Coming to terms

I’d intended to write a cute post about how we came around to renaming our blog “A Place For Little Feet”.  About the plethora of little feet that surround our life here, be they animal or human, there are many.  But this post is all I could come up with and it may not be cute but it’s honest and honest is all I have to offer right now….

Last Wednesday found this mama of six in a mess of a kitchen trying to uncover some counter to make lunch for the hungry.  There wasn’t a square inch available.  Of the counter or of the mama.  There were dishes and the various random somethings that inevitably get left out when eight people live in a home together and live a full, big life together.  And there was the heart worn thin from ragged survival-mode days that take more than you think they do.  The cumulative total effect of a year that was harder than the past several on many levels finally coming to be counted.  Like it was time to pay the piper and the debt is always more than you think it is right?

Somehow, I’d been trying to keep up with my five-kid life pace despite having now six.  Trying to fit in, accomplish, DO everything I deemed necessary and good and crucial whilst the reality of the half a dozen sweet things that call me mom was in the clouds and posed no limitations.  Never mind the well-meaning “Well, I guess once you have a few, it really doesn’t make a difference adding more right?”.  Words like that rang in my mind as the months ticked by and I kept doing and kept keeping up with my (many) friends who have two or three children.  I made sure to say yes whenever it was humanly possible and worked hard to make all the moving parts of our life somehow keep moving.

Where things got off course, I don’t really know.  Well, I have some ideas but that really is a whole other post.  Though Liberty is a sweet thing of a baby, has been from Day 1, she is still a person.  She requires attention and care and mental/physical energy.  She is absolutely, unequivocally a profound gift that we are incredibly thankful to have been given and wouldn’t trade for anything.  But to operate without any adjustments when someone new joins the family, is foolish.  No matter how much like super mom you might feel like.   When my wise friend (and mother of eight) up yonder says things like “I just don’t know how you’re keeping up with this pace….” I should do a little inventory and assess just how we are keeping it up.  Instead, we just kept on going.

Until last week when we were one day away from going on vacation and I said I couldn’t go.  Friends, if you get to the point you can’t handle going on vacation (albeit with the entire extended family which, though crazy fun, also requires a certain ability to function) then perhaps you can’t handle your normal life either.  That same day I was in my (disastrously messy) kitchen a woman walked into my backyard.  Not living in a neighborhood but out in the country this was highly unusual.  I looked closer through the window and recognized her from church.  I walked out on the deck and said as calm of a hello as I could muster and asked what she was doing here.  She smiled and said she was here for the meeting, the VBS planning meeting that I’d offered to host.  She walked into my lived in, things-all-over living room and I just tried to keep breathing.  The fact that I was hosting a meeting and hadn’t a clue, was again evidence of the debt and the time had come for some re-evaluating.  She told me how coming in to my house in this condition was like a warm hug, because how often her own house looked the same.  I silently wished I could just have given her an actual, real warm hug instead of endure sitting through the meeting wondering how I was functioning this poorly.

I called my husband at work and told him I could not possibly go on vacation.  He graciously offered to take our five oldest with him and left me at home for a couple of days.  I would join him if I was able.  And I had serious doubts about just what I was able to do.  I had been trying to keep up with too much for too long.  Something had to give.  And the reality was, something had given.  Me.  Every day of the week, every hour of the night, living, breathing, giving.  To a degree that was far beyond was was intended for any person, whether they have six children, a slew of animals and all sorts of people with needs (and brokenness) interwoven into their life…or not.

About at that point, I read this post.  I sat shaking my head at my computer, which I only sit at every few days even, no time to read.  Planned neglect.  It sounded strange, how could neglect be a good thing, but then it all made perfect sense.  I’d said yes to so much good and tried to be faithful to so many great things and needs that I’d missed out on doing the very best things excellently.  My kids paid a price, as did I.  The mom they had two years ago was more focused, more intentional, most aware of her own need and thus more dependent on grace to come through.  The mom and dad they had two years ago did not have their hands in so many different things and they loved each other patiently, kindly.  They did a few things and did them well.

There are so many great things.  But we weren’t created to do them all.  We were made with limitations and needs that God alone can meet.  We were designed each to give and love in certain circles and to learn how to say yes and when to say no.  I do know this, but I absolutely have not practiced it.  The pie was sliced in so many pieces that the ones who matter the most, who are my first calling if my priorities are right, got less than best.  My practical husband who often has short, simple and clear wise answers to life’s challenges heard my heart last week and agreed with my “state of the union” assessment.  And he knew better than to give a quick easy answer.  When a significant course correction is in order, there isn’t a quick and easy five steps today and we’ll be good to go tomorrow sort of way forward.

So, I guess that’s all today, just coming to terms here with the reality of my life with all these little feet.  And its a beautiful reality.  A treasured, blessed one for certain.  One I need to make count every day, in the all the right ways.

The great chicken harvest of 2014

It was a bold endeavour, purchasing 54 day old tiny chicks and expecting them to grow to eating size in twelve weeks.  It felt bold or at the very least presumptious to expect them to turn into food in such a short time.  I had intended for Caleb to help me with the meat bird chores but honestly, I sort of enjoyed the routine of my solitary morning ritual of heading out to the far end of our property with a big bucket of feed and five gallon water buckets to replenish their supply.  Though heavy, the chicken tractors were just light enough for me to move by myself.  The heaving of them across a new patch of grass every morning was good hard work for this mama.  After giving them a new location each morning, I fed them and watered them.  Each tractor held 25 birds and in the last four weeks, they sometimes went through five gallons of water in one day. The rate of consumtion for food and water rather blew me away.  It was so far above and beyond our upcoming flock of layers.  And with the consumption came incredible excrement.  They poop more than you can imagine because they are growing so much.

Here are a few lessions learned now that harvest day has come and gone, in case its helpful for anyone…or simply intriguing for those who think this whole thing seems crazy:

  1. In order to save hatchery shipping costs, we went in with two other families.  We ordered 165 chicks together.  We estimated the feed we would need and also bought that together and had it delivered by the pallet to our home.  Doing these two things together saved at least $200 dollars between our three families.
  2. The other two families (who had done meat birds before) rationed out their food properly and did not run out of food like I did (read my other post, from before butchering day, here).  I on the other hand, was naively amazed how “hungry” they were and just kept feeding them.  This meant buying about 800 lbs more feed part way through raising them.  Which seemed a big bummer and would really increase my cost per pound of raising them.  However, in this particular instance, my ignorance paid tremendous dividends.  When our friends drove up with their birds on harvest day, they were totally shocked at the size of our birds.  They were literally twice the size.
  3. A stainless steel table to do all the evisceration on is invaluable.  I’d planned on using our plastic folding tables from Costco and then just bleaching them well.  But our friend Mike brough a chest high stainless table, probably intended for dressing deer or other game.  Because of its height, we didn’t have to bend over for hours.  AND it was very easy to sanitze/clean.  Which proved excellent.
  4. Using the rented equipment from our county, which included a stand with stainless kill cones, a blood collecting basin, a dunking rack and scalding tank and a defeathering tub, made a potentionally dismal task into sometime inherently doable.  Even for a novice mama with six kids!  Once everyone sort of “fell in” to a task, things moved very quickly.  We processed the first 50 chickens in about two hours and then took lunch.  The second 50 took less than two hours.
  5. Kids can do more than you think.  This is perhaps what most blew me away for the day.  Very early on, several children had proved themselves indispensable.  Caleb and TJ and two adults caught the chickens and put them upside down into the kill cones.
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    The most humane way to harvest a chicken is to place it upside down where it quickly gets a head rush and is fairly still.  Then with a sharp knife, slitting the neck so the blood can drain out swiftly and fully.  Caleb did almost all of that job and he did it very well.  He is ten years old.  I was surprised and very impressed.  Rylee and her friend Elianna rocked the scalding tank and defeatherer.  They would take the chickens from the boys and hook them by feet up to the rack and then dunk them until their feathers were loose enough to go into the defeathering tub.

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  6. Evisceration is more of a grown up job.  If you botch it, you puncture the bowels and then have a poopy mess inside your chicken.  Which is not ideal.  Having a tall table to do this work was extrememly valuable.  And having many hands on the task was also awesome.  It made the work fly by.
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  7. Having a hearty lunch ready and waiting is imperative.  We ate big bowls of chili from the crockpot (thanks Nana!) and went right back to work.
  8. You need more ice than you think!  It was a sunny warm day.  We used all ten bags of ice we got.  Keeping the chickens cold after defeathering before evisceration is important as is keep them cold after they are all done.  We soaked them in a salt, ice water brine all day before packaging them for the freezer.  We don’t have big coolers but used clean, garbage bag lined stainless metal 32 gallon trash cans.  They worked beautifully, just required lots of ice.
  9. Shade would be helpful.  We would have been better off with a white tent over the table where we did the finishing work.  It got warm quickly and though the hose water was cold, it still would be better with shade.  Next year for sure we’ll have a tent over that table.
  10. A vacuum sealer, though the bags are spendy, is super nice for storing the birds.  A two gallon freezer ziploc would work, we used some.  But the vacuum sealed ones, I’m sure, will keep better in the freezer.

All said, it was an amazing day.  We worked super hard and with a great crew of people, it really went very fast.  It was truly easier than we expected.  I was super proud of our kids, they were something else.  At the end of the day we netted 250 lbs of chicken in the freezer.  We traded a few for work.  And cooked a couple right away.  But most of them are in the freezer! After all was said and done, we all agreed we’d definitely like to do it again.  It was very worth the work.  Besides the bit of time feeding them each morning, really it only entailed one long day of work.  Which was quite manageable.

Andrea Laurita Photography

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When people come to our home, one of the first things they comment on is a set of four square canvas prints on our living room wall.  They almost always ask for the story behind them, which I never get tired of sharing.  Our friend Andrea of Andrea Laurita Photography is a talented photo journalist.  She has woven her gifts with the lens into a variety of jobs over the past decade or so, allowing God to use her in all sorts of places and ways.  The four prints we have are of beautiful children in Sierra Leonne, Thailand and Afghanistan.  They are a constant reminder of the world around us, far beyond what we see every day on the farm.  They help me remember.  And if the photos weren’t enough, Andrea used the proceeds from them to help fund a college education from a girl she met in Liberia.

Currently, this darling young friend of ours lives in Portland.  She is spunky and gracious and flexible.  Exactly what I think makes her a fantastic professional photographer.  All the photos you see on our blog, header and side bar, are accredited to her.  And can I just say anyone crazy enough to take on a photo session of a family with six kids is downright brave!  We’ve never been disappointed in her work.  She has wonderfully captured our family several times now.  If you live within a couple hours of Portland and are even considering doing family photos or are getting married or have a new baby, check this girl out!  She is willing to drive to the Seattle area, especially if a few people want to book a session the same week or weekend.

Here are a few favorites from this last session she did for us, which we decided to do at home this time instead of traveling somewhere “photogenic”:

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