Friday, December 30, 2016

Top Posts of 2016

When people ask me about what my blog is about, I say that it is a lifestyle blog.  I say that because I share about my farm, I share about my family, I share about living in North Iowa, I share about different causes and organizations, I share recipes, and then sometimes I just share.  I feel like my blog can't be just nailed down into one category, so I put it in the category of lifestyle because I'm truly sharing about my life!

And now that it is the end of 2016, it's a great time reflect on the past year.  I felt like I couldn't just give a simple "Top 10" list or something like that.  I wanted to share with you my top 3 posts from each "aspect" of my blog.  I hope you enjoy looking back over the last year, as much as I did putting this post together 😊

Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids Top Blog Posts of 2016

Top 3 Farm Posts
  1. Harvest of Thanks to our Farm Family:  This post not only shared a recap on this fall's harvest, but it also introduced you to some members of our "farm family".  We wouldn't be able to accomplish everything on our farm without help, and in this post I introduce you to three of our helpers.  I also share that we are a finalist for the Iowa Young Farmer Achievement Award in this post and I'm excited to report that we won this award and now will be representing Iowa in the national contest next month!
  2. Knee High by the 4th of July:  Every year we take a family photo next to one of our corn fields for our annual "Knee High by the 4th of July" photo.  This post is always a favorite of mine and obviously for my readers too.  Check out our "over head high" corn from this past 4th of July.
  3. What it means to be a FarmHer:  This is a post I wrote this fall in response to a conversation I had in the grocery store.  I am proud to be a woman farmer and I'm working hard, along with others, to ensure that my daughters can be women in agriculture too.
Top 3 Family Posts
  1. A Week's Worth of Blessings:  My top family post was the post I wrote after our youngest, Miss R was born.  This was obviously a highlight of our family's year, so it makes me smile that this post is the top family post of the year.
  2. Back to School Farm Kid Style with Carhartt:  I had a lot of fun partnering with Carhartt this summer to share their new line of children's backpacks.  Mr. K loves his Carhartt backpack and had a lot of fun helping me write a review for this post and giveaway.
  3. When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Farmer:  My next top family post also involves Mr. K.  In honor of National Ag Day this Spring, I interviewed him on why he wants to be a farmer when he grows up.  This post makes me smile so much.  It's a lot of fun to take a look through a 5 year old's eyes on what being a farmer means.
Top 3 North Iowa Posts
  1. 5 Family Winter Fun Activities in North Iowa and Beyond:  It probably isn't a secret, but I actually love the winter time!  There are so many great activities my family enjoys going to during the winter in our home area that I wrote a post about our favorites, so hopefully more people would enjoy and embrace the fun that winter brings to North Iowa!
  2. Farmers Market Quiche:  This post could have fallen under a couple of categories but I decided to include it in my top North Iowa posts because it shares about my local Franklin County Farmers Market.  I love going to our local Farmers Market as much as possible during the summer and in this post I also share a delicious quiche I made with some of the fresh produce I picked up.  I actually made this quiche just last week for Christmas Eve brunch and it was a hit with our extended family!
  3. Oh, what I'll do for charity - Cupid's Undie Run:  This post recapped my first experience running in my underwear for the Cupid's Undie Run this past February in Mason City.  I must have had a lot of fun, or I'm crazy, because I'm signed up to do it again this February!
Top 3 Comments for a Cause Posts
  1. What it means to be a "Blue Family":  This is a guest post that one of my younger sisters wrote as a support piece towards my Comments for a Cause efforts for Iowa C.O.P.S.  This post has come into play a couple times I'm afraid this past year.  I encourage you to take some time to read this post to better understand and have empathy to know what it means to be a police officer family.
  2. Lullaby Lane:  Lullaby Lane was such a neat local project that raised money to create a prayer pathway and memorials for those who have had a miscarriage in North Iowa.  I'm proud to say this project was completed in time for its dedication in October of this year on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.
  3. Make Our Day:  Sometimes you never know how a simple email and conversation can lead you to getting to know someone new and wanting to share their story.  That is how I got to know Katie, founder of Make Our Day, and shared her story of moving to Thailand and eventually creating this organization.  You'll have to check out the post to get to full story. 😉
Top 3 Recipe Posts
  1. Back to School Caramel Crispix Mix:  I literally hear from people each week that they have tried this recipe and now are addicted to it like my family and I.  This is a great snack to make for any gathering.  If you're having a kid-friendly New Year's get together (or even if it is adults only) you should make a batch!
  2. 3 Ingredient Strawberry Lemonade Sorbet:  Everyone must have been looking for something simple and refreshing this summer because this 3 Ingredient Strawberry Lemonade Sorbet using AE Dairy's Reduced Sugar Lemonade fits that bill.  Even though strawberries aren't in season, I'm thinking maybe I should get some frozen strawberries and make this soon!
  3. #AppleWeek 1 Minute Caramel Apple Dip:  I had a lot of fun participating in Apple Week with some of my blogging friends this past September and my 1 Minute Caramel Apple Dip is my favorite recipe I shared.  So simple, good, and obviously fast!
Top 3 Can't Fit in Another Category But Still Want to Highlight Posts
  1. The Influence of Millennials on Food Trends:  This Winter I was interviewed for an article on the topic of millennials and their influence on food trends.  As both a millennial and farmer I found this topic very interesting.  In this blog post I shared some of my thoughts from the article and more, and I guess my readers found the topic interesting too since it was my top viewed "other" post from the year.
  2. New Year Goal - Making a Daily Routine:  What a great post to revisit just a couple days til the start of 2017.  I have to admit, I went through waves of being really good at my daily routine and times of just flying through doing whatever needed to be done.  I always feel better myself when I can do my daily routine and I plan on concentrating on this again in the New Year.
  3. 5 Gardening Tips for Beginners:  I think more and more people are interested in planting their own garden every year, but a lot of times they don't know where or how to start.  I put together several tips for beginners so hopefully their first garden won't overwhelm them and be successful at the same time.
What post was your favorite from 2016?  Did you discover any new posts from the top 2016 lists?  If you want to see more "top lists" recapping 2016, check out my #2016bestnine on Instagram or my Facebook page.  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Friday, December 23, 2016

3 Simple Ways to Celebrate Jesus at Christmas

This past Sunday was our Children's Christmas Program at Church.  Mr. K was a shepherd, Miss A was an angel and Miss R got to be Baby Jesus.  It was a cute program where some our church's confirmation students walked through the snow and were lead to the manger.  The program reminded us all to walk with God and that He shows us the way.  My Farmer and I work hard to teach our children about Jesus and to have our family walk with Him.  I thought I'd share three simple ways we focus on Jesus every Christmas at our house.

3 Simple Ways to Celebrate Jesus at Christmas with kids - Jesus is the Reason for the Season

  • Three Gifts - Jesus received three gifts from the Wise Men after His birth, so we honor this by giving all of our children three gifts.  We give them one article of clothing, one book and one toy or activity.  Besides doing this for our kids, I also practice this for our nieces and nephews, and our kids for their birthdays.  It is an easy way to think through gifts, not go overboard, and to keep in mind why we're getting gifts in the first place.
3 Simple Ways to Celebrate Jesus at Christmas - Give your child three gifts
Mr. K opening his three gifts last year at Christmas
  • Kid-Friendly Nativity - When My Farmer and I were first married I got a beautiful Willow Tree Nativity set but shortly after we had kids, we started keeping that nativity set stored away and have gotten a kid-friendly nativity set that the kids can play with.  Rather than telling our kids everyday not to touch the nativity, we encourage our kids to play with the nativity to learn more about Jesus's birth story.  We have also given kid-friendly nativity sets to our godchildren once they become toddler age, similar to this one from Fisher-Price:
  • Celebrate Jesus's Birthday - Celebrate Christmas the same way you would celebrate anyone else's birthday.  For us, that means starting our day with Birthday Waffles and singing Happy Birthday.  Bring in those birthday traditions into your Christmas traditions to help everyone focus on the reason for the season.
3 Simple Ways to Celebrate Jesus at Christmas - Bring in birthday traditions to your Christmas traditions
We start our Christmas morning with Birthday Waffles
and singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, complete with a candle
So how do you celebrate Jesus at Christmas?  I'd love to learn some more ideas.  Be sure to Comment for a Cause and to remember the Reason for the Season this year.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Pay it Forward with #HamsAcrossAmerica

The holiday season is a joyous time for many - celebrations with family, special treats and dinners, and presents under the tree.  It is easy for me to take all of this for granted, but for some, they don't have a support system and money can be too tight for those special treats, dinners and presents.  So My Farmer and I joined other pig farmers from across the country and paid it forward by donating holiday hams to families in need.

Paying it Forward with #HamsAcrossAmerica

We decided to reach out to our local Crisis Intervention Service and help a couple of the families using their services.  Our friend Katy made us aware of the needs of the Service Center after doing a service project for them last month.  It means a lot to us that we were able to donate holiday hams to two families that are clients of our local Crisis Intervention Service, both after struggling with domestic violence.  The director let us know how much each of these families appreciated the hams, as they both have large families and are not receiving any support from the abusers.  Knowing these families are now able to celebrate and feed all of those growing bellies means a lot to us, as those are two things we care about for our own family.

Our family, and other pig farmers from across America, encourage you to pay it forward and give a holiday ham this holiday season.  Who would you like to give a holiday ham to?  Remember to Comment for a Cause.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Festive Egg Nog Cookies with Rum Frosting

* This post has been compensated through the AE Dairy Blog Ambassador program.  All views and opinions shared are my own. *

Those that know me, know that I'm quite the eggnogaholic this time of year.  I mean, I even Instagram and Tweet about it. 😉 To be specific, I like just a simple glass of AE Dairy's Classic Egg Nog in a festive glass or even straight from the carton.  Nothing added or spiked, just straight.  I mean why mess with a good thing.

A photo posted by Val Plagge (@plaggeval) on

So, since I am such a big fan of Egg Nog it was mandatory that I develop an Egg Nog Cookie recipe.  This easy Egg Nog cookie brings out the natural flavors of the egg nog into a light and pillowy cookie.

I also decided that this recipe needed something to top it off, so I added a Rum Frosting that you can dip the top of the cookie into, drizzle on top, or I have even piped it into the cookie as a fun surprise for the middle of the cookie.  The Rum Frosting reminds me of my Mom because one of her favorite cookies has a similar frosting. 😊

Get festive with these easy and pillowy soft Egg Nog Cookies with Rum Frosting #AEdairy #sponsored

Egg Nog Cookies with Rum Frosting

2 cups Flour
1 Tbsp Baking Powder
1 Tbsp Sugar
1/2 tsp ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Salt
4 Tbsp Butter
1 cup AE Dairy Egg Nog

1 Tbsp Butter
1/4 tsp Rum extract
1/4 tsp Vanilla extract
1 cup Powdered Sugar
1-2 Tbsp AE Dairy Egg Nog

Stir the flour, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together.  To the dry ingredients, mix in butter with a hand mixer til it forms small crumbles.  Then add the Egg Nog and mix til it forms into one large dough ball.

You can roll out the dough or take scoops of the dough.  Make sure you roll out or flatten your cookies because they will rise (and become pillowy soft 😉) in the oven.  Bake the cookies at 375ᐤ F for 10 minutes.  Recipe yields 2 dozen cookies.

While the cookies are baking, make your Rum Frosting.  With your hand mixer mix the butter, rum and vanilla.  Then mix in the powdered sugar til it forms crumbles.  Add 1 tablespoon of Egg Nog at a time until you reach the consistency desired.  I like to dip the top of the cookies into the frosting.  You can also drizzle the frosting or use a piping bag to fill the frosting in the inside of the cookie.

With the frosting, I recommend keeping these cookies in cold storage.

These easy and pillowy soft Egg Nog Cookies with Rum Frosting would be perfect to leave for Santa #AEdairy #sponsored
Doesn't this look like the perfect combination for Santa!
These cookies are a winner for all the egg nog fans in your life, and will make those that think they aren't fans reconsider. 😉 Do you love Egg Nog?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!  And since last month I only had a couple blog posts, I'm continuing this month's Comments for a Cause dollars to go to Iowa Cookie Crumbs.  And what better post to comment on and help support their efforts then a Christmas Cookie post!  Be sure to check out my other Christmas Cookie recipes too:
Get festive with these easy and pillowy soft Egg Nog Cookies with Rum Frosting #AEdairy #sponsored

Monday, December 12, 2016

Christmas Time is Harvest Time for Christmas Tree Farmers

Christmas Time is Harvest Time for Christmas Tree Farmers: Selecting a Real Christmas Tree is a tradition for families
A real Christmas Tree means several things to me:  

I love how you can get a subtle smell of the Christmas Tree as soon as you open our house door. 

I love how going to get a Christmas Tree is a family tradition of ours.  

And I love how it is a way to support a local farmer, as well as our local economy.

In November a few of the North Iowa Bloggers and myself traveled to the Carlson Tree Farm located in rural Coulter, Iowa (and only six miles away from my house!), for our annual Christmas Wreath workshop.  While at the Carlson's I got to talking to one of the owners, Cathy Carlson, about their harvest season.

North Iowa Bloggers at the Carlson Tree Farm Christmas Wreath workshop

When I think of harvest, I of course think of fall when we harvest our corn and soybeans.  But for Iowa's Christmas Tree Farmers, harvest time is Christmas time - mid-November through mid-December.  

Christmas Trees are grown in all 50 states and there are around 100 Christmas Tree Farms in Iowa.  Every year there are around 39,500 Christmas Trees harvested in Iowa.  

While I get to harvest my corn and soybeans five to six months after planting, Christmas Tree Farmers have to wait six to twelve years before being able to harvest the seedling they planted.  One interesting thing I learned too was that for every harvested tree, Christmas Tree Farmers plant two to three replacement seedlings.  Now why do they do this?  Well, not all trees survive til harvest and some don't grow into the ideal look that everyone wants for their Christmas Tree.  This is where I think the Carlson Tree Farm has gotten innovative and has really captured a niche experience, Christmas Wreath workshops.

Creating an unique wreath at the Carlson Tree Farm Christmas Wreath workshop
By the end of this week, the Carlson Tree Farm will have led around 300 Christmas Wreath workshops.  Participants are able to come in, use the scrap branches (those trees that aren't going to make it as a large family Christmas Tree) from a few different breeds of Christmas Trees to create an unique wreath.  You are also able to choose from the wide variety of decorations and adornments to customize the wreath.  Besides creating your own one of a kind wreath, the workshops are a great excuse to get together with friends.  Now, if you aren't able to claim one of the coveted workshop times, Carlson Tree Farm makes other wreaths that are available for purchase throughout the season.

What's your favorite reason to buy a real Christmas Tree?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Harvest of Thanks to our Farm Family

Tonight My Farmer and I get recognized as a finalist for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation's Young Farmer Achievement Award.  This recognizes young farmers, ages 35 and under, for their growth and progress of their farm and leadership achievements through the start of their career.  We are both honored and humbled to be finalist this year and we can't wait to find out tonight how we place!

Being a finalist for this award wouldn't be possible without our farm family.  We have been very fortunate to have such a great support system behind us.  Both of our families, neighbors and community members have backed us in different ways.  I wanted to recognize a couple members of our farm family to say thank you.

Harvest of Thanks to our Farm Family
We would first like to thank my father-in-law.  He is the one who gave My Farmer the foundation and inspiration to farm starting at a young age.  He also helped My Farmer get the resources needed so he could build his pig barns in college.  Today, we work daily with each other.  As My Farmer describes in the video, we farm in parallel with each other; while it isn't a partnership, we trade labor back and forth, as well as share equipment.  Working with an established farmer, like my father-in-law, has been a huge asset for us as young farmers, as capital can be hard to get initially.  I also know that my father-in-law works hard to give us the opportunities to succeed, just like we as parents are now doing so for our children.

Harvest of Thanks to our Farm Family
Next we'd like to thank our neighbor, friend and landlord Merlin.  Merlin has been a long-time family friend and neighbor.  I can't say enough of how great a man he is.  When My Farmer and I were dating Merlin was one of the first people I met from the community.  We instantly connected.  I think at some community events early on some people wondered "who is that girl with Merlin?" rather than "who is that girl with My Farmer?" 😉  Merlin too wants us to succeed.  Besides helping us out seasonally with field work, he is also one of our landlords that we rent crop acres from.  Most importantly, he really is like family.  He is like an extra grandpa for our children and we do fun things outside of the farm with him like going to Nut Frys, Church and Saturday Night Pizza.

Harvest of Thanks to our Farm Family
The last member of our farm family I want to thank and share with all of you is Rusty.  Rusty is one of our long-time farm workers and I don't know if it is his favorite job, but it is probably the job he does the most, and that is drive semi, like he is seen standing in front of here.  The thing I appreciate the most about Rusty is his hard work ethic and fun attitude.  Things can get stressful on the farm, especially during our busy seasons of harvest and planting, but Rusty knows just what to do calm everyone down and make everyone laugh.  I guess you could say that Rusty helps keep our whole farm family sane during tough times.

This list wouldn't be complete without also thanking both sets of our parents, our sisters, our landlords, Cole, Tom, Hunter and Jared.  It takes this entire crew, this entire farm family, to make what we do everyday possible.  So thank you to our entire farm family. 😊

Do you have extra "family" members or a "tribe" that helps you succeed?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Country Fair Blog Party: December 2016

It's the start of a new month and time for another great blog party to start!  Before we get into this month's Country Fair Blog Party, Jan from the Tip Garden and I would like to thank everyone for your comments last month on the direction we should take with the blog party!  The winner of last months Holiday Gift Bag was chosen via Rafflecopter... and drum roll please... The winner is:  Julie Raye-Rodriguez!!

Country Fair Blog Party Holiday Gift Bag Giveaway
Enjoy Julie!
Jan will be contacting you via email to get your shipping address to get your gift bag in the mail.  Congratulations once again!

As for 2017, What Comes Next?  Both Jan and myself joined in as co-hosts to share the load with others as a group of bloggers and we now find ourselves just too busy to run it just by ourselves, or alone as individuals.  So very reluctantly, it has come time to let it go.

Not totally goodbye:  Now while Jan and I are both going to take a break from the Country Fair Blog Party after this month, we both still enjoy hosting blog hops.  We have some ideas floating around on maybe some special holiday or seasonal parties we might lead in the future, and if and when we dream up and take action on something new, we plan on inviting all of you.

Thank you for your support!  We have the best bloggers here at the Country Fair Blog Party!  The friendliest, most caring, and willing to share and uplift each other.  We are grateful for you coming back month after month and sharing your life with us.  We cherish not just the networking but relationships built through this Blog Hop!

Now that I've update all of you on the Country Fair Blog Party, let's celebrate by recognizing the top viewed posts in November.  Last month we had a tie for the most clicked post:  

Country Fair Blog Party Blue Ribbon Winner: Cooking with Carlee's French Silk Brownies

Country Fair Blog Party Blue Ribbon Winner: Delightful Repast's Pumpkin Bundt Cake

Both of these desserts look perfect to share with family over the holidays!  Congratulations to both Jean and Carlee!

Join the Country Fair Blog Party by linking up to 3 of your favorite food, family, farming, crafts, canning, etc. posts!Thanks to everyone that joined our blog hop last month, and I can't wait to see what great posts get linked up to the final 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-host:
Jan of Tip Garden

We're excited to see everything you share for this final Country Fair Blog Party.  Jan and I would once again like to thank you for linking up over the last couple of years.  What is your all-time favorite Country Fair Blog Party post you read?  Remember to Comments for a Cause!