Thursday, March 29, 2012

Calves, Tan Lines, and Duck Romance

My Father-in-law graciously took over the heifer watch for us so we could come home and get a good night's sleep followed by a full day to do laundry and housework.  Our jeans were so filthy they could stand up in the corner, and if I waited another day, we might not have had any clean underwear left. He might of just sent us home because we were starting to smell bad. I don't know. At any rate, I'm so thankful for him!

Here's the tiniest of our calves so far.  She came two weeks early to one of our heifers. What she lacks in size, she makes up for in spunk. She was up and nursing right away, and keeping up with her mama just hours after she was born.

Some of our heifers are Black Angus/ Limousine/ Maine Anjou crosses, and they were bred to a Red Angus calving ease bull. So I guess this calf is the very definition of  "hybrid vigor". She's got a great  mama who loves her to pieces!

It's been so warm out, and I've spent so much time out with the cows, that I've got the most awful farmer's tan. Perhaps I need to adapt my husband's habit of wearing long sleeves year-round.  Sorry for the graphic picture, but I'm just trying to keep it real around here.

The weather's been so nice that the snow-pack on the mountain is starting to melt a bit early this year, and the river near our pasture is beginning to swell past its banks.

 Latte anyone?

Just kidding. It's a foamy swirl in the river.

I saved the best for last! When I got home, my favorite visitors  were waiting for me!! That's right, Harry and Mildred are back at the little watering hole across the road for the spring.  Every year I anticipate their arrival, and wonder how they fared through the winter.  It looks like they are doing swell, but I'm beginning to suspect that Harry has a new gal this year. Where's the old Mildred?  If you haven't read the gripping story about these two love birds, then you must click HERE to acquaint yourself with their romance. It's one for the history books.

I've rambled enough for today,


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Calving Season

Calving season is underway. Our days are long, and nights are longer as we check the heifers every few hours. I'm writing this from my phone because I'm an hour away from the computer. (Technology never ceases to amaze me.) Hang in there. I'll be back to my regular blogging soon.

In the mean time, here are some phone pics of some babies. The calves are like little firecrackers frolicking and hopping about when they have a tummy full of milk. I never tire of watching their antics!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Cleaning the Family

Our baby dressed up for "Detective Night" at church.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" Psalm 139:23-24

Spring cleaning the house has taken a backseat for a while so we could set aside a few weeks to spring clean our lives and our family.  Everybody needs a little cleansing, renewal, and reminder of who we are in Christ from time to time.

We've spent the last 11 days in the church pew addressing all areas of our lives:

-Weeding out sin and getting rid of unforgiveness before it takes root and becomes bitterness.

-Examining areas of our personal life that are not pleasing to God and making a plan to eliminate those things from our lives.

-Reconciling with those who we have sinned against.

-Forgiving those who have sinned against us.

-Being reminded of our God given responsibilities as wives/husbands, parents, children, members of the body of Christ, and searching God's Word to see what He has to say about these roles.

- Being reminded to remain in a state of humility crying out, "God I need you!" and allowing God to give us his abundant grace in those times of need.

-Strengthening our marriage

And much, much more!!

We all need constant reminding of God's word, and it's important to make corrections frequently. Unfortunately, we're an awful lot like the Israelites of the old testament, seeking after everything and everyone but God. We have a tendency to let the little things slide in our lives thinking that it's not a big deal. 

Sometimes we get off course by only one tiny degree on our compass and we don't do anything about it because it's such a tiny amount and we are still right next to the path.  But the longer we walk that way, the further off the path we get until that one degree has taken us so far off course that we can no longer see the path any more.

That's why it's important to do these little checks of our life frequently. The more often we go to the foot of the cross, the easier it is to follow the narrow way.

So while you're all washing your windows and scrubbing your baseboards in the next few weeks, don't forget to examine your lives and your heart as well.  It's more important to have a clean heart than a clean house!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Homeschooling: The stuff They Don't Tell You.

Sometimes blogs paint a lopsided picture of life.  By nature, many of us write about the sweet spots in our day, and leave out the mundane, irritating, or icky details.  We don't like to dwell on our imperfections, but I think that while writing about homeschooling, it's important to give a balanced assessment of our experiences. Although it's not an exhaustive list, here are a handful of things I need to be honest about, lest you think homeschooling is all roses and no thorns.

There have been days when I've looked longingly out the window as the school bus drives by, and I daydream about what it would be like to have eight hours a day without kids here so I could get the housework done. I think of how productive I'd be, and how my house would sparkle at all times like a Mr. Clean commercial. I would have time for interior decorating, organizing my spice drawer, and lining my cabinets with contact paper. The house would smell lemony fresh and nothing would ever dwell under the couch cushions.

I've occasionally felt a tinge of jealousy when my friends get together midweek for coffee or lunch at our favorite cafe without me because I'm in the middle of my school day and/or don't have a babysitter. They go to Zumba classes and do body sculpting work-outs with trainers while I do exercise videos in my living room with my kids who use canned peaches for weights.

For one micro-second, I once thought about how much more money we could have if I sent the kids to school and went to work. Homeschooling can be expensive!

After teaching the same concept seven different ways, I sometimes want to bang my head against the wall.

Whenever my kids come to me with a worksheet saying they "don't get it", I make them read the directions out loud. 90% of the time, that's all they needed for understanding. 

Sometimes my kids do science projects that include putting ugly jars of mud in my kitchen window sill  to study the sediment layers.They occasionally use all of the salt in the salt shaker to grow crystals in plastic cups. They tape Ziploc baggies and moist cotton balls to the window to grow seeds and then forget about them until they start to mold. One time they used my good fabric scissors to cut twist ties for an art project. 

After dutifully listening to 3 kids each read to me for 30 minutes on the couch, I once dozed off  while my oldest child was reading Pilgrims Progress aloud. He had to nudge me awake so I could ask him the comprehension questions at the end of the chapter.  He never lets me forget that day. 

Despite five years of homeschooling our children, I'm fairly certain that none of them are going to be musical prodigies, win a national spelling or geography bee, invent the next engineering marvel, or create the next Picasso. They aren't fluent in Latin, can't write their own computer software, and won't be the next Von Trapp Family Singers.

During the school year, I don't have time in my day to chat on the phone, surf the internet, or watch TV.  I can't even look at Pinterest! I don't have time to read novels, do crossword puzzles, or quilt.

I can't even go to the bathroom for 30 seconds without someone slipping schoolwork under the door, someone sitting on the other side of the door asking me how to diagram sentences, or someone wanting something to eat...right now! All the world could be at peace, but the moment I close the bathroom door, World War III erupts.

On rare occasions, I've even cried, lost my patience, or doubted myself. I've had to stop in the middle of my frustration and ask the Lord for help.  And God is faithful...every single time... to pour out his abundant grace on me.  

Homeschooling is the toughest, most important job I've ever had. It requires sacrifice, money, time, and diligence.  It's also the most rewarding job I've ever had.  The benefits are vast, the fruits are sweet, and the opportunities to invest in our kids lives are un-matched by anything else we've ever done.

I wouldn't trade it for a thing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Instagram Tidbits

It's that time of year when I look at everyone's blogs and they are filled with the newness of green growth and spring while the world around me is still brown, dead, and windy. (I have a bad attitude about the month of March. Can you tell?)  The only color in my house is coming from the tulips I bought at the store to brighten the kitchen table up. Spring comes really late to our mountain.

My husband checked the heifers and sent me this picture on my iPhone.  The heifer in the middle looks so huge it's comical to see her waddle around the pasture. I'm having sympathy pains for her. The kids think she's having twins. Calving season starts in a few short weeks! 

Some friends of ours are moving and gave us a dozen young laying hens that they couldn't take with them!

That means we're back in the egg business! No more store bought eggs for us!

They even gave us a Turken hen. Have you ever seen a Turken? They're also called Transylvania Naked Necked chickens.  I don't quite know what to think of her. She's so ugly she's kind of cute.

My dad came up for a visit, and we're watching Dozer for him. The dog comes in to our bedroom and puts his paws on my face in the morning when he's ready for his breakfast. How can you resist a face like this?

All day long I trip over him in the kitchen. He sleeps like a dead dog with his legs sprawled out like a frog.

My pastor's wife left a 3# bag of these mints in the back of my truck the other day.  They are the very same legendary mints found at my beloved Chick-Fila restaurant. I love them! The nearest Chick-Fila is 3 1/2 hours from my house, but I can now enjoy their mints all year long from my own home. My pastor's wife rocks!!!

Instagram made this photo of my husband and I look like it came from the 70's.  I'm kinda diggin' the retro-feel of it.

I'm off to teach school to the kids, clean, and finish the laundry. My husband just called and said that we're going to saddle up for a ride this afternoon.  WooHoo! We've also got a Life Action Team putting on a revival every night at church for the next two weeks and it has been sooooo good! Renewal of the spirit is just the thing I need to keep my mind focused on the good things of God instead of the dead grass and wind outside my window.

Happy Wednesday to ya!


Monday, March 12, 2012

Beginner's Luck

Confession time:  I absolutely LOVE our chickens.  3 years ago I decided that we needed to dive into the world of poultry despite being conditioned to believe that "Beef" people don't keep chickens. It's all nonsense. I can raise cattle and keep a backyard flock if I want to and nobody's gonna tell me otherwise.  I adore the feather brained antics of our hens and I love those pretty brown eggs they lay for me.

We love chickens, but we're not "chicken people".  I'm learning that there is a HUGE difference.  I naively signed my kids up for a poultry project in 4-H, not knowing what we were getting into. My husband dutifully took the kids to their first poultry meeting while I was in Texas, despite his firm convictions that this was a bad idea.  I re-assured him that the kids were merely honing in their chicken raising skills, and getting advanced education on poultry flock health etc... etc. 

In order for my kids to complete their poultry project, they must show their chicken in a poultry show, and enter the county fair in the fall. Poultry shows aren't exactly "popular" in our part of the world, so we only had one opportunity to attend one, and it was an hour and a half away.  With only one meeting under our belts, we watched some you-tube videos on showing poultry, loaded up three birds in a cage, and headed off into the great unknown.

We got a real education this weekend, and that's for sure! Chicken people are serious about their birds.  They give them baths, wipe their feet with wet wipes, put petroleum jelly on their combs, pluck unsightly feathers, and trim their nails. We brought ours straight from the yard. No frills, no pampering, no blow drying.

We already knew that two of our pullets weren't qualified to show in their breed class because they are each missing a toe-nail from frost bite this winter. Even with heat lamps, it gets c-o-l-d in our neck of the woods. That was just fine because we were only entering the kids in the showmanship class.  With just two weeks notice, we've had no time to acquire and raise any show-quality chicks.  This whole thing was just a formality so we can qualify to show in the fall at our county fair.

Here the kids are practicing their skills while they wait to show in front of the judge.  During Showmanship, the animal is not judged at all.  Only the child is judged on how well they show their animal, and their knowledge of poultry.

Our children were the only ones in the whole building to show standard size birds in the showmanship class. Everyone else showed little Bantams for ease of holding and control.  Since our kids didn't know any different, they did fine showing our giant dual-purpose birds.

Here's my baby holding someone else's rabbit. She loved it but she's not getting one. I draw the line at rabbits. No rabbits in this house! It ate a hole in her shirt.

A quick change into their dress whites, and they were ready to see if their You-tube watching and two weeks of practice was going to pay off.

Here my daughter is showing the judge the wings of her bird.

They each received a blue ribbon, but the top place finishers wouldn't be announced until that evening.

During lunch, they dressed their birds up for a costume contest. Everyone else dressed up rabbits and guinea pigs.  We were the only ones to attempt to dress a chicken. Ha Ha!

After a long day, we were pleasantly surprised to hear our daughter's name called for "Reserve Grand Champion Showmanship". Woo Hoo!!!

She was definitely the underdog in this show. 

Do you know what this felt like? It's like the feeling I get when a bunch of fancy rigs pull up to a team-penning competition with their pedigreed horses and trailers with living quarters. They unload  their intimidating steeds covered in fancy tack and warm up around the arena with arrogance. Then, some teenagers pull in at the last minute, straight off the ranch, with a rusty old stock- trailer, dusty work clothes on, riding something in their string of work horses, no practice whatsoever....and watching them win the whole darn thing. I love it when that happens!!!

We now have 7 more months to prepare for the fair. We are deciding if we're going to buy a fancy specimen to show from a breeder, or just take our yard birds again and focus on showmanship. Either way, the kids will have a blast! 

Since this is definitely NOT our area of expertise, anything gleaned is exciting. The important thing is that the kids are learning about caring for their flock so they can get maximum egg production and enjoyment from their chickens.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bathroom Secrets

While I was in Texas, my sweet man demolished the old, yucky walls surrounding our shower, and did a complete make-over of the area.  He and a buddy raised the shower head, put in new fixtures, and put up tile on the walls.  We have a small bathroom, but it feels like I'm showering in a spa environment with my newly tiled walls.

All I have to do is give the rest of the bathroom a fresh coat of paint and the make-over will be complete!

The other day I went to take the trash out and I found THIS laying near the house by the garden hose. 

I thought, "What on earth is my good cake decorating frosting bag doing on the ground?"

I immediately went inside to interrogate the kids. 

"Kids, why is my good cake decorating bag outside in the rocks????"

"Ummm, we can't tell you."

"What do you mean you can't tell me? Who got out my cake decorating bag?"

"Dad told us not to tell you."

"What did Dad tell you not to tell me???"

"Dad told us not to tell you that he used your good frosting bag to put grout in while he was tiling the bathroom when you were in Texas."

"Ooooooooh. I seeeeeee. Thank you children for telling me the truth."


I sent the incriminating evidence to my lovely, sweet husband's iphone.

Here's the exact text message conversation we had:

He knew he'd been caught red-handed.

Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!

How could I be mad at him?  He's so sweet and he used the word "implement", and made smiley faces in his messages. I just melted. 

Besides, a $5.00 Wilton cake decorating bag is a small price to pay for a luxurious new shower.

I love that man!

Bathing in the Taj Mahal of showers,


Monday, March 5, 2012

Homeschooling:Part III, The First Year

The saga continues:

For Part I, click HERE

For Part II, click HERE

It was the night before our very first day of school.  The shiny new kindergarten books were lined up on the top shelf of our new homeschooling cabinet, and the preschool books were organized neatly  below.  The pencil boxes were filled with new Crayolas,  safety scissors, glue sticks and #2 pencils.  The lesson plans were written in my new grade book, and I had an assortment of dry-erase markers sitting on my shiny, new teaching easel.

I was nervous.

I hopped under the covers that night, turned to my husband and said, "I promise never to wear one of those jean jumper dresses with a t-shirt and white sneakers that scream "homeschooling mom!" if you promise never to make me drive a mini-van."  He agreed to the terms, and then grabbed my hands to pray for me and our tiny little pupils on the eve of our first day of school.

Because of my lack of experience, I decided to stick to a schedule throughout the year, and rarely strayed from it.  I have changed a few things over the years, but three things I've adhered to from the beginning are:

1. We start the school day off with a devotional/ Bible reading and prayer.
2. Our children complete every single page of their curriculum books. ( I'm a nerd like that.)
3. We've continued with the same curriculum company for all of the elementary school years.

There are so many approaches to homeschooling and finding out what fits for your family takes some time.  I knew from the beginning that I had to have structure to my day or I would fill it with unproductive things.  I also knew that I wanted to adhere strictly to the curriculum because I was unsure of myself as a new teacher. I used the weekly tests given in each subject as a gauge of how well I was teaching. If my son did well, then I knew that I was getting through to him.  I didn't want to skip anything that might have been important. I also chose to stick with the same curriculum year after year because I was afraid of gaps in my kids' education.

Most of my friends have an eclectic assortment of  educational materials that they use. It works fabulous for them, but I was a newbie. I didn't know what homeschooling looked like and I wasn't ready to re-invent the wheel. I was afraid I'd risk skipping out on some important aspect of my child's education so I decided to stick to one thing and see it through. Oh sure, I supplemented with all sorts of things, but our core curriculum remained constant.

In addition to our regular school work, we joined a large homeschool group on the mountain for fun and fellowship.  I quickly realized that there were so many opportunities and activities for my kids to be involved in that I had to choose them very carefully.  We had to learn to say no to the "good" things in order to have time for the "best" things.  It took all of two weeks to realize that "socialization" wasn't going to be an issue. We were doing so much "socializing" that we had to simmer down a bit or we wouldn't have enough time to complete our school work.

The next thing I learned was that teaching children wasn't rocket science. It came very natural to me.  School work was completed much quicker when there weren't 25 students in the room. There was no time wasted standing in lines, taking attendance, waiting to ask questions, or riding on the school bus.  We got through our seat-work quickly and had plenty of time to learn about whatever perked my children's interest. I could cater their education to their personalities, and different learning styles.

One of the most rewarding things for me was being a part of that magical moment when my son first realized that he could read!  It opened up a whole new world for him and I felt so privileged to have been a part of it. Halfway through kindergarten, my son was reading far beyond his grade level. After lunch he would read  hunting magazine articles to me, or stories from Western Horseman.  As long as he liked the subject, he didn't mind being challenged with big words.

I was surprised to find out how much my preschooler also learned just by over-hearing what I was teaching her big brother.  She absorbed knowledge like a sponge.  It was amazing  to see how natural their progression was throughout the year.  Every step built upon another.

We were really thriving in our little homeschool.

The year was not without its challenges, though.

The nay-sayers still hounded us and viewed our homeschooling under a microscope. They would take every opportunity to have my children read random things for them, as if we didn't know what their intentions were.  We weren't stupid. We knew they were testing our kids to see if they were idiots or not.  Instead of being insulted, we tried hard to view it as one more opportunity to show them that our children were thriving. Some even told us that they considered it all a big experiment.  They were going to put their kids in public school and compare our kids with theirs after 12 years of education as if my kids were some sort of anomaly.

We also had a one year old in diapers.  She played with pots and pans, scribbled on paper, and occasionally emptied the contents of my tupperware drawer onto the floor while I was teaching.  Yet, having a toddler running around while homeschooling two other children seemed to come as natural as everything else. We just made it work.

Our other challenge was to balance our school day while raising cattle.  Although my husband took on most of the day-to-day  chores, there were still many occasions when I had to load up the kids and drive to the pastures to haul water, chip ice, or feed.  On those days, I had my son read to me while we were driving, and I learned to quiz him about his spelling words or math facts to pass the time. With the baby in a back-pack and two little ones to "help" mama feed, they learned lessons about caring for animals, and having a good work ethic.  Those were things not found in books, but were important traits for us to pass on to our kids.  When the chores were quickly done and we drove home, we just resumed our school day as normal.

In the end, we considered our first year of school to be a success.  I learned so much about the world of homeschooling....

To be continued.

(I've decided to continue this homeschooling series once in a while so that I can write about our homeschooling journey and address the questions that frequently come my way. If homeschooling is not your thing, you can just skip right on over the blogs with "Homeschooling" in the title. I completely understand.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Horsemanship Clinic

We've got a great 4-H group, and my kids have had so many opportunities for learning through their participation in it.  We also have a great horse community on the mountain filled with folks who are willing and eager to teach the next generation about good horsemanship.

Today our club was given a private clinic by some excellent trainers, and they put in a full day working with their animals.
They started with ground work and some time in the round pen.

My daughter was working with our newest family member, Jake.  He's a retired roping horse and his previous owner couldn't afford to feed him any more. She wanted him to go to a good family so she  gave him to us.  We've got to put some weight on him, but we're cautiously optimistic that he's going to be a great horse for the kids.  So far, he's been a real gentlemen, and he's well trained. The poor old guy just needs some TLC.

Below, my baby is asking her horse to back up with a little encouragement from Dad.

Now she's rewarding her with a rub on the nose.  "Molly" is a very special horse that my baby has been riding this year.  She belongs to some of our friends, and she's 25 years old.  She's the sweetest, most gentle creature on the planet, and my baby is in love with her.  She's also a "bomb-proof" horse that won't flinch at anything....that's why this mama loves her.  I fully trust her with my baby on her back. There is something so special about the bond between older horses and children.

Below is a 6 year old horse named "Ben". We're trying him out for a while to see how the kids do with him.

He's very well behaved.

After some ground work, the kids began to ride.  The younger kids were required to wear helmets in the arena for safety.



They rode with-out stirrups for most of the day to improve their balance.

My baby's boots almost fell off from dangling on the side of her horse all day, but she rode so well.  When evening rolled around, we had to pry the kids off of the horses.  They had so much fun riding with friends and learning new skills to practice at home.

 One thing that surprised us was that Jake had such an awareness of who was on his back today.  He is peppier with adults, and gentle with my older kids.  But when my baby got on him, he would hardly move.  He would only follow my husband around the round pen even though my baby had the reins.  When my husband stopped, he stopped.  It was like he turned into a petting zoo horse when she was on his back.  He is ever so cautious with the wee ones.  Who knew?  I hope he works out for us.

My baby hanging out with Jake after a full day of riding.

There is so much to learn when it comes to horsemanship, and we have been blessed with so many wonderful opportunities through 4-H. We're thankful for all of the folks who donate their time and patiently instruct the kids every month.  They're amazing!