Humans are the only mammals who…

If you’re going to start a sentence with “humans are the only mammals who,” I sure hope you’re planning to share a fun fact, not to make an argument (unless your argument is that humans are unique among mammals.)

Alas, when I hear “humans are the only mammals who,” I brace myself for one particular argument: milk drinking.

Should humans drink milk from other species?

Well, humans are the only mammals who drink milk after weaning.

Tirzah Mae and Beth-Ellen drinking cow's milk
Young humans drinking the milk of another species

Folks, this is not a scientific argument. Say I accept your premise that humans are the only mammals who drink milk from other species. Does it follow that humans ought not drink milk from other species? No, this merely means that humans are different from other mammals.

The reality is, this is only one of many significant ways in which humans are different from other mammals. Humans build fires to heat their homes and cook their food. Humans wear clothing. Humans use soap. Humans write blog posts. Humans use medications to treat and prevent illness. We are truly exceptional creatures.

If “humans are the only mammals who drink milk after weaning” is an argument against milk-drinking, why shouldn’t the same argument be used to say we should all run around naked and unwashed? Why shouldn’t we also argue that we should only eat raw food (or food that has just happened to be cooked by the sun, without human intervention)?

Furthermore, is the statement that “humans are the only mammals who drink milk after weaning” even true?

When I was growing up, we took regular trips to visit my grandparents in rural northeastern Nebraska. There was one particular farm along the way that kept their cows and their pigs in the same pen. My siblings and I were always fascinated (and a bit grossed-out, to be honest) to see the pigs suckling on the cows. Perhaps the only reason “humans are the only mammals who drink milk after weaning” is because few other mammals have opportunity? After all, I think humans might be the only mammals who express their milk and that of other animals to be consumed versus consuming it only directly from the breast/udder.

So, anyway, if you’re trying to make an argument that cow’s milk (or non-milk cow’s milk substitutes) is unnecessary for humans, please try another argument.


This rant brought to you in response to something I read from someone who should have known better. Since I actually agreed with her true underlying point (that a child who is allergic to cow’s milk doesn’t need an alternate milk source), I didn’t bother to try to straighten out her argument – but I did want to get my frustration with that argument off my chest.


Note to Self: You don’t need to finish

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that if I’ve started something, I might as well finish it.

As in, “I resisted the temptation to eat my emotions for a while, but now that the bag of potato chips is open, I might as well finish the whole thing.” Or “I know I’m not supposed to yell at my children, but now that I’ve got the TIRZAH MAE!!!!! out, I might as well finish my tirade.”

Sure, I feel guilty afterward. I swear that I’m NOT going to do it again. But then the staccato (and much too loud) “LOU-IS!” springs forth from between my clenched teeth and there we are again. I started, so I might as well finish.

Tirzah Mae
Louis
Beth-Ellen

But I’m coming to realize that’s not at all true.

In fact, if I want to have any success at not starting, I need to start by not finishing.

The “BETH-ELLEN!!” bursts out. I feel immediately guilty – and I stop. I take a breath, check my tone: “I’m sorry. Mama shouldn’t have yelled. Beth-Ellen, you may not…”

The more practice I get at stopping and repenting, the sooner I remember to stop. The sooner I remember to stop, the less frequently I start. I get into the habit of obeying the prompting of the Holy Spirit instead of ignoring him.

And my home becomes more and more peaceful, reflecting the fruits of the Spirit: peace, patience… gentleness, and self-control.

Mental note: just because you started, you don’t need to finish. In fact, it’s much better that you don’t.


Expanding and Contracting and Expanding Again

How many times have people commented on what they see as the impossibility of our life? Difficult deliveries. Lots of young children, one right after the other. Foster care thrown on top.

How many times have I responded back that God gives grace for what he gives? I didn’t have the grace (or the skills) for three when I only had two – but God gave the grace when he gave the third child. Ditto four. And five. (Even if the skills are still a work in progress, to be honest!)

Nothing makes this more clear than when a foster child moves from our home.

Sweet P lived with us for 20 months and was reunited with her biological family in November of last year. We were so excited (still are!) to be able to participate in a successful reintegration. Of course, it was bittersweet – as happy as we are for her and her family, we are also sad to no longer have the connection we once had (We are so thankful that we have a good relationship with Sweet P’s family and have been able to see her a few times since reintegration, most recently an overnight just last night.)

Five children (including Sweet P!) around the dining room table
The view around my dining room table this noon – five of my precious children together again

Anyway, having a foster child move is bittersweet, but there’s another feeling I wasn’t quite prepared for when we started fostering. It was a feeling of… ease. Like, “wow, it’s a lot easier to parent four than five.”

The strange thing is, it wasn’t that easy to parent four back before four became five. My capacity expanded somewhere along the way. God gave grace for what he gave – grace for five.

But our family size contracted for a bit, and the bit of ease that comes with four instead of five has given me additional wiggle room now that I’m frequently parenting alone while Daniel travels for business. And has given me some additional wiggle room to help me establish good habits in our homeschool.

But it’s time for expansion again.

Four children has become five again.

Not a foster child this time. We’re not sure when Daniel will be done traveling and the logistics of a new placement don’t work very well with our current situation (lots of appointments that need to be done rapidly don’t work very well when you have four other children that you can’t take with you – thanks COVID! – and a husband that may or may not be out-of-state at any time in the near future). So we won’t be taking new foster children until we have a more settled schedule.

Playdough with the figure of a very pregnant woman stamped onto it
The Sumerian cylinder seal I made for myself as part of our history studies (Tirzah Mae thinks I should start looking like this tomorrow, since I’ve been pregnant almost a month :-P)

But four has become five again – it’s time to stop popping bon-bons (ha!) Instead, we are preparing to expand again as God gives grace for a new little one arriving on the outside sometime in September.


A Girl of Many Layers

Beth-Ellen came to me, complaining that her shoes didn’t fit. Would I help her put them on?

Oddly, she seemed to be right. I could have sworn those shoes fit yesterday. But wait…

I peeled back her sock just to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

Yep. Three pairs of socks worn on top of each other.

Beth-Ellen's foot with three pairs of socks

But three pairs of socks is barely scratching the surface of this girl’s love of layers. She’s worn as many as six or seven pair at a time. She’s also been known to layer three shirts and stick a dress on top of it all.

She’s a character, our Beth-Ellen girl.

And we love her.


It’s Still Christmas

Intermixed with the breezy autumn calls of “Happy Fall Y’all” and #PSLlove come the inevitable announcement of the first appearance of Christmas merchandise or music at [insert store of choice].

Everyone quickly agrees that this must be denounced and comments their own personal line in the sand for decorating for Christmas and/or listening to Christmas music.

Until 2020, that is. In 2020 we didn’t go into stores, so we couldn’t complain. Also, we’d been living Groundhog Day for several months by then and it seemed everyone was ready for a bit of cheer.

My Facebook feed filled with photos of homes decorated for Christmas on November 1st, complete with #sorrynotsorry.

Now that it’s January 5, I’ve been seeing a week of announcements that trees have been taken down and Christmas cleaned up. It’s a new year, on to new things.

Not here, though. It’s still Christmas at Prairie Elms.

For the past several years, we’ve chosen to celebrate Advent in a way that attempts to heighten anticipation.

I set up the Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent. And then we sit and wait with an unadorned tree for one whole week. The children ask, “Can’t we put on the lights? Please?” They know that they’re only yet seeing a glimmer of what the tree will become.

On the second Sunday of Advent, we load the tree with lights and plug them in. Beautiful. But we’ve barely enjoyed the lights before the children are begging, “Is it time for the ornaments yet?” No, no. We hold off on that for another week.

On Gaudete Sunday, at last we can enjoy the tree in its full splendor, loaded with ornaments.

The Prairie Elms Christmas Tree

Those couple of weeks of waiting offer opportunities for us to talk about how Israel waited year after year, decade after decade, century after century, millenia after millenia for the Promised Messiah. Like the slow revelation of our decorations, prophecies hinted at the Messiah who would come, whetting their appetites for the full revelation of the Coming One. And then, then – such a sweet revelation – Christ Incarnate.

But once the tree is up? We keep it up all Christmas long.

Through the first day of Christmas, the second day, the third day, the fourth, and on through the twelfth day of Christmas. We take our Christmas tree down on Epiphany, January 6, when Christmas (the liturgical season) is over.

So maybe you’ve moved on past Christmas into the new year (no shame in that!) – but we haven’t quite yet.

At Prairie Elms, it’s still Christmas.


I Do Sourdough All Wrong

A little over a year and a half ago, I bought a dehydrated sourdough starter off the internet. Since then, I’ve been consistently making sourdough all wrong.

Dough straight out of the breadmaker (pictured in background)
  • I keep my starter in the fridge rather than on the counter
  • I only feed my starter when I’m getting ready to make a new loaf of bread (whether it’s been a day or a month since I last fed it)
  • I don’t measure my starter when I’m feeding it – I just scrape the whole thing into a bowl and feed it (whether it’s 4 oz of starter or 12 oz)
  • I don’t pre-ferment or fold and stretch my dough – I just chuck it in the breadmaker on the dough cycle and let it do its thing
  • I don’t use recipes specifically designed for sourdough – I just calculate how much extra flour I need to convert my tried and true bread recipes to sourdough
  • I don’t form boules or any other fancy-shaped loaves – I just stick my dough in a standard loaf pan and bake it like that
A half eaten loaf of faux-buttermilk bread and a full loaf of half-whole-wheat sourdough bread waiting to be eaten

In 2021, I’m planning to try some traditional sourdough, just for fun. But if it ceases to be fun? I can always go right back on doing what I’m doing.

And if you’ve been thinking about trying sourdough but are intimidated by all the fancy instructions, replete with NEVERs and MUSTs? Take a deep breath and dive in anyway – sourdough done all wrong still tastes pretty good.


In which I complete my first book of 2021

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Catwings Return is 48 pages long, has illustrations on nearly every page, and just happens to be due back to the library tomorrow with no more renewals available (which means I’ve had it on my bookshelf for 12 weeks already – nothing like a due date to inspire action.)

It’s a tiny accomplishment, but I’m learning to celebrate tiny things.

One fewer word missed on the verse I’m memorizing. The times when my children look me in the eye when I call their name instead of just ignoring me. A couple square feet of counterspace cleared of dishes and wiped clean of crumbs.

May 2021 be a year of many tiny steps in a good direction.


An Unexpected Perk of Parenthood

One of my favorite parts of this particular stage of mothering is that I can do all sorts of crafts without any expectation of them having to look truly good.

Kids painting leaves and making leaf prints

We gathered leaves and made leaf prints today. The ones we made with our temperas and kiddy paintbrushes are nowhere near as pretty as the one on Pinterest, made with expensive paint markers and made by an actual adult. But the children learned a little about the process of printmaking, and this actual adult got to do leaf prints without stressing over how my product was, mmm, less-than-amazing.

And when I finished making my prints and thought the painted leaves looked pretty? I quick cut out a cardboard ring and glued the leaves onto it to make a funky fall wreath. As a single gal, I couldn’t have pulled off such a kitschy craft – but nobody bats an eye when they see such things in the home of a mother of preschoolers.

My leaf wreath

Just don’t tell anyone that the preschoolers didn’t make it – it was all me :-)


Now We Are Six

I asked her what she wanted for her birthday meal. She said she wanted tacos.

“With taco meat or salsa chicken?” I asked.

“Just beans,” she said. “And corn.”

“And lettuce with ranch?”

“No, kaleslaw with Myrtle’s.”

So that’s what we had the day she turned six.

And bunny cake. We also had bunny cake.

Tirzah Mae and her bunny cake

I asked her what color. She said she wanted gray. “Like a real bunny.”

I’ve lost my cake decorating stuff, including my gel dyes, so we compromised with brownish from half-toasted coconut.

And that’s what we had the day she turned six.


We Got Shot

The Garcia family got our flu shots today.

We do every year, because we know that the flu is nothing to sneeze at. While influenza often just means a terrible couple of weeks of cold-type symptoms combined with awful muscle aches, not everyone who gets influenza experiences a mild case. In fact, over the past 10 years, influenza has killed about 35,500 Americans yearly (annual deaths range from 12K in 2011/12, by far the mildest season in the past decade, to 61K in 2017/18).

Post-shot selfie of the whole family
Post-shot selfie. Silly faces are from trying to get Shiloh to look at the camera. She wasn’t amused, obviously.

My own terrible experience with a “mild” case of the flu in college was enough to convince me that I NEVER wanted it again – but even if I was willing to get flu myself, I am aware that me getting the flu doesn’t just affect me. If I get the flu, I can also give others the flu – and others might not be as “lucky” as I was.

This year, it’s even more important that we not get and give the flu. An estimated 442,000 Americans end up in the hospital with the flu each year – and, this year of all years, if we can keep people out of the hospital and off of ventilators we should.

One common objection is that the flu shot is not 100% effective – this is true. Likewise, seatbelts don’t keep everyone from dying of car accidents and not smoking doesn’t keep everyone from dying of lung cancer – that doesn’t make them worthless. Flu shots remain a low-risk way to reduce risk of getting influenza. And, even when the influenza vaccine has relatively low effectiveness at preventing influenza infection, it still results in milder cases of influenza (which means fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths – still a win.)

So get your flu shots, people! Do it for yourself, do it for your neighbor.

The Garcia family did.


The data I shared regarding disease burden is from the CDC website. For science-based answers to common questions regarding the flu vaccine, check out the linked blog post from science journalist Tara Haelle at her blog Red Wine and Applesauce.