Friday, March 28, 2014

8 Tips To Save Time in the Kitchen + Recipe

A week ago I had the pleasure of having Farm News, a weekly agriculture/rural newspaper publication in Iowa, come into my kitchen and interview me for their Farm Cook series.  It was so much fun having them come in and ask me about my passion for food, family and farming.  I love being a stay-at-home mom and being able to prepare home-cooked meals for my family twice a day and all week long.  Not many people have that opportunity and I'm proud and lucky that I do.

Before they came to our farm they told me that they wanted to ask me about recipes I make being a busy, farm cook and mom.  That prompted me to think about ways I save time in the kitchen and I came up with my top 8 tips (I couldn't narrow it down to just five and couldn't think of ten, so eight it is!):

8 Tips to Save Time in the Kitchen

  1. Menu Planning - On Sundays, I review sales ads and what I have in the freezer and then plan seven days of meals.  Having a plan for the week helps me save time by not guessing what I should make each night for supper - I already have a plan in place!
  2. Grocery List Easily Accessible - After I make my menu for the week, I make my grocery list.  I put the ingredients I need on a magnetic grocery list pad on the side of my refrigerator.  I also add items that I finish and need more of on the list throughout the week.  Having this list on my refrigerator makes it easy to write down my needs for my next grocery run, because I only go to the grocery store once a week, since I live 15 miles from a large grocery store.
  3. Organize Grocery List in Order of Grocery Store Aisles - My Farmer thinks this is crazy but the night before I go on my grocery run I take my grocery list from the refrigerator and organize it in the order of the aisles in the grocery store.  Doing this saves me tons of time in the store!  That way I don't go half-way through the store and realize I forgot something back in aisle one...  This might take me a couple minutes to do before my trip but it saves me even more time, and running around, while in the grocery store.
  4. Don't Grocery Shop During Rush Hours - I realize many people grocery shop after work because it is convenient, but changing to a non-rush time might save you more time than you think.  The busiest times at a grocery store are 5-7 p.m. weekdays and anytime on the weekends.  The slowest times are before 9 a.m. and after 8 p.m.  I personally get my groceries typically on Wednesdays at 1 p.m., which is a pretty slow time and nice when I have two kids in tow!  By grocery shopping when I do I'm easily able to access each aisle and usually am able to check-out immediately (every once in awhile I might have to wait for one other shopper in front of me).
  5. Use Frozen Vegetables - Using frozen vegetables is a huge time saver.  The vegetables come peeled, trimmed and are ready to cook, plus they are just as nutritious as fresh!  I always have a nice stock of frozen sweet corn, cauliflower, broccoli and peas in my freezer.  Also, I like to use different mixed vegetable bags in several dishes.
  6. Wash and Prepare Fresh Vegetables & Fruits Right Away - Now, there are certain vegetables and fruits that you just can't find frozen, and I love buying fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season.  So when I do buy fresh vegetables and fruits I wash them, and cut them up if needed, as soon as I bring them home from the grocery store.  Have you ever bought some celery, put it in your refrigerator, and then by the time you got around to actually washing it, it wasn't crisp anymore?  Well, if you would have taken just a little time when you first brought the celery home and washed, cut it up and stored it in a sealed container, you number one, probably would have started eating the celery sooner and number two, it stays crisper, longer, in a sealed container.  This tip in the end saves you time and money!
  7. Organize Kitchen Drawers and Cabinets - Having organized drawers and cabinets in your kitchen will save you time, and frustration, while cooking.  I like to keep utensils I use a lot when cooking on the stove, close to the stove, and a big thing for me is having an organized "Tupperware" cabinet.  All of my lids are organized by size and kept in a small wooden crate inside the cabinet, and my containers are are organized and nested inside of similar styles and sizes.  Also, everyone once in awhile clean out all of your containers and lids and see what containers don't have a matching lid anymore and vice versa, what lids don't have a container anymore and toss!
  8. Have Kids Help (with the dishes...) - I love having my kids in the kitchen with me and having LP in particular, help me cook and bake, but this does not save time.  It is fun! but it usually adds time in the kitchen.  But having LP help me with the dishes does help me save time!  He loves putting dishes in the dishwasher and handing me dirty dishes from the kitchen table, and at the same time he loves putting away clean dishes from the dishwasher and handing me bigger things to put away.
I hope these tips will help you save some time in the kitchen!  Also, I wanted to share one of the recipes I shared as part of my Farm News article with all of you.  This is my twist on my Great Aunt Mary's Shrimp Dip.  This is an easy appetizer to put together, plus it is delicious!  This is definitely a staple for any of our family get togethers - I think it is just expected that I am suppose to bring Shrimp Dip, along with whatever else I am in-charge of ;)

Shrimp Dip Recipe - Easy & Delicious Appetizer

Shrimp Dip

Shrimp Dip Ingredients
1 8-ounce container cream cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
8 ounces salad shrimp
Crackers, to serve with dip

Shrimp Dip - cream the cream cheese and mayo

Cream the cream cheese and mayonnaise together.

Shrimp Dip - stir in shrimp, onion and green pepper

Stir in green pepper, onion and shrimp.

Shrimp Dip recipe

Refrigerate at least two hours before serving.  Serve with crackers.

What are some of your tips to help save time in the kitchen?  Or do you have any signature dishes?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Little Free Library Coming to Latimer

Look what arrived at my door the other day:

Little Free Library coming to Latimer, Iowa
Little Free Library
My Little Free Library!  For those that follow my blog's Facebook page, you know I have been working since the beginning of the year to bring a Little Free Library to my local community of Latimer, Iowa.  I've had to do some work to make this possible and after receiving the Little Free Library, it made it all more a reality!

My love for my community and passion for childhood literacy is what drove me to set up a Little Free Library in the community of Latimer.  Reading is really important to me and raising my kids.  My kids and I read every day and always have books around.  The town of Latimer doesn't have a library and I know there are many kids in town that don't have an opportunity to go to a library, especially in the summer.  So I thought bringing a Little Free Library to Latimer would be great for all the youth of the community, and for the adults who love to read too.

So how does it work?  After working with the Latimer City Council, I will now be installing the Little Free Library in Downtown Latimer sometime in the next month or so.  I got approval from the Council to use city property for the Little Free Library at their February meeting.  The Little Free Library will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year.  It will be filled with a collection of books for both children and adults.  The Little Free Library works by the "take a book, leave a book" philosophy.  When someone goes to the Library and picks out a book, they are asked to replace it with another book.

The Little Free Library movement began in Wisconsin five years ago and now has nearly 12,000 locations world-wide, over 100 of which are in Iowa.  I first read about Little Free Libraries through the "Parade" insert in our newspaper a few years ago and in the last couple of years I have started seeing them in the communities of a couple of my family members.  After finding out about an opportunity with Post Alpha-Bits cereal where I could apply to receive a Little Free Library and a starter book collection through them, I then put my love and passion together with this opportunity and decided that I should bring a Little Free Library to my local community.

How can you help?  I am still looking for some adult books to help fill the Little Free Library.  If you have any good, gently used books you are willing to share with the Library let me know!  I'd love to add them to our collection.  Also, I am planning on putting together a "ground breaking" party for the Little Free Library after it is installed.  I hope the Little Free Library is a resource for all the Latimer community and that it helps them connect with a neighbor they maybe wouldn't have met otherwise.

I would like to thank Post Alpha-Bits cereal for the Little Free Library and a starter collection of youth books for my Library.  I think what they are doing with the Little Free Library program, the Super Why! television show and other literacy programs is really great.  You can encourage literacy skills in your home too by eating Post Alpha-Bits cereal.  Here is a fun breakfast treat that I make at my home, which isn't only good to eat, but also helps LP recognize his letters:

Trying something fun, easy and different for breakfast - Breakfast Banana Split recipe

Breakfast Banana Split
Breakfast Banana Split ingredients
1 banana
1/2 cup yogurt (vanilla, strawberry, strawberry-banana are all great flavors)
1/4 cup halved grapes
1/4 cup sliced strawberries
1/2 cup Post Alpha-Bits cereal

Peel and split banana lengthwise.  Place in sundae dish or cereal bowl.  Top with yogurt.  Sprinkle with fruit and cereal.  Makes 1 serving.

Enjoying a Breakfast Banana Split
And enjoy!
Do you have a Little Free Library in your community?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Norman Borlaug - Innovator, Farmer, Humanitarian, Iowan

When I was in college I had the privilege to intern for one of Iowa's senators in Washington D.C.  My main role was working with the legislative team, but I also helped give Capitol tours when large groups came through the Senator's office.  There are many interesting facts about the US Capitol; one of which is that placed within the Capitol are two statues representing each state.  Each statue is donated by individual states to honor persons notable in their history.  It was always apart of the tour to show both of Iowa's statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection to visitors - Samuel Kirkwood and James Harlan.  Now I have to admit, I really didn't know too much about either Iowa figure before my summer of giving tours.  Both names were familiar, but I wasn't able to tell visitors too much about them until after some research.  Samuel Kirkwood was the governor of Iowa and also a U.S. Senator; his statue was given to the collection in 1913.  James Harlan served in the US Senate and also as US Secretary of the Interior; his statue was given to the collection in 1910.  I tell you all of this why?  Because...

I've very proud to say that today, after a few years of work and dedication, Iowa will replace the statue of James Harlan with one of Dr. Norman Borlaug.  Since 2003 when the law changed to allow states to remove a previously placed statue from the collection and replace it with another, only four other states have replaced statues.  Today Iowa becomes the fifth and I can't think of a better representative and historical Iowa figure other than Norman Borlaug.  And the really cool part, it's happening on Borlaug's would be 100th birthday and National Ag Day.

Norman Borlaug was an innovator, farmer, humanitarian and Iowan.  Born on a farm south of Cresco, Iowa, he is considered the "Father of the Green Revolution" and is estimated to have saved 1 billion lives through his agricultural innovation advances in wheat breeding preventing a mass famine.  He is also known for founding the World Food Prize, which is also known as the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture".  The World Food Prize inspires and recognizes achievements in improving the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world.  Norman Borlaug is also one of only three Americans to have received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal (others are Martin Luther King, Jr. and Elie Wiesel).  He also received the National Medal of Science.

After graduating from Cresco High School, he went to the University of Minnesota to study agronomy and plant pathology.  He then went on to dedicating nearly 60 years to ending world hunger by working on agricultural productivity in developing countries, most notably Mexico, India and Pakistan, and later other Asian and African countries.  He developed types of high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties to help alleviate hunger.  He also worked on improving crop management practices in these countries so they could produce more wheat, one of mankind's food staples.

Norman Borlaug helped pave the wave for agriculture innovation to help feed a growing population, a goal that today's farmers and agricultural scientists are still aiming for.  Just think how the world would be now without his contributions?  Food security is still an issue around the world, but if Norman Borlaug hadn't taken the initial step to help provide food for countries that had no other means or resources to get it, think what situation we'd be in then?  On our farm we are using new technologies to help us be more efficient on our land: corn that is resistant to insects, soybeans that are resistant fungus, precision planting and GPS, etc.  The work and improvements of today continue to build upon the foundation that Norman Borlaug set back in the 1940's.

I am a proud Iowan and farmer today to have Norman Borlaug recognized for all of his agricultural and humanitarian efforts.  If you would like to learn more about Norman Borlaug be sure to check out #Borlaug100 and you can watch a live webcast of the statue being unveiled at 10 am CST.

What do Norman Borlaug's contributions mean to you?

Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Monday, March 24, 2014

5 Simple Ways to Make Bath Time Fun

Life with a toddler and a baby is always full of adventure - check last week's Wordless Wednesday post to see just how much fun we've been having lately...  Anyways, I got to thinking the other day about some simple things I do during Bath Time to continue the fun for both LP and MP.  Here are five simple ways to make bath time fun:

5 Simple Ways to Make Bath Time Fun

  • Sing while you soap up:  I have made up little dittys that I sing while applying shampoo and soap on the kids.  They both love it and LP even sings along.  If you don't feel comfortable making up your own song, sing classic kid songs like "Wheels on the Bus", "You Are My Sunshine" or "Old MacDonald" while the kids are getting soaped up!
  • Tickle:  You need to be careful while doing it but why limit tickling to dry land only.
  • Read a book:  Most bath times at our house take place right before bedtime, so to help with the winding down process before bed, I'll read them a book while they play in the tub.
  • Let their imagination run wild:  LP's imagination is amazing and bath time is a perfect environment for him to discover open seas in his boat or pretend he's a fish in the ocean.
  • Play with toys:  Some of my kids' favorite bath toys include cups, bowls, and a strainer.  And that is why it was so much fun to add Nuby's Splish Splash Stacking Cups to our bath time toy collection.
Nuby Mommy Review - Splish Splash Stacking Cups

Both LP and MP love Nuby's Splish Splash Stacking Cups.  They are recommended for children 9 months and older, and like I said, both my 9 month old daughter and 3 year old son enjoy them.  There are five cups in the set and each cup has holes in it like a strainer, which creates a waterfall effect.  LP loved racing cups against each other seeing which one would empty first and MP loved running her hands through the waterfalls trying to catch the water.  Another added bonus to the cups is that they come in a variety of colors and each ascending size has a different number assigned to it, 1-5, so you can teach counting and numbers, colors and shapes with toddlers.  The cups also stack two different ways which is great for teaching coordination.

If you are interested in getting your own set of Nuby Splish Splash Stacking Cups check out these retailers:
To learn more about Nuby, get connected through their various channels of social media:

Also, be sure to check out my other Nuby bath time review on their Tear Free Rinse Pail.

What do you do to make Bath Time fun at your house?

Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Nuby Mommy Blogger

Friday, March 21, 2014

Farm Picture Friday

My friend Laurie from Country LINKed always shares a Farm Picture Friday on her blog and I thought I'd do the same thing on my blog today.

Yesterday we had a blanket of fog during the morning hours, including during sunrise.  During the hustle and bustle of the morning I stopped to look both ways at the end of my driveway and saw just how peaceful and beautiful the morning was.  I quickly took out my camera and shot a couple photos of my in-laws farm, which sits just a mile away from our farm.  I hope you all have a peaceful and beautiful day!

Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wordless Wednesday - You Just Have to Smile

Have you ever had that feeling that the silence coming from the living room isn't a good thing?  Well the other day when I was making supper the living room went silent.  After about five minutes of silence I walked into the living room, looked over the couch and found both kids laying on the floor with ink all over their faces, feet and legs.  I had left a pen on one of our side tables and LP decided to give MP and himself tattoos I guess.  MP had in mainly on her face which you can see somewhat well in the photo.  LP mainly had it on his legs and feet.  But it was just one of those times you had to take a breath, smile and take a photo before educating your kids about how we don't play with pens.  I was just happy it wasn't marker!

Have you ever had one of these moments?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Farm Friday - Getting Ready for Spring

It is hard to think that we could, and hopefully will be, in the field planting corn in a month or less when our fields have a mixture of snow, ice, and puddles of water in them from melting and look like this:

Getting Ready for Spring - It's Just a Month Away

But once you go inside our shop you know that planting is just around the corner.  We have seed tender boxes (these large boxes hold an average of 2,500 pounds of grain and are used instead of the traditional 50-pound bags) stacked three high along our back wall and we have our planter inside getting its spring-time inspection, maintenance and adjustment done.

Planter getting ready for spring
You can kind of see the black bulk seed tender boxes along the wall on the left of the photo
and the planter is set up in the front of the photo
Just like your car or truck, farm equipment have many parts that wear down and this is one of the times in the year that we take some time, and be proactive, and get replacements for those parts, so hopefully we won't have any breakdowns when we do get into the fields this spring.  As the "parts procurement specialist" (aka head gopher) for the farm, I have gotten several new chains and lubricants for the planter in the last couple of weeks.

Checking seed meters - getting ready for spring planting
Getting our planter meters checked
Another thing we did this week to make sure our planter is ready to go, is that we had our planter meters checked.  We also offered this service to our seed business customers by having Joe from Brokaw Precision come to our shop for a day to run meters.

Seed meters are part of our precision planting system that controls the seeding rate and population of individual rows on our planter.  Each row has its own meter.  This systems allows us to stop seeding where we don't want to plant, all on the go.  Our seed meters were checked for their efficiency this week by checking how many skips or double plants the meter gave through a test on the meter machine.  Making sure our meters are working properly is one way for us to make sure that our planter is putting seed into the ground accurately, and in the end increasing our yields.

So it may not fully feel like spring yet outside, but inside our shop, things are definitely looking like spring.  What are you doing to get ready for spring?

Remember to Comment for a Cause!  And check-out the Country Fair Blog Party!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Creating Me Time

I have talked about how this year, one of my goals is to create more "me time" for myself.  I have always been a person with a full plate, and even though I am a stay at home mom, I was finding myself running around way too much from task to task, rather than enjoying the moments - which is one reason why I wanted to be a stay at home mom.  So I decided I needed to slow down to be able to enjoy the moments and the first way I was going to be able to accomplish that was by finding time to slow down personally, or create "me time".

Have you ever had the feeling at the end of the day that you are unsure what you accomplished but you felt busy all day?  I use to think that was just being a Mom, but as I took some time to reflect, I realized that I needed to prioritize my day and include some "me time" for myself.

So what is "me time"?  "Me time" is a time period taken for yourself to enjoy something you like or to relax.  Some examples of my favorite "me time" activities include blogging, drinking a cup of chai tea, participating in a Bible study, reading a good book, going for a walk, and connecting with friends and family.  Whatever you find enjoyable can be your "me time".

But I am too busy to take time for myself?  If you are saying this, then you definitely need to get in some "me time" today.  If I don't make time for myself I get stressed, overwhelmed, and burned out.  And if I am not taking care of myself, then I can't take care of those that depend on me.  Think about it, when you are flying on an airplane, the flight attendant has a safety message that must be given before the flight takes off. The flight attendant states, “Should we experience any problems, an oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling. Please place your oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others.”  We've got to put our oxygen mask on before helping others.  We can't take care of others if we don't first take care of ourselves.  This is hard for many Moms to remember I feel.  For me, "me time" helps take care of myself.  "Me time" helps me to slow down in this fast-paced world and reflect and enjoy life.  "Me time" gives me energy.  I need "me time" so I can take care of my family.

I am thinking about all of this today because I have to admit, this week has been one of those weeks where I have been busy, but unsure with what.  This week was actually a pretty casual and calm week for our family, but now, I can't believe it is already Thursday!  This week would have been the perfect week to have a productive, enjoyable week.  Instead I have wasted it by getting lost in distractions of fatigue, television and making lists that I'm not getting through.  Last night as I was watching "crap TV" (as My Farmer affectionately calls it) as my entire household was asleep, I was making yet another unrealistic task list for today and then stopped myself.  I had been making lists all week but not getting things accomplished.  What was different from this week compared to days or weeks where I did get things accomplished?  The difference - "me time".  I hadn't been getting up early to start my morning off with some breakfast and a time of reflection with my personal Bible study and prayer before the kids woke up.  I hadn't been getting enough fresh air with the kids because I don't like cold, wet, spring days.  I hadn't made anytime to really talk with any family or friends - I had cut short what conversations I had had because I was busy "running around."  So last night, I reminded myself the importance of giving myself some time daily to do the things that make me happy, so then I could in turn, have a good day for not only me but for everyone that depends on me.  Today may not have been perfect, but I'm okay with that.  Today was progress; progress for myself, progress for my family and progress for my commitments.  And progress is something to be happy about.

I hope you all are having a good week and are creating some "me time" for yourselves.  Taking just ten minutes a day for yourself will empower you for the rest of the day.  Remember, it only takes 30 days of consistent practice to create a new habit.  If you skip a day, you begin again at Day 1.

So, Happy Day 1 everyone and remember to Comment for a Cause!  What is your favorite "me time" activity?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March Forth on March 4th

Today is March 4th and every year on this day I take a look back at my New Year Goals.  March 4th is a great day to "March Forth" and re-establish your goals, rethink your goals, celebrate your accomplishments and set new goals.  Many people make goals or resolutions on New Year's Day.  I think that those that practice that tradition should also add March 4th to their calendar as a check-point date.  Here's a look at my March Forth goals:

  • Family dates - I'm going to set a date for My Farmer and I today for later this month.
  • Me time - I have been enjoying sending things to friends and family members but need to be more consistent on waking up early.
  • Journaling - I have been doing a good job of journaling as part of a Bible Study I'm in for myself but haven't been doing a good job of journaling for the kids.  Today I'll make an entry in their journals!
  • Google + - I have been doing a good job of sharing on Google + but I'd still like to learn more about the social media.
  • Comments for a Cause - It has been going great.  I could probably be a little better organized for it but overall I have been happy with the program.
  • Getting together with Bloggers - I have gotten together with my local North Iowa group of bloggers once this year and we're getting together again next week.  I'm also hoping and planning on getting together with some Iowa "foodie" bloggers later this month and some Iowa bloggers next month.  I still haven't found a conference to go to yet that works well with my tractor schedule and travel budget but I still have hope!

Here's some inspirational music for all of you on this March 4th!

How are you going to celebrate March Forth?

Be sure to Comment for a Cause!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March Comments for a Cause - North Central Iowa Ag in the Classroom

It is the 1st of March so that means two things: it is time to announce last month's Comments of a Cause totals and this month's new cause.  First, February's results!  It has been so fun creating a Comments for a Cause program on my blog and to be able to share about the Iowa FFA Foundation in February.  In February I had a total of 48 comments, equaling a donation of $24.00.  I will be sending this into the Foundation's "I Believe" campaign that is working to erase the debt on the Iowa FFA Enrichment Center.  Thank you to everyone that commented this past month!

Now it is time to announce March's cause.  During the month of March I will be donating $0.50 for every comment to the North Central Iowa Ag in the Classroom!  This 501(c)3 non-profit organization offers a variety of programs and lessons in six counties in North Iowa.  I think this approach to offering agricultural education to students is unique and works.  I look forward to helping their efforts through this month's Comments for a Cause.

Ag in the Classroom is a national program that is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and at the state level many state Farm Bureaus and Extension programs manage the programs.  It was created in 1981 because those in agriculture, business, education and government saw a lack of understanding of agriculture.  As more and more youth grow further removed from the farm, the need for agriculture education increases.  In Iowa, Ag in the Classroom is managed by the Iowa Farm Bureau and individual county Farm Bureaus.  In 1998, five North Central Iowa county Farm Bureaus got together to pool their materials and resources so the youth of North Iowa would be better served.  In 2004 this group officially became a non-profit organization and hired two part-time employees.  One of these staff members works on grant writing and finding sponsorships, and the other works on developing curriculum.  Both of these staff members do in the classroom lessons and programs.  The program was so successful, and the need for agriculture education continued to grow, that a third part-time employee joined the organization in 2006 and in 2008 an additional county was added to the service area.

LP loves the chicken embryology program too!
Classrooms that participate in this lesson learn actually have eggs
hatch in their classroom and learn about the embryology process
The three staff members of the North Central Iowa Ag in the Classroom are passionate about agriculture and do such a great job with the students.  Whenever the program visits my local school I love to come and help them out.  I can't believe the retention from year to year that the students have.  Being in Iowa, the staff always touches on agriculture products such as corn and soybeans, but they offer programs and lessons on everything from ethanol to conservation to one of my favorites, embryology.  Besides in the classroom lessons that the staff leads and presents, the organization also provides teacher resources, farm tours and pizzathons.  In my local county we also host an Ag Day for all 3rd graders in the entire county at our county fairgrounds.

So be sure to Comment for a Cause this month to help out this great program that serviced over 9,000 students in 27 school districts in the 2012-2013 school year, which is only expected to grow this year!

Do you have an Ag in the Classroom program in your local school?  Have you ever participated in it?