Brooding On

Thanksgiving Week Challenge

(Disclaimer:  If some of this sounds familiar, it's because pieces of it were borrowed from last year's post.)

Thanksgiving will be here soon!  That means that we're all busy planning our menus and making our grocery lists and readying our tables.  Most of us will gather with family and friends and eat amazing, comfort food until our belts need loosening.  Let us not forget in this season of thankfulness the many who will not be joining us in our overindulgence. 

World hunger statistics are sobering, to say the least.  I like this video because it uses the numbers to get our attention rather than the emotionally evocative images involved with so many of the world hunger videos we've been subjected to over the years.   One child dies hungry every 6 seconds.  Now that's sobering.  How many children would that be during just our Thanksgiving meal alone? 

As our family met to discuss how we wanted to approach feeding the hungry this holiday, I mentioned this statistic to Girl 1.  She just looked at me and started slowly counting as the tears welled up in her eyes. 

I don't mean to be a downer this holiday.  I do mean to challenge you to do something about the plight of the needy.  So, I'm doing what the video asks of me and telling a friend (who will hopefully tell a friend who will hopefully tell a friend, etc.). 

Our family plans to do our part this season by donating to Bread for the World.  We plan to raise the money for this the same way we did last year.  And, you can do it, too -- without even having to reach into your pocketbook (what is a pocketbook exactly?  Does anyone even really use one?)  You want to know how, don't you?  Well, lean in.  And promise not to tell MeeMee that we plan to do it again this year.  Promise?  Okay.

We plan to eat Ramen noodles every night for a week.  The grocery money saved will be donated and help to feed others.  We do this in an attempt to better understand the plight of the hungry.  Now, rice and beans would be a much more appropriate meal if we were trying to eat the way most of the hungry world eats.  But, my kids won't eat rice and beans.  They just won't.  And, contrary to what MeeMee seems to believe, we do plan to feed our kids this week.  (Bless her, she's only got their  best interests at heart!)  We choose Ramen because it's about the cheapest thing I can think of to feed us that we will all eat.  Also, it probably pretty closely approximates the way our closest hungry neighbors eat. 

Why the same thing every night of the week?  When you're truly hungry, food diversity is a luxury you do not have.  You eat what is available, and often it's the same thing . . . over and over again.

The week leading up to Thanksgiving seems a fitting time to undergo this challenge and prayerful focus.  So, we will begin this coming Wednesday and continue until the following Tuesday, two days prior to Thanksgiving.  (Ideally, we would run it right up through Wednesday, the day before the holiday, but it just doesn't fit our schedule this year.)  To focus our mealtimes on the task at hand, we will begin each of our seven evening meals together with a special prayer.  (This was my favorite part last year!) Here are links to the beautiful prayers we intend to use this year.

Wednesday -- Sharing our Abundance
Thursday -- That We May Be Satisfied
Friday -- Prayer of Confession
Saturday --  May I Hunger Enough
Sunday -- Traditional Native American Prayer
Monday and Tuesday (this link contains two separate prayers) --  Prayers at the Table

Will you join with us?  Put your own spin on it.  Eat something else.  Or, don't change the way you eat at all but click on the prayers when you sit down to the table each night and join with us as we pray for the hungry of our world.

Change is Brewing: Brood Farm Site Will Launch Soon

This picture is unrelated to the content of this post, but I think posts without pics are dull.  ;)

If you're one who enjoys the blog but avoids change at all costs, you may want to crawl into a hole right now or mentally take a little visit to your happy place.

As we prepare for our farm to grow, we feel it's time for the blog to move.  We will soon be launching a full-fledged Brood Farm website.  And, if I may brag on my techy hubby a moment, it's a pretty cool one.  It's still under construction, but I'm loving the way it looks and reads!

We want the blog to feature prominently there, so its web address will need to change.  This is not a big deal.  The blog may look a little different.  The way you have to get there may change, but its content, pics, and all my crazy ramblings will be business as usual.

If you, say, access the blog daily via a button on the home screen of your iPad (Mamaw, I'm talking to you now ;), you'll need to create a new button using the new web address and delete the old one.  Or, ask one of your super-handy grandkids to help you out.  ;) 

When the new site goes live, I will feature a link to it from this blog.  We're looking at some time next week most likely.  This will give those of you who've visited the hole or your happy place some time to adjust to this new reality.

Now, those of you who use FaceBook to link up to the blog each day are probably getting all snooty right now as you think, "This doesn't affect me, I just click in FB and it magically takes me where I need to go, so I'll barely even notice this change."  Not so fast.

We will also be launching a Brood Farm Facebook account. This is something I've been wanting to do for awhile now.  It will allow me to separate my farm dealings from my personal life a bit.  If I want to share with you the funny things my kids say, I'll do that as Ashley Carroll Beller, as usual.  If I want to tell you about how the chickens got out yesterday and our lawnmover friend and I had to herd them all back into their pen using soccer nets, I'll probably do that via Brood Farm.  All blog posts, which are really about farm life (with a healthy dose of personal life because, let's face it, it's hard to keep them entirely separate) will be posted via Brood Farm. 

So, if you think my human kids are really cute and would like to see pics of them at dance competition, on the soccer field, or in their superhero costumes, but could do without all the commentary regarding my goat kids in the backyard, continue to be friends with Ashley Carroll Beller and enjoy your newly decluttered newsfeed as you'll no longer have to endure daily links to the blog.

I have a pretty strict FaceBook policy which I've used for awhile and think it serves to protect me well.  I can be friends with any woman all day long, but I am only friends with men who are related to me.  Sometimes, this has seemed like a policy that's a little over the top (like when one of my good friends' 60-year-old dad friend-requested me), but I feel like it's a policy that I self-employ for my protection and once I start making exceptions, things get muddied. 

So, having a Brood Farm FB account makes it possible for anyone to "like" what's happening on the farm, get farm updates, schedule egg delivery, and more without necessarily also having to be my "friend."  And, let's be honest, just because you'd like to have fresh eggs delivered weekly, doesn't mean you also want to have to endure my posting about how my too-juicy burgers fell through the grates of the grill last night.

So, we're headed toward this next big stage, but for those of you who have a nostalgia for the past, will remain available with all its 602 past posts.  Additionally, all the posts to date will be imported to the new site, so you can search for them there as well. 

We are really hoping to use the Brood Farm FB site to generate lots of interest in our egg sales, so when you see it go live, please "like" and "share" it to your little heart's desire! 

Okay.  Enough for today.  Don't be scared.  Change can be good.  I think once you see the new site, you'll agree!

Brood Farm Soap now for sale in Ashdown, Arkansas

If you can't get in close enough to read the sign, it says . . .

Hi, my name is Razz!!!
My owner's name is Ashley Beller.  She is the granddaughter of Alma Carroll, one of the favorite friends and customers of the Flower Shoppe.
We live in Cave City, Arkansas, and Ashley milks me everyday to make this wonderful goat milk soap and lotion.  These products are not harsh or cause any drying of the skin.
Please give it a try and let us know what you think!

Thank you, Mamaw, for networking for me and getting my soaps into the Flower Shoppe.  I love you!
And, thank you to Becky at the Flower Shoppe in Ashdown for giving my soaps a chance and for putting together such a fun sign and nice soap display!

Also, in soap-related news:    I've ordered some new scents and am looking forward to trying them out on some new soap that should be ready in time for Christmas sales!  
And, remember, for those who are local and won't be making any trips to Ashdown in the near future, Brood Farm's soaps are now available at Olde Towne Mall in downtown Batesville, as well.  :)

Adoption Awareness Month

November is Adoption Awareness month.  As an adoptive mother, I was asked to write a blog post for fellow blogger Bethany (remember when she was featured here on this blog?). She'll be featuring blog posts throughout the month by people whose lives have been affected by adoption.  So, be sure to bookmark her blog address and check back in for the other bloggers who will contribute this month.  (I'll try to share them on FaceBook to help you out.)

To read my contribution, click here:

Thanks again, Bethany, for the opportunity to share my heart.  :)

Happy Halloween

Seriously. . . are these not the cutest little aliens you've ever seen?

We are aliens.  Who are runners.  
We came for the intergalactic marathon.

We stayed for the CANDY!

I know this seems like a weird thing to be, but, thankfully, it turned out pretty cute.

How does a family decide to be running aliens for Halloween?  Well, it's funny you should ask.  

We ALWAYS dress as a family for Halloween.  If the kids are allowed to dress up at school, they can be their own thing there.  But, when we set out together, it's dressed as a group.  Each year, as the time approaches, we have a family meeting where ideas are thrown out and mostly immediately shot down.  (Why did they not want to be a BLT sandwich?  I don't get it.)  The real possibilities go onto a list, we make a case for our favorites, and we put it to a vote. It's all very democratic.  

This year, we determined that we would be marathon runners.  That should be easy enough.  We've got lots of running gear.  But, we needed to match. Enter the red shirts.  (Why are we always wearing red for Halloween?  Our super hero outfits were red.  Our pizza delivery uniforms were red. . . )

But, "runners" is kind of generic, and the kids were really pushing for something a bit more along the lines of standard Halloween gore.  We are planning to participate in Saturday's Zombie run in our costumes, so John had the idea to add zombie masks to our running outfits.  The kids loved the idea, and I got to shopping.

And, I just couldn't do it!  As a kid, I was never allowed to dress in anything scary, bloody, or gory for Halloween.  And our own kids have always played it pretty tame as well.  I just couldn't picture my sweet 4-year-old in the zombie masks I was seeing online.  

I found the alien masks and proposed a compromise.  Alien runners it was, then.  But, why are we alien runners?  It just seemed too random to me.  We needed a tie in.  John saved the day when he came up with the lettering on the shirt:  "We came for the intergalactic marathon.  We stayed for the CANDY!"

Sure, you have to read our shirts to make sense of it, but I just can't get over how cute Little Boy is as he dances around in his little get up! 

Happy Halloween!

I'm Not the Only One with a Candy Corn Problem

Clearly, I am not the only candy corn addict out there.

This was the scene on the candy corn aisle at Wal-Mart yesterday. (Okay, I realize it's not officially called the "candy corn aisle," but really we all know that's the only thing people are looking for when they head down that way.)

I may be a full-fledged candy corn junkie, but at least I have the decency to wait until I get to the car to tear into my bag!  ;)

Happy Weekend!

All Will Be Well

It's raining and, well, just pretty nasty outside.  I should know.  Between trying to coax my rain-a-phobe goat into the milking shed and going for a wet run, I've spent considerable time out in it already today.  

So, it's a bit dreary out. What better time to look ahead to the sun that will shine tomorrow?

Though it has very little to do with homesteading and I'll have to ask you to forgive the language in order to preserve the rhyme, it seems like a good day to consider some of the lyrics from the Gabe Dixon Band's "All Will Be Well":

The winter's cold,
But the snow still lightly settles on the trees.

And a mess is still a moment I can seize until I know,
That all will be well.

Even though sometimes this is hard to tell,
And the fight is just as frustrating as hell
All will be well.

. . . All will be well.
You can ask me how but only time will tell.


I Was the Lady Tearing Through the Grocery Store Today

I was once introduced to someone as "Ashley, her family grows all their own food."  Believe me, our backyard efforts may decrease our monthly grocery bill somewhat, but if all we had to eat was what comes in the backdoor, we'd be in pretty sad shape.

I had another person ask me whether my kids had ever "been exposed to" high fructose corn syrup, like it's the latest virus going around.

Yes, we make an effort to eat healthy most of the time, but for those of you who think that we are some ridiculously healthy household that wouldn't recognize a trans fat if it knocked on the front door, I offer you this confessional . . .

First, I am a stress eater.  I know this is a very bad thing.  But, when I'm anxious (and can't go for a run), I find solace in the pantry.  And, then the fridge.  And, then more than likely the pantry again.

Confession #2= My name is Ashley.  And I am a candy corn addict. (Maybe I should introduce myself like that.)  The first time this year that I saw them looming there by the cash register (and it was shortly after school started, mind you.  What's up with that?), I had a ridiculously long inner-dialogue.

"Oh, the kids would be so excited if I brought them home some candy corn."

"Who are you kidding, Ashley?  Those kids would never see that bag of candy corn, and you know it."

"I'll just get this one bag and that'll be it for the season.  If I can just get past October 31st, the temptation will be gone for another year."

"Who do you think you're kidding?  You buy this one bag, and you're just breaking the seal.  Next thing you know, you'll be adding it to every grocery list from now until Halloween.  And, before you know it, you're inventing another thing you need from the store just so you can snag another bag."

"Well, would that really be so bad?  It is sweetened with honey, after all."

And on.  And on.  And on.  Suffice it to say . . . I won.  That is, I avoided buying the candy corn that first trip and felt very proud of myself.  So proud, in fact, that I rewarded myself on the next trip to the store with a bag of candy corn.  It's basically been a downward spiral since then.

So today, I'm in the middle of the grocery store when I get a text that sends me reeling.  There are few problems in the world that can't be solved by candy corn.  And, even though this text relayed a problem far too large to be solved by that sweet conical goodness, I had to have them anyway. And, I had to have them right then.  My candy corn addiction had met up with my stress eating disorder and created a perfect storm.

I high-tailed it to the candy aisle.  You've got to be kidding me? No candy corn?  This Autumn Mix mess is not an acceptable substitute.  Surely they have some by the checkout.  No?  I'm turning corners on two wheels as I realize we're about to be late to Little Boy's immunization appointment (a whole other story) and head toward the Halloween costume section.  Surely they keep at least some candy over there -- the very special candy, at least.  No?  Back to the candy aisle.  I'll not put up with any of that chocolate-y mess in the Autumn Mix, but desperate times call for desperate measures as I grab a bag of Mellowcreme Pumpkins.  I'm pretty sure Little Boy was using a judgmental tone as he begged me for trail mix on our way out of the store.

The point of this post is two-fold:  to make you smile and to dissolve any last notion that I am some oh-so-healthy hippie who is above the struggle to eat well.  Believe me, I'm struggling right along with you.  But, I do believe the struggle is worth it.  Here's looking toward Halloween, so that I can finally put this addiction to bed for the year.  At least Thanksgiving just entails one day of gluttony.

Best Buy's Vending Machines

John and I spent last week in Minneapolis.  Though I did bring home some city boogers as souvenirs, we had a great time on our little jaunt in the big city. I've got several posts in mind about the trip, but let's begin here. . .

For those of you who, like me, have never seen one of these, this is a Best Buy vending machine.  This one is located in the Little Rock airport, though I saw several during the course of our trip. Items for sale include iPods and $300 Beats headphones among other things.

If you're thinking "Oh, I can't wait to hear what this crazy, homestead-y, blogger girl has to say about this!", you may be disappointed.  I will say I couldn't shake it -- just kept thinking about it and what it might say about us as a society.  There's a great essay to be found in it all, I think. If only I had the time!

But, I would like to offer the words to a song I'd never heard before we attended Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis last Sunday . . . 

Simple Gifts:  Shaker Song

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free, 'tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed, to turn, turn, will be our delight till by turning, turning we come round right.

Simple Tips for Curbing Your Food Waste

So, if you read yesterday's post, you know that the average American household tosses about 14% of its food.  Here are some ideas we try to employ so that our household percentage is much lower that that . . .

1.  Make a meal plan -- If you know me at all, you had to know this one was coming -- I'm definitely a planner.  We've all been there:  the recipe calls for fresh cilantro, but it comes in a bunch.  So, once you've made that salsa, the rest of the herb bunch just sits in the crisper drawer until it eventually finds its way down the garbage disposal.  Be proactive.  Plan your weekly menu so that there's minimal waste.  At our house that might mean that we have Mexican food the same week we have potato salad because I know that we won't use all of the sour cream with our tacos, so I'll have just enough leftover to make the potato salad later in the week.

2. Plan meals that keep well as leftovers -- Interestingly, this may also keep your meal plan a little healthier.  We all know that fried foods don't store well -- that's how you justify eating just one more piece of fried okra, right?  "It won't be any good tomorrow!"  If fried foods aren't a part of the meal plan to begin with, then you won't have that moment of horrible guilt involved with chucking all the leftovers down the disposal.

3.  Buy the amount you need -- "Oh, this new variety of kale is on sale if I buy the big bag!"  Hmmm.  It's not a great deal if some of it is likely to go bad before your family can eat it all.  This is not really the case with non-perishables.  If your favorite brand of whole-grain pasta is on sale in bulk, you snatch that stuff up!

4.  Stick with your plan --  This one has been a challenge for us at times.  If you plan to make a meal at home, don't make a spur-of-the-moment decision to do otherwise.  We've been guilty in the past of having some chicken marinating in the fridge but deciding to eat out.  Because of our schedules that week, we weren't able to get to eating the chicken in a time-frame that I felt was safe, so I had to toss it.  When you make your weekly plan, do so with your schedule in mind.  If, realistically, you probably won't have time to cook the spinach gratin you'd had in mind for Wednesday night, don't buy the spinach.  And, if you do buy the spinach, eat the spinach (and not a bean burrito at the local Mexican restaurant).

5.  Consider serving items separately -- I have a great pasta salad recipe that my entire family loves.  The only problem with it, though, is that it has spinach in it.  Once it's all mixed together, we have to eat it all since the spinach won't store well once it's dressed.  Finally, I discovered (and, yes, it took me longer than it should have) that if I served the spinach alongside the rest of the salad, so that it's added to each plate rather than to the salad bowl, I can store the leftover salad and the leftover dry spinach separately as leftovers: problem solved.  This technique could be handy with lots of salads and perhaps some other dishes as well.

6.  Effectively store leftovers -- Obviously, this means that your storage containers should actually do a good job of keeping food fresh for awhile.  But, it also means keeping food visible and easy to access.  I love my Pyrex glass storage containers because they are clear, make items easy to identify, and can be microwaved.  If you don't know what's in a container, you're not likely to grab it for a quick snack.  Also, consider storing food in serving sizes.  My oldest two kids are old enough to work the microwave on their own.  So, I trust them to grab an individual serving of last night's man-n-cheese out of the fridge and reheat it.  I DO not trust them to pull out the 9x13, get down a bowl, scoop out a decently-sized portion, and reheat it.  The easier it is to get the food from fridge to mouth, the more likely it is to be eaten.

7.  Have a "makeover" plan for leftovers -- If we only have one or two servings of something leftover, we will just stick it into the fridge.  But, if we've made so much that we can eat it again, it either needs to be brought back to the table for an encore or it needs to be reworked.  Maybe last night's pork becomes tonight's barbecue sandwich, for example.  This is an especially good plan if one of the people you're feeding is "anti-leftover."  It sounds terrible.  I'm so glad we don't have any of those eaters at my house, but I do know they exist.  Just dress last night's dinner up as something else, and they'll be none-the-wiser.

8.  Build in a day/meal for "fending" -- I do not cook (at home) on Sundays. This is the day that we "fend."  Growing up, my mom would use this term to mean that we were all just fending for ourselves.  So, Sunday after church, all the leftovers from the week are pulled out of the fridge and laid out buffet-style on the kitchen counter. First come, first serve- everyone gets his pick of favorites from the week.  If we did not allow this buffer day in the weekly menu, there would be lots of leftovers that would go untouched and have to eventually be thrown out.

9.  Produce your own food -- Obviously, there are lots of reasons to grow your own food, but a desire to waste less is definitely on the list.  I dare you to try to stuff chicken you produced in your own yard down the garbage disposal, guilt-free.  It's not going to happen. You will do your darnedest to be sure NONE of that chicken (or lettuce or milk or  . . . ) goes to waste.

10.  Feed an animal -- Even if it's just your dog, feeding leftovers that are maybe a day too-far-gone for human consumption is one way to avoid waste.  Sure, you may not be eating it, but it's at least saving it from being added to a landfill and saving you the cost of one of Fido's meals.  Do one step better and feed your leftovers to an animal that will in-turn feed you, such as laying chickens or a backyard dairy goat. If you have no animal to feed (or a finnicky one that will only eat his favorite brand of chow and turns up his nose at your kitchen scraps), consider starting your own compost pile.  The scraps may not be making it immediately to your mouth, but once you've used the compost on next year's garden, it'll get there!

Got any other tips for avoiding personal food waste that we could add to the list?

Our Excessive Waste

Picture the contents of your refrigerator.  Or, better yet, go open it up and take a look.  How much of what's in there will end up in the trash or down the garbage disposal.  Be honest.  10%?  20%?  More?    According to University of Arizona research, the U.S. average is 14%.   Sure, consumer food waste is a problem that we can easily take charge of in our own homes, but consider all the food waste that occurs before we even have a chance to stock our fridges and pantries.

Grocery stores account for a huge amount of food waste.  Have you heard of the recent trend of dumpster diving?  Those in favor claim that they can dine like kings just by hitting up the dumpster behind their local grocery stores -- where arbitrary sell-by dates or damaged packaging leave perfectly good food in the trash.

But, until I began my own garden, I hadn't really considered the food waste that occurs before food ever makes it to the store.  Our first year to garden, we were constantly snapping pictures of oddly-shaped vegetables.   I know this sounds naive, but it took me a few photo shoots with misshapen squash to get it -- it's not that MY vegetables are weird . . . it's that my perception of what vegetables should look like has been shaped by what I see at the supermarket . . . and the weirdo cucumbers never make it there.   "The NRDC estimates that 20% of fruits and vegetables are lost on the farm."   If a tomato has a small blemish, it doesn't make it to market.  Those of us who grow our own know that all it takes is trimming off the bad spot to get that tomato salad-ready.

While we can do a better job of managing our own food waste, solving the problem on a larger scale is a much bigger challenge.  Luckily, folks like Doug Rauch, the former CEO of Trader Joe's, has some ideas.  He has "announced his plans to open a 10,000-foot market in the disadvantaged Boston neighborhood of Dorchester, selling food during the fragile window after its sell-by date but before it has actually spoiled."  This type of store has already proven successful in several European countries.

Check back in tomorrow for a couple of practical tips on cutting down your own family's food waste.

Thank you to the always-amazing Modern Farmer for all the above info I got from your article "Junk Food" in your Fall 2013 publication.  

I'm a Maker

If you are my FaceBook friend, you may have noticed that my current job title is "Maker" at Brood Farm.  We've recently been discussing what all of our job titles on the farm ought to be, but there was no question that this one is mine.

There are several words we could use to describe the type of farming we aspire to.  Throwback, retro, and heritage farming are all descriptions we've batted around.  The idea is to get away from the mono-cultured farm that most of our farms are today (i.e. dairy farm or chicken farm or soybean farm) and just get back to the old-school idea of being a farm -- a place where lots of different types of farming are taking place as part of a whole system, inter-connectedness.  This is, of course, an older way of farming.  This is what our ancestor's subsistence farming looked like.

And in those systems, there was always a Maker.  It's the Maker's job to take all that is being produced outside into the house and create something with it, for use now or later.  Homemaker, a term with which more of us are familiar, is a certain type of or subset of Maker.  And, sure, I do those jobs.  I clean house, run kids hither and yon, cook dinner, do laundry, and on and on.  But I don't consider those part of my job description as Maker of our farm.  Some things I've made this week that are perhaps not standard fare for the modern-day housemaker are cheese, breads, yogurt, frozen yogurt, soap, lotion, ketchup, pickled okra, and barbecue sauce.  I estimate I've "put up" about 30 gallons of tomatoes over the past two weeks.  These are things I do as Maker.

My job is a great one.  Other than needing to be home without fail at 6:00 am and 6:00 pm for milking, the hours are flexible, allowing me to work in some of my homemaking duties during the course of the day.  And the benefits are good -- countless, really.  I'm not stuck at a desk (have you heard the latest findings about how detrimental large amounts of time sitting can be to your health?  They're likening it to smoking!), and I don't have to report to anyone (other than the animals, I guess).  I schedule my own days.  And, while they're quite full, they're always fulfilling.  I get to spend LOTS of time outdoors, harvesting and working in the garden and tending animals.  Being so close to God's creation is good for the soul.

Anyway, it occurred to me that some of you may not be familiar with the concept of Maker, so I thought I'd just help you make sense of my current job title.  :)

God Loves Polka-Dots!

A quote with photos for you on this Monday  -- from G.K. Chesterton:

“The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grownup person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.
But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” 

As I contemplated all the beautiful, spotted things in our backyard today, I was reminded of this quote.  God must take delight in spots!

Get the Kids Outside!!!

I read this cute little article on Pinterest this morning that suggested 21 Ways to Get Outside with Your Kids This Fall.  It really did have some fun ideas in it.

My youngest two don't really need encouragement to get outside.  Girl 2 is usually with me in the milk barn at 6:15am and then on the swing set by 6:25.  To Little Boy, any moment spent inside is a wasted moment that he would've rather spent catching insects or climbing trees.

In fact, look what the two of them have done to this poor Bradford Pear tree.  They stack furniture to provide a leg-up, then climb as high as they can.  Unfortunately, more than one dainty branch has succumbed to their climbing enthusiasm.  I submit this photo as reason #431 that we need to get these kids over to the farm!

Girl 1, though, spends most of her free time on the sofa with her nose buried in a book.  As an English teacher-turned-farmer, I love this about her.  But, when I asked her the other day to run outside and grab me a bell pepper for dinner and had to GIVE HER DIRECTIONS!!!!, I realized that she needs to spend a little more time outside with her siblings.  She's definitely my biggest complainer about heat, so I'm glad the temps are cooling off.  

The easiest way to get the kids to play outside is to lure them out.  It's super-sneaky, but it works like a charm.  I'll ask Girl 2 to help me get the laundry off the line, for example -- a chore that takes about 2 minutes.  But, by the time we're done, she's noticed something fun outside that she'd like to stick around and do rather than go back inside.

The easiest way to get the kids outside is to feed them there.  Food would get them anywhere.  I could probably lure them into the under-the-stairs cat-litter closet, if I told them that was where we were having afternoon snack.  But seriously, all I have to do is declare that dinner is on the back porch, and we're in for a fun evening in the backyard that eventually ends with them begging for just a few more minutes to catch lightening bugs.

Why is it so important to get the kids outside?  If you're really asking that one, then be sure you're getting out there with them.  I can think of lots of good reasons, but here's one that's been on my mind lately.  At the kids' latest yearly check-ups, I was taking a look at their growth curves (height relative to weight) and their percentages in each category.  Our doctor reminded me, though, that those "average" percentages haven't been updated since the 1970's and that I should probably subtract 20-30% to account for the modern trend toward childhood obesity.  He means that I can take Girl 2's 55th percentile in weight and subtract 20 percent, so that her real weight relative to her peers is actually about the 35th percentile.  Wow -- what a difference!  I think as a culture it's time for us to put down the TV remotes and video game controllers and iPads and, yes, even books sometimes, long enough to get outside and MOVE and explore and learn!

Arkansas' Interesting Milk Law

As we're dreaming up our new farm, there are some things that  we ought to consider before we erect any structures.  We do hope that our farm will produce enough of certain items that we can sell them to the public.  We knew that the Arkansas milk law had recently been revised but weren't sure what that might mean for us in terms of our milking facility.  Additionally, we know that there are regulations in place regarding the kitchen prep area used to produce "potentially-hazardous foods" such as the cheese, yogurt, and frozen yogurt we've considered selling.  So, we set out to research it.

What we found are some seeming inconsistencies in Arkansas law.

Our milk must be sold from the farm.  And, the law limits us to selling no more than 500 gallons of milk per month.  That's a whole lotta milk, so that shouldn't be a problem!  The law also mandates that we . . .
"Post at the point of sale a sign that is no smaller than two by four feet that includes the following information in large, clear text:
(A) The name and address of the farm with seller’s contact information; and
(B) The following statement:  'This product, sold for personal use and not for resale, is fresh whole milk that has NOT been pasteurized. Neither this farm nor the milk sold by this farm has been inspected by the State of Arkansas. The consumer assumes all liability for health issues that may result from the consumption of this product.'; and affix a label to the bottle or package that includes"  all the same information as is posted on the sign.    And, "A farmer who sells fresh whole unpasteurized milk shall permit inspection of his or her cows and barns by his or her customers upon request."

This all sounds pretty straightforward, so basically, all I'd have to do to start selling Razz's milk tomorrow, is put up a sign and make up some labels for the jugs.

If I'd like to sell the cheese sitting in my refrigerator, though . . .

I'd have to first have an inspected and certified kitchen that is built to code for the production of such foods, AND I have to use milk from a certified Grade A dairy. So, I can sell my backyard milk without having to jump through many regulatory hoops at all, BUT if I want to turn that milk into cheese before it leaves my house, I have to have a certified dairy first.  The fellow John spoke to about these codes said that we'd be looking at $15,000-$20,000 in just equipment for the milking parlor.  That doesn't even include the costs involved in building the parlor and kitchen to code.

Since we've got plenty of other goodies we can market more easily (eggs, chicken, honey, fruit, veggies, and milk -- to name a few), we plan to bypass this large upfront expense and not plan on selling cheese.

I know, I know.  I can hear a few of you grumbling.  Of all the products I make at home, cheese is the one that garners the most interest.  Lots of people have told me to contact them when/if we start to sell it.  It is sad because this stuff is SO good, but you'll just have to come on over and have some now and then.  You know I'll always have some made up in the fridge!

A Peek Inside the Closet

I've decided that you can tell a lot about a person by having a look inside his or her closet.  And, I don't even mean by how organized/disorganized it is. ;)
John and I will be attending a banking conference together soon, so I approached the contents of my closet, looking for things that might fall into the category of "business casual."  And, here's what my closet is telling me:  there's nothing "business" about my life. My, how things change!  There once was a time when I wore pantyhose -- every. single. day.  But, the contents of my closet today can basically be broken down into three divisions.  

First off, there's a good-sized section of running gear.  I've got gear to keep me warm while running, gear to keep me cool while running, gear to keep me dry while running, gear to keep me hydrated while running, gear to keep my hair in place while running.  Seriously.  

And, I've also got what I'd call my "practical" wardrobe.   This includes overalls and muck boots and my "paint clothes" for use during super-messy projects like painting and skinning chickens.

And, I've got my "fun clothes" -- my boho hippie-wanne-be type clothes that are basically all made of brown or grey knit that's just been sewn together in various ways.  I'd also throw my TOMS and hole-y jeans (the ones that prompted an older gentlemen I encountered in a thrift shop to offer to buy me a new pair) into this category.  

Thankfully, my sister stepped in and loaned me a few items so that I don't have to attend banking classes wearing running shorts, muck boots, or my chevron bell-bottoms.  Thanks, Jen!

Sure, there are a few items still leftover from my previous life as a teacher, but, as a result of general wear-and-tear and my changing sizes slightly and my semi-annual closet clean-outs, this section has dwindled to the point that it's difficult to even find things that fit together -- it's just the odd top and skirt that don't even really go together (maybe it's time for another closet clean-out.)  

If you're looking for the moral or lesson of this closet analysis, you'll be greatly disappointed.  I just think it's interesting that a closet tells a story -- in my case, a story of one wardrobe fading away as others take its place.  

What story would your closet tell?  

Becoming Family

For the entirety of the summer, our family has been blessed to partake in our church's new breakfast ministry.  Our church is small, and the only time we meet together is at 11:00 on Sunday morning.  As you can imagine, that makes it difficult to fellowship as a body.  To change all that, we decided to share breakfast every Sunday morning.  There's no agenda.  It's not a Bible study, Sunday school, or prayer meeting.  And, it's not for just the women or just a specific age group.  ALL are invited.   Anyone can come to help prepare the food, and anyone can show up to eat it.
Girl 1 making her famous gravy.

We gather, make coffee, flip some pancakes, and partake in one another's lives as we share a meal at a common table.  

The first Sunday, I realized how big a need this breakfast was going to fill when I found myself at a loss for topics of conversation.  I'd worshiped next to these people for years now, but I didn't know my supposed family members well enough to carry on a conversation.  That has changed by now, though, as I look forward to each Sunday and can't wait to hear how the baby shower went, how the trip to Florida was, how Mrs. B is feeling, what we will plan to cook next week.  We've brought each other eggs, traded vegetables, given out laundry soap samples, and just generally become a part of one another's lives.

Girl 2 lends a hand with clean-up.
As I've considered the many ways this has changed our experience of church for the better, some of the quotes I encountered in my reading of Eat with Joy by Rachel Marie Stone come to mind:

"Eating with others  is more than just a symbol of friendship, of belonging, of mutual trust -- it is a living metaphor for our connection with other human beings as well as our dependence on the God who feeds us."

Nora Ephron tells us that "A family is a group of people who eat the same thing for dinner."

When Jesus tells us to "do this in remembrance of [Him],"  He surely meant for us to take the cup and bread, but I don't think He meant for us to leave the table with it.  Most churches today observe Communion facing the altar or "table" or the front of the church.  Certainly, we are intended to partake with a heart toward God.  But, Communion need not feel so inward; the earliest believers had hearts toward Christ and eyes toward each other as they gathered around the table.  By the time we've got the last dishes washed up and put away, I feel we've already had the Lord's Supper, the bread and grape juice we'll have during the service just mean we get to Remember again.

Cheese is God Going Over and Above

For those who don't know much about where cheese comes from or how it's made, here are some contemplations on cheese from my lunch today.  

The very first cheese was an accident-- it happened when milk being stored in an animal stomach began to coagulate and separate into curds and whey.  Rennet, an enzyme found in the stomach of some animals, is the magic-maker that starts the process that eventually makes cheese out of milk.  And, don't you know those first people who stumbled upon this knowledge must have been beside themselves with happiness!  They'd just discovered a way to preserve milk.

We currently have one goat producing milk in our backyard.  That's one goat providing all the milk for our family of five.  Some days it seems Razz produces for us just enough.  In fact, milk seems to come to us like our daily bread, or our manna.  God is always so good to provide us with enough for the day.

Cheese, though, is what happens when God is truly blessing us with an over-abundance!  Cheese gets made when it's hard for me to fit any more jars of milk into the refrigerator.  And, when that happens, it's cause for celebration and for thankfulness.

My Conversation with Feed Guy

As we consider ways we may want to grow our farm in the future, one of the ideas we've batted around is trying to market our backyard eggs and meat chickens.  We'd be able to market them as local and grass-fed.  Since our feed isn't organic, though, we can't claim that the meat or eggs are "organic."  

With all the fuss about GMO corn lately, I suspect that there will be a greater demand for organic meats in the not-to-distant future.  The only sources we currently know of for organic feed would cost us about triple what we currently pay for feed -- and that doesn't even include the enormous shipping costs involved in getting that feed to our doorstep.  So, I set out to do a little research and find out whether any of our local feed stores could get it for us if we promised to buy it all up in bulk.

I made a few calls that basically all dead-ended with "no, we don't carry it, and we can't get it."  Frustrated, I tried yet another supplier.  "Hang on, let me get my feed guy on the line," they tell me.  My conversation with Feed Guy went basically like this:

Me:  Hi. I'm checking into my options for organic chicken feed and wondered whether you carry it or could order it?
Feed Guy:  We don't have anything organic here.  I do have a chicken feed labeled "All-Natural."  I figure that's about the same thing.
Me:  Well, do you know what they mean by all-natural?
Feed Guy (with plenty of sarcasm):  Well, what do people even mean by organic?  Isn't it all the same stuff?
Me (with plenty of exasperation):  Sir, organic is a label certified and regulated by the USDA.  Organic feed can't contain GMO's, antibiotics, pesticides, or animal by-products.  All-natural isn't a regulated term.  Anyone could slap that label on their product and the consumer would be none the wiser.

The conversation pretty much devolved from there.  And, I'm pretty sure he meant his what-do-people-mean-by-organic question to be rhetorical, but he asked the question and he got the answer.  I really am not a rude person.  I think I was bringing with me to the conversation my exasperation from the previous phone calls I'd made and how I always feel like I'm treated differently by these places just because I'm a woman.  Add to that that I'm asking about organic feed, and I could nearly hear this guy's eyes roll through the phone as he probably pictured the granola-crunching, tree-hugging, hippy lady on the other end of the line.
I felt kind of bad about the attitude I had with Feed Guy, but I consoled myself by thinking that, thanks to me, he's now a more informed Feed Guy.  If he actually listened to my answer, he may now be better at his job.  The next time someone asks him about all-natural vs. organic feed, maybe he'll know the answer.
And, I suspect that as people get more interested in knowing where their food comes from and what kind of life it's led, Feed Guy may get more and more phone calls like mine.  

For now, we are left without answers and without many leads for sourcing affordable organic feeds.  I've seen some recipes online for mixing your own.  That may be where we're headed.  

Does anyone else have a lead on reasonably priced organic feed?

Big, Big News!

August 2005 in New Orleans:  I'd spent an entire summer writing a curriculum for my English V AP class at the all-girls Catholic Academy where I taught and was gearing up for yet another school year that would involve pantyhose and hours so long there'd be days I wouldn't see baby Girl 1 awake.  I absolutely loved my job.  It was rewarding, and my students were amazing.  . . . 

And, if you'd told me that 8 years later, I'd wear overalls more often than I'd wear pantyhose, start my days by milking a goat in my backyard, and enjoy doing things like soap-making, cheese-making, gardening, and canning, I'd probably laugh and then click off in my heels to work on next week's lesson plans.

And, if you'd offered John and I a piece of land to make our own that only had a few drawbacks, like that it can't even be reached by car, has no electricity, or water, or anything else other than a pond and woods and pasture, I'd probably have said, "thanks, but no thanks."

But that was then.  Hurricane Katrina spun us around and set our lives on an entirely different course.  And on this new course, in August of 2013, I am downright giddy about the opportunity to grow our farm on this new plot of land.

That's right, our backyard homestead will be growing.  Soon, we'll have enough room to grow our farm as big as we'd like it to be.  And, believe me, we're dreaming big.  When we stand on the spot we've chosen to build the house and gaze out over the pasture, I just keep thinking, "How blessed we are!  How very, very blessed." 

The first step in gaining access to our farm was to put a gate into an existing fence so that construction vehicles can get in to build our road.

And, John wanted to put that gate in himself.  It seemed symbolic, in a way.  There was no entry there.  And now there is.  A door has both literally and metaphorically opened to us, making way for us to build this farm however we'd like.  It's a blank slate.  

John had planned to write what would undoubtedly have been an excellent guest post about the symbolism of the gate, but to say that he's been a little too busy with work lately to do it is a big understatement.  So, that will have to wait.

Construction has now begun on the road.  There's a creek that has to be bridged before our land will be fully accessible by vehicle.  So, all other work relies upon the road getting finished.

In the meantime, we have so many decisions to make.  We've picked out the house site, but where will the barn go?  The milking shed?  The garden?  What will the house look like?  In what order should all of this be done?  It's at once exciting and completely overwhelming.  

And, you'd better believe, this blog will be following our progress every step of the way.