Chutzpah

The other day, Indigo was going through our customer emails, and she said to me, “Mom, how do you say c-h-u-t-z-p-a-h and what does it mean?”  I immediately started laughing because I knew exactly what chutzpah meant.  I went to high school and lived in an area that was heavily Jewish.  I had lots of Jewish friends and attended several bar and bat mitzvahs when I was younger.  I also spent time at our local Jewish Community Center with friends.

Chutzpah was a Yiddish word I hadn’t heard in years.

Indigo Jonas Email Question

The email Indigo was reading was someone saying that she admired me for my chutzpah.  Some of the other children had heard me laughing and came into the office to enquire what was up. (You know, children never want to be left out of any fun discussions!)

So I said, “Mom just got complimented for having a lot of ‘chutzpah’.  It’s a Jewish word that actually describes me quite well.  What do you think it means?”

At the same exact time, Mason and Brett both said, “Spunky.” (They’re such a good team!)

A few other adjectives (that I don’t remember) were thrown out and so we decided to google it.

Miriam Webster dictionary defines chutzpah as: “supreme self confidence, nerve, gall”

Dictionary.com defines chutzpah as: “1. unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall  2. audacity; nerve”

Wikipedia says: “Chutzpah is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. The Yiddish word derives from the Hebrew word ḥutspâ (חֻצְפָּה), meaning “insolence”, “cheek” or “audacity”. Thus the original Yiddish word has a strongly negative connotation but the form which entered English through Ameridish has taken on a broader meaning, having been popularized through vernacular use in film, literature, and television. The word is sometimes interpreted—particularly in business parlance—as meaning the amount of courage, mettle or ardor that an individual has.”

And the Collins Dictionary says, “If you say that someone has chutzpah, you mean that you admire the fact that they are not afraid or embarrassed to do or say things that shock, surprise, or annoy other people.”

And I think it’s that last definition that I like the best.  I live my life intentionally and with intensity, and I’m definitely not afraid or embarrassed to say what I think needs saying or do what I think needs doing despite what others are going to think about it.

When I was told, “You’re throwing away your education and your life if you quit your job and become a stay-at-home Mom.”  I wasn’t afraid to say, “I don’t think so. Being a stay-at-home Mom and caring for my children is more important than anything I could accomplish in Corporate America.”

When I was told, “You shouldn’t get pregnant again, you already have too many children and the planet is over-populated.”  I wasn’t afraid to say, “You’re wrong.  Children are a blessing from the Lord and each and every one of them is wanted and an asset to this world, not a liability.”

When I was told, “You’ll never be able to support your family making soap.”  I wasn’t afraid to say, “Really?  Watch me.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

When I was told, “It’s child abuse the way you make your children work so hard.”  I wasn’t afraid to say, “I believe it’s child abuse to NOT teach your children how to work.”

To me, that’s chutzpah – standing up verbally for what you believe in and being willing to be engaged in the discussion of what you believe in.

PJ sharing one of her perspectives

Show chutzpah on what’s most important.  It’s a lot easier to just quietly go about your business.  And believe me, there is a place for that.  I’m not at all demeaning quietly going about your daily business.  But there comes a point where you need to take a stand for what you believe in even if you know it’s not going to be popular and people are going to give you flak about it.  Figure out what those issues are for you that it’s worth showing chutzpah over.

Don’t show chutzpah on every issue.  Be careful to not make every issue a battle ground.  Limit yourself.  Even if you have a strong opinion on something, it might not be right to take a stand there.

Use chutzpah for good. I also want to stress that it’s important to note what Wikipedia said – that chutzpah can be for good or bad.  You need wisdom when you’re standing up for something.  There is a right time to take a stand and a wrong time to take a stand.  And you need wisdom to know the difference.

Teach your children chutzpah. I’ve never used the word “chutzpah” with my children before, but the attitude is definitely something I teach.  It comes easily to some of the children and a lot harder to others.  Right now, I mostly teach it to them in the context of social situations.  If they ever hear somebody bullying or belittling another person, they know they are expected to stand up and put a stop to it.

But again, they need wisdom.  For example, I teach my children, that if they are with a group of friends, and their friends are being immature and doing “stupid” stuff, they don’t have to try to be their parent and prevent them from being stupid.

But… if anybody is about to do something that would cause bodily injury or permanent damage, it is their duty to stand up and try to put a stop to it no matter if everyone else thinks it’s a good idea.  That takes a lot of chutzpah.

What about you?  Whether or not you’ve ever heard or used the word ‘chutzpah’ before, are their issues you’re not afraid or embarrassed to speak up about even if it causes shock, surprise, or annoyance?

PJ

 

 

Teachable Moment

By now, you all know how much I stress the importance of learning – not necessarily the traditional education model – but real learning.  Real learning can happen in a classroom setting, but it can also happen in many less traditional environments such as the car, the grocery store, and the dinner table.  It can also happen at any age and in fact you should never stop learning.

Set an Extra Place at the Table

After so many years of homeschooling, I have learned to always keep my eyes open for the magical “teachable moment”.

According to OxfordDictionaries.com, a teachable moment is: “An event or experience which presents a good opportunity for learning something about a particular aspect of life.”

And according to Wikipedia, “A teachable moment, in education, is the time at which learning a particular topic or idea becomes possible or easiest.”

While those definitions are fine, what I’ve noticed is that a true teachable moment actually requires the following two components to be an actual teachable moment.

  1. A child who is particularly open to being influenced at that particular point in time
  2. A recent event or story the child just witnessed or experienced.

(By the way, I said child, but this works quite well for adults as well!)

The first point is probably the more important of the two criteria.  We all know there are times when our children (or ourselves) are distracted, not focused, irritated, frustrated, uninterested, tired, or generally just not paying attention.  It doesn’t matter how good the life lesson or educational fact you are ready to impart is.  If your listener is not listening to you for whatever reason, it’s not a teachable moment.

You have to have their attention and their interest.

The second criteria is also important.  You need an event or story to ground the lesson you are about to teach.  How many times have you personally learned something interesting, only to forget it moments later? If you’re going to spend the time teaching your children, I imagine you are like me, and want them to actually learn what you are trying to teach!  I’ve found that the best way to be successful as this is to ground the lesson to something just witnessed.

Let me give you an example.  For the past few months, Emery will give me a back massage at night before bed (I know, I’m blessed!)  This massage will often last for an hour or more.  It’s just Emery and I and we talk about all sorts of stuff in his life.  He really opens up to me and it’s fantastic how much better I’ve gotten to know the inner-workings of his mind.

Mostly during these times I just listen and let  him talk.  I’ll occasionally answer some of his questions or pose a different question for him to think about.  But mostly it’s all him.

PJ & Emery

A few weeks ago, however, right before our massage session, we found out about a teenager we know who just announced she was pregnant.  Emery was really shocked by it and did a lot of talking about it.

I knew this was the moment where I could really have an impact.  I did quite a bit of talking and asking questions about how this person’s future was now going to be radically different than what she had planned.  We talked about the fact that while a new life should always be celebrated, there will be long-term implications of this event.  And we also talked about how there are bad, good, and best times for things to occur in our lives.

I know I made an impact and I know that he’s done further thinking on the topic.  Especially with Brett and Mason’s wedding coming up, Emery is even more determined to find the spouse God has for him, get married, and have children.  In that order.

So don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t teach your children unless the conditions are perfect.  Of course, not!  Always teach them.  Just know that there are times they won’t retain the knowledge and then there are the times where the are not only open to listening to you, but there is a life event that will help to ground the lesson so they will really remember it.

It does take some effort to keep your eyes open for teachable moments.  And when they happen, don’t be afraid to stop what you are doing to take full advantage of that moment!  Teachable moments are a true gift and you don’t want to ignore them.

And as an aside, there are times when I’ll have all the children together and it’s a teachable moment for some of them and not others.  That’s ok.  They don’t always have to internalize everything you teach at the moment you teach it.  Some will get it and others will not.  Just keep on teaching!

What about you – can you think of a teachable moment you had with your children?  Or even one you had yourself?

PJ

 

 

Being a Caretaker

I am a Mom.  And one thing that is inherent with being a Mom (or at least being a good Mom) is the ability to be a caretaker; to put your needs below the needs of what or whom you are caring for.

This is not always an easy thing.

There are many times that I want to put my needs above my children’s needs. Sometimes I do.  And sometimes I don’t.

But on the whole, I mainly put their needs above my own.  One of the reasons I do this is because I take a long-term view.  I know that the children will only be in my home and under my immediate care for a relatively short time period.  So that makes it easier to sacrifice my desires because I know that I am investing in them and their future.

I was reminded that most people don’t always take the role of being a good caretaker seriously while I was reading the book, The Worst Hard Times, The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl* by Timothy Egan.

Being a gardener, homesteader, and goat farmer, I am keenly aware and interested in the health of the soil.  I consider myself a caretaker of the soil and all the living things that reside in it.  So to read about how the soil was abused and the end result of that abuse was very sad and disturbing.

But what is even more awful is that we are doing the same exact thing today.  We haven’t learned from the past at all.  Once again, our country is destroying the soil.  We’re doing it differently than the farmers did before the Dust Bowl.  Back then, they simply plowed up too much land (and then abandoned it) in an area that had too high winds and too little rainfall to leave the land uncovered.

Today conventional farmers are destroying the soil by spraying it with an abundance of pesticides and herbicides – chemicals that are destroying the organisms that live in the soil and keep it healthy.  Big Agriculture is also destroying the land by monocropping and only adding back the basic nutrients – NPK – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  The soil is more complex than that and by robbing it for decades of the minerals and soil microbes that keep it healthy, we are damaging not only the soil, but the foods that are grown in that soil.

Monocropping with Pesticides and Herbicides

The Worst Hard Times* did touch on the soil, but it mainly covered the lives that were affected or destroyed during the Dust Bowl.  The loss of life, hopes, and dreams as a result of the (often unintentional) abuse of the land should be a wake-up call.

If more people can wake-up to the destruction that is being caused by conventional farming, we can still turn things around.  We can be caretakers of the soil and caretakers of the health of our families.

The book periodically mentions Hugh Bennett who implemented soil conservation plans during the latter half of the Dust Bowl:

“Hugh Bennett was a son of the soil, growing up on a 1,200-acre plantation in North Carolina that had been planted in cotton since before the Civil War. He spent part of every day on the family land east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, helping his father on steep terrain.  He learned early on that the land would not wash away as long as they kept it terraced.  His father also taught him that the soil of their farm was not simply a medium through which passed a fibrous commodity but also a living thing.  His interest in the complexities of soil led him to the University of North Carolina and graduate school, where he studied and wrote about how different societies treated land.”

He had a lot of knowledge that was worth listening to (both then and now):

“‘Of all the countries in the world, we Americans have been the greatest destroyers of land of any race of people barbaric or civilized,’ Bennett said in a speech at the start of the dust storms.  What was happening, he said, was ‘sinister,’ a symptom of ‘our stupendous ignorance.'”

I don’t want to be a part of a system that is destructive.  I desire to be a caretaker of my children, my animals, my food supply, and my soil.

Spread Manure over Hay Fields

Do you have a garden?  Are you taking care of your soil as much as you are taking care of the plants?  If not, you can start now.

If you don’t/can’t garden, are you purchasing your food from sources that are taking care of the soil?  Organic produce is a start, but you can be an organic farmer without caring for the soil.  Try to find out how and where some of your food is actually grown.

It often takes more money and effort to be a caretaker.  But you know what?  It is definitely worth it.

Teach yourself about why healthy soil is important.  And teach your children.  Don’t let yourself or them be guilty of “stupendous ignorance”.  It’s not too late to stop the 21st century equivalent of the Dust Bowl.

PJ

 

 

*Amazon Affiliate Link to the book that is mentioned.  I read the entire book and can definitely recommend it.  I do warn you that it is not a particularly happy book, but I found it fascinating to learn more about a time period in our history that I primarily understood from reading the American classic, The Grapes of Wrath* by John Steinbeck.  Steinbeck’s book focuses on a family that leaves their home due to the Dust Bowl; The Worst Hard Time discusses the lives of those who stayed.

Confession Time

Confession time – for about a year now, I’ve been dissatisfied with my life. It’s very hard for me to put that in print and admit it to the world. It makes me feel very ungrateful to God.

God has blessed me with everything I’ve ever wanted – an incredible husband who loves me, eight wonderful children whom I adore and am so proud of, the farm of my dreams, and a successful business. With all of those blessings, how could I possibly be dissatisfied?

And then a few months ago (after a lot of prayer), I finally figured it out. I’m not at all dissatisfied with my life. I’m dissatisfied with the pace of my life. And that is a HUGE difference.

There’s nothing wrong with my life – it’s how fast it is going by and how little time I have to enjoy it that is robbing me of my joy and a lot of the pleasure I used to feel. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or because I’m watching the children get older and closer to complete independence.  But I can no longer handle how “fast” my life is with a joyful heart.

Right around the time that I realized it was the pace at which I was living that was making me dissatisfied with my life, I came across a quote that leaped out at me.

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. Socrates

 

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” -Socrates

How profound is that?  It describes my life and my dissatisfaction with it.  With all the success that we’ve had, my life has gotten far too busy.  And with that busy-ness has come a sense of dissatisfaction that springs from the barrenness of my busy life.

I hadn’t really realized that my life had become so busy that there was very little time to just sit and “be” with my family.  And that “do nothing” time is super important because it is what fuels me.  The unplanned moments with Jim or the children or friends gives me immense satisfaction.  And it gives me a chance to remember the joys of the past and dream about the joys the future holds.

And so I am slowly shifting away from the barrenness of a busy life.  How?

Setting smaller goals.  I’m a big dreamer.  Always have been.  I’m forever thinking of huge things that I want to accomplish and then I drag the family (usually with their consent) along with me!  But it’s time for me to start setting smaller goals (especially for Goat Milk Stuff) and to start allowing the children to set their big goals.  I’ll always dream big, because that’s the way I’m wired, but if I want to make a big dream reality, I’ll start with smaller pieces.

Setting longer time horizons.  Along with setting smaller goals, I’m also learning to set longer time horizons to achieve those goals.  I am very guilty of trying to implement projects way too quickly most times.  There’s always a good reason for it, but I’m learning that I don’t have to push so hard.  Even if it takes twice as long and costs twice as much, that’s ok.  A slower pace has its own rewards.

Spending more money.  Many of you know how frugal I am.  I don’t spend much money and the money I do spend (beyond the essentials) usually has to have some sort of payback to make it worth it.  While I doubt I’ll ever become a spendthrift, I have started spending more money than I normally would.  For example, I took the family to New York City this summer just so we could go and see Hamilton.  That was a trip we looked forward to for months and is a trip we’ll never forget.  For this upcoming Christmas, instead of getting just practical gifts, I bought the family tickets to a Beach Boys concert.  The children have never been to a concert before and they are all super excited.  The money I’m spending is on memories and time with the family.  And that’s one of the best uses of money that I can think of.

Sundays completely off.  Goat Milk Stuff is open 6 days a week and Sundays are our only day off.  I’ve been very guilty over the past several years of trying to fill Sundays after church with as many family chores as possible.  It’s super, super hard for me to not be constantly doing stuff.  I’m really good at letting the children just play and be and do nothing.  But I’m not so good at turning things off myself (unless I’m reading – and then I can shut out the world!)  And so I’ve been learning to just sit and not have a to-do list for Sundays.  That requires forward planning because I hate starting Mondays off behind on anything.  So I have to make sure that I finish what needs finishing on Saturdays.

More time with Jim.  Jim and I used to walk together every day.  It was a time for us to get away from the children and the stresses of life and just reconnect with each other.  We would talk about anything and everything and it helped to keep us in tune with each other’s needs.  And then over the winter we drifted away from that regular practice and didn’t start back up again in the Spring like we usually do.  Fortunately, our new bike path is now finished and almost every day, Jim and I have been walking on it.  It takes us about 50 minutes to walk about 3 miles round trip.  It’s been wonderful.

Jim & PJ Walking the Scottsburg Trail

More time doing what I love.  One of the biggest changes I have made is to pass on some of my tasks to the children to free up more time for doing what I love.  For example, I love to garden, but I usually have Emery and Greyden do a lot of the garden chores.  This year, I gave some of my computer tasks to Brett, Colter, and Indigo and I spent a lot more time in the garden.  I also love cooking for the family.  Various children had been doing a lot of the cooking and so I took some of that back and traded some tasks.

More time doing what my family loves.  As the children are getting much older and are starting to leave the house, I’ve been trying to do more of the things that they love.  We’ve cooked at the firepit more this year than we ever have.  Sometimes we have really nice meals like salmon and grilled veggies and sometimes it’s just hamburgers, hot dogs, and corn on the cob.  But we’ve had a lot of fun out there.

Saying Yes.  As important as it is to say, “No” to the things that distract you from what is truly important, it’s just as important to say “Yes” to your family even if you don’t feel like it.  It’s difficult to say “Yes” when all you want to do is put your feet up.  Since Colter graduated and can no longer run with the cross-country team, he’s started playing ultimate frisbee with a bunch of young adults.  He regularly asks me to toss the frisbee with him and while I never want to say yes, I regularly do and I always have a lot of fun with him.

 

How is it going, you ask?  I’d give myself a C+.

It’s hard to slow down.  It really is.  Especially when life around me hasn’t slowed down at all.  In fact, if anything it’s gotten busier.  The children are growing and are starting to live their lives independently of the family.  We are planning Brett’s wedding.  We’re building a new barn for the goats because the herd is growing and the goats need more room.  The business is growing and more customers need my attention.  The website is being migrated to a completely new platform.

And yet, I am making progress.  I’m getting less accomplished in a day.  I’m focusing more on myself (so hard to do when you’re a busy mom!!).  I’m getting to bed on time.  And I’m saying “No” more often (which is saying something because I’ve always been good at saying no).

And over time, that sense of dissatisfaction is starting to lessen.  It’s not completely gone, which is how I know there’s still a lot of work to do.  But I’m taking baby steps.  And consistent baby steps over time will get me where I need to be.

How about you?  Are you suffering from the “barrenness of a busy life?”  Are you doing anything to try and change it?

PJ

 

 

We Don’t Always Know What To Do

We do a lot of farm tours here at Goat Milk Stuff, and different Jonases give the tours depending on who is available and what is going on at the farm.  While the tours all cover the same ground, each tour is very different depending on not only who the tour guide is, but who is in the group.

Different groups have different interests.  Some are very quiet and don’t ask many questions.  Others ask tons of questions (which we love). But despite the differences in groups, the tour guide knows pretty much what to expect.

Unless the animals decide to throw us completely off!

The other day, Jim was giving a tour and when he got to the rabbit pen, he discovered that 3 rabbits (all first-time moms) were having their babies.  Only they were “doing it wrong”.  Instead of building a nest like they were supposed to, and having their babies in the nest, the three of them were popping out babies all over the entire hutch!

He immediately radio’d for help and continued on with his tour.

I arrived to find Indigo and Emery with gloves on gathering all the baby rabbits and putting them in a pile.  Baby rabbits are born with no fur and so keeping them warm is of primary importance.  There was no way to tell which babies were from which mom, so they all went into one pile.  Then Emery set to work creating a nest.  He laid down clean bedding and then starting trying to pull fur from the rabbits.  He was only able to get so much, so we supplemented with clean cotton balls.

Nest for Baby Bunnies

One or two of the moms started feeding them, but over the next three days, they all ended up dying.

We’ve never had such clueless rabbit moms before and it got me thinking about motherhood in general and I came to this conclusion:

It’s not always obvious what Moms need to do. Sometimes we need to be given a little direction.

And this doesn’t just apply to brand new, first time moms.  We all need help (me included) at times.  And yet it can be very difficult for many moms to get the support that they really need. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some suggestions.

Be open to direction.  How open are you to help from others?  Are you immediately offended if somebody tries to help?  Do you make it easy for others to approach you?  Now, I’m not talking about listening to people who always know what’s best for everyone else around them.  And I’m not talking about the unwanted and unnecessary criticism that lots of people are always willing to offer Moms.  I’m talking about genuine, loving help from others.

Actively seek direction.  A lot of older, knowledgeable women have learned to keep their mouths shut because their efforts to help are often rebuffed.  I know I certainly have.  It’s rare that I reach out to somebody unless that person first approaches me.  I’ve learned that it’s not worth my time or effort.  But if somebody approaches me and asks for my advice or opinion, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.  So if you’re struggling, find someone and ask for help.  This of course is easier said than done.  Young moms tend to hang out with other young moms.  And they are a great support, but if you’re a younger mom, it’s the older moms you want to find.  And I don’t necessarily mean Moms whose children are all out of the house.  Even a Mom with children who are ten years older than your kids will have experience and wisdom to share.

Beware poor direction.  But be very, very careful who you ask and who you listen to.  I’ve said this so many times – find someone whose children/family you admire, and study them.  You won’t find anybody who is perfect, so don’t look for perfection.  But find somebody who is doing it right, and watch what they do.  Don’t just go with what the culture is doing because it is what everyone else is doing, because the current culture is often wrong.

Follow the direction.  Don’t be one of those people who hears wisdom from others and then doesn’t follow through.  It takes effort and lots of effort to be a good Mom.  It’s tiring at times and exhausting at others.  But if you build the foundation, you save yourself so much time.  For example, I have a lot of people talk to me about problems with their teenagers.  And when I really talk with them, the root of the problem is because of issues that should have been dealt with in toddlerhood.  Now I’m not saying at all that teenage problems can’t be fixed.  But I am saying it’s a LOT easier to fix those problems when your child is a toddler and not a teenager.  So when you get good advice, follow it.  Or as the Bible says, “But be doers of the Word and not hearers only” (James 1:22)

Be willing to give direction to others.  And if you’re an experienced Mom, be willing to share with younger Moms.  It takes time and effort, but it is very, very rewarding.

Remember that even with the best direction in the world, you’re going to make mistakes.  That’s what motherhood is all about.  But there are lots of chances in those mistakes to not only grow and improve your mothering skills, but to also teach your children.

I fully believe that God gives us children not only so we can raise them up, but so that we can finish growing up ourselves.  There is nothing like children to improve our patience and kindness and self control.  As we teach our children those skills, we learn to model them ourselves (at least we should!)  And when we fail, we apologize and try again.

As for the mama rabbits, they will be given another chance to have another litter.  Odds are they will have learned and raise a successful litter next time!

 

PJ

 

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

Opportunity Cost

I’m the one who does most of the writing here on my blog (not surprising, huh?!)  Brett does some of the proof reading and editing. But Jim is the one who adds all the pictures and hyperlinks.

About a month ago, he told me that while I mention “opportunity cost” in a lot of my blog posts, I’ve never had a post dedicated to it.

So I’ve been waiting for just the right example in my life to use for an opportunity cost post.  And I’ve found it.  But first, let’s define opportunity cost.

According to Investopedia:

Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action. Stated differently, an opportunity cost represents an alternative given up when a decision is made.

But the way they said it that I liked best is this:

Opportunity cost is what a person sacrifices when they choose one option over another.

That to me is the clearest description.  Because opportunity cost does mean a sacrifice.  And most people miss that concept completely.

Choices

So let’s talk about why I’m posting this now.  As you probably know, my children get asked questions all the time by customers.  Most of them are totally fine, some of them are on the personal side, and some of them go way too far.  Here is an example of somebody who had a very strong opinion on a subject, and didn’t hesitate to share it.

In the Sweet Shop, Brett was talking with a customer and the customer was asking about our homeschooling.  This person asked Brett about what she had studied for high school.  When she found out that Brett has not taken any courses in Chemistry, Physics, Trigonometry, or Pre Calculus, she made a comment that was something like, “Well, your homeschool education was wasted.”

Now, I was in my office which is right next to the Sweet Shop listening to the entire conversation.  Brett was doing a great job handling it, but at that comment, I jumped up because I needed to clarify some points.

In my most upbeat, positive, smiley voice, I introduced myself, said that I had overheard the conversation and that I wanted to point out some things.

I shared with this woman that I was an engineer and had the ability to teach any of my children Chemistry, Physics, Trigonometry and actual Calculus, but that I chose not to.  And the reason that I chose not to was because of Opportunity Cost.

I asked the woman if she know what opportunity cost was, and she replied that she didn’t.  So I told her that, “Opportunity cost is what you give up because you choose to do something.”

I continued with the response that if I chose to take the time to teach those subjects to Brett (or any of the other children), they would be sacrificing their time to other skills or knowledge they could acquire.  I explained that by the age of 16 it was very obvious that Brett would not be making her career in the maths, sciences, engineering, or anything to which detailed knowledge in those courses would be needed.  So if I taught them to her, she would be missing out on learning more skills in English, Writing, and Business, in which she clearly excels.

I could tell that I wasn’t going to change this woman’s mind that every child need to learn Chemistry, Physics, Trigonometry, and Pre Calculus, so I didn’t push it any further.

But afterwards, Brett said to me, “Thanks, Mom, for allowing me to explore what is more important to me and not forcing me to learn what I didn’t want.”

Thanks, Mom!

Now let me be clear, there are a lot of things I believe every child needs to learn, whether they like it or want to learn it or not.  I’m not talking about reading, writing, and arithmetic.

But I believe that there are a lot of children graduating from high school having taken a Pre Calculus class who don’t know how to distinguish between wants and needs, don’t know how to balance a budget, don’t know how to live below their means, don’t know how important it is to save for retirement while they’re young, and a lot of other really important life skills.

When you’re making a decision about what to do with your time (or your children’s time) please, please recognize that you are sacrificing something else.  I see so many young children enrolled in all sorts of classes.  Those may be great, but is it worth the opportunity cost of being able to do nothing and or be creative, or play outside?  I don’t know.

But every time I think about what we are going to do or money we are going to spend, before I make the final decision, I always ask the question, “If I don’t do this, what else could I do with that money or time?”  And on the flip side, “If I do this, what can’t I do because I don’t have the money or time?”

If you start to notice the opportunity cost, it’s amazing how it impacts your decisions.

What about you?  What opportunity costs are you dealing with?

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

Commitment

As many of you know, Brett is getting married soon.  She asked if we could do another round of P90X3* before the wedding (we completed the fitness program together a few years ago).  Of course I agreed.  Not only is the exercise good for me, but I get to spend time with my daughter who will be leaving my home soon.  No way was I passing up the chance for that!

P90X3 is put out by the company Beachbody.  So every morning (6 days a week) when we ‘press play’ on the DVD player*, we watch the Beachbody bumper play.  Beachbody’s tagline (which I like because its style mimics our Work hard. Get dirty. Use good soap.) is “Decide. Commit. Succeed.”

Aside from the similarities to the GMS tagline, I think it’s brilliant because it really distills what is required to get physically fit. First you need to decide on a program.  Then you commit to it.  And if you stay committed, eventually (exceptional situations withstanding) you will succeed.

P90X3 Workout

I think the ‘decide’ part is pretty easy.  We all know the things we “should” be doing.  We “should” eat healthier.  We “should” exercise more.  We “should” save more money for retirement.  The list goes on and on.  It’s not difficult to decide that we should do something specific.  (Isn’t that why people make New Year’s resolutions every year?)

The last part, ‘succeed’, kind of follows naturally if the first two parts are done so there’s not too much to talk about there.

It’s the “commit” part that’s difficult.  That’s where we are challenged because life happens and life has a bad way of interfering with our commitments.  And there are times it takes a will of iron to stick with our commitments in the face of what life likes to throw our way.

Let me give you a personal example.  Back in July, I committed to blogging three times a week for the rest of 2017.  I try to have a few blogs written ahead of time so that if life gets super busy, I have something to post.  September was rather crazy and it got to the point where my blog posts (that are supposed to go live at 10am) weren’t even started by 10am.  So I’d be rushing, trying to get something written to post that day (because even if it wasn’t finished by 10 am as long as it was done by 10pm I was ok with it) and then I’d get upset with myself because I felt I could have written it better if I’d had more time.

My Mom was here because she was hiding from Hurricane Irma and she encouraged me to decrease my blogging to just once a week.  She was convinced that everyone would understand.  I knew that she made the suggestion because she didn’t like seeing me stressed and wanted what was best for me, but I didn’t want to break my commitment.

And then this past week happened.  It was nuts – between building a new barn, switching my website to a completely new platform, Brett’s wedding planning, cross-country season, and a bunch of other stuff, I got overwhelmed.  And I thought to myself, I’m just going to quit blogging altogether.  Then I thought, “Nope, can’t do that.  I’ll just go down to once a week.”  So I wrote a blog post I called “curve balls” describing the curve balls life had thrown my way and that I was going to decrease the frequency of blogging.

Then I went to sleep.  And I woke up to a brand new day.  And I thought, “There’s no way I’m going to stop blogging three times a week!”

I enjoy blogging.  A lot.  And even if I didn’t, I committed to blogging three times a week for the rest of the year.  What would I be teaching my children if I just broke my commitment because I became overwhelmed?!?

Life is full of times when we are overwhelmed.  That doesn’t mean we can just quit and break our commitments.  Sometimes we we need to power through the difficult time even though quitting looks like a really good decision.  That’s what I want to not only teach, but model for my children.

Are there times where it is ok to break our commitments?  Of course.  If one of my children or Jim were hospitalized, I wouldn’t hesitate to quit blogging while I took care of them.  And I wouldn’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

But while there are very legitimate reasons to break our commitments, I think many of us take the easy way out sometimes.  Life starts to feel a little bit (or a lot) out of control and our commitments fall apart.  And I want to be clear, I’m not just talking about commitments to others.  While those count, I’m mainly talking about commitments to ourselves and our families.  Many of us do whatever is needed to keep our work or outside commitments – it’s ourselves and our families that suffer the consequences when life throws a lot at us.

How many times do you stop taking care of yourself when things become overwhelmed?  I know I do it all the time.  If I’m needed elsewhere, my self-care is the first thing to go.  Doesn’t matter if I need to exercise or meditate or journal or get to bed on time or cook a healthy meal.  If my customers or family need me, they get my attention first.

Because I know this about myself, I’m always careful to follow these steps as much as possible:

Choose commitments wisely.  There are a lot of things that would be really nice if we could do in our lives.  But I’m sorry to tell you that you can’t do them all.  Don’t commit to what’s not truly important and worth maintaining.

Don’t over-commit. If you think you can handle 10 commitments in your life – only commit to 7 or 8 of them.  Generally speaking, we all think we can do more than we can.  And this way, when you experience life’s curve balls, you still have some wiggle room.

Choose timing wisely.  When your life is going smoothly, don’t pick that time to add 5 new commitments to your life.  Forecast out a few months and think about if that commitment will still work at a different (busier?) time.  I keep 6 monthly calendars* on hooks* on my wall in the office.  I can see at a glance what is coming up (and how quickly it is coming).  This helps to keep me from over-committing now because I can see how busy the next six months will be.

Wall Calendars

Try it for a test period before committing.  Try something for a while to see how it really fits into your life before committing.  If you’re thinking of joining an exercise class – go once or twice and see how much time it really takes.  You may think it takes 90 minutes only to find out it takes 2.5 hours when you figure in all the prepping and after care that is needed.

Get approval before committing.  Accountability is a great thing.  Ask your husband and your children what they think about you committing to something.  Do they think it is important and are they willing to support you?  Or are they against it?  Sometimes your family can see your ability to handle a new commitment more clearly than you can.

Set an end time.  Don’t set a new commitment for perpetuity. When I committed to blogging three times a week, it was for a five month time period.  I figured that was a reasonable span to see whether I could blog sustainably at this level.  If after five months I’m overwhelmed by it, I can decrease the frequency.  Setting an end time helps to set expectations.

Build margin into your life.  I’m a big believer in margin.  If you don’t have any margin in your life, do NOT add any more commitments, but instead work on ending some of your existing ones.

Say “No” more often.  As a general rule, most people say “yes” when they really should be saying “no”.  Find freedom in saying “no” and commit to what is truly important in your life.

I’ve learned over the years not to have any knee-jerk reactions when my life is gets a bit harder.  And yet despite that knowledge, I still do it at times.  But I generally recognize it for what it is, once I have a moment to pause and take a deep breath.  And a good night’s sleep is always great at putting life in perspective again.

What about you?  Do you often find yourself over-committed?

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