Sometimes a Mom’s Gotta Do What a Mom’s Gotta Do

Saturdays are our busiest day on the farm for a variety of reasons. It’s the busiest day for tours, baby goat experiences, visitors on the farm – and we have to do it all without the help from our employees.

But it’s October, and that throws in another complication – Cross Country season. During Cross Country season, the boys have races on Saturday mornings. So that means we also have to do Saturdays without the majority of the children.

Cross Country Running

Fortunately Emery can drive the boys to the race. Which basically leaves Jim, Brett, Mason, Colter and I (and sometimes Jade and Indigo) running the entire farm!! To say it’s crazy and that we don’t sit down or eat or anything til the rest of the children return is an understatement.

This Saturday we were fortunate in that neither Indigo nor Jade were running, so we still had them for help. Their favorite jobs are running the farm store (Jade) and the Sweet Shop (Indigo).

So that left me to… clean.

Yep, I spent Saturday morning washing windows and mopping floors. Is that the best use of my time?

Nope.

But sometimes a Mom’s gotta do what a Mom’s gotta do. And this Saturday it meant cleaning.

PJ Mopping

While I was mopping I got to thinking about how much of the work a typical Mom does is not all that important. Let’s taking mopping floors for example. It’s not all that important in the scheme of things. You mop and then the floors get dirty again (and pretty quickly around here).

So yes, a single mopping doesn’t really matter. But if mopping NEVER got done, it would certainly matter.

Same thing for cleaning toilets. If you don’t clean them one day (or one week) it won’t matter that much. But skip it for an entire month and it’s going to be pretty unsanitary.

And I think that’s the beauty of motherhood – part of what we do is to just keep things going.

Have you heard the story of the man who came home to find his house a disaster? Toys and food and junk littering the floor and every surface, children dirty in their pajamas running amok, basic chaos everywhere. He runs upstairs thinking he will find his wife dead and discovers her in bed reading a book. He says, “What happened?” His wife looks at him and says, “Remember yesterday when you asked me what I do all day? I decided not to do any of it today.”

I guess mopping the floor was a good reminder to me that while I didn’t really feel like mopping, I did it anyway. And the reason I did it anyway was because it’s my role to keep everything moving steadily along in the right direction.

That doesn’t mean it moves along perfectly. But it moves along. There is a direction I know I want my family (and Goat Milk Stuff) to head and I have to keep my fingers on the pulse of everyone and everything to make sure it is heading in that direction. And sometimes I need to give it a gentle nudge. That nudge could be a conversation. That nudge could be a new system. And sometimes that nudge is picking up a mop handle and showing everyone that cleanliness is important.

When I was done mopping, I sent Emery (whose job it is clean the candy kitchen) a text. It said this: “Because I love you, I mopped the candy kitchen floor for you. Thanks for keeping all the tables in there clean like I asked.”

Did I need to mop the floor for Emery? Nope, he was back around 2:00 and could have done it then. But sometimes your children need some extra loving and a surprise reward. After all, a Mom’s gotta do what a Mom’s gotta do.

So what are you doing that a Mom’s gotta do?

PJ

Which is more important in life – balance or margin?

Do you ever watch or listen to Ted Talks?  I love to listen to them (if I don’t have music playing) while I’m cleaning the house or cooking by myself.  I just put on a Ted Talk playlist and hit play.

The other day, I heard a Ted Talk by Nigel Marsh* called “How to Make Work Life Balance Work“.  It’s under 10 minutes and I agreed with most of it.  If you want to listen be aware that he does mention the word sex so you may want to listen to it away from younger children if you don’t want to answer the “What is sex?” question yet.

I generally disagree with what most people have to say about work life balance, so this was a nice change. That’s because most people give you “tricks” to help you keep life in balance such as “set a time to leave work and tell others.”  That kind of advice generally strikes me as superficial at best and useless at worst.

I think work life balance is a really hot topic because in more than half the interviews I do, I am asked how I manage to balance my work life and my family life since I’m so busy and my work and family are so intertwined.

Podcast Interview

My common answer is that I don’t balance my work and my life on a day-to day basis at all.  There are times (I usually use kidding season as an example) where I spend way too much time on work and not enough time on my family.  But I make sure that we have an excess of family time (like a family vacation) to counteract the day-to-day imbalance so that over time I’m spending enough time on all areas of my life.

I believe there is a very big misconception out there about what it means to live a balanced life.  I believe most people feel there is an ideal number of hours to spend working and an ideal number of hours to spend with family on any given day.

But I don’t think life works that way.

To me, a balanced life is one where I have the time to spend on what is most important on any given day.

But defining what is important is a trap in and of itself.

I think we can all agree that family time is important.

But what about paying bills? Making dinner? Cleaning toilets? Changing diapers? Visiting a sick friend? Mowing the lawn? Taking a pet to the vet? Washing dishes?

Are those “not important” or a waste of time?  Of course not!  Some of them need to be done and some of them should be done. And that’s why it’s hard to define what a balanced life looks like because it is hard to define what is important.

Balance

We know instinctively when our life is out of balance.  It’s that constant feeling of being overwhelmed or feeling like we can’t catch up.  But what we need to remember is that we all feel that way at times.  And honestly, that’s ok.  That’s how life works, there are seasons to life such as the sleepless time after a newborn baby arrives.

What is not ok is to feel that way all the time.  That’s when something truly needs to be changed.

And so instead of talking about a balanced life, I much prefer talking about a life that contains margin.  I podcasted about margin, but in case you are unfamiliar with the concept, Richard Swenson in his book, Margin*, defines it as:

“Margin is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed.  It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations.  Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.  It is the leeway we once had between ourselves and our limits.”

With some effort, it’s possible to build margin into your life.  And that is what gives you the ability to handle the overwhelming times in your life, because you’re not living perpetually in a state of overwhelm.

So if you find yourself constantly feeling overwhelmed, I would encourage you to stop trying to balance your typical day.  Instead, can you build some margin into your life so that over the course of several months or a year you’ve found a better balance?

What do you think? Are you living with margin in your life?  Or without it?  And what can you change to reclaim some margin?

 

PJ

 

 

*Amazon Affiliate Link

Authenticity

I wrote my last blog post thinking about happiness.  But after I finished writing it, I couldn’t stop thinking about authenticity.  Authenticity is being genuine or “what you see is what you get”.  It is not being fake.  And I kept wondering, “Am I really as authentic as I think I am?”

Let’s be honest – I think most of us will agree that we try to keep what we perceive to be the worst parts of ourselves hidden from others.  Especially others that we are trying to impress.  We put on a smile when we need to.  We do one thing when we feel like doing another.  We put our best foot forward, so to speak.

Best Foot Forward

Many times this is exactly what we should be doing.  We should be polite and mind our manners, even if we don’t feel like it.  As parents we spend a lot of time teaching our children how to behave properly.  I can’t count how many times I’ve said to one of my children, “Apologize to your sibling.  I know you don’t really mean it, but apologize anyway.”  It reminds me of the story of the little boy who announced, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”  To some extent, common courtesy dictates how we should behave.  And I don’t think that means that we aren’t being authentic.

But manners aside, what I want to find out is this:

Are you putting forward the You that is the best version of who you want to be?

Or…

Are you putting forward the You that you think others expect you to be?

I think there is a huge distinction between the two.  I think you can be authentic under the first scenario, but may not be authentic under the second.

Who We Really Are

In my previous blog post, I used the example of treating a customer respectfully even though I didn’t want to.  That’s an example of the first scenario.  I want to be a professional who doesn’t over-react to people, but treats everyone with respect despite the words that I’d actually like to say to them.  I don’t think there is anything unauthentic about that.

I think we get in trouble under the second scenario when we try to be what other people expect us to be instead of being true to ourselves.  This leads to all sorts of trouble.

Do people expect you to be the perfect housekeeper?

Do people expect you to be perfectly fit and super thin?

Do people expect you to serve nothing but organic, healthy meals to your family?

Do people expect you to put your children into every extra-curricular activity available?

Do people expect you to participate in every PTA and/or church activity?

Do people expect you to be Super Mom?

I think many of us are under intense pressure to be everything to everyone.  And I think it’s wearing us out because we can’t be everything that people expect us to be.  We simply can’t.  And if we try, we often end up burning out and missing out on what is most important to us (for me that is quality time with my family).

Quality Time with Family

I am often called “Super Mom” and I’ll be honest, it makes me feel good when people say that.  But I’m also quick to point out that they are only seeing what I do, they’re not seeing all the things I don’t do.  I’m not the best housekeeper.  Never have been.  There are lots of activities that I’d love for my children to participate in that we simply don’t have time for.  There are also many things that I taught my older children that I can’t seem to find the time to teach my younger children.  And there’s never enough time to read aloud to my family as much as I want to.

My point is – please, please don’t ever judge yourself by comparing yourself to someone else.  When you see someone who you respect, learn from them, but don’t put them up on a pedestal.

There is one thing I have learned to be exceptional about – and that is knowing who I am and who I want to be and not letting anybody make me feel guilty because I’m not doing what they think I should be doing.  Does it hurt if somebody criticizes what I do? Yep.  But unless they have a very valid point, I don’t change what I do just to try to please them.

And that’s what I’d like to encourage you about today.  Do you know who you are?  Do you like who you are?  Are you proud to be yourself?  That means embracing what you do well and accepting what you can’t do at this season of your life.

Please don’t misunderstand – there’s nothing wrong with self-improvement and working on your faults.  I’m always encouraging people to be very intentional about improving everything they do.  But that doesn’t mean you should try to change who you are.  You’re special.  And you’re unique.

Learn to be authentic.  Learn to be the best version of you that you can be.  And that means getting very clear on what is important to you and what isn’t.  Learn to say ‘No’ to what isn’t at the top of the list.  Learn how to create margin in your life.  And embrace who you are – with all your strengths and weaknesses.

What about you?  Are you being authentic?  Or are you letting others dictate who you should be and what you should be doing?

PJ

 

 

Living in Harmony

Somebody said to me the other day, “I really love my life and wouldn’t change it.  But if I had to swap my life for somebody’s, I’d pick yours.  I know you work really hard, but you all just always look so happy.”  And this was from somebody who knows “real life PJ” and not just “internet PJ” which made it an even bigger compliment because we all know that we put our best foot forward online.

Nigerian Dwarf Buckling, "Treble"

She made me think about why I always look so happy to this person.  Afterall, I’m just like most other moms.  There are plenty of times I’m tired, cranky, and short-tempered.

After a little bit of thought, I concluded that my ultimate happiness springs from my relationship with God.  Without my faith in Jesus, I wouldn’t be able to put most of the “unpleasant” experiences in my life into perspective.  I have a joy that springs from my relationship with my Savior and I hope that shines through.

A few days after the conversation, I was doing some reading on finances and I came across this happiness quote and it reminded me of the conversation I mentioned.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
Mahatma Gandhi

And since I’d recently been thinking of happiness, it made me stop and think about whether or not I agreed with the quote.  My thoughts immediately jumped to how we run our business.

When we started Goat Milk Stuff, the one thing Jim and I said was most important to us was being authentic.  We wanted to make sure that we never put on a facade in front of others.  I never wanted to be one way in front of my children and another in front of potential customers.  I never wanted to sell something that I wouldn’t use myself.

And I’d like think that I’ve done a pretty good job living up to that goal of being authentic.  Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that I don’t ever lose my temper with my children when I wouldn’t lose my temper with my customers.  There are times when I do that.  I’m very far from perfect, but when I fail I always immediately apologize to my children and repair that relationship.

I remember one instance in particular.  Indigo usually gets our voicemails and writes them down on a Google doc.  She calls back the ones she can and then I do the rest.

Indigo Checks Voicemail

She was retrieving the voicemails one day and her eyes went wide.  She handed the phone to me and I listened to a bunch of expletives on the voicemail.  The guy was a truck driver who had stopped at our farm on the Fourth of July when we were closed.  I had forgotten to change our voicemail message to read that we were closed on the Fourth so when he called to check if we were open, the message didn’t say we weren’t so he stopped.  He was really angry when he left the message and let us know it.

I was really angry that my daughter had listened to all those curse words.

But I took a deep breath, recognized that it was my fault for not changing the phone message (which caused him to waste his time stopping by when we were closed) and called him back.  He didn’t answer and so I left a very polite message apologizing for my error and giving him options for resolution.

To be perfectly honest, being polite on that call was really, really hard for me and made me quite unhappy having to do it.  What I wanted to do was call him back and chew him out for leaving expletives on my voicemail.  But I didn’t because “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Do you know why I responded the way I did even though it made me temporarily unhappy to speak those words?  Because Indigo was watching me.  And teaching her the right way to handle difficult people was more important to me than venting my frustration.

Because in the short-term with the customer in mind…

What I think = You are rude and were wrong to leave that message.
What I say = I am sorry for my error that caused your frustration.
What I do = Don’t be rude back to him.

… may have caused me temporary unhappiness.  But the long-term with Indigo in mind…

What I think = Indigo needs to learn how to deal with difficult people in a Christ-like way.
What I say = Indigo, people are going to talk to you improperly at times, recognize it’s not always all about you.
What I do = Model the right behavior instead of giving into my frustration.

… made me very happy because parenting intentionally is super important to me.

Gandhi’s quote captures the essence of both authenticity and integrity (which I’m always talking to my children about).  I define them for the children as, integrity is doing the right thing even when nobody is watching and authenticity is being genuine or “what you see is what you get”.

I admit that I’ve always thought that it’s important to be authentic and have integrity because it is the right thing to do and because it is what God wants from us.  I’ve never thought of it in terms of bringing us happiness.

But perhaps it does to some extent.  After all, I think it must be completely exhausting to think one way and have to say and/or do something completely different.  I’m still not convinced that is how I would define happiness, but I’ll take whatever happiness being authentic brings!

What about you?  Do you agree or disagree with Gandhi’s quote?

Does Hard Work “Fix” Everything?

Last week I mentioned that we are facing a big decision about if (and when) to expand our Grade A Dairy and Cheese Plant.  We’ve been having lots of conversations about it as a family and one of the children made an interesting comment.  He said, “I think we should build; we’re willing to work as hard as necessary to make it a success.”

As a mother, those words thrilled me.  I have spent many, many hours of my life teaching my children to embrace hard work.  Being willing to work hard for a long-term goal is one skill (of many) that is important to living a successful life.  So to hear him say that and watch most of the children nod their heads in agreement was very validating.

But as I was thinking about the comment, it raises two bigger questions.

1. Is it worth that hard work?

2. Does hard work alone guarantee success?

Let’s talk about the first point.  I’ve said many times that I am terrible at achieving “balance” in my life.  In fact, I have to admit, that I no longer even try.  I see so many articles and hear conversations about work/life balance and I really think it’s something of a myth.

Instead, I recognize that there are seasons to life and I try to balance out the seasons.  For example, last year during kidding season we delivered 149 baby goats.  There was no balance during that time period.  It was all baby goats all the time.

Feeding Baby Goats

We are on watch 24/7 in the barn.  We work around the clock to feed the babies and care for the moms.  We don’t schedule anything off the farm and minimize anything scheduled here on the farm.  Everyone is available all the time in case they are needed.  We do the best  we can to keep ourselves well fed and getting some sleep.  Everything else can wait.

There’s no work/life balance during that time period.  But we don’t really expect there to be.

We know what’s coming and we embrace it.  By the time it’s over, we’re completely exhausted and yet we can’t wait for next year to be able to do it again!

So I don’t try to achieve balance during kidding season.  Instead, we take a 2-3 week vacation right before kidding season begins so we are thoroughly rested and ready to tackle the hard work, joys, and occasional tears that kidding season brings.

Is the hard work of kidding season worth it?  Absolutely.  And if you ask each of the children, they’ll all tell you the same thing.  In fact, Brett and Mason will be married and living off the farm this kidding season and they’re already talking about how they’re going to fit in and modify their lives since they won’t be living here.

Goat Delivery Reposition

But that doesn’t mean that everything that might require hard work is worth it.  Kidding season is a relatively short period of time.  It’s 6-8 weeks of intensive effort.  We can manage that.  If we build a cheese plant, it might require intensive effort for a much longer time period.  We have to decide as a business and as a family if that effort is worth it.

The second point is even more complicated – can hard work alone guarantee success?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I have to say that I don’t think it does.  I think hard work is a necessary piece, but I think that sometimes circumstances prevent success no matter how hard you are willing to work.

Let’s pretend that we launch a new business and we’re working 100 hours per week.  There’s so much to do and every day we’re making huge strides.  That can be maintained for a while.  But if we continue to work 100 hour weeks with no breaks, over time, our hard work starts to break down and become ineffective.  We start to make poor decisions.  We start to ignore our family.  We start to ignore our health.  We move from making poor decisions to making bad decisions.

It’s not enough to work hard.  You need to be able to work smart in addition to working hard and sometimes that means not working.

So I’m glad that my children are willing to work hard.  Their hard work will be considered in our decision making process.  But I want my children to clearly understand that working hard doesn’t always guarantee success and that working hard doesn’t always prevent financial troubles or even the failure of a business.  (Although their willingness to work hard does make it easier to recover from financial setbacks if they occur.)

Overall I believe that working hard (especially if you’re also working smart) does increase your chances of being “lucky” and finding success.  As Thomas Jefferson* once said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work the more I have of it.”

What about you?  Do you think that hard work is a cure-all?

PJ

 

 

 

*Amazon Affiliate Link

 

Confirmation Bias

I am facing a very big decision that needs to be made within the next 6 months or so.  We’ve really outgrown our existing cheese kitchen.  We need some bigger equipment that we would have a tough time finding room for in our current kitchen.  And so I need to decide whether or not we are growing the dairy part of Goat Milk Stuff.  Growing would require building an incredibly expensive new cheese plant. This is a huge decision with lots of ramifications in many, many areas.

Cheese Kitchen

On the surface, I know what I want to do – I want to build.  Why?  Because I definitely have a “go big or go home” mindset.  The idea of scaling back a successful and growing business goes against everything my “go-getter” body wants to do.

But another part of me passionately hates debt.  And there is no way I could build a new cheese plant and purchase the equipment I would then need without going heavily into debt.

And so I’m torn.

But as a logical, systems engineer, I know that I have to take the emotion out of the decision and run the numbers.  And so that’s what we’re doing.  We’re taking the next several months and coming up with an objective business plan.

But did you catch that word I used? “Objective?”  That’s the tricky part, right there.  It’s hard to be objective when you are so intimately involved in the decision because of what psychologists like to call “confirmation bias”.

PsychologyToday.com defines confirmation bias as:

Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.

And Wikipedia says:

Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

And so I need to be very careful because a big part of me simply wants Goat Milk Stuff to grow.  I want to get more goat milk, chocolate milk, goat milk egg nog (yep, I can make that with the new cheese plant), yogurt, kefir, and cheese out there into people’s hands.  The milk from healthy, pastured goats is so healthy and I want more people to be able to experience the goodness of goat milk.

Indiana Goat Milk

So because a big part of me already wants to build a cheese plant means that I have to make sure I am not influenced by confirmation bias.   I know this.  Just because I want to build a new cheese plant doesn’t mean that I should.  And even if I should build a new cheese plant, that doesn’t mean I should build it now.

So how should you (and I) make sure our decisions are not overly influenced by confirmation bias?

Gather as much information as possible.  Before going too far into the decision making process, gather your data.  If I’m already dreaming of what a new cheese plant will look like and how much more efficient it will be, then confirmation bias will take over and everything I later gather will confirm my decision to build.

Question everything.  As you’re gathering your data, you need to question everything.  Question your motives, question whichever assumptions you made, and question the data itself.  Normally when we’re making a decision about the unknown, we have to make assumptions.  Don’t let your confirmation bias lead you in a direction where the assumptions push you toward the outcome you want.

Talk to others (especially those who disagree with you).  This is probably most important.  You need to find people who will give you their objective opinion.  And know that everybody has an agenda whether they realize it or not.  Don’t forget to account for that.

Play devil’s advocate.  Actively look for the reasons to support the decision you don’t inherently want.  Become good at arguing both sides of the issue.  If the decision was black and white, it would be easy to make.  Playing devils’ advocate will help you bring out the grey areas.

Look for Baby Steps.  Consider all of your options.  Can you work your way to the outcome you want over time?  Or does it have to be all or nothing?

Create hurdles to overcome.  If you know you are the type of person to give in to your confirmation biases, put in place hurdles that you need to overcome.  For example, do you have to get somebody to agree with you that this is the path you should pursue?

Describe in detail the worst case scenario.  What’s the worst thing that could happen if you made the decision you want?  How will you handle it if that happens?  While you shouldn’t give in to fear, you need to consider the worst possible outcome when making your decision.

The decision I described is a big one.  And it won’t be made quickly.  In fact, the bigger the decision, the longer I try to take in making it.

But confirmation bias also occurs in the little, everyday decisions we make.  Let’s say you’re trying to eat healthier and you see a brownie that you want.  Confirmation bias may try to convince you that you had a salad for lunch so it’s ok to eat that brownie.  But recognize it for what it is – you’re trying to confirm your desire to eat the brownie.  Take a step back and try to overcome that bias.  I’m not saying you can’t eat it, but if you decide to, make sure you make the decision for the right reasons.

So what about you?  Do you struggle with confirmation bias?  How has it affected your life?

PJ

 

Lessons from Showing Hospitality

When Jim and I were building our home here on the Goat Milk Stuff farm, we spent a lot of time talking about what “feeling” we wanted our home to give.  We wanted it to be welcoming and friendly.  We didn’t want it to have a “formal” feeling to it.  Instead we wanted it to be a place where people felt they could relax and be themselves.  We wanted our home to be the “go to” home where all the children and their friends wanted to hang out.

Relax and Talk Around the Fireplace

We had those conversations because hospitality has always been very important to us.  We’ve always wanted to get to know people on a deeper level and we’ve always wanted to be able to have an influence in other people’s lives.  Jim and I have been married for twenty-two years and our home has always been open to people.  That often includes sharing meals, hosting a party, offering short-term stays, and we’ve had multiple people live with us for many months over the years because they needed a place to live while they were making changes in their lives.

Set an Extra Place at the Table

I’ve learned a lot about showing hospitality over the years and wanted to share those lessons with you.

You don’t need money.  Hospitality comes from the heart – it doesn’t come from your pocketbook.  You do not need a lot of money to serve people a meal.  For most of our marriage, Jim and I have lived on an incredibly strict and tight budget.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve made huge bowls of pasta for guests and served it with homemade garlic bread.  No dessert.  Sometimes there wasn’t even a vegetable.  But everyone left with a full belly.  Pasta is cheap, as is rice and beans.  Do not feel that you have to spend a lot of money to offer hospitality.

You don’t need a big house.  We now have a big house, but that hasn’t always been the case.  We’ve never let the size of our house stop us.  We’ve often had so many people in a small space that people had to go outside if they wanted to sit down.  Don’t let the size of your house or the number of bathrooms you own stop you from inviting people over.  When Brett was born, Jim and I lived in a house that was about 1200 square feet with one bathroom.  We threw a party for about 50 people.  There was always a line for the bathroom, but it was all good!

Do not stress about how clean your house is.  This is so important.  Most people new to hospitality feel that everything in their home needs to be perfect.  But the people who matter will never judge you for how clean your house is.  Please, please – don’t invite people to your house and make excuses for the condition of your home.  That may make you feel better, but it makes the other person feel uncomfortable.  Your home is your home.  Do the best you can to keep it presentable, but don’t ever let it stop you from inviting people over.

Keep it simple.  I never try to make a new meal for a party or for guests.  I always keep it simple.  Tried and true recipes that are hard to mess up is the way to go.  I also choose meals that I know my family will enjoy as leftovers.  I always make sure that the table is overflowing with food.  I don’t ever want anybody to leave feeling hungry or feeling that they can’t take the last piece of whatever is available.

Party Food Buffet

Share an event or tradition.  Showing hospitality doesn’t have to always be about food (although around here, food is usually involved).  You can invite people to join you for a family tradition such as drinking hot chocolate and watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ at Christmas time.

Don’t try to impress others.  You don’t need to be Martha Stewart.  We serve our guests with paper plates or mismatched plates.  I don’t think I’ve ever put out a centerpiece in my life (unless the children picked a bouquet and they put it on the table).  But that’s just me.  If you take a lot of joy out of beautiful place settings and centerpieces that’s wonderful!  Go for it!  Just don’t let the feeling that you need to do that stop you from inviting people over.

Put people to work.  Many guests love to help out.  I generally have a mental list of items that guests can do (only if they want to or if they ask).  If this is the first time somebody is joining you for a meal, they tend to feel a little anxious and having something to do with their hands makes them feel more comfortable.

Put Guests to Work

Be thankful if people bring food.  It is wonderful when people bring food, so be sure to thank them for it.  And make sure your children know ahead of time that if the guests bring food, they should try it (even just one bite) and thank the guest.

But don’t expect people to bring food.  When I am inviting people over, I generally say this, “If you would be uncomfortable showing up empty handed, you are welcome to bring something.  But I will have plenty of food and you do not need to bring anything.”  When we first started hosting our annual Christmas party in Scottsburg, many people brought something with them (many people are raised with the mindset that you don’t go to somebody’s house empty-handed.)  By now, most people realize that I’m serious when I say we’ll have enough food and they don’t feel the need to bring items.  Many have even expressed what a relief it is to be able to just show up, and I love that!

Don’t be afraid to ask people to bring food.  If money (or time) is really tight, don’t hesitate to ask people to bring something, because they won’t mind.  Try to make it specific, however, such as, “If you could bring a dessert, that would be wonderful.  I’ll have x, y, and z for dinner.”

Have options.  If you can, find out if there are any food allergies or preferences ahead of time.  If not, I generally try to make sure that I have choices for people in case they are vegan or gluten-free.

Keep a stocked pantry.  I think it’s so important to keep meals in your pantry/freezer that you can throw together if you have unexpected company. For me this is always pasta.  I usually keep meatballs in the freezer that I can also heat up and serve.  If for some reason, I unexpectedly have 25 hungry teenagers at my house (yes, this has happened), I can cook enough pasta in 30 minutes to satisfy all of them because I always keep lots of pasta and sauce available.  (I’ve also started keep gluten free pasta in the pantry just in case.)

Relax.  If you’re obviously stressed, your guests will have a hard time enjoying themselves.  Your guests don’t expect perfection.  Neither should you.

Practice.  Be hospitable often.  Be hospitable regularly.  The more you invite people over, the less stress you’ll experience when you do it.

Don’t do it alone.  Be sure that your family helps out.  At our home, everybody has evolved into certain roles before, during, and after a party.  I don’t have to worry about garbage cans getting too full because Colter, Jim, and Emery are paying attention to them.  I don’t have to worry about the drinks running out, because Brett is on top of it.  Involve your children in the prep work and cleanup.  If they want their friends to come over, they need to learn those skills.

Be spontaneous.  Some of our favorite memories are the unplanned times we had people over.  I don’t have to worry about the house ahead of time.  I don’t have to worry about what I’m serving.  I just ask people if they’d like to stay and join us for dinner.  Lots of time we just throw hamburgers and hot dogs on the firepit. It’s a wonderful low-stress way to enjoy time with others.

Have Burgers at the Firepit

Be open and welcoming.  The most important thing is to be open.  It doesn’t matter how much work you wanted to accomplish that day.  People are the most important thing – always.  If people want to come over and spend time with you, then you need to be there for them.  If you have chores that must get done, have them help you.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve put people to work here.  Sometimes they come over and I can stop and sit and have a nice chat.  But quite often, they’re put to work washing dishes or canning salsa or weeding the garden or picking blackberries or whatever it is I have to get done that day.

Please remember that showing hospitality benefits so many people.  It benefits the people you are entertaining/hosting.  It benefits your children because they learn how to open their hearts to others.  And it benefits you.  I can’t tell you how blessed I am to know that people feel comfortable in my home and with my family.  I have learned so many things from the people who have entered our lives.  I’ve met complete strangers that people have brought with them who have touched my life deeply by their lives and their stories.

Taking a break from the regular stresses of your life and interacting with other people really helps to put our lives in perspective.  If you are at all overwhelmed or struggling in your life, try it – invite somebody over for dinner.  Set aside your problems for an evening and talk to somebody else about their life.  I believe the effort you put it will be worth it!

What about you?  How do you feel about hospitality?  Is it easy or tough?  Do you wish you’d do more of it?

PJ

 

 

 

 

My Party System

I received a huge compliment this weekend.  A married man in his twenties said to me, “I want to entertain just like you when I grow up.”  He absolutely made my day.

This weekend, we threw an Engagement Party for Brett and Mason. It was tons of fun with friends and family.  Plus we got to meet some of Mason’s family we hadn’t met before.

Engagement Party Cake

We’re pretty good at throwing parties at this point.  We were expecting between 100 – 200 people on Sunday at 1:00.  Saturday night after we closed the farm store, we brought tables and chairs from the Sweet Shop back to the house.  We had already done all the food shopping we needed (thanks Poppy!) and the house was relatively clean.

We started making the food around 8:30 Sunday morning and were finishing up right around 12:45 when the first guests started arriving.  I knew we could do it and I wasn’t stressed and yelling at people.  I even had time to shower with my favorite soap around 11 am!

Those of you who have been following me for a while, know that I’m a huge believer in systems and their power to make the complex efficient, and the chaotic orderly.  Party planning can be both complex and chaotic, so of course, we have a party system in place.

The trick I’ve found is to keep your parties fairly standard no matter how many guests you are expecting.  We always put drinks and desserts in the same place.  We always set up the tables and chairs the same way.  And we have our favorite recipes that we always make for parties.  They are straight forward and easy and our guests really enjoy them.

Party Drink Station

So, here’s what we’ve done to create our system.

Create a Google Drive spreadsheet. (Kind of like the one for the packing system.)  Create a tab that you call ‘ingredients’.  Then create a tab that you call ‘shopping list’.

Determine how many guests each recipe serves.  This is the hardest field to guess correctly if you haven’t thrown many parties because you don’t know what is going to be the popular food item.  I also estimate differently based on how much my children like that particular leftover.  The more they like it, the fewer number of people the recipe serves (so I make more of it).  Also – base your numbers on the fact that your guests have lots of options to choose from and won’t eat just this one food.  If this is your first party you’re prepping for, just take your best guess and then adjust as you have more parties!

Enter ingredients on the ‘ingredients’ tab.  We title each recipe and then list the ingredients as we would buy them.  The trick is to make sure that all your individual ingredients (e.g. mayo) use the same unit measurement (volume or weight).  So if you are using sour cream in multiple recipes, you need to decide whether you are measuring in cups or oz.  You don’t want to go back and forth.  So it would look something like this:

Spinach Dip Number of People Served: 25
Quantity Ingredient Size
1 Sour cream 16 oz
1 Frozen chopped spinach 8 oz
1 Mayonaise 1/2 cup
2 Bread 1 loaf

Create your shopping list formulas.  This is what takes the longest to setup the first time, but once you have it done correctly, you don’t have to do it again!  Go to the ‘shopping list’ tab.  At the top of the page write, “Number of Guests Expected”.  You have to decide if you want to estimate low or high.  I always estimate high because I hate running out of food and I have lots of children who will eat leftovers.  I also have lots of friends that I enjoy sending the leftovers home with.  But if you don’t want any leftovers, you might want to estimate low.

Now start listing the ingredients that make up your shopping list.  Once you have the ingredients listed, you need to work some spreadsheet magic.  If you’re not familiar with spreadsheets, this may be confusing.  But it will look something like this (not actual fields because you have to go back and forth between tabs):

A1 is the field showing the number of guests expected. (200)
A2 is the number of people served by your spinach dip recipe. (25)
A3 is the quantity of mayo you need for spinach dip. (1)
A4 is the size of mayo you need for spinach dip. (1/2)
A5 is the number of people served by your corn dip recipe. (20)
A6 is the quantity of mayo you need for corn dip. (1)
A7 is the size of mayo you need for corn dip. (2)

In order to calculate on your shopping list how much mayo you need to buy, the equation is: =(A1/A2*A3*A4) + (A1/A5*A6*A7) = (200/25*1*.5) + (200/20*1*2) = 4 + 20 = 24 cups.

Make sense?  I’m sorry if it doesn’t.  Just leave a comment with where you are confused and I’ll try to explain it better.

Please note that if you don’t want to make a particular recipe for this party, just change the number of people served by that recipe to zero.  Do not delete it (you’ll regret losing all that work).  We have all our recipes that we ever make for parties on this spreadsheet and we just change the number of guests served (but write it down elsewhere so you don’t forget) based on how many different kinds of food we want to make.

Party People

Finish your shopping list.  Don’t forget to list things on your shopping list such as napkins, utensils, plates, spoons, garbage bags, and drinks.  If you think you’ll be sending leftover food home with friends, you also may want to add some disposable tupperware to this list.

Enter recipes.  Once you have your shopping list finished, it’s a nice backup to have all your recipes on the Google Drive spreadsheet as well.  We keep ours printed out in a recipe notebook, but I always prefer to have digital backups.  If I ever change a recipe (add or delete an ingredient), it’s then a quick fix.  I like to create tabs for all the individual recipes so I can flip to each one and print out a backup copy if I need it.

That’s it!  Again, it’s a lot of upfront work, but once you have that work done, it’s a huge stress relief.  All I do is look at the recipes and change to zero the recipes I don’t want to make.  I then change the number of guests expected and print out the shopping list.  I take that shopping list to the pantry and see what I can cross off (or reduce) because I already have it available.

I’m hoping that made some sort of sense to everyone.  Let me know if it doesn’t.  My next post will be about why I think it’s important to show hospitality and how I’ve always done it even when we were broke!  So if something doesn’t make sense, I can follow-up.

What about you?  Do you throw parties?  Do they stress you out?

PJ

 

 

 

The Buffet of Life

Grandma and Poppy have been with us for several weeks.  They arrived to escape Hurricane Irma and decided to stay until Brett and Mason’s engagement party since it didn’t make sense to drive back to Florida just to turn right around again a few days later.

Poppy took the whole family out to China Garden Buffet last night because he tries to make my life easier and taking care of dinner is a great way to do that! (Thanks, Poppy!)

We always go to the same Chinese Buffet place near our old home in Charlestown.  It’s our favorite Chinese place and the owner knows us and takes good care of us.   When she sees us coming, the first thing she does is head back to the kitchen and tell them to bring out more chicken and brocolli and General Tso’s chicken.

General Tso's Chicken

The children, of course, empty both of those trays of whatever they have and make a sizable dent in many of the other offerings including the ice cream.  I don’t let my children (as a general rule) drink soda, but years ago Jim started the tradition where we all make vanilla ice cream and root beer floats.

As I was sitting with my root beer float (Hewitt accidentally put strawberry ice cream in and it tasted very strange!) and chatting with Poppy, I started to think about how life is like an all-you-can-eat buffet.  It can be very satisfying or it can leave you feeling overwhelmed and stuffed to the point of being uncomfortable.

So I decided to share some lessons taken from the Chinese buffet and applied to life.

Limit your choices.  On any given day, we have a seemingly unlimited amount of choices to make because we have access to opportunities that were unheard of a generation ago.  While choices are good, they can be overwhelming because they require us to make decisions.  One mistake I see a lot of people (including myself at times) making is to say “yes” to too many opportunities.  It is so important to learn to say “No” and limiting your choices is a great way to start.

Set expectations.  At the Chinese buffet, my children know they have to eat a certain amount of broccoli (or other vegetables) and protein before they can choose some of the fried foods and desserts.  That’s why we always empty the chicken and broccoli dish – because that is the children’s favorite vegetable dish.   They also know how much “real food” they have to eat before they can finish with their root beer float.  By having some boundaries, it makes the experience truly enjoyable.

Try something new.  I always encourage the children to try something new – whether it’s a new dish at the buffet or a new way of doing something or a new event.  We should never stop learning and part of that is always being willing to try something new.  Experimentation often proves that what we’ve always eaten or the way we’ve always done something is the best.  But every once in a while you’ll find something new that improves your life.  Never be so set in your routine that you aren’t open to new experiences.

Choose wisely.  How often do you go out to eat and say you are going to choose something healthy only to end up with something that tastes super good but you know is not a healthy choice.  While I believe that’s ok to do once in a while, it’s not a great life time habit.  Everything you choose to eat at the buffet leaves less room for something else. (Remember opportunity cost?) Choose wisely when you consider what to put on your plate in your life.

Don’t take too much.  If you ask people today how they are doing, many people will respond, “I’m busy.”  Just as we’re tempted to eat too much food at an all-you-can-eat buffet (because we paid for it), we’re tempted to do too much in our lives.  There is value in just doing nothing.  By not filling your plate with tasks you have to accomplish or places you have to be, you are leaving room for the spontaneous moments of life with your loved ones that are often the most precious and memorable.

Know when to stop.  Jim will often laugh at me because I literally leave the last one or two bites of food on my plate.  He thinks it’s silly that I don’t finish it since I’m so close, but I know that last literal bite will push me from feeling “pleasantly satisfied” to “uncomfortably full”.  So I stop.  We also need to do this on our lives.  We need to know when that one more little thing is too much.  For example, I like to clean up the kitchen before bed.  Usually this is pretty easy and quick, but often sometimes there is a big mess.  I’ve learned that if I do too much at night, I don’t get enough sleep and it throws off my next day.  So instead of cleaning it up the way I want, I just tidy it up so it is ready to be cleaned the next day.

Overstuffed!

Like everything else I talk about, it’s all about finding what works for you.  There are times you need to learn to say no and there are times you need to learn to say yes.  It’s not always easy to understand the difference.  A lot of it comes from wisdom that you gain over time.  That’s one of the reasons I take my parenting so seriously.  My children don’t have any wisdom when they are young.  I not only need to teach them to listen to my wisdom, but I also need to teach them to want to listen to my wisdom. (But that’s a topic for another post!)

What about you?  Got any other ideas how life is like a buffet??

 

PJ

 

 

 

Your Child’s Future

Have you ever heard (or said yourself) the words, “I want my child’s future to be full of possibilities.”  I understand the intent behind those words, but I’m not so sure I agree with them.

As a homeschooling Mom, I kinda think it’s my job to limit my child’s future possibilities.  For example, Brett is barely 5 feet tall.  I’m sorry to tell her, but she’s never going to be a woman’s basketball professional athlete.  That possibility really isn’t open to her.   And while she’s good at math, she doesn’t really enjoy it.  Working as a NASA scientist is probably not a good career choice either.

The more I learn about my children and study them, the more I see possible career paths that are good choices and ones that are bad choices.  The more I can narrow down the possibilities for them, the less overwhelming the “what do I want to be when I grow up” question becomes.

Another example – Hewitt for the past few years has said he wants to be a fighter pilot.  My brother was a pilot in the air force and I know just a little bit about what that requires.  While Hewitt doesn’t have asthma, he was hospitalized with double pneumonia when he was three, and when he gets sick, it tends to settle in his chest.  I will also catch him wheezing once or twice during cross-country season.  In talking with some people, this would probably wipe out his chances of being accepted as a fighter pilot since they need to be perfectly healthy.

F-16 at Scott AFB Air Show

So do I encourage Hewitt in his desire to fly fighter jets?  Nope.  Do I discourage it?  Not actively.  Do I encourage him in other directions?  Yes, definitely.

I personally believe that no parent or adult should determine what a child should do as a job/career for the rest of their lives.  But I believe children and teenagers need a lot more active direction than they are currently receiving.  That means that I am purposely limiting the possibilities that my children consider open to them.

Years ago, I spoke with an older teenager who wanted to be a police office.  I asked him about his reasons.  He gave me some very good reasons and a few unimportant ones. Then I asked him about what he envisioned his family life looking like.  He went into great detail about having a wife and a bunch of children and how they would spend their days.  The differences in his answers were astounding.  He was very logical in talking about being a police officer.  He was very animated and emotional when talking about his possible family.  I then asked him this question, “How do you think your future family will feel about you being a police officer and how will it affect their lives?”  He just stopped, looked at me, and said, “Nobody has ever asked me that before.”

We talked a few more minutes before he had to leave.  I never found out what he ended up doing with his life (he was a stranger I met at an event).  But I’d like to think that whatever he chose to do as a job/career, that he made that choice with his future family in mind and not just his teenage self.

My children probably don’t realize it, but I am always working in the background trying to help them figure out at a relatively early age what they should do with the rest of their lives.  To me, how it impacts family life is a priority and how much potential income it makes is not.

If you ask Emery what he wants to do with his life, he says he would like to deliver baby goats year-round.  Since that’s probably not going to happen, I’m trying to find out what else he’s passionate about. Right now, at Goat Milk Stuff, Emery is making all of our candy (fudge, toffee, caramels, etc.), all of our breads (baguettes, rolls, bagels), and our baked goods (cookies and muffins).

Emery is the Muffin Man

A few months ago I signed us both up for Bread Camp.  I did this for several reasons:

  • I’ve always wanted to cook on a wood burning oven and I wanted to see if this was something I actually enjoyed.
  • I love learning and improving my skills.
  • I wanted Emery to see if he was passionate about breadmaking.

Right now, he’s just following my bread recipes.  I wanted him to find out for himself whether he was as passionate about creating new breads as he is about creating new chocolates.

We had an incredible time at Bread Camp.  It was very special for the two of us to do something together.  I really enjoy Emery’s company (and he acts like he enjoys mine!)  We had great teachers and our fellow classmates were a lot of fun to be with.  We learned several new recipes and lots of techniques.  And we got to make pizzas in the wood burning oven.

PJ & Emery at Bread Camp

I am definitely going to get a wood burning oven* some day.  The chief takeaway for me with it is that my plan to put it by my firepit would have been a huge mistake.  I need it closer to my kitchen.  So when we build our deck (don’t ask me when that will ever happen), I will incorporate the woodburning oven there.  I’m also planning at some point to somehow incorporate a wood burning oven into Goat Milk Stuff so we can offer artisan pizzas with goat cheese.

As for Emery, I think he’s excited about becoming a better baker and exploring what he wants to do with it.  He was very competent at camp and I think that made him feel very good.  Right now, he’s hoping to launch a CSB (Community Supported Bread) program.  He’s thinking of starting with a 6 week program.  He will make 6 different breads and every member of the program will get 1 loaf a week.  Knowing ahead of time how many he has sold will help him to know exactly how much he has to bake.  This will minimize waste which is helpful because wasted bread is discouraging.

Whether or not Emery decides to do something with bread, we had a wonderful experience together and he will either be able to add bread baking as a possibility as a future career or rule it out. But the main point is that Emery had the opportunity to learn and experience what a professional bread baker’s life looked like.

Emery Preps Pizza Dough

This hands-on experience is so important for teens to help them know whether or not they want to make something a career.  I have a lot of friends who went to college to study a subject, only to graduate and find out they hated working in their field.  Was their education a complete waste?  No, learning is never a complete waste.  But it had a huge opportunity cost for them.  I’d much rather guide the children into narrowing down the possibilities and give them some real world experience before they commit to a college degree in that field.

What about you?  Were you given good advice when you were a teen about job possibilities?  If you’re a parent, do you think everything should be a possibility for your child?  Or are you trying to help your child narrow it down?

 

PJ

 

 

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It’s Not All About Me

Have you ever said hello to someone and have them ignore you?  If you’re like me, the first thought that jumps to my mind is something like, “What did I do wrong to make them mad at me?”

Or how about you ask somebody a simple question and they respond to you in anger?  Again, I wonder, “What should I have said differently?”

Do You Get Defensive?

Or maybe I send somebody a text and they don’t respond.  And I think, “Are they ignoring me on purpose because of something I did or didn’t do?”

What I have learned over the years, is that my first response is to think that the issue is all about me – that I did something “wrong” to produce that outcome.  But I have found this usually isn’t the case at all.

Quite often, something is going on in the person’s life that has nothing to do with me.  Perhaps they had a fight with a family member.  Perhaps they didn’t sleep well and are exhausted.  Or perhaps they’re simply thinking about something important to them.

In fact, the older I get, the more I realize that very little of it is actually about me.

One evening I asked one of the boys to wash the dishes.   I did some other chores and returned to the kitchen to find only half of the dishes washed.  I went searching for the child and found him in his room reading a book.  I was very close to saying something like, “I asked you to wash the dishes so I wouldn’t have to do it and you ignored me.”  (Notice how many times I would have said “I” or “me”.)  But instead I said something like, “You only got half the dishes washed, what happened?”

Systematic Dirty Dishes

The child immediately jumped up and said, “I’m sorry, Mom!  I had to go to the bathroom and I got distracted.  I’ll finish them right now.”  To which I simply responded, “Thanks, [insert child’s nickname].”  He wasn’t trying to ignore me.  He was simply being a kid and didn’t finish.  It wasn’t about me at all.

Another time, I was at a family event and we were telling stories about our childhood.  My brother kept telling stories that painted me in a very unflattering light.  After two or three of them, I wasn’t laughing and wanted to respond with a few negative stories about him.  But I looked at him and he looked really tired.  So instead of doing what I wanted, I contributed a few stories where he was the hero of the story.  A few hours later, he said to me, “Thanks.  It’s been a rough week at work.”  Once again, it wasn’t about me at all.  He was struggling at work and was simply in a poor mood.

I am very active on our Goat Milk Stuff Facebook page and am familiar with a lot of our regular commenters.  I had an instance once, where a normally very nice woman started attacking everything I said on Facebook.  It was very unusual behavior for her, so I ignored it the first time, and the second, and the third.  But it got so bad that I had to send her a private message asking why she was being so negative.  She immediately apologized and told me that there were some unfortunate issues occurring in her life and she was on edge.  Her behavior reverted to normal and has never been repeated.  It was not about me at all.

And it’s not just people! Some of the pregnant goats get really cranky during kidding season.  They try to take their bad moods out on us, but despite their crankiness, we still take good care of their needs and make them as comfortable as they can be.  After all, it’s about them, not us.

How we respond to issues is so instrumental in how the situation resolves.  When we believe that the other person’s behavior is all about us, our response can be inflammatory, which can often escalate the situation.  Or it could put the other person on the defensive.  And someone who is defensive rarely says the right thing.

Instead, we need to recognize that our first reaction (believing that it’s all about me) is often incorrect.  If you can train yourself to realize that it might not be about you at all, you will find that you react better to situations.  So how do you train yourself this way?

  • Pause.  Most people react too quickly.  They feel like they are being attacked and they say the first thing that comes to their mind.
  • Think. Use that pause to think about the other person and not your own feelings.
  • Ask yourself what else could this be about instead of me.  Don’t assume that the other person is reacting to something you said or did.  What else could be going on in their life?
  • Do not get defensive.  When we feel we are being attacked, we make the situation about us when it often has nothing to do with us at all.
  • Lead with a question and not a statement.  Don’t assume you’ve figured out what is going on that caused the person’s actions.  Ask them what is happening, with a focus on them and not on you.

Those sound like such simple steps.  And while they are simple, they’re not always easy.  Emotions and words are tricky things and when we respond with emotional words, they can often get us into a lot of trouble.

Remember that when somebody hurts you with with their actions or words, quite often, you are just the vehicle for them to try to release their own feelings.  It’s not always about you.  Make it about them and you can often resolve the situation.

What do you think?  Are you quick to make issues about you instead of the other person?  How do you handle conflicts where you are feeling attacked?

PJ

 

 

Setting My Children Up for Success

I want my children to be wildly successful in their lives.  Not perfect.  But successful.  By successful, I don’t mean materially successful.  Instead I define a successful life as something more meaningful.  I want them to excel in their marriages, their parenting, and their chosen vocations (whether that is goat farming or something entirely different).  I want them to stand out in their culture and generation as individuals who have their priorities in the correct order.

With this theme in mind, I decided to read the book Outliers* by Malcolm Gladwell for the second time.  The first time I read it, I was thinking more about myself.  It came out in 2011 and I was still doing a lot of reading to improve my ability to make Goat Milk Stuff a success.  But now that my children are older, I wanted to re-read the book with the children (and their success) in mind.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I like to underline meaningful passages and there were three sections that I underlined in the book while I was reading it. (Ok, I underlined more, but these are the ones that apply to this topic.)

1. “Successful people don’t do it alone. Where they come from matters. They’re products of particular places and environments.” (Gladwell, 119)

If I want my children to be successful, I need to pay attention to the places and environments into which I put them.

Over the years, I’ve worked very hard to provide my children with an environment that fosters creative thinking, problem solving, and hard work.  For those of you who don’t know us personally and only read the blog or watch the videos, it may seem like all my children do is work.  But this is far from the truth.

I’ve always made sure the children have lots of free time to read, think, draw, play, or do whatever they wished.  The juxtaposition of hard work and free time fosters an environment that is conducive to long-term success.

On the flip side, I also work hard to keep my children away from environments that I believe to be detrimental to their success.  The first thing that comes to mind when I think about negative environments is video games.  I do not allow my children to play any type of video game while they’re living in my house.

Why do I feel so strongly against video games?  My main reason is because I believe they are designed to be addictive.  For those who would argue otherwise, let’s agree that they at least may lead some children to compulsive behavior. In any case, the opportunity cost to video games is huge.  I’d rather my children be running around playing with their friends or reading or building or creating or doing anything other than play video games.

I’ve been challenged by other parents that children can learn a lot of good skills from video games. We could sit here and argue that, but I will always believe that whatever good skills they can supposedly learn from video games can be learned from other endeavors that are healthier for them.

And remember – every family is different.  I’m not saying that every family needs to banish video games for their children to be successful.  What I am recommending is that you be intentional about whether or not you allow them.

Bottom line – as a parent, I can play a part in determining if the places and environments in which my children reside are helpful or detrimental to their ultimate success.  And so can you.

2. “outliers always have help along the way” (Gladwell, 120)

Don’t you love that?  People who are truly successful have had help.

I want my children to understand that their hard work and their effort matters when it comes to their success.  But it’s just as important that they realize they have not done it alone.  I don’t ever want the children to become puffed up and proud about their success.  I don’t want them to ever think that it was because of how special they are that they are successful.

Successful people attain their success in part because certain people were in a position to help them along the way.

Get To Know Your Banker

Can you control this?  Not directly.  But you can put yourself or your children into situations where they can meet other people.  I never introduce my children to people with the expectation that they are going to help.  But I do introduce my children to people whom I admire for what they have done with their lives.  And if down the road, that relationship improves the success potential of my children, that would be wonderful.

But I do caution my children to never expect help and to never take on too much help.  As with most things in life, it’s a balance.

3. “The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents.  It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.” (Gladwell, 137)

I know lots of people that struggle in this life.  They struggle with financial success.  They struggle with relationship success.  They struggle with vocational success.  Despite hard work and effort spent trying to become successful in their lives, they don’t ever seem to achieve it.

Why?

I don’t know for sure.  But one possible reason may be the fact that their backstory takes place at a time that is not filled with easy opportunities for success.  Children of divorce are more likely to be divorced.  Children of poor money managers are less likely to be financially savvy.  It takes effort to break out of our backstory.  There are times when this is easy and times when this is harder.

One recent example was the difference in employment opportunities for those who graduated college during the 2008 Great Recession.  They had fewer “particular opportunities” than those who graduated a few years earlier.

In our particular example, we couldn’t have started Goat Milk Stuff at a better time.  The internet had been around long enough that people were comfortable with purchasing online.  Amazon was still just a book seller and not dominating online sales. And goat milk soap was still pretty new to people.  We were able to give them a sample and when they realized the difference it made for their skin, they were hooked.

Jade's Hilarious Free Samples Video

Because we started Goat Milk Stuff in the year we did, we were able to achieve very rapid success.  Was that success because of our hard work?  Yes, hard work was necessary and played a big part. But I don’t underestimate the fact that a large part of our success was because of the opportunities available to us at the particular point in history we began our business.

I’m also teaching my children that they can’t get so caught up in the work they are currently doing that they lose sight of what is going on around them.  It’s super easy (especially when you like what you do) to get complacent.  But you can’t, you have to constantly pay attention to the opportunities that are currently available to you.

That was a big part of why we became a Grade A Goat dairy.  We saw that we had an opportunity and that there was a need.  We’re taking advantage of it because we know that success doesn’t only come from our hard work.  It comes from “the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with” (Gladwell 137).

Indiana Goat Milk

Another way we’ve paid attention to the opportunities around us is to notice that we no longer have to teach people what goat milk soap is.  Instead, we’ve recognized that our opportunity now is to show people that not all goat milk soap is created equal and that ours is much better than what they can find on Amazon or at their local farmer’s markets.

So those are three of the sections I underlined in the book.  To summarize them in my words:

  1. I need to put my children into environments that can increase their chances for success.
  2. I need to help my children learn that they can’t be successful completely on their own.  They need to connect with people and be willing to accept help.
  3. Opportunities are more available at certain points in time than others.  The children need to be aware of the opportunities that are available around them.

And of course, even though I read Outliers* with the children in mind, these same takeaways also apply to ourselves.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think hard work alone guarantees success?

PJ

 

 

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Blessed To Be a Blessing

As I’m writing this, I have a kitchen full of Hurricane Irma escapees processing tomatoes in my kitchen.  This includes Grandma, Poppy, my brother, and his wife.  My brother’s three children are picking more tomatoes and bringing them back to the house.  While I’m not happy for the reason they’re here (Hurricane Irma), I am very happy to have them here building memories and having fun as a family.

My parents’ house is outside of Orlando and will hopefully be fine.  Even so, I encouraged them to evacuate early because there was no reason for them to stay.  They’re retired and don’t need to worry about staying for a job.  And their house is either going to be fine or it isn’t.  Leaving Florida early meant they wouldn’t exacerbate the problems associated with so many people evacuating such a large area.   They wouldn’t have to be part of the lines of people trying to purchase limited amounts of food or water or gas.  They wouldn’t have to worry about power outages or medical emergencies. Thankfully, they decided to start getting ready to make the trip.

My brother, however, lives a mile from the coast in Southern Florida.  We had encouraged him once before to leave during a prior hurricane and come stay with us.  He had chosen not to because it is very difficult for him to leave.  He has three children (two of whom are in school).  Plus he and his wife run their own business – Organic Grown Direct – that delivers organic food directly to homes from Jupiter to Miami & all of Florida.

On Wednesday morning, I texted him: “You know that if you need to evacuate, you are welcome here!”

He texted back: “Ok, we’ll pop by for a real quick lunch!”

I thought he was joking and texted back: “You a funny guy. ;)”

Five hours later he texted me a photo of his family in our farm store with Jade and Colter and said: “Did we miss lunch?”

He’s always texting me photos of his family and their visits here and I thought it was an old photo.  I had no idea he was here and joked back: “I’ve got leftovers.”

Surprise No Joke Text Message

Five minutes later, Mason came back to the house and told me they were actually here!

It turns out he “knew” (his words) that I was going to offer him a place to stay.  He had a bad feeling about this storm and put his family into their car Tuesday night (the night before I texted him) and started driving.  He knew we would love the surprise and that we would welcome them with open arms.

They left with very little (there are 5 of them and not a big car).  They made the decision to leave quickly and he drove through the night to get his family to safety before getting out of Florida became difficult.  They hit relatively little traffic and didn’t have any worries about getting gas.

My parents (who were going to leave on Thursday) decided to move their departure up to Wednesday.  They hit hours of bumper to bumper traffic, had concerns about refueling, and couldn’t locate a hotel room to stay overnight until they passed Atlanta. They arrived here yesterday (Thursday), road-weary and glad to finally be here.

My brother is a praying man and is praying hard.  Not only is his house at risk, but so is his business.  He has heard predictions that their area could be without power for a month.  If that is the case, he will lose all his inventory (he has walk-in freezers with organic meats and seafood) and maybe even his business depending on if his organic Florida farmers are also wiped out.

We are joining him in prayer for not only his business, but for everyone in harm’s way from Hurricane Irma (just as we did for all those affected by Hurricane Harvey).

In addition to prayer, I talk a lot with my children about what they can do to help others.  I teach them:

Be aware of others in need.  The first step is to focus on others and not just yourself.  We all have our daily stresses and struggles.  Sometimes those stresses and struggles are greater than at other times.  But it’s important to be aware that there are other people out there in need of assistance.

2012 Henryville Indiana Tornado DestructionWhat was left of our friends’ house after our 2012 F4 tornado.

Be open to helping others.  I can’t tell you how good it made me feel that my brother “knew” we were going to offer him shelter.   I’ve always taught my children how important it is to keep your home open to people in need.  We’ve done that whether we had a small home or a larger home.  It’s not the size of your home that determines whether or not you can help.  It’s the size of your heart.  I have a heart to help others and I want my children to have the same open heart.

Offer that help.  Many people are too independent to ask for help.  You need to make them comfortable that you are willing to be there to assist if needed.  This doesn’t happen suddenly in an emergency.  This happens over years of making offers (that usually aren’t accepted).  But keep making the offers – some day they will be needed and accepted.

Donate your time.  Opening your home is a great way to help, but you can also donate your time.  I’ve always wanted to take the older children to a disaster area to donate our time helping with cleanup. Right now because we have to milk our goats daily, it’s difficult to leave and donate our time.  But honestly, I think that’s just an excuse.  If I can make arrangements to leave and take a vacation, why can’t I make arrangements to donate time helping cleanup?

Carefully donate money if you are able.  I’ve mentioned before that on the 2nd of March 2012, we had a devastating F4 tornado tear through our community that resulted in loss of life, many injuries, and extensive damage. There were many people who volunteered their time after the tornado. There were also various relief agencies that came in. Some of them left a sour taste in our mouth and I will never donate to them again.  By far, the relief agency that made the biggest difference in people’s lives after the tornado was Samaritan’s Purse.  If you are desiring to donate money to help, I can strongly recommend donating to Samaritan’s Purse as I have seen first hand the good work they do. While other relief agencies brought their aid (which was needed), Samaritan’s Purse not only brought aid, but found out what individual needs were and found a way to meet those needs.  As with anything, do your due diligence before you send money to any person or organization saying they are going to help people in need.  It’s a sad fact that there are many people profiting off the disasters of others.

2012 Henryville, IN Tornado DamageOur old church after the 2012 F4 tornado.

Don’t forget.  Helping others should be an ongoing event in your life.  While natural disasters get media attention and make us focus on large groups of people who are in need of help, the truth is there are people who need assistance every day all around you.  Keep your eyes open to these people and don’t forget when the media stops blaring about a specific disaster that people still need help.  Bad things can happen to hard-working people.  These people may need help to get back on their feet.  Not everyone can afford good insurance.  If my brother loses his business, we will help him however we can to start over.  And there are thousands others just like him.  They don’t need charity, they just need a helping hand.

Act wisely. There is a documentary called Poverty Inc* that I highly recommend watching yourself and with your children.  It is very eye opening on how sometimes what we think we’re doing to help actually makes the situation worse.  Make sure you’re acting wisely and considering the ramifications of your efforts to help.

I am beyond blessed.  I have eight amazing (and healthy) children.  I have an incredible husband.  I have a beautiful farm.  I have a successful business.  I thank God every day for all my blessings and I never take any of them for granted.

Because I recognize that I am beyond blessed, it makes me want to be able to bless others.

What about you?  Are you teaching your children to be aware of others in need and to help others in a responsible way?

PJ

 

 

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Flexibility is Key to a Busy Mom’s Sanity

I’m a naturally organized person.  Which is helpful, because the more complex my life becomes, the more important it is to stay organized if I want to be efficient, get all my work done, and stay sane and happy.

But you don’t have to be a naturally organized person to successfully manage a busy household.  As I’ve mentioned many times, you simply need to spend some time creating systems and maintaining those systems once they’re in place.

But I do want to be clear that even for a naturally organized person, it takes hard work to keep a busy household organized.  The simple truth is that a busy life challenges organization.

The more moving parts you have in a system, the greater the potential for points of disruption.  For me – my husband, children, employees, customers, goats, chickens, rabbits, dogs, and cats are all living creatures that are bound to throw disruptions at me non-stop.  And that’s ok, because I want all of them in my life.  A life without them would be more simple, but it would be very barren.

So while it is important that I have an organized framework within which to operate, I need to be flexible for the many times that framework is interrupted.  And so should you.  Because the more complex your life becomes, the more your systems will be challenged.

For example, after church on Sunday I had lots of plans.  I had a customer stopping by, I had somebody picking up a goat they purchased, and I had to do payroll for the business (since my plan to do it on Saturday didn’t come to fruition).  I also had a lot of wants – I wanted to clean out the laundry room, I wanted to process the remaining tomatoes, I wanted to make homemade chicken soup, and I wanted to take a walk with Jim.

So I sat down with the family and made a list of what I wanted and needed each child to do before they had the remainder of the day free to themselves.

Do you know what happened about five minutes after we all dispersed to get our chores done?

Crescendo decided to go into labor and have triplets! (The sac was really thick so the boys had to help break it open so the baby wouldn’t suffocate.)  You can watch the birth on Facebook Live.

Nigerian Dwarf Goat Birth

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not at all upset that Crescendo chose a nice, sunny day to deliver her healthy triplets.  I always enjoy it when new life comes into this world – especially if it is an easy birth and everybody does well.

But it certainly messed with my organization and my plans.

All of a sudden, everything that everyone had planned for the day had to be stopped.  Did we all need to be at the birth?  No.  Did we all want to be at the birth?  Yep!

So, it wasn’t just my plans that got disrupted, but everyone’s plans were disrupted.

I have learned that when my plans go awry, I have a choice to make.  I can choose to freak out, wonder how I’m going to get it all done, and take the stress out on my family.

Or…

I can embrace the interruption, be flexible, and adjust my plans.

Nigerian Dwarf Buckling, "Treble"

Obviously, the latter is the preferred choice.  But the trick is learning how to react with the latter emotions instead of the former.  Here are some ways I’ve been able to implement this in my life.

Trust that the interruptions are from God.  I’ve learned (and fully believe), that those interruptions are chosen by God for my life.  They are opportunities for me to give up my (perceived) control of my life and accept what God has for me.

Recognize that often the interruptions are for someone else’s benefit.  Normally the interruptions provide a way for me to minister to somebody else.  I’ll be honest, I don’t always WANT to minister to somebody else.  There are lots of times I’d rather just get done what I feel I need to get done so I can sit and do nothing for a little while before bed.  But God’s plans are always better.  By interrupting my day and “forcing” me to focus on the needs of somebody else (whether it is one of my children, a customer, or a goat), I spend time on what is truly valuable and not what I perceive as more important.

Remember there is always tomorrow.  Does it really matter that my laundry room still has clutter in it?  Yes, actually, it does.  (Decluttering is very important to me to keep my life simple and functioning well.)  But it doesn’t matter that I didn’t get to it today.  There is always tomorrow or the next day or the next.  Because while it needs to be done, sometimes my attention needs to focus elsewhere first.

Know that your children are watching.  The frustrations and interruptions that we encounter can be the best way to teach our children how to handle the frustrations in their lives.  We need to model flexibility and a proper response to a change in our plans.

Understand that importance is relative.  What you perceive as important is not necessarily what others in your life perceive as important.  I would rather build the relationships in my life with the people I love than accomplish everything on my to-do list.

Recognize that interruptions will happen.  If we are too rigid in our organization, our systems, or our expectations, we can react poorly when disruption occurs.  But if you recognize that in a busy life, interruptions will routinely and regularly happen, it becomes easier to adjust.  It’s not that we will always manage to embrace interruptions (except perhaps for the really good ones), but we can learn to anticipate interruptions and build in room for them to occur.

Put it in perspective.  It’s really important to recognize that usually the interruption you are dealing with is a minor inconvenience in life.  I’m always thankful to God that if something doesn’t go according to plan, it wasn’t anything more devastating.  I was very thankful that my disruption yesterday was three new healthy baby goats, and not an emergency trip to the hospital with my child.  I’m always thankful when I’m stuck in construction traffic that I wasn’t in a car accident or had my vehicle break down on the highway.  I’m always thankful when I have a mean customer that I even have a customer service business that supports my family.  If you can train yourself to the attitude of – “If that’s the problem I have to deal with today, I’ll take it!” – then those interruptions become less frustrating.

Nigerian Dwarf Goat Doe and Kids

Those are a few of the ways that I’ve learned to deal with the disruptions that come with a busy life. What about you?  How do you handle your plans being interrupted?

 

PJ

 

 

What Would You Do With An Extra Hour?

I was asked the other day on a podcast interview what I would do if I suddenly had an extra hour in every day (if I had a 25 hour day instead of 24 hours).  I thought it was a great question.  I didn’t have to think about it too long.  My answer was…  I would do nothing.

I don’t need another hour to get more work done.  Is there more work that I could do?  Of course! I am, after all, a very busy mom.

But I personally believe that too many of us are running around constantly spending our time “doing” and not devoting enough hours to just “being”.  In our technology age, many of us no longer know how to be bored.  The moment we have some down time or a few free minutes, we pick up our technology of choice and entertain ourselves.  Whether it’s a youtube video, a blog post, a podcast episode, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texting, music, news headlines, or something else entirely, we’re regularly distracting ourselves with technology.

Not that any of those are bad in and of itself (afterall, I create a lot of those items myself).  But it can be bad if we’re spending too much time on them and spending it too often.

I’m as guilty as the next person of picking up my phone if I’m “bored”.  But it is something that I am aware of and constantly work to minimize.  Why? Because it is important to do nothing and just be alone with our thoughts at times.

One of my favorite sayings is from St. Francis de Sales, who said “Everyone of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.”

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, time spent doing nothing can actually make us more productive. I know that sounds crazy, but it really is true.

How do you actually make this happen in your life?  It might help to take a lesson from Winnie-the-Pooh* and create a Thoughtful Spot of your own where you go to do nothing.

My Thoughtful Spot has varied over the years.  Sometimes it has been the kitchen table, sometimes, my bedroom, and quite often it has been my closet.  And then about a year ago I did something different.  This was difficult for me because I rarely spend money on myself, but I bought myself a writing desk.  And then Jim surprised me with a nice, comfy chair (instead of the hard plastic one I was using).

Writing Desk

I was very intentional about my writing desk*.  There is absolutely no technology allowed anywhere near my writing desk –  no phone, laptop, or anything.  At my writing desk I have my journal, my Bible, some pens, and stationary for writing to people.

I try to get to my writing desk every single morning.  It doesn’t always happen, but it happens more often than not.  I have a routine while I’m there, but it’s more of a loose frame work than it is a set of steps that I follow.

Journal.  The first thing I do is pull out my journal* and write down the day of the week, date, and time.  Then I just start writing whatever comes to mind.  This can cover anything from what happened yesterday to what is happening today to my feelings and actions and thoughts.  It can take anywhere from five minutes to thirty minutes and cover a quarter of a page up to several pages.  The most important thing I keep in mind when I’m writing is to keep it positive.  I do not ever use the journal to complain. Ever.  Even if I want to.

Bible Reading.  I then open my Bible and start reading.  I don’t have a set amount I read, it depends on the day.  Right now I’m in the Psalms.  I generally read until something jumps out at me.  Once I find the “right” verse, I write it down in my journal.  Then I write down my thoughts about why that verse is important to me and how I can apply it to my life.

Give Thanks.  After the Bible verse, I write in my journal “I am Thankful for” and list at least three things.  I try to make these specific to what is going on in my life.  For example, I wouldn’t write, “my husband”.  Instead I would write, “I am thankful my husband loves me enough to want me to be comfortable and spent his time locating the perfect chair for me*.”

Think About Today.  Then I write in my journal “What would make today great?”  This one takes some thinking.  Usually I lean back in my chair and try to figure out what I want the day to be.  Sometimes they are very structured business goals I am trying to reach (“having x new online customers”).  Sometimes they are tasks that are hanging over me (“getting all the tomatoes picked and processed.”)  And sometimes they are more relational (“get a specific child alone to help with his/her current struggles.”)  This is very powerful for me as it helps me to think about what is really important in my life right now.

Pray.  Once I have done all this, then I spend time in prayer.  Sometimes I write down in my journal what I am praying for or about.  But more often I just talk to God.

Sit quietly.  Before I get up, I spend some time just sitting in my chair.  Sometimes my eyes are open, sometimes they are closed.  During this time I may try to meditate (focus on my breathing and empty my mind) or I may just reflect and ask myself specific questions or I may let my mind wander and see whatever comes up.  It is during this time that I find I often get a lot of ideas and new angles on problem solving.

After this time at my writing desk I am almost always excited to live a new day and see what will happen.

I always aim to sit at my writing desk in the morning because it has the greatest impact on my day when I fit it in at that time.  But life being what it is, that doesn’t always happen, and I will try to fit it in at some point during the day (typically after lunch).

Some days I’ll sit at my writing desk in the evenings before bed, but that is my least preferred time.  I find that in the evenings instead of enjoying the time at my writing desk, it is more of a chore I have to check off before I go to sleep.  So I often skip it rather than forcing it to happen.

I don’t have a specific amount of time that I spend there. Sometimes all I can manage is ten minutes.  On these days I’ll generally not write anything, but just sit and think.  Twenty to thirty minutes is more often what I am able to accomplish.  But there are days where I’m able to spend an hour or longer.  These are the days that are most meaningful and have the biggest impact on my life.  But even so, I’d rather have a month where I get ten minutes every day than getting two hours only once or twice.

My children are a lot older now (ages 10 – 20) so it is easier for me to do this and be consistent about it.  But I’ve always made it a priority in some form.  When  the children were younger, we always had “Quiet Hour”.  This was typically at nap time.  The baby and toddlers would nap at the same time.  The older children had to sit on their beds and be quiet.  They could do whatever they wanted (read, color, or rest) as long as they made no noise.  They were also not allowed to get out of their beds for any reason.

Kids Meditating

If you ask my children, the older ones will tell you that this time was sacred to me.  I never spent this time cleaning the house or doing chores.  I spent it pretty much the way I just described. Even though I didn’t have a writing desk, it was easily accomplished in my bedroom or at the table.  I do admit, there were a lot of days I fell asleep during Quiet Hour, but that’s ok too.  I think maintaining quiet hour was also easier for me because we didn’t have technology.  I had no cell phone.  We had no television.  I wasn’t on social media.  I had a desktop computer and that was it.

I spend a lot of time trying to help busy moms spend their time more efficiently.  But please remember that it’s more important to spend your time wisely.  And this requires time spent not doing anything but thinking and reflecting.  If you are able to make this a part of your daily life, I think you’ll be amazed at how your overall productivity increases.

How about you?  Do you spend time doing “nothing”?  Do you want to?

 

PJ

 

 

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