Monday, September 10, 2007

Day 8 - Ambridge, PA to Hanover, PA

Saturday August 25, 2007
total miles
total travel time
states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Pennsylvania

This morning we rolled down the road at 9:00am, heading south for the National Road and Ft. Necessity. The National Road was really neat. We read about its history, and watched for the mile markers. It was a beautiful drive.

We reached Ft. Necessity around noon and went immediately to hear a talk on artillery in the French and Indian war. Ft Necessity really is a fascinating site, and the French and Indian War far more pivotal than we often realize from our elementary school history. 22 year old Lieutenant Colonel George Washington led the men at Ft. Necessity. Stephen was especially taken with how the lecture ended:

(roughly paraphrased by Stephen) “You may think of this as just some unimportant park commemorating some unimportant event, but this event sparked the French and Indian War, a world war in which the French were ultimately defeated. Why do you suppose the French came to help the colonists with the revolution? Because of their great love for the colonists? No, because of their great hatred for the English, due in part to their defeat in the French and Indian War. Without the help of the French, the colonists would never have won the revolution, and you wouldn’t be here today.”

The children played in a model Conestoga Wagon and we spent some time in the museum (nice and cool!), then loaded into the van for sandwiches on the road.

Oddly enough, the fastest way to Gettysburg, due east, was to take the interstate in northern Maryland. We were only 10 miles north of the state line at Ft. Necessity. So we spent much of the afternoon driving in Maryland. We finally made it to Gettysburg at 5:00pm, just as the visitors’ center closed. But we managed to hook into a tour of the cemetery that was just starting, and learned a lot of very interesting things.

I found it fascinating that Lincoln was invited, by the Governors (states' rights were still considered so important!), to give just a few remarks, FOLLOWING the main speaker, on the occasion of the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery. His famous Gettysburg address was a mere 268 words long and followed on the heels of a 2 hour address by the featured speaker.

As were finishing up the tour it started to thunder, and shortly after we got in the van the skies opened. We were in a bit of a quandry as the storm was heading east, and so were we... east to a campground!

We made our way slowly toward the campground, hoping the storm would pass over before we arrived to set up. We decided to kill extra time by eating out, and had our first real pizza in a looooong time:

When we finally got to the campground, which was quite hard to find, it was dark. Poor Stephen had to set up the tent by headlight while I corralled the baby and got things ready for bed. It was another hot night in the tent, but we managed.

Day 7 - Ambridge, PA

Friday August 24, 2007
total miles
total travel time
states: Pennsylvania

Today was another happy day of hanging out with our friends. It is very nice to stay in the same place for several days. I did a ton of laundry so that we’ll embark with freshly filled backpacks. I even managed to get out to the local Aldi, which carries my favorite jelly (can’t get it in TX). While there I also picked up lunch and breakfast food for the next day, then hit a gas station and filled the tank and vacuumed the van. We are ready to go again!

Day 6 - Ambridge, PA

Thursday August 23, 2007
total miles
total travel time
states: Pennsylvania

Today was a lovely day spent with friends. We mostly just hung around the house, the children playing and the adults chatting. I did have the opportunity to walk down to the local farmer’s market, always a favorite activity for me. I was surprised by how big and how busy the market was.

The highlight of the day was definitely attending “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” in which our friend Kate played Titania. The show was very impressive, put on by a cast of children who appeared to range in age from 8-16. They had only been practicing for 2 weeks, but they had a professional looking set, costumes, and performed the play in the original language.

Our children really enjoyed the show and said they understood it. I had read the story to Farmer Boy a few years ago, but the Princess didn’t remember it. They had a little primer before the show, which helped. Parts of it were quite funny indeed, and I was blown away by Kate’s beauty and ethereal poise as Queen of the Fairies.

Day 5 - Indiana to Ambridge, PA

Wednesday August 22, 2007
total miles
total travel time
states: Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania

It took FOREVER to break camp this morning. Things will go faster as we all get used to the new tent and each person has his/her jobs smoothed out. The biggest challenge is Little Guy, who either wants to "help", wants to fall off a cliff, or wants to play in poison ivy. Needing to have a person dedicated to keeping him alive definitely slows us down.

We learned something funny today. One of the things we have noticed is the omnipresence of Starbucks. Stephen’s penchant for strong coffee (he orders his coffee black with two shots of espresso) has led us to several Starbucks so far. Indiana is the first state we've been in that we have not seen a Starbucks.

Today was dedicated mostly to driving, though we did stop a few times in Ohio for bathroom breaks and to let the kids play. Little Guy did have a few hard moments; at one point Stephen handed him a cassette tape to play with. This was the inevitable result (yes, we were parked when this picture was taken):

When we crossed the Ohio River into West Virginia we were struck by the dramatic change in landscape. Where it had been fairly flat in Ohio, we were now in a very hilly area. We stopped in WV so the kids could get out for a little stretch. I saw a really cool looking bridge that appeared to have one design on the WV side and one design on the OH side. Turned out it was two bridges, but doesn’t this look neat at first glance?

Being of Irish descent, I was drawn to this cross by the river which reads "Dedicated to the Irish of the Ohio Valley."

The children wanted to buy gifts for their friends so we stopped in a little craft place, then loaded back up for the final leg into PA.

We arrived at our friends’ house at 5:30pm and soon sat down to a delicious home cooked dinner. We were fairly tired and fell asleep easily!

Day 4 - St. Louis to Indiana

Tuesday August 21, 2007
total miles 313
total travel time 9 hours (including visit to the Arch)
states: Illinois, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana

We hit the road at 8:30am and headed back west to St. Louis to visit the Gateway Arch. The princess was worried about the speed of the ascent to the top, probably due to her recent visit to Six Flags, so we asked at the ticket counter, and learned that the trams go 4 miles an hour. The Princess was reassured by this information so we bought the tickets.

Our tram was about to leave so we went straight to it. It turned out it was less of a tram and more of a pod.

The Princess’ anxiety about the ride had not disappeared after all, and when we sat down she buried her head in Stephen’s chest and refused to look. Turns out she thought we were simply taking a ride up, over the top, and back down, and she was afraid of how it would feel as we crested the “hill”. She was much delighted when we arrived and got out. We all experienced that weird feeling in your tummy when you look down form a height, particularly underscored in this case by the fact that the design of the windows is such that you can look not only down, but down and back, as the windows angle out.

Here's what we saw from one side:

We took a “pod” back down and as soon as we got out The Princess begged to go back up. Farmer Boy enjoyed the whole thing with his usual quiet smiling enthusiasm; Little Guy’s favorite part seemed to be nursing in the pod in both directions.

Next we spent some time in the Museum of Western Expansion, which is under the Arch. I had high hopes that this would be Farmer Boy’s primary Lewis and Clark educational stop on the trip, but it was not especially engaging, and frankly, poorly laid out even for adults. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go to a museum in St. Charles that had been recommended to us as having a great child-friendly Lewis and Clark exhibit.

By 11:45 we were loaded back into the car and heading east on I70 again. We had decided to drive as far as possible, as our next major stop was in western Pennsylvania, a distance of more than 600 miles.

As we crossed from Illinois into Indiana we also changed time zones. At around 6:30 pm we rolled into our campground. This was our first night to camp, so we had a learning curve. Everyone pitched in to help:

We barely got the tent up and dinner in our tummies before it was dark. The kids decided we would rotate telling stories to each other before we fell asleep; tonight was Farmer Boy’s turn.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day 3 - Kansas City to St. Louis

Monday August 20, 2007
total miles 303
total travel time 7 hours
states: Kansas, Missouri, Illinois

We took it easy this morning since we stayed up late last night. The kids, of course, were up long before the grownups wanted to be, so I very thoughtfully (do you sense the foreshadowing?) decided to take them all out for a walk so that the other three adults could sleep. Being a police officer, John is very security minded. Quietly I opened the door, and “Screech screech screech!” I set off the alarm. Oy! I am so thankful I have such a loving and forgiving family.

John whipped up some biscuits and gravy for breakfast, which the kids had never eaten, and which they really enjoyed. We left at 11:00, bound for St. Louis. Thanks John and Mel... now it’s your turn to enjoy some Texas hospitality. Come on down!

After getting lost in Kansas City and buying a MOST delicious cup of chai, we found our road and headed east. On the road, we learned about Missouri history, including the Pony Express. We started memorizing state capitals, and launched the license plate game. I started reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin aloud. We stopped in Columbia, MO to give the children a chance to play. Little Guy (with much help from his big brother) had his first big playscape experience:

We drove into St. Louis around 5:15 but it was 6:00 before we reached Stephen’s brother Chris in the suburb of O’Fallon, IL.

We ordered pizza and all fell into bed pretty early.

Day 2 -Oklahoma City to Kansas City

Sunday, August 19, 2007
total miles 387
total travel time 7 hours 45 minutes
states: Oklahoma, Kansas

This morning Jen fried up some more lumpia for us to take on the trip... oh YUM!!! It was SO wonderful to have time to spend with Jenny and her boys; it had been more than 10 years since I had seen her and my kids had never met her! Thanks for your hospitality Jen.. you and the boys are always welcome in Texas!

We left Jenny and the boys at 9:30, later than planned, as we waited for a storm to pass (thank you Tropical Storm Erin).

We have a theme song for the trip, which Stephen played for us this morning as we drove. I love singing with Willie:

On the road again
Just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin' music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again,
And I can't wait to get on the road again.

On the road again
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends
Insisting that the world be turnin' our way
And our way
Is on the road again
Just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin' music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again

North out of Oklahoma City we headed, and on into state #3, Kansas. Here’s what Kansas looks like from the Interstate:

We stopped in Wichita for gas and a lunch break. We got gas at this place; the name cracked me up:

In Wichita we also made a Starbucks stop, went to a grocery store for lunch supplies/ice, and then to a park so the kids could get the wiggles out.

We pulled into John and Mel’s driveway in Kansas City at 5:15pm. John gave us a tour of their lovely home... they have put so much into this house; it’s great! Then we went to Arthur Bryant’s, the famous Kansas City barbecue place. Yum! Here’s Little Guy chowing down on a rib:

On the way there, Stephen saw a brew pub called Granite City, so since he is interested in such places (and collects pint glasses from brewhouses) we stopped. Everyone else went in while I stayed in the car with the baby. After a bit I followed them in. When we came back out to go home we discovered that I had locked the keys in the car, thinking Stephen had taken them with him (he had thoughtfully left them for me in case I needed to open the windows). Thank goodness for AAA!

Here’s my cousin waiting with us to get into the van (and ready to tackle any "bad guys" who might come our way... convenient getting locked out with a corrections officer!):

We really had a great time visiting our cousins. We all stayed up late (John and Stephen until 4:30am) just enjoying each other!

Day 1 - Austin to Oklahoma City

Saturday August 18, 2007
Total miles 427
Total travel time 8 hours
States: Texas, Oklahoma

We finally hit the road, a mere two hours behind schedule (gulp). Between extremely restrained packing and Stephen’s amazing abilities at loading vehicles, we got everything in we wanted to bring, with one exception: Stephen ended up bringing his mandolin except his guitar. He didn’t take the seat out, and we didn’t have to put anything on the roof. It is a bit cramped, but not really that bad. I’ve definitely traveled tighter... I am reminded of a trip in New Zealand on which I had to sit on pillows and couldn’t move my legs... remember that Mom, Dad and Dave?

All loaded up and ready to go:

We started by going the back way to the highway so Stephen could show me all the new natural gas pumping rigs that have popped up in our vicinity. This is, as you can imagine, something of a disappointment to us. At this point there aren’t any particularly close to us, but Stephen is worried about the potential for bad smells on the wind.

Little Guy had trouble the last hour or so before we left, and once we started driving fell right asleep. We were only about 45 minutes down the road when The Princess said “Are we almost there?” Stephen and I just looked at each other and laughed. We spent about an hour playing 20 questions. At one point I was thinking “giraffe” and Stephen and The Princess were guessing. They took surprisingly long, but they determined it was an herbivorous animal with horns from Africa that could be seen at a zoo, and at last the questions, “Does it have a long neck?” and “Does it have spots?” were asked. “Finally!”, I thought. Logically the Princess guessed “Is it a reindeer?” More laughter.

We got several hours of road behind us and stopped in West, TX at the famous Little Czech Bakery. I love trying unusual foods, especially when I am traveling, so I had a sausage and sauerkraut kolache, a poppy seed kolache and a cottage cheese kolache. I didn’t manage to eat them all in one sitting, but it was an interesting taste sensation. The rest of the family stuck to the more traditional flavors.

We drove on, with a few more stops for coffee, bathroom and nursing breaks. Little Guy did not sleep in the afternoon, which was a surprise since he seemed really tired. We did have one unpleasant stretch of crying, but he settled after nursing.

At long last we rolled into Oklahoma City, and pulled up to Jenny’s house at 6:00pm. Jenny is my foster sister from the Philippines... this is SUCH a cool story. My mom and dad sponsored her through Pearl Buck when I was a kid, and we wrote periodically. She ended up marrying an American and moving to the states, and became an even bigger part of our family. My mother considers her a daughter, so that makes her my sister!

Now she has two children, ages 16 and 9. It just happened that the 16 year old’s birthday is 8/19, so she cooked a big meal to celebrate. I told her it was like a delicious sampling of all the places she has lived! She made ribs and beef strips and chicken, she made yakisoba (she lived in Japan for 4 years when her husband was stationed there), and she made lumpia, these amazing egg roll-like treats from the Philippines. I ate until I could hold no more!

Road Trip!


It’s 12:38am on Saturday August 18, 2007, and I am sitting at my laptop (I still can’t believe I have a laptop... my birthday present from Stephen) finishing off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream. I am only doing my duty, you know, as mom and wife. In 7 hours and 20 minutes we are leaving on our 4 week American History Adventure Tour, and I’m just trying to make sure I’m leaving things nice and tidy here at home. :-)

We crazy five are heading off into the uncharted wilderness, uh I mean the interstate system, and driving until the children beg for mercy. Well, only a few of the days will be non-stop driving. We are taking a 30 day excursion, schooling on the road and learning about our lovely country. Farmer Boy is studying U.S. History this coming year in our homeschool, so it seemed the perfect time to hit the roads. We’re hitting the books too, of course, since I am the one in charge of planning school and I have a little, um, problem when it comes to books. Let’s just say I heard Stephen talking with someone about bookcases recently and he said “Shhh, don’t let Patti hear you, she’ll just be wanting another one!”

Speaking of books (drool, drool), my neighbor showed up this afternoon with the ENTIRE Cornerstones of Freedom history set to GIVE us! I know you homeschooling moms are jealous now... don’t worry, we have a very liberal lending policy at the Brown Family School Library. Suzanne’s kids have outgrown it and she thought we could put it to use. Oh yes, indeedy! I squealed with glee, let me tell you!

It remains to be seen whether or not we can fit everything into the van. Stephen suggested we take one of the seats out and I think it’s a great idea. We have to fit all the camping gear (tent, stove, dishes, 4 sleeping bags), all the school stuff, clothes for 5 people, guitar, a cooler, and of course, 5 humans! All this in a fairly small mini van with 211,000 miles on it. I told you it was going to be an adventure!!

I know this has mostly been a farm blog. But it is about our adventures (see blog subtitle), and I think this qualifies. It just happens that our adventure for the last three years has mostly consisted of making fools of ourselves in rural Texas. I don’t really know how often I will be able to post the blogs, but I intend to write them every day and post bunches of them when I have access to the internet. Our home access has turned off so I won’t be able to post this until we are on the road.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Criminal activity

On the front page of our county paper today was an article about recent criminal activity in one of our towns. While there were some burglaries listed, the more engaging reports were as follows:

A lady in an apartment complex spotted two bobcats. Traps were set but they were not caught.

Police charged a woman with assault after she started a fight with another woman IN THE POLICE DEPARTMENT.

A woman called the police to report that her neighbor was cutting his grass and it was "disturbing her."

A new clerk in a local store accidentally pushed the hold-up alarm.

On July 4th a woman reported that her neighbor's son was throwing firecrackers over her fence and "making the dogs rowdy."

CSI is not likely to do any on-location shoots out this way.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Rite of Passage

All young men must mow the lawn for the first time, and Farmer Boy's mom was on a snake-free-zone mission today. After I mowed a large portion of the yard, I picked a flat rectangular area for FB to try:

I made him go slowly, and thanks to the rain the grass was really tall, so I don't think he had much fun. But he obviously had it way better than most kids do. I didn't even see a riding lawn mower until I was an adult.

The continuing saga

So this morning Farmer Boy comes to me and says, "I think the snake is back in the brooder because the chicks are making strange noises." No surprise; I put on my boots and head out.

After checking to make sure there was not a snake right where I was going to lift the lid, I opened the top, and sure enough, there was a snake in the house. But it wasn't the same snake! It was considerably smaller, 3 feet I'd guess. And it had a suspicious lump in its middle.

I lifted it out of the brooder with the shovel, thinking I'd just take it to the barn and put it inside to have its fill of rats. But it slid off the shovel part way there, into some very tall grass. I had called the dogs, and Molly (about whom I had spoken so disdainfully yesterday) was on high alert and barking and snapping at the snake. I encouraged her with all my heart, but it became clear she was not going to succeed.

Farmer Boy offered to try using a rock again as he had seen his dad do this. I took him up on it. The grass was too long for there to be any decent impact. In the end, I got it back on the shovel, moved it to a patch of dirt and between a brick I threw, a rock Farmer Boy threw and Molly, we killed it. Molly has redeemed herself.

If you are interested in grossness and gory detail, view the photos below. If not, please abstain.

The dogs got the snake open at the bulge... definitely a chick:

Here is Zeke, pulling out a tasty treat (ick ick ick again!). For those who can't figure out what they are seeing (ahem, Stephen) this is a dog pulling a dead chick (head in his mouth) out of the middle of a snake:

Final note; I'd read that rat snakes stink. Instead our dogs stink. Their breath smells DISGUSTING. I mean even more than usual. Ick.


We have new baby chicks that are about 3 weeks old. Last night as part of my animal rounds I opened up the brooder to check on them, and this is what I saw:

Notice something amiss? Here's a closeup of that thing in the back:

It's a Texas rat snake, and I'd say it was about 5 feet long. Funny thing was I had been in the barn just before that and had been thinking about snakes. I am reading My Antonia by Willa Cather, and had just read the part where 10 year old Jim kills a rattler with a shovel. So when I saw the snake I didn't freak out, I just thought, "Ugh, I have to kill a snake."

I had seen this snake before (at least I think it was this snake). One night when the babies were just a few days old I realized we'd forgotten to turn on the brooder lamp, so I went outside with a flashlight. Oddly enough I had snakes on my mind then too (do you think God is with me out here or what?). I reached the brooder, saw a huge snake coiled under it, and turned right around to fetch my big brave husband. He relocated the snake down by the workshop in the hopes it would eat rats (of which we unfortunately have plenty).

My big brave husband wasn't home this time, so big brave me went to find a shovel (a la Jim in My Antonia). I grabbed the camera too. When I got back the snake was still there, and I counted chicks. We were definitely missing chicks, so I knew I had to kill it.

In a brilliant flash (do not even THINK the word cowardly) I called the five dogs over (yes, five... that's another blog post begging to be written). I tried to coax the snake down and out the back. It stuck its head out, saw the dogs, and went right back in. The dogs completely missed it. They are not the brightest bulbs sometimes.

I went back to the front and saw it taking a different approach:

It headed onto the roof of the brooder porch. I finally got the dogs to notice it. Molly barked and was clearly nervous. I should have realized that this was not an indication of a fierce snake hunter. Alas, I knocked the snake down right in front of her, hoping she'd finish it off, and she jumped back and quivered (while barking) as it slithered off to hide under the brooder again.

Now, let me be honest with you. I had been brave and matter of fact at the beginning. I'm not, generally speaking, afraid of snakes. But when I had to start touching the thing with the shovel as I tried to get it to go where I wanted, I started to lose my nerve. I wasn't 100% sure it was a rat snake (which are non-venomous). I knew it wasn't a rattler, but wasn't positive about what it WAS. And, well, it was a BIG snake! I got all shaky and weird feeling; I must have had a major adrenalin rush or something, but it wasn't like the rush I feel when I have to deal with, say, a goat emergency. It was a spooked out kind of feeling. I totally get why Satan was a serpent in the Garden of Eden. Ugh.

So there I am, looking at the ground under the brooder for the snake, holding a shovel, and wondering what I am going to do next, when I see a head. But not under the brooder...

That's the telephone pole behind the brooder. I can assure you that at this point the spooky factor was at its height. I could barely catch my breath. And that was the end of my snake hunting, although Farmer Boy tried to throw rocks at it unsuccessfully.

Ick ick ick!!!!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Well, not yet summer date-wise, but wow, it sure feels like summer to us. We are getting temperatures in the 90's during the day, the kids are out of school (which for homeschoolers means no official schoolwork; of course LEARNING is impossible to quell), and blackberries are ripening. I am SO happy!

I love seasons. The thing I missed most about New England when we moved here (not counting family and friends of course) was the seasons. I've posted about this before. Here in Texas we have basically two seasons, hot and not-so-hot. We can garden year round.

We've even tried schooling year round. Some homeschooling families like this approach... it allows them to keep the same schedule throughout the year and they usually do things like take all Fridays off or take a week off every two months. For me, I need the long break. I look forward to the change, and then in August I am revved up and enthusiastic about a new school year. In an informal poll of our school's students (all 2 of them), a hearty "No way!" was the recent response to the idea of schooling year round. So it works for all of us.

Little Guy is almost one and is enjoying the first summer that he can actually appreciate (last summer the main thing he enjoyed outside was lying in the sling watching the leaves blow). I took the kids to a water playground in Austin on Saturday and I think Little Guy had the most fun of all. He crawled through the sprinklers fearlessly, and only complained when he inadvertently stopped right next to one that was off, which shortly came on and hit him right in the face. He still isn't walking because crawling is faster, but he is into everything. In the course of writing this blog entry, I have had to remove a silver tray with a tea set and a plant from the room in which we are working. I baby proof rooms and he quickly shows me what I have missed.

The blackberries are ripening slowly but surely. I ate five or six last night; we'll have lots starting to turn black in the next few weeks. Our neighbors up the road have a blueberry farm and are opening this weekend for picking. The tomatoes are green and the peppers are green so not too long until we have a small garden harvest (we have a tiny garden this season). I am getting close to a quart of milk each day from our goat, which is just right for our family. There is more demand for our eggs than we can supply, so we have 50 more chicks arriving this Friday. And we are about to take some bull calves in for slaughter. The farm is keeping us busy!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The joy of giving

One of the things that I find shocking about contemporary Amercian mothering is the complete unwillingness to accept that love means sacrifice.

As a young girl, I was taught that I could accomplish ANYTHING I set my mind to. This was the message empowering young women of the 70's and 80's (the decades in which I grew up... and it is still taught). When I was 14, I distinctly remember, as I contemplated my career aspirations at the time, feeling alarmed by the apparent incongruity of the college --> med school --> intern --> resident --> physician path, with the deep desire I had to be a mother. How could these two lives - being a doctor, and being a mother - coexist?

The fact is, they couldn't. Not as I envisioned them. I couldn't be a full-time mother and a full-time physician. It is simply impossible. We delude ourselves and our daughters by implying (or even outright telling them) that this is possible. We must choose... we choose to give up the career and be a full time mom, we choose to give up being a full time mom and have the career. Of course we CAN have both... but only part of both, and this is what we're not told. You CAN be a career woman who is also a mother, but you are going to give something up to do this. You are going to give up getting as far ahead in your career, you are going to give up seeing your baby's first step, you are choosing something and by so doing are choosing to give up something else.

I realize that you, dear readers, are probably going to be a tough audience for what I have to sell here tonight, because you, like me, live a cushy life. You measure need in a way inconceivable to much of the world. You need a new car because yours gets bad gas mileage. You need new towels because yours have holes. Let's be honest: this is not need. You don't need a car. You don't even need towels. You need air, shelter, water, food, warmth, love. There is very little in the material world that you truly need.

And in this amazing world in which you and I live, in a country where I can be sentenced to a year in jail for killing a toad on the endangered species list, but can kill my unborn child and no one will blink an eye, in this sad sad place, the thing most lacking in homes is not soft towels, but love, one of the few true needs we have.

There is a new movement afoot for stay-at-home mothers. Today's mom needs to take care of herself. It's hard being a mom, you know. The relentless demands, the mess, the crying, the chauffering, the laundry, the three meals a day, every day. So moms really need to be better about taking care of themselves, not being martyrs. After all, "If Mama ain't happy aint nobody happy." Put on your own oxygen mask on before assisting your child.

There is something in this to which a part of me says, "Yes!", yet a deeper part of me finds it worrisome. On the one hand, it is absolutely reasonable to feed ourselves, bathe, etc. We need to be able to function. But this idea of what we need has expanded, just as it has in material areas of our lives. We need time to ourselves. We need a break.

I have struggled with this for years. I have felt in my heart that the way to true happiness is to give yourself up to love, in service to others. Yet I could not escape the persistent cry from mothers, "What about my needs?" I could not escape my own plaintive cry.... "What about me?" How could I integrate service and sacrifice with self-preservation, with survival?

And now, in this season of extreme demands, this season of a sleepless nursing baby, children who need to be educated at home, a husband who needs tender attention, a goat to milk, wheat to grind, eggs to wash, friends to listen to and pray for, and of course the endless river of laundry and meals; in this time in which I do not have enough hours to give of myself as much as wants to be taken, I have had an epiphany.

What we have wrong is not that we have needs that must be met. What we have wrong is how to meet them.

If we are true followers of Jesus, we will lay down our lives for love. We will give ourselves over completely in service to God by serving our "neighbors"... the very people with whom we spend each day. Our children. Our husbands. Our friends. Our parents. We will find our true selves in this giving. And we will find that what we really need is air, shelter, water, food, warmth, love.

And we will find that the source of all these things is God.

The great sustenance of my life, the air I breathe that gives me light and hope, the source that meets my every need, is God. If I consider survival or self-preservation as my greatest goal (and realistically, isn't that ultimately what most of us are trying to do?), I can not love fully, because I am always trying to keep myself safe, if even a little bit. Yet when I give fully of myself, as a gift not only to the beloved, but profoundly as a gift to God, I am preserved.

I am preserved because God meets me in my sacrifice. Jesus did not call himself the bread of life and living water for nothing. God becomes my air, my shelter, my water, my food, my warmth, my love. These things that I need, he knows. God is the oxygen mask I must put on first.

Yes, perhaps, a break is just what is needed at times. But the break does not require money; does not even necessarily require being away from the children. The break needs to be from the material world, for a visit to the spiritual. And that visit can occur in your living room or as you push the stroller down the street. A praise song on the stereo, danced to with precious children, a song sung at the top of your lungs. A shawl pulled over your head for a makeshift chapel, just you and God hiding under that cloth for a tete a tete in the midst of chaos. Stepping outside for a deep breath of fresh air, a look at the vastness of the sky and movement of the clouds, a close examination of a perfectly formed "weed" (so many of our weeds are really lovely tiny flowers).

Give, give, give. Give all the love you have, the world longs for it. Pour it out into your children so that they know what it means to be loved, so that they have the capacity to be magnanimous lovers and bless others. Saturate your husband with love, choose to put his needs before your own. How much easier it is to love those who love us first. Demanding love never gets us far, but those who give great love, receive great love. If you want a husband who adores you, try this: love him sacrificially.

Yes, you will suffer. What kind of an offering would it be if it cost nothing? But the suffering is only the pain of that which is unneeded burning away. Give, love, offer the sacrifice to God, be made pure.

In this you will know the greatest joy possible.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Two Questions

So, say your husband is on a business trip to Alaska.

And you stay up until 2:00am cleaning and writing and making the parts for stuffed shells and doing laundry and showering and gathering stuff by the front door. And at 6:00am your alarm goes off, and you want to sleep but know that today is not the day, so you get up and make yourself some coffee and try to listen to your audio bible and put on a farm dress. You make breakfast and wake children and scurry around putting more stuff by the door. You put the baby in his chair and give the 10 year old some Organic Toasted O's to feed the baby while the 10 and 5 year old eat breakfast. You race around outside doing chores and looking really stupid because you are limping from the jammed toe you self-inflicted five days before. The dog steps on your toe. You run back in the house and wash up and put on your going-out clothes.

You get the kids and backpacks full of schoolwork and diaper bag and purse and cooler full of stuffed shell ingredients and a bag of empty pans and an exersaucer that you are returning to your friend and your cell phone and your bible and bible study book and notes for a meeting and cup of coffee and, oh yeah, the keys, all loaded into the van. And off you race to the big city for an 8:30 am meeting with your priest.

Get to church, settle big kids with schoolwork, have meeting while trying to keep baby from killing self with mirror on wall, electrical cords, rocks on floor. You're glad the priest has a flock of young children because you have to nurse the baby several times during the meeting just so you can hear yourself think.

Meeting ends, you load everyone in van again after bathroom visits, and head back out of the city, in the opposite direction from home. During the 45 minute drive to your friends' house (who once lived within biking distance but now are an hour and a half away) you stop at a feed store to see if they have any bales of alfalfa hay. They do, so you buy one since everyone in your area is out of them and you are trying to get your dairy goat to give you more than three sips of milk a day. You and the kids and all the aforementioned stuff are in the minivan, so you tie the bale on the roof.

You drive to your friends' house and are so happy to see them again... a playmate for everyone, even the baby and Mama. Everyone pairs off and rejoices in reconnecting. Lunch comes and your friends graciously feed you. Time for the baby to nap, and you're really happy since you think today would be a great day to take a nap with him (what with the four hours of sleep the night before). But the baby thinks today would be a great day not to nap. So you give up.

You get the five year old girls to wash their hands and have a special treat... helping you assemble stuffed shells! You are pleased with yourself that this arrangement works for everyone! ;-) As you finish up the project you realize that the clock you have been watching is actually slow, so you shift into overdrive and load everyone and all the stuff (minus the exersaucer) back into the van. The van looks like it has been ransacked. You drive off, heading back to the city to go to your bible study, where you are the provider of dinner tonight. The baby falls asleep instantly. You spend your last $2 on a Pepsi at a Taco Bell drive through.

Despite a later-than-anticipated start and rush hour, you arrive at your destination 25 minutes early. Not wanting to impose on the family who is hosting (since you are there 25 minutes before the 45 minutes early you were already planning to arrive so you could cook dinner) and since the baby and the 5 year old are asleep, you park on the street and try to nap a tiny bit. You don't succeed. Eventually the baby wakes up, screams, you nurse him.

At the appointed time you go into the house and start baking the stuffed shells. You have a very pleasant evening with friends, sharing dinner and having a nice discussion about the passage for the evening, with the special gift of having a good 20 minutes to talk without chasing the baby, who is getting better at being with the caregiver.

At the end, you try to quickly load everyone up to go home, but the 5 year old disappears into the bathroom, causing a long line at the door, and when is finally pried out, is shoeless and does not know where her shoes are. You try not to be exasperated because one of the verses that night was "Do not exasperate your children" and you figure you should model that. You decide she really won't need that pair of shoes this week, but your hostess finds them and you leave. The baby screams a lot.

It is now 9:00pm. You have been gone from home for 13+ hours. You have had a full day. You had 4 hours of sleep the night before. You have an hour drive through the dark Texas countryside. You have no money. But you have a gift card.

So, question #1:

Where do you think you are at 9:07pm?

Good answer! That's right! You are at Starbucks. In the interest of not driving into a wall, you use your gift card to purchase some caffeine.

It's in a nice part of town. The neighborhood where your friends who host the bible study live does not have yards manicured by chickens and dogs and gophers, like you do. The people who live there put their money into fresh paint and nice bushes, not fencing and feed. You are far from home.

As you load your crying baby back into the van for the fifth time that long day, you see four or five beautiful, nicely dressed young women come out of Starbucks. They look toward you and start to laugh.

Which brings us to question #2:

Why are these girls laughing at you?

Yes, that's right, very good. This IS why they are laughing at you:

And you laugh too, because it IS funny... the whole thing... hay on the van, crazy kids, all of it. It's funny, and fun, and just a bit exhausting.

The caffeine works. When you get home you are so wide awake from it you blog into the wee hours of the morning. :-)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

First glass!

Well, I've milked Domino every day for a week now, except Sunday. Every day, for one reason or another, I've had to dump the milk. Today I was DETERMINED that no matter how much we got we were going to try this milk!

Here are the results of about an hour of work (with some of today's freshly washed eggs):

And here are the Princess and Farmer Boy trying it out (we had to split the above amount three ways... a swallow each). Note the suspicious looks on their faces. :-)

The Princess' comments: "It was good. Well kind of strange. It will probably be better when it is cold, like after it is in the refrigerator."

Farmer Boy observed: "It was fine. It just tastes goaty."

I did it all by the book... washed and sterilized the supplies, hobbled the goat while on the stanchion, washed and dried her udder, milked and milked and milked, carefully covered the bowl to keep stuff out of it, put the bowl in ice water and stirred to cool it rapidly, put it through the special milk strainer. Took a lot of picturees of a pitiful glass. And after 30 years of waiting drank a mouthful of milk. :-)

I am not giving up! I am still getting the rhythm of milking properly, especially since she has small teats. I realized I may not be feeding her enough to produce for us and the two babies who are still on her. I can also separate her from the babies during the night and she'll give a lot more in the morning. And of course once the babies leave we'll get all the milk. Right now they are actually helping her teats to become more user friendly. ;-)

We're well on the road to really having our own milk! Yippee!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Milking stanchion

Stephen spent Saturday building our new milking stanchion. Here is Domino trying it out for the first time:

Saturday, April 21, 2007

First milk

On Wednesday I milked Domino for the first time. Here are the results:

I know, not much, but it's something! After about an hour of preparation (figuring out how to mix up the udder wash and the dairy soap and the sanitizing spray and how to get all the supplies to the barn without them becoming contaminated, etc, etc), I loaded the baby into the stroller along with lots of supplies and headed down. We didn't have the milking stanchion built yet so I attached Domino to a fence with a 2 foot dog leash (she has a collar), hobbled her back legs just in case, gave her some food and tried to milk. I managed to do it, with lots of interference from the kids (the four legged ones) and the puppies. It was VERY frustrating.

The next day, more frustration, but good news, which is that it seems Domino has a good milking personality (goat-ality?). I didn't hobble her and she didn't mind me milking her.

I've tried to milk each day, just so we can both get practice, but haven't been able to save any of it yet because of constant interference (and therefore contamination) from curious puppes and goat babies. One of the challenges is that Domino has fairly small teats so it feels awkward to milk her. Even when I use only three fingers with the thumb, I sometimes end up with milk dribbling down my hand. We'll figure it out.

Today Stephen built the milking stanchion (pictures to come) so tomorrow I will be able to milk her in the barn and CLOSE THE DOOR! Thank goodness.

Monday, April 02, 2007

They're here!

Well, golly gee whiz, I was right! Yippee! Domino is the proud mama of twins!

I kept checking on her today, and all of a sudden there were babies! :-) She birthed unassisted and did just fine without us.

Here is baby #1:

And baby #2:

Domino was not very interested in them at first. I found them still wet and shivering, so I raced back to the house to get towels, and iodine for their navels. Of course the human kids couldn't be left out of the fun! Farmer Boy took this picture of a very happy Mama, toweling off baby #1:

Baby #1 wanted to nurse and kept following The Princess around and trying to nurse from her pink dress and pink boots. He had the color right at least, but the species (and a whole lot else) wrong!

We ended up having to help the babies nurse. Stephen held Domino while I got the kids to latch on. It was not as easy as it sounds like it should be. But eventually everyone figured it out, and after the kids had a good drink, and we saw that Mom had licked each of them, we left them in peace for a while:

Names to come!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Well... maybe tomorrow...

Domino seems ready to pop! I have a gut feeling that the babies will be born tomorrow. I may well be wrong (I don't have any experience to go by here) but it'll be fun to see if I have any natural instincts about goats.

When oh when oh when?!

You know the saying "A watched pot never boils"?

Well, Patti Brown's farm corollary is "A watched goat never gives birth."

We have had many babies born on this farm since we moved here, but I have never felt like this before. For one thing, we've had goats for two years now and this is our first successful pregnancy. Snowy, our old doe, has had a series of questionable bucks in her life (first one left a lot of does he bred with open that year, second one was ancient, this year we're still unsure because Esau was so little when he tried).

When Domino and Elf came to us, I wrote down that Domino was due 3/15 and Elf 4/1. When Domino was overdue I wrote to her original owner and found out I had the dates backwards. Domino was actually due 3/30. Elf, our dear departed doe, had been the one who had bred first. So I've been thinking "Any day now!" for about three weeks.

Poor little Domino... I've spent a lot of time looking at her rear end for signs of imminent birth (don't worry, not touching, just looking!). I know those babies will come out eventually. But when?! I'd so love to be here for it. But it wouldn't surprise me in the least to go out one day and see them already born and frolicking around.

On top of all this, I have wanted goats for milk since I was seven. That's thirty years of waiting. I suppose I have earned the right to be a wee bit impatient.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Time's a flyin'

Farmer Boy was shocked today to realize that it was Friday. Again. It seems it has not only been for me that time has been passing at break-neck speed.

March is always a busy month on the farm. We've usually had lots of babies... chicks, ducklings, calves. This year we have the puppies, and are expecting goat kids any day. The weather becomes lovely and incredibly enticing, making it hard to stay indoors to do the housework. This leads to later nights trying to get the inside work done, or more time outside in denial, trying to ignore the appalling state of the house.

We've been eating lunch and dinner outside sometimes, and using the grill more. Wildflowers are exploding all over the fields and we're crunching around the house on a thin layer of dust because of the open windows.

I love Texas in March!

We finally broke ground on our garden, after two and a half years here! I am SO excited! I think with the fencing we will be able to keep most of the critters at bay, although the gophers are going to keep our mental muscles flexing, and I don't even know what to anticipate bird-wise. We'd have to build Fort Knox (including below ground and overhead) to keep all the interested parties out. For the moment I am going to blissfully pretend that we won't even have to think about insect visitors. Oy.

But busy-on-the-farm seems to equal not-writing-on-the-blog-as-often! Kind of funny, since the blog is about the farm. But now you know what I've been doing. Along with the usual kid-raising, homeschooling, carting everyone to ballet, piano, park day, library, grocery store, bible study and church stuff.

Outlaws and inlaws

Observed by the Princess (age 5), while driving in the car:

"Hmm, I get it! Outlaws... outside of the law! So... in-laws are inside of the law! They follow the law!"

Mama, mumbled under her breath, "Well, most of the time!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blue eyed Belle

Belle has one bright blue eye:

Little Guy thinks the puppies are hysterical. Zeke thinks Little Guy is delicious:

Monday, March 19, 2007


I mentioned a few weeks ago that Stephen and some young friends did some demolition work while the kids and I were away in PA. Here is some of what they did...

This is the barn, when we first bought it:

And here it is minus the rotting "roof" over the loafing area:

We also have a structure that we call "the falling down barn." That is what we have always called it because it has been falling down since we bought the place. We blocked off the entrance and it has just been sitting there being dangerous. We fully expected it to have blown over by now, but it took a few pushes from the tractor in the end.

Here it is from the front when we first bought it:

And from the back:

Here it is today:

This weekend the rest of it comes down.

When you have a 5 year old daughter... may spend the day wearing a necklace. Even if you are a big tough guy digging holes on a farm. If necessary, scowl ferociously to offset the softening effects of the jewelry: