Note to self on raising calves

When entering the calf pen, do not wear flip flops, even if you imagine only a brief sojourn therein.  Five calves will assume you are the bearer of everything good, and will come thundering happily over and proceed to trample your delicate little tootsies in search of their bottles.  And skin will be lost and pain will be felt– yes, even though the little ones dancing on you are only 50-pound babies.   Also, their feet will be dirty.  And your husband will come in and chuckle at his city-girl wife, and he will tell you that James Herriot would be laughing even more.   And then you will go inside and wash your scuffed-up feet.  And your lesson will be learned.

Good thing they’re cute.

You want me to go where?

  She's pleased that the calf halter matches her nail polish

Stubborn one

In which I feed my kids fast food twice in one day

Saturday, 7 AM– Get self and 4 kids up.  The kids had two Missoula Children’s Theater performances that day, but before their 10AM drop-off we had a few things to do.

8AM — Arrive at Bountiful Baskets pickup site and wait in line for 20 minutes to get my fruit and veggie basket, which that day also included 8 lbs of lovely strawberries.  Most of the kids sat in the van and waited since it was COLD in line, but my 10yo daughter snuggled with me and chatted while we waited.

8:30 AM — Hit McDonalds for breakfast with the kids, a fact which disturbed one very health-conscious son.  Gave him a banana from the Bountiful Basket.

8:45 — Stop at Winco to buy a lunch for same health-conscious son who’d sadly forgotten the lunch he’d packed for the day.

9AM — Drive to the next town to pick up dog from the vet.  She’d scared me the day before by acting very ill, and had spent the night at the vet getting a barium swallow and x-rays.  They hadn’t managed to figure out what distressed her, but said she’d probably eaten something that she shouldn’t have.  Grand total: $280.

9:30 AM– Stop at Walmart and Walgreens so kids could hunt for a specific candy bar that they knew the Missoula Children’s Theater piano player enjoyed.  He’s volunteered with Missoula for many years, and knows many of our kids now.  We weren’t successful finding the ‘right’ kind of candy bar–Idaho Spuds are apparently getting hard to find–so the kids substituted some other candy bar, and got one for each of the Missoula directors too.

9:45– Drop Missoula kids off, and the dog and I continue on home.

10:10– Arrive at home, where I make a cheesy hash brown casserole and a jello.  We were preparing to have John’s family over to our house on Sunday after church for a late- Easter celebration.  The two teens who hadn’t wanted to do Missoula this year helped me set up tables and figure out how to seat 27 people.  We ended up fitting 19 at two big tables strung together in the dining room, and 8 kids upstairs in the family room.

12:00 John and the two teens leave to go to a friend’s dairy to pick up five newborn calves.  For quite a few years we’ve raised calves for beef, but we’ve always bought them when they were at least a couple months old.  This year my dad finally managed to talk us into getting bottle babies.  He thought it would be a fun project for the kids, and a good way to make the cow project a little more affordable.  After much discussion we decided to get five calves.  Two will go to my dad’s pasture to raise once they’re big enough.  Two will be for us to raise.  And the final calf will be for our teen sons to sell.  Since they are the ones officially in charge of this calf project, they’ll get to keep the cash from the fifth calf as their pay.

1:10– Just as I am ready to leave to watch the first performance of the Missoula play (it’s Blackbeard this year ), John and the kids drive up with the calves.  I peek into the trailer to see much tiny adorableness.  Jersey calves have got to be the cutest cows on earth.  They weighed maybe 50 pounds each and had all been born within the past few days.Calves

1:20– John and the two teenagers start getting the calves unloaded and I leave to go to the first showing of the play.  When I’m almost there, I realize I’m really hungry, and stop at Fred Meyers for some sushi, some of which I gobble down before running in to meet my parents and sit down for the show.  Erika, Israel and 1yo Ranger also attended.

2:00– Time for Blackbeard! Here are our girls hamming it up.  Our 15 year old son was one of the assistant directors backstage, something he really enjoys.  The kids all did a good job and I was proud of them.


3:30 PM– After the first play we had less than two hours before we had to be back for the 6PM show.  The kids and I ran to exchange a shirt at JCPenneys and then at 4:00 headed for Pizza Hut where we’d arranged to meet John and the other kids for an early dinner before we all went to the second show.  John and the teenagers who’d helped with the calves showed us pictures they’d taken, and our 15yo daughter told us all their names.

The actors had to be back at the Civic Center at 5, so after I dropped them off, I ran to Fred Meyers once again, this time hunting for something fun and affordable to use as a table runner down the center of our Easter table tomorrow.  I ended up with pansies and a roll of bright orange floral contact paper.  I decided to combine that with yellow candles, clearanced Easter candy  (an unexpected plus of our late Easter celebration) some bright tangerines, and orange and red sweet peppers that we’d gotten in our Bountiful Basket that day.  Eclectic but fun.

6:00 — The evening play was attended by the rest of the kids’ adult siblings, as well as cousins and their other grandma.  A good time was had by all. Afterwards our college-age sons, who have many fond memories of being in Missoula plays themselves, helped take down the set and stuff it into the little red truck, then did a little dancing on the empty stage with their little sisters.  Obviously all that homeschooling made them shy and self-conscious. 😉  Such fun that our little girls have big brothers to play with!

Little sisters and big brothers

 8PM– When we were done visiting with friends and family after the play, we headed home to see if the new calves had settled down enough to be interested in food.  At one point there were 9 of us all crammed into a 12×9 foot space in the barn along with 5 calves.  The calves didn’t seem too adept at eating from bottles and we certainly weren’t good at feeding them.  But by the end of an hour or so, we’d managed to get most of the milk into the calves.  We all trooped inside to shower and change out of mucked-up clothes.

Josh feeding one baby


Zeytuna, John and me all feeding calves

 10PM– Since I didn’t want to be setting tables after church tomorrow, the bigger girls and I laid everything out while John read the little girls bedtime stories, and the teenage boys helped with a few other last-minute cleanups.  At last everything was all set up for our party.  The day was done. (Whew.)  I’ll share pictures from our Easter party and more of our baby calves soon!

Natural Tooth Care: Four changes we’ve made

Most of our kids have good teeth, but one of our daughters came home from Ethiopia at 20 months of age with decayed teeth.  At age 2 we had four of her baby teeth capped and some others filled, and she’s continued to be most prone to tooth decay of all our kids.  Recently after yet another not-so-good dental exam, and observing that she also was developing dental fluorosis, I started doing some research on diet-related changes that we could make to help improve all of our dental health. Here’s what we’ve decided to do, with pertinent articles linked after each action point.

It remains to be seen whether these things will massively improve our tooth health and stave off cavities. But we’re giving it a try and see the potential for it to also improve our overall health. I wish I’d done this with our kids from the day they came to us. Thankfully we did do some things right.  We’ve used butter for years, we drink almost no soft drinks, and we have plenty of fruits and veggies in our diet.  But I’m optimistic that these new changes will help our family be even healthier.

If you’ve been reading this blog long, you’re probably wondering about the costs associated with these types of diet changes.  Costco is one of the most affordable places that I’ve found both for coconut oil and fish oil capsules.I’ve also gotten coconut oil at Azure Standard and on Amazon.   Raw milk is spendy– most weeks we drink only a couple gallons.  Some weeks we skip it.  Bone broth is very affordable– right now I’m making a big batch using turkey legs that I bought for $.88/lb.  But to put the changes into perspective, at our last dental visit, we spent about over $1000 on dental bills AFTER insurance, not to mention the pain of having multiple cavities filled.  We’re going to try paying just a bit more at the grocery store in hopes of paying less at the dentist.


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Also of interest in this discussion:  Can a Weston Price diet cure tooth decay?


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New chicken run

In the summertime our chickens live in a moveable run, which the boys move to a new spot every day or two. But during cold months they live in the chicken house, which had a VERY tiny outdoor area. It was adequate for half a dozen chickens. But last fall I bought a bunch of new baby chicks, and now that they’re full size, it was way too crowded. With the weather getting a little bit warmer, I decided that our expanded flock of chickens also needed a bigger chicken run.

I went to the farm store and bought a roll of chicken wire and some metal ‘t’ posts.  Then I had my boys pound posts for me, and we wired wire to the posts to give the chickens a much bigger outdoor living space.  Here the girls are checking it out.


And here you can see the door that we cut into the original tiny run so that the chickens could get out to the larger space.  We shut the little door at night so that predators can’t get into the chicken house.


We stapled the bottom edge of the run to railroad ties to discourage dogs (including ours!) from digging underneath it, and the edges of wire not stapled to RR ties have rocks weighting the wire down.

We don’t have too many dogs roaming around here these days, but occasionally our dog gets out and it’s best not to make it too easy for her to get to them.  As you can see, she’s very interested.

After the run was all put together, the girls decided some chicken-petting was in order. Here’s Emily with my favorite, an Araucana.

And here Julianna has our one little Silky. They’re both pretty tame, and the girls had fun holding them.

Because I’m crushing on kale lately

After ignoring kale for my entire life, I’ve suddenly decided it is the best.thing.ever. In the morning sauteed kale topped with a fried egg = my perfect breakfast. I also love it in soup and in stir fries. Wal-Mart often has already-chopped kale in a nice big bag for about $2. You can also buy it in bunches of course, though I think the bagged stuff that WalMart has is just about as cheap as the bunches.

Here are a few more kale ideas either that I’ve already tried or that I plan to try soon.

And for those of you thinking about this year’s garden, here are some tips on growing kale.

What about root canals?

“There’s not, I think, any area of medicine that would conclude that it a good idea to keep dead, infected, or gangrenous tissue in the body. Dentistry calls it root canal therapy. It is that simple.”
~ HMS Robert Gammal

If you’d like more information about the dangers of root canals, watch this video (available for free only til midnight Tuesday). It’s a part of the Healthy Mouth Summit.

The way to my heart…

… apparently, is via new kitchenware. I have been canning for many years with a canning pot inherited from John’s grandmother. It works very well.  But this week my dear mother in law treated me to a BRAND new and very beautiful canning pot! Isn’t it just lovely? I feel so spoiled.

I am at this very moment making a HUGE batch of bone broth. I’ve been making bone broth off and on for years, but just lately I have been reading more about why it’s so good for you, and am trying to get it into our diet more regularly. Here’s some more info about bone broth if you’re interested.

A lesson from chickens

This morning was a busy one.  First I dropped my 10yo daughter off at my friend’s house.  My daughter is trading housework for assistance in improving her swimming form– she adores swimming– and this week she even got to try out Laura’s fun new pool.

After dropping her off I continued on with my 7 year old and one of my 14 year old sons for a trip to the bank and then on to the doctor.  While we waited, my 14 year old read, my 7 year old did math, and I started a new scarf.  After that it was on to one more errand.  Our chicken flock has been steadily dwindling until finally we had only one Araucana rooster and 3 hens–a Buff, a Silky, and an Araucana.  Yesterday I happened to see an ad in the paper for chickens.  The owner was selling 3 month old Rhode Island Reds for $4 each.

We arranged to meet today to take a look at them at the end of our erranding.  The people selling the chickens had lots of chickens in several different runs.  The Rhode Islands looked small for being three months old– they probably won’t lay til spring– but they were lively and healthy looking.  So we scrabbled around the pen a bit and picked a dozen likely-looking little hens.  We chose ten Rhode Island Reds, and two slightly older Buff Orpingtons.  Then we toted them home in a dog kennel.

At home we released them into our dusty chicken house with the four older occupants lurking just outside the door.  The new little hens were instantly pecking and peeping and scuffing around contentedly.  No drama, no terror.  They just set to work, looking to see what goodies could be found in our cobwebby chicken house.

I can’t quite explain why chickens are fun to watch, but I think part of their charm might be the way they always just seem busily happy.  They make you feel like you’ve offered them goodness, and they appreciate it all.

There’s a lot to be said for that approach to life, I decided today.  Unexpected stuff happens.  Days don’t always end how you expected when you woke up in the morning.  Sometimes you take a ride in a dog kennel to a whole new messy world and  get to start all over.  But if it’s going to happen anyway, why not peck around and look for the good bits?

Granted, being human is more complicated than being a chicken, but I have a hunch we’d all be happier if we got busy and spent some time pecking around looking for the good bits in life.

Other good bits in my day:  lovely fall weather, an hour in the afternoon sun spent cleaning garden beds with the kids, zucchini bread and chocolate chip cookies made by my daughters, quiet time this evening with my husband after the kids were off to bed.

What about you?  What were some of the good bits in your day?  Do share.

GE: My fresh kitchen


Summertime is when my fresh kitchen really ramps up. It starts in June with fresh chard from the greenhouse, and raspberries and strawberries from our own bushes. By July we have fresh cabbage, and maybe even a few cherry tomatoes. By August I’m rearranging my fridge to make space for everything that’s bursting out of our garden: zucchini, tomatoes, corn, beans, apricots, and even a few early apples.

Recently GE invited me to check out their new french-door refrigerator. It’s not in the budget to buy one right now, but wow, it has some cool features. First on my ‘love-it’ list is the way the freezer is set down low, and consists of two drawers for better organization. That really opens up the more frequently used fresh storage area for convenient access. The fridge shelves are easy to adjust, a plus for folks (like me) who often find themselves trying to shoehorn large items in small spaces. The fridge also features two ice-storage compartments: one in the door for quick drinks, and a large capacity ice drawer for times when you want ice for a crowd. And the water dispenser on the door has a pull-out shelf that actually lets you fill a stock pot with filtered water right there at your fridge.

Go here if you’d like to find out more about the GE French door refrigerator. And if you’ve always wanted to know what kind of wacky things happen when you load two guys, a generator and a fridge into a pickup truck, and tell them to drive across the US filling the fridge with fresh food, Freshpedition‘s the website for you. Though I’d never wondered about such a scenario, I found the series strangely entertaining, gators and all. You can visit the GE Appliances brand page on to read other bloggers’ posts.

And if you’re looking for good ways to use up the fresh produce that’s (hopefully) cramming your fridge this season, you might be interested in the following fresh-kitchen posts from my archives:

How have you been enjoying garden-fresh produce these days?

Meal planning: what about snacks?

In comments on my meal planning post, I was asked what I do about snacks for kids.

Afternoon snacks happen maybe once or twice a week, usually on cookie-baking day when fresh cookies are coming out of the oven, or in the form of a popsicle poolside on a hot day. (Yes, the junky food-coloring kind– yikes!)  Sometimes in the afternoon I’ll set leftover breakfast pancakes out for snacking.  Occasionally I’ll offer carrot sticks or other veggies.  I figure if kids are truly hungry, they’ll eat carrot sticks and pancakes.  If not, they can wait til dinner.  The only time I buy snacks like potato chips and pop is when we’re having a party or going on a trip.

Dessert is actually more frequent than afternoon snacks:  I serve sweet treats (like butterscotch chip cookies, apricot crisp or cranberry pumpkin bread)  at dessert probably 4 or 5 meals a week.  Often teenagers do my baking for me– in fact, it is usually a teenage girl with a snack craving who decides to bake cookies in the afternoon, and blesses everyone with her industry at dinner.

Evening snacks are standard after swimming at the rec center, which we do 2 nights a week during the school year.  Kids come home hungry!  Snacks usually consist of a cookie, fruit, or a slice of homemade bread.  Movie night with the whole clan usually calls for a couple different desserts, and often popcorn as well.

One of the reasons I don’t do afternoon snacks EVERY day is that I don’t want my kids filling up on goodies at 4 and then turning up their noses at dinner at 5:30.  It still happens sometimes, but I think that it would happen a lot more often if we snacked every afternoon.

You definitely have to take your family and your style of cooking into consideration when you’re thinking about snacking.  Right now our youngest child is 7.  We did afternoon snacks much more often when we had toddlers and preschoolers.  Little kids often don’t eat enough at meals to last 4 hours without getting grumpy.

One more thing: meals at our house tend to be pretty substantial. Rarely does a meal consist only of sandwiches, and (come to think of it) when I do try to get away with a light meal like a main-dish salad, I have hungry people sooner and end up having to come up with a snack.

I’m sure there are times when kids wish that snacks were more exciting at our house.  But I know that would just tempt us all to eat more than we should.  (Me especially!) As it is, we are all normal weight and in good health.  I hope that our snack choices will give our kids a jump on good health in future years as well.


For more snacks and desserts, be sure to check out my recipe index!