Monday, December 31, 2012

Resolutions for 2012: A Look Back

As the year draws to a close, I thought I'd take a look back and evaluate how I did with my resolutions for the year.  By my calculations, I've checked off about 45% of them.  That doesn't sound very good, but what would that be as a batting average?  Pretty good, huh?

Here's the screenshot of the original list.

Let's review, with commentary  (blue for goals achieved and red for goals unmet):

1.  Read through the Bible  Yep.  I've managed to do this one!  I've done this on even-numbered years since 2006 and LOVE it! 
2.  Spend less; reduce debt  Umm.  Not exactly.  The kids are involved in more activities than ever before, and we've spent a hefty chunk this past year on setting up our little backyard farm -- money well-spent
3.  Run a 5K and/or bike the Katy Trail  YES!!!  Since I got the post-surgical green light to begin running, I've run 6 different 5Ks and loved every one!  I would still like to bike the Katy Trail, but spending a week away from the farm is not very practical right now.
4.  Drive less/ bike more  I have driven less.  MUCH less.  I try to limit my driving to Batesville to one trip per week.  It makes for a long day, but Little Boy and I just try to get all the errands done at once.  I have not biked more.  I don't really know what I was thinking with this goal.  Where was Little Boy supposed to be while I biked to the grocery store? 
5.  Learn to do new things, such as garden organically, milk goats, make soap and cheese  A giant YES! to all of these!  I've actually learned to do a lot of new things this year (and tried to share most of them with you!)
6.  Spend one-on-one time with each child daily  Sadly, no.  This one did not get accomplished.  I mean, sure, I was able to give them all daily squeezes and affirmation, but I did not get to spend the undivided-attention kind of time with each of them EVERYDAY.
7.  Improve my Spanish  Again . . . Fail.  This is one of those things that gets pushed to the backburner year after year. 
8.  Save for Guatemala trip  Our previously scheduled Guatemala trip was delayed for myriad reasons and hasn't been rescheduled.  This makes it hard to get motivated to save for it and to work on the Spanish.  This does need to become a priority, though.  Girl 2 is ready to explore the culture and country of her birth. 
9.  Give regularly to church and a non-profit  Yep.  Kind of.  The non-profits changed throughout the year, but we were always giving.
10.  Develop a friendship  Through the Small Town Moms group I joined this year, I was able to meet several great ladies and develop some new friendships. 
11.  Walk unassisted  This one may seem a bit silly, but I was still on crutches when I made the list.  I accomplished this one early and have been walking (mostly) pain-free since January.

So, I've got a pretty good mix of red and blue up there.  Not on the list was "create a new blog and manage to post a new blurb EVERYDAY!"  I didn't really see the blog coming.  But, I'm sure glad it's something I started. 

So, it's good to look back. . . but now it's time to look forward.  What will my goals be for 2013?  What are yours?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Handmade Bread: Day 1

Okay, I'm opting to call this handmade bread rather than just homemade.  Since I make all of our bread on a regular basis using our bread maker, I'd say I've been going "homemade" for quite awhile.  Still, in the "bread community," if bread was popped out of a bread maker then it is not real bread.  While I'm not prepared to buy into such food snobbery, when I saw the subtitle for this 3-page-long recipe in my most recent Mother Earth News, I thought maybe it was time to try handmade bread.

Honestly, the impetus for taking on such a lofty project was two-fold:
1. As a wanna-be homesteader, how could I never have made real bread?
2. While my white breads and oatmeal bread almost always turn out great, my whole wheat breads are often bricks.  I suspect that I've got less-than-ideal flour and yeast.  Still, I thought it would be interesting to try this new recipe with the flour and yeast I always use and see whether I get better results this way.

The recipe called for things I pretty much always have on hand, so that made it easy. 
(Pictured here: whole wheat flour, instant yeast, an orange, yogurt, and kosher salt)

I learned that breadmaking involves creating a "soaker" and a "sponge" that are eventually combined with a few other ingredients to create the final product.  So, Day 1 of breadmaking involved creating the soaker and the sponge and allowing them to culture for the rest of the day.  The sponge is refrigerated while the soaker sits out on the countertop.  This first day really didn't involve much effort.  I'm hopeful!

For the entire recipe, click here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

More Backyard Snow

Well, a few of the chickens are braving the snowy ground.  John moved the gang onto a patch of mostly thawed ground today, so they can move around much more easily.

This group of "chickens," though, are still afraid to come out of the house.

The goats have apparently figured out that they'd have to come out of their house to get to their feeder.  So, I was able to get a few snowy goat pics.

Love these gals!

Razz had to come get some lovin'.

I know I'm a crazy goat lady, but I really do think they're pretty animals!

Our compost bins (and a half-sunken Milkshake)

A tiny kitty and her tiny,  kitty-sized tracks

It's crazy to think that these strawberries were still producing about 2 weeks ago.

Will the crazy parsley bounce back from this?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Links Worth Brooding On

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Winter Wonderland

Yesterday, amidst the rain and sleet, we traveled home from our family Christmas gathering in Fort Smith.  We were thankful to have made it home safely and that our animals were doing fine.  As I unpacked inside, John hurriedly made some backyard preparations for the incoming snowstorm before dark; then, we hunkered down and waited.

By morning, the ground was covered with a snow so thick that Little Boy could barely trudge through it.
As I greeted them, the chickens were torn.  They love to come greet me because they know I usually come bearing treats, but they also didn't want to step down into the snow.

This is as far as she came before retreating back into her house.

I was interested to see how the goats would like the snow as this was the first snowfall we've had since they've called our little farm "home."  Apparently, they dislike it about as much as they do the rain.

They all peeked out of the house for a photo, but didn't want to trudge through the snow to come see me.

Here's a pic of our snow-covered field.  I'd really hoped to get a few pics of the gals out here, but they were not budging from their shelter.

Last night, John moved some larger backyard items -- a goat feeder, wagon, wheelbarrow -- to surround Chubby's house.  (Chubby is our lonely chicken who is not yet old enough to join the other hens.  Girl 2 gets credit for the name Chubby;  she thought it would be a funny name for the skinniest chicken we have.)   The large items acted as a barrier as the snow swept around and kept her house from being filled with snow. 
Milkshake, our smallest kitten, wasn't too sure about the snow.  She could easily get lost in snow this deep!

Girl 2 threatening me with a chunk of snow!

Unfortunately, John had to work today, but we are looking forward to having him home to join us in some snow play tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

From The Book of Common Prayer, one of the collects for Christmas Day:

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin:  Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever.  Amen.

And, then, there's this, which is also great, from Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals:

O Word, now wrapped in human skin:  speak peace on earth through your children.

Amen, right?  Merry Christmas to you and yours! 


Monday, December 24, 2012

Baby Born in Goat Shed!

Can't you just imagine the headline.  Traveling Woman Gives Birth While Taking Shelter in Local Goat Shed! 

Over the course of a couple of years, my mom gave my sisters and I the many pieces of the Willow Tree nativity and crѐche.  It's absolutely beautiful.  My kids, as they've gotten bigger, have loved participating in situating the shepherds, wisemen, animals, mother Mary, et al.  But, this year, as I gaze at it from across the living room, I can't help but wonder how well this beautiful scene depicts the reality of that night.

I now scoop poop on a pretty regular basis.  I also spend time among the flies and other varmints that sometimes live in the goat shed.  This is the first Christmas that I've really stopped to ponder what that evening must have been like for Mary and Joseph.  As I lug a wheelbarrowful of poo to the compost pile, I can't help but imagine my Savior born in our little goat shed.  Can't you just imagine it, "Mary, you've got to be kidding me!  You're gonna have this baby RIGHT NOW???  Come on, focus on something else.  Get your mind off of it.  This is not the story we want to be telling our son some day about the day he was born!"

And yet, it is the story he had to tell.  It's the story we ALL tell all of our sons and daughters.  Of course, it's made much more beautiful by the angelic choirs and travelers from afar with their extravagent gifts.  And yet, a barn.  A lowly manger.  Poop.  And flies.  And odors that were less than angelic.

God did that for us.  In fact, it seemed that throughout his ministry, Jesus was never one to shy away from the lowly or less respectable. 

It may just be me, but I'm seeing several lessons for us in there.   :)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

CAE Free!

The company that ran the pregnancy tests on our goats' blood samples also offers CAE testing without the need for an additional blood draw.

CAE stands for Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis.  Sounds bad, huh?  It is. 

According to The Backyard Goat,  "CAE is a goat-specific disease  . . . that is a progressively crippling disease caused by a retrovirus.  Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against CAE and no cure. . . . The virus that causes CAE is transmitted to a kid from its infected dam through her colostrum and milk."
In other words, CAE is VERY bad news.  But, the only way a kid can get it is from her mother's milk, so if you can verify that the mother is CAE-free, you can verify that her kid will be CAE-free.  Above are our girls' results: NEGATIVE!

Reputable and registered dairy goat breeders test their herds regularly for CAE so that they can guarantee that any animals they sell are CAE-free.  Yep, that's us -- we are reputable and registered!

So, should we decide to sell our kids this spring, we'll be able to verify that our herd is CAE free.  It sure has been a week of good news for our little goat herd!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Traditions that I Treasure

Each year for Christmas, the kids each select gifts for their siblings.  The gifts are small in monetary value but big on thoughtfulness (and personally wrapped by each child ;)   To keep these gifts from getting just lumped in with the Santa gifts, we open these on a different day and usually try to make them the first gifts of the season that we open.  I love that the kids are more eager to give their gifts than they are to open.  
This quiet time together as a family has come to be one of my favorite Christmas traditions. 
And why not?
We get to experience expressions of pride like this one, as Girl 1 watched her little sister unwrap her carefully-selected gift .  .  .

and expressions of complete surprise and joy upon opening said gift . . .

and then big "thank you" hugs that take them both to the floor in giggles.

So each child ended up with a gift from each sibling and a pair of pajamas from Mom and Dad to wear on Christmas Eve.

John and I gave each other new running shoes.  I definitely look more excited, but I'm pretty sure he liked his, too.

Girl 2 and Daddy are hard at work on the LEGO monster truck she received from Little Boy.

Each year we do this I have the same thought:  this is enough. 

After just this small gift exchange, we had Barbies, LEGOS, trains, fuzzy armbands, craft projects, and coloring pages.  The kids were entertained for the rest of the evening.

And yet, this is only the beginning. 

Santa will come.  They'll get gifts from grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, great-grandparents, Sunday School teachers, neighbors, etc..  I'm not saying that I wish to deprive my kids of all those gifts (or the givers the joy that comes from giving), but I am saying that's it's nice to have this small yearly reminder that it's all unnecessary.  Our kids were both delighted and entertained tonight.  But, more than that, they each take away a bit more from an experience like this than the 2 toys and pair of PJs they received.  They got to experience what it feels like to both love and be loved well.  What more could we ask of a Christmas gift exchange?

What holiday traditions do you most enjoy with your families?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cocoa Santas

This morning Girls 1 and 2 had their Christmas parties at school.  Each year, we make some kind of goody to give their classmates and activity teachers.  This year's creation is the Cocoa Santa.
Aren't they cute? 

In short, they're cake decorating bags filled with crushed peppermint, cocoa mix, marshmallows, and a chocolate-dipped plastic spoon.  Once filled, we adorned them with ribbon, felt nose and mouth, googly eyes, and cotton hat-topper and moustache. 

We made 70+ of these, assembly-line style.

Using address labels, we made gift labels/cocoa-mixing directions that we stuck on the back of each Santa.

This was definitely one of those projects that took exponentially more time than I'd originally imagined.  But, the girls are now old enough to truly help, and seeing how excited they were about giving them out to teachers and friends made it all worth it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Spring Mix Lettuce??

One of the ways I know I'm not a very seasoned gardener is how much I mourn the loss of a crop.  My guess is that a more experienced gardener just accepts that the weather changes and some crops will no longer thrive. 
I'd never imagined that I'd be able to harvest lettuce, kale, and spinach straight through the fall and into December.  For the extra greens, I am exceedingly thankful. And, yet, when I walked out to the garden after 3 mornings of frost and 2 days of cold wind and lifted the plastic sheeting to see my ruined lettuce, I thought I might cry.

Here you can see how the leaves have withered and turned brown.

I removed the sheeting and laid it out to dry before storing.  Planning to use it in early spring,  I left the hoop frame up for now.

Cocoa Puff didn't seem to mind that the greens were a little wilted.  I guess I'll just feed her a little bit of what's remaining each day until it's all gone.

In the meantime, I found myself purchasing "Organic Spring Mix" greens at the store yesterday.  So much for eating in season.  :(

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Legit Goat Feeder for a Legit Farmer

I do not come from a farming family.  Not. Even. Close. 
Everything I've managed to learn about the animals who now populate our backyard and how to care for them has come from books.  Sure, as we acquire our animals, we are slowly gaining some contacts in the farming community, but it's a community that we're still working ourselves into.  And, like most htings, it's a process.

We are now proud members of our local farm co-op, and to say that I feel out of place there is quite an understatement.  I walk in, make my way to the front counter, where a group of male farmers are congregated, deep in a cow-related discussion.  They pause their conversation, all eyes trained on me, to allow me to have the worker's attention long enough to order my "laying pellets." 
"Oh, no!" I think.  "Am I supposed to call it laying ration?"    There I am, in my tall boots and boho sweater, and I feel like they're all looking at me like "is she for real?"  Maybe I should wear my overalls next time. 
Now, I'm probably just being self-conscious, but I do often feel less than "legit" as a farmer.  The fact is, though, no matter how we come by our knowledge, no matter how new to this we are, no matter what I call the feed we give our chickens, we ARE farmers.  I mean, we've got animals outside, after all.

Still, I really like to feel legit.  And the new-to-us goat feeders really seem to add to our legitimacy as a farm!  Check them out!  They're huge.  They're rusty and well-used.  They get the job done in a practical way, as all good farm equipment should. 

Goats are pretty picky about their hay and feed.  They do not want to eat it off the ground (which is weird, considering how they graze the grassy ground all day).  Nevertheless, we put their hay in feeders.  Goats are pretty messy eaters, though, so there'd always be a lot of waste as hay fell to the ground around our old feeders.  Not anymore!  These new feeders (on loan from my father-in-law who isn't currently "running any cows" --I'm pretty sure that's accurate farm speak, right there -- be impressed!) catch the hay that would otherwise fall to the ground in the trough below, minimizing waste. 

In case you're not well-versed in deciphering the stares of small ruminants, allow me to translate these looks:
"What's she doing now?"
"Oh, the crazy lady's just climbed the fence to take our picture again.  No big deal."

And this look is, "Are you just gonna stand there with that camera all day, or are you gonna scratch me behind the ears already!"

Monday, December 17, 2012

Self-Imposed Rules: Does Anyone Else Do This?

So,  yesterday I didn't blog.  Did anyone even notice?  I know that may not seem like such a big deal, but here's why it is to me.

I launched Brooding On on March 23, 2012.  There are a few posts dated before that, but they are ones that originally appeared on our family blog The Beller Brood.  And, in the almost 9 months since its inception, I've posted a new little blurb EVERYDAY --everyday, until yesterday, that is.

Confession:  sometimes I set rules for myself.  Am I alone here?  For example, "I can't read that magazine that I'm really looking forward to until I first finish the book that I've been struggling to get through," or "Outside poop chores must be done on Mondays,"  or "I must run at least 3 times a week," or "I will blog everyday."

No one is holding me accountable for upholding these kind of rules.   Why do they seem so unbreakable? 

I remember when Girl 1 was in kindergarten, I couldn't wait for her to "pull her first card" for poor behavior or miss a word on her spelling test.  It seemed that a blue ribbon/100% streak was just too much pressure.  Who can maintain such perfection?  It seemed to me that she'd be better off once she'd broken the streak and would no longer have that "perfection stress" hanging o'er her head.

I don't need to explain to you how stressful the holidays can be.  Last week really wore me out.  We bought and wrapped countless gifts, made 70+ Cocoa Santas (that'll be another post), hosted a party, made an out-of-town trip, and ran the kids all over creation for various activities besides all the stuff that a normal week holds for our family of 5. So, Sunday afternoon rolled around, John took the kids to run an errand, and I found myself crashing fast;  I was exhausted, and I hadn't run in a few days and really wanted to (I know that may sound crazy, but it's true).  But, I needed to blog.  Why?  Because I had something I really needed to write about?  No, because I do it everyday.  Religiously. 

This time of year, always seems to refocus me on what's really important.  Yes, there's Christmas and what that means for me and for my world.  And the holiday means that we get to spend more time with family who are so important to us.  But, there's also this.  Today marks the 7-year anniversary of my mother-in-law's sudden death.  Without dwelling on the details, I will say that losing John's Mom changed forever the course of our lives and brought many things into stunning, brilliant clarity.  What's truly important took precedence over everything else.  And, as I feel her absence during this time of year, I'm reminded that everyday is a gift. 

All that to say, I didn't blog yesterday.  And, today, it's okay.  In fact, it's more than okay.  I took a little nap, had a prayerful run, and spent time snuggling my kids during the time I would've otherwise been writing.  I'd say I'm a much happier person today because I chose to do those things rather than blog.

So, new self-imposed rule:  no blogging on Sundays.  It'll be my day of writing rest.  But, more importantly, I need to learn to lighten up on myself a bit and remember why I'm blogging in the first place. It makes me happy.  Hopefully, sometimes it makes you happy, too. :)

Saturday, December 15, 2012


So, John and I spent the evening playing Santa while the kids were home with a sitter (and loving every minute--it doesn't happen often -- us having kid-free time together or their having a sitter.) We stopped in at Tractor Supply, and I found myself mesmerized by this book display. I think it's interesting that two years ago, I'd never been in/heard of Tractor Supply, yet today I found myself drooling over nearly every book in the display. My, how things change! We picked up a few things we needed for our little farm and got each of the expectant mothers a little gift (Have I mentioned that we're a bit excited that we have little goats on the way?!) We had a fun evening out.

Friday, December 14, 2012

We've Got News!!!!!

Can you make out the pink line?  Okay, there are no pink lines, but you should see two very important words in the photo above:  PREGNANT!

Yep, both of the gals are expecting!!!!

Looks like we could've just trusted biology after all.

We are ecstatic!  A goat's gestation period is about 5 months, so by our math, we could have some new little kids in our herd as early as March 1. 

Most commonly, does give birth to twins.  Giving birth to 1 or 3 kids happens frequently enough.  Honey happens to have been part of a sibling set of 4, so if that's a heriditary trait, we could be in for a surprise.

As we await the kids' arrival, we have some shopping to do for the farm.  There will be some supplies that we'll need to be sure to have on hand for kidding.  Once again, it'll be a first for us, and I am SO looking forward to it!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It Takes a Lickin'

The parsley, that was pretty slow-growing during the summer, has taken off as temperatures have cooled. 
Here it is, covered with frost first thing in the morning.  The first time I saw it like this, I assumed it was done for the year.

But, in the afternoon sun, it perks back up and still has great flavor!

I am loving that it's now December, and we are still bringing in so many things from the garden!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Blood Draw Success!

Can you hear the triumphant angels singing?  "Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!" 
Yep, we've got blood!

Let me just say what great friends and family we have!  Not 30 seconds after I posted Saturday that we were giving up on drawing the blood ourselves, cousin Karen called me.  She volunteered her husband Chris, who as a pediatric nurse, knows quite a bit about drawing blood.  They came over Sunday afternoon and gave it a go.  Both goats were a bit unruly.  (And who can blame them, as many times as we'd restrained and stuck them by then.)  Chris did a great job, but we had no success.
Prepared to give up again, I texted my friend Jessica and asked for the number for the vet they use for their cows.  Her husband, who works in anesthesia at the local hospital,  caught wind of our conversation and volunteered to come out and give it a try himself before we called the vet. 
Adam came out Tuesday afternoon and informed us that the needle/needle holder set-up we were trying to use is VERY difficult to work with.  (This was a bit of a relief to learn.  It seems that John, Chris, and I all had the right idea -- just the wrong equipment.)
He opted to use a basic needle and syringe.  John restrained Honey while Adam drew the blood, and I rejoiced nearby!  Then, they swapped spots so that John was the one to draw the blood from Razz. 
After the way things had gone over the past week, we were so glad to see that blood in the syringe, that John actually hugged Adam! 

Here, the samples are all packaged up and ready for shipment.  We hope to have results back within the week.  You know I'll keep you posted!  Fingers crossed!

We are so appreciative of those who helped us with this process.  It seems we learn new things everyday here on our little farm.  Occasionally, we try something for the first time and succeed.  But, a lot of times, (like this one) we have to fail first.  But, the blood is drawn, we now know how to do it, our goats don't seem to be holding a grudge, and we learned anew how great it is to have the support of a community of family and friends.  Sounds like success to me!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Compost Love!

Getting my Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog in the mail provided just the motivation I needed to get outside and move around some compost to begin prepping the garden beds for spring.
Here's a look at out current compost bins. 
Far left:  the bin we're currently filling -- you can see our pumpkin, fall leaves, and goat bedding with poo on top of the mound
Middle:  Compost ready for the garden!  I actually took the photo after I'd scooped 5 wheelbarrowfuls out, but you can tell by the color of the soil just how great it is!  I absolutely love the idea of compost:  yesterday's trash and scraps become the today's fuel for growing tomorrow's food!
Far right:  mid-decomp bin.  The contents of this bin should be ready for use by spring.

Remember, we use the Square Foot Gardening method, so we have a grid like this on top of the beds.  For the winter, though, we've removed the grid.  This allows us to more easily stir in soil amendments.

Here's a look at the beautiful compost, ready for the garden beds.  It was so full of earthworms -- an excellent sign that it's good soil.

Here's a look at the garden beds once I'd added all the compost.

Remember, we do not use our local soil.  Our beds are filled with a mix of rice hulls, peat moss, and compost/manure.  We aren't sure that the rice hulls were actually the best route, so instead of adding more come spring, we plan to sub in vermiculite instead.

Going ahead and moving the compost to the garden beds allows it more surface area to speed decomp if there's still some stuff that needs to break down before spring.  Also, it gets the prepped compost out of the middle bin so that we can go ahead and start filling that one back up.