Friday, November 29, 2013

Switching a Dexter to Once a Day Milking

I first heard about once a day milking when we were searching for milk cows.  I did a lot of research on the subject, and learned a lot.  But I was scared.

So we got Epi, and after she calved, I began milking twice a day.  And then Owen had some major medical problems, and was hospitalized for a week in August.  Getting someone to cover every milking was hard, but my parents helped a lot and we made it!

Then October came around.  And Owen got hospitalized again.  We thought we were losing him.  And I couldn't handle trying to ensure that the cow got milked every evening.  I made the decision.  I had my parents start milking only once a day for me--in the mornings.

Thankfully, Owen pulled through. And I loved only milking once a day!  It was so freeing.  I kept milking Epi once a day until June of 2013, when I dried her up in anticipation of my upcoming birth (in August) and Maggie's (in September) and Epi's (in October).

Since Epi and Maggie gave birth, I've been milking both of them twice a day.  We have two calves to feed, and need a gallon of milk in the morning and a gallon at night for the babies.

But, Maggie has been a bit difficult while milking.  She fights me going in.  She dances after her grain is gone.  She kicks over the bucket.  She's kind of a pain.  A pain who gives REALLY good milk.  With more cream than Epi.  So it was worth the fight twice a day.

Except now it's freezing.  Hard freezes.  And since Maggie is on her first lactation, she is still growing a bit herself.  So she converts the extra feed I've been giving the animals into fat instead of milk. Epi is on at least her third, and is giving a ton of milk with the feed.

Maggie, on the other hand, milks great in the morning.  But at night, I was barely getting a half gallon.   After much thought, I have decided to switch Maggie to a once a day pattern for milking.  Today was day 2 of this decision, and she's doing great with no signs of mastitis.

Once the calves are weaned (in January), I'll switch Epi as well, and then both milkers will be done once a day.  I choose to milk in the mornings.  This leaves my afternoons and evenings free.  But, if evenings are better for you, know that you can just as easily milk once a day in the evening.

Here are my reasons for preferring once a day:

1. I have my evenings free.  I still need to feed and water, but that can be done early or late.  Without as many problems as milking early or late.
2. I only have to clean the barn once.  With the weather so cold, limiting the amount of water I spray to clean cuts down on the ice buildup.
3. Cuts down on grain.  We only feed grain at milking.  By milking once a day, our grain goes twice as far!

Here are my reasons for not wanting to milk both cows once a day right now:

1. I don't want to warm up milk for the babies in the evening
2.  Epi is still increasing in her milk supply, and I want to encourage that as long as possible.  This is done more effectively by twice-a-day milking.
3. I can wait to clean the barn until after my evening milking.  After the sun has been out all day.  It's a bit warmer.  The ice in the barn is usually melted a wee bit, and I can sweep and spray things down more easily.   Since the calves are getting all of the milk, it doesn't need to be as clean as when I'm feeding it to my family.
4. If I milked both cows once a day, I'd have to give pretty much all of the milk to the babies.  I like milk!
5. I prefer drinking Maggie's milk--she was bred for milking lines, and had great cream.  This way I keep her milk in the morning for us, and give Epi's to the babies both morning and evening. 

So, until January, I will milk Maggie once a day, and Epi twice.  It's a win-win!I've lost a gallon a day for my family until then, but it's definitely worth it.

I know that fear was a huge factor the first time I switched.  Since I've done it before, it was easy this time.  Here are the things I've learned:

1. If your cow is producing less than 2 gallons of milk a milking, the transition can be cold turkey.
2. Mastitis risk is highest the first two or three days.  Be sure to check for swollen, warm teats.
3. The cows get used to the new schedule quickly.  It doesn't seem to stress them too much!
4. Milk production does not get cut by 50%.  I was getting 1.5 gallons of milk from Maggie milking morning and night.  Yesterday, with a once a day milking, I got 1.25 gallons.  This morning I was back up to 1.5.  That's what I'm expecting from her for a while, since her evening milkings were so pitiful before.    I've read that 25% reduction is typical.  I'll probably see about that with Epi--I'm planning on going from 2.25 gallons a day to 1.75 with her.
5. Dexters are a wonderful breed for milking once a day!

Having a family cow (or two) is much more realistic if you are able to switch to a once-a-day pattern.

A cow's teats can appear swollen without being an indication of mastitis.  Here are Maggie's teats before milking her in the morning:

They are certainly full of  milk, and she is ready.  But, they are not infected.  There is no unusual warmth.

After milking, her teats are very flexible and she's ready to go eat some hay.

So don't let fear stop you from switching to once a day milking.  It's doable and makes life a lot easier!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

From my house to yours..Happy Thanksgiving!

Let us remember to give thanks to the One from whom all blessings flow...

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.
Psalm 118:1 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Contemplations: A Giftless Christmas

I was blessed to spend time with my two sisters today.  They had driven across the state to see our grandmother (who is ill) and had some extra time.  I really enjoyed our visit!

As I've been pondering our conversations while doing pre-Thanksgiving cooking, I've come to the realization that Christmas can be an anxiety causing day on the calendar.  Too many people to buy for.  Not enough money. Too much clutter.  The list goes on and on.

But here is the point...Christmas is NOT supposed to cause stress.  It's supposed to be a day to set aside to celebrate the wonderful gift that God gave US.  Jesus Christ.  The gift that leads us to eternal life by accepting Him as Saviour.

And I've started thinking...why do we feel obligated to exchange gifts?  When I look back on my childhood memories, I don't think about the presents.  I really can't remember what I got when I was 8.  Or 10. Or 15 for that matter....

I remember going to my aunt's house.  I remember eating lots of good food.  I remember cheating at Pictionary.  I remember Christmas with Bryan and Jayme, focusing on reading the Christmas story.  I remember the year we were in San Diego, and how hard we worked to get together a slideshow of pictures to send to our family and friends.

I don't remember the stuff.  In fact...a lot of that stuff has likely ended up at Goodwill over the years.  Or at the dump if it contained little pieces.  Those things don't last long here.  I have some cherised gifts that I treasure (like my cast iron and fermenting crock), and I'm thankful for them.  But they don't make the majority of my Christmas memories. 

I do remember stressing out that I forgot someone.  That I couldn't find the gift I wanted to buy someone at a price that matched my (low!) budget.  The fear that the person would equate how much I spent (or actually didn't spend) with how much I love them. Stress over the need to get a gift receipt in case it wasn't right. 

I remember feeling guilty when someone in the family who I knew was broke felt like they had to spend a lot of money on my family.  Like they had to get a present for each of my kids.  And me.  And my husband.  And we have a big family.  I actually felt guilty over having one. 

That's just wrong!  Children are NOT meant to be a burden.  The Bible describes them as blessings.  So why was I feeling the way I was?  All of this guilt and fear just creates a spirit of Christmas that is so negative.  Those feelings are not what I want for my kids. 

I crave a meaningful Christmas with fun memories.  Hot chocolate.  Singing carols.  Helping others. Maybe making a fun slideshow again.

So my family and friends....what if we were to go giftless in 2014?  That gives us a whole year to digest the thought.  To focus on memories and not material items.  To make cookies together.  To decorate together. Maybe even volunteer somewhere together and give back to the world a bit. Let's play a good round of Pictionary (sans cheating....I have grown up a bit over the years!)

If you feel that gifts are a must next year--let's celebrate our birthdays!  They are spread out through the year and don't hit all at once. Or let's just go giftless.  Works for me!

Thoughts?  Have you ever gone giftless? Tips for making it work?Anyone going to join me for our gift-less Christmas next year???

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Picture Memories

It's been a LONG time since I've done anything with all of the pictures we've been accumulating digitally.  I can't print the photos into scrapbooks like I used to, because Owen would eat them.  Seriously--a Pica thing...paper is a no no.

But, printing full size pictures and buying frames can be expensive.  And take up a lot of wall space.  I knew that wasn't the answer.  So I've done nothing.  Until now.

I recently ran across this tutorial.  I decided I could do it!  I ordered pictures from Snapfish, and set to work with the kids when they arrived.  We had to cut each picture into a 3X3 square. Of course we had to look at each one and talk about the events depicted.  We had a blast taking a trip down memory lane!

Here are some picture samples from our new collage.  Take a trip down memory lane with me!  I'm so thankful for each of these memories...and for having pictures on the wall again!

 A couple of years ago we grew wheat for the first time.  Along with the wheat berries, we had straw.  After collecting the straw into the trailer, Bryan took us all on a fun straw ride across the field.  Here is Ellie relaxing for the trip.
 Grandpa Al and Jeffrey as a baby.  At the time, the oldest and youngest in the Tanner clan.  Now Simon occupies the youngest spot.  We need a picture of those two!
 Owen playing with the water  hose at a friend's house.  He sure loves water!
 Owen, Jayme, Jeff and me at Family Camp in 2009.  Owen has a nice shiner from a seizure fall...But despite the seizures, we loved family camp!
Not a picture that every family can claim... Five generations X 4 kids...Baby Ellie, Jeff, Owen and Jayme with Daddy, Grandma, Great-Grandma and Great-Great Grandma.  We need to update this one as well.  Thankful for extended family that goes back for generations!

 We took a trip to Texas in 2008 to see Bryan's dad Jeff.  Here he is with Jayme and Owen.  What a fun trip that was!
 Jayme in 4 states!  A picture taken on the way home from Texas at 4 Corners.
 And then there were three...Bryan, Jayme and I in California. Seems like a lifetime ago!
 My sisters and my mom.  Got to love family! Katie is at the top.  She's 8 years younger than me.  Mindy is on the right.  She's 2 years my senior.  At the bottom is mom.  I won't say how old she is...on the off handed chance that she reads my blog she might kill me! :) (love you mom!)
Jayme, Owen and I on the slides at a park.  Bryan was really into photography this year, and took some great pictures!  This was one of them.  I love how he made it black and white.

Time goes by so quickly!  It was nice to preserve some of our memories with this photo collage.  I plan on making more soon.  The walls up our stairs have some nice empty space that I plan to fill!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lessons in Thankfulness from a Broken Washer

About a week ago, our washer stopped working.  I'd been ignoring the signs that it was dying--popping error codes randomly, and taking forever to spin out--and just continued pushing it.  Finally on a Thursday morning, it gave a new error code.  And stopped spinning.

I took note of the code, and turned to Google.  Faulty drain pump appeared to be the problem. seems that often the trouble can be fixed by simply clearing away a coin trap that acts as a protector for the pump.  

Wanting to dig right in, I found a tutorial explaining how to check the trap. It explained it clearly, and looked pretty simple. Except...I couldn't find the screws on it to remove the bottom panel.  

I began to despair. Laundry in our house happens daily.  Well, to be honest, it happens multi-daily.  In order to keep from being buried under dirty laundry, I wash at least two loads a day.  Owen's g-tube leaks onto clothes.  Simon spits up.  Owen floods the bathroom when he takes a bath.  Lots of laundry.  And I couldn't find two screws...ugh!

Thankfully, I have a handy husband.  He's been putting in extra hours at work, and even though the hour hand was clearly past the eight when he got home that night, he cheerfully tore the washer apart for me.  Those screws were hiding under our pedestal drawer. Oops!

Bryan followed the directions on the tutorial, and we found a bunch of junk on the trap.  He emptied it out, and then decided to clear out the hoses since he already had it apart.  The plumbing in our old house leaves something to be desired, and each hose he removed required a good bit of water to clean out.

Once everything got reassembled, Bryan and I eagerly turned it to a rinse and spin cycle.  Filled up with water just fine.  And then...error code.  Same one.  But then, on the next worked!  We decided to leave it unplugged overnight to reset and try again the next night.

I spent time that day researching the error again.  I found two other possibilities--loose wire and a bad pressure switch. When Bryan got home, he agreed to try, and found his multi-meter.  The power was spot on where it should be.  He also tested the pressure switch.  It was working.  At this point, it was rather late and he told me to order the part.

I did.  And then we waited for it to arrive.  During that time, I might have pouted.  And whined. More than a little... Until the Lord brought to my attention all of the good that had come from this situation.  I had to choose to be thankful.

So here are some lessons in Thankfulness from a broken washer:

1.  My husband was capable of diagnosisng and fixing the problem, so we didn't have to call an expensive repair man
2. My parents (who live across the road) gave us free access to their washer and dryer while waiting on the part.  I took them up on this...a lot!  
3. Because we had access to a washer (see number 2), we didn't have to pay the ridiculous fee of $50 for expedited shipping. We could just pay for normal delivery and allow the part some time to arrive.
4. It was the first time in several years that this washer broke.  And it was a FIXABLE problem!
5.  I learned the importance of not ignoring warning signs from appliances.  Error codes are not normal--even if they go away on their own.
6.  We learned how to clean out the coin trap.  We are going to start doing that on a regular basis.
7. Since I was going across the road to do laundry, I managed to not do it on Sunday.  And we survived.  And no one was running around naked.  I've always WANTED to not do laundry on Sundays since we're so busy from church, but always decided that we HAD to do it anyways.  I learned this past week that life went on just fine without it.  Going to keep that one up!
8. My husband put up with all of my diagnosing theories and patiently tried them all late at night for me.  I sure love him! And am very thankful for him.
9.  One day, when I didn't get over to get my laundry from my parents before nightfall...they had it all dried and folded...waiting for me.  Folded laundry.  What's not to be thankful for there?
10.  My mom had foot surgery a few days before our washer went out.  We were able to spend Friday with her doing laundry and visiting and cleaning, helping her out.

So even though I felt frantic at the thought of our washer being broken, the Lord worked everything out.  Seems to be a recurring theme in my life...maybe at some point I will learn from these lessons and stop being frantic altogether.  Choosing to be thankful does not come naturally to me....but I am learning!  And hopefully my children are learning alongside me and will not deal with this as much as I do when they are older!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fast Five Ingredient Dinners: Shrimp Broccoli Delight

When temperatures plunge below freezing, chore time takes a little  longer here at Grouse Creek.  Frozen water troughs need thawed, hoses need extra care and sometimes water has to be hauled in by buckets. Extra hay is needed to help the animals stay warm, and clean, dry bedding is crucial.  What normally takes thirty minutes to accomplish can easily take over an hour. 

Having a quick dinner really helps the evening to go smoothly after working so hard outside. Who wants to spend hours in the kitchen after all that?  Not me!

Thursday is Seafood night around here.  Usually we have tuna casserole or salmon patties.  But, salad shrimp was on sale at Winco, and I've been holding onto a bag.  Tonight was the perfect night to pull it out.  Jayme was so excited--shrimp is her favorite!

With only 5 ingredients and about 20 minutes worth of time, we enjoyed this lovely shrimp broccoli delight.

Here's the lineup of ingredients:

1/2 cup Butter
Whole Wheat Spaghetti Noodles (uncooked)
1 pound frozen salad shrimp
1 pound frozen broccoli
First, I threw a cube of butter into a large frying pan to let it slowly melt. (Definitely not a low fat meal!)

Meanwhile, I filled a large pot with water and turned it onto boil. When the water boiled, I threw in a box of 100% whole wheat spaghetti.  It cooks in 11 minutes (we like it tender!)
Noodles Cooking

 While the noodles were cooking, I added a pound of frozen shrimp to the garlic broccoli mixture and turned it down to low. The lid on top helped it to steam nicely.
The shrimp and broccoli taking a garlic butter bath.

 Once the noodles were finished, I dumped them into the stainer.  Then they made their way into the garlic mixture above.  A good stir incorporated the ingredients.

A couple more minutes with the lid on helped the garlic to saturate all of the noodles.  Make sure your temp is low enough you don't burn these!

Remove the lid and take the pan off the heat.  Inhale all the lovely garlic fumes.  Scoop out onto plates and serve.  We enjoyed a banana-orange Maggie Milk smoothie with ours.

What are your go-to meals when you're cold and in a hurry?

This post was linked up at Raising Arrows.

K Is For Kangaroo!

We had a fun time with the letter K today.  Jeff and Ellie decorated a kangaroo onto a large letter K I cut from construction paper.  I cut out the pieces for their joey as well, and then turned them loose. They had glue, scissors, wiggly eyes and other basic art supplies handy. It was neat how they both went in different directions with their creations.
Ellie's finished kangaroo is on the left, Jeffrey's on the right.

Since we don't homeschool on Fridays for the most part, we try to end each Thursday with a fun craft.  It helps to reinforce the learning from the week and uses some creativity. Brown paper would have been better, but we were out and used black.  Use what you have and avoid unnecessary trips to the store.  Even if that means black kangaroos. 

Ellie is adding a smile for her joey.

Sydney is helping Jeff with the wiggly eyes.

What crafts have you created lately?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Getting It All Done: Table Chores

Without chores, complete chaos would overtake our lives.  From dishes to cleaning, milking to giving fresh animal bedding, see how my family manages to get it all done!

Our chores fall into a variety of categories.  Farm chores.  Table Chores.  Morning Chores.  Weekly Chores.  Afternoon Chores.  You can see on our schedule how we fit chore time into each day.  This post focuses on our procedure for table chores.

Table chores take place at least three times a day.  They are completed after each meal.  Sometimes we need to do them after snacks too, but I try hard to pick easy snacks that don't require much prep or cleanup.

Since my family is littles heavy, I keep my expectations realistic.  I expect my children to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.  But, my 11 year old does a better job than my 3 year old. I keep persevering with chores. I keep teaching.  And it's paying off.  My kids may be young, but they are good workers. 

Without further ado...our table chore assignments for this school year:

Simon (3 months)
Lay in playpen and make encouraging goos and gaas for the rest of us :) And blow spit bubbles.  That's important!

Sydney (Almost 2)...
Clean the booster chairs.

She uses a wet rag to wipe all the food off both boosters.  If they need a deeper cleaning, I tackle it after she has removed the food.

I start my kids with this chore because it is so visual.  Do you see food?  No--then you're done!  Yes?  Then wipe more.

It's an easy first chore.  By the time they are 3, they are usually wiping the whole chair and not just the food chunks. 

Ellie (3.5)
 Wipe the table.  Wipe off the food.  Wipe off the sticky.

The food part she has down.  The sticky,...she is getting better!  One of my weekly chores is to scrub the table down, so at least once a week it gets completely cleaned.

Jeffrey (5)
Unload the dishwasher as needed (Due to his size, I put away stuff in the upper cupboards--he stacks it on the counter for me.)

Sweep the kitchen floor--again it's a work in progress. We have two brooms, so I often sweep with him.  He's great at getting piles into the dustpan now.

Owen (7)
Due to Owen's disability, he lacks the motor skills needed to do chores.  To help keep him involved, I'll often give him a wet rag.  He usually chews on it! Or he decides to eat the food off the floor before it gets swept.  Yuck!

Jayme (11)
Put food away (out of the pans, into the right sized container, covered, neatly in fridge). 
Sweep dining room floor, including under table and chairs

Wipe counters and chairs
Load dishwasher
Wash by hand

We all do our chores at the same time.  It typically takes 15-20 minutes to clean up after a meal.  I make sure and clean as I cook, which keeps the kitchen from becoming terrible. Singing helps the time go faster, so we'll often sing as we work.

How do table chores get accomplished at your house?

Linked up to: Raising Arrows

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Free the Frozen Animals

Integration and exposure are the main goals of homeschooling for Owen.   This activity was a perfect way to tackle both of those, AND hit some fine motor goals simultaneously.

I borrowed some of Jayme's small plastic animals (the kind that come in tubes...) and stuck two each in several different sized containers.  I added water and a few drops of food coloring.  When the color mixed, I stuck them all in the freezer overnight.

When it was time to free the animals, I covered the table in bath towels.  I grabbed a dish basin for extra ice.  Pulled out a handful of knives and explained the rules to the kids. 

Their job was to completely free their two animals.  They could use knives, or any other tools they could think of as long as they were being safe.  I passed out the ice chunks and started to work on mine. 
Ellie and Jeff use table knives to free the animals.

Jeff was the first to go search for a different tool.  He brought back a hammer, gave his ice two good thunks, and exposed both animals.  A knife quickly broke off the little chunks that were left.  I set him to work helping Sydney--since she decided it was too cold.

Sydney tries to get her animals out.  But declares the ice cold!
Owen loved playing with the ice.  He was fascinated by the edge of the animal sticking out.  He picked up ice chunks from everyone else and ate them.  Finally, using hand over hand motions, he was able to help hit with the hammer.  He eagerly grabbed his animal and warmed the remaining ice off by mouthing it. 

Owen loved this activity!
When all the animals were free, we picked up the ice and tossed it into the dish basin.  The towels went in the wash.  And that was that!  A fun fine motor activity accomplished.

Barnyard Blessings

In my recent Bible studies, I've been learning about complaining.  And mumbling.  And grumbling.  And about how we aren't supposed to do those things.  About how our tongue can get us in a lot of trouble.

The Israelites are the focus of my study.  My how they grumbled.  I can hardly believe their response in some situations.  They are receiving numerous blessings from the Lord and they still aren't happy.  Instead of manna, they want meat.  Instead of walking through faith with Moses, they desire the captivity of Egypt. It's like they just can't see the blessings.  They focus on what they want.  On how tired they are from all the walking.  On the sameness of life.  It's crazy! These are God's chosen people.  And they are mumbling.

And then I start thinking...I'm just like those Israelites.  I've been doing my fair share of complaining lately.  About being tired.  About my husband being gone a lot because he's working overtime.  About Owen not sleeping.  About getting up to milk the cows. About life in general.  I take the blessings that God has given my family, and I mumble.

I complain that I have to milk twice a day.  Instead of enjoying each day, I'm eagerly counting down until the calves are weaned (at three months) and I can switch to my preferred method of once a day milking.   I complain about it being dark for both milking sessions now.  I complain that I have to pack the hay and water.  I complain about frozen water tanks...I think you get the picture.

Convicted...again.  That seems to be a theme in my life lately.  So, I felt lead to focus on all the good God has given us.  Today's blessings are in the barnyard, since that's the area of life that seems to be causing me to grumble the most right now.

Barnyard Blessings


 A husband who is willing to get his hands dirty.  He cleans the chicken coop out for me.  And chases rouge cows.  And is just a blessing in so many other areas!
Bryan in the freshly cleaned laying hen coop!

My cows.  I really am thankful for my cows.  They are Dexters, and smaller than many cows. Most important...they don't have horns.  (Those kind of scare me!)

My milk.  Creamy, raw milk sure tastes delicious.  I love knowing that it's good for the kids and everyone else in the family.

 The dairy products.  Milk and cream can be so useful!  White sauce, ice cream, cottage cheese, mozzarella, yogurt.  And I know I haven't even begun to skim the surface of possibilities! 

Our meat cows.  These are really scary to me.  (They have horns.  And are MUCH bigger than my Dexters.)  But...oh they will taste so good!  I'm definitely thankful for them. 

 Homegrown meat in general and eggs!  Store bought stuff is even scarier than those horns.  Pink slime?  Not in my hamburger! The chickens in the summer are a pain.  But they are tasty!

Opportunities to spend time with my kids.  When Owen is awake at 5 and I can't get him to go back to sleep, he gets bundled up and strapped into his wheelchair and accompanies on my chore mission.  He enjoys petting the cows and helping hold the bottles for the babies.  Jayme gets up and helps me in the mornings, and we have some great conversations.  These wouldn't happen as naturally if it weren't for our chores.

Ability to teach my kids good work habits. The cows need milked.  The animals need fed.  They need bedding and water.  By taking our farm responsibilities seriously, the kids will learn to have a great work ethic.

 Opportunities for creativity! Seriously.  When you are in the barn for an hour, you can get bored.  Sledding in the straw is one of the many ways my kids have kept themselves entertained.They sure keep me entertained with all they come up with!

 My milking parlor.  I've seen many pictures of homesteaders milking in the pasture or other less than ideal environments.  I have a beautiful parlor, and don't have to squat!

Time for prayer.  When it's quiet in the barnyard, it's a wonderful time to spend in prayer! 

 Time for singing.  The cow like music.  They don't complain if I'm off tune (which I usually am!)  I've been trying to practice all of the hymns we've memorized.  When the kids are out with me, we all sing together--making a joyful noise unto the Lord.

 Opportunity to practice memory verses.  When we're working together, I can ask one of the kids to say a verse for me.  We can take turns reciting them together.  We can play a game to see who can do the most.  You don't need free hands for learning like this, which is good when you're busy milking or feeding!

 Grouse Creek Farm. It really is a beautiful land the Lord placed us on.  I grew up here, and have so many memories.  I'm thankful to be back. We have a creek with a waterfall.  We have the remnants of a beaver pond.  We have forests.  We have fields.  So much to see and do.  Who needs to pay for entertainment when we have all that?  Thank you Lord!

There are many more barnyard blessings, but I'm going to stop there for today.  My goal is to focus on these when I feel like complaining.  I'll practice taking my thoughts into captivity and stop letting the blessings that God has given me turn into reasons to grumble.  I'll choose to learn from the Israelites instead of being just like them.

Any advice for someone trying to stop complaining?

Please join us for Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemaker

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Owen's Story: Part 5

Seizure Overload & Walking

If you remember where we last left off, Owen was on the ketogenic diet, eating everything he could fit in his mouth, and having abdomen problems.

Finally in October, the abdomen issues came to a head again.  We took him back to the doctor who referred us back to Children's for testing.  They admitted him again.  They hoped to find an answer.  They hooked him up to the fluid that they give adults before a colonoscopy, hoping to clean out the cloudy bits they saw on the x-ray. 

Two full days of that going in and no nutrition or fluids.  He became completely dehydrated while admitted as a patient to the children's hospital. They had to call a specialist up from peds surgery to insert his IV for fluids.  Another lower bowel study indicated even slower function.  But nothing was suggested as a course of treatment. 

At our request, they did another EEG since his drop seizures had once again spiraled. This time the test lasted for over 48 hours.  At the 24 hour mark, the neurologist came in and asked us about his seizures.  I said I didn't think he'd really had that many, just a few instances of drops. He told us that Owen was having CONSTANT seizure activity.  They just weren't visible--doing damage to the brain and not showing through the body.

Owen was put on extremely high doses of strong meds.  The pattern slowed down, but didn't go away.  His attitude change had been the only noticeable symptom.  And we didn't recognize that symptom as seizure related.  The ketogenic diet was deemed a failure, and Owen was taken off.  The best news we had heard for a while!

Once again, I asked to be released from the hospital.  They had dehydrated him, put him on the wrong bolus (not sugar free like he needed for the keto diet, but the kind they give diabetics needing a sugar boost...).  They weren't finding out what was causing his abdomen issues.  But we had the seizure part figured out.

He stayed on high doses for a few months, and slowly got weaned off that.  Drop seizures continued.  We trialed different meds.  We got a helmet.  And then...something worked.  Owen is now on Keppra, Onfi and Zonisimide for seizures.  He takes clonazepam (another seizure med) for sleep. 

On this combination, he started walking!  He is making progress.  He's not needing the helmet. We once again enjoyed a seizure free summer.  Except this time we saw growth in Owen instead of problems.  

Owen enjoying the park on a recent shopping day.

He still suffers from Pica.  He will rip a book to shreds in minutes if given the opportunity.  He pulls covers out of DVDs and rips them.  We have to constantly be on guard.  But…he is walking!  Praise the Lord!  

I have noticed a few drop seizures in the last few weeks.  They are slowly coming back.  I think it might be a winter thing…maybe a sign of a cold?  Not entirely sure.  But we sure enjoyed the summer!

With all of the health struggles Owen has, we are thankful that our loving Father holds us all in His hands and knows the timing of everything in our lives.  Bryan and I are acutely aware of the fact that we could lose Owen.  With the Pica, bowel obstruction and rupture are possible.  Seizures increase his risk of injury and sudden death. His fascination with water could lead to a drowning. Or, Owen could outlive us all.  Life is uncertain.  But God knows the path that we will each walk.

I'm amazed at how much Owen has made it through.  Amazed at how much he has taught our family about unconditional love.   I thank God for bringing us our Angel here on earth.  I don't know why Owen has Angelman Syndrome.  I don't wish this syndrome on anyone.  But, I am praying that Owen will bring God glory with his life.  God does care for each of us.  And he knows what is best.  We just might not see the ins and outs of His plan on this side of Glory. 

For the rest of Owen's story, please click here: 1,2,3,4,5

Owen's Story: Part 4

If you missed the first parts: 1, 2, and 3

The Seizure Battle

Owen's battle with seizures became recognizable to us when he was about 18 months old.  He was at therapy with Bryan, and had a grand mal.  After a trip to the ER, Owen was referred to the pediatric neurologist.  Yet another specialist for our tiny boy.

The neurologist conducted many tests, including a sleep deprived EEG, and concluded that Owen had seizures typical of a patient with Angelman Syndrome.  Owen was started on Keppra.  The seizures went away.  Life got back to normal.

Over time, the Keppra became less effective.  As Owen gained weight, he needed a higher dose.  We'd start to see breakthrough seizures.  A trip back to the neurologist, a prescription for higher dose, pretty easy fix.  Wait a few months.  Repeat.

Then, the Keppra seemed to stop working.  Owen's seizure pattern changed.  He began having drop seizures.  That's when he is just fine one minute, and hitting the ground hard the next.  These didn't have the typical sleep session afterwards, and began happening more and more often.

He hit his head a lot.  We went to the ER for stitches twice.  Then the neurologist added a second med.  Depakote.  It worked on the drop seizures.  Now he was on two meds.  But he wasn't having seizures.  He did however, begin to have tremors in his hands.  Our first experience with a side effect.

The year Sydney was born (2011), was a horrible season for seizures.  We weren't quite sure what was going on, and the neurologist was stumped as well.  We trialed several different meds, looking for the combination that would provide relief.  Nothing worked.  He had severe side effects to a couple of meds.

Dietary remedies were recommended.  The neurologist suggested started the ketogenic diet at Spokane's Children's Hospital.  Bryan and I agreed.  Perhaps a natural, dietary approach would finally get us over the seizure battle.

We watched First, Do No Harm.  We had grand expectations for this diet.  The week  long introduction was hard.  Sydney, Owen and I stayed in the hospital.  The other kids rotated between Bryan, my parents and friends depending on who was working.  I was still working, and put in several hours from the hospital.  It was crazy!

But, it worked!  For the first time in years, Owen wasn't having seizures.  His food wasn't very appealing.  Lots of mayo.  Little protein.  Littler meat.  Scarce fruit.  Every bit had to be carefully weighed.  It was a lot of work.

Owen hanging out at the hospital during his fast.  He took it really well!

First taste of KetoCal after a 3 day fast...

The first keto meal.  Hot dog, mayo and applesauce.

Sydney on my lap after three days in the hospital.  

But Owen remained seizure free and we were able to get him off all of his meds.  The problem?  The hardest side effect we've ever dealt with.  Owen developed Pica.  Though the doctors have never agreed that there was a link between this diet and Pica, we disagree.

We think now that because of all of Owen's hyperactivity and movement throughout the day, his caloric need was MUCH higher than anticipated by the dietician.  He probably needed many more calories on his diet plan.  His keto levels were really high.  And we think he was starving.

Since he couldn't talk to tell us he was hungry, he did what anyone would do.  He began to seek food.  Except he grabbed leaves, stick, bark and paper.  Everything he ate at that point was fibrous.  He had major problems with constipation, and maybe he was seeking relief.  We'll never really know.

But it was horrible.  I talked to the neurologist about it.  He suggested trying to make it through the summer on the diet to give Owen's brain a longer period without seizures.  We agreed.  And continued to provide increased levels of supervision to keep Owen from eating everything.

Then began the worst summer of our lives.  After a trip to Silverwood in July, I rushed Owen to the ER because of what I thought was an abdominal blockage.  (Wouldn't surprise me with everything he ate...)

The ER administered several enemas without results.  The x-ray didn't appear to show anything. They finally just sent me home with instructions to go to the GI doctor again.

The next day, Owen continued to be in extreme pain.  I took him into Spokane's ER instead of the little local hospital.  They agreed there was definitely something wrong.  More enemas.  No results.  Nothing odd on the x-ray.

The CAT scan revealed that his appendix was a little large, and they decided to watch him for possible appendicitis. Two days later, he finally had poop.  Major blowouts.  The doctors were worried and ordered a stool sample. Of course once that order came in, Owen stopped pooping.  I tried to convince them that it was the enemas finally working.  They didn't agree.

Owen had blood coming out of his g-tube.  They did an upper GI procedure and found some irritation.  Owen was once again diagnosed with extremely slow moving intestines.  But nothing new for him. He finally sent a poop sample in. At my insistence, they checked the appendix again.  He was diagnosed with appendicitis and scheduled for surgery.

Except that a couple of hours later, the nurse came in and said he had been found to have C-Diff.  The surgeon refused to do the surgery saying that the C-Diff explained all the enlarging and fluid in the GI tract.

After research, I requested immediate discharge so I could mix up some keifer and increase Owen's probiotic levels to fight the C-Diff.  He continued to have unexplained abdomen pain. And he was once again having seizures.  More drops.  A lot more. 

I took him the next day to our local doctor, just for his opinion.  He knows Owen, and is willing to take mine and Bryan's opinions seriously.  After looking at the bloodwork, he became concerned that there was an infection.  He also suspected the C-Diff diagnosis, as Owen only had the one episode of explosive poop.  Which he said was probably a result of all the enemas.

He also said that it takes at least 3 days to get a positive diagnosis on C-Diff.  The hospital diagnosed it in 6 hours.  If Owen was so infected, the doctor said that he'd be pooping everywhere all the time.  Which Owen wasn't.

His next C-Diff test came back perfectly normal.  So we still aren't sure if he ever actually had it or not...he enjoyed some low carb keifer in the meantime though, which we calculated using some basic math into his keto diet. 

Owen gave more blood.  The white count was down again, so we decided just to watch him.  Nothing exciting happened.  Except his entire personality changed.  He used to be super happy.  Now he was miserable and disagreeable.  He shredded books.  He  ripped paper.  He ate bark.  And balloons.  And candy wrappers.

No matter how closely we watched him, he would find something.  If the other kids left a book out, it was destroyed.  He broke all of our blinds and began eating those.  He pulled fuzz out of cushions and chairs.  He moved quick.  It was horrible.

But his seizures were finally under control.  So we thought....

For the rest of Owen's story, please click here: 1,2,3,4,5

Jayme's Cake

I love having an older daughter!  At 11, Jayme is such a blessing.  She helps in so many ways and is just a joy.

She's been wanting angelfood cake from our chicken eggs.  So, I started saving the whites from when I make pudding and need the yolks.  We finally had accumulated 12 whites, and she was so excited. 

Jayme searched the Internet for a recipe she liked.  She knew that the Food Network should be a good site, and found one on there.  The only problem?  It called for cake flour.  Which we didn't have. 

Our friend Google was called upon again, and Jayme found a way to convert all-purpose flour into cake flour.  We could do that. 

She proceeded to follow all the directions and make the cake.  At one point she looked at me and told me that she liked the sifter.  Folks, I didn't even know what a sifter was when I was 11.  (Actually...I didn't ever use one until I needed it for Jayme's home ec lessons a couple of years ago....I just skipped that step in recipes! )

Homeschooling is allowing us to build a great bond and lifelong memories.  Jayme is learning things that will serve her throughout her life.  This is why I do it!  Reasons like this.  Jayme prefers the company of her family.  Yes...she has friends.  But, it's me that she comes to when a problem arises. 

The angelfood cake came out perfectly.  Jayme learned some new skills.  We spent wonderful time in the kitchen.  I was making dinner.  Jayme was making cake.  I was there to help when needed.

And we ate cake.  It was delicious!  Jeffrey asked her about frosting.  Jayme pulled blueberries out of the freezer and topped each piece with them.  Yum!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fun, Nameless Game

The kids were antsy last night, and needed to burn off some energy.  Since it was dark out, I knew it had to be an inside game.  It was time for creativity!

We scooted the coffee table out of the way to make room. I took two pieces of printer paper and had Jayme cut one in half.  We took one half and folded it in half. I taped it shut.

On the whole piece we wrote a 10.  On the half we wrote 25.  On the quarter we wrote 50.  Then we taped the pieces to the floor.

The numbers don't really show, but 10 is on the top, then 25, and then the tiny 50.
I had the kids round up four plastic plates for our toy kitchen, and one ring from the toddle ring stacking toy.  It served as a shooter. 

The kids sat on the rug, closest to the 10 paper. You can just barely see the edge of the rug in the picture above.  I had Jayme go first to demonstrate.

She took a plate and set it on the edge of the rug.  Then she grabbed the shooter and used it to propel the plate forward.  In this picture, you can see that one of her plates is landed across from the 25 paper.  One is still in motion just past the 10. 

We kept the scoring simple.  If you landed a plate on a paper, you got double the score of that paper.  If you landed between the rug and the 10, you got 0 points.  Between 10 and 25 was worth 10.  Between 25 and 50 was 25.  Between 50 and the dining room chairs was 50.  Past the chairs was 0. 

Here, Jeff just took a shot.  He landed across from the 25 paper, and earned 25 points.  We did three rounds.  Each round consisted of all three kids shooting all four plates.  At the end of every round, I'd add up the score and announce the game.

After three rounds, Jayme was the winner with 355 points.  Everyone had fun.  Everyone burned off some energy.  It was neat! 

Ellie taking her turn.  She earned 10 points for this one! 

Our cheering section.  Owen and Sydney! We will definitely be playing this again.

The only problem?  We don't have a name for our game.  Any ideas?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Owen's Story: Part 3

If you've missed the earlier parts of Owen's story, you can find them here: Part 1, Part 2. 

Angelman Syndrome

We headed to the geneticist in August of 2007, hoping to learn more about Prader-Willi and our chances of having more children with this syndrome.  After a complete physical and observation, the geneticist commented that she didn't think Owen had Prader-Willi.  She thought he had Angelman Syndrome, and wanted to run more complete genetic testing.

Owen gave up lots more blood, and a different lab did more specific testing.  The couple of weeks that we had to wait were horrible.  We thought we had closed the door on Angelman Syndrome, since the developmental pediatrician said it was definitely Prader-Willi.  Honestly, Prader-Willi looked a lot more appealing to us.

Kids with Prader-Willi may want to eat everything...but they can talk.  I had seen one of these kiddos while I taught in the high school self-contained classroom.  And he wasn't in my class.  He was learning a lot.  He was reading and writing.  He was delayed, but thriving.  He gave me hope.

The Internet can be a terrible place.  All the research I did on Angelman Syndrome gave me nightmares.  They dashed our hopes for our son.  Terrible, negative expectations.  Never talking.  Never walking.  Lifelong battles with seizures.  It was too much.  I began to shut down, knowing that this was the right diagnosis.

Owen was fascinating with water, even at that young age.  He had a beautiful smile--almost always seeming happy.  Those are both symptoms of Angelman Syndrome.  And the geneticist confirmed it.  His deletion was from the maternal 15th chromosome, not the paternal.  He definitely had Angelman Syndrome. 

Thankfully, she also told us that because Owen had the deletion version of this syndrome, Bryan and I did not have a high risk of having another Angel baby.  It was a random deletion, not an inherited form. (Yes--there is an inherited form of Angelman Syndrome.)

Bryan and I left that appointment with mixed feelings.  We felt like all of our dreams for our son had been dashed.  But, we also knew that the Lord had given us Owen for a reason.  It was only through our trust in Him that we began to put the pieces of our life and hopes back together.

About this time, Owen also had his g-tube and fundo surgery.  His recovery was hard.  When I saw him in recovery, I felt horrible.  I thought I'd made the biggest mistake of my life.  (Definitely wouldn't be the last time I'd feel this way in regards to Owen's health...) He looked awful.

Owen shortly after surgery. 

The new G-Tube...
Owen and me
Even in this pit of despair that we were in, the Lord was so gracious to us.  He walked with us every step of the way and guided a path.  We clung to Him and His promises.  And slowly the fog began to clear.

Owen began recovering.  With the tube feeds, he actually began gaining weight and strength.  He was finally getting himself to a sitting position and holding it.  We learned a new normal.  One that included hooking our baby up to a pump to eat.  Constantly listening for alarms, leaking tubes and food stuck on the fundo.  Driving all over the country for therapies.  We made it through the craziness, and settled into a routine.

At this point, we had moved to the farm.  Bryan was staying home with Jayme and Owen and going to school using his GI Bill. I was working in a resource room in the grade school I had gone to as a child.  Jayme was going to kindergarten in another district, with Grandma as her teacher.  Bryan dutifully drove Owen to Colville twice a week for therapy.  He went to Spokane once a week.  We had a therapist out to the house once a week.  Life was so busy.

We were thankful though.  It seemed like Owen had beaten at least one set of odds.  He didn't appear to have the seizure disorder that so many Angels struggle with.  Ha!  We just didn't know how to recognize a seizure when we saw one back then.  It's amazing what we can learn.  Since this is getting long, Owen's battle with seizures will be picked up in part 4.

For the rest of Owen's story, please click here: 1,2,3,4,5

Easy Cranberry Smoothies

We've had cranberry sauce coming out of our ears.  Well, not really.  But I did take a huge Costco bag of cranberries and turn it into sauce.  We'll call it Thanksgiving prep! made way more than I was thinking it would! Especially since I didn't have a huge family crowd to share it with this time.

Since cranberry sauce only goes with a few meals, I've been searching the web and being creative.  We really enjoyed the apple cranberry crisp from this website. But, you can really only eat so much dessert.  At least you SHOULD only eat so much dessert.  I have a hard time with that concept!

So this morning I was looking at the cranberry sauce at the bottom of the fridge.  I knew it should be used up soon to avoid spoiling.  I scanned the shelves of our fridge and saw the half gallon of Maggie milk.

I had been giving Owen his meds in a cranberry yogurt, so I thought I'd try a smoothie.  I filled the blender halfway up with milk.  Then I dumped in about a cup of cranberry sauce.  For good measure, I threw in a banana that was banana bread worthy.  I added about five ice cubes and gave it a whirl.

Before blending...
 It was wonderful!  I really enjoyed the tang from the cranberries.  I think next time, I will definitely cut down the sugar in the sauce recipe.  It was sweet.  But, oh so good! I will be making this again.  I might even make too much cranberry sauce on purpose next time, just to get some more smoothie!

Cups of cranberry goodness for a couple of the kids.

Linked up to: Raising Arrows