Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Horses are like pocketknives....

Certain things were a "given" when we moved to the farm. It seemed that they all involved animals....and no one ever said a thing to me about any of them. The first one was cats. I am allergic to cats...easy out. Each time we saw a cute little kitten in the city, I reminded the boys that I was allergic. Once we got to the farm and met THE RAT, cats and kittens seemed to magically appear....they stayed outside, my allergies coped just fine and the rat population diminished.

Next was a German Shepherd. My oldest boy had always wanted a German Shepherd. I explained that it wasn't a great choice for a small city house on a small city lot. We settled for a poodle. I will say that my boy was not thrilled. When we settled in a bit at the farm, we found ourselves looking at German Shepherd puppies in the dark at a place I would call extremely questionable. Yes they were registered...(but my mind was screaming filthy! underfed! PROBLEMS!!). My boy was thrilled. Gentle suggestions about continuing to look fell on deaf ears. My boy had found HIS dog! I am so glad we listened to him. She was malnourished, filthy and wormy....he named her Doegee. The vet said her ears would never stand up - I ground calcium tablets and put them in everything she ate...her ears stand up! This girl puts Lassie to shame...I always know where my boys are...follow the dog. When my youngest was learning to walk and took a tumble...Doegee stood guard over him until he had help or managed to get on his feet again (usually using her fur to haul himself back up on his feet). She checks out all the visitors...I know when to be wary by the way that Doegee behaves....or doesn't :) I wish she would live forever!

Then came the big one....horses. "Of course you have horses when you live on a farm"..little voices made this proclamation. The loudest voice belonged to my oldest boy. Everything I had ever heard about horses involved great deals of money. Feed, vet bills, feed....I was very hesitant. But we ended up with a couple of horses. One named Dusty (because he always is) who appears to be a cross between a quarterhorse and a pony and the other is a registered Morgan Mare (now for sale!).

These animals have been the least expensive of them all. They are extremely easy keepers...they have only needed additional feed when snow covers the ground and there have been very few vet bills.

It was all worth it when I saw my oldest boy on the back of Dusty racing along the bottom of the ridge at the back of our farm...fast as he could go....just a flyin'...I knew that at that moment he was experiencing the fullfillment of a lifelong dream....and all I could do was to stand there with the tears rolling down my cheeks in gratefulness to God for the joy I knew my boy was experiencing at that moment.

Now the two younger boys are enjoying Dusty....Josiah rides as if he was born in a saddle...somhow that boy just becomes a part of the horse when he rides. This is the child that does all physical things well...the first time he tries them. He and Dusty become one...Josiah has no fear so they tear around the fields at high rates of speed...Josiah wears the biggest grin on his face when he rides!

Elijah is just beginning to enjoy riding. He is a little more cautious than his older brother. We have had him in the saddle since he was a toddler. One parent holding him on and the other leading the horse in a slow walk. He now thinks he is ready to ride alone in the coral....before I know it he'll be all over the farm.

My oldest boy likes to take Dusty all over our little valley. I am sure the younger boys won't be far behind.

This is one of the greatest pleasures my boys experience on our farm. There are many responsibilities involved in being a good steward of their horses. Before riding they need to be brushed out, perhaps their mane needs a trim, their hooves need to be picked out and if they are going to be on asphalt they need to be shod. During the ride they have to make sure they don't wind the horse, they need to give it access to fresh water on a hot day if it is a long ride...and then after the ride they need to check their hooves again, brush them out, and care for the saddle and tack....great lessons!

It also gives my boys a sense of freedom, of maturity and I believe a sense of manliness...just something about flying across a meadow...just you and your horse!

Yep, horses are like pocketknives, as my father-in-law would have said.... every boy needs one.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

My Journey with Herbal Teas...

Herbs are one of my passions. God was so creative and so generous to give us plants that are not only beautiful and have lovely scents, but they flavor our food, heal our bodies and clean our skin, hair and homes.

Herrick Kimball recently posted about drinking peppermint tea....peppermint that he grew, cared for and harvested himself. He asked me to share a bit about my herbal teas and I am happy to do this.

When it comes to gardening, we grow just about all the "normal" garden food. But I go a bit crazy when it comes to lettuce (42 varieties), tomatoes, (250+ plants, over 20 varieties) and herbs (too many to count!).

I grow herbs for beauty, flowers, flavor, pest control, soaps, cheeses, animal care, cooking and to use medicinally. Herbs have almost no disease or pest problems. They are easy to grow, require little care once established and are very forgiving of us forgetful farmers. I grow them (from seed) because I know how they were cared for, I know they were harvested clean (no bugs, bird droppings, mouse parts etc.), dried properly and stored properly. This is important for health but especially so if you are using them for medicinal purposes.

When I started growing herbs for teas, I used one herb at a time. I grew peppermint to make peppermint tea - great for tummy upsets and for sinus/allergy problems. I grew spearmint because it is one of my favorite flavors. I grew lemon balm to make "country" lemonade and for its ability to relieve stuffy noses, calm digestive upsets and soothe the nerves. I used lavender to relieve depression and headaches. Chamomile was my first choice for its calming influence on my children and for helping them sleep easier. And the list goes on. It takes very little fresh herb to make a cup of tea. A couple of chamomile buds, a clip of lavender stem and blossom or a handful of lemon balm leaves...delicious. We drink them both hot and cold depending on the time of year and the purpose for the tea.

As time went on, I began combining herbs for different purposes. It seems that I always get started on learning something new because a need arises in my family. I don't like to go to town much and I am not a big shopper...so....instead of running to the local health food store I began to study. One of our family was having trouble sleeping...I had purchased Sleepytime tea at the grocery store and I checked the label....chamomile flowers! Well, I had those in the garden and began to harvest and use my own. What a great feeling...and the taste....so much better. I use them fresh during the summer but I also dry the abundance for winter use.

Next, I began to put lavender and chamomile together on those sleepless nights...even more effective! As I learned more about herbs, I found that there were many other herbs that helped with relaxation and sleep. Passion flower because it calms the mind...peppermint because it helps the smooth muscles to relax, oatstraw because it also relaxes muscles...and there were others....lemon balm, catnip, valerian and more! By studying, experimenting and pleading with the family to try it "just one more time"...my Sleep EasyTea was born. Add a spoon of honey or a pinch of Stevia (green not white!!) and it is a delicious end to a busy day.

We had also been purchasing Echinacea tea to help support our immune systems. I felt challenged to see if I could become self-sufficient in this. I planted Echinacea...you need to wait 2 to 5 years before harvesting the root.....what a lesson in patience! During this time of waiting, I began using red clover both as a tincture and a tea - great for upper respiratory support. I also used peppermint to help clear the sinus passages....and burdock root, as grandma used to say, is "good for what ails you"! By the time the Echinacea root was ready to harvest I knew that I could add these other herbs, along with a few more, to make my own Immune Support Tea. This is not a tea we drink on a regular basis but I keep a canning jar of it on hand at all times and when we travel....if someone starts with a sniffle, upset tummy etc., we all begin drinking the tea. We have found that "bugs" don't spread from one to another quite so easily and the duration of illnesses seems to have shortened. I still enjoy a cup of red clover tea (use a couple of red clover blossoms) but the combination of herbs seems to be a lot more effective.

I created an "Energize Me" tea to help get the circulation pumping and to help the brain's ability to focus on the tasks at hand. Sure helps me on those "foggy" mornings when I just can't seem to get it in gear! But my MOST important creation (at least for me!) is my Remember Me Tea!

Seems like after I turned 40 (quite a few years ago) my brain got a bit "leaky" as my youngest says. (Aren't children a gift from God for the purpose of keeping us humble?) I would walk into a room and forget why I was there....I would get lost in the middle of a conversation (and I was the one doing the talking!) and I would read a chapter in a book, and re-read it, and re-read because I couldn't seem to retain it. Now you must understand that my Dad passed away a few years ago from Alzheimers.....so this really scared me. My oldest boy, in college at the time, kept encouraging me and telling me it was just stress.....what a great kid! But I was still worried so I started researching herbs for memory....and the whole process started over again! Many of these herbs had very exotic names, Gingko, ashwaganda, gotu kola....and some were herbs that I was already growing...peppermint, red clover, spearmint and others. After drinking 2 cups a day for several weeks, I realized that I wasn't forgetting quite as much and I seemed able to keep my focus and retain information much easier. This tea is a staple in my life now. I mix it up by the gallon!

Recently, I listened as some people in my local organic gardening group were talking about their difficulties in getting to sleep, remembering things etc. Many had been to the health food store without finding help. I asked this group if they would be interested in purchasing some of my teas...all organic and I explained what I had been doing for my own family for some time. The response was favorable so I began selling my teas in 1 oz and 2 oz packages. It is much cheaper for them than the health food store or the grocery store and it is organic...something that they can't get elsewhere. It appears that herbal teas will be a good addition to the other things I sell... herbal soaps, herbal salves and the Perpetual Gardening Calendar that I wrote. I will be speaking in February in a neighboring state to the Council of Boy Scout Leaders for that area...it will be a good way to "test the waters" for selling herbal teas.

It amazes me that I can start with a project aimed at helping my family and remaining self-sufficient at the same time...and then, years later, watch it turn into an avenue of income for the farm. Isn't God amazing?!

I encourage you all to begin to harvest your own herbs (you ARE growing herbs right?!) and use them for teas.... hot or cold.... for healing or just for the pure enjoyment of drinking the fruit of your labors.

I think I will head for the kitchen and put the kettle on...a cup of Sleep Easy Tea sure sounds good right about now.

Night ya'll!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


This may be the most important post you will ever read...and I didn't write it. Please follow all the links and read what the government has in store for your future! Do you want to be able to buy food without involving the government? Do you want to be able to raise food without government fees, taxes, spying, bureaucratic interference? Do you want the GOVERNMENT TO CONTROL YOUR FOOD? Do you want your food prices to escalate?

Everyone reading this needs to forward this information to everyone you know....make calls, write letters...once this passes....it very well may be the end of ALL small family farms.

And friends, believe it or not...after all the animals are chipped.....PEOPLE WILL BE NEXT....COUNT ON IT!

The Mark of the Beasts Is Almost Here! (No, This Is Not a Spoof.)

Gary North

The United States Department of Agriculture is taking steps to set up a compulsory animal-tagging program. Every animal produced for commercial purpose on every American farm or ranch will have to be tagged with a computer chip. The chip will emit a radio signal. The Department of Agriculture will then be able to monitor the location of every beast.

Here is the official statement:

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is a national program intended to identify specific animals in the United States and record their movement over their lifespans. It is being developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and State agencies -- in cooperation with industry -- to enable 48-hour traceback of the movements of any diseased or exposed animal. This will help to ensure rapid disease containment and maximum protection of America's animals.


This is being done in the name of animal health.

If any rancher thinks the IRS will not have access to this data base, he is terminally naive.

This has been in the works for over a year. It has received little attention.

If farmers do not organize immediately, this is a done deal. If Congress ignores it, this is a done deal.

The government will soon know where the entire U.S. food supply is. The government is already using space-based satellites to measure the crops of any farm in the country.

I hope the farm bloc is not asleep at the wheel on this one. I also hope this brief report of mine gets forewarded to every farmer in the country.


Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Working Boys

I can remember being in a group of people one time that were discussing chores for children. One father proudly proclaimed that his son, who was 10 at the time, had never had to do a chore in his life. Somehow he felt this was a good thing. It explained a lot to me about this child's character, he was demanding, rude, uncontrolled....just generally a child you'd like to introduce to the woodshed.

I have always felt it important for my boys to do chores. When we were city people, they helped clean house, fold laundry, work in the yard, paint rooms....whatever needed doing at the time. Because of this, I have also been accused of being an unfeeling parent who is depriving them of their childhood. Where does it say that you don't have to do any work until you are an adult? And the BIG question is, if they haven't done any work until then....how will they learn to? Why would they want to? I think this explains a lot of the "I deserve it" attitude we see today.

Once we moved to the farm, the work really began. My boys learned to mow and weedeat a 1.5 acre lawn area, and to also do it for their Grandma's lawn on the other side of the driveway, another acre. They bale hay, set out drip tape, weedeat the garden, plant, weed, harvest, extract honey, (sounds fun but involves a lot of cranking since ours is the old fashioned kind), work in the greenhouse, move fences, move cattle, milk goats and cows, curry horses, and scoop poop! This covers some of what they do!

People are shocked and offended....I hear it all the time...."they don't have any fun...poor dears!".

My boys also fish and row the boat around the pond, play in the creek, hike the fields, woods and mountains, hunt turtles, get to watch the miracle of birth (after 8 years we all still love it!), ride the horses, graze in the garden, eat the bounty from the work of THEIR hands, climb trees, build forts, spend time with family, have the pleasure of knowing they helped their Grandma, develop close relationships with their brothers, and glory in God's creation (the stars and the millions of fireflies at night, the sky filled with eagles, owls, and hawks by day, the crisp fall days, the sleigh rides down the sledding hill after a snowfall).

But the most important thing of all, they know they are integral to this family. They know this farm cannot survive without them, everything they do is important. This gives them great confidence, they are willing to tackle anything (some things just give me the shakes!) They know they are loved but they also know they are so important to our success. Their hearts are willing. Even the 7 year old knows that his chores, if left undone, means something will not run correctly.

My 12 and 7 year old boys were given the chore this fall to catch up and bag leaves for the garden beds. I pictured two boys and a couple of rakes....but this is what I found. They took precautions to protect eyes and lungs, their idea not mine. I just went to investigate the noise.

You can see the bags already filled behind them.

My 7 year old could barely stand up under the weight. It was hard for both but they took turns.

Cooperation! Working together! Relying on each other! What great lessons!

I was so pleased with what I found. My 12 year old explained that by using the blower in reverse it not only picked up the leaves it also mulched them.... I had no clue it would do this.

Now, don't let me leave you with the impression that they jump for joy each time they do chores. There are occasional grumbles, especially when the weather is awful or they have to deal with a stinky buck. But their hearts are willing. Occasionally someone forgets something and has to be reminded, sometimes more than once. Then there are the odd experiences we have had.

When my youngest was 3, I gave him the job of collecting eggs and feeding cats for his evening chores. He did a very good job. We usually had a dozen or more eggs each evening (I know my chickens are weird, we hardly ever get eggs in the morning!). Sometimes his little hands were to quick to squeeze and he would crack one. One time he forgot to take the egg basket so he filled his pockets with eggs (shirt, pants, coat) and tripped and fell down on the way to the house....now that seems pretty funny but I picked egg shell out of clothing for days! Each time he learned a lesson and did a better job.

Then came the evening when he returned home with an empty basket and proudly called, "No eggs today!" Red flags went flying...."Elijah, why are there no eggs today?" "Cause I broke one!"

"Elijah...why did you break one?" "Cause I wanted to see what was inside!" "Ok"...taking a deep breath "What happened to the rest of the eggs?" "I broke them too." "How many?" "10 of them!" "WHY!!!!" He looked at me so perplexed that I didn't get it....his answer? "Cause I wanted to see if they was all the same!" Needless to say that chore was transferred back to an older sibling for a period of time. He learned a hard lesson that day.

Chores help a child to grow, to learn lessons that they might not be able to learn any other way.

They learn that work brings its rewards...sometimes it is monetary but there is something so much better. There is nothing like the feeling of working hard all day and then as the sun is going down, standing back and surveying what you have accomplished, a job well done. It is a wonderful feeling! It brings a joy and sense of accomplishment that money can never deliver!

There is a saying I read recently that sort of stuck with me. All people need to learn this, and it doesn't mean that your neighbors or Christian brothers and sisters should never lend a helping hand. But I think chores help a child to understand that, although people will be there to help you from time to time, "The only helping hand you should ever count on consistently is at the end of your own sleeve!"

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Our first critters

We moved to our farm in early January seven years ago. We were eagerly looking forward to our first critters. I envisioned horses, cows, goats, sheep...anything soft, cuddly and furry.

By the time the middle of February rolled around, we were beginning to catch our breath from unpacking and trying to learn our way around the town about 20 miles away. We didn't know anyone when we moved here so we were on our own.

I happened to notice an ad in the local paper for a beginning beekeeper class. It was free! We knew that eventually we wanted to be able to produce our own honey - and the price was right.

We attended the meetings, met some very nice people and learned a lot. Most of the people in this meeting were older than us and perhaps surprised to see us arrive with children in tow and babe in arms but they made us feel very welcome.

The surprise came at the end of the classes - it was time to order bees. Yikes! We didn't expect to make that commitment quite so soon. We ordered 2 boxes of bees. (Yes, they really do come in boxes).

We had about a month to prepare for the arrival or our new critters. Never in my life did I think that bees would be the first critter on our farm. I had learned enough in the classes to loose my fear of bees. They are fascinating creatures and make a great homeschool project. Everything about them points to the existence of God. Their design, the society of their hives, their industriousness - it is all amazingly reflective of the Father.

We ordered 2 hives and 3 head-to-toe bee suits (okay, I didn't loose all of my fear!) two for adults and one for kids. We learned that you must build the hives yourself - so we began! Many nights were spent hammering little nails into wood, painting the outer hive body (be careful don't get a spot of paint on the inside of the hive!), putting the frames together and filling them with foundation (a sheet of pre-pressed beeswax, sort of a starter for the bees so that they don't fill your hives with a mess of wax going in all directions!).

We waited impatiently for the phone call telling us our bees were ready. Finally it came - at about 6:00 am one morning. I was instructed to get to the Post Office as quickly as possible - they didn't sound happy....but perhaps it was because it was so early. Now, it must be told that in the classes they didn't mention how bees are shipped. A little oversight I am sure. So, I was not prepared....I am not quite sure what I expected...but it definitely wasn't what I found!

When I opened the door to our little post office (very little) I heard this strange humming...sort of like a bad fluorescent light. The postal person informed me that I had to go to the back door to get my bees. So, I went back to the car and drove around back. Once there they pointed to two boxes on the floor. I use the word "boxes" very loosely. There was a wood frame but the rest of the box was made from screen! Screen that appeared not to be attached securely enough in my opinion. Not nearly secure enough...and their little feet could come through...which meant immediately in my mind that stingers could come through.

The boxes of bees weighed 3 pounds each. There are about 4500 bees per pound...do the math!

I was looking at almost 30,000 bees.... swarming all over each other...moving constantly....and making the loudest humming sound! AND THEY WANTED ME TO PICK THEM UP WITH MY BARE HANDS AND PUT THEM IN MY CAR!!! Were they crazy? I just stared at them blankly as I slowly came to the realization that I would have to do that to get them home.

I grabbed the wooden edges of the boxes and placed them in the very back of my van. I was so thankful that I only had a 20 min. drive. I drove it quickly...very quickly...but in the middle of the drive I saw something fly past my rearview mirror....it couldn't be....it WAS! There was a loose bee - actually there were two! Of course in my mind that meant that they had tunneled out of the box somehow and I was about to be surrounded by 30,000 bees! I drove home with one eye on the rearview mirror and reciting to myself all the good things I had learned about bees.

I made it home without any further escapees - I left them on the carport and promptly called my husband to inform him that his bees had arrived! That evening we set the hives, donned the suits and poured the bees into the hive. Literally. The easiest way to do this is to spray them good with sugar water while they are in the boxes. They begin to groom themselves and each other to get the sugar water and you can actually pour them, just like water, into their hives then put the top on the hive and head for home!

It was several months before we got to taste honey - but it was worth the wait. It tasted different than store honey but I wasn't sure why. After some research, I learned that most beekeepers treat their hives with both antibiotics and chemical pesticides. Markers from both of these are showing up in honey now. The good news is that there are herbal alternatives to the pesticide and antibiotic routine.

Most store honey is also pasturized - this affects the taste and also kills the beneficial organisms in honey. God gave us honey in its natural state and I believe that is how He intended for us to use it. It not only tastes better but it is more healthy. Eating honey that is produced close to home will help reduce your allergy symptoms. Bees also produce royal jelly and propolis which are extremely beneficial to our health.

I encourage you to do some research and to think about keeping bees. At the very least, find a beekeeper within 5 miles of where you live and eat a teaspoon a day!

But most of all, I encourage you to have a hive of your own. Now is the time of year to get your hive ready....and then wait for that early morning phone call!

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