Our Packing System

For a farm family, we do a lot of traveling.  Jim and I put a focus on this because we want our children to realize that the world is a much bigger place than the small hometown in which they live.

As you can imagine, it’s a bit chaotic getting a family of ten on the road.  But we’ve gotten quite good at it because we’ve put several systems in place.  I’ve learned that it is best to pack right before we are ready to leave.  Packing things ahead of time often leads to items being forgotten.  My biggest job is to make sure all the laundry is done the day before we are scheduled to leave and that the Beast is cleaned out.

Depending on the trip, we will start packing anywhere from 1-3 hours ahead of time.  And with our packing systems in place, it doesn’t cause me any stress at all to pack because I don’t have to worry about forgetting things.


There are four key systems that are involved in our packing for vacation.

System 1: The Individual Packing List.  Jim gives each person a printed packing list a few days before we leave.  He has a few templates (e.g. winter vs summer) and then he modifies it based on the weather, how long we will be gone, and if we will have a washer and dryer available to us.

In June, we made a three day trip to New York City to see the Hamilton on Broadway.  This was the first time we took no suitcases and each only had a carry-on bag.  The individual packing list looked like this:

  • 1  jeans
  • 1 shorts
  • 3 short sleeve shirts
  • 1 jacket or sweatshirt
  • 3 underwear
  • 3 socks
  • 1 pajamas
  • toothbrush
  • tooth powder
  • soap
  • brush or comb
  • glasses (if needed)
  • drivers license
  • cell phone and charger

The children knew they had to get all of that into their carry-on bag and then they could fit whatever extra stuff (books, toys, journals, Bibles) they wanted.  Colter actually got flagged by TSA because he had brought 8 packs of cards with him and they wanted to know what those “brick shaped” items were.

Carry On Luggage

The children all check off the list as they pack it and turn the list back to Jim.  So far, none of the children have ever forgotten anything on the list.

System 2: The Family Packing List.  Jim has a series of family packing lists depending on where we are going and what we are doing.  These are lists he has modified over the years.

I won’t give you the whole list for the vacation we are currently on, but it looks in part like this:

  • laundry soap
  • phone chargers
  • fitbit chargers
  • knife block
  • large pot and lid
  • large colander
  • 3 cutting boards
  • rice cooker
  • crockpot
  • suntan lotion
  • boogie boards
  • frisbees
  • croquet set
  • shovels and sand castle equipment
  • cooler
  • hand weights
  • family medicine bag (aspirin, tylenol, nyquil, peptol bismol, sudafed, bandaids, arnica salve, jewelweed salve, comfrey salve, benadryl, feminine products)

For this vacation, we are renting a house and we’ve learned from experience that they never have what we need to cook dinner for a large family.  As a result, we bring a lot of our own kitchen supplies.  We also take this list with us so we know what needs to come back home with us.

Canvas Bag

The family medicine bag is something I have learned to just keep stocked and packed.  Every time we come home from a trip, the family medicine bag and individual toiletry bags are restocked with what is needed.  I also keep an eye on expiration dates and rotate anything if needed.

System 3: Notification List.  This is the list that we leave at home on the the kitchen counter.  It has all the contact information for everything that has ever been needed.  This includes contact numbers for us, the vet, our contractor, key Goat Milk Stuff suppliers, employees, and local friends. It also has the codes to the security system and what to do if it goes off plus any other information that might be needed.

System 4: Before We Leave List.  I wish I had a better name for this, but it is everything that needs to happen before we leave.  It also has the desired departure time as well as the “drop dead” time we need to leave if we are flying instead of driving. It looks like this:

  • Adjust thermostats
  • Empty all garbage cans
  • Empty refrigerator
  • Clean all toilets and put a cap full of bleach in each toilet
  • Check washing machine and dryer to make sure they are both empty and water turned off
  • Oil wooden cutting boards

The important thing to remember is that our lists are kept online.  They are not written on paper and thrown away. Every time we go on vacation, we update the lists for things we want to bring next time or items we no longer need.   So they are constantly being updated as our family learns, grows, and changes.

For example, we are staying this year at the house we rented last year.  Jim updated his list to include a hammer and something to block the window with.  He is bringing the hammer because there were several nails that were sticking up on the porch.  The window in our bedroom also had terrible curtains on it.  Since the outside light would shine on our faces and make it hard to fall asleep, he made a note of something he wants to bring to block the light.

It takes Jim maybe 5-10 minutes to update the lists for the current trip we are planning and print them out.  We can go from nothing packed to fully packed and the Beast loaded with little concern that we are forgetting anything in under an hour.  The children are responsible for bringing the items in their Individual Packing List to the Beast and making sure they are loaded.  One of the older boys usually oversees loading the rest.

When the children were little, we would buddy each younger child up with an older child.  The older child was responsible for making sure both of their lists were packed.

Luggage for 10

I am a big believer that spending a little time organizing will save you tons of money and time down the line.  Even if you don’t travel a lot, this is a very simple system that you can put into place.  I’ve mentioned before that I love Google Drive for these kind of documents.  I don’t worry about the security of them and I can find them from any computer or phone.

So, that’s how we pack an entire family of ten and get us on the road in a relatively short amount of time.  Are you good at packing up for a trip?  Or does it cause you a lot of stress?




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All or Nothing

Grandma and Poppy are here for a visit.  They’re a great help to us when they’re here.  This week, Grandma has been helping me a lot with the garden.

Today we harvested yellow beans, tomatoes, celery, onions, carrots, beets, peppers, green cabbage, red cabbage, brussels sprouts, watermelon, pumpkin, and blackberries.  While we were working together we were talking about (surprise)… food.

All In Gardening Harvest

Grandma said that the recommendations for what is “good for you” food always changes.  She used the example that for years she was told that eggs and butter were “bad”, but now they are supposedly good for you again.

I shared my belief that it’s not only about the individual food, but how it was raised or grown that makes a huge difference.  I believe that animals should be raised on grass with fresh air and clean water.  Plants should be grown in living soil that has not been treated with pesticides or herbicides.

Grandma then made this comment – “Everything should be done in moderation.”

While I was snapping the ends off of green beans, I thought about that.

It’s an interesting statement, and I can understand why she said it and that sometimes it should be applied. And yet, I found myself thinking about how in my life, I often do quite the opposite.

Truth be told, I’m more more of an “all or nothing” kind of girl and tend to tackle life with a “Go big or go home” mentality.

Here are a few examples.

Goat Milk Stuff. When I first started making goat milk soap, I had another soapmaker who had been selling her soap for roughly 7 years say to me, “You can not support your family making soap.” I thought about it for approximately 30 seconds and said, “Watch me!”

Ok, that sounds a bit arrogant now, but I had thrown myself into Goat Milk Stuff and was committed to making it a success.  I knew that with God’s blessings, I could do it.  I knew I could grow Goat Milk Stuff into a viable business that would support my family.  Just because another soapmaker couldn’t (or hadn’t) done it, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t do it.

So we went all in.  The first full year, we attended 30 craft shows.  The second year we attended 50.  It was the main focus for the family.  But that hard work paid off, and Goat Milk Stuff was successfully launched and does in fact support our whole family.

Early Days of Goat Milk Stuff

Making babies.  Even as a teenager, I knew I wanted a large family.  I also knew I wanted the children to be close together in age.  And so I had eight children in ten years.  And then I was done. Those ten years of either being pregnant or nursing (or both) was definitely and “all in” time in my life.

And after Jade was born, I knew I was done and I moved on to the next stage of my life.  I knew myself well enough to know that I no longer had the energy to both raise my children and continue having children.  The “all in” phase was over.

Do I miss having babies?  Sometimes.  But I figure it will just make more excited to be a grandmother some day.

Gardening.  I am definitely all in when it comes to my garden.  I grow so much food it’s kinda scary.  And it takes a huge amount of my time and my children’s time.  But to me it is worth it!

I can’t put a value on the health of my family.  There are so many things that affect their lives that I can’t control.  I want to make sure I do the best possible for them when it comes to things (like eating healthy food) that I can control.  And nothing makes me happier than to watch my children eating fresh veggies directly out of the garden.

But during gardening season, I am definitely all in.  I prep. I plant. I weed. I harvest. I cut. I chop. I cook. I can. I freeze. I ferment.  It takes massive amounts of my time.  But it makes me happy and it relaxes me.  I love having my hands in the dirt and being outside.

I’m even planning yet another garden expansion at the end of this season – I’m so excited!  I’m definitely still “all in” when it comes to my garden.

Organic Gardening at Goat Milk Stuff

Budgeting and paying off debt. I can tend to be a bit of a stickler when it comes to spending money.  I am incredibly frugal on items that don’t have a payback value.

I don’t mind spending hundreds of dollars putting in a new raised garden bed because it saves me time in weeding and produces healthy food.  I also don’t mind buying energy efficient appliances that cost more because they will save money in utilities throughout their life.

But I hate spending hundreds of dollars just to heat and cool our home.  I drive Jim crazy because I’m always changing the thermostat (it’s on a program) to save money on heating and/or cooling.

I use spreadsheets and Quicken and Personal Capital to track every penny we spend for both the business and the family.  Jim, the children, and the employees all know they will be “in trouble” if they don’t submit a receipt so I know exactly what a credit card charge was spent on.  I can tell you over years how our spending has fluctuated.

The reason I am “all in” when it comes to budgeting and tracking expenses is because I hate debt.  Really, really hate it.

Every penny that I save is then spent on paying down debt so that we can once again be completely, 100% debt-free.  I don’t think there is any such thing as debt in moderation.  I want all of our debt completely gone and am “all in” on making it happen.

Those are just a few examples of how I tend to not live my life in moderation.

I do have to point out that when I say I’m an “all or nothing” kind of girl, I am not talking about being a perfectionist.  I am not a perfectionist at all (as Jim will definitely confirm) and I believe that perfectionism in general is rather unhealthy.

But I think you can “go big or go home” with an 80/20 Principle* mentality instead of a perfectionist mentality and there are a lot of benefits to living like this.

  1. You learn a lot.  When you get excited about something and give it a lot of your time and attention, you can’t help but learn.  And learning is fun!
  2. You accomplish a lot.  When you are “all in”, it is much easier to make something happen and produce results.  It’s easy to be productive when you’re passionate about what you’re working on.
  3. You’re never bored.  I find it very difficult to be bored.  There is always something to focus on, work on, or learn about and it is often quite exciting.

But you do need to be careful not to let the perfectionist in you take over.  If you are an “all in perfectionist” it can lead to the following troubles.

  1. You can’t relax.  If you’re being a perfectionist, there is always more to do to get things “just right”.  That makes it difficult to relax or “turn your brain off” so you can sleep.
  2. You get overly stressed.  Perfectionism produces stress no matter how well you handle it.
  3. You don’t enjoy what you’re doing. If whatever you’re working on needs to be perfect, it’s difficult to enjoy the work and what you’ve accomplished.

So yep, I’m definitely not an “everything in moderation” girl.  I live life on full-throttle and throw myself “all in” to my passions with intensity.

Is it exhausting?  Sometimes.  But when I get exhausted, then I go all-in on rest and relaxation.

The intensity with which I live my life may seem exhausting to others, but it works for me.

If you still believe in moderation, I would remind you of the words of Oscar Wilde – “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

What about you?  Do you live your life in moderation?  Or do you tend to go big or go home?




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A Major Life Milestone!

There comes a time in everyone’s life when we face another milestone.  The Jonas family has reached one.  We have the pleasure of announcing our daughter, Brett’s, engagement to a wonderful young man, Mason.

For those of you who watch us on Facebook Live, you’ll know that Mason has worked with us for almost two years.  During that time, there have been some comments about Mason and Brett dating that have been tactfully avoided or denied.

I can remember one Facebook Live in particular when people were asking Brett what she was looking for in a guy and she answered something to the effect of, “I want a man who loves the Lord.”  Well I can very happily say that not only does Mason love the Lord, but he also loves my daughter.

Our family has been friends with Mason’s family for over ten years.  Brett and Mason first met (our best guess) about 13 years ago at New Life International.  Ten years ago, we suffered the loss of Mason’s beloved Grandfather, Byron McGuire.  It was after the funeral, that I told Brett that she had my permission to marry Mason.  And he’s the only one I’ve ever said that about.

Even as a very young man, Mason’s many fine qualities shone through.  He was respectful and polite and he had a way of looking you in the eye and giving you his attention that was unusual in a young man.

We didn’t have much interaction with Mason during the majority of his teenage years.  And then two years ago this upcoming October, Mason came back into our lives in a big way when he asked us for a job.  We (obviously) said yes, and I have had the privilege of getting to know Mason very well over the past two years.  He has proven to me that he has grown into the quality young man that the Mason of ten years ago foreshadowed.

Brett and Mason’s relationship these past two years was a bit rocky (much to Mason’s frustration).  After initial heavy flirtation, Brett “ran away” (her words). In hindsight, I think this was a good thing.  The two of them both matured in many ways over the past year while they weren’t “together”.  But more importantly, they got to know each other as friends.  And that was so important because they were not trying to impress each other or put on a good face for each other.  They were each just themselves and they know the good and bad sides of each other.  And despite (or because of) all that, they still love each other anyway!

Many people who know Brett and Mason are surprised by their “sudden” engagement.  The two of them made the decision a while ago, not to publish their relationship online or on social media.  Brett has grown up with much of her life available to not only family and friends, but also to customers.  She wanted their relationship to be their own and we all respected that. They were able to be themselves without having to put any of it online.

So while the engagement may seem sudden to some, to us (especially Emery and I who were the first to see the budding romance), it hasn’t been sudden at all!

Now, I do have to point out two of Mason’s biggest “shortcomings”.  First – his height.  My darling daughter takes after my petite side and is 4’11”.  She is really short.

I’m not sure who Mason got his height from, but he’s nowhere near petite.  He is 6’4″.

The two of them together are adorable and are perfectly matched despite the height difference.  (I’m all ready preparing myself to have my grandchildren tower over me LOL).

The second thing I feel I must point out is that Mason’s last name is Werst.  And yes, that will make her “Brett Werst.”

And that is how you know she must really love him if she’s willing to put up with “midget sausage” jokes for the rest of her life.

Congratulations to Brett and Mason!  May God richly bless your lives together.  We love you both!




Our Favorite Things – Bottle Pourer

Our family is a bit atypical in that we don’t drink soda and we don’t drink juice.  Instead we drink lots of water, goat milk, and smoothies made with either goat milk, goat milk yogurt, or water.  Occasionally we’ll drink coffee or tea, but that’s it.

While we do drink quite a bit of goat milk, we really mostly just drink water.  I must admit that we’re a bit finicky about our water.  We have a really good filter on our drinking water and we’ve become accustomed to water that doesn’t have an “after taste”.  In fact some of us have been caught making faces when we find that water away from home doesn’t taste very good.

Fortunately most of us don’t drink our water plain – we drink our water with lemon. This can mask water that doesn’t taste the way we prefer. We started the lemon water habit more than a decade ago because there are a lot of health benefits to drinking lemon with your water.  Most of the benefits come from using freshly squeezed lemon juice, but to be honest – “ain’t nobody got time (or money) for that!”

Especially not when there are ten of us who drink it.

So instead of using freshly squeezed lemons, we just use a big bottle of lemon juice.  It weighs 32 oz and we go through approximately one of them each week.

I know, that’s a LOT of lemon juice!

One of the children’s jobs is to make sure Mom and Dad always have water with lemon available to us.  Jim is actually really good about stopping what he is doing and getting more water for himself if he runs out.  But me, I’m terrible.  I will go for hours thinking to myself, “I really need to go get a drink of water” and never actually get it!

But if there is water in front of me, I’ll drink it.

It actually totally cracks me up because my family quite often will grab my water if they see it full and then hand it to me with the command, “Drink.

I dutifully do. LOL

Usually I have a glass that is actually made of glass.  But in the candy kitchen where I spend a lot of my time, I don’t use glass because it is unsafe. Instead I use a Tervis tumbler with a lid*.  I don’t know how many of you use the Tervis tumblers – and if any of you have the same problem as me – but I can’t drink from them when they have a lid on without spilling water down my shirt.  It’s become a big joke in our family.

I digress.

Jim and I (and the children) each prefer our water a different way.  Jim prefers his with ice.  I prefer mine room temperature.  Jim gets 3 capfuls of lemon juice.  I get 2 capfuls of lemon juice.

The children had the entire system down and would dutifully fetch us water with lemon when they saw our glasses were empty or when they were asked.  They all make me proud because they have a real servant’s heart about serving us this way!

This was our system for years. And then about six months ago, Jim came up with a brilliant idea – a bottle pourer* like the ones they use for alcohol.

He got a pack of them and put them on the lemon juice bottles we store in different locations in the house and the business.

They work beautifully!!

Each one pours 1/2 oz of lemon juice, which is a good compromise between our two preferences and works really well if you are using a big glass (20-24 oz) like we do.  If you use a smaller glass, you probably wouldn’t want to pour the whole serving (unless you like it really lemon-y).

It adds about 1.5 inches to the height of the bottle, so you may need slightly more space in your fridge shelf.

I know it sounds simple, but I can’t tell you how much time this has saved us.  All you need to do is fill the glass with water, tip the lemon juice into it, and stop when the pouring stops.

No opening and closing of caps.  No measuring capfuls of lemon juice.  No overpouring so you have more lemon than water.

With how much water with lemon we drink, this one simple tool has saved us hours and hours of time over the past six months.  And with how busy we are, every little bit helps!

I don’t know how many of you add lemon to your water.  And even if you do, you probably don’t go through as much lemon juice as we do – but I definitely wanted to share this trick with everyone and hope you find it helpful!!




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