Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top Posts of 2017

One of my favorite parts of the New Year is that it is a great time to reflect on the past and make goals for the future.  Today I'm reflecting on the past year by sharing some of my top read blog post written in 2017.  As a lifestyle blogger I have a lot of areas I write about, so here is a breakout of my top farm, family, recipe and Comments for a Cause posts.

Look Back at the Top Farm, Family, Recipe and Comments for a Cause Blog Posts from 2017

Top 3 Farm Posts
  1. Reflections of a Lifetime of Farming:  I love that the interview I did of my good friend and neighbor Merlin, in honor of his 80th birthday, turned out to be my top farming post of the year.  It was a lot of fun to reflect on how farming has changed during his lifetime and I'm so happy to have him as a part of our farm family.
  2. Ladies Night Out in the Field:  In September I was apart of the inaugural CommonGround Iowa Ladies Night Out in the Field event.  This event brought together 40 women from Central Iowa to talk about food, farming and family, all while having a beautiful dinner party at the Kellie Blair Farm.  The conversations and connections made at this event were awesome and I can't wait to be apart of the 2nd Annual event next year.
  3. I'm an #ActualLivingFarmer:  This winter there was a hashtag, #ActualLivingFarmer, that caught my eye and became trending on Twitter.  The hashtag was meant for farmers to share their story of who they are and what they do, as less than 2% of the US Population is a farmer.  Included in this post is my initial tweet and links to several posts that share about my family's farm.

Top 3 Family Posts
  1. Clear Lake's Yurts - A Family Bucket List Must!:  This was my overall top read blog post written in 2017 and I'm not surprised.  Immediately after this post was written it was shared hundreds of times on Facebook.  The Yurts in Clear Lake, Iowa are a unique camping option in North Iowa that my family loves going to and can't say enough good things about.
  2. Iowa Ice Cream Road Trip:  For the last four years my family and I have been going on an Iowa Ice Cream Road Trip every June in recognition of National Dairy Month.  This year on National Ice Cream Day we shared all of our stops over the last four years and hopefully inspired some others to go out and discover these fun and delicious ice cream shops.
  3. 6 Truth About Being a Mom of 4 Kids:  This was a fun post I wrote about life as a Mom with four young children.  It was fun to share about how life and my parenting style has changed through the years and as we have added more kids to our family.  Being a Mom is something I love and am very proud of.

Top 3 Recipe Posts
  1. Rum Logs:  My top recipe post was a family favorite that I shared during Christmas Cookies Week earlier this month.  This recipe was handed down from my Great Grandma, who I loved and admired and was lucky enough to have as a part of my life for over 20 years.  Rum Logs are a light and slightly sweet cookie that will melt in your mouth and that are a perfect compliment to a glass of Egg Nog!
  2. Easy Pecan Sticky Buns:  This is one of my go to recipes that I love to make when we have family and friends over for breakfast and brunch.  It is easy to make, a hit with all ages and you've got to check out what the secret ingredient is that make these rolls extra sweet!
  3. Apple Oatmeal Coffee Mug Cake:  This recipe was shared during this year's Apple Week and is a perfect recipe when you want to indulge a little.  I love making this Mug Cake anytime of the day - breakfast, snack or as an evening dessert.

Top 3 Comments for a Cause Posts
  1. Ashland Community Foundation Fire Relief Fund:  This Spring there were some devastating wildfires that affected ranchers in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado.  During April I raised awareness and donated to one of the hardest hit areas.  The damage and losses from their wildfires were horrible, but the outpouring of support from farmers from across the nation was amazing.
  2. Houston Food Bank:  My heart hurt for everyone that was affected by the Hurricanes at the end of the summer, including Hurricane Harvey which hit the Houston, Texas area hard.  As a way to help those affected, I donated money to the Houston Food Bank's Harvey Disaster Relief fund.  I also joined up with some other food bloggers to share some Texas inspired recipes to help raise awareness for relief needs and efforts.
  3. Franklin County Freedom Rock:  My home county is getting ready for our Freedom Rock to get finished as part of the 99 County Freedom Rock Tour.  This winter the official rock was moved to it's final home and the rock is scheduled to get painted in 2018.  My family even went on a mini-tour of other area county Freedom Rocks to get excited for ours to get finished!

What was your favorite post from 2017?  Did you discover any new post from the top 2017 lists?   Be sure to check out my BestNine Instagram photo too!  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Warm Up with Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding

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

Snow is falling and it is the perfect time to go out and enjoy AE Dairy's seasonal milks by making this warm, fudgy Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding.

Warm up with this baked Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding with a sweet cake top above a rich fudge sauce #AEdairy #sponsored

Every Fall AE Dairy rolls out their seasonal milks, including my favorites Egg Nog and After Dinner Mint.  A new milk they added to the line up this year was Chocolate Hazelnut.  I loved this new flavor combination.  The chocolate milk has a subtle hazelnut undertone to it but at the same time, made me think of biting into a Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolate!  The rich flavor comes from the three European cocoas AE Dairy uses to create their chocolate milks, along with the balance of the hazelnut they added to create this seasonal milk.

After drinking a couple quarts of the milk I thought about how great the milk would be in a baked chocolate pudding.  My Grandma Marilou would make this baked fudge when I was growing up for special occasions and I stumbled acrossed the recipe several years ago.  If you like Chocolate Melting Cake you'll love this baked pudding!  Perfect for a crowd, this baked pudding forms a cake top over a rich fudge sauce with a subtle hazelnut flavor.  Add a scoop of ice cream and you've got the perfect warm, sweet treat to curl up with on a snowy, winter night.

Warm up with this baked Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding with a sweet cake top above a rich fudge sauce #AEdairy #sponsored

Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding

1 cup Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
5 Tbsp Baking Cocoa, divided
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 cup Sugar, divided
2 Tbsp Butter, melted
1 tsp Hazelnut extract
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 cups Hot Water

Whisk together Flour, Salt, 2 Tbsp Cocoa, Baking Powder and 1/2 cup Sugar in a 2-quart baking dish.

Combine melted Butter, Milk and Hazelnut extract, and then mix into the dry ingredients in the baking dish til well incorporated.  It will create a thick, wet dough.  Spread evenly over the bottom of the baking dish.

Mix the remaining 3 Tbsp Cocoa, remaining 1/2 cup Sugar and Brown Sugar, and then sprinkle over pudding batter.  Pour hot water over top and bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes.

Warm up with this baked Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding with a sweet cake top above a rich fudge sauce #AEdairy #sponsored

Have you tried all of AE Dairy's seasonal milks?  Which one is your favorite?  Be sure to run to your grocery store quick before they're gone.  This would make a great New Year's Eve dessert for your family or small get together of friends.  And remember to Comment for a Cause!

Warm up with this baked Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding with a sweet cake top above a rich fudge sauce #AEdairy #sponsored

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Healthy Eats #Celebrate365

Now that all of our Christmas gatherings are over, it is now time to get organized for the New Year, and I'm not just talking about how to fit all the new toys into our house...  The most popular New Year's Resolution is making healthier choices, so my Celebrate 365 co-hosts (Carlee from Cooking with Carlee and Jan from Tip Garden) and I have decided to host a Healthy Eats Recipe Blog Party!

A collection of Healthy Eats recipes just in time for your New Year's Resolution, link-up your healthy recipes today!

The New Year is a great way to have a fresh start and as I have been thinking through my goals for 2018 I have been thinking about making healthier choices.  2018 actually marks the first year in many years that I have not been pregnant or nursing.  One of my body's main jobs has been taking care of kids over the last six years literately and while yes, one of my main jobs will continue to be taking care of four kids, my body at least isn't physically supplying nutrients for more than one person.

Now while I said for the first time I'm able to concentrate on my body, I am still feeding my growing family three meals a day, so I would love to see all bloggers link up their healthy meals and recipe ideas for individuals and families.  Feel free to share all of your 21 Day Fix, Keto, Paleo, Weight Watchers, high-protein, clean, etc. recipes so we all can get inspired to be healthier in the New Year!

Are you making plans to be a healthier you in 2018?  What is your favorite healthy recipe or food to eat?  Be sure to link up in the Blog Party and Comment for a Cause!

Monday, December 18, 2017

22 Family Favorites for Your Christmas Cookie Tray

With Christmas just a week away it is time to make sure I have enough goodies to fill Christmas plates for our neighbors and Christmas Cookie Trays for all of our family gatherings.  Thankfully, with over 130 recipes shared on the #Celebrate365 Cookie Exchange I have no short of inspiration of how to fill the trays.  Here are 22 recipes that were linked up that have been family favorites for generations!

22 Family Favorites for Your Christmas Cookie Tray #Celebrate365

Almond Roca, Kelly Lynn's Sweets and Treats
Grandma's Peanut Butter Cookies, Vickie's Kitchen and Garden
Grandma Joan's Gooey Wonders, Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids
Fudge Dipped Crescent Cookies, Cooking with Carlee

22 Family Favorites for Your Christmas Cookie Tray #Celebrate365

Chocolate Crinkles, Oak Hill Homestead
Marlene's Sour Cream Cookies, Cooking with Carleee
Peanut Butter Balls, Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids
Cut-Out Butter Cookies, Canning and Cooking at Home
Homemade Caramels, Flint & Co.
Muddy Snowballs, Family Around the Table

22 Family Favorites for Your Christmas Cookie Tray #Celebrate365

Sour Cream Cookies, Big Rigs 'n Lil' Cookies
Rum Logs, Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids
Tender Italian Sugar Cookies, Jolene's Recipe Journal
Butterball Cookies, My Fearless Kitchen
Cherry Chews, Red Cottage Chronicles

I love how many of these recipes have been handed down from generation to generation through the years.  What is your family's favorite Christmas Cookie?  Remember to Comment for a Cause.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Holiday Survival Guide from a Mom of 4

Anyone else feeling like it's crunch time with only 10 days to go before Christmas?  With Christmas programs at school & church, holiday gatherings & parties filling up the calendar, and the need to still wrap all 22 of my gifts, it can be a little overwhelming.  And when Mom is overwhelmed, the whole house becomes chaotic.  So to help everyone out during this crazy, I mean wonderful, time of year, here is my Holiday Survival Guide:

Holiday Survival Guide from a Mom of 4

Organize and Make A Plan

It's not too late to start making a plan for the holiday season.  With places to be, food to make, and all while trying to keep a clean house, you need a plan.  A couple years ago on my blog I created Holiday Check Lists starting the week before Thanksgiving.

Holiday Survival Guide from a Mom of 4 - Organize and Make a Plan

This week make sure you have a menu in place for all of your Christmas gatherings and then buy all of your groceries.  The grocery store is a busy place the week of a holiday, so do your big shopping trip now, so if and when you need to go back, it can be for a quick trip!  Also, if you are like me and haven't wrapped any gifts, start wrapping!  No one likes wrapping gifts the day of a party to only find out you don't have enough wrapping paper.  So start now, wrap a few every night and before you know it you'll be done.  Be sure to check out the full check lists for 1 Week Before Christmas and Christmas Week to help you get organized.

Become a Minimalist

The minimalist lifestyle is a big trend these days, and part of the reason why is so you can declutter your life and live simply and happily.  You can take these principals when it comes to the holiday season too:
  • Make a budget for Christmas gifts, and scale-back on gift giving.  This might be the year to talk with family members about gift giving during the year.  Last year my sisters and I decided that we wouldn't give birthday gifts anymore for our generation and instead plan a birthday supper with the whole family.  We knew none of us needed stuff just because it was our birthday, and that getting together was more rewarding.
  • Don't buy holiday decorations.  Use what you have and if you want something new, make something with your kids.
  • Don't feel like you have to go to every holiday party you are invited to.  It is easy to say yes to every dinner and get together, but sometimes being away from home a lot, especially over the holidays, can be exhausting.  
  • Enjoy and evening at home.  Throw in a Christmas movie, pop some popcorn, and snuggle up on the couch with your family and simply enjoy a night a home with the Christmas Tree lights on.

Do those Extra-Special Things

So I know I just said, don't feel like you have to go to every holiday party you are invited to, but at the same time, make time to do those extra-special things and make memories with your family.  As my six year old son told me before we decided to go see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train come through town, "this doesn't happen every day."  Go see Santa.  Go to a Christmas Tree Farm to pick out your tree.  Go on a drive to check out Christmas lights.  And always, go see the Holiday Train if it comes through your area.

Holiday Survival Guide from a Mom of 4 - Do the Extra-Special Things and Create Memories, like the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train in Mason City, Iowa

Bake Cookies

Baking Christmas Cookies isn't only delicious, but it can be a fun tradition to do with your family.  Now at the same time, there is no need to get overwhelmed by cookie baking, so make your favorites, or try some simple cookies.  Here are some of my family's favorites:

Holiday Survival Guide from a Mom of 4 - Bake Cookies including family favorites like Peanut Butter Balls

Holiday Survival Guide from a Mom of 4 - Bake Cookies including family favorites like Rum Logs

Holiday Survival Guide from a Mom of 4 - Bake Cookies including family favorites like Homemade Chocolate Mint Oreos

Remember the Reason for the Season

Lastly, always remember the reason for the the season.  Like I have said, Christmas can be a busy time of year, but take time to reflect with your loved ones about Jesus's birth.  Do simple things every day like family Advent devotions.  Make Christmas gifts simple by giving three gifts to represent the three gifts Jesus received.  Also, think about ways your family can give back or pay it forward during the holiday season to share God's love.  And incorporate your birthday traditions on Christmas Day to remind everyone why we are celebrating during the holidays.

What are your tips for surviving the holiday?  Be sure to share and Comment for a Cause.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Peppermint Sandies #ChristmasCookies

I can't believe it is already Friday of Christmas Cookies Week!  I hope you have been following #ChristmasCookies on social media to see all of the delicious cookie recipes from over 30 bloggers.  When I first found out that Nielsen-Massey was sponsoring Christmas Cookies Week I was excited to try their different vanillas and extract flavors and was drawn to their Peppermint Extract.  Afterall, how much more festive can you get than peppermint!

Peppermint Sandies are buttery, crispy and have just the right balance of holiday flavor. #ChristmasCookies #sponsored

These buttery, crispy, Peppermint Sandies have just the right balance of flavor and are the perfect refrigerated cookie to add to your Christmas Cookie platter.

Peppermint Sandies are buttery, crispy and have just the right balance of holiday flavor. #ChristmasCookies #sponsored

Peppermint Sandies

1 1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Butter
1/2 cup Shortening
2 eggs
3 cups Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1 cup Peppermint Baking Chips

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugars, butter and shortening.  Add eggs and peppermint extract and combine till light and fluffy.  Mix in flour and baking soda well.  Stir in peppermint baking chips.

Divide cookie dough in half.  Shape each half into 2 inch diameter log.  Wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill 2 to 3 hours, or until firm.

Cut logs into slices. Bake cookies at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges are light golden brown.  Cool completely before storing.

Peppermint Sandies are buttery, crispy and have just the right balance of holiday flavor. #ChristmasCookies #sponsored

Now it is your turn to make these cookies by winning the Nielsen-Massey Flavor Extracts Package!  Be sure to enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What Nielsen-Massey flavor extract would you like to try?  Be sure to Comment for a Cause and check out the rest of today's Christmas Cookies Week recipes:

Peppermint Sandies are buttery, crispy and have just the right balance of holiday flavor. #ChristmasCookies #sponsored

Monday, December 4, 2017

Rum Logs #ChristmasCookies

♫ It's the most, wonderful time, of the year๐ŸŽ 
otherwise known as Christmas Cookies Week!  
All this week I'm joining with other bloggers 
to share 130 Christmas Cookie recipes.

I love making Christmas Cookies throughout the month of December and I love sharing Christmas Cookies at family gatherings, with neighbors, and with friends.  Besides Christmas Cookies being delicious, festive, sweet treats, they are also a favorite family tradition of mine.  Every year the first Christmas Cookies I make are Peanut Butter Balls.  I love making these with my mom and sisters after Black Friday shopping.  Another cookie I love making with my family are my Great Grandma Mae's Rum Logs.  Not only do these cookies make me smile because they were one of my Great Grandma's recipes, a woman who I loved and cherished very much (in fact our oldest daughter's middle name is Mae in honor of her).  But these cookies are also one of my Mom's favorites and always makes me think of her.  For the longest time I felt like she was the only one that could make them right, but after a little tinkering with the recipe, I feel like I can make a pretty good batch of Rum Logs and now you can too!

Rum Logs are the perfect addition to any Christmas Cookie Platter.  They're light, slightly sweet, soft and will melt in your mouth! #ChristmasCookies

Rum Logs are a light and slightly sweet cookie that are a perfect addition to any Christmas Cookie Platter.  I love how they are soft and will melt in your mouth, especially if you pair them with a glass of egg nog.  Plus, the kids love decorating them with sprinkles!

Christmas Cookie Helpers
Miss L and Miss R had a lot of fun decorating
the Rum Logs with sprinkles
Rum Logs

1 cup Butter
3/4 cup Sugar
1 Egg
1/4 cup Milk
2 tsp Vanilla extract
2 tsp Rum extract flavoring
1 tsp Nutmeg, ground
3 cups Flour

Cream butter and sugar together.  Then mix in egg, milk, vanilla, rum, nutmeg and flour.  The dough will be stiff.  Roll dough into 2 inch long "logs".  You can place them fairly close together on the cookie sheet as they won't raise much.  Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies appear dry and bottoms are just golden.  Do not let the bottoms of the cookies brown.

Rum Logs fresh out of the oven

Then to make the glaze for the top of the Rum Logs whisk together:

1 cup Powdered Sugar
1/2 tsp Rum extract flavoring
1/4 tsp Vanilla extract
1 Tbsp Milk

Rum Logs with Rum Glaze

Dip the top of each cookie in the glaze and decorate with colored sugar or nutmeg.

Rum Logs are the perfect addition to any Christmas Cookie Platter.  They're light, slightly sweet, soft and will melt in your mouth! #ChristmasCookies

I hope you try a batch of these festive cookies soon!  And I hope you check out all of these other great cookies shared today as part of Christmas Cookie Week:
What Christmas Cookie sparks your interest?  Do you have any Christmas Cookie traditions?  Be sure to Comment for a Cause!
Rum Logs are the perfect addition to any Christmas Cookie Platter.  They're light, slightly sweet, soft and will melt in your mouth! #ChristmasCookies

Sunday, December 3, 2017

#Celebrate365 Cookie Exchange Blog Party

Peanut Butter Balls.  No Bake Cookies.  Sugar Cookies.  Gooey Wonders.  Peanut Butter Blossoms.  I really could go on and on, but I think you get the picture... It's Christmas Cookie Week!  And to get things started I am partnering with my Celebrate 365 co-hosts (Carlee from Cooking with Carlee, Jan from Tip Garden, and Nicole from Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom) to host a Cookie Exchange Link-Up Party.

Cookie Exchange #Celebrate365 Link Blog Party - pin your favorite Christmas Cookie recipes

All bloggers are welcomed and encouraged to link up their favorite Christmas Cookie recipes.  I can't wait to see what everyone shares, as I love making a few different cookies each week in December leading up to Christmas, that way I have well rounded Christmas Cookie platters with lots of favorites and variety.  

Also, be sure to stay tuned for Christmas Cookie Week by following #ChristmasCookies on social media.  I'm excited to be sharing a family favorite recipe tomorrow as part of the week long festivities, and a new recipe I created that is full of holiday flavor on Thursday!  Be sure to follow along and check out the 130 recipes!

What is your favorite Christmas Cookie?  Be sure to link-up the recipe and Comment for a Cause!

Comments for a Cause - The Michael J. Fox Foundation

Comments for a Cause - The Michael J. Fox Foundation
This last month has been a whirlwind and I'm hoping to find my groove now that December has arrived.  I'll get more into that later, but to start off, let's talk about my Comments for a Cause efforts in October and November for Farm Rescue.  Through all of your comments, I'm excited to donate $39 to help farmers in need with donated labor and equipment.

In the month of December I'm excited to be supporting The Michael J. Fox Foundation.  I will donate $0.50 for every comment made on my blog to help their Parkinson's Disease research and treatment efforts.

Comments for a Cause - The Michael J. Fox Foundation

My mother-in-law is an amazing woman.  She is caring, attentive, witty and one of the strongest women I know.  I feel so fortunate that I first got to know her fifteen years ago.  Our relationship has grown stronger and closer through the years, as I went from her son's girlfriend, to son's fiance, to son's wife, neighbor and friend.  Through this time her life has also changed as she was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease 14 years ago.

For the first few years the main symptom she had was that her feet didn't cooperate with her going on her daily run anymore, so she switched to primarily doing yoga, which has been great for her to help with her strength.  Then in 2008 she had Deep Brain Stimulator surgery, which is a procedure that implanted a brain pacemaker.  The DBS sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain to help with movement and other areas affected by Parkinson's.  The DBS helped her with quality of life for many years, and still helps some today, but I will admit it's effectiveness has warn off some.  I'm not sure if that is because she's had it for almost ten years, or if it is because we are now ten years farther into her Parkinson's, or a combination of both.  But none the less, I know the DBS has been a benefit for my mother-in-law.

One of my all-time favorite photos from our wedding reception
My Mother-in-Law said her doctor insisted she carry
a champagne bottle with her at all times to help her with her balance ๐Ÿ˜‰

So then we find ourselves at the beginning of November and my mother-in-law became hospitalized with her first major complication from her Parkinson's.  She was diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia and had a feeding tube placed to help her have less aspiration of her food and liquids.  She is currently in skilled care working on physical, occupational and speech therapies so she come back home.

Through all of this I am still amazed by my mother-in-law's strength.  If she wasn't a strong person, she would have given up a long time ago, let alone in this last month.  But I truly believe one of the things that keeps her going is the love for her family and her love of God.  I talked about how my mother-in-law and I have grown closer through the years and that is partly due to her Parkinson's.  I help her get groceries, or run errands, or take her to appointments, which has allowed us to get to know each other better.  I feel so fortunate that I am able to help her and that I have gotten to know her on such a personal level.

My Mother-in-Law and six of her seven grandkids
(this photo was taken about a month before #7 was born)

I also love seeing the care and affection my children give her.  I know my husband (and I) think back and wish what could have been for my mother-in-law as a grandma.  And while yes, our kids aren't able to run around or get down on the floor to play with her, but the relationship they have with her is one of a kind.  Our oldest Mr K. loves reading her books which is great for him because he's working on his reading skills, and great for her because she is a book lover.  Our oldest daughter Miss A is always a big helper for her grandma, always offering to carry her purse and help her out in anyway when we run errands together.  Miss L is so warm and tender with her grandma.  Every time we see her she gives her a hug and does this soft rub of her hands.  It is so precious to see.  And finally Miss R; she loves to give her grandma big hugs and big cheesy smiles that then give a smile to my mother-in-law.

Parkinson's is one of the hardest diseases I think anyone can go through.  It has always been on my mind obviously for the last fourteen years, but is has pretty much been the only thing I've been able to think about the last month.  Simply put, Parkinson's is a sad, debilitating disease, and The Michael J. Fox Foundation isn't just there to help people figure out how to live with the disease, but they are dedicated to finding a cure for it.  So this month I am going to be supporting their efforts by donating $0.50 for every comment made on my blog to their foundation.  Please help me and my family by commenting all month long!