Monday, February 29, 2016

Girls Night Out: Kelly Gau Studio

I think everyone woman knows and appreciate a night away with just the girls.  Luckily for me, I've got a great group of girlfriends found in the North Iowa Bloggers, and we got together last week when Kelly of Kelly Gau Studio did a special Mixed Media Art Class at the West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, Iowa.

Girls Night Out with Kelly Gau Studio - studio located in Albert Lea, Minnesota
I've traveled up to Kelly's studio in Albert Lea, Minnesota a few times.  It is such a fun and artistic space.  I have been up there with both friends and family and have come home with different Mixed Media creations for our home and with gifts for both family and friends.  And while it is nice to get away up there, I couldn't resist the chance to put on one of her cute aprons less than 20 miles from home!  It was so nice for Kelly to travel down south with all of her supplies and papers to do her show on the road and for the West Fork Wharf to open up on one of their closed nights to let a group of ladies come in to eat, drink and create!

Girls Night Out with Kelly Gau Studio creating Mixed Media Art
Kelly of Kelly Gau Studio giving instructions
for creating Mixed Media Art
So what is Mixed Media Art?  Mixed Media Art is using a variety of materials to create a piece of art.  Kelly walks people through making their own individual canvases using paint, paper, ink, oil pastels, mod podge, etc.  Just like other painting or art classes you may have heard about or went to, she has two templates for the participants to choose from as a base.  Each month, she has two new templates.  In February the templates were birds or a tractor.  I of course chose a tractor!  Then after you've chose your base theme, you pick out pieces of craft and scrapbook paper that you like and think would go well for your canvas.  You also pick out a background paint color to paint your canvas (you also have the option of not painting the canvas and leaving it white, which I have done in the past.)  Then you start layering by mod podging, and putting torn pieces of paper on your canvas.  After you've mod podged everything on the canvas you can use water based oil pastels to outline your picture, or pencil, or ink.  I also love using the oil pastels to add shading and depth to my art pieces.  The final touch is adding a verse or a quote to your canvas.

Girls Night Out with Kelly Gau Studio - "Behind every Good Man is a Great Tractor: And a smart wife who bought it for him."
My finished creation for our farm office
"Behind every Good Man is a Great Tractor:
And a smart wife who bought it for him."
Girls Night Out with the North Iowa Bloggers and Kelly Gau Studio
The North Iowa Bloggers with our finished creations
Alicia of The Pork Diaries, Katy of Learning As I Go,
Laura of Life on Skyview Farms, me and Donna of 
Having a Girls Night Out with Kelly Gau Studio was so much fun!  I can't wait till the next time I get to create with Kelly.  This summer I am planning on bringing the kids up to her studio for one of her children's create sessions!  Have you ever participated in a Mixed Media Art class before?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Celebrating a Winter ONEderland

Winter is a busy birthday season for our family and with another birthday arriving soon for our family I'd feel awful without sharing about our youngest, JP's, Winter ONEderland.  For all of our kid's we celebrate their birthday with a family birthday party surround by grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  It is always a lot of fun and a great way to get everyone together.

To start off, we made invitations for all of our family members.  For all of the kids' first birthdays the invites have involved their footprints.

Celebrating a Winter ONEderland - Invitation

To get the "Winter ONEderland" feel, the older kids helped me cut snowflakes, that we hung around the house with copies of photos of her from over the past year, and we made a big letter snowman.

Celebrating a Winter ONEderland - Decorations

The party started with a soup dinner.  I made chili and chicken and dumpling soups in crock-pots, and I made Jeni Eats's Funeral Sandwiches, which we affectionately called Birthday Sandwiches for the party's sake.  We also had a snowman cheese ball and relish tray out for people to munch on as everyone arrived.

Celebrating a Winter ONEderland - Snowman cheese ball and relish tray

The hot chocolate bar was a huge hit with everyone too.  I think everyone had at least one cup, if not two, before the end of the party.  The hot chocolate bar included individual hot cocoa mixes, mini chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, Heath bar toffee chips, peppermint chips, whipped cream, and wafer rolls.  I thought the wafer rolls would be the perfect "stir sticks" but they didn't last long enough in the heat of the water for that purpose.  So word to the wise, have extra spoons ready to stir your hot chocolate!

Celebrating a Winter ONEderland - hot chocolate bar

After we had the soup dinner, we opened presents.  JP loved having her big siblings help her, or should I say that they loved helping her :)

And all of the cousins had fun in JP's new sled!

After the presents were open, it was time for our traditional birthday cake and homemade ice cream!  I made a snowman cake with a cake pan I received from a family friend's grandmother.  It was the perfect touch for JP's Winter ONEderland party!

Our family - MP, My Farmer, me, JP and LP with JP's cake!
JP always has a smile on her face and is such a huggable, lovable kid.  She looks up to her big brother LP so much and loves to "train" with him as he likes to call it (aka practice walking).  Her and MP already have a sister bond and enjoy playing kitchen and dolls together.  It was so much fun to get our family together to celebrate such a special member of our family!  We all had a great time and felt very blessed.

Do you want to check out the other kids' first birthday parties?  Look at LP's First Tractor Birthday and MP's First Butterfly Birthday!  What is your favorite part of JP's birthday party?  What are some other first birthday party themes you thought were creative?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Influence of Millennials on Food Trends

A couple months ago I was asked if I'd be willing to answer some questions about Millennials and Food Trends.  I thought, why not?  I'm a Millennial, I love food, and I'm always interested in learning more about upcoming food trends.  So I agreed to do an interview with Successful Farming about my opinion on the subjects.

What do you see as the most topical food trends?

Millennials Influence on Food Trends - teaching the next generation
My kids love grocery shopping with me,
especially when they get their own cart!
I think the top food trends today are local and healthy.  As a Mom and the cook for my growing family, I have to agree.  I would classify myself as a foodie and I want to make sure my family is eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.  I think a lot of young families are trying to make more homemade foods, but yet still want convenience for their busy lives.  I try to cook and bake with as many whole foods as possible.  The produce section is an area that I spend a lot of time in at the grocery store.  That being said, I also try to eat and prepare seasonal foods.  Purchasing foods when they are in-season not only gives me the best flavor, but also the best price.  I try to visit my local Farmer's Market in the summer at least a few times, which gives me access to seasonal foods.  I grow my own vegetable garden at home too.  I have an appreciation for local.  I try to shop local as much as possible.  One difference with local though is that others think if they can't buy direct from the farmer or manufacturer it isn't local.  I know that our pigs are sold to Tyson and that the Tyson pork roast or bacon at your grocery store could be from one of our pigs.  I also know that a large majority of the meats used at Subway are made from Iowa turkey.  There are a lot of local products in our grocery store and restaurants that don't have the local label on it.  I also love to try new foods and cooking techniques, which I think is a growing food trend too.  Making foods with Spanish, Italian, Greek, etc. flavors isn't uncommon for my family and I.  But when I was a kid, I didn't eat food with ethnic influences on a regular basis.  My basic cooking skills and recipes I learned from my Mom; my kids are now learning from me, which will carry these new food trends on to the next generation.

How do you think farmers have responded to these changing food trends?

Millennials Influence on Food Trends - CommonGround panel
I was apart of a "Hot Button Issues" panel last month
as part of the CommonGround program in Washington DC
I think farmers are doing a better job now, than ever before at listening to consumers.  Agriculture understands we can't ignore their interests.  With social media and access to information (both facts and myths) we need to make sure we are giving consumers correct information so they don't fear their food.  There are a lot of groups that do a good job of providing training for farmers on how to have conversations with consumers about food trends.  I personally have found trainings through CommonGround (which is a program of the United Soybean Board and National Corn Growers), Iowa Farm Bureau and the National Pork Board to be beneficial for myself.  And, I started this blog after participating in the Dupont Young Leader program four years ago.  Myself and other farmers see the need to make connections and build trust with our consumers.  Consumers want to know more about where their food comes from, so by participating in social media, media interviews, one on one conversations at the grocery store, etc. we are being more transparent about farming and food.  There are only around 2% of Americans involved in farming nationwide; that means around 98% of consumers don't live on the farm.  Farmers need to be apart of the conversation to help answer the questions of that huge majority.

New food trends have also created new demands and changing markets for farmers.  I personally believe in and love that we have food choices in America.  Because we have food choices, there are some farmers that have changed their farming practices to meet those new demands like, planting high-oleic soybean soybeans, raising crops and livestock USDA organic certified, creating direct-sales markets, etc.

As a Millennial, what are you doing to be part of the food trend discussion?

Millennials Influence on Food Trends - Sustainability for the next generation
My family and I in the tractor planting this past spring
I think my generation of Millennials are going to help "bridge the gap" between farmers and consumers.  Young farmers are technology savvy and have more resources now, than ever before, to be able to stay connected with the non-farm audience.  Just like with every generation, I believe there is a "movable middle" that we can influence and build trust with, but there are already some that are extreme on their views and we'll probably have to just agree to disagree.

I can relate to other Millennials because we have similar interests and goals.  I want to provide a healthy diet for my family and I have the same idealism of wanting to make the world a better place.  That is why we are always looking at new technologies and research so we can make our farm sustainable for the next generation.  We want to make the best choices and decisions for our farm so our land and animals are the best and healthiest they can be.

What do you think are current food trends?  How much influence do you think Millennials have on the marketplace?  Where do you go for trusted information on food?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

5 Family Winter Fun Activities in North Iowa and Beyond

The last couple of weeks have kept most North Iowans at home due to snow, wind and below zero temperatures.  But this weekend looks to be changing the pace and is going to be a great chance to get out of the house.  Here are a few things that my family suggests you enjoy!

Support Make-A-Wish at Battle of the Badges

Every winter our family loves going to at least a hockey game or two, and one we always make a trip for is the annual Battle of the Badges that raises money for Make-A-Wish in North Iowa.  This is a friendly, charity hockey game that puts North Iowa police officers against North Iowa fire fighters.  It is a lot of fun to watch, and our favorite part is when they have North Iowa Wish Kids come out for the first puck drop.  This year's Battle of the Badges is tomorrow night, Friday, February 19th at 7pm at the North Iowa Ice Arena in Mason City.  There is a $5 admission for the game that is donated to Make-A-Wish.

North Iowa Battle of the Badges is February 19, 2016 at 7pm at the North Iowa Ice Arena in Mason City
Members of the Fire and Police Hockey Teams for the Battle of the Badges

Fly Away at the Color the Wind Kite Festival

Our family thinks kites are cool no matter the time of the year, but going to the Color the Wind Kite Festival on Clear Lake is really cool. Professional kite flyers from across the country come out to Clear Lake to fly their giant kites!  It is so much fun to see the huge variety of kites and see a kite dance show.  This year's Color the Wind Kite Festival is this Saturday, February 20th from 11am to 4pm on Clear Lake along the Downtown Seawall.  This is a free event.

Color the Wind Kite Festival, Clear Lake, Iowa, February 20, 2016
The huge variety of kites at the Color the Wind Kite Festival

Go Roller Skating

I will always remember roller skating in PE at school growing up and have to admit, up until last year I hadn't laced up since I was a teenager.  To my surprise, my roller skating skills came back to me pretty easily.  Our family loves going to Roller City in Mason City each year for the Make-A-Wish Skating Party.  This is a great chance to practice your moves, play some classic roller skating games, and support local wish families.  The party is this Sunday, February 21st from 1 to 4pm at Roller City in Mason City.  There is a $5 admission that includes your skate rental.  $3 of each admission will be a direct donation to Make-A-Wish.

Roller Skating at Roller City in Mason City
There are a lot of talented limbo skaters at Roller City

Eat Local Delicacies

We love going to different local town's food festival and events every year and this winter includes some of our favorites!

Last night we traveled down to Conrad, Iowa for their American Legion's Lamb Nut Fry.  It takes places the third Wednesday of every month with a "R" in it.  It starts at 5pm; adults are $20, which includes all the nuts, fries and salad you can eat.  Come early and hungry though, because a few hundred people show up to each Nut Fry.  The money from each Nut Fry support local scholarships.

We are looking forward to St. John's Annual Aebelskiver Dinner on Sunday, March 6th in rural Hampton, Iowa.  Aebelskivers are delicious Danish "pancake puffs".  They serve the aebelskivers with sausage and all the fixings!

Lastly, the Annual Coulter, Iowa Fish Fry is a must!  This year's Fish Fry is Thursday, March 31st at the Coulter Community Center.  This Fish Fry has been going on since the 1950's and not too much has changed since the original, including their delicious fish batter recipe and secret tarter sauce.  The Fish Fry raises money for different community projects.

Aebelskivers cooking - St. John's Annual Aebelskiver Dinner, Rural Hampton, Iowa
Some Aebelskivers cooking on the stove top

Explore the Ice Castles

This is where the "and beyond" comes into play...  I couldn't make a Winter Family Fun list without including our family's annual tradition of going up to Eden Prairie, Minnesota to check out the Ice Castles.  The Ice Castles are built by placing icicles by hand and running water.  In the "growing phase" they make 10,000 icicles each day.  The end product is amazing and a great place for kids, and adults, to let their imaginations run wild.  Our favorite parts of the Ice Castles this year was the giant slide and maze area.  Our tip is to wear snow pants and plenty of layers so you can fully enjoy everything the Ice Castles have to offer!

Running through the "Maze" at the Ice Castles in Eden Prairie, Minnesota #IceCastles
LP and MP choosing what "door" to go through in the Maze at the Ice Castles

So why wait?  Get out and explore this winter with your family!  What is your family's favorite winter time activity?  What would you add to the list?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Oh, what I'll do for charity - Cupid's Undie Run

I have decided there is almost nothing I won't due in the name of charity.  I've jumped out of a plane - twice, I've ran into a frozen lake every December many times, and now I can add running in my underwear in February.  This past Saturday, February 13th, in single digit temperatures, I joined around 400 other individual in Mason City, Iowa for the annual Cupid's Undie Run.  This mile long race raises money for the Children's Tumor Foundation that is dedicated to finding effective treatments for Neurofibromatosis (NF) through research.

Cupid's Undie Run #ImWithCupid #CupidRunMC

As the name suggests, the run takes places every year around Valentine's Day and everyone runs in their undies.  Now, being 26 weeks pregnant I decided to wear a little more than just my underwear.  Who am I kidding, even if I wasn't pregnant I wouldn't be wearing just my underwear.  I did style my exclusive "Cupid's Undie Run" underwear (and socks) over my running leggings though ;)  (I think the pregnant belly actually helped me keep warm during the run!)

Team #AmysGift before Cupid's Undie Run 2016 #CupidRunMC #ImWithCupid
Members of Team #AmysGift
getting ready for the run
L to R: Eric (Amy's brother), Alicia of
The Pork Diaries, Libbey of Life of Lippy,
Donna of and me!
Laura of  Life on SkyView Farms and Angie of
Bee Happy Video were also on the team
but were unable to run with us

This year I ran in memory of my dear friend Amy Hild who passed away last winter.  Amy loved participating the Cupid's Undie Run, so this year a group of the North Iowa Bloggers and Amy's family created a #AmysGift team.  We had so much fun participating in the pre-race activities and running together.  It was a great time to not only raise money for an organization so important to Amy, but also a great time to remember her big smile with members of our team and other runners at the event who also loved and cared for Amy.

Team #AmysGift after Cupid's Undie Run 2016 #CupidRunMC #ImWithCupid
Team #AmysGift after the race with Amy's Parents
Thank you to everyone for your support of our team, and a special thanks to Amy's parents who met with all of us before the race, cheered us on during the race and congratulated us afterwards.  It was great to have them with us throughout the day.

As of this posting, the Mason City Cupid's Undie Run has raised just under $70,000 for the Children's Tumor Foundation.  It'd be great to get our run over $70,000.  Donations are still being accepted this week to go towards our goals!

We want to make #AmysGift efforts even bigger for next year.  So maybe you can help us out with pitching some ideas in the comment section.  We'd like to sell something for people to wear at the race in memory of Amy with the proceeds going to the Cupid's Undie Run.  Remember, some people literally run in just their underwear....  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Comments for a Cause - Love Your Melon

Comments for a Cause - Love Your Melon
Happy February 1st and Happy New Comments for a Cause Day!  Before I share February's new cause, let me share about January's numbers.  In January I had 66 comments, creating a $33 donation to Cupid's Undie Run Mason City. Thank you to everyone that commented and I'll be sure to share about the February 13th race later this month!

In the month of February, I am excited to be donating $0.50 for every comment made on my blog to Love Your Melon.

Comments for a Cause - Love Your Melon
I've been inspired with Comments for a Cause organizations and causes from a number of places - family, friends, lemonade stands, and now social media.  You know, I'm kind of surprised I haven't been influenced by social media more in the past, but this month's cause all came from an Instagram post from the Iowa Nice Guy - Scot Siepker, wearing a stocking cap.  Now it isn't unusual to see people take selfies wearing stocking caps, especially Iowans during the winter, but this stocking cap was something special.  It was a Love Your Melon stocking cap.

Love You Melon was founded in an entrepreneurship class in the Fall of 2012 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota by two friends and classmates, Zach and Brian.  There mission has stayed true since the start and it is to "improve the lives of children battling cancer."  Their simple solution to this was and is to put a hat on every child battling cancer in America.

Founder Zach said, "We founded the organization while we were sophomores in college.  We wanted to help those in need.  The hats that we made were popular enough to sell out the first weekend.  On December 18th, 2012, we got to go to our first hospital donation event and it was then that we knew how cool this idea was.  Seeing the smiles on the kids faces that day was incredible so we kept making the hats."

After taking the campaign on a couple nationwide tours, the program has now worked to establish a network of college students of over 7,500 attending over 500 different schools across the nation.  These students are ambassadors who sell and donate hats.  The original program of "buying a hat, giving a hat" has promised more than 45,000 hats to children battling cancer in the United States.  These hats are donated in person at hospitals nationally by the college ambassadors who dress up as superheroes.

Now the program is partnering with the Pinky Swear Foundation and the CureSearch for Children's Cancer.  The new program model has 50% of the net proceeds of every Love Your Melon product sold donated to these two organizations.  This new program will continue to give hats to all kids battling cancer, as well as to fund research to beat childhood cancer.

So help me put a hat on a child cancer patient by commenting all month long.  You can personally check out the Love Your Melon merchandise shop and make a donation by modeling a new hat this winter.  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Country Fair Blog Party: February 2016

I knew January was going to be a busy month and I can tell by my several blog drafts that never got enough time put towards them to get published...  But the start of a new month is always a great chance to start over and hit publish, including the newest Country Fair Blog Party!  Before I share the February link-up, here are my three Blue Ribbon Winners from the January Country Fair Blog Party:

Country Fair Blog Party Blue Ribbon Winner: Cooking with Carlee's Pulled Pork Enchiladas with Creamy Cheese Sauce
I love the wide variety of recipes shared on the Blog Hop every month and January's party was no exception.  My favorite recipe from the month was Cooking with Carlee's Pulled Pork Enchiladas with Creamy Cheese Sauce.  I made this recipe last week and it was delicious!  The pork filling had great flavor and was very filling, and the cheese sauce was delicious (in fact, I scraped up every last bite of cheese sauce from the pan before officially declaring the dish done...).  This is a great dish to make for your next family's meal!

Country Fair Blog Party Blue Ribbon Winner: Farm Livin' Is My Life's Dear Jesse,
My next blue ribbon winner is Farm Livin' Is My Life's Dear Jesse, post.  This is beautiful letter written from a mother to her son on his wedding day.  The letter talks about this new stage of life for everyone, memories, and advice for the future.  I hope you take some time to read this post and congratulations to Jesse and his wife Brittany.

Country Fair Blog Party Blue Ribbon Winner: Agricultural with Dr. Lindsay's Care of baby lambs in freezing temperatures
My final blue ribbon winner is Agricultural with Dr. Lindsay's Care of baby lambs in freezing temperatures post.  This post shares information about lambing season and talks about how it never seems to fail that winter storms bring more lambs.  I couldn't help but reflect on my many years raising lambs growing up.  It seemed like I was late for school at least once a year during lambing season because there was so much activity in the barn.

Link up to 3 of your favorite posts to the February Country Fair Blog Party
I can't wait to see what great posts get linked up to this month's Country Fair Blog Party.  Country Fairs are all about food, family, friends, farming, animals, arts and crafts, canning, baking and more.  And that is what our our blog hop is all about too.  Feel free to join our Country Fair by linking up to 3 of your posts.  This blog hop is a great opportunity to check out new blogs, and if you blog yourself, have your posts reach a new audience.  Be sure to visit some other party goers and let them know you are stopping by through the Country Fair Blog Party.

Country Fair Blog Party Co-Hosts
Also, be sure to visit my fellow co-hosts:
Jan of Tip Garden
Laurie of Country LINKed and
Nicole of Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom

We're excited to see everything you share this month!  What is your favorite link from this month's Country Fair Blog Party?  Whichever post is mentioned the most in the comments will receive my "Readers's Choice" Blue Ribbon next month.  Remember to Comments for a Cause!