As a young girl, I grew up on a horse farm. I did not usually help much in the barn, because my dad had fired me once for standing on hay bales, pretending I was on a good episode of Hee Haw. I’d been giving the animals a soulful Crystal Gayle, “Don’t It Turn My Brown Eyes Blue” concert. Unlike my brothers who were more invested in the horses and helping my dad, I found my place was usually helping my mom in the house, feeding the barn cats, and taking care of puppies. My mom didn’t care if I gave free concerts as long as I was working. However, one night, probably because my older brother had homework or an activity outside the home, I was drafted to help my dad lead in the horses. Every evening my Dad would lead our mares in and feed them. If the weather was bad or they were close to expecting foals, they would stay in for the night. It was not a task that I was unfamiliar with or incapable of completing. My dad always picked the most gentle mares that would basically just follow my footsteps into the barn. I remember this particular night very well, and recently the memories of it came clearly back to me while studying scripture. Just right outside the backdoors of our barn was a long sloping hill that went down into the pasture where the horses were usually kept. That evening it was raining, and raining hard. Our little humble farm had deep, hard clay which my parents battled for years while gardening and farming. “Clay” is honestly not a nice word in my mind when I hear it, because I am reminded of the texture. When it rained the ground would become almost like a mud suction vacuum that would quickly make barn boots very heavy, and required heaving the clay laden boots up the hill with each step. As a young girl, I had to keep up with the very gentle mare, though I am more than sure she was already slowing her normal pace. But still, I had to make every step that she did, and follow the number one rule, “never drop the shank”. A shank on the farm is a strap or a braided rope with a snap that is used to lead animals, and it attaches to their halters which guides their heads, and usually means they will follow you. Dropping the shank in the muddy clay was a mess, and it also meant you could lose control of your horse. Even an old gentle horse could become unreasonable and wild if the routine task of going in at night spooked her in some way. I don’t know if you have ever walked closely with a horse, but it is a powerful experience. You can feel the large muscles of the horse move with every rise and fall of their steps. It is always a reminder to me of how small I really am. So on this particular night, I was walking up the slippery, muddy hill in the rain beside this big, powerful but gentle mare with my black rubber boots on. Unfortunately, they now seemed to weigh fifty pounds each from the accumulated mire, and so proved to be too much for me. I stuck my booted foot in the miry clay and attempted to pull it out as I had done most of the way up the hill, but it would not come up. The sweet mare I was leading was unaware of my struggle, and she was moving on. I knew I had to go with her. I could see my Dad had already made it to the barn door with the lead horse, but his back was turned, trusting his gentle mare would just follow in. I had seconds to make a choice. I could drop the shank, stumble trying to pull the boot out, or simply pull my foot out of the boot and keep going. I chose the last option, or maybe my gentle mare did, I’m not really sure. But my clean white sock foot came out and my boot stayed in the muddy clay. I made it to the barn safely with the mare and the shank. As I entered the barn my Dad met me, and he was surprised to see I only had one boot on. He said, “what in the world happened, where is your boot ?” He couldn’t believe I had just abandoned my good barn boot in the mud. He was saying, “You really couldn’t pull your boot out ?!” He took the mare and secured her in the stall, and then marched back out in the rainy, muddy clay to retrieve my boot. I stood at the top of the hill between the barn doors and watched him stomp and slide down the hill. He quickly found my little boot. My dad was not just strong, he was farm strong. The kind of strength you get from slinging hay bales, milking cows, running tillers, and throwing feed sacks over your shoulder. I remember him leaning down and trying to pull my half submerged boot out of the clay. It wouldn’t budge, the mire had a firm grip on my boot. Knowing it was going to take a little more power he bent down and gave another tug, still no boot. I remember thinking, “Well, I may have to get new boots”. And with a big farm strong grunt he bent down a third time, determined to pull the boot out, and with all his might he pulled. Up like a freed can of biscuits came my boot, and because of the sheer force which he was using and the new-found flying freedom of my boot, my dad went down. Going down in the muddy clay was no fun, but because of the circumstances, this time my dad found it funny. I can remember his laugh as he struggled getting up and walking up the hill covered in dark red Kentucky clay. He entered the barn and with a twinkle in his eye he chuckled and said, “I got it!!”
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”
If you have never been stuck in miry clay, maybe this verse does not speak to you as deeply as it does me. However, I know you can relate to the feeling of being stuck in a pit. We have all been in a pit of destruction. Life is full of pits, whether it is a pit that we have created ourselves by our own destructive behavior or a pit that we are put in because of someone else’s sin. A pit is a hopeless place. On our own we have no way to escape a pit, we have to be pulled out of it. The miry clay is very much like this. I had no hope of pulling my boot out, the miry clay had all the power and would not let me go. I could not create a rock to anchor myself on, I could not stop the horse, and I could not get my boot out. It was the power of my father that pulled my boot out. It was my dad who cleaned my boot off and put it back on my foot, securing my steps. Often we find ourselves caught by this world, in the rain on the miry clay hill trying to provide our own traction. But God is the only rock; the only solid ground. He is the only one capable of setting us on solid ground. Without God we are stuck in the pit, and mired in the clay without hope. The Lord is my rock, the only firm foundation. It puts me in mind of one of my old favorite hymns, I can almost hear my Mom singing it now, “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand, All other Ground is Sinking Sand.” When I focus on my circumstances around me, the stress of my daily life I can feel myself sinking into the miry clay, stuck. My heavenly Father is there for me, he is pulling me up and placing me on his rock where my feet are secure and my steps are safe. Thank you God for pulling me out of the clay and placing me on your Rock which is a higher ground.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
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Since I started blogging, several people have assumed I can do ALL things homesteading, which is far from the truth. The truth is, there are simple tasks that others seem to master more quickly and there are things that just don’t seem to be in my wheelhouse. Part of the homesteading adventure for me has been to figure out what things I can accomplish and things I should just walk away from. A few things that I do not enjoy or show the artistic ability to complete: crocheting, sewing, painting, and the list could go on. My Grandmother was excellent at crocheting and I still have some of her wonderful afghans and needle work. The homestead house is full of my Mom’s oil painting of flowers, birds, and trees. While these paintings and afghans are considered treasures, it is not something that I have been able to complete, maybe that is why I treasure them so. I do consider myself a good cook but there are things in the culinary homesteading world that I have not mastered, yet either. One of the things is homemade sauerkraut. I have fond memories from my childhood of my Mom’s homemade kraut. Memories of her pulling out a very large stone crock, in which she made large amounts of sauerkraut. My taste buds remember the cool crisp sour cabbage of my mom’s kraut. Hoping to replicate her success, I grew lots of cabbage here on the homestead. I watched youtube videos, read blogs and gave it a try. First there was an attempt at simple canned kraut. Sadly, my canned kraut turned out mushy and under-salted. Mushy kraut is not good. After discovering my favorite store-bought kraut went up to seven dollars for a pint, I was more determined than ever to conquer the kraut. I googled and tried a fermented old-fashioned kraut recipe, which resulted in a moldy, over salted, mushy mess. My guess is that I let it get too hot and didn’t submerge the kraut well enough, not to mention I am pretty sure I accidentally doubled the salt. Sometimes, it gets a little crazy in my kitchen. While looking on Amazon for possible homestead kitchen items, I stumbled across this fermenting kit. So I ordered it and gave it a try.
I Found a kraut recipe that I thought I would like, and simply made the kraut, placed it in the jar, attached the Easy Fermenting lid, and turned the dial to the number of days the kraut needed to ferment. Patience is a virtue, 14 days of counting down my sauerkraut experiment was difficult. At last, after a long two weeks I could taste my experiment, I was pleasantly surprised to taste the results! It took me back to hot July days on the farm eating cold kraut out of the fridge. So I have experimented with the fermentation lids, and have done two types of kraut as well as fermented jalapeno peppers. I had invested a total of $24 plus the cost of a head of cabbage. Something that homesteading has taught me is that there are risks involved in every experiment, but they don’t have to be too costly. With inflation and the current state of my household budget, my financial risks will need to be small.
Who knows what I will ferment next ?
In case you’d like to try making your own sauerkraut, here is my simple slightly spicy kraut recipe:
One head of cabbage (about 8 cups finely chopped)
Shredded carrots 2 cups
Diced red radish 1 cup
Himalayan Pink Sea Salt 2 teaspoons
You may need to add filtered water
2 wide mouth quart jars
Directions: Wash cabbage and take off any outer brown or loose leaves. Then chop or shred the cabbage, being careful to avoid the core and just get the leaves. You should get around 8 cups of cabbage from one average head of cabbage. Put the cabbage in a large bowl and add 2 teaspoons of the sea salt, then blend the cabbage and salt. Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes, because this will allow the cabbage to sweat and release needed moisture. Take something and pound the cabbage mixture to release even more moisture, you will need liquid to ferment. I usually use my Mom’s old potato masher for this part of the project. I mash for about five minutes, I tell myself it is a good bicep workout. After mashing add carrots and radish and blend them together with the cabbage mixture.
Briefly smash the blended kraut together, just to make sure it is ready for the jar. Then pound it into the jar leaving plenty of space at the top of the jar for the fermentation process. I can usually fill two jars ¾ way full with this recipe. Then divide the remaining liquid and pour it over the packed jars. Make sure you don’t have any stray pieces of cabbage that are not covered by liquid. It does not have to appear like soup but it needs to look moist. Place your handy fermentation lids on and set days to number 14, I usually count down but you could count up (you pick).
I use tinted dark yellow mason jars that I bought on clearance. The pantry is a good place to store them while they ferment because it is cool and dark. When I did my kraut, I did not open the jars until day 14, so I did not need the pump which is included in the package. I have made several batches and not used a weight, but other people reviewing the product recommend adding a weight, reporting it kept all the kraut in the liquid for fermentation. I found that my cabbage mixture produced enough liquid that it was plenty moist enough to fully ferment all the cabbage.
If you have not tried kraut before, give it a try. I find it yummy and it has natural probiotics which are great for your digestive system. This simple recipe for sauerkraut has also made a great quick and healthy addition to summer midweek family meals. Sauerkraut goes lovely with some slow cooked ribs or even smoked sausage, it is an easy way to add a healthy family side. We have also enjoyed adding fermented peppers on burgers, brauts, or the juice poured in homemade pimento cheese.
Link to order fermenting lids: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B01DJVVORE/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&th=1
What have you not conquered yet?
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My homestead has been full of beautiful Peony blooms. Peony’s are one of my favorite flowers, I enjoy the fluffy blooms along with their fragrance. The Peony symbolizes honor, happiness, and fortune (I like all those things too). The beautiful Peony is also the state flower of Indiana and is commonly given on the 12th year wedding anniversary. However, my anniversary is in December and we are way past 12 years, we are approaching precious metal territory at this point.
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HETTIE’S HOMESTEAD – coming full circle
One of my mom’s favorite flower was the Iris. On our sweet little Kentucky homestead, her blooms abound in what were my mom’s carefully planned gardens. The Iris flower symbolizes faith, courage, wisdom and admiration. They are a lovely reminder of my mom’s life and the beauty of God’s creation.
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In 2017 my little family moved home to my parent’s home. We were all dealing with the sudden tragic loss of my parents, the stress of moving, and starting over in a new school/job. Life was a mess, and to top it all off I had a puppy. It became evident very quickly that Stella had no intention in staying in our now much larger and unfenced yard. Even though our yard is larger, it is close to the road and isn’t Aussiedoodle friendly. There were too many tempting tractors, trucks, and even horses across the street. I remember losing Stella when we were moving and driving up and down the road calling her name. I was thinking, “Not now, God. We need our puppy!” After about an hour of frantic searching, my husband said, “Maybe she will come home on her own.” I decided to go to the bathroom, and when I opened up the door, there sat my fuzzy muppet of a puppy playing in the trash. I was never so happy to catch her playing in the trash! Somehow, someone had accidently closed her up in the bathroom. At that point I was thankful someone had made the mistake, because our puppy was safe and sound. Puppies love trash, and that is a love she has not outgrown. She somehow has figured out how to open every trash can we have ever owned ! It requires a little more effort of closing and latching doors to not have to clean up the trash twice.
We decided after that we would invest in an underground fence. Stella flourished when the boundaries were clear. She loved spending time outside and soon claimed the yard as her territory. She grew a lot, and I mean a lot ! My husband kept saying, “How big is our dog going to get?!” We had Shelties for years, and the size of an Aussiedoodle seemed huge to us. My youngest son and Stella continued to be best friends. She loved to follow him to whatever dirt pile or ice cream cone they might share.
As a family things continue to change; if you are alive, change is always happening. My oldest was preparing to leave for college. I remember going on college visits, we visited a couple of schools out of state, which meant Stella would need to be boarded. I remember a spring break when we were out of town and I got a call from the dog boarders. The boarders are family friends of ours, and I trust them very much with our two dogs (we also inherited my parents’ Sheltie) The boarders called to inform me that Stella must have come into heat and was accidentally bred by a Weimaraner. I was in shock. What would a Weimaraner-oodle look like? My four-year-old son could hear me on the phone discussing the details. I can remember him asking if his dog was okay. I told him “Of course! She is just fine.” I guess I’m thankful the puppies never came to be. Soon after that I took my son to the pediatrician, the office staff were asking him questions about his life,and of course he told them he loved his dog. He paused and said, “But she is a bad dog ..” They, of course, asked, “Why is she bad?” My little boy said, “Well, she stole some bread, and now she is going to have some whackadoodle puppies.” It is one of my favorite stories. I could not stop chuckling, and neither could the nurse after I explained what that meant ! It was a good laugh that I felt all the way to my toes, and it was wonderful to have a little excitement and joy fill my heart. Hence the mixed feelings about the whackadoodles that never came to be. After that my husband affectionately called her Stella, The Best Bad Dog Ever.
In March of 2020, our lives much like everyone else’s in the United States took a bizarre turn. Suddenly, I was working from home and the kids were schooling from home. Just like a domino effect, one by one we all were at home, even my college guy. Our house was full again, and our wi-fi was being strained, just like my patience for zoom learning. Many days while working online to attend school our first grader would become overwhelmed in the process of being kicked off the internet or tolerating a zoom meeting with twenty-five other first graders. It was a real struggle. My husband and I were trying to support him and continue our own work loads. Many days our youngest son would say,” As soon as I finish my math I will need to go outside with my dog.” Stella loved having everyone home and spending her days either laying under the kitchen table during school or chasing our boy around the house during “breaks”. I have fond memories of throwing open the back door and yelling, “STELLA !!!” (which always cracks my husband up) when it was lunch time for the dog and boy.
There have been many times over the years that Stella has served as a best friend, guard dog, and even mole killer. If you came to visit, she would jump all over you, and you would think, “Why do these people love this dog?” Not everyone can love The Best Bad Dog Ever, but she is the best dog for us. I smile to myself frequently thinking of the timing of her arrival and the blessing she has been to our family.
Much like being a mom, Mother’s Day can be complicated. The day can be overshadowed by ideals that you can’t achieve. My path to becoming a Mom was not an easy road. After years of trying to become a mom, I began to detest Mother’s Day. It reminded me that behind a locked door in my house there was an empty baby bed. People around me tried to offer comfort, but there was no comfort for what I had lost. My soul was filled with longing- a longing for what I did not have and what I could not control, despite my best efforts. Years later when God smiled on me and blessed me with a bundle of joy (he literally was), I was elated to finally participate in Mother’s Day as a mom. I remember traveling on my first Mother’s Day to see my brother graduate from college. My newly adopted son was only 3 months old and the trip was hard. The night before Mother’s Day he cried all night in an Arkansas hotel room. I remember thinking the next day, “Wow this is not how I thought it would be”. Becoming a parent, getting married, getting a new job, or starting a homestead all are never quite how we think they will be. However, there have been many days that I have squeezed all three of my boys and been incredibly thankful that they call me Mom. As I learned how to be a mom, I also learned more about my wonderful boys. All three of my sons are adopted. When I first planned to adopt, I was driven by the empty baby bed. I kept thinking, “I will become a mom and my pain will be gone.” There was a lot about being an adoptive mom I did not understand. I didn’t understand that there would be pain even in our adoptions. I didn’t know that there would be hard days and hard questions. I honestly had not thought about the pain the birthmothers would feel as they were handing over their babies to me. God blessed me with a friendship that changed my thoughts and heart, when a beautiful woman shared her personal pain of choosing adoption with me. I grew to realize that Mother’s Day would be complicated forever for the three women who gave birth to my beautiful sons. I also learned that even though my boys love me deeply as their mom, there is no erasing their birthmother. I have never tried to erase them, but I wasn’t prepared for the questions and the pain that would come along as my boys grew up. I naively thought that if I read them enough sweet story books about adoption, and talked openly with them about their wonderful personal stories, there would be no pain. So I learned being an adoptive mom was beautiful, rewarding, and my calling, but not without pain.
So Mother’s Day became a day I tried to reflect and be thankful. My mom and I usually planned to spend the day together. We often planted flowers, ate take out (because going out to eat on Mother’s Day is stressful), and just enjoyed being together. After the loss of my mom, Mother’s Day has taken on another level of grief. Sadly, our family tragedy happened just days before Mother’s Day. So every year I face the anniversary of the accident alongside Mother’s Day. I am reminded during these times of the strength my mom tried to teach and instill in me. I watched her live her life and deal with disappointment, hurt and loss. She didn’t always handle things well, and there were times she had a hard time getting out of bed. But my mom never gave up. I saw her cry, I saw her get mad, and I saw her heal. She always said, “If you feel bad, get up and work, then you will feel better”. My mom loved to work, she cooked, sewed, weeded, painted, mowed, weedeat, and the list goes on. My mantra is not the same, because I am not my mom and that is ok. After the accident, I thought a lot about the heritage that both my parents had left me. One of the things I kept returning to was the choice to go on, not move on, but to go on. So for the last five years, sometimes daily, I have made the choice to go on. My going on looks different from day to day. Some days it means I go on and I cry about the pain of missing my parents, the pain of my children missing their grandparents, and the damage it has done to my family. Some days my going on looks like me pulling weeds and remembering how hard my mom worked on her yard and garden. Some days it looks like me telling stories to keep my parent’s memories alive and laughing at the joy of a wonderful history. Some days going on looks like me living in the moment, celebrating my boys’ milestones or successes, and being thankful that I am present and a mom.
The longer I live the more stories I encounter. People share with me the struggles of being a mom and the grief that often comes with struggle. I have met mom’s who have struggled with who their children have become, the loss of a child, and many more things that can make Mother’s Day complicated. Mother’s are incredibly important to everyone, whether they had a wonderful mom or she failed to meet their needs. Mothers shape who you are. My husband who is a retired correctional officer told me the busiest visiting days in prison were Christmas and Mother’s Day. The mom visiting her son in prison is surely having a complicated Mother’s Day. I will be honest. As my boys’ grow up and learn how to be men, the road is not always smooth. There are times when I think, “Wow, this is not how I thought it would be”. However, I would not change or exchange any of those moments for the pain of the empty baby bed. So on Mother’s Day, I will make a choice to be thankful for things I have had, the people I still have, and hopeful for things to come. Bless the mom who mourns an empty cradle, a broken heart and broken dreams.
Gives the childless wife a home, the joyful mother of children. Hallelujah!