our arrival, the E.R. had been notified of a severe car accident involving some major trauma.  There was some confusion, and they didn’t know details, but all the doctors and trauma team were ready to go, and the trauma room had been prepped.  When we arrived, they thought he was the car accident victim at first, hence the speedy intake.  Don’t worry, though, we didn’t endanger anyone else, as we found out later that in all the confusion, the other victim had been taken to a different hospital and our hospital had been mistakenly notified.   It all worked out for the best, just as our Lord promises!

If you recall a couple years ago, I did a post (here) about Hunter, the dog we were training to be a Diabetes Alert Dog for JR.  I never told you the result of that.

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Hunter was truly a fun dog!  He ran around the farm all day, helping JR with chores, and generally finding entertainment in anything a good, farm-breed working dog would.  He also LOVED having a job to do.  He bonded very closely to JR, which was great, and by the time he was just around 7 months old, he began showing signs of alerting and scent recognition.  He was well on his way to being an alert dog.

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Sadly, though, as with many service-dogs-in-training, there is so much more to creating an all-around service dog than just achieving a specific task.  In Hunter’s case, he was so full of energy, he was usually like a spring just waiting to explode at any second.  On the farm, this wasn’t a problem.  In public, however, it could’ve turned into a problem.  No one in the general public had a clue, as by all accounts, he seemed to be a very well-trained pup, on his way to being a service dog.  He would calmly walk alongside JR, or lay up under a table in a restaurant, or whatever we asked of him.  The waiting however, was just more than he could comfortably bear.  As a habit, I always have a foot or leg touching a pup I am training in public, so I always know what they are up to.  In Hunter’s case, I could feel him just trembling with pent-up energy, and ready to leap out at the first temptation to play.  It broke my heart.

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Some issues can be outgrown.  It is possible that Hunter would have outgrown this one.  However, there comes a time when selfless and practical decisions must be made.  First, and most importantly, I want to know that a dog is truly happy and enjoying his life–while at work or play.  In Hunter’s case, he was a naturally happy dog, but I think having to remain calm in public was not something he enjoyed at all.  Secondly, even though he could possibly have outgrown the energy, from a practical standpoint, I couldn’t risk it taking several years to have him able to qualify as a service dog.  I learned in my past training that a good alert dog should be ready and able to pass a full exam such as the Canine Good Citizen Award by the time they are about 18 months old–preferably earlier.  Hunter wasn’t even close.  So, instead, we found Hunter a farm home with other mini-Aussies, where he was able to herd livestock and play and generally exert energy to his heart’s content.  Last I heard, he was adapting beautifully, and the photos they sent showed a very happy dog indeed!

Giving up Hunter was a little harder for JR, as he was very attached.  In fact, he slept with Hunter’s dog tag and a photo for several months after he left, and there were a few nights where he cried himself to sleep.  That being said, he seemed to fully understand that it was truly the best decision for Hunter.  JR knew he wanted an alert dog, not a pet, and we couldn’t have both at that point in time.  Furthermore, we all agreed that Hunter’s presence was certainly not in vain.  He had helped JR overcome some major fears he had developed with his new diagnosis.  Since learning he was diabetic, he was always scared to leave S or I, fearing he would have a low blood sugar and not know what to do.  For many weeks, he even slept on our couch, rather than going upstairs to his bedroom.  Hunter gave him the confidence he so desperately needed to go back to living life as normal.  For that, we will always be thankful to Hunter!

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This past 2 weeks, S decided he felt ready to switch roles again.  He wanted to take over farm work and let me go back to being mom, wife, cook, and so forth.  If you’ve followed for a while, you are likely aware that S ripped a tendon in both elbows.  We don’t know how he did it.  He literally woke up one morning with his arms hurting.  Nothing unusual had happened the day before, so he thought perhaps he had a touch of tendonitis.  I won’t repeat everything I posted previously, but suffice it to say, after 3 doctors and specialists and 2 physical and occupational therapists, his condition continued to worsen.  The medical professionals he spoke with all agreed that pain should be his guide.  One doctor told him not to lift over 20 lbs, and all said essentially, “If it hurts, don’t do it or you might tear the tendon completely from the bones.”  As time went on, the pain progressed to the point that he couldn’t do hardly anything.  JR had to tie his shoes for him, I had to button his shirts.  As his condition worsened, my work load increased.  Not only was I running the farm and lifting anything over 20 lbs (i.e. feed bags, hay bales, digging, shoveling, harnessing, firewood, you name it!), but as he worsened, I also had to take over more inside.  I had to strip beds for the younger kiddos, and remake all beds. S could still cook, but I had to move the pots around the kitchen for him. He was left basically cooking, doing light cleaning, and folding laundry.  His biggest task was homeschooling the kids, because it was about the only thing he could do that didn’t cause pain.  Talk about a rough few months!   Just think about everything you use your arms for!  At one point, I desperately needed help moving some hay.  S got resourceful to get the job done without using his arms:

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He had to go and buy a pair of slip-on muck boots and avoid button-shirts, just so he could dress without assistance.  Brushing his teeth hurt.  We had to use our hard-earned savings to hire help to get tasks completed that I just couldn’t do alone.  You get the idea.

At wit’s end, S saw a new specialist.  We don’t know the guy’s full history, but he was an orthopedist who may have had some training in Chinese medicine.  In any case, he scoffed at the advice from all the other doctors and therapists.  He said basically, “Of course it’s gonna hurt!  You ripped two tendons, and everything is going to make it hurt!  For the next 6 months or so, you are going to be in pain, whether you use them or not.  So use them.  Don’t overuse them, and don’t do anything ridiculously strenuous.  Sharp pain is bad, but dull pain and general ashiness is fine and expected.  Work through it, and come back in 5 weeks.”  Crazy as it sounded, nothing else was working, so S decided to try it.  He started working, slowly at first, and gradually increasing.  At first there was pain, but amazingly, the pain began decreasing each day until it just wasn’t there.  A month in, he said he was ready to take over.  He is now using his chainsaw (on a limited basis), hauling things (still tries to keep weight under about 30 lbs.), and has taken over all outdoor chores.  He is even milking the goats to give me a break, which was impossible from the intense pain 2 months ago.

No, his tendon’s haven’t reattached.  We have a few theories, but ultimately, we have to give God credit for the healing that has happened.  S is careful not to overdo things, per the doctor’s advice, but he fully expected to deal with pain for the next 6 months or more.  Yet, it disappeared.  That cannot be explained.  The only time he has an issue now is if he works a bit too hard one day, then he might just have some slight discomfort/achiness at the end of the day.

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S chainsawing logs, while JR and M use the log-splitter to turn the smaller logs into firewood. R and the little boys helped by stacking the firewood. A great afternoon of family team-work!

 

We have discussed the challenges we have faced over the last 6-8 months.  S feels strongly that God has been trying to teach us a few lessons and prune us into what He has in store.  Despite the challenges, it did force us to make some changes for the better.  We realized that all our children were plenty old enough to help out a little more.  We taught the youngest how to strip their beds on laundry day, and the oldest how to re-make their beds.  We bought a bedwetting system for A to help reduce the laundry, and although we are still going through the process, it seems to be working.  We changed chores around a bit to spread the load a little.  We expected a little more from the younger children, rather than having them play any time they weren’t in school.  We joined some great work exchange programs, which I will discuss later.  S even used some of his “free” time to become a bit of an activist on legislative issues around our state.  S values my house-work a bit more, and I have a new appreciation for the tremendous amount of work he does around the farm.  Certainly I had my moments of frustration, as did he.  However, if faced with the right attitude, we believe any challenge can teach us and grow us into better people.  It can improve communication and team work among a family.  And it can make us all stronger in the end.  We aren’t totally out of the storm yet, and still face some challenges, but things are looking up, and we hope this season is coming to an end.

Shortly after my last post, I wrote the following, as I’d much rather have a cheery blog rather than a depressed one:

“We are absolutely, totally, and completely IN LOVE with our team of draft horses!  Their primary job around the farm was skidding logs around the farm as we cleaned up our woodlands, but since S’s arm injury, their workload dropped.  We were worried they wouldn’t be quite as good at driving with what we feared was too-light of a workload.  God provided for us, though!

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We were asked to be the “Wells Fargo Wagon” in a theater production of “The Music Man” at our local outdoor theater.  This theater draws crowds from all over the country. Even though they couldn’t afford to pay us much, they offered to give us a full page ad in the theater flyer for the rest of the season.  That was a HUGE deal for us, as we desperately needed the advertisement for our farm products and services.  So, right after S’s injury, almost every evening was spent at the theater.  We spent several nights at rehearsals, getting the horses used to the stage lights, crowd noises, applauding sounds, kids running around in the shadows, and the whole routine (we also had to carry the “professor” in the back of the wagon).  By opening night, they had the routine down.  They could not have been more perfect!!  We were so proud of our boys, and they were such a huge hit, the show was a sell-out almost every evening, and the townsfolk are still talking about it!  We had a great time, and made a few business contacts during the time we spent there.  It was a very small part, but here is a link to our part of the performance.  After this scene, we were set up in back for intermission, where the audience could come pet and ask questions about the horses while we just stood there for 30 minutes, then we were the opening scene for Act 2, as we trotted away.  Enjoy:   The Wells Fargo Wagon Performance

We are doing wagon rides in town every Saturday evening, which is another job to keep them going.  One evening, a local camera-man showed up, asked to take a few shots, video, and interview us for a “small” deal he produces and an article for the paper.  Again, interested in promoting our business, we gladly accepted.  One thing led to another, and he asked to come do the same at the farm itself.  Well, not only did he write a newspaper article, but he used the video footage to produce a mini-documentary that will soon be aired on the Fox station in 5 mid-west states!  If I’d understood that part, I’d of at least worn a little make-up.  After two hours of filming in the blazing sun and humidity, let’s just say that our appearance in the video is very authentic!  I can’t show you that until the footage airs, but hopefully that will be soon.  With the challenges we have faced recently, I have found myself watching that footage time and time again, to remind me why we love the life so much.  It was very well done, I thought!

In between, I am able to find a job or two each week to keep the horses busy and stimulated.  We are trying to wean ourselves off our 4-wheeler, so the horses can take over those jobs.  We are in the process of purchasing a fore-cart so we can take over the last job done by the 4-wheeler–pulling our mower.  Once we have it, though, I will be relieved to not eat so much dust while grading our driveway! Watch the horses grade the driveway here Despite the decreased workload, the horses are keeping their calm, easy-going dispositions.  I still long to ride them (never have), but just never can find the time to do all the needed prep work to get on.  They have never been ridden, and since I don’t have a saddle, I am hesitant to jump on bareback without a LOT of prep work.  With backs 6 feet high, that would be a very LONG way to the ground if they disagreed with me!  Nonetheless, I am enjoying everything about them, and greatly looking forward to what the future holds.”

About 18 hours after I wrote that post draft, the horses were turned out to graze in the orchard.  While grazing, Nick made his way down to where some chicken tractors (with sharp tin roofing) were being stored.  We don’t really know what happened next, but we heard a loud bang and ran out to find Nick’s front leg pouring blood everywhere!  He had punctured his knee all the way to the joint capsule, slicing the tendon sheath, but narrowly missing the tendon itself.  The entire front of his leg was laid open, with tissue hanging everywhere.  Blood pumped from small arteries with each step, so we quickly tried to stop his movement.

I confess, I totally lost it.  With everything from my last post, and now this, with all the fears for Nick and knowing what it meant for us, I absolutely lost it.  I was sobbing so hard, I could hardly get Nick’s leg wrapped and compressed to stop the blood flow.  My poor husband, with painful arms, was trying to hold Nick still and trying to comfort me at the same time.  Eventually I got control and did what I needed to do.

Many hours and a huge vet bill later, Nick is on stall rest for an unspecified period of time. It is touch and go for the moment.  He is using the leg, which is great news, but the opened joint capsule could get severely infected very easily, which would be very bad.  His leg is wrapped, under fairly tight compression, and has a drain to try to reduce the swelling over the next few days.  He is only allowed out of his stall twice a day for a short walk to graze a little, then back to the stall.  He is on twice daily doses of Bute to help with the pain.  He obviously is favoring the leg a lot, and has a tendency to drag and stumble on that hoof.  We won’t know for a couple of weeks if the stumbling is due to soreness or nerve damage.  We are praying it is not the latter.

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As far as our business goes, we are finished with wagon rides for the season, which was possibly looking to be our greatest income source.  I have lost the ability to do the work around the farm that the team was capable of as well.  The horses have been together as a team since the beginning, so I am going to try to re-train Bud to work as a single horse.  Today, I am just trying to teach him to graze alone, which is a feat in itself.  He wants only to stand beside Nick’s stall.  It will limit what I can move around the farm, but he’s still capable of pulling quite a bit of weight, so it’s better than nothing for sure.

Suffice it to say, this was a huge hit for us, financially, practically, and for me, emotionally.  As S said, we can really do nothing but pray, seek direction, and take things one day at a time.  I have faith this is a season, and all seasons will come to an end eventually.  I do have to give mention to the fact that, in the midst of all the crises, God still provides.  Yesterday evening, a group of church folks showed up with a huge meal, several chainsaws, and a tractor, and spent several hours working in our front field to help us get caught up on a big project.  It was a tremendous blessing, and really helped lift our spirits!  If you’d keep our situation in your prayers, though, I’d appreciate it.  We are still blessed in many ways, and have no doubt there are many who have much worse struggles than we are dealing with.  Sometimes–like when my horse is pouring blood, and I’m on the verge of another low blood sugar, we just have to remind ourselves of that.  God never promised us an easily life.  To the contrary, he warns in His word that the life of a believer is a hard road to travel.  He asked us to follow Him and remain faithful, despite the obstacles that life throws at us, but He also promises that He will be there, He will provide, and we will become better because of it.

This morning, I had a tough time making it through the sermon and church service.  The topic was having faith through trials, and I almost lost it when we sang “Showers of Blessings.”  If you aren’t familiar with it, the first verse and chorus sing as follows:

“There shall be showers of blessing, this is the promise of love;

There shall be seasons refreshing, sent from the Savior above.

Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need;

Mercy-drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead!”

Oh, how I have come to understand how the writer of that song felt!  Just two years ago, S and I were sitting in our family room in CO, discussing how truly blessed we were.  Everything in life was going great, and try as we might, we just couldn’t think of any trials affecting us, nor could we remember any major trials for several years prior to that conversation.  We thanked and praised God together, not wanting to take that blessing for granted, when so many around us were suffering all sorts of trials.

Then came 2014.  According to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, there is a season and a time for everything.  It has become apparent that 2014 has NOT been our season of happy, easy, peaceful times.  This has been a very tough year for us so far.

It all started with the loss of our first calf in February.  A few weeks later, our 9-year-old son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.  5-year-old N was later diagnosed with asthma.  We had some business struggles for the next few months, finding it nearly impossible to sell our goat kids for any price, let alone a profitable one, our pasture really took a hard hit after the long, hard winter, and many of our animals had nutritional struggles that we couldn’t correct even with supplementation and vet care.  We made the decision to sell our brood cows, but there were no takers, so we agreed to a commission deal with the farmer I originally bought them from.  That is still in the works.  We also sold off or butchered all but 2 milking goats and 1 doeling, and sent one of our pigs to the processor.  We suffered a fairly high mortality rate with both our batches of meat birds so far, and much more expense than we had expected.  Hoping to see a little income from our beef steers, we took them to the processor at the end of June as scheduled, only to have their hanging weights (which our price is based on) surprisingly and disappointingly low.  About half what we had expected.  Just as we got over that shock, in early July, S began having some tendonitis-like pain in both arms.  We switched roles, with him doing domestic duty to rest his arms, while I took over the farm work and projects as best I could.  Next, I unexpectedly lost my jersey cow one night, which absolutely crushed me.  I was way more attached than I realized.  I really loved the cow.  She was literally fine when I milked her, then a couple hours later her horrific screams from severe bloat brought me running.  We managed to release the gas and got the vet out to double check things.  When I finally went to bed around 4 am, she was standing and almost back to normal.  When we checked on her at 7 the next morning, she was down and died within an hour.  We still don’t know why exactly.  Because S couldn’t use his arms, it was up to me to harness the horses and drag her lifeless body out of the barn, where a farmer we know from church came to pick her up to help dispose of her.  Our chickens all but stopped laying one day, again for no obvious reason.  That dropped our only consistent farm income by over half.  We are still working on building our egg numbers back up.  JR’s favorite rabbit buck, Pelham, died one day, which was hard on him, and one of his new replacement does he had raised wouldn’t conceive.  Over the next few weeks, despite rest, support braces, and ice, S’s pain worsened severely.  Especially in one arm, which got to the point he couldn’t do hardly anything without pain.  He finally went to the doctor, and a cortisone injection right into the joint was recommended.  He agreed to it, and something happened that caused the joint to become so inflamed and painful that he has now lost almost total ability to move or even touch his arm without severe, shooting pain.  He was sent in for an MRI, where a cyst was discovered, though it is currently unknown if it is related.  He now has an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, which could result in surgery that will keep him down for months.  The extra workload has caused my sugar levels to run quite low, so I am almost surviving on juice, fruit, and junk food snacks to keep my levels up, while eating healthy meals in between.  This week, the poor man was trying to make dinner while I worked outdoors and mistakenly sloshed boiling hot chicken broth over himself.  He now has 2nd degree burns across his entire forehead, and 1st degree on his wrists and chest.

S's forehead.  I've told him that he looks he was disbudded.

S’s forehead. I’ve told him that he looks he was disbudded.

Like I said…it’s been a rough year so far.  I have shed a few tears of discouragement and frustration, which is something I don’t do easily.  This morning’s service, however, was a good reminder that in all trials and tough seasons, there are always at least “drops” of mercy our Savior provides to keep us going.

We have seen a surprising demand for our draft horses, which I will discuss in future posts.  Our remaining hog is going to be so huge by the time we harvest him that we may not need to raise a hog for our family for a very long time!  God recently blessed us with a puppy for JR to train as his new alert dog–something we’ve been praying about for a little while now.  Our children are otherwise healthy, and other than the low blood sugars, God is giving me the strength and stamina I need to keep going each day (albeit with a little help from ibuprofen for my back on occasion!).  The garden supplied us with an abundant crop this summer, and although S feels almost helpless with his new role, it has given him the opportunity to spend a lot more relaxed time with the children–something they are very much enjoying.

Mercy-drops certainly keep us going and give hope that our hard work will one day pay off and our dreams will come to fruition.  Nonetheless, I do find myself praying for showers of blessings once again.  We are all tired.  We work from the time we get up to the time we go to bed at night.  We have absolutely no social life, and really haven’t been able to get to know anyone in this new town.  Even the children have had to really step up to help since S is hurt, so everyone is pitching in.  There is little time for leisure activities, though we do maintain our daily family devotion time.  That is critical during a stressful time like this.  S is praying and seeking God’s guidance and wisdom to ensure we are heading in the direction we felt He had called us to, and I am praying He will let my body hold out under these stressful conditions, so I can still be the wife and mom my family needs, in addition to the farm labor for now.  I have caught the children praying that things will begin to smooth out and “be easier” on the farm.  We have so much we had hoped to do to prepare for this winter, and we are already so far behind.  Showers of blessing will come.  I have faith, and Ecclesiastes promises that this season will one day end, and a season to laugh, dance, and have peace will replace it.  Whether we are being “pruned” or perhaps just suffering “normal” life that results from the fall of man, we don’t yet know.  All we can do is have faith, praise God for his mercy-drops, and keep going.

I have noticed two things with men in general, my husband in particular.  First, they always have to act so tough.  Like they’re superman or something.  Second, the first only applies until they can’t.  Then, they make lousy patients.  Of course, they are lousy patients because they feel the need to act like superman.

Since S retired and moved in, he has worked non-stop around the farm.  We have had so many projects to get done, sometimes it felt like we were chasing our tails to accomplish them.  We made a lot of progress, but most days, I saw S for meals and that was about it.  He’s never been known to do things the easy way either.  For example, we have a log splitter.  It decorates the garage nicely.  He used an ax.  We have draft horses to pull things.  He’d use them if I was harnessing them up anyway, but he was just as happy to heave a full-length rail-road tie up and carry it somewhere.  Do you know how much those things weigh?!!  They are HUNDREDS of pounds, and he’s like 150 lbs!  If the animals needed water, I guess he thought it took too much time to use a hose and was too sissy to use a wagon for buckets.  Thus, he would carry two 5-gallon bucket fulls of water to the different troughs to fill them.  A bucket full weighs about 35-40 lbs.  I told him repeatedly to take it easy.  I needed him to last a lot longer.  He was going to hurt himself.  Blah, blah, blah, …you know, the usual wife stuff.   His mantra has always been, “Toughen Up!”

A week ago, he developed what we can only assume is Tennis elbow in BOTH arms.  No, he doesn’t play tennis.  Apparently all the bucket hauling, hay-heaving, rail-road tie lifting, feed-bag moving, log rolling, and so forth caught up to him and strained the tendons in both his elbows.  Now, he can hardly do anything without pain.

When he finally confessed and asked for help, I knew it had to be bad.  He still refuses to take an anti-inflammatory of any kind, but then again, he didn’t take anything but a tylenol after an old-fashioned appendectomy just because that’s who he is.  He also doesn’t sit still and let himself heal.

In any case, since his request, we have switched roles.  I have taken over the farm chores for a while, and he has taken over domestic duty.  I haul buckets (in a wagon), toss hay (a few flakes at a time), and don’t roll logs and heave rail-road ties.  It takes me twice as long to do chores, but I have to keep my elbows in tact.  He cooks, cleans, does laundry, and watches kiddos.  While I’m not sure my cast-iron skillets are much lighter than a bucket of water, slowly, but surely, his arms are feeling a little better.  Until he has to lift an injured child or shake someone’s hand.  Then he feels a sharp pain shoot up his arm.  As a reminder, I finally convinced him to wear a sling on the worst arm.  He finally obliged.  I think he feels guilty.

It’s definitely another challenge on the homestead.  I’m trying to be the good and supportive wife, because he did admit to needing help, after all.  After he’s all healed up, though, I think I’m going to have to find a special way to tease him and tell him “I told you so!”

Love ya, Honey!

Most people are familiar with diabetes, Type 1, Type 2, and gestational.  I think we have stumbled on a new type, though, and no one seems to understand it.  OK, not literally, but it does make for interesting conversation.  “I have a Type 1 diabetic child….sort of.”

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JR, dressed up in period costume while volunteering at the local historical state park.

As you may know, 9-year-old JR was diagnosed with Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes back in March.  You can read more about that here.  He was discharged from the hospital on a standard-for-his-weight-regimen off 11 units of long-acting Lantus and 1 unit of short acting Novolog for every 15 grams of carbohydrate he ate.  Within about 2 days, he was battling chronic low blood sugars.  I called the doc, and was told to cut his Lantus by 1/3.  I could see he was still running low, though, so I also increased his Novolog ratio to 1 unit for every 20 carbs.  Still struggling with chronic and severe lows, including blood sugars in the 30’s and 40’s (normal levels are between 80-120), I decided to change him again.  I cut his Lantus by 2/3 of the original dose, and increased his Novolog ratio to 1 unit per 40 carbs.  This change helped a little, but he still had lows.  The poor child was sick of food, as he had to eat constantly to keep his blood sugar up.  I had to test him 1-2 times during the night, and often had to feed him a snack to hold him until morning.  He spent several evenings in tears, and often slept on the couch (close to our bedroom) or even with us because he was so afraid of getting too low during the night.  As soon as he awoke in the morning, he would check his meter to make sure I had tested him during the night (which meant I could never oversleep and skip a test I had promised!).  It was a stressful time.  Thankfully, a couple days later we had a follow-up appointment.  We discussed the issue.  The doctor was hesitant to make additional changes.  Her concern was that, if we reduced his insulin too much, he would assume he was cured and be devastated later.  I assured her that was not the case, he understood completely because he had grown up with me having the disease, and we were far more concerned about his chronic and dangerous lows.  She hesitated, and explained that it was very rare to have a child diagnosed in such early stages.  I agree that we were, indeed, blessed to be followed by the TRIGR study, so we knew to be watching for the symptoms at the time.  In any case, she gave me a plan of action, and we left.

Over the next week, we completely weaned JR off his Lantus–the long acting insulin that is designed to stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day.  We also continued to reduce his Novolog–the short-acting insulin designed to stabilize sugar spikes at meal and snack times.  We monitored his patterns, and finally, one day, he took no insulin at all.  And he did really well.  He didn’t have a single low!  In fact, his sugar levels were perfect all day long!  That was back in April.  Since then, he has taken no Lantus at all, and he only takes 1 unit of Novolog for every 40 carbs, which, with our diet, only happens about 1-2 times per week.  That’s right, my Type 1 diabetic son only requires about 1 unit of insulin when we eat the Sunday buffet at our local restaurant, or have the occasional, high-carb pancakes and syrup for dinner.  That’s it.  He still tests his blood sugar level, but only does so about 2-3 times a day–and mainly for his own security.  Interestingly, the biggest struggle he continues to have is low blood sugars.  Despite the fact he takes no insulin most days, almost any type of play or other exertion will cause his sugar levels to drop as if he was on insulin.  As a result, he still has to carry his little kit with him, which contains his bg monitor, glucose, and snacks to treat his lows.  Lows now range between 50 and 70 though, rather than the previous 30’s and 40’s.  On rare occasion, a meal might cause his sugar to get into the 200’s, but we rarely treat it, as his body does pretty well bringing it down without assistance.  In fact, we’ve found additional treatment with insulin causes a severe low later, which is more dangerous than a rare high level.

As it turns out, no one seems to be able to explain what is going on with him.  Clearly, he is in what is known as the “Honeymoon Period,” where the pancreas is still producing some insulin, but is slowly killing its remaining islet (insulin) cells, and he will be fully insulin dependent in the not-too-distant future.  The doctor’s guess is, considering the early stage we caught him, and the fact his pancreas got a bit of a break with the help from insulin in those early weeks, he may have 12-18 months before he reaches that stage.  In the mean time, she has told us to enjoy the time we have.  What she, nor anyone else can tell us, is why he continues to battle low blood sugars.  It seems to be an anomaly, and even the TRIGR staff we have spoken with, who are experts in the field of Type 1 and pediatric diabetes, have never seen this before.  As best we can all surmise, his body just doesn’t really know how to “calibrate” his blood sugar levels anymore, and for whatever reason, errors on the side of overproducing insulin (causing low levels) rather than underproducing (which would cause highs).

As busy as we have been this spring, this development has been a true blessing, as it bought us a few months where I didn’t have to focus so much on his health.  Plus I was allowed to sleep, which is something I desperately need to get through the day.  It has also done a tremendous amount I’m sure in giving him time to adjust to the idea, without losing all his eating freedoms at once–not that he eats that unhealthy to begin with.  Probably even more of a blessing is the fact that those around him, folks who might be prone to panic at the idea of him eating the wrong thing or having a severe sugar level, have been able to relax knowing he is pretty independent and can be treated as “normal.”  They are able to watch him test, ask him questions (which he is very good at answering correctly), and generally this seems to put their mind at ease.  He is still looking forward to getting his alert dog, and we are hoping to later this summer or early fall.  I’m hoping the more stable blood sugars will actually help train the dog faster because it is easier to get the dog accustomed to his “normal” smells, so it is more aware of his low or high smells.  This is a huge bonus when training a new pup to these scents!

It will be interesting to see how things play out over the next year or so, but we certainly count our blessings.  JR does not take it for granted, and often comments about it.  He knows what his future holds, but this honeymoon time seems to have eased his fears somewhat, as he feels more in control, I guess. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy having a non-insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetic child.

Most of you know that I am a Type 1 Diabetic, and have been for almost 30 years.  As a plug for my book, I authored a book several years ago, called “Diabetes:  Overcome Your Fears” which can be purchased on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers, or directly through me (if you’d like an autographed copy).

In this book, I discuss all that I have learned about diabetes over the years, my experiences with different equipment and alert dogs, having children, finding doctors, and so much more.  With 2 biological children, I knew the statistics of them getting the disease, and could only hope and pray that our lifestyle would delay or prevent the onset.  Our firstborn, JR, has been part of a trial study called TRIGR since he was born.  At birth, he showed the genetic markers.  While this was no guarantee he would develop the disease, it did mean he had a drastically increased chance.  By the time he was 4, he was showing all the necessary antibodies for the condition, but was still free of diabetes.  We can only hope our lifestyle contributed to the this fact.  Last fall, however, his annual blood results showed a rise in his A1C results.  Again, it was no guarantee, as nothing is certain in the development at this point, as the actual trigger for the condition is as yet unknown. However, these latest results meant we had to watch more closely for symptoms.

In early February, JR began having some trouble sleeping.  It was somewhat random though, so I chalked it up to the winter cold preventing him from being as active, thus as tired, as normal.  He became increasingly emotional and sensitive, but again, we were all driving each other a little nutty locked inside as we were due to the single digit temps outside.  He began complaining of excessive thirst, but I was also drinking a lot due to the dry winter air we were experiencing, so again, I ignored the symptoms.  Finally, 2 weeks ago, I came home from a long day on the road.  It was long after JR’s bedtime, and he was crying because he couldn’t sleep again.  He said he didn’t feel good.  I knew they had waffles and syrup for dinner (a very high carbohydrate meal), so on a whim, I decided to test his blood sugar with my meter.  Rather than the usual number reading, the meter gave me the message “Blood Glucose not readable.  Over 600.”  I felt the sinking feeling in my chest, knowing what this likely meant.  I hoped, however, that he had residual syrup or sugar residue on his hands from dinner, so I sent him to the bathroom to wash his hands.  He returned and I tested him again.  I got the same reading. For once in my life, I used an almost-swear word.  “CRAP!”  I knew our lives and his life had just taken a major turn.  I didn’t like it, he knew what his future held (at least as much as a 9 year old can), and we had to get that sugar down before he became very ill.

I woke S, told him what had happened, and immediately drove JR to the hospital, 30 minutes away.  We walked into the ER, I explained the BG results to the intake nurse, and she immediately sent him to triage.  He quickly became the center of attention for a ridiculous number of doctors, nurses, and medical interns.  For the next 24 hours, he was admitted, put on insulin, given education and classes, met with one medical professional after another, and finally, we were discharged to go home.

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So begins a new phase of life for our family.  I am not just a diabetic, but I am also the parent of a diabetic.  We are able to laugh at it sometimes–like in church, when I felt weak, turned to test, sat up and discovered JR doing the same.  I was low, he wasn’t, so I “won.”  Other times, I get sick of hearing “Mom, I’m low!  What should I eat this time?”  I’d rather go back to a month ago, when he was free of disease, and had a future free of shots and finger pokes.  That is no longer the case.  Thankfully, he is a mature, responsible kiddo, and often finds the blessings in life.  He looks forward to having an alert dog like I used to.  He already does all his own testing and injections.  He is considering whether he wants a pump or to stay on shots.  He is learning what to eat and how much, and how exercise affects his bg levels.  I have no doubt his future is as bright as it ever was, only with the addition of this all-too-familiar thorn in his side to keep him humble and remind him of his mortality.  Even now, he acts like a fairly typical child, except at bedtime, when his newfound insecurities show up.  He is terrified to fall asleep many nights.  He is so scared of a having a severe low.  Although he has never seen me experience any such thing, he is a smart kid, and knows what a bad low can do.  It scares him that his insulin might take him too low one night, and he might not wake up.  He is doing better, but only with the reassurance that I will test him at night.

As a diabetic mom of a newly diagnosed child, I have wanted to cry for him many times, but the tears just won’t come.  I know the frustrations life holds for him, the humiliations he will likely experience in time, the fears of finding a wife who will love him, or the decisions of whether he should have children and risk passing on the genetics.  I hope he will never blame me for what he goes through, and that he will allow God to walk with him through those tough times.  I hope I can teach him thankfulness in all things by my example, and that he will accept his disease as part of the result of mankind’s sinful nature and not something he himself did.  I can only hope.

By the way, I will throw out a request.  We have promised to help him train an alert dog.  Alert dogs are amazing and wonderful aids for diabetics, and especially for children.  They tend to give children more confidence to go places without their parents, and to simply fall asleep at night, because the dogs are trained to detect lows and highs an act accordingly.  Will, my retired alert dog, has just gotten too old to return to service.  The poor dog can hardly get off his bed sometimes, so there is no way he could keep up with an active little boy.  Therefore, around late spring/early summer, we will be looking for a puppy to train.  Our ideal dog would be a medium-breed, labrador, golden retriever, poodle, or cross-breed.  I am not too picky about the breed itself, but I am very picky about the puppies (and parents’ if available) characteristics and will have to expose the puppy to several “tests” to see how it reacts.  The breeds listed have simply had the greatest success rates as alert dogs for children.  Other breeds have included Australian Shepherds, Welsh Corgis, Beagles, and many cross-breeds.  In fact, my first was a rescue that I re-trained.  We could take a puppy up to about 4 months of age, due to other considerations we have.  I am really preferring something that will mature to less than 50 lbs, as the dog must sleep with JR, and because JR is rather small for his age.  A smaller size would just be a better match for him.  I say all this to ask, if you know of anyone who breeds for pups that might be good for a task of this nature, we will be looking.  I would greatly appreciate any info you can offer that might help us find a good candidate to work with.  If the puppy could possibly be donated, that would be an incredible blessing for our family.

In the mean time, perhaps the rest of you could offer up a little prayer on our behalf, as we go through these early “honeymoon” phases, try to get his insulin and blood sugars leveled out, learn to immerse this into our already-busy lifestyle, and soon begin the search for that perfect dog that will become JR’s personal, 4-legged guardian.  We’d greatly appreciate it.

….Barely, thanks to my chronic state of hypothermia!

So I left CO for warmer temperatures and 4 distinctly beautiful seasons of central IL.  HA!!  Wouldn’t ya know, our first winter here would involve the coldest, worst winter in 100 years (depending on who you ask).  Average temperatures for the month of February are typically in the 30’s, the ground begins thawing, and by late March, the trees are blooming and grass begins to grow as it ushers in springtime.  Not this year.  Here we are in the last week of February.  We had a low of 3* last night, with highs running in the 20’s all week.  The ground is frozen solid, and we are at a standstill.

S has been working through our list of projects, many of which need to be done by spring.  We need to collect and repair all our temporary electric fencing.  But we can’t because it’s frozen to the ground.  We need to set up some new grazing paddocks.  We can’t because the ground is too frozen to take the posts.  We need milk, but the cold has caused all the goats to dry up, and causing our beef-turned-milk cow to fluctuate wildly in her production.  In desperation, S decided to collect and burn lumber piles.  The night before, it snowed and got it all too wet to burn.  So he set up his lumber mill to cut up logs.  When he went to collect the logs, they were frozen to the ground and wouldn’t budge!  AAAGH!!!

OK, I WILL NOT complain.  I WILL NOT complain.  I WILL NOT complain.  Really, I’m not complaining.  I’m just stating facts.  I like to look at the positive side of things instead.

Like our new batch of pullets laying their first egg this morning.  Of course, it was frozen solid and cracked open by the time we found it.  Or the new pigs we’ve added for the 2014 season.  A month earlier than we were supposed to due to the breeder’s winter issues, and now they are stuck in our barn brooder until the ground thaws enough for us to set their fence up.  Then there’s the sunny day yesterday that allowed me the opportunity to finally get the goats out of their barn paddock and lead them out to the front pasture for some exercise.  Except that poor Latte has aged about 10 years in this cold, and it seemed as though her joints just wouldn’t function as she limped along the 1/4 mile.  I hope it was good for her to get out.  Oh, I know, the adult layers are in full swing, popping eggs out all over.  Unfortunately, they are still in the barn because we haven’t been able to build the second coop yet.  Furthermore, they have gotten bored laying in their assigned areas, and have taken to exploring the entire barn, stalls, and loft.  Which means egg collecting is more akin to an easter egg hunt 5 times a day so we can hope to find them before they freeze.

Bugs.  That’s the thought that keeps me going.  The idea that maybe, just maybe, this deep, long cold will kill off lots and lots of bugs and larvae buried in the upper layers of the ground, which will mean a wonderful crop year for those of us who use no chemicals.  Only time will tell there.

OK, I give up.  I make it a point to praise God for the winter, as I firmly believe there is blessing in everything.  The human in me, however, must confess that I am SICK AND TIRED of winter.  My fingers and toes are always frozen, a walk to the mailbox results in wind burn on my cheeks, and the kids and I are driving each other nuts!  My joints are stiff, I feel 80 years old, and I’m ready to garden, get outside, build paddocks, groom animals, grow pasture, whatever.

Alas, life goes on.  We are staying busy, with a full kitchen remodel about to begin.  We are plugging along in school, and trying to survive winter.  It always comes back to winter, doesn’t it!  We are also staying busy trying to learn from this winter and planning necessary changes, so we can be better prepared should something like this happen again.  Enough of this rant.  I will close with a very happy thought….Today, I am mailing out our first half-payment for our team of Belgian horses that should be arriving at the end of March.  That thought gives me sweet dreams indeed!

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