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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.

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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!

 

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Mega Laundry for the Mega Family

Hallig Hooge, Germany, view from the Backenswarft

After I wrote the series on Mega Food Planning, Shopping and Prep, a friend wrote me to suggest a post on laundry. Laundry is not and has never been my nemesis, therefore I’m not sure this will be helpful. But I’ll give it my best shot!

Years ago I read a description (click here) of what laundry day would be like in the “olden days”. Never again did I feel sorry for myself with the laundry job. What a boatload of work that was.

Success with laundry in the mega family begins with prevention. I think this is probably true no matter what the size of the family. But the effects are definitely more pronounced in the mega family.

Get rid of clothing that you do not need. Get rid of bedding that is not needed. Sometimes with excess, comes laziness or just a harder job managing the resulting chaos. Seriously, for a kid, five outfits is enough. Add in a couple of sets of “I don’t care how filthy my child gets in these” play clothes and a couple of nice outfits and that should hold you. Since I do laundry frequently, two or three sets of PJs is enough. If all the kids have twin beds, how many duplicate sets of sheets do you NEED? Not one extra set per bed. How likely is it that all the beds will need to be changed at a particular time and you won’t be able to leave a bed bare for the 2 hours it takes to do a load of wash? How many extra towels do you really need? Do you NEED to change your towel after every shower? Could you change it every other day? It is used to dry a CLEAN body after all. I do realize that if you live in a place with high humidity, you may have to change towels more frequently, as they may not dry fully between uses.

Do laundry every day. (This is the big family guideline. When my family was smaller, I did laundry M-W-F; when it was just the two of us, it was once a week.) The only day that is always “off” for me is Sunday. Sometimes we are out all day on another day and it doesn’t get done; then I play “catch-up” by doing double laundry the next day.

Clothes do not automatically need washing just because they have been worn — particularly for someone who works in an office or who happens to be especially neat. Consider the “smell” test plus the visual inspection, and rehang the garment if it passes. 🙂 The clothes worn by active boys, and mothers of young babies, almost always need washing after each wearing.

Supervise the dressing of children. By this I mean, check up on them. Make sure they aren’t needlessly changing clothes multiple times per day. Make sure they don’t leave clothes in inappropriate places. Clean clothes have a place (dressers/closet), and dirty clothes have a place (hamper). If clothes are left on the floor (not an appropriate place), it’s harder to tell what is clean and what is dirty, and I inevitably end up rewashing clean clothes.

Bed wetters. I currently have, and have in the past had, bed wetters. I’ve had days of washing many sets of bedclothes. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is more cost-effective to buy pull ups/diapers than to wash bed clothes daily. 🙂 Not just in terms of $$ but in hassle, time and gross factor.

Up until the time I had my 4th child, I did not have a washer/dryer. We lived in apartments, and I used the laundry facilities in our apartment complex. The downside of that is that you have to go somewhere to wash your clothes, and hope they are undisturbed until you return for them (or you have to sit there waiting — not very practical when you have three kids under the age of 4.) The upside is that, if you time it right (6 AM always worked for me), you can use all the machines available, and get the whole job knocked out in less than two hours.

Enlist the help of your kids… especially the littlest ones who are so eager to help mama.

Here’s what I currently do:

My youngest helper (Stephen) is responsible for bringing all the hampers of dirty clothes from the bedrooms into the laundry room each day. I also have a hamper in the laundry room for miscellaneous items than need washing. I aim to make it convenient to put dirty clothes where they belong. Also in my laundry room is a bucket for wet laundry. Things like dish cloths, pre-treated items, etc. I try to hang these along the edges of the bucket until they are dry so that they don’t get sour.

I spot treat any stains with Fels-Naptha bar soap that has been softened in water. Best stain treatment ever.

I sort the laundry three ways. And I sort, not the kids, though sometimes I have them help me. I’ve had episodes of pink boy underwear due to child-sorted laundry. It’s not something I enjoyed.

Hot/white – undies, socks, towels, etc

Darks

Delicate/lights

If there are items that are particularly filthy, I give them their own load.

I sort darks directly into the washer. The other two loads are sorted into hampers. Any empty hampers are returned to their homes promptly. I start the darks load right away. When it’s done, I hang it out on the line if it is a nice day or put it in the dryer on rainy days. My reasoning for starting the darks load first is that these clothes are the thickest and take the longest time to dry. This gives me the best chance of actually letting the sun do the job of drying all my clothes. I don’t have a set way of determining which load goes into the washing machine next. Whatever seems the most needful at the moment, I guess.

If the weather permits, I will hang all loads of laundry out on the line. I actually love hanging out laundry. It’s quiet and peaceful. I usually bring one of the younger kids out with me (to reduce the “mom is out of the house” chaos). We have a bit of one-on-one time. I take this time to check over the clothing for rips, holes or stains I may have missed. If the clothes look ratty, I don’t hang them, I just throw them in the trash or repurpose them.

I hang all of Don’s button-up shirts on a tension rod in my laundry room regardless of whether the rest of the wash is hung out or not. This way, wrinkles are kept to a minimum, and I have less ironing to do. (I HATE IRONING!!!) [One of these days, Don will figure out how to iron his own shirts. –ed.] I also try to buy clothes that are easy-care, to reduce the need for special laundry handling/ironing.

I often enlist the smaller kids’ help in switching loads. They are shorter, and it’s easier for them to reach deep into the front-loader than it is for me. I am there with them making sure to pull aside any items that are “hang-dry” if the rest of the load is headed for the dryer.

If I am going to be away from the house all day, I’ll try to start my washing the night before. I use the delayed start feature so that the wash is finished just at the time I’m getting up. I’ll switch the wash and put in a second load again on the time delay so it is ready for me when I expect to be home. That way, I do not get so far behind. I also plan the loads that have the longest wash times for the time when I will not be available to switch loads, so that when I’m home to finish later, the process can be completed in the shortest amount of time.

After all the loads of laundry are dry (and sometimes I start this before it is all done), I sort the clean laundry into piles for the kids. Everyone folds their own clothes, with the exception of Stephen and Landen. I fold their stuff and then they help me put it away. They are starting to learn to fold their own clothes, so it won’t be too long until I pass that job to them. I will have to continue to “inspect what I expect“. I put away all of my own and Don’s clothes. In addition to his own clothes, James folds all the undies and matches all the socks. He puts these away in the appropriate drawers. He also folds sheets/blankets and folds/hangs bath towels. Noah folds all hand towels, dish towels, wash cloths and napkins (yes, we use cloth napkins). When I call out that laundry is ready to be folded and put away, I expect everyone to show up and do the job. It doesn’t usually take more than 30-ish minutes to have it all finished. I like to have it done before dinner, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, and we fold after dinner, or it waits until the next morning.

I almost never forget a load of wash in the machines. Yet, I’ve read enough and talked to enough women to know that this is a common problem. I’m not sure why I don’t have trouble with this. It’s not because I can always hear the “I’m done” chime on my machine, because I can’t. but usually something in my brain clicks and I just know I need to go switch. I have had some seasons of my life that are overwhelmingly busy (just after a baby is born, for example) when I had more trouble remembering to switch the laundry and have had to rewash. When this happens, I use timers to remind myself until I get get back in the groove, or life gets less busy. Timers are my friend… on my phone, the range, the microwave. I’m a big fan of timers. I often need the auditory cues that it’s time to do something.

Cloth diapers. I used cloth diapers with almost all of my kids. That did add to the laundry load! Especially when I had three in diapers! Diapers, I found, had to be on a schedule all their own. The rate of usage was too varied. I liked to start a load soaking at night. Then in the morning, I’d drain the soak water and wash long and hot. Then on the line they went for some sanitizing sunlight.

Bedding. The best way I’ve found to deal with this, is to give each bedroom a “day”. No bedding on Monday. That’s already a double laundry day since I don’t do washing on Sunday. Tuesday, master bedroom, Wednesday, girls room, Thursday, boy bedroom 1, Friday, boy bedroom 2. Or, just wash the bedding when it is dirty and insert with the regular wash days.

I have tried the “make your own laundry soap” recipes that float around the internet. I tried. Really I did. It is definitely cheaper per load to use the homemade stuff. But, it doesn’t work. I gave it a six-month try. The clothes looked dingy. There was an “unfresh” smell to them that was nasty to me (I am sensitive to smells. I hate perfumes, but clean has a good smell and it’s not the scent of the laundry detergent since I only used unscented.) I found myself rewashing loads of laundry on the “sanitary” setting just to get rid of the smell. The clothes felt different too. Stiffer. Like the detergent clung to the clothing.

I’ve heard rave reviews from so many people that I know. Best I can figure it is we have HARD water and the commercial detergents account for that with added water softeners (which the homemade detergent does not have),. Maybe their water is softened or naturally soft. Also, I have BOYS. Lots of boys. Lots of dirt. Filth. Grime. Perhaps the children of those who find success with homemade detergent don’t get as dirty as mine. Or maybe it’s because they don’t live in the country surrounded by dirt and animal grime. Who knows? I just felt like I should put it out there. It did not work for me. Yes it’s “cheaper” at first glance, and I’m all about saving money. But it does not end up cheaper if you have to double-wash all the clothes. It takes twice as long, twice as much power and water. Not cost-effective at all; and most importantly, it wastes my time. I have concluded that, for me, the best solution is to stock up on the fragrance-free laundry detergent sold by Costco whenever they offer a coupon special.

So, what do you do if you are so far behind that you are despairing of ever getting caught up? When you are not able to see the top of Mt Washmore? When Mt Never-rest is completely un-climb-able? Set a goal of doing a little bit every day. Instead of the “maintenance” level number of loads, do one more. Make sure to discipline yourself to get it ALL put away. Get the kids to help. They are able. It will take training, but you want them to learn anyway. It will help them in adulthood to have developed the disciplines of tidiness, routine, daily chores. As you process the loads of laundry, ask yourself if any of this is excess. Can it leave? Throw away anything that is ratty and not worth passing along. Fill bags with the remaining unnecessary items. Put it in your vehicle to donate the next time you are driving past a thrift shop that accepts donations, or offer it to a friend who has kids of similar age/gender. Or offer it on Facebook on a swap/sale group.You will not be sorry if you have less. Trust me. So much easier to manage.

Don’t let the kids get away with being slobs. Make sure they put their dirty clothes in the designated spot for dirty laundry. Make sure their clean items remain in their drawers. Don’t let them needlessly change clothes. Try to teach them to be neat when possible. And, under what circumstances it is acceptable to be messy. (They are kids after all and kids do make messes. What I’m really talking about it carelessness that leads to needless mess. Stuff that is totally preventable.)

An alternative to this slow faithfulness to dig out from the pile of laundry is to take it all to a laundromat and get it all cleaned. The advantage of this is that it is done and you can make a fresh start. The disadvantage is, it is a huge task and can be difficult to sort through that much wash all at once to get it all folded and put away. It will also not work to reprogram your brain to the daily task of laundry which is the key to keeping caught up.

I hope this helps someone. I’d love to hear comments from others. What works for you? What tips can you share of making this job simpler? I’m always eager to learn something new.

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Give grace

Note: This is a long post. Rather than trying to break it into two parts, I’m going to trust that my readers have above-average attention spans. Please be sure to read the whole post before commenting. Thank you.

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1-4)

Occasionally I hear or read something that gets under my skin. This happened recently, when a sister in Christ made a broad statement condemning and mocking an entire group of people (a group I happen to belong to) who have made a certain choice related to raising children.

All I could think was — HOW DARE YOU?!

That brought to mind a flood of other “How dare you’s” I’ve felt over the years.

I’m going to let them out now. Brace yourself.

How dare you mock me for my parenting choices that I make to the best of my abilities before GOD?

How dare you judge me when I say my kids have food allergies and can’t eat something?

How dare you (especially you with no children, ONE child, or just a few children) judge me for the way I run my super sized family?

How DARE you judge me for choosing to not vaccinate my kids, when you have NO idea what thought and reasoning went into that decision?

How dare you act like your choice for your family is the ONLY right choice on an issue that is NOT clearly delineated in scripture?

How DARE you criticize me for my choice to give birth at home because you choose to give birth in a hospital/birth center?

How dare you presume to be able to evaluate my personal medical issues?

How dare you assert that we have enough kids (or too many)?

These are not moral decisions. There is LIBERTY to choose. These are decisions of conscience.

There’s a lot more to many of these choices than meets the eye.

What you do NOT know are how many hours I’ve spent researching the risks and benefits, the pros and cons, of my decision to only selectively vaccinate my kids. The hours poring over the data from the CDC. The data, the details, adverse reactions from vaccines, what subset of people experience reactions, the disease rates of various infectious diseases. Whether those who got the disease were vaccinated fully, partially or not at all. The locations of outbreaks, the graphs that detail when the disease prevalence began to drop and how the drop coincided (or didn’t) with the introduction of the vaccine. I’ve discussed the vaccine issue with my kids’ pediatrician. What makes you think you know better than me and my kids’ doctor?

What you do NOT know are how many hours I’ve spent researching, and in prayer, over the decision on where to birth. And who to hire as an attendant, or whether I should have an attendant at all.

What you do NOT know, and cannot appreciate, is the faith journey that I have walked as I have lived out my choices. The research that went into the decision. The enormous personal and familial benefits of our choices.

What you do NOT know are how many hours I spent wiping bloody diarrhea off of the scorched/burned bum of a tiny baby who was allergic to more things than we could determine.

What you do NOT know are how many hours I spent holding that baby, who writhed in pain every minute of the day.

What you do NOT know are how many hours I did NOT sleep that entire first year of my baby’s life as he screamed and writhed.

What you do NOT know is that I had to figure out what was in the food I bought because no adequate labeling laws were in effect. Yep, back when you had to call every company in creation to ask whether the “modified food starch” contained wheat; because it might. And at least half the time, the person you talked to either didn’t know, or refused to tell you.

What you do NOT know is that I had to go to a mono diet of only rice until — amazingly — my baby’s symptoms disappeared, and he slept. A blessed, restful sleep with NO writhing. For the first time in his life he slept.

What you do NOT know is that I added in one food at a time every three days until I was eating enough variety to constitute a sustainable diet. It was “three steps forward, two back” for a while until I (YES, I, with no medical advice or help, because they had given up on helping us) figured out what he was allergic to.

What you do NOT know is how much time and effort it took to figure all this out.

What you cannot possibly know is that if I ingested even the tiniest bit of one of his allergens, we were back to square one with his symptoms, and the screaming and lack of sleep resumed.

What you do NOT know is the lack of help available from doctors. No testing is foolproof. Once the process of eliminating all “serious” medical conditions from the possible list is done, the work of deduction falls to the parents.

What you do NOT know are the many invasive tests that were performed on my tiny newborn to rule out a long list of horrible possibilities.

What you do NOT know is the fear I felt, as I went through this process with a tiny helpless newborn.

What you do NOT know is the difficulty of having your newborn hospitalized while trying to care for eight other children at home.

What you do NOT know is the frustration of trying hypoallergenic formulas and even “elemental” formulas on your child, only to have him react to them with screaming, bloody diarrhea, writhing in pain.

What you cannot possibly comprehend, is how it tears a mother apart, to watch her child suffer so. I have experienced this. Food allergies/intolerance are VERY real.

Why are you judging someone who says they can’t eat something? Why do you presume to think they are making it up? What sane person would WANT to restrict their diet for no reason whatsoever? There might be a few people mixed-up enough to do so. Do you REALLY think it is a good idea to lump everyone who has dietary restrictions into the category of dubious sanity? Are you kidding me?

I have never asked anyone to make special accommodations for us. A few brave, kind souls have asked and offered to make accommodations. I might inquire about food at a party or whatever, but solely for the purpose of providing for our family’s food needs.

More times than I can count, though, I’ve overheard the comments on the fact that I or my child is eating something different. The speculation that it is not necessary. The accusations of extreme behavior.

WHY DOES IT MATTER SO MUCH TO YOU??? Just let us eat in peace for goodness’ sake. We don’t want to look any more freakish than we have to in order to keep ourselves healthy.

I find it interesting that, while there has often been speculation (I’ve heard it with my own ears) about the necessity of the diet I and/or my children have had to be on, no one has ever offered to come over to tend the wakeful screaming child when he could not sleep from the pain. No one ever cared enough to help wipe the bloody diarrhea off of his butt as he screamed in pain.

I was once a haughty, proud, judgmental mother. Because I believed breastfeeding was best, I (silently) judged every mother who bottle-fed.

Then God allowed me to have a sick baby. One born with congenital heart disease. who had difficulty gaining weight. One who had to have supplements. Now I was one of those mothers who had a bottle in their child’s mouth. And I understood. There could be a perfectly good explanation for choosing the “inferior” way to feed a baby.

Bottle-feeding is not the enemy. It’s just another way to feed a baby. Not my preference, but a valuable alternative. I was humbled. And ashamed of my prideful, horrible, rude attitude. I had now walked a road that gave me empathy and understanding for others’ choices.

Years ago, when I was a mom of one, I was privately (secretly) critical of a friend who confided in me the struggles she was having with her infant son. He was allergic to so many things, and she had to dramatically restrict her diet as she breastfed him. She could only eat chicken and carrots.

Absurd, I thought. How could he possibly react through her milk. Silly. She must be imagining things. It was years later that God allowed me to experience firsthand how very REAL this situation is. I walked a new road that gave me empathy.

There are a million more issues where judgment is passed, and one mom is critical of another. Here are a few of the things I’ve been criticized for:

The behavior of my autistic child. Admittedly horrible at times. But NOT the result of poor parenting or lack of discipline, and NOT because my child is a brat.

The fact that we chose to get a diagnosis and “label” our kid. Labels can be helpful in understanding. They do not have to define. I’m confident we made the right choice.

Baby wearing. I LOVE to carry my babies. Why do you have a problem with that? I don’t care if you opt to carry around a car seat or push a stroller. That felt more awkward to me. What is your problem with that????

Behavior of boys. Boys are rambunctious. Boys are NOT girls. I’ve been criticized for letting my boys be boys. Especially by “girl moms”. Get over it. There is a time and place for boys to learn to sit still. My little ones are learning. I work with them. They get practice every Sunday during church. But boys are made to move. I let them move whenever I feel it is appropriate.

Size of our family. I cannot tell the number of people who have tried to make this their personal business. IT IS NOT YOUR BUSINESS!!! I do not ask you for support. I do not ask the government for support. It’s our decision to have the number of kids we have. You have NO right to meddle. Think just for once about what I am contributing: TAXPAYERS! How else will your social security benefits ever be paid?

What activities we have chosen (or not chosen) to be involved in. I’ve gotten “It’s only one night a week” from other parents. Really??? And what about all the other kids who also want their night? Do you suppose we might place a priority on being home together as a family more than fifteen minutes a week?

 

Much of the time, these judgmental comments are not spoken directly to my face. But I do hear them, and sometimes I read them on Facebook. I don’t think the speaker/writer is aware that I can hear/see. If they were aware, I don’t think they would deliberately speak their sly mocking, judgment, and presumption.

But I wish they would.

If you have a question about a choice someone has made or feel they are making an error in judgment, WHY are you talking to a third person about it? GO TO THE PERSON YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT! I don’t mind honest discussion/debate. I don’t mind if someone comes to a different conclusion than I have, or makes a different choice about what is best for their family.

We are all individuals. It’s normal and natural to make different choices. So, if you don’t like the way I am doing something, GIVE GRACE and respect my RIGHT to choose as I see fit. Don’t assume I’m somehow less informed or educated because my choices are different.

Keep your mouth shut and pray for me. OR initiate a respectful convo with me.

Ask questions. Seek understanding. You might learn something. You might even (scary thought) change your mind about something.

OR you might get ME to change my mind as we discuss an issue. Above all, seek understanding. We are all in this super-HARD job of life together.

Although I have walked a lot of roads, I’ve not likely walked your particular road. It’s easy to judge what I do not know, see, experience, taste, touch. Easy, and WRONG. What I have learned is to say (to myself mostly). “I do not understand this situation. I do not have experience with this situation, I will reserve judgment and give the benefit of the doubt. I have not walked THIS road.” GIVE GRACE PEOPLE. it’s NOT THAT HARD!!!!

 

One eats meat, the other not,

To his own master he stands or falls….

Give grace.

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Looking Forward

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. Seems like they are usually made with feelings of regret or dissatisfaction in mind. Unhappy with the current status, seeking new, different, better in the new year. Unfortunately, it seems as though this just sets one up for failure. It’s easy to have good intentions. It’s the follow-through that gets you.

In spite of my dislike of the tradition of making resolutions at this time of year, I do find myself reflecting on the current state of my life, assessing what I have done well and what needs to change. As I’ve pondered, I’ve arrived at a list of goals for myself. I’ve tried to accompany each goal with some specific action points so it’s not just wishful thinking, and so I can measure my results.

I’ve considered various categories of my life, and found that I naturally had one or maybe two goals that fit in each category. They are as follows:

Spiritual

Study the Bible – I read my Bible pretty much every day. Sometimes I listen using the Bible app on my phone. But it is a regular, consistent part of my life. I find it harder to manage the time for in-depth study. I have selected a Bible study guide to use along with a study Bible, and will aim for one day of more in-depth study each week.

Scripture memorization – I work on this with the kids over breakfast. Again, I use the Bible app on my phone to listen while we eat. However, I want to memorize verses that are particularly applicable to me and the struggles I face. I have decided to participate in this accountability group which should have the result of me memorizing two verses per month: http://blog.lproof.org/2014/12/siesta-scripture-memory-team-2015-instructions-and-spiral-information.html

Personal Development

I am enrolled in a course on herbal medicine. I have struggled to find the time to study. There is always sometime that is “urgent”, requiring my attention. I am blocking off one evening per week to study. This is scheduled on my calendar.

Character development

I aim to yell less. I came across this post the other day and found it helpful in acknowledging the many reasons why I yell (not the least of which is just to be HEARD over the crazy loud din that exists in a home of many children): http://fiveintow.com/2014/01/23/hope-for-the-mom-who-yells/ Anyhow, it’s one thing to have a goal to simply yell less, it’s quite another thing to identify the issues that result in yelling, and deal with the SIN that is at the root. Ouch.

Home

De-clutter – At the very least, one item should leave our house for every new item that comes in. Once a week, on Thursday, I aim to either list items for sale on Craigslist, eBay, etc., OR donate a box of unneeded items to the thrift store. My goal here is to have our home ready at a moment’s notice for hospitality, and to reduce the work I have to put in to maintain this place. I think we do OK here, but could definitely do better.

Pay attention to paper clutter. Create and train myself to use a tickler file. Don’t let the “to be filed” pile spill out of it’s container. (I really hate dealing with paper!!!) http://www.home-storage-solutions-101.com/tickler-file.html

Physical

I aim to gain strength and lose __ pounds. (Never mind the actual number.) I am currently going to the gym consistently one day per week. I aim to add another day. I will add a class that is taught by my personal trainer. I also have an eating plan that I think will work to help me to pay more attention to what I eat, by forcing me to eat more regularly and not “forget” and then get over-hungry.

There are a few other goals not detailed here that are either private or more joint goals with my husband. Financial, parenting and marriage.

Ultimately, the point of setting goals, and working to achieve them, is to make wise use of the time God has given me. None of us knows how many days/weeks/months/years we may have left to walk this earth. I want to live a life as much as possible without regret. Floating aimlessly along this journey of living will not yield that regretless result. There are many scripture verses relating to planning and time usage and management. I find it quite convicting and motivating to read through them. Psalm 90:12, Colossians 4:5, Ephesians 5:15-17, and Luke 14:28 are a few good ones.

Anyone joining me in goal setting this New Year? Anyone want to be an accountability partner? Leave me a comment.

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Countdown to Christmas

ChristmasWe love Christmastime. I love the cooler weather, the cozy fires, the music, the decorations, holiday baking, the delicious food, the family time, and most importantly, the reason we celebrate in the first place: the birth of Jesus Christ.

In my early years growing up, our family did not celebrate Christmas. Gradually, traditions changed, and we began to celebrate — but never in a highly commercialized way. The focus was mainly on Jesus’ birth; the gifts we exchanged were secondary to the true meaning. I’ve tried to maintain that focus with my own kids.

We have many family traditions at this time of year, but one of my favorites is a paper chain countdown.

It all started when our oldest child was about two years old. She was enthralled by all the lights and beautiful decorations we had in our home, and that we saw wherever we went. And I wanted her to know WHY. Why do we decorate, what are we REALLY celebrating. Is it just lights and tinsel? Is it an excuse to spend money and exchange gifts? Why do we do this thing called Christmas?

In my quest to find a child-friendly, memorable way to teach my daughter the true meaning of Christmas, I tried a variety of different things. The one that stuck, the one that captured her attention and brought joy to her face was a “countdown to Christmas” paper chain — with a twist. On each link of the chain was written one or two sentences of my paraphrased version of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Initially, I was just going to write the scripture straight from the King James Version of the Bible. But as I read it over, I decided to simplify it a bit to make it more doable for a little child. I didn’t want to omit any details, so I drew from the Biblical accounts found in both Matthew and Luke.

Once I had written my paraphrase, I divided the story up into 28 roughly equal sections (because that was the number of days in Advent that year). I wrote the story out on strips of paper, one segment of the story for each day.

Every day during the Advent season, we removed one strip and read it together. Then we read all the strips up to that point. Rebecca would recite the story after me each day phrase by phrase. Sometimes she wanted to read it more than once in a day. And — surprisingly (to me) — by Christmas, she had memorized the whole thing. It was adorable to hear her sweet baby voice telling of the miracle of Jesus’ birth.

A tradition was born.Countdown to Christmas

Every year since, we have made a paper chain and read the story bit by bit as we count down to Christmas. It’s visual, so the little kids get a good grasp on the passage of time. They are very aware of the passing of days as Christmas draws near. And they are all learning the true reason we celebrate. The wonderful, amazing reality of God coming to earth to be born of a woman, for the sole purpose of taking our sins upon himself at the cross. All because he loves us.

I’ve included my paraphrase here. If you like it, you are welcome to use it. If not, write your own, or use a version of the Bible that you love. There is also a printable with even days in one set and odd days in another so you can easily print them on different colors of paper to make the chain colorful and interesting. Our chain has alternating red and green links with the final strip for Christmas day being yellow/gold to symbolize the arrival of the King. To make the chain, I suggest rubber cement to join the paper. I’ve tried other things (including staples and tape) but the strips would rip and make the text difficult to read. Using rubber cement I can easily peel the joined edges of the strips apart when it is time to remove them and (usually) the paper doesn’t rip. I sometimes have to temporarily place a paper clip or other fastener at the join until the bond is set.

Click here for a printable Countdown To Christmas chain. There are seven pages. Print the first three pages on red paper, the next three pages on green paper, and the last page on yellow (gold) paper.

Have fun counting down to Christmas with your little ones!

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Mega meal prep for the mega family

2014-09-dsc_4783

 

(Read the first two parts of this series here and here.)

The real work starts when I get home from grocery shopping. I’ve hauled home between 200 and 300 pounds of meat, tons of fresh produce, and dairy products. It won’t all fit in my refrigerators; yet, if I freeze it as-is, I’ll have to be thawing it in 40-pound increments, which is WAY more than even a mega family will need to use for a meal. So, we get to work prepping. It’s mega cooking day!

 

I start with ground beef. I take out my biggest pots. I refer to my menu plan (see previous post) for all my scheduled meals that use ground beef. 2014-09-dsc_4788In each pot I will cook all the beef for each different ground beef based meal. In order to keep it all straight in the chaos that will ensue, I make a little chart for myself that contains the following information: How much ground beef goes into each pot, which dish it is for, what else needs to be added to the pot, and how many meals I will divide it into when I’m done cooking the beef.

mega-beef

Using the above chart as my example, I see that I will weigh out 8 pounds of ground beef in one pot for spaghetti, 9 pounds of beef for sloppy joes, 6 pounds for taco meat, 5 pounds for goulash, and 8 pounds for chili. I usually get started portioning out the meat and assign some of the kids the job of peeling onions, washing peppers, and peeling the cloves of garlic. We put the veggies through the food processor and then add to the pots of beef on the stove.

2014-09-dsc_4800Once those are all cooking away, we take the 12 pounds of beef destined for meatloaf and mix it up in a huge bowl with bread crumbs, eggs, ketchup, onion soup mix and water. Clean hands are the best mixing tool. When it is well mixed, we shape into four loaves and place in half-size foil steam table trays, which we then cover and mark with contents, weight and date. That is usually the first thing done and into the freezer.

2014-09-dsc_4806 2014-09-dsc_4807

By this time, the pots of ground beef are usually finished cooking. I use a huge commercial potato masher to make sure the ground beef is in small uniform-sized pieces. We drain off the fat and then portion each meal into freezer bags. I use a two-cup glass measure, and just put equal amounts of the beefy mixtures into each labeled bag. Before I seal and put them in the freezer, I add all seasonings and tomato products IF I have purchased #10 cans that will be divided across multiple meals. If I will be opening individual smaller-sized tomato products on serving day, I don’t bother with adding them to the bag. I take the time to add any cooking instructions to the bags, which saves me lots of time on cooking day. It’s usually just abbreviations, but it’s enough so that I don’t have to find the recipe again.

While I or one of the older kids is bagging up the ground beef meals, someone else gets started on the boneless chicken meals. Again, I make a chart.

mega-chicken

Using the above chart as my example, I see that I have five different menu selections that will use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. We trim any fat off the chicken breasts and cut them into portion sized pieces. (A single breast is often close to ½ pound.) I try to make sure they are all a relatively even thickness for ease of grilling. Or if I’m making fajitas, I’ll cut all the chicken into strips. If a stir fry, it gets cut into chunks. I weigh out all the chicken into Ziploc freezer bags. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to put a Ziploc bag into a large mixing bowl on my scale and zero it. Then add the trimmed pieces to the bag until my desired weight is reached. I label all my bags before I fill them, which is much easier than trying to write on the bags after they’re filled.

While one (or more) person is trimming chicken, another will get started on mixing the marinades. In they go into the Ziploc bags with the chicken pieces. I make most of the marinades up assembly line style. Adding the ingredients called for directly into the bag and “mixing” by just smooshing it around in the bag with the chicken.

When the chicken is all cut up and bagged (or when that job is winding down and someone is free and needs a new job), it’s time to cut up the large pieces of beef. I buy it in 12-15 pound pieces. I then cut it into cubes for stew, strips for teriayki steak and some nice roasts. Everything goes into well labeled Ziploc bags.

When I buy whole chickens, I take the neck and guts out and save it separately in a bag, for making stock, and freeze the chicken in a Ziploc bag. This makes my life so much simpler when I’m trying to put a whole (still somewhat or completely frozen) chicken into the crock pot.

If I buy chicken legs that are not already cut into drums/thighs, I do that, and bag the chicken in meal-sized portions either by piece or by weight. We generally eat either drums or thighs at a meal, not whole legs. It’s just a preference.

At this point, I’m pretty much done for the day. All the perishables are safely in the freezer. On shopping/cooking days, I always plan a simple meal that doesn’t take any significant effort — maybe a couple of rotisserie chickens from Costco, bagged salad and chips. Something like that. I have no energy to cook after all that work. My kitchen is a wreck, but I don’t always clean it up right away. Sometimes I don’t have the energy until the next day. The beauty of this system is that you get one day of a horribly messy disaster of a kitchen, but then almost every other day, the cleanup is minimal.

 

Tips for packaging:

Always, always, always use good quality bags. Ziploc is my brand of choice. There’s not much worse than going to all this effort, only to have your bag fail you, and your food ruined.

Fold down the tops of the Ziploc bags before filling, to avoid getting food stuck in the zipper top.2014-09-dsc_4808

Freeze flat. It’s easier to thaw the food.

After the bags are frozen, stand them up like file folders, in a dishpan or cardboard box. Makes it easy to flip through and find what you want.

 

Now for how I use all that food. Each week, using my meal plan and my calendar, I schedule meals for the week. I take into account a variety of factors when planning my meals. Will I be super busy or gone all day? Then I’ll plan something fast to throw together or something that can be thrown in the crock pot. Will I have guests? What sort of dietary needs do they have? What meals are crowd-pleasers? Which meals do not require a lot of last-minute fuss, so that I’m actually free to visit with our guests? Are we expecting a warm day? Let’s grill! Or cool weather? Let’s have soup and homemade bread. Do we have to go out? What travels well?

I schedule my meals on a simple blank form that my husband created for me (click to download a PDF). This goes on my refrigerator where all those responsible for cooking can see what meals are scheduled. If I remember, we take out anything frozen the night before, so it has time to thaw. When this (often) doesn’t happen, I just pop the bag of food in a sink of water to speed the process along. As I use the meals, I make a tally mark on my meal plan so that I know it has been used. This enables me to know exactly what is in my freezer at any time without having to go on an Arctic expedition. 🙂

I label my menu plans and calendars with the dates used. I store them in a binder for future reference. In theory, you could just repeat the exact same menu plan. We don’t. But I do refer to the previous meal plans for ideas and to get my ingredients list without having to haul out all my cookbooks and recipes again when I do the next cycle.

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Mega shopping for the mega family.

Mega cooking

 

(Note: This is post two of a three-part series. Click here for part one, or here for part three.)

In preparation for shopping day, I like to clean out the pantry, refrigerators and freezers, and get them organized. We have two refrigerators and two separate freezers, but this is not necessary to mega meal plan, shop and cook — we have a few other factors that make it important for us. One is that we have dairy goats and can have up to 20 gallons of milk at a time in one refrigerator. Another is that we raise animals for meat and need the larger capacity at butchering time.

Once the space is prepared to receive the glut of food I’ll be bringing home, it’s time to shop. I bring several older teens and try to leave the little ones at home. My stores of choice are Costco, Smart & Final, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts and Walmart. Very occasionally, I will stop in at a traditional grocery store… particularly if the sales on meat are extraordinary. But more often than not, I can get excellent prices on meat at the Costco Business Center in San Diego, and I don’t bother with stopping at grocery stores to take advantage of their loss-leader sales.

I also shop at a few non-traditional places. This practice began because of our family’s struggles with food allergies. It’s SUCH a pain to go to store after store and stand in the aisles reading labels to be sure an item is safe for my food-allergic kids. Or to hear of a brand that is “safe” for their allergies, and schlep all over town looking for the product, only to return empty-handed. Buying online saves me time and hassle.

Online: Amazon.com – Here I buy specialty groceries and allergy-friendly items that are probably available locally, but which would take some hunting; and I find it much easier to just compare prices and buy online. Examples of this are coconut products, energy bars, protein powder, oils for soap making, gelatin, gluten free pastas, xanthan gum, sunflower seed butter, small packets of almond butter, healthy breakfast cereal. I also buy cosmetics, toiletries and personal care items. Using Amazon Prime and their Subscribe and Save service saves me money and gets my items to me fast.

Vitacost.com – Here I buy mostly vitamins, but am increasingly drawn to them for specialty food items. They have free shipping on orders over $49, and they ship fast. I usually get my items within two days.

doTerra – I buy some personal care products here. I’m sensitive to artificial scents. Essential oils have been a wonderful thing for me. I especially love the “On Guard” hand soap and toothpaste.

Co-op: Azure Standard – Here I buy bulk items, wheat, rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, quinoa, millet flour, lentils, split peas, beans. Pretty much anything you could find in a health food store can be purchased here at a discount. I’m a part of a local group that orders once a month. There are groups all over the country. Visit their website to locate a group near you.

Local: Ethnic markets. I like 99 Ranch and Balboa Market in San Diego. Both are about 30 miles from my home, but are near where my parents live so I’m in the area often. Here I purchase sweet rice flour, rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, coconut milk, coconut cream, rice noodles, produce. And many other fun ingredients. It’s an adventure to shop in an ethnic market. Fun!

Before I leave, I remove 2-3 seats from the back of my 15 passenger van to make room for all the food. (You need a heavy-duty vehicle for this level of food haul.) I put coolers in the van and some heavy-duty blankets to insulate the cold food.

I start as early in the morning as I can manage. Costco is where I buy the bulk of the food items. I go there first. The Costco Business Center opens early. They sell meat at great prices but you have to buy by the case. This is no problem since I am, after all, buying eight weeks worth of food for a mega family. I generally purchase about 160 pounds of chicken and 100 pounds of beef. I buy select cuts of pork, but since we raise our own pork, I usually have a good supply in the freezer already.

Cheese of all types can be purchased in bulk (5-pound blocks). Large packages of butter, lunch meats, 15 dozen eggs, 3-pound blocks of cream cheese, 20-pound boxes of tomatoes, etc. They also sell the most amazing 14-inch tortillas. One of those babies, when filled, will satisfy even my hollow-legged teen and young adult kids.

I go through my list and purchase everything I possibly can at Costco.

Boneless chicken breasts, boneless chicken thighs, whole chickens, chicken drums and thighs, and ground beef by the case. Large packages of beef to be cut into steaks, stew meat or whatever my recipes require. 50-pound bags of rice, beans, sugar, flour, brown sugar, potatoes and onions. 20-pound boxes of spaghetti, rigatoni and other pastas, #10 cans of tomato sauce, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, ketchup. Half-gallon and gallon jugs of canola and olive oils, mayonnaise, mustard, barbecue sauce. Big packages of chocolate chips, nuts, vanilla, peanut butter. Lots of bags of coffee beans, many blocks of cheese, sour cream, heavy cream, spices, tuna, tortillas, butter, cocoa powder. Large boxes and bags of fresh tomatoes, lettuce, lemons, garlic. Frozen veggies in 5-pound bags, plastic wrap, aluminum foil.

Some items carried at the regular Costco are not available at the Business Center, so I make a stop at the regular Costco too for things like almond butter, potato chips, some personal care items and some nuts.

Then I hit Trader Joe’s for sparkling water, gluten-free pastas and a few other must haves like chocolate :).

Sprouts is where I buy a lot of produce, Boar’s Head deli meats and oats in bulk (50 pounds).

In Smart & Final I pick up toilet paper, some bulk items that I can’t find in Costco, frozen french fries (when I buy them), pet items, and bread bags for our homemade bread.

Walmart is usually the last stop, and is sometimes postponed for another day since I mostly buy toiletries, cleaning supplies and pet items there. These can wait.

The reality is that I don’t always have to hit all these stores on shopping day. I sometimes just get the bulk of it — all the things needed for the food prep/mega cooking session that is following — and go out another day for the rest. It depends on how pressed for time I feel.

Also, I do buy all the cheese and other dairy products I need for my two-months cycle. The use-by dates are generally at least that far out, and I have not had trouble with spoilage. We keep dairy goats, and have a steady supply of fresh milk. We have chickens which provide us with fresh eggs, and a garden to supply us with (some of) our produce. There is no way, however, that I have space for ALL the produce I would need for eight weeks, even if it could stay fresh that long. So, I buy the stuff that keeps well (cabbages, potatoes, onions, garlic), the stuff I need on my mega cooking day (i.e., immediately) and the produce I will need for the first 7-10 days of meals. As I need more fresh produce, I stop at one of several produce stands/stores near my home, or I’ll stop in at Sprouts or another convenient store when I’m out on my weekly errand/lesson day.

This huge shopping trip usually costs me between $1,500 and $1,800. Remember though, that is lasting for two months, and it is for three meals a day for 10-12 people — some of whom are teenagers. It also includes paper products, toiletries, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and pet products. If I add in the cost of the produce I purchase each week that number goes up a few hundred dollars. So, that’s about $1,000 per month, or roughly $100 per month per person.

So, how do I budget for such a large expense? Well, we divide the work in our finances. I have a budget, and get a certain amount every month. I take care of food, household expenses, school-related stuff, clothing. My husband pays the rest of the bills. I have to keep money in reserve for the big expense. I know it’s coming. So, I hold back about $1,000 each month of the money I manage and then I have what I need when I need it.

When I get home with all this food, it’s a family affair to get it all hauled into the house. I mostly don’t bother putting away the non-perishables at first. It stays near the entry way of my home. (Please be careful if you visit us during this time. It’s a hazardous environment and I might just put you to work!) The dairy products go straight to the fridge. Many items, like tortillas and sausages, can go straight into the freezer because they are already packaged in a way that is consistent with how I will use them. The bulk meats, however are not. We get right to work on that as we move directly into…

a Mega Cooking session.

(Click here for part 3: Mega meal prep for the mega family.)

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Mega meal planning for the mega family

Meal planning

 

(Note: This is the first post of a three-part series. Read parts two and three here and here.)

Cooking is a job I’m OK with. Yeah, sometimes it’s challenging with the various allergies we juggle and all the other demands on my time. Sometimes I just want a break. But, for the most part, food prep for my family is not a job I hate.

Planning what to cook, on the other hand, is a chore I detest. Especially when I’m trying to think of it as my crazy day spins out of control. Knowing that, with every hour that passes, my options become more limited as I no longer have time to thaw that roast or make that slow cooker stew. I tick through the items in the freezer and/or refrigerator. What can I make with these raw ingredients? Do I have all the necessary pantry items to complete the meal? Sometimes, more often that I like to remember, the answer was no.

Ugh. All this food and I can’t think of a single meal to throw together. So we might end up eating pancakes. Or hot dogs. Again.

I’d look at the meal planning systems that other moms used. I checked out apps, computer programs, books, printable forms. None of them were intuitive for me. Every system I’ve seen tries too hard to be clever; inevitably, they don’t mesh well with the way my mind works.

I had to blaze my own trail, creating a system that made sense to me. I needed something to help me overcome my hatred of the planning aspect and the unprepared aspect of always lacking ONE thing from every recipe I wanted to create. I had to get all the planning out of the way and plan everything down to the last can of tomatoes I might need before I shopped again.

This is my system.

First, I decide how many weeks I want to shop for. I aim for a minimum of four weeks, but I prefer eight. Remember I hate the planning and it feels so freeing to just do it all at once and have it DONE!

When planning how many meals to make, I consider things like, How many times do we expect to eat out during this time? How often are we likely to have guests over for a meal? How many “extra” meals do I want to have available to bring to a family in need?

We eat nearly every meal at home. We frequently have guests, and I like to be prepared to minister to others, so I always figure extra into my food plan to accommodate this reality.

Next, I select recipes. I choose by season, mostly. Asparagus in the spring, pumpkin in the fall. Grilling in the hot months, soups, stews and baked meals in the cooler months, etc. I decide how many times we will have each meal. There are certain meals our family loves, and eats often. I plan to have these meals multiple times within my menu plan time frame.

I plan accompaniments for the recipes I choose. Spaghetti? I plan a salad and bread along with it. Marinated grilled chicken, I might serve with roasted potatoes and broccoli, or maybe red rice and a salad. Each combination is written down as a separate meal option even if the main dish is the same.

For breakfast, I list all the things that we might make.

Oatmeal, crockpot risotto, multi-grain hot cereal, German pancake, Baked oatmeal, eggs/muffins, eggs/toast.

Lunch, same thing:

Baked potatoes with toppings, hot dogs, sandwiches (egg salad, tuna, lunch meat, peanut butter & jelly, grilled cheese), leftovers.

I multiply recipes until they are enough to serve all the people consistently eating at our home on a day-to-day basis. Then I multiply that recipe by the number of times I expect to serve that meal in the time period for which I am shopping. I write the corresponding grocery list next to my menu selections.

__ pounds chicken, __ cups of rice, __ onions, __ pounds of potatoes, __ pounds of cheese, etc.

I do this for every recipe I will include in the lineup. Then I go through all the grocery list sections and compile a master shopping list. I write the items on the list in categories (meat, dairy, produce, breads, canned/boxed/dry) and then tally the number of pounds or cups of items (depending on how I will encounter if for sale at the store — i.e., I buy cheese by the pound, so I make any conversions necessary to translate recipes that call for cups of shredded cheese to pounds). Beans, rice and other dry items are generally sold by the pound, so I translate cups to pounds. Some recipes call for a certain number of cans of tomatoes, since I’m making mega amounts, I generally multiply the pounds and ounces and see whether I can buy the ingredient in a larger size to save money. (Hello, #10 can!!!) I work my way down my list of planned meals until everything is accounted for on my master list.

For breakfasts and lunches I do the same thing; but since the meals are simpler, I do the multiplication in my head and include it in the master list.

Then I consider my baking. I do a lot of baking. Including a lot of gluten-free baking. I don’t want to plan out exactly what I will bake when. The “fun” of baking for me is the ability to make what sounds good at the moment. Enter the pantry list.

I went through my pantry and listed everything that I purchase on a consistent basis. Things I would replace when I run out. My list is more extensive than some, because I maintain a whole arsenal of gluten free flours in addition to regular wheat flour. I also use a lot of different beans and a variety of grains.

I evaluated each item and figured out the approximate rate at which I use it. How long does it take me to go through a gallon of olive oil? a 25-pound bag of flour? a pint of vanilla? ten pounds of chocolate chips? The rate will vary, so I’m going for an average. Some things I didn’t know; I started dating packages when I opened them, so when I ran out, I would get a better feel for our rate of consumption. Once I had this information written down, I was able to determine how much I needed to buy to last through my shopping period. I add all these pantry items to my master shopping list.

The last categories to add to my shopping list: personal care, cleaning supplies and pet items. Again, I pay attention to how quickly we go through a tube of toothpaste, a bar of soap, a package of toilet paper, cleanser, dishwasher detergent, laundry soap, etc. I add to my list the amounts needed to get us through the shopping period.

Now I’m almost ready to go shopping. The final step is to go through the stock on hand and revise my shopping list to reflect the difference between that and what is on the shopping list already. I take my messy, handwritten, marked up notebook papers to the computer and collate all the information into a neat list that’s ready to take to the store!

(Click here for part 2: Mega shopping for the mega family.)

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