To my new daughter in law

Note: The past two years have brought two lovely young women into our family, as two of our sons have married. This message is intended for both of my new daughters-in-law, and to the other brides who will be entering our lives in the years to come.

Dear bride of my son,

There are things I want to tell you. Things I want you to know. Things I want desperately for you to believe. Things I wish were openly discussed with me when I became a daughter-in-law all those years ago.

1. I love you. Not because of anything you do or say but simply because you are a part of the family now and my son loves you.

2. I don’t expect you do to things that way that I have done them. You are a different person with different circumstances. I expect you will make different choices and am not offended by that. Perhaps the way I have done things will impact you, since my son is a product of my choices. I’m confident you can work through this to a compromise/middle ground, and that you will find your own way together. I do love hearing about your decisions and plans, and getting to know you better in the process.

3. I don’t care what you call me. Mom, Christina, Chris, Mrs Fredricks (though I don’t love the more formal Mrs!) Choose what makes you most comfortable. It’s OK with me if the name you select changes over the years.

4. If you disagree with me, do not be shy about saying so. I am an opinionated person. Do not let those (often forcefully) stated opinions push you to silence. I love a good dialog and I’m happy to learn and be shown a new/different way. And just because I share my opinion does not mean I don’t respect your views or the right you have to hold those views.

5. Feel free to share what is really on your mind. I can take it. And if I find I can’t? It won’t change my love for you. I’ll pray and examine my own heart to see why I’m having a hard time. And then I’ll pray some more and let it go. I know it can be hard to open up and share your thoughts and opinions. It’s much easier to walk away with things unsaid than risk criticism, hostility and rejection. Please be brave. It builds relationship and trust.

6. When making family plans, I will inform you of details. This does not mean I expect that you will be able to make every family event. I understand that you are your own family, and that you must make decisions based on what is best for you. I realize this will be even more true if/when you have kids. If you would like to suggest an alternate plan that works for your family dynamics, I’m happy to work to accommodate. I understand well the wonderful and yet horribly difficult position of having extended family on both sides vying for the privilege of your company.

7. If I express sadness that you cannot make an event, it is simply that. It’s not a passive-aggressive move to guilt you into a different decision.

8. If I ever become aware of a conflict between you and my son, I will not take sides. It’s not you vs him/us. It’s you together that we lobby for. I know well my son’s failings/character flaws and will not assume that you are to blame. If you want advice or counsel from me, I am available and am happy to share based on my own experience. I’d be honored to be worthy of your confidence. However, I fully expect that the two of you will be able to resolve any strife between you just fine with God’s help. And much prayer.

9. I ask that you let me still be involved in my son’s life. I’m not competing with you. Now, you come first in his life, after God. This is good. If there should come a time when you make my son choose between me and you, I fully support him choosing you. Even though it will be hard for me.

10. I will not pester you about if/when you plan to have children. Obviously, I think having kids is an awesome thing or I would not have chosen the life I did. I dearly hope for more grandchildren. But, this is YOUR decision, as a couple. I’m very thankful that my parents and my parents-in-law respected our decisions in this area and want to pass that same respect along to my kids.

11. If/when you do have children, please let me be a part of their lives. I love kids, and am happy to babysit. 🙂

12. I pray for you. Every. Single. Day.

13. When I disappoint you, as I’m sure I will, please do not be afraid to confront me. And please forgive me.


May God bless you on this wonderful journey called marriage. Sometimes it’s a wild and bumpy ride, but after experiencing the rough, rocky, rutted places in the road, you’ll be able to appreciate the smooth ride on a well paved path so much more. May we have many years together to grow in love and appreciation for each other!

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You Must Be Kidding — My adventures as a goat midwife

Today, as in much of life, we have experienced both joy and sadness, exhilaration and anxiety. After being on birth watch for the better part of a week, we were overjoyed to discover Daisy in real labor. But the joy quickly turned to anxiety when it became clear that in spite of significant pushing, the kid was simply not presenting. At all.

I donned my glove and began to assist. I got baby’s limbs straightened out and very quickly we welcomed a little doeling. We cleaned the mucus off her face and she began to breathe. She was clearly as exhausted as her mother.

Single births are rare for goats, so it was no surprise when the pushing started again. Once more, all the effort was in vain. No presentation. Again, I helped straighten limbs. Another push, and a little buck appeared. Dead. Heartache. We let Daisy lick him a bit before taking him away to bury.

I was pretty sure she had another kid still, and I was not wrong. This one started coming out with only one hoof presenting. I reached in, in search of the other hoof. Finally found it and baby started coming. Then Daisy stopped pushing. After what seemed an eternity, she began again, but baby seemed to just not budge. I started pulling as Daisy pushed. It took all my strength, but finally another buckling arrived. He’d had his head turned the wrong way and had been stuck. Whew. He was vigorous from the get-go. Sweet relief.

James began digging a hole to bury the dead buckling, while I started assessing Daisy. Was there too much blood loss? Where is that placenta??

Why isn’t that little doeling up yet? She is just lying there. Is she too cold? Does she need nourishment? I assess and meet each possible need. Yet she still lies there. I bring her inside to warm her up.

Daisy still hasn’t passed the placenta. This is not my normal experience. How long can I safely wait? We milk her. Sometimes that helps a doe to pass the placenta. Nope. At least we have some colostrum for the kid who is too weak to get up.

I put out some calls to friends who have experience with goats. Is this normal? What would you do? I call the vet. Do I need oxytocin?

Finally, after alternate bouts of rest, feeding, and poking and prodding, the little doeling stands. We bring her back down to the goat barn so she can be with her mother. The vet returns my call. He advises me to wait through the night for the placenta, and if it still hasn’t passed, come to the office for oxytocin. That feeling I’ve had on holding my breath begins to subside. I have a solid plan.

A few more hours later, the placenta finally passes. We happened to actually see it, so we KNOW that it came. Closure of that particular issue.

The little doeling seems to have something wrong with her neck. She won’t lift her head up to eat. We have to assist her. Neither kid has figured out how to feed from their mother. Bye-bye to our plan to leave them on their mom to ease our milking burden. Oh well, I’ve always bottle fed kids to this point, so I guess we will continue. Daisy fights us about getting up on the milking stand. It’s been a year since she went through this drill. I guess she’s forgotten. And she’s exhausted from her birth. I give her a bowl of molasses water. She laps it up, and I can tell she feels nourished by it.

We say good night to the goats, praying they are OK for the night. Safe and warm, sheltered from the storm that blessedly gave us six hours of sunshine right when we needed it most.

Morning update: All goats are doing well. The little doeling is much improved after her night’s rest. We work with her to figure out her bottle. She eats, but not as well as her brother who gobbles greedily all the milk he can get.

I’m thankful that Daisy produces a LOT of milk. Plenty to nourish these babies and to share with us. I’m thankful that our little girl is improving. Thankful that I have so many helpful children who assist with milking and feeding chores. I’m thankful for life. Even more so when I experience it hand in hand with death, because I realize more fully that it is truly a blessing and I don’t so easily take it for granted.

All in a day’s work at the Hands-full Homestead.


Filed under Home, Odds and ends

Missing Dad

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I got the call. Dad had been taken to the hospital, and it didn’t look good. As I raced to Sharp Hospital, this song by Chris Tomlin came to mind.

I Will Rise

There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say “It is well”

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

There’s a day that’s drawing near
When this darkness breaks to light
And the shadows disappear
And my faith shall be my eyes

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

And I hear the voice of many angels sing,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
And I hear the cry of every longing heart,
“Worthy is the Lamb”

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

I was alternately singing and crying and trying to wipe my eyes so I could still see to drive. When I arrived at the hospital, I walked into the waiting room. Deborah said, through tears, “Dad’s dead.”

Time seemed to stop as I tried to process this shocking news. There is just no way to process such a thing. Even though we knew that, due to MSA, his time with us was limited, I could scarcely believe it was over. Done. Final. I’d just seen him a few days before. Surely there was some mistake.

But no. It was true and the only way forward was through the confusion and pain.

While my heart aches and I don’t think I will ever fully “get over it”, I am immensely comforted by the fact that Jesus conquered death on the cross and because of that, my dad LIVES. He has no more sorrow, no more pain. He is worshiping the king right now….singing “Worthy is the Lamb”. And I will see my dad again when my time on earth is done.

Jesus Christ is the anchor for my soul. I can say, “It is well!”

Dad in his studio with Nate, 2004

Dad in his studio with Nate, 2004

Dad in his studio, December 2012

Dad in his studio, December 2012


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Soap making – Vegan soap

I learned to make soap back in 1999. I’ve always been interested in DIY, homesteading stuff, forgotten skills, the way Laura Ingalls would have have done it. Unfortunately for me, I had a difficult time locating others who shared my interests and folks further along on the journey who could help me or answer questions. Books were my friends, as always; but sometimes you just need to Checking the temperatureSEE something to “get it”. This was before the current age of the awesome Internet and my good friend Google.

Fortunately for me, during the few years before Y2K, there was a fair bit of concern about the possibility of societal collapse, and the result was an increased interest in preparedness, DIY and fundamental survival skills. I suddenly found it easier to find information on some of the things I wanted to learn… including soap making.

I made an amazing batch of soap totally by hand, and the resulting 50 bars lasted our family close to a year. Due to various obstacles, it was about ten years before I made my second batch: Stirring by hand took a long time; also, I had a lot of little people who I was responsible for, and it did not feel realistic to me to work with lye when I couldn’t really banish my kids from the kitchen for the hours it took to get the soap to saponify.

As time went on, my desire to make soap again increased, in part because my skin became more and more sensitive to commercially produced soaps. I tried so many different brands, only to have my skin itch constantly. I decided to purchase a stick blender to make the soap making process go more quickly. That’s the best $40 I ever spent.

I gathered all the ingredients needed and made my batch of soap. The first time I used it, the skin irritation and itching was gone. I’m sold. I now make all our family’s soap. The process is simple and easy. With the use of a stick blender it hardly takes any time at all to mix; though there is a time delay between when the lye is prepped and when it is ready to mix with the rest of the ingredients.

LyeFirst off, let me say that lye (sodium hydroxide) is ESSENTIAL to soap. There is no way to make soap without it. Some folks have expressed a worry that this is so caustic that it cannot possibly be soothing for skin. However, there is no soap without lye. The lye becomes neutralized when it is mixed with oils and allowed to “cure”. Glycerine soap is still made with lye. “Soap base” that is sold at craft stores is made with lye. Lye IS caustic, but it can be safely handled with a few basic precautions.

When handling lye only use glass, stainless steel, wood and silicone. Wear gloves, eye protection and a Protective gearface mask (or just avoid breathing in the fumes). I use latex gloves. and cheapo eye protection from Harbor Freight.

Keep a jug of white vinegar near by. It neutralizes the lye if it should happen to splash on skin in spite of precautions.

Soap making is a precision event. All ingredients should be weighed out for best results.

I recommend a scale that can weigh in grams as well as ounces, if you are going to make soap with any frequency. Many recipes are written with weights in grams. I use this scale.

The first thing to do is measure out 32 oz of distilled water in a heat proof jar that is at least 5 cups capacity. I use a half-gallon mason jar like this. Next weigh out 10.75 oz of lye. I like to use something easy to pour from to weigh out the lye. A small glass measure works well. Place the glass jar of distilled water in the sink and slowly add the lye crystals to the distilled water while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon dedicated to this task. Stop stirring when the lye has completely dissolved. The lye will heat the water to well over 200°F. Cap the jar and carefully remove it to a place where it will not be disturbed as it cools. Don’t place the jar directly on a cold surface; put a towel or pot holder under it. Cooling may take a few hours. Don’t rush it. (I learned this lesson the hard way.) Every time I stir the lye or take its temperature, I very thoroughly rinse any utensil that has touched the lye to avoid the possible contamination of nearby surfaces, or accidentally getting lye on my skin.

Now get your mold ready for your soap. There are many options for soap molds. The one that has been easiest and cheapest for me is to use a cardboard box lined with a plastic trash bag. For this recipe which makes 7 lbs, a box approximately 15″ x 10″ is good. It can be a little bigger either dimension. I’m not super fussy about the exact size of my bars, so I use whatever box I have on hand, and am totally OK with my bars of soap being a slightly different size each batch.

When the mold has been prepared and the lye has cooled to about 120°F, it is time to weigh out the oils that you will use in the soap, as well as gather and measure out any fragrances, colors, herbs, or other additives (such as oatmeal, bentonite clay, essentials oils) that you want to use.2014-08-dsc_3782

For this recipe, measure out 44 oz olive oil, 24 oz palm oil and 17 oz coconut oil. As each oil is measured, add it to a stainless steel pot. Place on stove top and on a very low heat, melt oils together and bring to around 100°F.

At this point, you need a good thermometer. I love this one. Actually, using two thermometers makes the whole process easier. You need to check the temp of the lye solution and the blend of oils, and bring them both to 98°F. This is simple in concept but is slightly tricky to do. If either item is too warm, you must wait for it to cool. If it is too cool, place the oils back on the stove for a few SECONDS only. Put the jar of lye water in a sink of warm water for a minute or so.

Once both solutions are at 98°F, you want to get your protective gear back on and slowly pour the lye mixture into the oils stirring constantly with a spoon dedicated to the task. (I use the same wooden spoon that I used for mixing the lye solution.) Once combined, pull out your handy stick blender and start blending. IF you don’t have a stick blender, you can just stir and stir and stir and stir and stir and stir for up to a few hours until the saponification process is complete. I highly recommend the stick blender, which shortens the process from several hours to just a few minutes. You need to blend for about 30 seconds, then stir for 10, then blend for another 10, then stir for 10 or so until the soap “traces”. This is something that is difficult to describe, and was hard for me, as a brand new soapmaker, to identify when I saw it. I’ve included a video which, I hope, makes it clear enough to “see”.

I’ll attempt to describe this process. You want your mixture of lye and oils to thicken slightly to the texture of soft set pudding. The “tracing” describes what it looks like if you take a spoon full of the mixture from the pot, drizzle it back down onto what remains in the pot, and you can see that line briefly before it disappears back into the rest of the soap. It really will be noticeable as a line for at least 5 seconds. You will KNOW when you see it. At this point, quickly add any fragrances, essential oils, herbs, or other mix-ins and stir gently but thoroughly.

Soap moldPour the soap into the prepared mold. Cover the soap with plastic wrap, or rest a piece of cardboard across the top of the box. (The point is to keep drafts away.) Wrap the whole mold in a few towels or an old blanket to insulate the soap. You want to keep the temperature of the soap as steady as possible for the next 24 – 48 hours.

After the 24 – 48 hour setting time is up, the soap should be firm. Don gloves and empty your soap onto a clean, flat surface. I use a cutting board. Peel the plastic bag liner off of the soap. Cut the soap into the size bar that you prefer. You can use a ruler and knife to make exact bars or just do like me and wing it.

Gently separate the bars of soap. They are not fully cured and are still a bit soft. Place, on edge, on a clean surface with good air circulation. I use a piece of plywood covered with plastic wrap. Store this in an out-of-the-way place for 3 – 4 weeks until the bars have hardened. At this point, they are ready to use.

Up until the curing time has been achieved, there is still the possibility of the lye in the soap being harsh on the skin. Thus the need for wearing gloves or for washing thoroughly if skin comes in contact with the freshly made soap. After about 2 – 3 weeks of curing, this is no longer an issue. The bars continue to harden as they age.


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Scripture Memorization Made Easy

For years I’ve been memorizing Bible verses. My parents set goals for us and worked with us to memorize. My grandparents offered incentives for Scripture memorization. My uncle offered a camping trip to us if we memorized Psalm 22. And then there was Awana. And being the highly competitive individual that I am, I worked hard to achieve and memorize more scripture verses (sections in Awana speak) than anyone else… particularly more than my rival, Donovan Grey!

Fast forward a few years and I want to get my kids memorizing. I try incentives, goals and Awana. Trouble is, all of that takes a lot of effort. I have to come up with ways to help the kids memorize. Techniques to incentivize them. Rewards that don’t cost a fortune, and appeal to a wide variety of ages. Then I have to record the scripture passage for the non-readers, or read it regularly, or print it up and post it around the house, etc. All of this takes time and is easily derailed by the common disruptions of life in a big family.

And every time I got derailed, I felt guilty… like I was failing to do my part to train up my children in the way that they should go.

I kept searching for an answer to these problems.

A family in our homeschool group began to host a “hymn sing” in their home once a month. Our kids were keen to attend. We shared a meal and sang together. They loved meeting up with all their friends. It was a fun together time. A part of the evening was scripture recitation by any individual or family who cared to participate. We did a few times, but it was hard to get everyone reciting together, hard to get everyone to memorize an entire passage… and let’s face it, the ones for whom it was most difficult were Don and me.

We needed a better way. I kept searching. And God used my mom and dad to direct me to a solution. As my dad’s disease (Multiple System Atrophy – MSA) progressed, he was unable to turn the pages of his Bible. He began using a Bible app on his phone to read to him. The app they used and loved is YouVersion. I checked it out and downloaded it.

We began listening at breakfast. I selected a passage and we listened through the passage once per day. Within a few weeks, even the youngest children were quoting portions of our selected passage. Within a month or so, all have memorized it perfectly. Since they were listening to the same words all together read by the same voice, with the same inflections every time, they all learned the same phrasing and had the same timing. This made for great ability to recite together.

This has been an answer to prayer and has enabled us to more effectively hide God’s word in our hearts.

So far, we have memorized Psalms 1, 19, 22, and 23, and I Corinthians 13. James 1 is in progress.

I trust that God’s word will not return void, but will accomplish that which he pleases, and will prosper in the thing whereto he sent it (Isaiah 55:11).

Have you ever tried this or any similar method to memorize Scripture as a family? What has (or hasn’t) worked for you?

May God richly bless you and your family as you hide His word in your hearts!



Filed under Children, Home, Odds and ends