Why every mama needs a Joan

As the day pressed on and the blistering, unexpected spring heat smothered, I began to wonder if perhaps we were, in our novice status as bonafide dairy goat farmers, making a bit more work for ourselves than was needed.  We were having a good time after all.  The babies had stayed in the living room about three times longer than we planned because we had such ridiculous fun having them there.  Waking up and coming down the stairs to sweetest little faces and cries for snuggles and milk?  Yes.  It was as lovely as it sounds but yes, it was also a tremendous lot of work!  The days were a bit of blur and truly much bliss as we have allowed all the rest of life to be on hold and treasured these fleeting newly born days.

In my wondering, I queried in my head “what would Joan do?”.  So I wrote her mid afternoon yesterday.  Joan the kind-hearted, older mama whom we had first met in the goat barn at fair a few years back.  Joan, whose (now grown) children left such an impression on me when I met them the first time in their manners and kindness and gentle confidence.  I described to her what we were doing with our new goats and how we were learning and getting on. This is the schedule I sent:

6 AM milk 4 goats (3 Nigerians and Genie) – clean the vacuum milker
6:30 AM feed 10 bottles divided among babies
10 AM feed newer batch of 6 babies their bottles (but only carefully rationed measured out, they would take more if they could)
12:30 feed older 4 their bottles
1:00 PM milk 4 goats again – clean milker
2:00 PM feed newer 6 babies again (again, carefully rationed, divided out bottles)
5:00 PM feed older 4 babies
6:00 PM feed younger 6 bottles
8:30 PM  milk 4 goats (and clean the milker…again!)
9:-9:30 PM feed all 10 babies bottles

As I typed and asked her timidly  “am I missing anything here?”, the corners of my mouth curled up and I smirked to myself how crazy it looked on the screen.  Because for all that I typed there was of course the un-typed rest of life.  Three meals daily for six human kids.  The 2-3 loads of daily laundry. The hand washed dishes (did I mention the dishwasher broke January 3?).  All the “normal” life work.  A calendar of May splayed open on the counter with an array of showers, parties, end-of-year events, birthdays, dinners, outings, anniversary.
I took a deep breath and clicked “send”.  Without a trace of fear or worry.  Because there are some people who you know, that you know won’t judge, won’t over complicate or make your cheeks burn in embarrassment . They’ll just offer what they know, offer it in love and tell you it’s going to be okay.
After a brief and much needed date night, I got in the car to head home and read her reply.  I smiled.  I laughed, genuine belly-laughed out loud.  Until there were tears streaming down my face as I sat alone in my car in a parking lot.  “You are one overworked mama!” was how it began.  Oh, so it was a little crazy?  Yes.  Possibly.  The glory of being validated right where you are, such a powerful gift.
Then came her suggestions.  Which is what led to the laughter.  She told me she suggested “more sleep” at 6 AM.  The very idea!  In all its wisdom and simplicity!  Sleep.  The ever-elusive companion over these past 13 years of raising children.  This was, possibly, the first time someone had literally told me I perhaps should sleep more.
It got better.  From 10 am-1 pm on her proposed schedule, after kids had helped with milking (which of course they already do – but it was good to have affirmed that indeed, this ought to be a family affair) it said “be with your kids.  go shopping.  do your housework.  eat lunch.”  More smiles.  Someone I respect just told me to simply “be with” my kids.  Deep breath.
And better still, after getting milk to goats after lunch (and cutting out the terribly over-the-top midday milking) she proposed:
enjoy your kids, drink lemonade in the garden, watch your kids play with the baby goats
Wait?  Did someone just tell me to enjoy my kids?  To drink lemonade in the garden?  To watch my kids play?  This was too much!  The wave of relief and sweetness that washed over me prompted hot tears and a most silly grin.
Permission to simplify.  Permission to sleep.  Permission to enjoy the blessings set before me.  Permission to delight in our work together but not create an unnecessary load.
We all need a Joan.  And not just for help with goats.  But for so much more.  We need to raise our heads up, raise our hands and ask brave, vulnerable questions of the older, wiser women in our midst.  Especially in the raising of children, which is largely done outside of a tight-knit, real-life community except for a lucky few, we need the gift of their looking back, their ability to see clearly what really mattered.  Things like enjoying our kids and lemonade in the garden.  At times, we need to admit defeat and call in the troops of the ones who have already been there.  We need fresh eyes.
Maybe our schedule or workload feels suffocating but we don’t know how to fix it.  Maybe one child struggles big and loud and we have tried everything but can’t help them.  Maybe we have fought against family baggage and generations of bad patterns in relationships but we want more than bondage, we ache for freedom.  Whatever the unspoken fight or darkness, sometimes we need another set of hands on deck, a new and fresh perspective in order to find our way, “to proceed to the next step” as I inquired to Joan in my letter.
If we open up our eyes and heart to the people around us in one circle or another, chances are there is a Joan or a Suzanne or an Amy or someone precious who is just waiting to see a raised hand, a white flag, a “help wanted” banner held up over the life of a younger one trying to find her way.

Everyday wonder

Slowing down isn’t really my thing.

Ever year for the past three years April or May comes and I get very sick.  Like in bed for a week or three and fairly unable to care for anyone.  Cumulative total of a years worth of homeschool and all the rest of life.  Added up to a debt that demands paying.  A forced, hard stop.  No option.  No pressing through.  Just an involuntary shut down.

I’m squaring off with April and May.  Staring them hard in the face right this minute.  Wondering if or how this time I could bypass that sort of unpleasant craziness.  Daring to say out loud that the answer just might lie in not multi-tasking to the nines.  Not saying an unwise “yes” where a no is actually in order.  Not saying “maybe later” to my two year old who wants to take my hand and “come see” something.  Not saturating myself in obligation and instead simply loving what and who is in front of me at that very moment.  Not worrying about the next moment and simply welcoming the present for what it is.

Even if it involves sitting outside my grandpa’s room with silent tears streaming down my face.  Because big love means big goodbyes and those don’t ever come easy.

Even if it means simple, repetitive dinners because that’s the only way I can get food on the table for 8 people.  Embracing the truth that food love doesn’t have to be big and showy to still be love.

Even if it means one (or five) too many dark chocolate peanut butter cups eaten after kid bedtime when I really should be following a stricter diet and working out every day.

Even if it looks like milk stained jeans and tee-shirts (like today) from the thrice daily milking that consumes a good part of life this week….pretty sure my Pinterest page that is titled “If I had a style…” it didn’t include this weeks attire as assistant dairy maid.

Because for all those even-if’s and adjustments that keep being made, there is stunning and simplest beauty to be had if I have eyes to see.

There is a bug called a click beetle that bends its neck and makes a captivating “click” sound.  Caleb found one and brought it to me while I washed a zillion dishes this morning.  We stood in the kitchen and watched it snap it’s clicking neck back and forth.

There is a spirited and feisty two year old who will not be missed and who will not miss anything.  Who loves to read to newborn goats…


There is a boy who found flowers growing out back and thought they would look nice in a pot, so he found one, dug it up and made this for me.  Beauty, tiniest blue flowers, brought right to my feet.  Undeserved and perfect gift.


There is a blue-tinted moth that thrives here and we find all the time.  Someone thought it wise to use my water pitcher as a bug house.  Imagine my surprise when I found this as I went to make a pitcher of ice water:


There is couch time.  Three cup of coffee mornings where all I do is help feed bottles, do more dishes, drink more coffee.  Though incredibly work-heavy and surely exhausting in the deepest sort of way, something wonderful happens when you are handed crisis (baby goats who look like they are about to die, beloved ones whose time here is waning, hard stuff of any and every sort).  You have a choice to make.  You can get angry and bitter and callus and run away.  Or you can laugh and cry at the very same time as you tackle the hard/impossible thing together.  This is family.  Family says:

Yes.  This is painful, scary, difficult and unfair…but we will face it together.  

That meant kids who sat quiet through Sunday lunch with grandpa.  Keenly, heartbreakingly aware how dramatically different it was from the past 40+ Sunday lunches we’ve enjoyed with him over the past almost two years.  They hold a front row seat to this part of life’s journey we are walking.  Together. Joy and delight mixed with loss and heartache.


There were the quads born on Thursday…


and then surprise Saanen twins born Friday.  I wrote dates down wrong.  Like three weeks wrong.  Absolute shock to walk outside and see their white, wet, just-born selves laying in the grass:


And Hope.  There is always Hope.  After her big (tiny) debut on Thursday, she is being loved and nourished and has made an amazing recovery.  Largely thanks to Rylee and her incredible goat care-love.


Hope Rises

It was just about the time the rooster crows.  My alarm beckoned me out of warm flannel sheets and I headed straight for a quick shower.  I’d come home at dusk from sitting at the hospital with my grandpa.  My body and heart were still tired.  But duty called.  Rylee woke herself at the same time but headed straight out to check on the latest goat mama due.  Just as I was pumping shampoo she burst into the bathroom.  “Babies born in the night, mama, hurry….this one, it’s not doing good.”  I grabbed a towel and shot out of the shower to find her holding a terribly limp and freezing cold tiny baby goat.  It was hardly breathing.  Tiny nostrils flared ever so slightly.  It did not move.  I wrapped it in my bath towel and ran for clothing and the heater.  We rubbed its little fuzzy body and held her close.

We woke two more (human) kids and took turns rubbing and warming and hoping.  Too cold to even shiver, she just laid there at our mercy.  She’d been born fourth.  Mama had obviously attended well to the first three babies and they were licked clean and placed proper under the heat lamp that was there for an impromptu night birth just like this one.  But one hadn’t made it there.  Had been left for dead by the door to the pen on the cold ground.

The morning chores were quickly stacking up, goats to milk, bottles to feed to the older babies, three more babies to check on outside, kids hungry for breakfast, coffee to be had.  I’m fairly sure I offered everyone tortillas for breakfast and a kind husband made me coffee.  Rylee whispered, “can we call her Hope?”.  I smiled my yes and knew that even if she wouldn’t make it, she still ought to be named.  We brought her downstairs and held her close and dropped milk into her weak mouth and hoped she would be strong enough to swallow.


Everyone sort of held their breath.  Slowly her eyes opened.  Nearly every pair of hands loved on her, quietly willing her to live.  Cautious optimism brimmed.  All eyes on Hope.

Hope is the stalwart strength that draws us up to face another day.  Hope is believing that your invisible sacrifice of love is being poured out into something worthwhile regardless of the payoff or lack-thereof.  Hope is trying again when you want to give up.  Hope is living out your promises and defying all odds in the process.  Hope is believing greater things than we can imagine are in progress, seen and unseen.

Hope is acknowledging what might yet be.

Her official registered farm name will be “Little Foot MM Hope Rises”.  Long name for such a little thing.  It’s true.  But it couldn’t be more fitting.

Both ends of love

The dichotomy of our life right now is not lost on me.  We are knee deep in goat babies and new life.  Then last night we sat with our beloved grandpa (great grandfather to our children).  For the third time this week.  At his hospital bedside after taking a big nose-dive in his health in a very short time.  Less than two weeks ago we were sitting in the warm sun at Dairy Queen eating french fries and ice cream cones.   Then one rough night and suddenly he’s laid up in the hospital for a week now.  Things can change fast when you are 93 years old.  We returned home at dusk and tucked ourselves (and goats) into warm beds with full hearts.


Loving extravagantly comes at a high price.  Make no mistake.

The potential of losing what you hold most dear is the byproduct of big love.  Crazy love.  The kind of love that is brave enough to ask hard questions when it would be easier to say nothing.  The kind of love that puts all of life on hold because sometimes you don’t get second chances to love right, love in the moment, love completely.  The kind of love that keeps coming back and pressing in, against all reason, simply because a promise made is meant to be kept.

When you love much, the door is flung wide open to scores of abundance and richness that to some remain a lifelong mystery.  But the door is also open to hard goodbyes and loss.  Loving wildly means experiencing loss in most visceral ways.

Audrey read stories to Grandpa and my phone buzzed with texts updating on a soon-to-deliver goat mama at home with the rest of our crew.  Fresh beginnings of life and the inching towards end of life.  All mixed up in one beautiful, perfect day.  If our grandpa hadn’t moved cross country three years ago, we wouldn’t have this gift we have.  This we-love-you-so-much-it-hurts gift.  This constant awareness that our present with him is just that.  To be received, treasured.  Which is just what we’ve done, are doing.  In the best way we know how.

In the quiet sitting, holding hands….”Am I squeezing you to tight?” he asks.  My eyes well up and I tell him not at all, keenly aware that when one day his weathered hands aren’t here to squeeze mine, I will feel a hole in my heart.  The kind of hole that only love leaves.

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Kidding season begins…

We’ve had two out of six goats deliver so far.  This year we are hand raising our babies on bottles.  Certainly more work.  Also exponentially more fun. The goat kids live in the house for a few days while they get settled and we feed them their mama’s milk in a bottle.  There isn’t anything quite like coming downstairs in the morning to a pen of these little cuties waiting for you in the living room.  They are quickly imprinted on humans.  They adore our children and climb all over them at every opportunity.





Doing hard things

It is easy to say your want your kids to have opportunities to do stretch their character muscles and be challenged.  That sounds good and wise.  It is however, a whole other thing to actually facilitate them doing the hard thing.  Sometimes we aren’t privy to the actual challenge until after it has occurred.  Like today, Audrey climbed a tree, high.  And when she went for the final dismount she fell.  Scraped her whole belly badly.  She did something hard and it didn’t work out super well.  She is fine.  But she will do it differently next time.  She’ll find another way out of that tree that doesn’t net her being carried into the house in her brothers arms.

One of our kids stepped up, stepped into what we knew would be a challenging academic program this year.  Last year as we decided on how to proceed, I wanted to say “let’s wait a year”.  But she was ready.  I knew she was.  And I wasn’t being honest with myself if I said otherwise.  She declared one day as we deliberated “Mom, I know it’s not going to be easy.  I want to do it anyway.”  It was a mute point from that moment forward.  I wasn’t about to hold her back.  Sometimes our fear prevents our kids from going, being, doing what they were made for.  Finding a voice for that fear and calling it out so you can take a brave step forward is something I’m learning is paramount important while raising children.

Another child this year wanted to do something brave.  He wanted to take on a memory challenge for our homeschool work through Classical Conversations where we participate in community each Monday.  I read the requirements early this year and laughed.  Who could do that?  I brushed past the request to try for it.  And I let months go by without encouraging him to work toward it.  The year passed and he was tenacious on his desire to pursue it.  Everything, I mean everything, in me wanted to say no.  Not because I didn’t want to invest the hours of quizzing to help make sure he knew it.  Honest truth?  I wanted to say no because I could not handle the possibility of him failing.  He would not accept my unspoken answer.  The kind of answer mom’s give when they don’t want to say the actual word no so they instead don’t invest the time and heart into making a yes happen.

It came time I had to “proof” him so he could proceed with the process of being officially acknowledged for this feat.  I halfheartedly picked up the notebook and proceeded to sit on my bed for two hours with him.  Asking question upon question.  When we finished the 7 subjects, he asked what was next.  I said “Um, nothing.  There is nothing left.”  He had recited, near perfectly the information below:

  • The entire timeline of 160 events from creation to modern times;
  • Twenty-four (some very lengthy) more in depth sentences about history;
  • Twenty-four science questions and answers;
  • Multiplication tables through the fifteens plus squares and cubes, conversions, and math laws;
  • Continents, countries, capitals, and physical features from around the world.
  • Twenty-four definitions or lists from English grammar;
  • Latin noun cases and declensions,
  • The forty-four U.S. presidents.

About 400 pieces of information in all.

He looked at me.  Quiet tears ran down my face and his own eyes welled up.  I had almost held him back from this super difficult thing for only one reason.

I did not want to see him fail.

I could not bear the thought of him not making it.  I felt physically ill at the prospect.  And in my doubt and fear I nearly robbed him of this big win.  He pursued something he wanted to accomplish with such passion and determination.

Ideally, I would like to say “lesson learned”.  But I know better.  This lesson?  The one where you don’t fret one bit because you’ve raised children to be brave and take risks and given them chances to succeed OR fail?  It isn’t ever mastered.

We always said we wanted to take our kids overseas when they were middle school age.  Which felt like FOREVER.  But now here we are and here they go.  Off on a plane in July with their daddy to Africa, to one of the poorest nations in the world.  To serve and love and get their hands dirty and hearts split open in a most beautiful way, one they wouldn’t likely ever experience here.  One more opportunity to release, to be brave, to take a deep breath and remember, God is writing their story and the unfolding of each step is something to behold.

Time to stand and stare

What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like stars at night.
No time to turn at Beauty; glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.

W. H. Davies

There is straw beneath and around me as I sit and read out loud to a laboring doe (mama goat).  Blanchette is unbothered by the computer in her midst.  She is merely happy for the comfort I bring to her in her labors.  A neighbor is mowing and the boisterous two year old is sleeping.  There is a list inside of all that needs to get done by nightfall.  But I’m here.  Reading to a goat.  Reading to myself.  She nibbles on my wedding ring and makes softest sounds that she will only make for the babies that are about to be delivered.  Mama Hen stands nearby and since she’s special to me, I don’t shoo her away.  She is our hen who likes to lay an entire clutch of beautiful blue eggs “off the reservation” ie: not in the coop.  She too clucks in a most maternal way and somehow I feel most at home in the world, right here.

Blanchette paws at the nest she’s made and I rub her back and keep reading to her.  But when I get to the poem quoted above, my eyes brim and spill.  The book is about family and what a home is.  Something I’ve learned much of just from experience and life.  But something I know I’ve still room to grow into and grasp stronger.  A barred owl just called from a tree nearby, he must live directly behind the goat pasture.  And he always calls mid afternoon.  Every day.  His one-of-a-kind voice is ominous and strangely comforting to me.  I never see him.  But his presence is as real to me as anything.  I breath deep and loud and keep my feet propped up on the milk stool for just another minute.

If I don’t have time to stop and stare and engage fully in this one and only life of mine, then is it really life at all?

I am such a slow learner.  But I’m figuring out that my ability to multi-task like most moms isn’t always a gift.  It can fragment a day and a life right up into pieces until what’s left is devoid of the richness intended.

Maybe multi-tasking isn’t all it was cracked up to be.  Maybe we weren’t meant to have it all.  Maybe we can only have and do just a few things with excellence and we get to choose.  A yes here means a no somewhere else.

One of my kids came to me this week with emotions and words that were incredibly tough to swallow.  Vulnerable and real.   I had just communicated I didn’t have time to look at cute puppy pictures online.  I needed to send a quick note back to someone about something.  But in that moment that seemed small and totally insignificant to me, there was brokenness.  “Mom, sometimes it seems like you just don’t have time for me.”  There were tears.  I listened.  I received all the emotion and words to follow.  And took some serious inventory.  What needed to change?

Hence the poem above and how poignant I find it at present.  Time to stand and stare.  Time to shirk the rest of life and sit in the goat pen.  Time to go for a walk.  Time to listen for owls.  Time to look at puppy pictures online.  Time to listen to ridiculous quotes from a movie I find annoying but my boys love.  Time to stop and kiss my husband in the kitchen.  Time to sit by the fire instead of do dishes.  Time to let go.

Yes, life may be brimming ‘full of care’.  But there is still time to turn and glance at Beauty.

**more soon – a minute or two more and the first baby goat of our kidding season will be here…pics soon to follow!!!**

**updated: 5:30 pm**