Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Cookie Exchange - 16 Iowa Cookie Recipes

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is baking and indulging in Christmas Cookies!  I love making Christmas cookie plates as gifts and to bring to Christmas parties, so I start making, freezing and storing Christmas goodies now!  The key to a good Christmas cookie plate in my opinion is to have a diversity of goodies, so I like to make a couple different varieties weekly.  I asked some of my fellow Iowa bloggers what some of their favorite Christmas cookies are and am happy to share them as part of this Christmas Cookie Exchange!

Cookies from Left to Right, Top Row to Bottom Row:

Got your oven on preheat now?  Which one of these recipes are you excited to make?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!  Also, a special thanks to all of my fellow Iowa bloggers that helped contribute to my Iowa Christmas Cookie Exchange!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Christmas Goodie Must - Peanut Butter Balls

Black Friday means several things to me:
  • First - I get most of my shopping done (and without kids)!
  • Second - I start playing Christmas carols in the car and in the house.
  • And Third - I start stocking up on Christmas goodies!
I love making Christmas cookie plates as gifts and to bring to Christmas parties, so I start making, freezing and storing Christmas goodies today.  Each week I try to make a couple different varieties of goodies so I have a diversity of goodies for my cookie plates (and so I have enough to make it till the end of Christmas).  One Christmas goodie that it seems inevitable that I end up making a few batches of is my family's favorite - Peanut Butter Balls (affectionately known as Christmas Crack to My Farmer!)

Peanut Butter Balls
18 oz jar Creamy Peanut Butter (Many brands have decreased their jar size over the last few years so if you can't find an 18oz jar you'll be fine, but you might want to add an extra scoop of peanut butter to your recipe.  If you live in Iowa, I personally know that Fareway still sells their generic brand at an 18 oz size.)
2 cups Powdered Sugar
4 Tbsp Butter, soften
5 cups Rice Krispies cereal
Chocolate Almond Bark, melted

Combine first four ingredients.  The mixture should be able to stick and stay together, and at the same time not leave peanut butter all over your hands.  Roll mixture into balls about the size of a quarter.  Dip balls into melted almond bark.  (If your almond bark is really thick, add a tablespoon of shortening to the almond bark to thin it out slightly but not changing the flavor.)  Refrigerate or keep in cold storage.

***Chef's Note*** I like to use a spoon to help cover each peanut butter ball in almond bark and then spoon the ball onto a fork to drain off excess chocolate before letting it set on a cookie sheet with parchment paper on it.

What is your family's favorite Christmas goodie?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Also, be sure to check out my blog this weekend for a Christmas Cookie Exchange round-up post!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Christmas Gifts for the Entire Family

I can't believe it is already Thanksgiving Eve!  One of the items on my Holiday Check List for this week is to complete my Christmas gift lists.  This includes not only finalizing my family's wish list, but also deciding what gifts we will be giving others.  I know I always appreciate some extra ideas to help with Christmas gifts so I figured I'd share some ideas from my family.

The Rural Outdoors Dad (aka My Farmer)

Electric Smoker:  If you don't have an electric smoker you need to get this on your list this year!  This is the perfect gift for the guy in your life (that you also can use!)  You can use your smoker all year long and have a lot of fun experimenting with different types of meats, rubs, marinades, etc.  Most sporting good stores have sections dedicated to smokers and outdoor cooking.

Yellow Work Gloves:  What guy that works outside doesn't need some new work gloves?  For My Farmer his go-to pair of work gloves are the classic yellow work gloves.  These are very affordable and you can buy them in large packages, so you always have a pair available!  An added plus for those that wash clothes in your home, they can be easily thrown in the wash with your other chore clothes.  These would also make a great stocking stuffer!

Ammunition Box:  If you have a hunter or a trap shooter on your list like my husband, then they need an ammo box.  Ammo boxes come in a variety of sizes and help your gunman's (or gunwoman's) ammunition stay organized, dry and safe.  Many boxes are stackable as well so you can sort your ammunition into different boxes for your different firearms.

The Mom Who Likes To Keep Busy (aka Me)

Magazine Subscription:  I will be the first to admit that I stay pretty busy - but what Mom doesn't!  I know this upcoming year I'm going to appreciate when I get a magazine in the mail to just sit and relax with.  (With soon to be 3 kids ages 3 and under I'm going to deserve a little "me" time.)  So whether you're into cooking, home decor or would just like some more ideas of things to do with your kids, there is a magazine for you.  This year I'm asking for a subscription to Family Fun.  They always have a lot of great ideas!

Kitchen Gadgets and Tools:  One thing I have on my wish list every year are at least a couple different new kitchen gadgets and tools.  Sometimes they are brand new items I've always wanted but have never purchased for myself, while others are replacements for ones that I've had since college...  I love to cook and bake and this year I'm hoping someone gives me some new silicone baking mats, pot handle grips, a bouncy whisk and a pie bird.

Learn A New Language Program:  Maybe for some of you it is too early to start thinking about New Year's Goals, but for me, I know I'd really like to learn how to speak Spanish.  So on my list this year I'm hoping someone will help me with that goal by giving me a Spanish language learning program.

The Imaginative Hands-On 3 Year Old Boy (aka LP)

Walkie Talkies:  On our farm we use two-way radios and our son loves using them, so we're going to give him his own pair this Christmas.  What a fun toy for boys and girls to use with their siblings and friends!  I remember having some when I was a kid and my sisters and I loved playing with them.  I can't wait to see how LP enjoys his!

Building Toys:  Whether it is Legos, Lincoln Logs or simply blocks of different sizes and shapes, kids love building things and LP is no different.  This year while making wish lists we saw some really neat building sets that use bolts and screws, to magnetic colored shapes, to gears.  There are so many fun sets available that will help your preschooler use their imagination.

Hot Wheels Car Maker Playset:  LP loves anything with wheels and he loves to make crafts.  So why not combine those loves and get him a Hot Wheels Car Maker!  He gets to pick out the car type, color and decals.  This should be a lot of fun to make and play with!

The Happy Go Lucky 18 Month Old Girl (aka MP)

Melissa and Doug Learning Sets:  Who doesn't Love Melissa and Doug products?  One thing I've looked into for MP this Christmas is some of their learning sets.  They have learning sets from food, to occupations.  Most of these sets are wooden, and some are available in felt too.  There are so many neat ideas they have - the hard part will be choosing exactly which one to buy!

Books and CDs - We personally give our kids one piece of clothing, one toy and one book (3 gifts to represent the 3 gifts Jesus received) for Christmas gifts.  Reading is so important to us so we are always looking for new books for our kids.  We also like to get our kids a new CD in their stocking every year too.  This year our library has gotten us hooked on Laurie Berkner!  If you have any preschoolers and under on your shopping list this year you'll have to check out her catchy songs like "We are the Dinosaurs", "These are my Glasses" and "I Know a Chicken".

"Little Helper" tools - MP loves to imitate her big brother, her dad and me, so why not get her some "pint-size" tools to help her do so.  You can find fun kids sized brooms, vacuums, aprons, tool sets, etc. to help your little one help you - whatever the task may be!  Plus, since MP will soon be a big sister, I'm sure she'll want to be a big helper even more than she does now!

What are some ideas on your wish list?  What gifts are you excited to give this year?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!  And be sure to check out even more ideas by looking at my list from last year.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Holiday Check List - Thanksgiving Week

The holiday season is full of fun, laughter, and good times with family and friends.  And if you let it, the holiday season can be full of stress too.  I have always been a planner, and I like to think that my family and friends appreciate that.  For the last couple of years on my blog I've shared my holiday check lists with my readers and plan on doing the same this year too.  And it seems even more important to stay on top of my holiday check lists this year since we're expecting our third child (JP) anytime around the end of December.  So, without further ado, here is my check list for this week, the week of Thanksgiving and four weeks before Christmas:

  • Make and Bake Thanksgiving Menu (And don't be afraid of making items ahead of time or prepping the days before, so Thanksgiving morning isn't stressful.  I am planning on making my Overnight Salad, Pecan Pie, Shrimp Dip, Pickle Wrap Dip and Puppy Chow all either tomorrow or the day before Thanksgiving, that I'm bringing to my Mom's house and my Grandparent's house, so I can take it easy and maybe even watch the Thanksgiving Day parade before we need to travel.  Also, for whatever cooking you need to do on Thanksgiving Day - a smart idea is to make a timeline for your oven and kitchen so you can be sure to eat dinner on time!)
  • Storage Containers Ready (If you are hosting, make sure to have a variety of storage containers ready for leftovers and ziploc bags too, so you can send home extra food with your loved ones.)
  • Finalize Gift Lists  (This includes not only figuring out your own family's wish list, but also deciding what gifts you're giving others for Christmas.  Also, decide your present budget and possible locations to buy all of your gifts.  Check out my Christmas gift picks from last year here.)
  • Shop Black Friday (I'm shopping Black Friday for several reasons, but I will admit, the main reason is that it is a fun time with my mom and sisters and that I can actually go shopping without kids!  Be sure to go through all advertisements - many of which you can already see online, and make a route for your shopping trip.)
  • Finalize Christmas Travel (This is the perfect time to finalize your Christmas plans when you're already spending time with your family during Thanksgiving.  Make sure to give adequate time for all of your Christmas plans.  We have a rule of no more than one Christmas per day.)
  • Clean House (Even if you aren't hosting a Thanksgiving get together, chances are family and friends might be traveling through and wanting to stop by.  This is actually what I worked on throughout today!  If you do have guests staying at your house, be sure to get their room or space ready and lay things out for them.)
  • Give Thanks! (Remember to give thanks this Thanksgiving and to simply enjoy the time together with loved ones.)

What is on your holiday check list this week?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Also, check out last week's Holiday Check List for more ideas:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

We #CanHunger This Holiday Season

I just heard on the news last night that November is one of the busiest months for food banks in Iowa between the holidays, tighter end-of-the-year budgets and colder temperatures.  We all can help hungry families in need by simply donating to our local food pantries and organizations like Feeding America.  I'm happy to accept the #CanHunger challenge from Amy at Modern Rural Living to sign a can of food, donate it and challenge three friends to do the same:  Katy from Learning As I Go, Katie from On the Banks of Squaw Creek and Katie from the Pinke Post!

A reminder to everyone that throughout the month of November my Comments for the Cause is going towards the #NorthIowaBloggers food drive.  So help today by commenting how you are going to help hungry families this holiday season!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Holiday Check List - 1 Week Before Thanksgiving

The holiday season is full of fun, laughter, and good times with family and friends.  And if you let it, the holiday season can be full of stress too.  I have always been a planner, and I like to think that my family and friends appreciate that.  For the last couple of years on my blog I've shared my holiday check lists with my readers and plan on doing the same this year too.  And it seems even more important to stay on top of my holiday check lists this year since we're expecting our third child (JP) anytime around the end of December.  So, without further ado, here is my check list for this week, the week before Thanksgiving and five weeks before Christmas:

  • Finalize Thanksgiving Menu (I am bringing Overnight Salad, Pecan Pie, Shrimp Dip and Pickle Wrap Dip to my Mom's house and my Grandparent's house.  And if I have time I also will make puppy chow...  You've got to have snack foods for Black Friday right!)
  • Buy Thanksgiving Groceries  (I like to stay away from the grocery store as much as possible the week of Thanksgiving so I buy all my groceries the week before.  I also start buying my Christmas goodie staples as they go on sale.  And I buy my first carton of egg nog to break open Thanksgiving Day!  Another good thing to do is to clean out your refrigerator so you have room for all your Thanksgiving groceries.)
  • Organize Travel During the Holidays  (You should have your Thanksgiving travel plans figured out, but you also should be working on your Christmas travel.  It is a good idea to figure out and finalize your Christmas plans when you're already spending time with your family for Thanksgiving.)
  • Gift Lists  (This includes not only figuring out your own family's wish list, but also deciding what gifts you're giving others for Christmas.  Also, decide your present budget and possible locations to buy all of your gifts.  Check out my Christmas gift picks from last year here.)

What is on your holiday check list this week?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Also, don't forget to enter my "My Family's Farm" children's turkey farm book giveaway!  It ends this Thursday!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

It's Turkey Time!

With Thanksgiving two weeks away I can't help but think about getting together with family and the FOOD!  I'm looking forward to indulging in mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, pecan pie and of course turkey!  While you go for seconds this Thanksgiving, I hope you think about the farm behind your Thanksgiving dinner.

The Olthoff's - Bart, Isaac, Katie and Adam
Did you know there are more than 130 turkey farms in Iowa?  I actually grew up in an area with many turkey farms and am happy that share that one of those family farms is telling their story through a new children's book just in time for Thanksgiving, My Family's Farm.  Katie, who farms with her husband Bart (who I grew up with), raise more than 100,000 turkeys every year.  Katie, has become a good friend of mine over the last few years and I'm so proud that she has written this book, with the help of her six year old son Adam.

One of the reasons why I love this book is that there is information in it for the entire family.  Each page includes two sections of text.  The first section is in Adam's voice and is meant for younger kids.  The other section has more detailed background information and is great for older students (and even adults).

I think this would be a great book to share at your Thanksgiving dinner this year and I'm excited to share that I'll be giving away a copy to one of my readers!  You can enter the giveaway below and in case you don't win, you can check out the online version of the book here for free!

If you are looking for additional Thanksgiving materials, check out these free Thanksgiving printables from the Iowa Turkey Federation, as well as their new cookbook, The Ultimate Guide to Whole Turkey.

What is your favorite part of Thanksgiving?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Favorite Soldier Gives Back This Veteran's Day

It is no secret that my favorite soldier is my youngest sister.  I am so proud of the woman she has become through her service and dedication to the Army National Guard, since she enlisted at the age of 17.

My sister on the top of Mount Duke during her recent deployment in Kosovo
Veteran's Day is a great day to remember and give back to all of our veterans.  And I don't know if I just wasn't aware of Veteran's Day activities before my sister and my brother-in-law enlisted, but I do feel like a lot of businesses and communities have increased their support for veterans over the last few years.  I personally am so proud to be a soldier's sister and in a military family, and I couldn't be more proud of those that are saying thank you and showing their support to generations of veterans this Veteran's Day.  Did you know that businesses like Hy-Vee, Texas Road House, Applebee's, Golden Corral, Chick-fil-A, Krispy Kreme, Orange Leaf, and Starbucks (to name a few) all have special deals for veterans today?  What a great and simple way to honor our veterans!  My sister has participated in a couple of these deals today and loves congregating and having fellowship with other veterans at these locations.  Veteran's Day is her favorite holiday because of the camaraderie she gets to experience with other veterans who she currently serves with, to those who served in Korea or Vietnam.  These businesses truly make today a special experience for all veterans by opening their doors and tables to serve them.  Afterall, isn't the least we can do for them since they've served our country for decades?

It is great to see all of these businesses mentioned above (and more) give back to our veterans.  Now I'm going to be tooting my sister's horn right now, but I think it is pretty great and special that my sister in turn gave back in her own way today by donating 12 inches of hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths program.

My sister and her hair donation
My sister decided grow out her hair during her recent year-long deployment to Kosovo and chose today to have it cut and donated.  She of course went to Great Clips, who was honoring veterans with free hair cuts today, and chose the Pantene Beautiful Length program because it gives free wigs to women battling cancer through the American Cancer Society's Wig Bank.

I am just so proud of my youngest sister and I hope you've shown your pride and support for our veterans today too.  Feel free to share about your favorite veteran(s) in the comments section.  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Comments for a Cause - #NorthIowaBloggers Food Drive

It is November 1st which means it is time to talk about Comments for a Cause!  First thing to cover is my donation to the Iowa 4-H Foundation for the month of October.  Thank you for the 235 comments posted during the month, which results in a $117.50 donation.  It was great hearing so many 4-H stories during National 4-H Week, plus interacting with new and veteran readers through my "31 Days from a Tractor Seat" series.  Thank you so much for helping me make such a nice donation to help Iowa 4-Hers.

In the month of November I am excited to be joining up with my fellow bloggers in North Iowa to promote both the Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank and the Franklin County Food Pantry through a Food Drive.  We will be collecting donations of both food goods and donations that will be split between the two facilities.  I will also be donating $0.50 for every comment during the month towards the Food Drive campaign.

Food banks across the nation are in need of assistance all year long and what a better time to give to them then during the month where we remind ourselves what we are thankful for.  I am very thankful for everything I have in my life and I'm proud to help provide healthy, affordable and quality food as a farmer.

So how can you help?  If you would like to join in on the North Iowa Bloggers food drive we'd love have you join us.  You can email me at or contact Beth Ann at It's Just Life if you'd like to make a donation of any sort and we will follow up with you.  We all think it'd be great if this local food drive went viral!

If you would rather donate to your own local food pantry PLEASE do!  They are all in need of food and what better timing than with the holidays approaching.  Check out my Guide to Help your Local Food Bank for ideas, both traditional and non-traditional, to help you with your donation.

Also, to learn more about the North Iowa Bloggers, check out our new Facebook page!


Have you participated in any food drives in the past?  If you donate this month to your local food bank please let me know.  The North Iowa Bloggers would love to keep track of the amount of food and dollars raised not only for our food drive, but for food banks across the world.  Remember to Comment for a Cause!