Mama Drama

Okay.  In the wee hours of this morning, I posted a brief blog about being awakened for the second night in a row to the sounds of a chicken being killed by a raccoon.  While making refrigerator pickles and performing other household tasks today, I’ve been processing last night and trying to find a solution to our situation.  I’ve also been replaying last night’s events in my head and have come to the conclusion that parts of the story were just downright funny.

First, the problem and the solution…

My younger two kids and I have put our heads together and come up with what seems like the only plausible explanation for the raccoon getting into the chickens’ coop.  Farmer Dave made the coop secure.  While the coons can get under it in a few places, there does not seem to be any place where they can get into it from underneath.  The walls are tight and the doors were closed last night.  The only possibility we can see is that the wily raccoon lifted the flap over the laying boxes and squirrelled into the coop.

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I have no doubt that raccoons are smart enough to figure out how to get in under these flaps.

If this is the case, then this should be a relatively easy fix.  We can secure the flaps through the night with bungee cords or something to hopefully keep the varmints out.  If there is another point of entry, I have no idea what it is at this point.  Maybe Farmer Dave can give it a good look when he gets home from work today.

Either way, the flaps will be secured and the live trap will be re-set tonight.  Like it or not, Rosie, our ultra-lazy watchdog, will sleep in the barn.  (Our chicken coop is actually built into our barn.)  And, I can almost guarantee that the coop doors will be shut.  This is our current plan of battle, and I’ll let you know the results–hopefully not at 3:30 tomorrow morning!

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Rosie, our reluctant raccoon dog. Good thing she’s pretty.

Second, the funny parts that were not so funny in the middle of the night…

I easily get heebie-jeebied.  I don’t know that there’s a good reason for this, but I startle exceptionally easily, and my over-active imagination often gets the better of me.  (I tell you this with complete and total trust in the hope that you will never, ever, ever use this confession against me.)  My husband says I am dangerous (and loud) in these situations and has learned to approach me with caution lest he catches me unawares.

So.  I was outside in the pitch black at 3:30 this morning with only a flashlight and my overactive imagination.  I was also very angry and in my pajamas.  (Now you can truly picture the scene for what it was.)

I noticed the coon in the live trap, and I was glad that we’d caught one, but I knew that it wasn’t the one I’d heard torturing a chicken a few moments earlier.  I kept shining my light around, trying to find the culprit on the loose, but to no avail.  I then heard the hens in the coop flying around in a panic.  I loudly yelled, “Nooooooooo!” and banged on the side of the coop in order to scare the raccoon out of there.  Chickens sleep in an almost comatose state, and it takes a good deal of excitement to wake them up at this point, so I knew that the raccoon was in the coop…or had been recently.  I had no idea how it had gotten in there and was more than a little concerned that it would come barreling out from underneath the coop and run right at me.  Heebie jeebies galore.

I opened the barn door and turned on the light, then banged on the side of the coop again.  I heard more squawking and flapping, but didn’t hear any scratching or other sounds I considered to be from a raccoon.  I worked up considerable courage to partially lift the flap over the nesting box to shine my flashlight in for a clearer assessment.  This was remarkable bravery for me.  I truly anticipated a snarling raccoon with shining green eyes to be staring at me once I lifted the flap, but no.  There were just roosting hens.  I shone my light around the feather-littered floor of the coop and saw what appeared to be two dead Black Australorps.  “Noooooooo!” I again yelled.  The Black Australorps moved.  Not dead after all.  Not even injured.  Just freaked out from all of the banging and yelling, I’m sure.

I then screwed up my courage and lifted the flap over the other nesting box.  Still no coon.

Only one more test was necessary to confirm that the coop was clear, and that was to open the door and walk in so that I could see the entire space all at one time.  Folks, I won’t sugar-coat it:  My bravado was just about maxed out.  After a quick prayer and a fleeting consideration to rabies, I cracked open the door and peeked.  Nothing.  Wider, still nothing.  Nothing but chickens.  The coast was clear.

Now, I knew that a coon had been in there, and I knew that it still might be around, so I backtracked my way back out of the barn carefully, my senses still on high alert.  After getting back out into the night air, I decided to walk around to the other side of the barn to see if perhaps the raccoon had abandoned the chicken in fear of my top-of-the-food-chain presence.  Nope.  Nothing.

I relaxed.

As I walked back around the barn to head toward the house, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the light from my flashlight reflect on some metal.  It was a man standing in the dark with a gun.  No, I am not even kidding!  I screamed bloody murder, and all but dropped to all four in the grass in a heap.  And, I ain’t gonna lie; I almost wet my pajama pants.

The reality is that my 14-year-old son, who is looking more like a man than a boy these days, heard all of the banging and yelling and came out to see if he could help…with his .22.  It took my mind a split second to register all of these facts, but my physical body was well behind in its recovery.  It was very…um…dramatic.

Needless to say, my scream woke my husband (and, quite possibly, the neighbors), who started yelling out the window to see what was the matter.  At this point, I was almost in tears, and I meekly mumbled that I was fine as I walked in front of the house and headed back to bed.

It was a long night.

Remarkably, my daughters slept through it all.

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Shut the Door!

I am so mad.

It is almost 3:30 in the morning, and I can’t sleep.  My mind is whirring, my blood is pounding, and I am mad, mad, mad!

About an hour ago, I was awakened by a terrified squawking from one of our chickens.  As soon as the sound registered in my sleep-drugged brain, I slipped on my shoes, grabbed a flashlight and ran out to the barn, calling for our dog, Rosie, the whole way.  Sure enough, there was a raccoon with one of our Black Australorps.

I yelled at it while it just stared at me, dying hen at its feet.  Ugh!  We were separated by two rows of fencing, and I had nothing with which to do battle.  (Though I confess that I fought the urge to hurl Dave’s new-from-Christmas heavy-duty Maglite at the thieving varmint!)  I yelled at the raccoon again, and it slowly sauntered off…choosing to hide under the coop.

Great.  The enemy is now camping out under the very foundation of its prey.

Just as I suspected, the chickens had not been properly tucked in last night.  Despite the fact that our neighbors just lost two young birds…and it’s most assuredly peak raccoon season…and reminders had been given, we had left the henhouse wide open.

With one last look at my now-dead hen, I shut the flap door on the coop.  On a hunch, I checked the garage on my way back to the house.  Sure enough, Rosie was still cozily curled up in her favorite spot.  She had completely ignored my calls for help.  She pulled back her ears and wagged her tail guiltily when I found her, and she refused to make eye contact when I quietly scolded her.

Dave asked if I was all right as I crawled back into bed, and I briefly gave him the synopsis.  He groggily commiserated with me, rolled over and was soon snoring.

But I couldn’t go back to sleep.  I was just plain mad…and I was mostly mad at the raccoon!  It was out there right now enjoying its middle-of-the-night meal!  As the wheels in my heard turned the situation over, I wondered at my position.  Why was I so angry at a raccoon?

We had left the door wide open.

No matter what excuses are made, we were ultimately the ones to blame.  The death of that hen is our fault, not the raccoon’s.  If we’d done what we needed to do to protect our flock, that Black Australorp and I would be both fast asleep right now.

There’s a proverb that speaks to this situation:  Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.  (Proverbs 25:28)

Ahem.

We lacked the foresight, the discipline, the self-control to secure our property last night, and the result was death.  And, beyond that, the raccoons will be back.  Once they know that a meal can be had, they will diligently return in greater numbers until the flock is completely wiped out…or until we stop them.  And, to be honest, the most effective method is not just shutting the flap before we go to bed.  The predators will increase in boldness, watching for opportunities at dusk and dawn when the chickens have been released.  We must trap and kill the raccoons to stop the problem.  More death will result.

I wish I could say that my lack of self-control has only wreaked havoc in the henhouse.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  When we neglect to nurture self-control, our lives are opened up to all kinds of mayhem.  If you’re like me, you often respond in anger toward the situation before you face the truth that your own action (or inaction) have put you in this position.  Its price takes an especially high toll when the consequences are paid by the people we love.  If you think about it, virtually every broken relationship stems from someone’s lack of self-control.  Addiction.  Verbal assault.  Betrayal.  Disrespect.

We–and our entire families–are made vulnerable when we fail to practice the basic tenets of self-discipline.  That’s a hard truth, isn’t it?

It’s also hard to admit that, once we’ve opened the door just once, the opposition digs in its claws and becomes stronger.  Sin grows, folks.  Whether we’re talking about abusing a substance, watching trash, speaking harshly, spreading a rumor or overeating, sin grows.  The more room we give it in our lives, the more room it takes, eventually claiming space in the lives of the people we love.  Maybe we knew we should shut the door, we wanted to shut the door, we really did mean to shut the door…but we left it wide open.

Dear friends, what door are you leaving wide open in your life right now?  What price are you asking your loved ones to pay?  What guilty pleasure is no longer worth the cost?  The door can still be shut.  The predator can still be stopped.  The prey can still be protected.  Stop making excuses.  Stop justifying sin.  Sleep in the peace you’ve been offered.  Resolve to shut that door!

Heavenly Father, You know what doors we need to close, and You freely offer us Your strength to close them.  Please help us choose what is right over what seems easy.  One step at a time.  Thank You for the fruit of Your Spirit and for the healing You bring.

Beyond High School

As I’ve shared already, our first child has officially graduated from Country Haven Homeschool.  We are super proud of her, and we know that God has a beautiful plan and purpose for her life.  We pray that, while she enters this new phase of her life, that she enters it with eyes wide open and fixed on Christ.

From the time our children were little, we have told them that we will support whatever they want to do and whoever they want to be as long as they honor the Lord.  (At age 5, our son wanted to be a “wrestler who loves Jesus”.  Since then, he seems to have changed his mind.)  We know that college isn’t for everyone.  While I don’t regret getting a bachelor’s degree, I could certainly do what I’m doing now without one.  And my husband, who has a master’s degree, didn’t even go to college until he was in his late 20s.

We have never made college an expectation for our children.  And, to be honest, if they’re not sure what they want to do, we’d just as soon they earn money instead of spend money.  College expenses come too dear to just experiment.  Not only that, but there seems to be a false sense of security in many who earn their degrees.  Lots of 20-somethings leave college with the expectation that their dream job with dream salary are entitled to them…and they’re not.  In spite of sending out oodles of career-oriented resumes, my husband’s first jobs out of Grad School?  Landscaping high-end homes and waiting tables at a steak house chain.  As you can imagine, these were not what we were expecting…but he committed to them while we waited for something in his field.  I’m thankful my husband has never been too proud to work.

College debt is a scary thing.  Due to scholarships, help from my mom, working 40 hours a week and a fantastic Financial Aid department, I graduated without college debt.  My husband was not so fortunate.  The debt seemed like a lot at the time, but it was nothing compared to today’s price tag.  He also worked full-time throughout his six years of secondary education.

We’ve always told our kids that they will be responsible for their own college costs.  This is something my mom taught me.  Her experience was that, generally speaking, the greater a person’s investment, the higher their commitment.  She’s right.  She helped me when she could, but she told me to not count on her.  This made all that she gave me seem more like a gift than a right.  I still appreciate the sacrifices she made for me to go away to school.

To help our kids, we are trying to teach them good stewardship now.  We want them to know how to work hard and to be reliable.  We do our best to provide them with opportunities to earn money now so that they can stash it for later.  No matter what God calls them to do, the money they earn and save now will make those big life decisions easier later.  They have worked hard for much of what they have, and I pray that they use it wisely.

The bottom line is that we have attempted to instill in our children the fact that we love them no matter what.  Whether they decide to go into a skilled trade, work at a local library, become a pediatric nurse or stay home with their children, we know that they can be used by God to make a difference in this world for Him.  And that, more than anything, is what we’re called to do.

13 Years of Homeschool Lessons

 

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It’s been almost three weeks since my oldest daughter graduated from high school.  It still seems a little bit surreal, but I have the photos to prove it.

When she was born 18 years ago, I had no intention of homeschooling her.  It wasn’t that I was against home education; I was mostly just ignorant about it.  My limited experience with homeschool was mostly what everybody else said:  They’re unsocialized and they’re weird.  I didn’t really care, because it didn’t pertain to me one bit.

Four years later, as we considered our Kindergarten options, we were uncomfortable with the public school option.  My husband was a counselor and sometimes worked in the schools.  There were times he had to make tough professional decisions, and we never wanted our kids to pay the consequences for any fallout that resulted.  We did a little research and discovered that Kindergarten was not mandatory in our state.  Cool.  We bought some time.

During her Kindergarten year, a few homeschool families began to make a more prominent entrance into our lives.  I learned that their children were not at all what I considered unsocialized.  As a matter of fact, these kids–regardless of their ages–would look me in the eye and talk to me about any number of subjects.  They also weren’t any weirder than the rest of us.  I was intrigued.

I also discovered that I really enjoyed my time with my kids.  By this time, I had three, and I relished time with them.  They were fun and funny and smart and silly and loving and out-and-out lovable.  They liked learning new things and meeting new people, and I liked sharing in their experiences.  Dave and I decided that we would homeschool until it stopped working for us.

It hasn’t stopped working.

With one kiddo fully graduated and two more in the wings, I have become more reflective.  I have been thinking back, more and more, over our unintentional journey (that has required more intentionality from me that almost anything else) and assessing what I’ve learned.  I’m not sure who has learned more during this journey–my kids or myself.

Here are 15 things that 13 years of homeschooling have taught me:

  1. I am a weak, fallible, completely imperfect mom who is equipped by a strong, gracious, perfect God to do whatever He calls me to do–regardless of how unprepared and under-qualified I feel.  His grace can cover over my mistakes.
  2. We are all teachers.  We teach the people around us every day of our lives.  We might as well be intentional about what we teach.
  3. Almost all vacation destinations are much more enjoyable when public school is in session.
  4. One of the greatest unexpected blessings of home education is the inter-generational and multi-age relationships that take place when there’s no strict grade classification.
  5. As parents, our job is not to prepare our children for college, but to prepare them for life.  (Oh, this one was a tough mindset to break for me!)
  6. Random people who think it is their responsibility to take me (or my children) to task for our educational decisions are, without a doubt, more aggravating than vending machines that rob me of my quarters.
  7. Having our kids home with us has allowed us the opportunity to teach them life skills that I think would’ve been hard to make time to teach if they were gone 8-9 hours a day.  Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, laundry, repair work, small business, animal care, growing & preserving food–or whatever–I feel fairly confident that our kids will have a solid start in much of what it takes to successfully navigate adulthood.  They’ve walked with us as we’ve tried so many new things; we hope we’ve set the example to not be stymied by fear or complacency.
  8. Sometimes, we can be equally productive in pajamas.
  9. The opportunity to spend my days with my children has been one of the greatest gifts God could give me.  People have often commented on the “sacrifices” we have made as a one-income family.  The truth is that we all make sacrifices in this life.  It’s important to be sure that we’re sacrificing according to our priorities.
  10. What is “normal” and what is “acceptable” are often not the same thing.
  11. Yeah…geometry.  Algebra.  Calculus.  Chemisty.  They really are evil.
  12. Going against the flow is not always a negative.
  13. Contrary to popular opinion, colleges do accept (and often actively recruit) homeschooled students.
  14. No matter how amazing the teacher or how state-of-the-art the school or how incredibly well-rounded the education, no public or government system can provide what a parent can for a child–unconditional love.
  15. In spite of my previous experience, history is not boring at all.

Unknown Rules

With my hubby home from work today, I feel sort of “off-duty”.  I don’t really know why that is, because I’ve been busy, busy, busy–especially in the kitchen–but I do kind of feel like I’m off the clock a bit.  There is some sort of shift that happens in this momma’s head when I’m not the only parent on the premises.

So, I’ve kind of listened more today than I usually do.  I’ve let Dave set the schedule for our crew and pretty much gone about my own business of cooking ahead for a busier-than-usual week.  I enjoy listening to him interact with our kids.  For one thing, he really likes them, and that warms my heart.  For another thing, they interact with him differently than they do with me, which gives me a new perspective.  As a parent of three teenagers, I need all of the perspective I can get.

Anyway, one of the conversations I heard today went something like this:

Dave (to teenager):  Are you listening to me?  I’m going to use a word you rarely hear me use, and I want to make sure it sinks in.

Teenager:  Yeah, Dad.  I’m listening.

Dave:  Never–and I do mean never–pull out your dresser drawer and use it as a laundry basket to take your clothes to the basement.  Never.  Do you hear me?

Teenager:  (Loud sigh as though Dave just asked for an ounce of blood from his eyeball.)  Yes, Dad.

Ahhh…it feels good to have such a solid partner in this parenting journey!

The above conversation got me to thinking about other things that we’ve said to our children–rules that we should have made, had it ever occurred to us to do so.  Here are some of my favorites:

If you have mud on your feet, wash them before putting on your socks and shoes.

Do not go into the chicken yard with bare feet.  Ever.

No matter how clean you think it is, do not set the dog’s food bowl on the counter.

Do not wipe boogers on your bedroom wall.  Or on any wall for that matter.

No matter what evil she has done you, do not call your sister “Queen of Hell”.

If you drop a glass jar and it breaks, sweep up the glass before going out to do the barn chores.

Do not pitch the eggs into the woods, no matter how much you dislike collecting them.

If the toilet looks like it might be clogged, do not keep trying to flush it.

Do not ask random people what they’re going to get you for your birthday.

And, last but certainly not least:

If you can’t find a cleaning rag, do not cut one from your sister’s bed skirt.

Though I’m more than happy to wait until the time is right, I am really, really, really looking forward to grandparenting.

(Evil laughter…)

 

 

 

Enlisting Lists

This time of year always kind of kicks my behind.  There’s just so much to DO!  So much of it is time-sensitive, too.  For instance, if we don’t get on top of the weeds now, we will be playing catch-up all summer long.  When I get behind on my weeding early in the year, I struggle to resist the temptation to give up on whatever it is that’s out there fighting for its very life.  I mean, weeds have rights, too…right?

In addition to our normal animal/house/yard/garden chores, we are celebrating my oldest daughter’s high school graduation this Saturday.  This is super exciting stuff for us, but I confess that I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed.  And, when I’m overwhelmed, I make lists.  This week, I’m working from seven lists.

Does this make me compulsive?  Don’t answer that.

I have a Master List of things that need done.  These are things that, should my children look bored or earn a chore for disciplinary reasons, get assigned as needed.  This is also where I look if I happen to have 16 seconds or so to spare between other necessary tasks.

I also make a Daily List for the kids.  This list spells out a couple of things that Dave or I want each of the kids to do.  It may be something like preparing supper, burning trash, mowing our orchard or other random things.  The kids appreciate knowing first thing each morning what their responsibilities are so that, depending on their personality, they can plan their day accordingly or procrastinate at their leisure.

I also have five other lists–one for each day this week.  This is excessive, I know.  To be honest, though, I just have too many irons in the fire this week.  Plus, my brain doesn’t seem to have the available space it used to have.  I simply must write things down.  And, with the prospect of feeding a couple hundred guests this weekend, I needed to just order my days according to the tasks that needed to be done.  Much of the chaos in my head was eliminated just by writing down what needed to be done (make iced tea, pull sloppy joe meat out of the freezer, bake sugar cookies) and assigning it to a day.  Whereas some folks find lists restrictive, I actually find them freeing…IF I can be flexible and go with the flow when necessary.  (This is something I have had to learn to do.  It not only made a huge difference in my own peace of mind, it made a significant difference in my marriage and parenting.  Win/win/win!)

So, today’s list had 4 things on it for me to do:  weed eat, weed patch of spring crops, pull recipes for tomorrow’s baking day, fill out card and wrap gift.  After approximately 5 hours of working outside on this July-ish May day, I have gotten most of one thing on my list done.

No, I’m not kidding.

Do you remember those “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” books?

If you go out to weed the spring crops in the garden, your daughter will want to learn to run the Mantis tiller.  When you teach her how to run it, you’ll realize that it would be smart for you to get the more powerful Troy-bilt tiller so that two tillers can be run at one time.  Before you start the tillers, you’ll want to pull out all of the thistles.  Once you pull all of the thistles, you’ll need to throw the piles of thistles in for the cows to much.  While the cows are enjoying their snack, you’ll realize that the chickens are looking at you like they feel left out, so you’ll go pull a bunch of chickweed for them from behind the shed.  While the chickens are snacking, you’ll see the freshly-tilled rows in your daughter’s wake and decide to cut grass to mulch them.  While you’re cutting the grass to mulch between the rows, you’ll notice that one of your children started the job of moving the compost pile but didn’t finish it.  In order to keep from wasting all of that beautiful dirt, you’ll turn over the pile and secure it with chicken wire.  While walking to the barn to retrieve the post driver to drive the fence posts for the new compost pile, you’ll find baling twine and feed bag pull tabs on the ground.  You’ll pick them up and walk them up to the garage to throw them away.  While in the garage, you’ll notice that the gas cans are almost empty, but you’ll resist the temptation to drive to the gas station to refill them because you don’t want to get distracted!!!

Yeah, and on and on it went.

The good news is that the kids and I were fairly productive and actually got a good bit checked off our lists.  The bad news is that I will be adding a few things from today’s list to tomorrow’s or Thursday’s list.

So, if you’re coming to the par-tay on Saturday, and you notice that the weed eating hasn’t been done, I invite you to notice that the compost pile has, indeed, been moved.

 

 

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The chicken wire from last year’s compost pile had been removed and was one hard rain away from spilling into the yard and garden.

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The fresh waste on the top needed moved aside so that I could get to the composted material underneath.

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This is my very haphazard way of finishing the bigger compost area with the same amount of chicken wire. Exact measurements are often not my thing. I do, however, have an affinity for zip ties.

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Lovely goodness for our garden!

 

Chickweed

See this stuff?  It’s aptly called chickweed.  Chickens love it.

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Chickweed grows plentifully in the shady place behind our shed.

There may be something wrong with me, but I really enjoy gathering it by the bucketful and throwing it to our flock.  It’s easy to pull, and it’s plentiful this time of year.  The chickens suck it down like famished five-year-olds slurp up spaghetti, and I take great delight in watching them enjoy it.

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D’Artagnen enjoys a Chickweed buffet.

My kids think I’m crazy.

I respond that craziness is hereditary.  They come from a loooooong line of crazy people, and they will one day find themselves doing something crazy for their own personal enjoyment.  Maybe it will be smiling while the chickens slurp up their chickenweed.

Maybe it will be lying out in the thick grass one spring afternoon, snacking on dandelion greens and listening to the birds.

Maybe it will be running across 3 or 4 counties to find old hay and straw for deep bed mulching the garden.

Maybe it will be going against the flow in order to spend their days laughing, learning with and loving on three remarkable children.

Life is full of all kinds of opportunities to enjoy.  No need to over-complicate things.  Just do them.