Parenting is Not Black and White

Some of the best parenting advice I’ve ever received came from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People* by Steven Covey.  I’m not sure he wrote the book with parents in mind, but habit number one (Be proactive) and habit number two (Begin with the end in mind) are highly effective habits of good parenting.

When it comes to parenting intentionally, I’ve always said that I am raising future adults.  I am not raising future children. As a result, I always filter my children’s behavior through the lens of “will this behavior be acceptable as an adult?”

When you ask it that way, it usually becomes very clear.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t make allowances for the fact that they are children.  Of course you do.  But I’m always training the children toward proper adult behaviors.

The problem, of course, is that sometimes there can be some adult behaviors that are completely unacceptable. Such is the case with the issue of prejudice.  Prejudice has no place in adult (or child) behavior.

It is very important to me that the children recognize that skin color plays no role in how people should be valued or treated.  And so I am intentional in teaching the children not to judge people based on the color of their skin.

This was very easy to instill in my children when we were living in New Jersey (1997 – 2004).  Jim was teaching at an inner-city school in Trenton, New Jersey.  We lived in Trenton and were surrounded by people of all skin colors. The church that we attended was also very diverse.

My children played with our neighbors and friends at the church.  It didn’t matter whether their families were from Liberia, Ireland, Cuba, Haiti, or Italy. Being surrounded by such diversity, it was simple to teach the children that people are people and you don’t judge people based on their skin color.

In 2004 we moved to Indiana.  We love it here.  We love the people and the culture. But it is not a diverse culture.  In fact, it is overwhelmingly Caucasian.

As a result, I’ve had to be more intentional about teaching my children not to notice skin color and certainly not to judge people by it.

There are many ways we make this happen.

Our attitudes.  Jim and I do not model prejudice to our children.  We treat all those we come in contact with as equal in value before God.

Our words.  We talk about skin color and culture.  We don’t pretend that everyone looks the same or has the same traditions.  We talk about the differences and what it means and more importantly what it doesn’t mean.

Science. We teach the children what causes the different skin tones.  They understand that skin tone is affected primarily by the amount of melanin in the skin and has nothing to do with how worthy or unworthy a person is.

History.  We talk about how African Americans and Native Americans have been treated in our country. We talk about the good and bad aspects of our history concerning different races.  We talk about European history and how the Jews were treated during the Holocaust.

Bible. We teach the children that the Bible states that all mankind shares one blood* and God does not prefer one race over any other.  “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.” Acts 17:26

Bad guys.  Because our children interact with the public, we are careful to keep them physically and emotionally safe.  Our children know that bad guys often don’t look like bad guys.  A bad guy doesn’t have a certain skin color or dress a certain way.

Intentional interactions.  While living in Indiana (before we started Goat Milk Stuff), the children didn’t have a lot of opportunities to talk to people of different ethnicities.  So I always made sure that if there were people of different skin tones that the children had an opportunity to interact.

I didn’t make it obvious and point out the skin color.   But for example, if there was a Caucasian police officer and an African American police officer, I would have the children ask a question of the African American police officer.  I didn’t identify the person by the color of their skin.  Instead I would say, “Hey, go ask that tall police officer how long he has been a police officer.”  Simple things like that.  Now that we have Goat Milk Stuff, the children are exposed to a lot more people and it’s a lot easier to make skin color a non-issue because the children know how to treat customers.

Movies.  Other than modeling appropriate behaviors when it comes to skin color, the most intentional thing I do is to have the children watch movies that provide talking points and positively represent different races and cultures.  This has been easier the older they get because there are more options for them.  Some of the movies that come to mind are:

I would always recommend previewing these movies before watching them with younger children as there may be inappropriate language and themes.  If I think the movie is worth it, I let the younger children watch and just skip the scenes I don’t want them to see.

Often, movies can be great starting points with your children and teenagers about why people should never be judged based on their skin color.

I’ve been working on this blog post in my head for a while.  Sometimes I plan my blog posts days or weeks in advance.  Sometimes I write them a few hours after before they’re scheduled to go live. I was planning to write this blog post yesterday, but I’m on vacation and didn’t get around to it.

When I got up this morning, I posted to my instagram page and the post below it had a saying that said:

“It is not enough to be quietly non-racist, now is the time to be vocally anti-racist.”

I’m not sure who to give credit to for those words (if anybody knows who said them, please let me know.)

But recent news headlines about racially motivated violence in Charlottesville (Charlottesville is dear to our hearts) and that instagram post were confirmation that I needed to get this post written today.

As Nelson Mandela famously said,

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

As parents, we have tremendous influence over how the next generation judges people based on their skin-tone.  It’s important that we do our part in making sure that our children aren’t finding people inferior (or superior) because they happened to be born looking a particular way.

It’s up to each and every one of us.  And it’s important.

What are your thoughts?  Do you have any other suggestions or movie recommendations?




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Helping Your Child Catch Up

We normally take our beach vacation in the beginning of September.  We do this because when kids start back at school, the rental rates for beach houses drop dramatically.

Consequently, most of the children we meet at the beach are either very young or homeschooled. They tend to be respectful and responsible and the families tend to be super friendly and polite.

Since our older children are now taking classes at our local Community College, and these classes start early in September, we’ve had to shift our vacation and move it up earlier.  So instead of going to the beach the first two weeks in September, we are at the beach the first two weeks in August.

You wouldn’t think we’d notice a difference, but the difference in the families at the beach are tremendous.  There are a lot of older children here now because for many parts of the country, school hasn’t started yet.  We also haven’t come across any homeschoolers (who tend to stand out if you know what you’re looking for).

The parents seem to be less engaged with their children.  The children with one exception have been less friendly and polite. There is also a lot more fishing, reading, smoking, and texting going on at the beach this year.

Most of the members of our family have noticed the difference and have remarked that they like the people at the “September beach” better than the people at the “August beach.”

You wouldn’t think that four weeks would make such a difference, but apparently it does.  Timing appears to change a lot.

The evening after several children telling me they prefer “September beach”, I picked up the book I wanted to read – Outliers* by Malcolm Gladwell.

In the first chapter, Gladwell points out the phenomenon that the majority of Canadian professional Hockey players are born in January, February, and March.  This is because the calendar year cutoff date for grouping players makes these children on average a little bit older, bigger, and more capable among their peers.

I found it very ironic that after talking about the change four weeks could make in our vacation, I was reading about the change three months could make. (Don’t you love when God does that?)

Gladwell’s next point went on to discuss public education and I found the discussion of cutoff dates in education even more pertinent to this issue. Forgive the long quote, but since Gladwell said it very well, I thought I would just quote him rather than trying to summarize:

But these exact same biases also show up in areas of much more consequence, like education.  Parents with a child born at the end of the calendar year often think about holding their child back before the start of kindergarten: it’s hard for a five-year-old to keep up with a child born many months earlier.  But most parents, one suspects, think that whatever disadvantage a younger child faces in kindergarten  eventually goes away.  But it doesn’t. It’s just like hockey.  The small initial advantage that the child born in the early part of the year has over the child born at the end of the year persists.  It locks children into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement, that stretch on and on for years. (page 27-28)

Recently, two economists – Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey – looked at the relationship between scores on what is called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS (math and science tests given every four years to children in many countries around the world), and month of birth.  They found that among fourth graders, the oldest children scored somewhere between four and twelve percentile points better than the youngest children.  That, as Dhuey explains, is a “huge effect.”  It means that if you take two intellectually equivalent fourth graders with birthdays at opposite ends of the cutoff date, the older student could score in the eightieth percentile, while the younger one could score in the sixty-eighth percentile.  That’s the difference between qualifying for a gifted program and not. (page 28)

“It’s just like sports,” Dhuey said.  “We do ability grouping early on in childhood.  We have advanced reading groups and advanced math groups.  So, early on, if we look at young kids, in kindergarten and first grade, the teachers are confusing maturity with ability.  And they put the older kids in the advanced stream, where they learn better skills; and the next year, because they are in the higher groups, they do even better; and the next year,the same thing happens, and they do even better again.” (page 28-29, emphasis mine)

Dhuey and Bedard subsequently did the same analysis, only this time looking at college.  What did they find?  At four-year colleges in the United States – the highest stream of postsecondary education – students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their class are underrepresented by about 11.6 percent.  That initial difference in maturity doesn’t go away with time.  It persists.  (page 29, emphasis mine)

Wow. That is amazing quite honestly, a little bit scary.

And now I need to tell a personal story…

I’ve mentioned before that one of my children didn’t learn to read until he was ten years old.  It didn’t bother me at all that he wasn’t reading yet.  It would have made my life a little more convenient, but it didn’t really matter.  He was learning and growing without reading.

Every six months or so, I would break out the phonics book* we used and try again.  Having already taught children to read, it was obvious that this child simply wasn’t ready.  Shortly after his tenth birthday, I tried again and it “clicked”.  He was reading full sentences and beginner chapter books all by himself within 2 weeks.

After his tenth birthday, quite suddenly, his brain was able to process the mechanics of reading and he learned to read very quickly.  And his delayed start in reading did not have any long-term consequences.  If you now compare the reading skills of all my children, you would not be able to tell which started later than average.

During those years (between 6 and 10), the hardest part for me was managing other people’s expectations for him.  Most people in our lives couldn’t understand why he wasn’t reading yet.

Many people thought there was a problem with him and encouraged me to have testing done.

I wasn’t about to do this. I knew this child was brilliant.  He is super smart, incredibly creative, and a problem solver.  When we played cards, he was a brilliant strategist. He just wasn’t ready to read.

Many others thought there was a problem with me – that I wasn’t being responsible enough about his education.  They thought I should put him in public school so that would “fix” his reading problem.

Fortunately, while their opinions hurt a little, I was confident that I was doing the right thing (as was Jim).  I knew that if I put this child into public school, he would be at a disadvantage and labeled a “slow learner”.  I also knew that because he couldn’t read he would fall further and further behind in every subject.

So I did my best to manage other people’s expectations and make his reading a non-issue.

But mostly I worked really, really, REALLY hard to be aware of this child’s confidence and make him comfortable in his strengths and inate talents.  I did not want anybody (including himself) making him think that he was stupid because he wasn’t reading yet.

It wasn’t too difficult those first few years, but once he had younger siblings that were reading, and he wasn’t, it started to become a bit more of a challenge.  I just focused on his strengths and tailored his education around those.  It took a little effort, but it wasn’t that hard to read out loud to him or put him in a group with an older child who could read.

While writing this post, I just asked him his thoughts and he said:

“It never bothered me that I couldn’t read.  It bothered me that other people knew that I couldn’t read.  I was embarrassed to tell people that I couldn’t read.  But the fact that I couldn’t read never bothered me at all.  I never thought that I wouldn’t be able to read.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how much that thrills me to hear him say those words.

Let’s get back to Gladwell’s words for a moment:

Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.”  The professional hockey player starts out a little bit better than his peers.  And that little difference leads to an opportunity that makes that difference a bit bigger, and that edge in turn leads to another opportunity, which makes the initially small difference bigger still – and on and on until the hockey player is a genuine outlier.  But he didn’t start out an outlier.  He started out just a little bit better. (page 30-31)

I want to speak for a moment to any parent who is concerned that their child is just a little bit (or a lot) behind his peers. As the previous studies stated, your child may not be able to catch up.  But as my story related, your child may.

So what should you do?

Evaluate your child.  You are your child’s parent.  Nobody knows or loves your child better than you do.  Even the best teachers in the world only spend so much time with your child.  What are your child’s strengths?  What are his weaknesses?  Are they not living up to the potential that you see in them? What is the root cause?

Evaluate the system.   What is preventing your child from reaching his full potential?  Himself?  The system he is in?  If he is in public school, the system may be stacked against him.  I prefer homeschooling because you can personalize the education to the individual child.  But while homeschooling may help, it is not a perfect solution either.  Regardless of how you educate, what is your role in influencing the system to improve your child’s chances for success?  What other systems (e.g. sports, activities) are influencing your child’s progress?

Address the situation. As the parent, you are your child’s advocate.  You need to address the situation and not just hope it will improve on its own.  If there is a problem, please work to find a solution instead of assuming the situation will improve as your child gets older.

Put in ongoing effort.  It takes effort (and lots of it) to raise children.  Raising successful children requires even more effort.  Don’t despair if your parenting isn’t currently producing the results you want.  Instead, study to be a better parent!  Read books. Read blogs. Listen to podcasts.  Find mentors.  There are no parenting manuals, and even if there were, you’d need a different one for each of your children since they’re so unique.  Know that you are parenting for the long-term.

As you’re answering some of these questions, you need to determine if the simple passing of time will fix your child’s difficulties.

Because sometimes it is a matter of being patient.

But sometimes, the existing system is causing the problem.  And if the existing system is the cause, you have to decide whether the system can be fixed for your child’s benefit.

And if it can’t be fixed, are you in the position to remove your child from the system? That’s not always easy, but sometimes it is necessary.

I focused during this blog post on children, but please realize that this applies to us as adults as well.  Are you currently in a system that has you at a disadvantage?  If so, what are you going to do about it?





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Pushing Through Sickness

Does it mean anything to you if I say, “I am not throwin’ away my shot!”?

If not, then you clearly aren’t as obsessed with the musical, Hamilton, as my children are.  Brett discovered the music to the Broadway play, Hamilton, over a year ago and fell in love.  That led to purchasing the Hamilton soundtrack* which led to putting together a “safe” playlist that all the children could listen to which led to a trip to New York City to see the show.

Anyway – my children are thoroughly inquisitive (yeah, homeschooling!) and they’ve been asking me questions non-stop about Alexander Hamilton, the Revolutionary War, and the Constitution.

I know most of the answers (yeah, me!), but there are quite a few, I didn’t know.  Since I never want to stop learning, I decided to purchase the book that inspired the Broadway play – Alexander Hamilton* by Rob Chernow.

Hamilton by Chernow

It’s a very long book.  Seriously long. As in 731 pages long.

I wasn’t a bit daunted.  Ok, maybe I was a bit daunted (I usually read and walk around the living room to get my 10,000 daily steps and I can’t even hold this book up for too long).

But I was not going to give up because I love books about history – even if they are 731 pages long.

Hamilton’s life was amazing, and I drew lots of connections to my own life.  One (of the many) traits that impressed me was the fact that even when Hamilton was really sick, he didn’t let that stop him from doing what he felt needed to be done.  On page 84 it says:

“In his waning days as an artillery captain, Hamilton confirmed his reputation for persistence despite recurring health problems.  He lay bedridden at a nearby farm when Washington decided to recross the Delaware on Christmas night and pounce on the besotted Hessians drowsing at Trenton.  Hamilton referred vaguely to the ‘long and severe fit’ of illness, but he somehow gathered up the strength to leave his sickbed and fight.”

It made me question where he gathered that strength from, because if I were really sick, the last thing I’d want to do is go out, cross the freezing Delaware, and attack a bunch of Hessians.

Yet, that’s exactly what Hamilton did.  Alexander Hamilton had a very rough childhood and built a lot of internal strength, character, and fortitude.  He used that to do amazing things even when he was very sick.

As I thought about that, my thoughts drifted to my children who have had a pretty ideal childhood (in my opinion).  Yes, they work hard, but is that enough?

Am I teaching my children to have internal strength?

Am I teaching my children to do the hard things even if they’re not feeling well?

Am I teaching my children how to face adversity and triumph?

Kids Work Hard

I’d like to think the answer to all of those questions is, “Yes.”  And as I thought about it, I decided there were three areas where my parenting could help my children develop inner strength, even without a difficult childhood.

1. Do I make excuses for my children so they can avoid difficulty?  Nope – my children know the score living on a farm with a large family.  If you’re responsible for something, you’re responsible.  There are no excuses made because you don’t feel well or have something you want to do instead.

I can easily recall times when Colter and Emery were sick with a stomach bug and would still need to milk the goats.  That may sound harsh to some people, but I am growing future adults here, not future children.  Animals need to be taken care of (just like babies and children need to be taken care of even if Mom is sick).

And don’t worry about the boys, once they were done milking and feeding the goats, they got plenty of loving and nursing to help them get better.

2. Do I give my children chances to fail?  Yes, sometimes I purposely give them tasks that I don’t think they can handle.  I need them to learn how to push through the failure, learn from their mistakes, and learn how to seek help so they don’t continue to fail.

One example was when Hewitt was little and I asked him to fill the goats’ feeder with oats.  Of course, he couldn’t pick up and carry a 50 pound bag.  I watched him for a while try to carry it or drag it.  He even tried to put it on a dolly (but the bag was not rigid enough to stay on). I didn’t ride into the rescue.  Instead I stood aside, watched him get frustrated, then watched him find Colter to help him.

Colter showed him how since he couldn’t carry the bag, he could open it and carry smaller buckets at a time.  And you can bet that Hewitt can now carry a 50 pound bag, he wasn’t going to let a bag of oats get in his way!

3. Do I challenge my children to accomplish more than they think they can?  Always.  This holds true more for some of the children than others.  Some of them have an “I can do anything” attitude and they were born with it.  But others are a little hesitant to try something new for fear that they won’t succeed.

It’s those children who need to be challenged the most.

I do this with different chores around the house or different school assignments.  But my preferred method is making them speak or interact in public in a way they are not comfortable with.  For the little ones, it starts with praying out loud at church where others can hear them.  As they get older, it’s explaining to a group what their job is on the farm.

I also have them all learn to make phone calls to schedule their own appointments (they hate that!) And the oldest ones are going to networking events where they regularly have to meet and and talk to complete strangers.  This is not something that they are super comfortable with, but I’m always challenging them to just be a little bit out of their comfort zone.

Does this mean they would Rise Up from their sickbed to cross the Delaware River in the middle of the night?

I would like to think that if it was something of importance, every one of my children would sacrifice their own desires and comfort to do what was right.  I am always reminding them that they “can do all things through Christ who strengthens them.”  But in my experience God usually strengthens them and works through them after they’ve actually taken the first step.

I learned a lot of lessons from the life of Alexander Hamilton, but this is one that I definitely want to pass on to my children:

Being sick or not feeling your best is never a good thing and when necessary you need to take care of yourself.  But there are times you can’t let not feeling well stop you.  You need to rise up and do what is right – even if it is a sacrifice.

What about you? What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do when you were sick?




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80/20 Principle in Action

We are currently on vacation.  Because farm life is very involved and the animals need to be taken care of seven days a week, we try to get the family off the farm several times a year.

One of our favorite places to visit is the Atlantic ocean.  I actually grew up on an island (Long Beach Island) off the coast of New Jersey and often joke that I have salt water running through my veins.  Since we live in the Midwest, Jim has learned that I’m a lot happier if I know that I can walk barefoot at the ocean’s edge at least once every year.

Once we are here, we do nothing but relax, play in the water, and on the beach, do puzzles, play cards, and generally just enjoy each other’s company. (OK, so I also answer emails that the employees can’t answer and blog, but I can do it whenever I want to – and that makes a big difference.)


The difficult part of course, is actually getting to the point where we can leave.  It’s not as simple as just packing, and packing for a family of ten isn’t exactly simple.  What takes the most effort is getting the farm ready for us to leave.  And really, it’s never quite as ready as I would like it to be.

In my mind, I’d have (at bare minimum) all the following accomplished two days before we left:

  • All goats hooves trimmed
  • Barns spotless
  • All soaps bagged
  • A couple of hundred pounds of laundry soap made and packaged
  • All “other stuff” completely stocked
  • A two week supply of caramels and toffee made and packaged
  • The garden completely weeded
  • The garden completely harvested and the produce “put up”
  • The house spotless

And so on and so on.

So – do you want to know what we’ve actually accomplished 100% on that list?

Nothing.  None of it.

But, we have accomplished all of it to about 20%.

While I’m definitely and “All or Nothing” kind of girl, I’ve also learned that if I try to do everything in my life to 100%, not only will I burn out, but I will make my family miserable while I am in the process of burning out.

Let’s talk about the 80/20 Principle and what it is for a moment.  In the book The 80/20 Principle by Dan Koch, the first chapter (Welcome to the 80/20 Principle) says:

The 80/20 Principle asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards.  Taken literally, this means that, for example, 80 percent of what you archive in your job comes from 20 percent of the time spent.  Thus for all practical purposes, four-fifths of the effort – a dominant part of it – is largely irrelevant.  This is contrary to what people normally expect.

… The reason that the 80/20 Principle is so valuable is that it is counter intuitive.  We tend to expect that all causes will have roughly the same significance.  That all customers are equally valuable.  That every bit of business, every product, and every dollar of sales revenue is as good as any other.  That all employees in a particular category have roughly equivalent value.  That each day or week or year we spend has the same significance.  That all our friends have roughly equal value to us.  That all inquiries or phone calls should be treated in the same way.  That one university is as good as another.  That all problems have a large number of causes, so that it is not worth isolating a few key cases.  That all opportunities are of roughly equal value, so that we treat them all equally.

… Why should you care about the 80/20 Principle?  Whether you realize it or not, the principle applies to your life, to your social world, and to the place where you work.  Understanding the 80/20 Principle gives you great insight into what is really happening in the world around you.

The overriding message of this book is that our daily lives can be greatly improved by using the 80/20 Principle.  Each individual can be more effective and happier.  Each profit-seeking corporation can become very much more profitable.  Each nonprofit organization can also deliver much more useful outputs.  Every government can insure that its citizens benefit much more from its existence.  For everyone and every institution, it is possible to obtain much more that is of value and avoid what has negative value, with much less input of effort, expense, or investment.

The 80/20 Principle Books

Have I mentioned that I love this book?  When I start podcasting again, don’t be surprised when I dedicate a few episodes to how I use the 80/20 Principle in my life.

But for now, I want to share how I applied it to getting ready for vacation.

I always have grand plans for how everything will be perfect before we leave for vacation. In my head I know it isn’t going to be, but I try to encourage everyone so that they help me try to make this vision happen.  But really, I’m just going for 80% of the results that I want.

According to the Pareto Principle (another name for the 80/20 Principle), I just have to identify the 20% of the tasks that will lead to these results.

So let’s go through my goals.

All goats hooves trimmed.  The goal of this is for the goats to not have any foot problems while we are gone.  We normally do all the goat hooves every month.  But in reality, 80% of the goats could go every other month without any difficulty either because their hooves grow slower or because they wear them down more on the concrete in the barns and milk parlor.  So instead of doing all of the goats, Greyden and Hewitt focused on the goats with “problem feet”.  They know exactly who these goats are – Payton and her daughter, Thalia are the two that jump to my mind.  Because they care for the goats daily, they can just trim the hooves on 20% of the goats before vacation and know that everyone’s hooves will be fine til we trim them again next month.

Barns spotless.  Let’s face it – we could make the barn spotless and the goats are just going to poop and pee again and mess it right back up.  So the trick is to isolate what 20% makes it look the most clean.  This is easy – shovel out the stalls and sweep the aisles.  Yes, there are still cobwebs that need to be removed, and the tool room needs to be reorganized, but that can wait til we return.

All soaps bagged.  It would be very nice to be completely caught up on bagging.  But it rarely happens because there are more important things that need to be accomplished.  When we bag soap, we usually bag in order – that is, the soap that was made first gets bagged first.  But this would defeat our purpose.  Instead, we did an inventory of the shelves, and bagged only the soap that we could possibly run out of while we were on vacation.  This meant that we could skip hundreds of bars because we already have plenty on the shelves.

A couple of hundred pounds of laundry soap made and packaged. Our laundry soap is very popular and we never have enough of it made.  The reason it can become a problem when we’re on vacation is because shredding the laundry soap and making it is very loud.  We have a small room where that is all done.  The person who is making the laundry soap can’t hear if a customer enters the farm store or if the phone rings.  To get our 80% of benefits, we need to make sure all the laundry soap itself is made.  Any packaging can be done later in small increments of time.

All “other stuff” completely stocked.  As with laundry soap, keeping lip balms and lotions stick stocked is important.  Since we couldn’t get it all finished.  We focused on making just the most popular flavors (peppermint & vanilla lip balms and OMH & unscented lotions).  These compromise 20% of available flavors/scents make up 80% of what will be sold while we are on vacation.

A two week supply of caramels and toffee made and packaged. We sell a lot of candy in the Sweet Shop, but the fudge, toffee, and caramel are the most popular.  The caramel and toffee are the most labor intensive.  We could have made a lot more candy before we left, but by concentrating on just the caramel and toffee, we got the biggest results for a smaller amount of effort.

Goat Milk Toffee

The garden completely weeded.  I love weeding my garden because it relaxes me.  I do a lot of thinking while weeding.  I also feed the weeds to my rabbits which makes me feel good because I am feeding them for free.  But I knew there was no way my garden (which is huge) would be weed free before I left for vacation.  So I focused on the 20% that mattered – and that was the weeds that were going to set seed.  Instead of weeding just one area, I went through the entire garden and removed all the largest weeds that would set seed while I was gone.  This prevents the further propagation of weeds in my garden.

The garden completely harvested and the produce “put up”.  There is tons of food that needs to be harvested and stored.  I decided to harvest the stuff that we can like the blackberry jam, dilly beans, and pickles.  We left the tomatoes and peppers and such because Mason can harvest them and freeze them whole if he has too much work and can’t turn them into salsa or sauce.  This was kind of “reverse” 80/20 in that we did the 80% that produces only 20% of the benefit.  But I wanted to make it easier on Mason, so I left the 20% (tomatoes and peppers) for him.

The house spotless.  Ah yes, the house.  Our house is very lived in because we’re here all the time (unless we go on vacation).  As  result, it is never quite as clean as I would like it.  But I know where to get the 80% of the results with only 20% of the effort.  And that is the kitchen and dining room.  If those are clean, my whole house “feels” clean because it is where we congregate as a family.  My children also know that I want their beds made, their toilets clean, and the garbage all emptied before we leave.  With all that done, I can go on vacation knowing that while the house may not be spotless, it is good enough.

Those are the examples of where I spent my effort (and concentrated my children’s effort) on the days leading up to our vacation.  We picked the areas that were going to give us the biggest bang for our buck.  And it worked.  There were a lot more tasks I would have liked to accomplish, but I’m confident that those we left behind will take care of the goats, the farm, the business, and the house.

Want to hear a funny story?  The last time we went on vacation to New York City a couple of months ago to see Hamilton, Mason stayed at the house.  The day we were coming back, Mason cleaned the house and mopped the entire kitchen and dining room just for me (he’s very caring and is going to make a great husband!)

But when we walked into the house, we all started sniffing.  There was a very unpleasant aroma.  Apparently a part went out on our septic pump and it back flowed into the basement bath tub!!  Poor Mason, had to clean that up, but there was no way he could remove the smell fast enough.  But he totally gets points for trying!  Hopefully this trip will go more smoothly for him.

So what about you?  Are you familiar with the 80/20 Principle?  Have you been applying it to certain areas of your life?  There are so many areas where it can be used to improve your life. I’d love to hear about how you put it into action.




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Handling Frustrations

Anyone who has ever owned livestock knows that a lot of time and decision making is spent on hay.  I know that sounds silly.  After all, hay is just dried grass.  How hard can that be?

I’m here to tell you it is in fact very difficult.  Imagine having to go food shopping for all your winter food in a 3-5 day time period.  That will give you a glimpse of what it is like to get hay for an entire herd of dairy goats.

Square Bales on a Hay Wagon

You have to answers questions such as – How much hay? What kind of hay? What size bale of hay? Where will I store it?  How will I keep it?  Is it moldy?  Does it have poisonous weeds in it? When will the grass start growing in the spring?

And those are only if you’re buying the hay.

If you’re trying to make your own hay, then you’ve got to deal with even more questions such as – Do I have the right equipment to bale the hay?  Is my equipment going to break? How is the fertility of my soil? Is the grass at the proper stage to be cut?  And most importantly, what is the weather?

Remember the old saying, “Make hay while the sun shines”?

You have no idea how important that is unless you’ve actually dealt with baling hay.  During hay season, all eyes are on the weather and the calendar because hay takes all your time over several days so you need a stretch of no rain that correlates to a stretch where you can spend all your time on the hay.

In my busy life, that’s not an easy combination to find.  And if you can’t find it, your grasses can go past the peak time and start to lose nutrition, which impacts the health of your animals.

Late last week, the hay field looked ready to be baled and the weather was forecasted to have 7 sunny days in a row, so the decision was made to cut the hay on Sunday.

Freshly Cut Hay

Baling hay involves all these steps:

  1. Mow the field
  2. Ted the cut grass (this turns it over and helps it dry faster)
  3. Rake the dried grass into rows
  4. Bale the hay
  5. Store the hay

Seems pretty straight forward, right?


You have to remember that you can’t work with hay at all when there is dew on it.  The hay has to be completely dry.  If it is very humid out, it can take several days for the hay to dry.  You can use a tedder to “fluff” the hay up and get the bottom stuff to the top so it dries faster.  But every pass over the field takes more time and more fuel so that the cost of your hay keeps rising.

But you do it if you have to, because the worst thing you can do is bale or store wet hay.  Wet hay bales can compost and generate enough heat to start a fire and burn down your entire barn–with all your animals in it.

That would be bad. Very, very bad.

So when Mason cut the hay on Sunday, it all looked good to bale the hay on Wednesday.  But come Monday morning, the forecast had changed, and rain had moved from Friday up til Wednesday.  So the decision to ted the hay again was made to help it dry faster and the hay baling date was moved to Tuesday.

Monday, the hay was raked into rows.

Tuesday morning, everyone was set to bale hay.  They would start baling in earnest at 1 pm, when everything was completely dry and work til about 9 pm, when the dew would be back on the field.  They were anticipating anywhere between 1500 and 2500 hay bales.

Side note: we’d never stored this much hay before, so our contractor came in and reinforced our hay loft and barn so it wouldn’t collapse from the weight of the hay.

Barn Beams

The forecast was for partly cloudy all day.

Baling commenced at about 1:00 when everything was completely dry.  Immediately the baler started breaking.

This is a very common part of farming.  Sometimes it seems that farmers spend more time fixing and maintaining their equipment than they actually do using it.

So they would bale several bales and then it would break.  They’d fix it and bale a few more and it would break again.  After a trip to the hardware store they installed stronger shear pins (I have no idea if that’s how you spell that but it was what the boys were telling me) and the baling proceeded faster.

But by this point, the clouds were getting darker and the forecast changed again to 30% chance of showers.

Putting Up Hay

Around 3 pm we had a light sprinkling of big, fat rain drops.  Bummer, but not a big deal.

And then, around 6 pm, the clouds opened up and it started down pouring.  And it continued down pouring for at least 30 minutes.  They got the load of hay that was being rained on into the hayloft.  Then somebody went to the store and bought salt and they had to put salt onto the hay to help pull the moisture out so it wouldn’t compost and catch fire later on in the winter.


Salted Hay Bales Drying in the Loft

Another 50 bales or so were left out in the rain.  I’m not sure what they’re planning to do with those.  They’re too wet to go into the hayloft even if they are salted.

All told, they got somewhere around 800 – 850 bales into the hayloft.

So what about the rest of the hay?  It’s still out in the field.  Mason is going to do his best to keep tedding it and getting it to dry out enough so it can be baled into round bales that he will feed to his cows. The round bales are not stored in a hayloft the way our square bales are, so there is not a big concern about fire.

But the rain is expected to continue all week, so he’s not sure if he’ll be able to do even that.

You can imagine that yesterday was a bit frustrating for all of us.  As I lay in bed trying to sleep, I spent a lot of time thinking about how frustrating it was, and the lessons that I’ve shared with my children over the years on how to handle that type of frustration.

This is what I kept reminding myself:

Don’t second guess the decision.  We are all forced to make decisions throughout each and every day.  Sometimes we will make good decisions, and sometimes hindsight will show that we made poor decisions.  But once the decision has been made, and if it can’t be undone, don’t second guess whether you made the right decision or not.  That just wastes a lot of emotional energy.

Accept that you made the decision with what information was available.  As you’re trying not to second guess your decision (you know we all do it to some extent), recognize that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect information.  You can only do the best with the information you have.  You can’t predict that a forecast of 7 straight sunny days will turn into 2 sunny days with lots of rain.  With 7 days of sun, we knew we had a buffer.  We made the right decision with the information we had available to us.

Don’t beat yourself up.  I think this is the hardest.  Even if you don’t second guess the decision, and know that you made a good decision based on the information available to you, many of us still beat ourselves up because it turned out to be the wrong decision.  Don’t do this.  You are not a perfect person and you never will be.  We all do the best we can.

Move on.  Instead of dwelling on the decision and the poor outcome that you didn’t want, you need to put the decision in the past and move on to what you’re going to do going forward.  There are still plenty of other decisions for you to make.

Put it in perspective.  Often we can take a frustrating event and really blow the significance out of proportion.  If we take a moment to put it into perspective, we can see that (for most frustrating events) this is not a life changing event.  It’s a minor frustration in the journey of life.

Look for the good side.  Good can be found in almost any situation.  In this event, we have 800+ bales stored for winter feeding.  No, it’s not what we should have had, but it’s more than I had yesterday morning.

Stacked Hay Bales

Learn from it.  Is there something to be learned from the decision that can help you make a better decision next time?  Probably not in this case (other than to have better shear pins on hand), but often times there are valuable lessons that can be learned.

Make the choice.  Life is full of frustrating events.  That’s a fact.  But what is important is not that they happen, but how we choose to react to them.  Because how we react is a choice.  We can choose to be miserable because of the frustration (and make everyone else around us miserable), or we can accept that things don’t always turn out the way we want them to and move on.

Teach your children.  Remember that your children are watching you.  You can use anything as a teachable moment, including your frustrations.  So many people get bogged down in the negative moments in life instead of accepting them, learning from them, and moving on.  Be careful to reinforce positive responses around your children.

And so I’ve moved on.  It was a huge bummer that I got less than half the hay I was expecting.  The change in the weather forecast was a big, extra expense.  But bottom line, it’s only money.  I can’t change the decision.  I can’t change the weather.  I can’t change how many bales I got.

But I can focus on the fact that nobody got hurt. That’s what is really important.  There were no tractor accidents, no hay equipment accidents, no broken legs from falling off the hay wagon or out of the barn.

And if I focus on that, it puts it all back into perspective.

And as a reminder, after the downpour, God sent a rainbow to remind me of His love and what really matters.

Rainbow after Soaking Hay




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Making Time for Family

Over the past 9 years, most of my focus has been on my business, my husband, and on my children (sometimes, but not always, in that order).  It has worked very well because I was able to integrate my time with all of them since we have the privilege of homeschooling and working together on the farm.

But now that my children are getting older, they’re taking over a lot of my business responsibilities.

Brett and Mason both want to continue working at Goat Milk Stuff and plan to raise their children in the business as Brett was raised in it.  Colter wants to not just work at GMS, but he also wants to take a leadership role in running the business as well. And Indigo is starting to work on some of my bookkeeping responsibilities which is a huge help.

As all of the children mature, they are requiring less supervision in their tasks as they master them and become more efficient.

While I wouldn’t say that I have a lot of free time, I am finding myself spending a little more time trying to add other priorities back into my life.  It’s why I’ve been able to start blogging again and why I’m working to relaunch my podcast and hopefully get the book written – although Brett’s wedding may delay my book plans a bit.

Saturday, I did something I wouldn’t have done over the past nine years.  I left Jim and the boys to work a busy Saturday at Goat Milk Stuff and I took my three girls and Mason to Dayton, Ohio.

What’s in Dayton?  Family!

My brother, Adam, and his family are currently stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and live in Dayton.  They were hosting a small event with my brother Pete and his wife, my brother Mark and his wife, and my Mom and Dad.

So we woke all the girls and Mason up at 5:30 AM and headed to Dayton.

We had a wonderful time.  It was the first time Mason has spent any significant time with that part of the family (he fit in as well as we knew he would).

But more importantly, we took the time to show our family that they are important to us.

Over the past nine years, we’ve missed out on a lot of family events due to our commitments at Goat Milk Stuff. Afterall, we run a farm and the animals need to be milked twice a day.  You can’t easily skip that because there is a family dinner or special weekend.

Up til now, we rarely “split up” our family – either we all attended an event, or none of us attended an event.

But now that Brett is engaged, she and Mason will soon have their own home, and they will not always be included in our immediate family events.  This upcoming change in our family status is giving me a different perspective.  As much as I want us to all be together and attend family events together, it’s not always going to happen.

And so I grabbed the girls, they grabbed Mason, we abandoned the boys, and went to Dayton!

We had so much fun.  The children spent the entire day outside playing with their cousins. The adults spent the entire day all hanging out around the kitchen cooking and eating and cleaning up the mess from cooking and eating.  Our Italian family get togethers all revolve around good food, good company, and lots of laughter.

Did I mention good food?  We had chicken parmesan, penne pasta, lobster bisque, tons of grilled vegetables and mushrooms, and even grilled pineapple, peaches, and sliced lemons with a bit of sugar.

Mason also made a dessert that included angel food cake, lots of fresh berries, and homemade whipped cream.  Most of the food didn’t last long enough for me to get a photo of it, but Grandma grabbed this one of the grilled fruit.

I’ve always taught my children the importance of family (you can’t be one of eight children without learning that lesson!)  I’ve also done a lot of focusing over the past ten years on teaching my children how to work hard.  And I’ve been successful at it – they’re all hard workers.

Fortunately, I think they also know that they need to balance hard work with the following lessons.

It’s not all about hard work. Hard work serves a purpose.  It’s a good thing.  You need to be able to work hard and you need to be able to enjoy working hard.  But you also need to know when it is time to stop working hard and put family or others first.  Hard work is simply one tool in life’s tool belt.

Family is worth sacrificing for.  Saturday is our busiest day of the week on the farm.  Without me, Brett, Indigo, Jade, and Mason, the boys all had to work twice as hard to get the work done.  Normally they go running at some point in the afternoon, but they had to sacrifice their run because none of the girls were on the farm to cover for them.

Sometimes you need to be the one left behind.  For the girls to go and visit family, the boys needed to be willing to stay behind and man the farm.  This was not easy for them as they would have loved to have joined us.  But they were willing to stay behind so the girls could all go.

To balance it out a little bit, the girls and Mason covered the farm on the previous Friday night so all the boys (except Jim) could go and play ultimate Frisbee.  That is something that normally just Colter does with his friends, but he took all his brothers with him this week.

They had a blast.

I asked Hewitt how it went.  He said, “I had so much fun, but I’m not sure it was a good thing I went because now I want to go every week!”

I know on this blog that you will see lots of examples of the children working hard.  And they do.  But there are plenty of times we put work aside so we can do something fun with family. And we love it when we can do that!

What about you?  Are you good (or bad) at putting work aside to have fun with your family?




Revisiting History

I admit it, I’m a math geek.  I loved studying math and sciences and got my degree in Engineering.

I’ve always loved to read, but I never particularly enjoyed writing papers about literature.  But when I was in school, I was not a history fan.  I thought history was quite boring.  Who cared about memorizing all those dates and battle locations. Blah. Blah. Blah.

In fact, when it came time to choose my high school senior classes, I took an easy history class instead of AP History.  Instead of having to write a detailed term paper which was the AP History requirement, in this class, I simply had to give a 10 minute speech on a 20th century history topic.  I’ve never been afraid of speaking, so it was an easy choice.

Pearl Harbor was the topic I chose.  I became fascinated.  Instead of talking for 10 minutes, I spoke for two class periods (yes – I was an over-achiever even back then).  I made a scaled map of Oahu that measured 6′ by 4′.  Then I bought several games of “Battleship*” and used all the ship pieces on my map.  I had all my classmates involved moving the individual battleships during the attack and showing the different attack runs of the Japanese fighter planes.  It was one of my favorite scholastic memories from high school.

More importantly, it marked a change in my appreciation of history.  History was no longer abstract and boring.  It was fascinating.

I’ve tried to instill that love of History* in my children.

With our homeschool, I stay as far away from textbooks as I possibly can.  Textbooks are boring.  Really, really boring.  I don’t care at all if my children can spit back textbook facts to me.  I want them to understand the big picture when it comes to history.

I often tell this story that sums up my education philosophy.  When Brett was four years old, she was already reading (not all my children learned to read that early – one child didn’t start reading until ten years old).  We started reading children’s books about Christopher Columbus*.  One day she mentioned to her cousin (who was 6 or 7 and had learned about Columbus in school) that she was “studying” Columbus.  I listened in on the conversation which went something like this:

Cousin: “Brett, when did Columbus sail to America?”

Brett: “I don’t know.”

Cousin: “1492. Brett, what were the names of Columbus’s ships?”

Brett: “I don’t know.”

Cousin: “The Nina, The Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  Brett, who did Columbus sail for?”

Brett: “I don’t know.”

Cousin: “Queen Isabella.  I thought you were studying Columbus?”

Brett: “I am. Do you know why Columbus sailed?”

Cousin: “Ummm, no.”

Brett: “Columbus thought that he could travel west to reach the Indies when everybody else was traveling east.  He thought he could get there because they didn’t know that America was even on the planet.  But instead of reaching the Indies, he bumped into America and he discovered it!”

I knew at that moment that I was on to something.  At four years old, Brett was actually excited and understood something many school children studying Columbus missed in favor of being able to regurgitate the facts.

Ever since that day, I have tried to excite my children about history.  I do this through various movies* and documentaries*.  I present the children with lots of historical fiction*.  When we’re traveling, we visit places of historical significance, and take the time to learn the history that took place.

The children have different historical periods that they love.  They’re thrilled with ancient Greece* and to a lesser extent ancient Rome*.  Fletcher is obsessed with World War II.  As a fourteen year old, he read a 1000+ page biography of Winston Churchill* and loved it.

We have been somewhat obsessed with the Broadway play Hamilton*.  The children have memorized the entire show (minus the curse words*) and we’ve had hundreds of discussions about the Revolutionary War, the American Constitution, and the development of our country*.

Grandma and Poppy are visiting and last night they took us all to see the movie, Dunkirk.

Afterwards we spent a lot of time discussing the details of the evacuation and how God was involved and how without the successful evacuation at Dunkirk*, the war may have had a different outcome.  We talked about strategy and bravery and sacrifice.

Without much effort, you can provide your children (and yourself) with a wonderful education just by learning about fascinating historical events.  Here are seven reasons why I want my children to recognize the value in spending time learning about history.

1. History enables us to learn from the past.  There is so much we can learn from people both for the good and for the bad.  We just learned about Benedict Arnold who was an ardent fighter for American Independence.  But after feeling himself wronged one too many times, he turned against America and became a traitor.  There are lessons there on how not to handle disappointments and why it is important to not become bitter when we feel ourselves wronged.  There are also hundreds of examples of people who sacrificed for what they believed in, such as Martin Luther King Jr.  Watching his “I have a dream” speech with the children was a powerful testimony that you can fight for change.  You may not see it in your lifetime, but you can be involved and be an inspiration.

2. History shows us that history often repeats itself.  If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.  There are so many lessons that we can take from history about how to live and how to treat others.  While we can’t make our country as a whole follow these lessons, we can follow them ourselves and teach our children to learn from them to try to prevent the most painful episodes from repeating themselves.

3. History teaches us the importance of being active and involved citizens.  When you study everything the founding fathers of our country did and all that they sacrificed to win our independence, it is hard to ignore the responsibility to be involved.  And then when you consider all the soldiers who fought and died for our freedom, it makes it even more important to understand our government and political system and to be involved and at the very least, to vote.

4. History demonstrates that nothing happens in isolation.  A lot of young people are tempted to believe that they can take an action (whether positive or negative) and they are the only ones impacted.  This is simply not true.  Everything is connected and all actions have implications that you can’t see coming and that you often can only see through the benefit of hindsight.  By studying history, children can get a better understanding of how actions can have a ripple effect that can bring about major change.

5. History can help improve our decision making.  When you talk about historical events, it’s very easy to pick apart the decisions that past leaders made.  Good decisions are obvious, but bad decisions are glaringly obvious.  When you study what caused those poor decisions, it can help you to understand what criteria is involved in making a good decision.

6. History demonstrates viewpoints different than our own. I am always telling the children that, “The world is bigger than Goat Milk Stuff and Scottsburg, Indiana” (where we live).  It is easy to look at life based on the culture in which you live.  But there are many viewpoints out there that are radically different than our own.  I want the children to understand these other viewpoints.  I want them to know why they believe what they believe and to be able to defend their beliefs.  But I also want them to understand that where a person lives and how they grow up shapes those viewpoints and belief systems.  Studying history gives a lot of context into how belief systems came to be and where prejudice comes from and why it is wrong.  You can’t even begin to look at the Civil War without having a great many of these conversations.

7. History provides proof of what it truly means to sacrifice.  In our privileged world (you are reading this on a computer), very few of us truly understand what it means to sacrifice for what is right.  I want my children to know that the struggles they have are minor compared to the struggles men and women have faced throughout history.  They are very, very privileged.  They have a family who loves them.  They have freedom.  They have a roof over their heads and food security.  They’ve never been truly called on to sacrifice.  I want them to understand this and someday, if they ever have to be willing to sacrifice material gains to stand up for what is right, I want them to have thought about sacrifice, and be able to do it.

I do want to point out that you don’t have to homeschool to have these discussions.  The dinner table is a great place to talk about history even if your children are grown!

What’s your view on history – boring? or fascinating?




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Law of Diminishing Returns

The other night, Emery put some chicken in water to turn into chicken broth.  After simmering them for several hours, I removed the chickens.  When they had cooled sufficiently, I started picking the chicken off the bones.  As you can imagine, this is a rather brainless task, so my mind started to wander.

I had all sorts of thoughts and eventually I started thinking about the Law of Diminishing Returns. This is an economic principle that I learned years ago and that I apply to my life all the time. defines ‘diminishing returns’ as the following:

1. any rate of profit, production, benefits, etc., that beyond a certain point fails to increase proportionately with added investment, effort, or skill.

2. Also called law of diminishing returns. Economics. the fact, often stated as a law or principle, that when any factor of production, as labor, is increased while other factors, as capital and land, are held constant in amount, the output per unit of the variable factor will eventually diminish.

So, to use my “chicken picking” example, assuming I hold everything constant (the speed at which I pick, my concentration, etc.), as I continue to pick the chicken off the bones, I will get less meat.

If you’ve ever made chicken soup from a whole chicken, and you’re like me, the first thing you pick off is the chicken breast.  You get a huge chunk of meat with very little effort.  Then I usually go for the thighs, then the legs, and then the wings.

With every subsequent minute of effort, I get less and less chicken.  Eventually I’m left picking smaller pieces off of different parts of the carcass.  And eventually I quit.


Because it’s not worth any more of my time.

But there’s still some edible chicken left on the bones.

True.  But it takes me more and more time to get to the edible chicken and eventually it just isn’t worth it.

For all of those vegetarians or vegans out there reading this post, I’m sorry for the example.  But my brain works when I’m doing my normal tasks and I spend a lot of time making chicken broth and picking chicken from the bones.

But the reason I bring all of this up is because the Law of Diminishing Returns applies to so many areas of our lives and if you become aware of it, my hope is that you can become more efficient at whatever it is you’re doing.  Let’s consider the following scenarios.

Cleaning Your Home.  If you walk into a dirty house, you can spend the first hour, picking up and putting everything away.  The changes in that first hour can be dramatic.  After that you may wipe down counters and floors and it looks cleaner still.  Eventually, you’re going to get to the point where you’re washing windows and cleaning baseboards.  Do you know what?  Most people probably aren’t even going to notice.  Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever wash your windows or clean your baseboards.  But for me, I’m satisfied if I wipe them down once (maybe twice) a year.  More than that and my returns are definitely diminished.

Laundry.  Many people (including my family) wear mostly the same clothes over and over. The first hour spent doing laundry washes these clothes and produces clean clothes to wear.  The second hour may produce clean towels.  The third… clean sheets.  But if you keep going, you get down to washing curtains and throw rugs.  Do washing those items really improve your life?  If you have asthma or allergies, the answer may be a definite yes.  But for most of us, those would be diminishing returns.

Cooking. Fortunately for me, my family loves my cooking.  But I’m far from a gourmet chef.  If I want to try a new recipe, I may look up a recipe to get a basic idea of how it goes.  But do you know what I often find?  Most recipes have way too many ingredients.  I don’t have time for that.  I never use all the spices they recommend.  I usually get by with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  While adding all sorts of other seasonings may make the flavor more nuanced (and even better), I don’t have the time to stock all those ingredients and measure them all.  I get the bulk of my returns with just the basic three.  I can buy those in bulk and save money. The return on too many other spices diminishes.

Internet and Social Media.  I rarely use social media.  But if I do, it is to take a quick check on what is going on in the world and what is going on with the people closest to me that I don’t often see.  I can usually get that in 10-15 minutes.  I don’t need to spend hours on there.  With every subsequent 15 minutes I spend on the internet or social media, I get less and less return.

Exercise.  I have no desire to run triathlons or compete in body building.  What I do want is to maintain a healthy fitness level and a healthy weight.  I can do this in a minimal amount of time, especially if I’m consistent.  For example, as I’m writing this blog post, I’m walking on my treadmill desk and burning calories.  I even have a light sweat going just walking at 2.5 mph at a 4.5% incline.  Depending on your level of fitness, there comes a time when you exercise too much and either injure yourself or don’t add anything else to your fitness level.

Entertainment.  Watching a movie with your family can be a great way to spend some down-time and have something you can talk about later.  But spending twelve hours on a movie marathon is probably excessive and does’t provide as much joy as that first ninety minutes provided.  Especially if you’re like me and watching too much television gives you a headache!

Customer Service.  I try to provide my customers with the best customer service I can.  But I have found that I do a better job overall if I’m not checking emails every five minutes.  If I’m checking for customer emails every five minutes, it’s hard to be productive in other areas.  But if I check emails, and then write an informational article and then check emails again, I’ve provided better overall customer service.  There are definitely diminishing returns if all I do is wait for emails to come in.

Disciplining Children.  I see too many parents who over-discipline their children.  What I mean by this is they keep repeating the same discipline over and over until their children completely tune them out.  If your child misbehaves, I have found that looking them in the eyes, delivering a meaningful (but short) disciplinary action and then moving on works much better than sitting your child down for a half hour discussion on the various reasons they need to be disciplined.  Your biggest impact as a disciplinarian is often those first few minutes when the child feels the weight of what they did wrong.  Make that as impactful as possible and then move on.

Those are just a few areas that came to mind that I hope are more useful than my ‘picking chicken’ example!

Bottom line, there comes a point when it is best to stop what you are doing or working on because your returns are diminishing.  Move on to something else.  You’ll find yourself more productive and happier for it.

So what about you?  Do you find yourself stuck working on something even when you know you aren’t getting as much out of it as when you first started?





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A Day in The Life – PJ’s Thursday

Life as a Jonas means one thing: there is no such thing as a typical day. However, so many people have asked what a day looks like for our family that we decided we’d try to show you.  This is what yesterday looked like for me (PJ).

7:00 AM

Alarm goes off. Normally it is set for 6 am, but we had the last track meet of the season last night and I didn’t get to bed til after 11 pm.

7:10 AM

Sit at my writing desk* to journal and ready my Bible.

7:30 AM

Wake up the children.  When I say “the children” this does not include Colter.  He’s been up for hours (he’s the earliest riser in the family) milking the goats.  I also don’t wake up Brett.  The youngest six are all sound asleep because they also were up super late last night.  Emery and Fletcher didn’t get to bed til after midnight because they were working on their final college papers which are due next week.

Waking up the children takes time because most of them are teenagers and are very slow to wake up.  It’s also one of the few guaranteed times I have to see each of them, so I spend a few minutes with them.  I’ve found that this is a good time to talk if anybody is having any issues.  Fortunately, nobody is, because it is only getting hotter outside and I need to work in the garden.

7:50 AM

Answer customer emails.

8:00 AM

Go to the Candy Kitchen.  Mason was at work early and put the bread in the proofer to rise.  It looks like it’s ready to bake, so I turn the oven on.  I then grab a bowl and head out to the blackberry patch.

8:05 AM

Pick blackberries.  While I’m picking blackberries I think about what I’m going to blog about today and decide to blog about what I spend my day doing.

8:30 AM

Go back to the Candy Kitchen and put the bread in the oven.  While I was picking blackberries, I got a text that we had 2 dozen bagels ordered online.  So I set water to boil.  I also check on the Sweet Shop to see how many bagels I need to make for the Sweet Shop.  On the way back, I snag Jim for a quick hug and kiss (he’s working on new signs for a new item I put in the Sweet Shop yesterday – hot fudge sauce).

8:45 AM

Take the bread out of the oven and get it cooling.  Turn the oven up hotter in preparation for the bagels.

8:50 AM

Start boiling bagels.  While I’m boiling the bagels, Colter comes into the kitchen.  I say good morning to him and ask him to get out the goat milk yogurt.  The children and Jim are having yogurt with the fresh blackberries I just picked for breakfast.  They can also each have one of the zucchini sourdough muffins that I’ve been making to sell in the Sweet Shop (yes, I make extra for them!)

9:15 AM

Start baking the bagels.  Clean up the kitchen while I wait for the bagels to bake.

9:20 AM

Emery walks into the kitchen.  I put him in charge of taking the bagels out of the oven and I head back to the blackberry patch to pick a second bowl of blackberries.  While I am picking, I am joined by someone and we have a meaningful discussion of his future while picking blackberries side by side.

9:45 AM

Finish picking the blackberries and head back to the Candy Kitchen.  At this point, all of my children have shown up, so I touch base with them.  I also touch base with the employees to make sure that I know what everybody is planning to do for the day.  I steal another hug and kiss from Jim.

10:10 AM

Everybody is on task for the day so I head back to the house to shower.  I don’t normally shower now, but I knew I was going to get sweaty picking blackberries (it’s a humid day, so I hadn’t showered on purpose earlier).

10:30 AM

Decide what we’re having for lunch.  Emery was baptized on Sunday and he and Mason made a bunch of pasta with chevre and garlic bread for the guests we had.  We have some leftovers, so I decide to use that as a base.  I make a tomato salad to go with the garlic bread, and chop up a whole bunch of green beans I had picked several days ago.  I sautee the green beans and onions in butter until they’re cooked the way I like (firm, not mushy).

11:20 AM

Start this blog post.  Call Jim and ask him to take some photos for it.

11:40 AM

Stop blogging for now and run to the garden to get 1 big onion, basil, swiss chard, and celery.  I also eat some cherry tomatoes while I’m out there. (They’re just so good straight off the plant!) I also decide that I’d better get more cheese and run back to the Candy Kitchen.  Jim is there taking the picture of the blackberries I asked him to take.  This time he steals a kiss.

11:55 AM

Back at the house.  Continue lunch prep – chop basil and add it to the tomato salad along with extra virgin olive oil, basalmic vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic powder.  Then chop up the swiss chard and add it to the onions and green beans.  Add more cheese, then add the leftover pasta.

12:10 PM

Greyden and Hewitt show up and I put them to work stirring the ingredients into the pasta while I finish seasoning the tomato salad and marinating the vegetables (golden zucchini, green peppers, and red onion) I’m prepping for dinner.

12:30 PM

Lunch is on the table. Nobody else is here so I decide to answer some customer emails while I wait for Jim.  The boys are cleaning off the table and setting the food out on it.

12:33 PM

Jim shows up for lunch and the four of us sit down to eat.  During lunch, I am contacted by Colter who tells me he is still making soap and will be down in 40 minutes.  Jade says that it is really busy in the Farm Store and she and Fletcher will take turns coming down once it slows down.  Brett is not here (she is at the Midwest Writers’ Conference).  Indigo is covering the Sweet Shop and Emery shows up.

12:45 PM

I finish lunch, kiss Jim good-bye since he is headed back to the Sweet Shop, update this blog post, and then answer more customer emails.

1:05 PM

Everyone who has shown up is done eating and I set them to cleaning up the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher, and taking out the trash (of which there is quite a lot).  I ask Emery to get frozen chicken out of the freezer for me.  Greyden takes a storage bin we are no longer using down to the basement and brings up the last of our reclaimed cast iron that needs to be scoured and re-seasoned.  Emery puts some chicken to thaw for dinner and puts the other chicken in a pot, covers it with water, and sets it out to boil.

1:15 PM

Fletcher walks in for lunch. Fletcher and Emery start eating together and begin arguing discussing when it comes to their college papers (due next week) whether they should write the conclusion first and then the supporting arguments or the arguments followed by the conclusion.  They don’t ask my opinion and I don’t offer it – I just happily listen to them sounding so grown-up.

1:20 PM

I start processing the 3 bunches of celery I picked.

1:25 PM

Fletcher leaves to go back to the Farm Store and Colter walks in.  Emery is sitting at the table alternately eating (which he is supposed to be doing) and sketching (which he would prefer to be doing).

1:40 PM

I finish cutting up the celery and take all the celery tops out to the rabbits for them to enjoy.  It’s a good trade – I give them food waste they love and they give me manure for my garden!

1:45 PM

Indigo walks in for lunch while Jim covers the Sweet Shop.  I give her a hug and kiss and tell her I emptied her dishwasher for her (I did the glasses while the others children did the rest). She gives me a huge smile.

I should point out that all this time I’ve been drinking my water with lemon and every time I go to the bathroom, I do 10 squats when I am finished.  I don’t normally make time for a standard workout.  Instead I fit exercise in wherever I can throughout the day.

1:55 PM

Answer a few more emails.

2:00 PM

Start cleaning up the kitchen in preparation for moving on to the next thing.  Currently in the kitchen, chicken bones are simmering on the oven in preparation for chicken broth, veggies are marinating, chicken is thawing, and celery is cut up.    The chicken and celery will be for dinner tomorrow.  Tonight’s dinner is leftovers and stuff from the garden – potatoes, green beans, corn (somebody else grew), and tomatoes.

Emery cleans up with me for 30 minutes before he heads back to the Candy Kitchen.  We talked about different options for the back of our property.  We are wanting to start using more of the back acreage for the goats, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.  We discussed options for shelters, drainage issues, bridges over the creek, and fencing.

I give myself one hour to get as much cleaning done as possible in the kitchen and dining room area.  I’m very pleased with how it looks and even managed to sweep (which Brett usually does).

3:00 PM

I’m getting ready to head up to the Soap Room and Sweet Shop to check on everyone when I realize I forgot to have somebody wash potatoes for me.  I know that if it doesn’t get done, it will delay dinner.  So I do it myself.

3:30 PM

I finally reach my office (I may have been side tracked by a few weeds and a cucumber that needed to be picked).  I answer voicemails, return phone calls, return more emails, and then begin paper work and bookkeeping.  I’m way behind on both paperwork and bookkeeping, so I do the most urgent work.  I could work for several more hours, but I stop when I hear the “green light” signal come over the walkie talkies*.  That means that all the customers are gone for the day and both stores are being closed up.

5:30 PM

I put away my office work for another day and head back toward the house where I’m again distracted by more weeds.

5:45 PM

Emery had put the potatoes in the oven for me and peeled all the corn.  We’re having a veggie dinner tonight so it is pretty easy to prepare.  I also turn off the chicken that’s simmering.  I’ll remove the chicken so that it cools down enough for me to pick the chicken off the bones after dinner.

6:00 PM

It’s dinner time!  Normally we spend a lot more time together around the table, but I have a feeling (and I was correct) that this is going to be a quick meal since I told the children they could go swimming.

7:00 PM

Dinner is over, the kitchen and dining area are once again clean (mostly).  The children have all disappeared to go swimming.  I picked the chicken off the bones, then put the bones back in the pot.  I added some vinegar (to leach the calcium out of the bones) and let the broth continue to simmer with the chicken bones.  I also started canning green beans.  I washed the beans and put them into the jars and added all the seasonings.  I also updated this blog post.

7:45 PM

I’m all done in the kitchen.  Emery and Greyden will be getting out of the pool soon and will can the beans for me.  I now have a choice – do I want to be done for the day (yes!) or do I want to go back out to the garden to do some weeding?  I ask Jim what he wants to do and we end up sitting on the couches and talking.

8:30 PM

I end up going out to the garden to do some weeding.  I actually like weeding.  Makes me feel like I’m cleaning up some of life’s messes and I get to relax and think.  Plus the squatting is more exercise.

9:15 PM

Time to tuck the children in and tonight it’s a quick good-night.  Emery and Greyden are canning the dilly beans, Brett is at her conference, and Colter is helping Mason repair a fence and feed the cows.  Everybody else who is ready for bed is tuckered out after the late night and lots of fun swimming.  Sometime’s tucking the children in and can take two hours depending on who wants to talk or if anybody needs help with anything.

9:30 PM

I get ready for bed and do some reading. (Right now I’m in the middle of three books – a biography of Warren Buffett called The Snowball*, a book about Cornelius Vanderbilt’s children called Fortune’s Children, The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt*, and I’m re-reading Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference*.  Tonight feels like a Warren Buffett kind of night.

10:30ish PM

Lights out.

So, that was my Thursday!  It was a bit garden heavy and business light, but as I put my effort in where it is most needed for the day.

What did you think?

Do you find my life exhausting?   I admit it can sometimes be, but everything I do is building the life I love living.  I could save hours and hours (and hours) of time if I didn’t garden and just bought all my produce.  But I actually really enjoy gardening.  I’m outside in nature with my hands in the dirt.  I know I’m growing healthy food for my family.  I’m saving lots of money (which makes my frugal heart sing). And I feel a huge sense of accomplishment.

Plus, I can’t even tell you how often my children tell me how thankful they are that we garden.  It happens multiple times a week, year round.  That feedback from them makes all the hours of work worth it!

And just so you know, the fact that they’re thankful doesn’t mean they don’t also complain sometimes about all the gardening work LOL.

How was your day?




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Don’t Give In to Entropy

My children are growing up.  Jade (the youngest) just turned ten years old!  I no longer have any children in the single digits.  I have three with their driver’s licenses.  By the end of the year, I will even have one who is twenty-one and legally able to consume alcohol.

Life is changing.

In a good way, but it’s still changing.  And because of that change, I’ve been doing some big-picture thinking on our house and how we use it.

I have a large house.  It’s larger than I wanted it to be (I’m a minimalist at heart), because the house is designed to be a bed and breakfast for Goat Milk Stuff once the family is grown and the children have moved on.   But that is years in the future and something I’m not ready to fully think about yet.

Right now, our school room has become a clutter hot spot.  And if you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that I detest clutter.  In fact, I have 3 podcast episodes on clutter and how to get rid of it.  Here is a link to the first clutter podcast episode.

Now that the children are older, I want to move all of their desks from the schoolroom into their rooms.  Greyden actually moved his to his room over a year ago so he could read his Bible and write in his journal every night.  It’s worked out really well, so we’re going to do that for most of the rest of the children.

The schoolroom will still have my treadmill desk, Jim’s desk, and probably Colter’s desk.  But I’m also going to turn it into our library.  Right now we own way too many books. (I never thought I’d say that!)  Currently, the books are scattered throughout my entire house and business, making it difficult to locate a specific one when I want it.  We also still have all of our baby books and learning to read books out.  We’re past that stage.  I want to put more emphasis on some of the higher reading level books we have that the children haven’t read yet.

As I’m getting ready to make this switch, I’ve been thinking a lot about entropy.  In one of the podcast episodes on clutter, I said this:

My husband will often hear me say that I am convinced that entropy is stronger in my house, this is partly true because I have 8 young entropy magnets and if you don’t remember your high school physics lessons on entropy, entropy simply means that things naturally tend to go from order to disorder and what that means for our day to day lives is that if we don’t interfere, things will progressively become more chaotic and more disordered in our homes all by themselves.

(Sorry for the run-on sentence – I was talking, not writing. LOL)

Other than the fact that the children are a bit older, that statement is just as true now as when I said it several years ago.

The part that I want to repeat and stress is this:  if we don’t interfere, things will progressively become more chaotic and more disordered in our homes all by themselves.

Did you catch the significance of that?  It’s not entirely your fault if your life seems to get chaotic.  Or if your home seems to become disordered.  Especially if you just cleaned and decluttered it!

Chaos and disorder are the natural end result of living.  But just because it is the end result of living, that doesn’t mean disorder and chaos is inevitable.

It’s our jobs to fight the entropy so that we can live the kind of simple, orderly lives we desire.  And we have to keep on fighting it because entropy never quits.

I’m a big believer in the saying, “a place for everything and everything in its place.”  As a Mom and homekeeper, that’s one of my chief jobs – to make sure that not only does everything in our home have a place, but the children (and Jim) know where that place is.  I spend a lot of time training them to put their things in their proper place.

In fact, one of our house rules – “Touch it Once” – is designed with this in mind.  You don’t take your shoes off and leave them on the floor, you put them in your locker where they go.

You don’t get a drink of water and leave your glass out, you put it at your spot at the table if you’re planning to use it later or you put it in the dishwasher.

The list of examples is endless.

I often ask Hewitt to clean off our kitchen table and benches.  It tends to be a dumping ground for stuff that comes into our house (and I admit, lots of it is mine – like my green gardening hat).

I always tell him, “Hewitt, please clean off the table, and if you don’t know where something goes, ask me.”  I’ll be honest, there are often items that he’ll show me that are new and don’t have a place in our house.  I will tell him where to put it while I think about where to keep it.  Sometimes it is easy and sometimes not so easy, but I know that in our home, if I don’t come up with a place for it that makes sense, I’m doomed to trip over it time and time again.

So don’t be discouraged if you’re having trouble maintaining an orderly home!  It’s not easy.  It takes constant effort to maintain.  But I truly believe it is worth the effort, especially if you don’t try to do it all alone.

Involve the family in your decluttering efforts.

Spend time training them to “touch it once”.

Create a place for everything and then make sure everyone is putting their things in its place.

And when life happens, and you fall behind, don’t beat yourself up!  Recognize entropy for what it is, and jump back in.  You’re out to win the war – you can afford to lose a few battles!

What’s your biggest struggle with fighting entropy in your life?





Answering What Matters

We have a very public business and my children interact with a lot of new people they only meet once on a daily basis.  Because they’re children, they are generally brutally honest with what they share with people. This usually doesn’t cause a problem at all because we aren’t trying to hide anything.  The fact that the children are so honest is another sign that we are living authentic lives and Goat Milk Stuff is a reflection of how we live.

Unfortunately, there have been some instances where people ask the children (in my opinion) totally inappropriate questions.  I’ve had to do a lot of role playing with the children on how to recognize these types of questions and then how to appropriately and respectfully respond and answer them.

Here are a few examples of questions the children have told me they’ve been asked:

  • “How much money do you get paid?”
  • “Who did your parents vote for in the election?”
  • “Do your parents physically discipline you?”
  • “Which bedroom in the house is yours?”

Teaching the children to discern which questions are safe to answer and which are not takes quite a bit of time.  Some of the children are more intuitive than others and can discern the motive behind the question easily.  Others are not as intuitive and take even more coaching.

The bedroom question would have been really creepy except for the fact that it was asked by a friendly, elderly woman as they were discussing the views from their windows (her window opened onto her garden).  But I bring it up because it was a good lesson for the children that sometimes even simple, innocent questions are best left unanswered.

The standard answer when the children aren’t sure if it is safe ground is simply to say, “That’s private family business, you can ask my Mom or Dad if you want to know.”  The children don’t have to use that phrase often, but they have it memorized so if they are at all unsure, they can whip it out.

I do want to take a moment to say that because my children interact with the public on a regular basis, there are many safety precautions built into our family business that are designed to protect the children and keep them physically and emotionally safe.

But please be aware that all children should be taught to recognize inappropriate questions, even if you don’t have a family business.  Child predators are everywhere and my understanding is that most abuse occurs not from strangers, but from people that are trusted by the parents. Role playing is a great way to help even young children learn how to answer or avoid questions they shouldn’t be comfortable with.

So while we are very up front with how we live our lives, the children are regularly taught and reminded that simply because we have a public family business does not mean that every question a customer asks needs a response.

The one exception to this is questions about our faith in Jesus.  We willingly answer those questions and are happy to talk about our walks with Lord and what the Bible teaches.

A few months ago, Emery asked to talk with Jim and me one evening.  (I don’t know about you, but whenever we get a request like that, our heart rates speed up. LOL)

In this instance, it was very positive.  Emery told us that he wanted to get baptized.  He’d been reading his Bible and God had convicted him that he needed to publicly stand up for his faith in Jesus by being baptized.

We were beyond pleased to hear his decision and told him that we would help him get baptized wherever, whenever, and in front of whomever he wished.

Yesterday was finally the day.  He invited nearby friends and people who were important to him and he was baptized in our pool by someone who has had a great impact in Emery’s life – a close friend and his cross-country coach – Jon Sweetland.

Emery wanted me to share why he believes what he believes.  So after sitting down with our Bibles last night, here it is!

  1. You can trust the Bible to be the accurate word of God.  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16)
  2. We have all sinned. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
  3. There is a penalty for sin. “For the wages of sin is dealth,” (Romans 6:23)
  4. Jesus is a gift from God. “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
  5. Jesus is the means of eternal salvation. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
  6. Jesus is the only way to be saved. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'” (John 14:6)
  7. You can’t work your way to heaven. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  8. You can receive salvation through Jesus by confessing you are a sinner in need of a Savior. “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Emery told me afterwards that he is really trying to stand up for what he believes in and that he is hoping that being baptized is just the beginning.

Jim and I regularly pray for all of our children that they have the wisdom to share strongly the truths they believe in while having the wisdom to discern what questions are best left unanswered.

What are the questions that are most important to you to answer (or avoid)?




Do Something

Have you ever felt overwhelmed?  I certainly have.  I work very hard to avoid being overwhelmed, but it can (and does) happen despite my best efforts.  When I’m feeling that way, I can often feel paralysed.  I’m not sure which way to turn or what effort to make or how to reduce my stress.

I blogged about this a while ago when I talked about Doing the Next Thing.  I basically try to not think too far ahead, but I just concentrate on doing what comes next, however basic that may be.

But there is another point I want to make.  When you’re feeling overwhelmed, what is most important is to simply Do Something.

If you’re overwhelmed, it’s very easy to get stuck in an over-analysing loop.  For me it looks like this:

Picture me muttering to myself:

“There is too much to do.
How did I get myself in this position?
Don’t think about that now.
Just do the next thing.
I need to make dinner.
But the kitchen is a mess.
I should clean the kitchen.
But that will take half an hour.
I’m hungry now.
I should make something quick.
I don’t have anything quick to make.
I should go food shopping.
I don’t have time to go food shopping.
I should send one of the children food shopping.
I don’t know where the children are.
I should have the children clean the house while I go food shopping.
There’s no time for that.
Maybe I should pickup pizza.
I don’t want pizza – I have all of this produce in the garden to be cooked.
I should go pick green beans and cook that.
Jim won’t want just green beans.
I should cook him some protein.
But all the protein is frozen.
Actually I have canned venison.
Maybe I’ll make canned venison with green beans.
But first I need to clean the kitchen. It’s a mess.”

Wow – does that remind anybody other than me of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie*?

It’s so easy when you’re overwhelmed to get in a loop and not accomplish anything. I’ve learned that first I need to figure out what the next thing to do is.  And then I simply Do Something!

In this case, I would have started with cleaning up my kitchen.  It’s a brainless task that keeps my hands busy and keeps me making forward progress.

I’m still able to finish the rest of those thoughts, but while those thoughts are being muttered, I’m accomplishing something.  And when I’ve accomplished something – even if it is simply a cleaned off countertop, the world suddenly looks a little bit less overwhelming.  That little bit of forward progress often breeds further forward progress.

Do you know what makes me feel even better when I’m overwhelmed?

Delegating the “Do Something”.

It looks like this:

Me: “Front and Center!!! (all the children come running – or at least the ones within the sound of my raised voice).
OK, there is too much to do and not enough time to do it.  Let’s act quickly.
Brett – you clean off the table.
Colter – you wipe down the countertops.
Emery – you go pick green beans out of the garden.
Fletcher – you wash the dishes.
Greyden – you wash the cast iron.
Hewitt – you put away the clean dishes Fletcher washes.
Indigo – you empty and reload the dishwasher.
Jade – you start sweeping.
Let’s move people.”

While they all jump to their tasks (yes, they would jump to their tasks but it has taken years of child training to get them to do that!), I would start water boiling.  Water boiling leads to pasta cooking which is always a great solution when I need a quick dinner. Combine it with goat cheese, butter, venison, and green beans and I have a quick and relatively easy and healthy dinner!

That’s one example.

But I want to stress that the important thing when you’re overwhelmed is to just Do Something!  Doing something will break the paralysis that so often accompanies being overwhelmed.

Have you ever had a big project you wanted to tackle, but it overwhelmed you and you didn’t know where to start?  My advice is to just Do Something.  It doesn’t even have to be a very good something.  Just start.

Perhaps your house is full of clutter and you don’t know where to begin.  Just Do Something.  Preferably something easy – pick out a single drawer to declutter.  Or a single shelf.  Lots of times having a small success motivates you to do just a little bit more.  And a little bit more.  And before you know it, you find yourself actually enjoying what you’re doing instead of dreading it.

Or perhaps you are not happy with your relationship with your spouse.  Don’t try to fix it all at once.  Just Do Something.  Try saying one positive thing to your spouse every day.  Look for one nice thing you could do to make his or her life easier.  Just Do Something.  And then keep on doing something* until you start to find that your relationship is improving.

Or perhaps you’re not enjoying your chosen career (or you don’t have a career and are stuck in a meaningless job).  Thinking about doing something different can be completely overwhelming. You don’t have to start with applying to other jobs.  Just Do Something easy.  Talk to people about what they are doing.  Make something fun and try to sell it on etsy or ebay. Write a list of jobs that you find exciting. When you’re doing something you start to become more aware of the opportunities that are out there.

Or perhaps you are deeply in debt and don’t know how you’ll ever get out of it.  Don’t despair about paying it all off.  Just Do Something to make progress.  Start keeping track of your expenses.  Create a list of what are your needs and what are your wants. Read a book about budgeting or money management*.  Just Do Something and you can start to turn things around.

It doesn’t matter what the situation is.

Remember that we are all overwhelmed at times in our life.  That’s normal and natural.  You just don’t want to stay there!  Focus on Doing the Next Thing and even if you don’t know exactly what that next thing is, make sure you Do Something!




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Seek Wise Counsel – and Then Follow It!

There are so many things in this world that I want to do.  And most of them I have never done before.  In many matters, I muddle along myself because there is joy in the learning.  But when it is something important, I seek advice on how to proceed.

For example, learning how to cook a new meal, I just experiment – throw in a little of this, a little of that.  See how it comes out and then make adjustments.  That is very simple because there are no long-term consequences if it comes out poorly.

But when it truly matters, the first thing I do is look for people who are not only doing what I want to do, but are doing it well.

Finding people who are doing it well is the difficult part.  There are lots of people who pretend to be experts when the truth is that they have no real experience or expertise.  They’re just reporting what they’ve heard or learned second-hand.  I avoid those people.

When my oldest children were very little, I would watch the families around us.  I would look for parents who had children I found impressive (particularly if they also had older children) and watch their parenting skills.  I learned a lot just by watching.

But there were times when I needed to seek active advice because I was struggling with a behavior in one of my children.

I knew exactly which parents to seek out and which parents to avoid.

When I began Goat Milk Stuff, we quickly sought out the advice of a lawyer and an accountant to help us properly set up the business.  I’m constantly telling my family, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  These professionals filled in the legal and financial gaps and answered questions that we didn’t even know we should be asking.

I often tell my children that it is very important to carefully choose your advisers and counselors.  You need to look at the people you are considering asking and evaluate their lives.

  • Do you admire their life? Their family? Their business?
  • Do you see any faults in what you know about them that you need to consider to balance out their advice?
  • Are they experienced and wise enough to offer you counsel from experience?
  • Have they survived any pitfalls?

There are no “perfect” advisers, but you can help yourself if you seek out the advisers who are successful at what you are asking about.

Once you’ve found these advisers, you need to listen to them carefully.  Sometime we’re just looking for people to validate what we want to do.  We ignore those opinions that don’t agree with what we secretly already want to do.

But ignoring wise counsel is foolishness.

If you don’t understand or agree with the counsel, ask questions.  Probe deeper.  Study the situation. Pray.  Oftentimes advice from wise counselors that we don’t initially agree with starts to make more sense over time.

And what if you’re the one giving the advice?

I’ve been happily married to my husband and best friend for over 22 years.  I’ve been joyfully parenting and homeschooling my children for over 20 years.  I’ve been successfully running a family business for over 9 years.  I have made a lot of mistakes, but I have studied those mistakes and learned from them.

While I don’t necessarily feel like an expert, I do feel like I’ve learned a lot and have much to share. I regularly receive and answer many questions on a regular basis, and I’ve noticed that the people I counsel tend to fall into two camps.

The first group are the people who listen to every word I say and do their best to implement my advice.

The second group are those who think they want my advice, listen to it carefully, and then go and do the exact opposite of what I advise.

And that’s ok – I’m not God and I don’t always know what is best for someone. But I often find that this second group tends to run into a lot more problems.

As an example, a few years ago I had a woman consult with me about starting her own goat milk soap business.  This woman was just starting out and had made soap, but hadn’t sold any of it yet.  She wanted my advice about what equipment she needed to purchase to be able to ramp up her production.

My advice was that she needed to not invest money into equipment just yet, but that she needed to start selling soap first and reinvest those profits into marketing.  When her sales grew to the point that she couldn’t keep up with production on her current equipment, then it was time to invest in better equipment that would allow her to efficiently produce more soap.

This woman didn’t like that answer and invested a few thousand dollars in equipment.  Within the year, she contacted me again and asked me if I would like to purchase the equipment because she couldn’t sell her soap and was shutting down her business.

That’s just one example, but I have lots more just like it.

It can be frustrating to give advice and have it ignored.  You may even be tempted to stop counseling anyone because  it can feel like you are casting pearls before swine.  But please don’t give up.  It’s not your job to make people follow your advice, but I believe that we do have a God-given responsibility to share what we have learned and to attempt to help others.

There are times when I’m talking or consulting with someone and I can tell that they don’t really want to follow what I’m telling them.  They want to take the easy road instead of the tougher road I am suggesting they follow.

With these people I’ve started prefacing my counsel with these sentences: “I know you’re not going to listen to me and do as I advise, but I’m going to tell you this anyway.  Some day, Lord willing, you will remember these words and you will actually understand what I am trying to communicate to you today.”

Usually the person just looks at me blankly.

But I have a reason for saying those words.  It actually takes the person by surprise and it makes them listen just a little bit harder because they want to see whether or not they agree with what I am about to say.

So many people seeking advice are still “wise in their own eyes” and don’t yet realize how much they still have to learn.  I have found that shaking them up a little bit can help them hear me more clearly.

For me, consulting with strangers can be easier than counseling my family.

I truly want to help people and feel I need to share the wisdom God has taught me. When strangers don’t take my advice and I forsee a much harder walk for them, it makes me sad.  But I typically have very little personally invested in the ultimate outcome.

But when loved ones ignore solid counsel, it is hard to watch them walk straight into the pitfalls that we see looming before them.

I console myself by reminding myself that everyone has to live their own life and make their own mistakes.  It is in those mistakes that they often grow and become closer to God.  So I give them my hard-earned wisdom, allow them to live their lives, and pray that they learn from their mistakes.

I also remind myself and them, “I know you’re not going to listen to me, but I’m going to tell you anyway.  And some day you’ll realize the truth in my words.”

Has there been any good advice you’ve given or been given that’s been ignored or well received?





Celebrating Special Events

July is our major celebration month.  We celebrate Jade’s birthday, Colter’s birthday, Jim and my anniversary, and Fletcher’s Birthday in the week beginning on July 4th and ending on July 12th.  (Ok, technically it’s 9 days, but with everything going on it feels like just one week!)

It’s a busy week full of celebrations.  And yet it doesn’t overwhelm us.  Why?  Because we don’t go all crazy with our celebrations! In fact, you could call us “celebration minimalists”.  But it’s not a problem, because our celebrations meet our love languages.

Are you familiar with the “love languages” concept?  If not, I highly recommend you reading the book, The 5 Love Languages* by Gary Chapman.  If you don’t have time to read it, I podcasted about it a while ago and you can listen to the episodes on The Busy Mom’s Survival Guide.

In case you aren’t familiar, a quick summary of the love languages concept is that everybody shows and receives messages of love in five different ways.  These ways are – Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch and Gifts.  The way we prefer to show love and the way we prefer to receive love does not have to be the same love language.  And while we may enjoy several of them, most people tend to have one or two dominant love languages.

My preferred way of showing and receiving love is “Acts of Service” followed by “Quality Time”. I’ve learned how important “Words of Affirmation” are and I’ve gotten much better at that love language.  I could always improve on “Physical Touch”.  I don’t mind hugs and snuggle time, I’m just usually so busy running around performing Acts of Service, that it’s hard for me to stop and concentrate on physical touch just for the sake of physical touch.

My worst love language (by far) is “Gifts”.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t give gifts.  I do.  And when I do, they are very well thought out and are usually gifts my husband or children love.  And while I am always thankful for any gifts that I receive, and treasure many of them, I would also be content if I never got another gift again.  Because gifts are way down on my priority scale.  Way, way down.

Fortunately for me, “Gifts” is not the love language of any of my children or my husband.  If it was, I’d be in trouble.  Actually, I wouldn’t be in trouble, but I’d have to make a very conscious effort to give more gifts than I currently do.

Because of the love languages of our family, we are able to make our birthday celebrations very simple.  It looks like this:

  • The birthday morning begins with Breakfast Birthday Cake.
  • The birthday child (or parent) goes around the table hugging each person.
  • The birthday person has a photo taken with each person.
  • The birthday person lifts up the placemat of the person they just hugged to find money under it. (Yep, cash!)
  • We circle around the birthday person and sing “Happy Birthday”.
  • When the song ends we rush to the center and tickle the birthday person.
  • We open any physical presents (usually from the grandparents, but sometimes from the family).

That’s it!  That’s all we do.

By the way, the placemats are special birthday placemats I sewed (an act of service).  Everyone has their own fabric that represents their personality and they  are only used on birthdays or special celebrations.

I’ve been to enough birthday parties to know that our birthday celebrations would be considered lacking by most people.

But you know what?  It works for us!  And it works really well.  It’s simple.  It’s repeatable (traditions are super important to us). And it’s something that we can manage to do despite whatever is going on in our lives.

Not everybody in the Jonas clan gets physical gifts on their birthday.  We only give presents to the birthday person if it is meaningful.  We don’t give them something just for the sake of opening a gift.

But birthday celebrations are different for every family.  And that’s exactly how it should be.  For some families, “Gifts” may be a major love language. And the giving and receiving of those gifts are super important.

The trick is to know your family and know what is meaningful and important to them as individuals.

I share our celebration with you in case you are trying to simplify your birthday celebrations or if you are questioning how complicated birthdays in our culture have become. If that’s you, I’m here to tell you that your celebrations don’t have to be complex.

They can be very simple.

As long as your celebrations are meaningful to your family, whatever you choose to do can work!  Don’t feel like you have to spend tons of money celebrating birthdays.

I asked Indigo (because she was the closest child I could find) if she felt deprived because she didn’t have a birthday party with lots of friends every year.  She looked at me like I was being silly and said, “Uh, no.”

When I asked what her favorite part of our birthday celebrations are she replied, “Being together as a family. I know that everyone will be there.  Especially because they don’t want to miss the breakfast birthday cake.”

So there you have it – family and sugar.  Apparently, that’s all the celebration this family needs.

What about you?  What do your birthday celebrations look like?  Are you happy with them?




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Now That’s Love

Last night I was super sleepy and ready for bed on the early side (9:00 instead of my normal goal of 10:00).  I had my teeth brushed, my pajamas on, and my phone off.  I was looking forward to turning the lights off.

Then I heard it – a knock on my door.  “But all I want to do is sleeeeeeep,” I thought.

In walked Indigo, all clean from a shower.  She looked at me with her freckled face and her big eyes and said, “Mommy, would you please cut my hair?”

Inside, my heart fell.  All I wanted to do was curl up in bed.

But Indigo had been wanting her hair cut for a couple of weeks now and every time she showered (so her hair was wet), I was not in the house.

So I pulled up my big girl pants (even if they were pajama bottoms) and said, “Sure, baby.”

Into the bathroom we went and 15 minutes later emerged with no more split ends.

Not five minutes later, in walked Greyden.  The door was open because Indigo was talking to me, so he didn’t have to knock.

“Mom, I don’t know where you want me to plant those new pepper plants.”

By this point, it was about 9:30 and it was still light out.  In fact, it doesn’t get completely dark until about 10:00 at this time of year in Indiana.  So I grabbed my shoes and headed out to the garden.  I showed him which cabbages needed to be harvested and how I wanted him to plant the peppers in the newly freed space and amongst the other cabbages that would be harvested in the next couple of weeks.

I also grabbed a trowel and helped him plant a few since by the time we had the cabbages out, it was quickly getting dark.

Then I headed back into the house and washed my hands and took off my sneakers.

A few minutes later, Brett walked in (my door was still open) and said, “I’m home!”  She had been at Bible Study and always lets me know when she is back so I don’t worry about her.  She then proceeded to catch Jim and I up on what was going on in her life.

At 10:30, I went out into the dining room to say good-night to whomever was still awake.  Emery approached, kissed me on the cheek and said, “Would you read my college paper one more time before I submit it?”

With another inward sigh I grabbed the paper and red pen he handed me and read through the four-page paper, making just a few minor corrections (‘than’ instead of ‘then’ and removing a few superfluous commas).

I handed it back to him and received another kiss on the cheek.  I headed back to my room, shut the door, turned off my lights and climbed into bed with a quick look at my fitbit to check the time.  11:13.

So much for going to bed early!

As Jim and I chatted, I had to laugh.  It was just that morning that I wrote the blog post, “But What if I Don’t Want To?”  Since then I had done quite a few things that I didn’t really want to do.

I said to Jim, “I think that’s one good definition of love – doing things for those you love even when you don’t want to do them.”

He agreed.  That’s love.

What about you? What have you done (that you’d rather not have) for someone you love lately?