Open Doors

Barn Door

I had three cows – one milker, one heifer, and one calf – looking for new homes, and they’re all spoken for.  In about three weeks, we’ll only have Sunshine, our milk cow; Delilah, our Jersey-Angus cross heifer calf; and two steers who I might feed out to butchering size, or who I just might sell anyway.  I can’t decide.

We’re all kind of looking forward to the smaller workload.  I’m in an interesting position in that I’m still feeding eleven people, but three of them are not available to help with the work, and soon, that number will be four.  Two of my remaining people are babies, and so that leaves me with just four helpers, and that’s not enough to run this place all out.

In fact, I’m trying to get my beloved to consider moving.  We have almost fourteen acres here, and that’s about 8 acres more than we can maintain.  But we’re halfway through our mortgage, and plan to pay it off in just five more years, and the idea of owning our home outright is too sweet to him.  I try to tell him we’ll have the equity in this home to apply to our next, but he’s not quite convinced.

We’re so far off the beaten path here that we’ve had trouble getting customers for our herd share program, which is a major reason why we’re downsizing.  There’s no reward for milking and maintaining all these cows, and without the positive feedback of cash and pleasant conversations with visitors, the work gets to be an overwhelming burden.

So, since David doesn’t want to move, we’re going to turn our attention back toward a homestead type of farm, in which we try to take care of ourselves as well as we can off of the land.  That means I get to plant more orchard and nut trees, and I’ve been wanting to try some interesting growing methods in the garden that don’t even require weeding.

And this also gives me some time to pursue some other projects I’ve been dreaming of, like my photography.  When one door closes, another one opens.

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Happiness Is…

…four cars, all lined up in a row on our plain gravel drive, Three of those cars belong to three of our daughters, our eldest daughters who have learned and grown and are ready to fly.  Some of them are seldom here any more, between school and work, but this is a golden week or two right here: the busyness of preparing for Christmas is done, and they’re on break from school, so we only have work schedules to manage, and you know what?  Lots of times, we’re all home.  So I’m soaking up my big girls as much as I can this week or two.  Classes will be starting up again soon, and there will be homework, and friends, and work and back we’ll go to hit and run conversations squeezed in to odd pockets of mutual availability.  But for right now, there are sometimes four cars parked all in a row in our plain gravel drive, and if there are, I’ll be happily enjoying the company of my girls.

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Desperate Times

First, I just want to say that I am loving the Jesus Storybook Bible.  Loving!  It is so sweet, with a lot of illustrations that keep the wee ones engaged and an energetic style that both entertains and illuminates.  The focus is on the bible as a love story, and it just sings with joy.  I would say it’s most suitable for preschool to maybe 8 year olds.  They have a curriculum kit (I don’t have it) which is for upper elementary ages, but I would expect older children to be reading a more challenging bible storybook, so l’m not sure about their expectations.  This is definitely for younger children, but truly delightful.  And truth be told, most of my older children paused in their work to listen in from the next room.  Anyway, highly recommended!

Two cuties in the tub.

Two cuties in the tub.

Now, here’s a sad story for you.

I’ve been warning my people about this for several weeks.  I’ve been stressing about this for a long time.  I’ve got six adults in my household, and yet almost all of the work is falling onto me.  No one person has a lot of chores, but few of them are doing them without being reminded/cajoled/threatened.  All day long, I’m scrambling to care for my wee ones, prepare food for eleven people, two on a restricted diet, manage the household and the farm, and keep up with the never ending pile of laundry.

On Monday afternoon, Evie wet my bed while napping.  I had to strip the whole thing and rewash the sheets I’d just changed and the comforter, too.  Then I had to get the bed remade.  At this time of year, I end up trying to make dinner and milk the cows at the same time, and now I had to deal with the bedding on top of the regular crazy, and I was stressed.  The following morning was our Saint Nicholas celebration, so a special effort had to be put forth there, plus we usually watch Saturday Night Lights on Monday evening.  And I’d asked one of the (adult) children to make sure that there is firewood in the box in the mornings so that I can build their fire without having to go to extraordinary lengths.

But Tuesday morning, I woke at five, as usual, to a messy kitchen full of unwashed dishes from the evening before, an overflowing trash can, laundry and pillows and blankets tossed all over the living room, and no firewood.  I was pretty steamed.  And then my barn buddy never showed, so I headed out for milking and manure shoveling alone.  When I got back, one daughter had set the table and arranged the donuts, but she was sitting in front of a dying fire doing a crossword puzzle.  The others still hadn’t come down, even though it was 7:30.  I was just about boiling over.

A neighbor's barn at sunrise.

A neighbor’s barn at sunrise.

“Good morning, mama!” they each said as they traipsed into the room.

“I don’t want to talk to you right now,” I said back.

That is extremely alarming, when mama can’t even talk to you.

I would have waited till much later in the day to discuss my issues.  I would have waited until I had time to cool down and come up with a reasonable plan of action.  But after a while, somebody asked, “What is the matter, mama?” and that was that.

Mama went on strike.

Downsizing

Penelope feeds a bottle to our Jersey-Angus heifer.

Penelope feeds a bottle to our Jersey-Angus heifer.

We’ve been milking our beautiful Jersey cows for seven years now, and we’re sorry to say it’s time for us to downsize our herd. We’ve never been very big, milking at most three cows, but it has been enough to serve twenty to thirty shareholders in addition to our own large family. Alas, with Fort Knox being mostly vacant, and our farm being located inconveniently far from anything else anybody might want to visit, we no longer have very many clients. In light of that, and the demands of our youngest two children, we’re downsizing to just one milking cow. We’ll still be able to serve the very few shareholders we have, and would be able to take on a few more if no other source is located, but we’ll also have less protection from the things that can go wrong with a dairy cow. That means that if our cow suffers an illness or mastitis or an injury, we won’t have a back-up cow in production, and weekly pickups will be affected as they never have before.

When we first began with the cows, our oldest child was thirteen and it seemed like we had forever. But children grow, and our two oldest are now out doing their own thing in the wide world. The third is getting ready to begin her own grown-up life, too, and there are always fewer hands, but never less work. It has become too much of a burden, too much of a distraction to mind the business and the children. We prefer the children, naturally, and since our only goal with the business was to feed the animals so that our out-of-pocket expenses were minimized, the children come out on top again. Anyway, feeding one or two cows is much less expensive than feeding the six, plus two calves, we have on farm this winter.

Instead of trying to run a business, we’re returning to our original homesteading vision. We have most of fourteen acres at our disposal, and I have always wanted to fill our front fields with orchard trees, grapes and berries. We’ve wanted to dabble in sheep and goats. (The goats might be useful in light of baby Henry’s dairy issues…) We might even motivate ourselves enough to actually weed and water a garden. Or maybe not. Gardening is so not our thing.

Anyway, I thought you’d like to know where we stand right now as far as the farm goes! I’m looking forward to the respite, honestly; having babies around in one’s middle-aged years is quite the adventure, and we do not need to make it more difficult than it has to be!

Making Room

The other day, I was pretty annoyed with the family at large for not doing their share, or any share, really, of the housework. I’d spent the whole day working, and the whole lot of them were gone. Disappeared. Two of them cp-henry-play-blockshad an acceptable reason: they were at work! But the rest of them? Not so much. And they heard about it.  Later that evening, as we went about our Advent devotions, I suggested the song “People Look East”.  The older children got the message right away, but the younger ones were cheerfully oblivious.

Actually, I really like that song, don’t you?  It’s hopefully expectant.  We make time to prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of our Lord, and why not?  I would tidy up the house for any other expected guest!  Maybe we shouldn’t go quite so far as Old Befana, who is so focused on cleaning that she misses the Lord entirely, but a little prudent cleaning, I think, will not go amiss.cp-tommy-play-living-room Our hearts are very much influenced by our environments. It’s a challenge to feel at peace when the home is cluttered and messy. It’s easier to be calm and recollected when one’s spaces are well-ordered and attractive.  At least, I think so.

It’s a constant battle for me to keep things neat, partly because I have a very large family, and partly because I have a bit of my father’s propensity to collect and save things.  I go through cycles of accumulating and purging, and my desk is almost always covered with books and papers and the detritus of my daily life.  If you want to know what’s going on with me, just glance at my desk! img_4945

This Advent, I’m looking for breathing room. I’m trying to work around the challenges and find space to be the me that doesn’t just spend her days taking care of an active family. There’s a me who loves to write, to photograph, to make art, useful and otherwise. There’s a me who makes home nice and enjoys it as a creative activity. There’s a me who reads and takes bubble baths, sometimes simultaneously. And there’s a me who has time to spend in quiet prayer with my Lord.  I’ve been missing this version of me.

Today, my desk is tidy and stocked with art supplies. My camera battery is charged. The main areas of the house are actually pretty neat.  There’s room to think and create and be.  And this is just where I want to be.  Today and always.

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Loving Henry

It was really hard to be Henry’s mother.  From the moment he was born, he cried.  He cried because he was hungry and my milk hadn’t come in yet.  He cried because it had been twenty minutes since his last nursing and he was hungry again.  He cried because I wasn’t holding him.  And, increasingly, he cried even when I was.  For a while, when he was very young, he slept through the night, and I actually had to wake him to nurse, but as the months slipped by, he was waking more and more frequently.  Every three hours.  Every two hours.  Every 90 minutes.  Every hour.  When I hit the end of my rope, he was waking every 45 minutes, all night long.

It is hard to love when you are exhausted.  It is hard to love when nothing you do can make this baby happy.  It’s hard to love when the size of your world has shrunk to the circle of your arms.  It is hard to love when there is never any relief.  I tended to his needs as well as I could without knowing why he cried, and I prayed that genuine affection would grow out of that faithfulness.  It hurts to admit that.

henry-eats-his-toastIt’s been two weeks now since Henry and I began our tomatoes-and-peppers fast, and he is an entirely different child.  He’s happy, and he’s a joy to be around.  He’s clever and affectionate and busy, just like a baby is supposed to be.  He naps a couple of times a day for a couple of hours at a stretch.  He still wakes too often at night, but not as often, and I think genuine discomfort has been replaced by just bad habits.

He is seven months old, and I am only just now falling for this little guy.  I wish it hadn’t taken so long, and I will forever feel some guilt for not feeling that affection, and that he suffered for so long when I could have spared him, but right now, I’m just loving Henry.

 

Make: Chunky Bobble Garland

I do not know what possessed me to want to make bobble garland, but make it I did!  And it looks adorable on my “Advent” tree.  (An “Advent” tree is an artificial tree that you put up as soon as possible after Thanksgiving, even photo-nov-27-11-35-46-amthough your husband doesn’t care for “Advent” trees, and would prefer that you wait till the family goes out to find a real one closer to Christmas.  Husbands.)

So anyway, back to the Advent tree.  My vision has always actually been to use the Advent tree to hang our Jesse Tree ornaments, except that we’ve never had any Jesse Tree ornaments, nor have we ever been disciplined enough to make it through the whole Jesse Tree saga, anyway.  But, hope springs eternal!  I’m drawing some ornaments this year, because I can, and I like to, and they’ll be just exactly what I want them to be, more or less, as my skill or lack thereof dictates.

I thought the garland would look nice while we waited for the tree to fill up with the devotional ornaments, but the children hung up all of our New For 2016 ornaments right away.  And I still think the garland looks really cute.  It has potential as a year-round decoration, too; I see similar types of things adorning walls and mirrors and whatnot on fashionable home-dec blogs, so there’s that!

Would you like to make one?  It’s really easy.photo-nov-27-5-51-09-am

I used Lion Brand Wool-Ease chunky yarn and a size P crochet hook.

Start with a chain of eight or nine stitches.  Triple (or treble) crochet into the fourth chain from the hook, but don’t finish the stitch.  Leave the last loop on the hook.  Make three more triple crochets into the same chain stitch.  You should have five loops on the hook now.  Yarn over and pull through all five loops at once to form the bobble.  (Photo instructions follow.)

Now slip stitch around your last triple crochet, and again into the chain stitch you’ve been working in.  Chain 6 and make another bobble in the fourth chain from hook.

For some of your bobbles, you want to push them inside out and then flip your work.  Your first slip stitch will be around the three chain stitches at the beginning of the bobble, and then into the chain you worked in.  This will give some variety to the garland, so keep them a bit irregular!  Finish up with a few chain stitches at the end.

One skein makes about 8 feet of garland.  If you want a little more distance between your bobbles, you can make a longer chain in between.  Just make your next bobble in the fourth chain from the hook.

Let me know if you make any garlands of your own!

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Choosing God

The other day, I mentioned that just because something happens, it doesn’t mean that God wills it.  It isn’t God’s will, for instance, that children get sick and die.  It isn’t God’s will that we commit violent crimes against each other.  It isn’t God’s will that some among us suffer hunger, homelessness, or loneliness.  It isn’t God’s will that we treat our most vulnerable, the unborn and the elderly, with callous indignity.

None of this is God’s will.

He envisioned something much better and more beautiful for us: peace, joy, love, and intimate friendship with the King of all.

But God is a gentleman, and he never forces Himself upon us.  He asks us to choose Him, to want Him above all other things.  He longs for that, and it is why He so cherishes the sinner who returns to Him, but He never demands it.

This is the great problem of free will: we are equally free to choose or reject God, to choose evil or to choose love.

Advent begins today, four short weeks to prepare our hearts to receive the infant Christ, to turn away from sin and worldliness and choose He who is Love itself.  This is a time for penance, for renewed acts of charity and mercy, and for refocusing on what matters most to us.

I’m grateful for these times, because it’s so easy to be distracted.  But God is always calling, always seeking, and always waiting for us to turn back to Him, too.

Kitchen Work

I have always genuinely enjoyed housekeeping and homemaking.  Well, maybe not always.  We’re each of us, after all, products of our families of origin and the larger culture, and neither one really encouraged a love of homemaking in me.  So, in the beginning, homemaking and I had an uneasy relationship, really, because I did enjoy it, and I could see the value in it, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to.  Then, one day, I met Edith Schaeffer.  My deepest suspicions were confirmed, my efforts applauded and encouraged.  On that day, I embraced motherhood and housekeeping wholeheartedly and did not look back.

That doesn’t mean it has always been easy.  My family has grown and changed, with people in all sorts of life stages demanding more from me than ever before.  The number of “hats” I’m wearing has increased drastically.  But, still, I see the value in keeping house and preparing meals, and I am most relaxed when I get to dedicate myself to those tasks.  I just don’t have as much time for it as I’d like.  Because of that, I’ve been actively working to streamline and minimize my kitchen work.  I might be mentioning a few things in coming weeks.

On the Henry front: I mentioned that he was waking in the night specifically to spit up, but really, it had more the quality of vomiting.  Spit up doesn’t seem to cause any discomfort, but these nighttime episodes were uncomfortable beforehand and the vomiting offered relief from that discomfort.  He’s been doing pretty well with that, until last night.  Last night, I had pizza with tomatoes, onions, sausage and bell peppers, and I think it might have been the peppers that caused our problems.  I blame the peppers because that was the only ingredient I hadn’t eaten in the past two weeks.  Most members of the nightshade family are highly poisonous, but a few are only slightly poisonous and more or less edible.  Maybe for Henry, he leans toward the less.

The hunt for the source of Henry’s tummy troubles continues!  By the way, there’s no particular heroism in this for me; I am inspired and energized by a good challenge!

 

O, The Irony

When Henry was a newborn, he slept too well.  I never thought that was even possible!  But he’d sleep all through the night, and I actually had to wake him up to nurse.  He is such a big baby that I was really worried about diminishing milk supply if we went that long between feedings.

And then, without me even realizing it, something changed.  He stopped being able to sleep well.  He began waking numerous times each night, sometimes just to spit-up when I picked him up.  It was getting worse and worse, and I was feeling more and more out-of-control… and exhausted.  It’s really hard to love someone when you’re sleep deprived.

All this time, in the back of my head, I wondered, “What if he doesn’t like all the milk?” His dad is unique in our family in that he doesn’t tolerate milk very well, and Henry seems to take after David much more than any of our other children ever have.  What if all this dairy I consume is making him uncomfortable?

So twelve days ago, I gave up all the dairy products, which is where the irony comes in.

I was hoping that, within the first couple of days, he’d be feeling better and sleeping better.  I was hoping that it would reduce the frequency of spit-up.  I was hoping that, if his tummy felt better, he’d be less clingy.

It was kind of a lot of pressure to put on a glass of milk and a slice of pizza.

He does sleep better sometimes, but it’s very inconsistent, and the reality is that we have also developed some bad sleep habits.  And he could use a white noise machine.

He is waking less often specifically to spit up, though he does still catch me unaware sometimes.  However, he’s an active little guy, and the problem has not diminished at all during his waking hours.  I guess we’ll just have to keep waiting for maturity of that muscle group.

And I’m his favorite person in the whole wide world.  He’d rather be with me, up in my arms, than anywhere else on the planet.  No other person is as beloved, no other arms as comforting, no other activity as intriguing as the one I’m engaged in.  The lack of dairy in my diet has not diminished any of my enchanting qualities, and Henry is still as insistent on being held as ever.

So, in the absence of miracles, we have to look at the small details.

He is happier during the day.  Almost right away, he quit crying through the evenings.  At night, when he wakes, I think it is less and less from discomfort.  He has managed a couple of long naps, too, which have been non-existent in recent months.  And the frequency of dirty diapers has unexpectedly dropped.

The dairy-free diet does seem to be having a positive effect on Henry.  And it’s not quite as challenging as I thought it would be.

We’ll keep going with this new adventure and see how it all plays out.