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Elfie’s Back!

December 5, 2013

Elfie, our Elf on a Shelf is back again this year. Last year the kids had fun finding Elfie every morning and seeing what she had gotten into during the night.

I’m determined not to go overboard with Elfie’s antics, but some of the ideas I’ve found are too much fun. Then again, there are the nights where I climb into bed and get all cozy only to realize five minutes later Elfie hasn’t moved from her safe perch on the top shelf of the glasses (where curious little two-year-olds can’t reach her). So I have to get out and think of something quick so I can get back into my nice warm bed.

Elfie arrived on the top of the chandelier in the dining room with poseable arms and legs and wearing a new skirt.

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The next night saw her practice spelling her name in Hershey’s mint truffle kisses.

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And the next she was checking the gallery wall to make sure the pictures were all hanging straight.

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She showed the kids she’s a bit of a daredevil by hanging upside down off the Nativity banner that hangs in the doorway between the dining room and living room.

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Last night Elfie was harvesting a bumper crop of candy corn. They’re one of the Elves’ four major food groups, you know.

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I have a feeling the kiddo is teetering on the edge between believing and not. He’s still excited to find Elfie every morning, and comes in to tell us what she’s been up to, but he’ll ask whether we moved her or other questions about her “magic.” It makes me a little sad to think our oldest is almost to old for the magic of Santa at Christmas, but the kidlet is still going strong, and we’ll have kid3 to take up the reins for the next few years after the older two are done.

I have some more fun ideas in mind for Elfie, and I hope the kids like them too.

A long hiatus

December 5, 2013

It always seems that life gets away with me and my poor little blog bears the brunt of my neglect. Not that my meager audience misses much (Hi Mom and Dad!) because I see them nearly every day.

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The hub often harvested late into the night – he’s learned to work as long as he can while the weather holds.

This year’s harvest was completely different than the previous two years. A late plant, mixed with a wet fall meant harvest didn’t really get underway until October, and even then, it was halted several times due to rain and even snow (!!).

The hub finally got everything in late one night in mid-November with the help of his father and mine. Of course, farm work doesn’t end with the putting away of the combine; there are still stalks to be chopped, fertilizer to be applied and worked in and all the machinery to get cleaned up and winterized. And even with the best of intentions, Mother Nature still gets the best of you. A sudden cold snap meant the ground was too hard to work, and once it warmed up enough to even try, it rained. And that was followed by another cold front. What got done is done, the rest will have to wait until spring.

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Yes, that’s snow. On October 22.

Even with the strange weather this year (and downed corn due to high winds this summer and pesky root worm beetles), the hub was pleasantly surprised with his yields. The downward trend in commodities pricing doesn’t help the bottom line, but, as we’re learning, we just have to take it year by year and do the best we can. Farming isn’t for the faint at heart – I wish more people understood that.

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Riding in the combine with daddy was always a treat for the kiddo and kidlet after school.

Hopefully next year will be better. Kid3 will be able to spend a few days a week at daycare by that time, so I’ll be able to help out more with harvest (currently my main jobs are bringing out lunches and driving people to and from fields when I’m not shuttling kids to and from school). I’ll have to learn how to drive the tractor and wagons, or maybe the hub will even let me take a turn in the combine!

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Harvest seemed to be neverending this year.

Despite the long hours, hard work and the unpredictability of farming, the hub and I are thankful every day we have the opportunity to do something to which we both feel connected and can raise our children the same.

It’s fair time!

July 24, 2013
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Last week was our local county fair. And, just like last year, we spent a few hours each day from Wednesday to Sunday wandering around the fairgrounds.

But, first, came the fair parade Tuesday night. The kiddo’s t-ball team got to ride in the parade as they were t-ball tournament champions, so it was up to the kidlet to gather enough candy for the both of them (not a problem by any means!)

The mighty, mighty Mets!

The mighty, mighty Mets!

You know your town is hardcore about its fair parade when people start setting out chairs to reserve spots at 9 in the morning the day of the parade. But it’s worth it when you realize the parade has more than 150 entries and ends up being an hour long.

The official start of the fair was on Wednesday morning. The hub and some friends of ours brought the bucket calf to the barns that morning and shortly afterward it was time for the kiddo to have his projects “judged” for Clover Kids.

Practicing for 4-H in a few years.

Practicing for 4-H in a few years.

This year he took two photos and some cookies that he made (with some help).

Wednesday night was the rodeo, which all three kids enjoyed (although kid3 had more fun going up and down the grandstand bleacher steps than actually watching the rodeo).

Thursday was the kiddo’s bucket calf show, so we headed over before lunch to start getting Brownie the calf cleaned and ready. The calves needed to be washed, dried and brushed (including hooves) for the show. It’s usually a very wet process with the kids getting as much water on them as they do on the animals.

Waiting for his group to go

Waiting for his group to go

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Brownie was being a little stubborn

The kidlet watching from the fence.

The kidlet watching from the fence.

The bucket calf show is fairly basic, it’s mostly to teach the younger kids the basics of good animal husbandry and showing technique. They lead the animals once around the ring, line them up and then are asked a few questions by the judge.

Fielding questions from the judge

Fielding questions from the judge

The kiddo did a fine job. He said he liked doing the bucket calf a lot and now says he wants to raise cattle (or be a Veterinarian. Or a scientist. Or a chef.).

Of course, we had to stop and get homemade ice cream every day at the fair (and twice on Sunday before they ran out for good).

The ice cream makers.

The ice cream makers.

The music acts this year weren’t really my cup of tea (Love and Theft and Jerrod Niemann Thursday night, Eddie Money on Friday and then Joe Diffie and Marty Stuart on Saturday), not to mention that the concerts started too late for me and all the kiddos to go to (the hub was working at our church food stand at least one of the concert nights) so we skipped out on those.

Saturday was our all-day-at-the-fair day, starting at 8:30 in the morning with the scrambles.

Unsuspecting chickens

Unsuspecting chickens

The kidlet had graduated to catching chickens this year, but the disappointment of not catching the first chicken coupled with being overtired and overwhelmed by the cheering led to some tears. But watching the rest of the scrambles from daddy’s shoulders seemed to help.

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The kiddo was an old pro at catching chickens, having done it last year. He had a plan in place and was one of the first three in his age group to snag one, earning him a free homemade ice cream.

Ready, set...

Ready, set…

Triumphant smiles.

Triumphant smiles.

After checking on Brownie the calf (we had to check his stall numerous times a day to make sure he had enough food and water and clean out his bedding) the kiddo got signed up for the pedal pull.

He knew it was harder than it looks after trying his hand last year, and he was ready. Sometimes the tractor has other ideas, however, and his wheels got turned, making him lose momentum and only getting halfway down the pull.

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Those darn front wheels.

After a good lunch at the church food stand, and listening to some story time put on by the public library, it was wristband time. For $15, the kids had two hours of all-you-can-ride midway rides.

The kiddo has graduated to some of the “bigger” rides with names like mind winder and scrambler, while the kidlet still preferred the little cars and carousel.

The mind winder, he could get that sucker spinning good.

The mind winder, he could get that sucker spinning good.

The carousel was more her speed.

The carousel was more her speed.

But sometimes mom makes you ride on rides with your sibling whether you want to or not.

Goofballs.

Goofballs.

"Hi Mom !"

“Hi Mom !”

After the rides were done, we headed across the street to the area called Grandpa’s Farm. It’s a section that has old-fashioned farm equipment and demonstrations.

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This year they added a new attraction for kids called Franklin’s Farm Hands. It gives kids a hands on experience of different aspects of farm life, including planting seeds, feeding young livestock and driving a [pedal] tractor. Once the kids go through each area and get their sticker, they can turn them in for a treat at the end.

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Testing out the pedal tractor

Testing out the pedal tractor

Kid3 did not want to get off the tractor.

Kid3 did not want to get off the tractor.

The kids really enjoyed Franklin’s Farm Hands. It’s run mostly by local FFA members with assistance from their advisors, and I think each year it’ll get better.

After another supper at the church food stand, the kiddos wanted to go on the train ride again. We had to wait until the Wild West Show was done in the Pleasant Hill area, though.

lovely sunlight through Pleasant Hill

lovely sunlight through Pleasant Hill

Waiting for the train to get back

Waiting for the train to get back

The train ride is probably one of the cheapest, and most fun, attractions at the fair. For $0.50 you get a five-minute ride around a good portion of the fairgrounds and a chance to people watch and rest feet.

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My parents, husband, oldest sister and nephew waited on the benches at the depot while the kiddos, two cousins and I rode the train. Afterward, I was able to take a nice picture of three-fourths of our extended family. Saturday happened to be my parents’ 44th wedding anniversary. What better way than spending it with most of their daughters and grandkids at the fair.

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The only ones missing are my middle sister, her two youngest kids and me – I was behind the camera!

Sunday was yet another long day at the fair, with figure 8 and cruiser car races capping out the week. We’re still recovering from all the walking, working, exhibiting and eating, but we’re getting back into our normal routine. If you didn’t grow up around here, it can be difficult to understand why the fair is such a big deal for the community, and why we spend so much time there every day. It is a fantastic fair and a lot of hard work goes into planning it.

An Americana Fourth of July

July 5, 2013

We had a lovely Fourth of July yesterday. It was absolutely perfect weather — warm but not overly hot or humid, with a nice breeze.

I started the day with a run. Some years I’ve run a 5k on the 4th of July, but it didn’t work out this year. Still, I got a nice run in before it got too warm.

Gorgeous morning on the bike trail.

Gorgeous morning on the bike trail.

The avenue of flags was out and they looked fantastic against the bright blue sky.

Old Glory

Old Glory

I’d never noticed that there’s a plaque on each flag pole engraved with the name of a service man (or woman) and the war in which they served. What a neat tribute.

The run also allowed me to eat these for breakfast:

Ooey gooey with cream cheese frosting. Yum!

Ooey gooey with cream cheese frosting. Yum!

Homemade quick (no yeast) cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting. The kids and I ate these as a late breakfast/brunch. By the time these were out of the oven, cooled and frosted and the hub and kiddo were back from calf chores, it was after 10:30.

That meant we skipped lunch in favor of heading to the pool! (After dropping off some cinnamon rolls and coffee to the hub, who had gone out in the field to get some work done).

Two of my three water babies.

Two of my three water babies.

Kid3 was in need of a nap after the pool, so we went home and the older kiddos occupied themselves with art projects while I worked on desserts for our barbeque supper.

After naptime was over, it was time to go do calf chores again. When we got back, we set the table and got everything ready for a festive meal.

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Even the table settings were in the spirit of the day.

It was a delicious, if somewhat stereotypical, Midwestern Independence Day meal. Smoked pork chops, cheddar brats, watermelon slices, cut fruit, broccoli slaw salad, baked beans and potato chips. Plus beer for the adults and milk for the kiddos.

Delicious!

Delicious!

The Municipal Band always has their final concert of the season on the Fourth of July, so we headed up town to watch and listen.

The band is always a treat to listen to.

The band is always a treat to listen to.

We are fortunate to have such a wonderful group of musicians in our small town.

The older two kiddos found some friends and ran off to play, but the youngest thoroughly enjoyed the concert.

He clapped heartily after each song.

He clapped heartily after each song.

We still had some time to kill before the fireworks, so we went back home and had some red, white and blue dessert.

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Red velvet brownies with cream cheese frosting and blueberry pie bars.

To tell the truth, they weren’t my favorite. The brownies were overbaked and dry (totally my fault for not reading the recipe right) and the blueberry pie bars were a little bland. That still didn’t stop me from eating a piece of each, but I don’t know if they’ll be repeaters.

It was finally time to leave for fireworks around 9. We headed to the local state park lake and picked out a spot to watch. We still had at least a half hour before the actual show would begin, so the kiddos entertained themselves with sparklers and glow bracelets.

What happens if I put two sparklers together?

What happens if I put two sparklers together?

Finally, the fireworks started and we sat back and oohed and aahed over them.

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The fireworks in town are done by the local Jaycees and they do a lovely job each year. It is a small production, though, and usually only one or two are set off at a time. You can tell they’re almost to the finale when they start shooting off five or six at a time, and the end is a full barrage of fireworks. The kids loved them and though they should have fireworks every night.

After quick baths to wash off bug spray and sparkler smoke, it was finally time for bed – well after 11 pm.

We had a fantastic Fourth of July celebrating with our family and enjoying the wonderful activities our town has to offer. It may not be as fancy as some celebrations, but we still made some great memories.

We come running

July 1, 2013

For the past few years, I’ve been doing the Couch to 5k workout and running a 5k (or three) each summer. I’m not a proficient, or prolific, runner, but it is a nice way to vary my workouts and to have some time to myself three mornings a week.

I’m doing the program again this year, though I started later than I’d wanted to thanks to the crazy May snowstorm. Last year I had two routes that I would run, one heading west through town, the other heading north. They weren’t ideal (not very scenic and fairly flat, which can make for an awfully boring run sometimes), but they worked.

Last summer, our town completed a very nice bike path/nature trail that runs through town from the Wellness Center to the state park. It’s a great trail that connects with our lovely cemetery, and that’s what I’ve taken to running through this year. It’s much more scenic, though still fairly flat. But, as I am a poor excuse for a runner most days, the flatness isn’t really a bad thing. It helps that the cemetery is about a five-minute walk from our house, which is precisely the required cool-down for the Couch to 5k program. Perfect!

I’m not generally a morning person, but views like these helped make the workouts a little easier.

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Most mornings it was wonderful “running” weather (I say running, but let’s be real, here, what I do isn’t exactly considered quality running. It’s more like a hybrid between jogging and fast walking). But sometimes it was cool and cloudy, and the fields would be covered in mist and fog.

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Jogging through the cemetery also gave me time to look around and appreciate what a beautiful memorial space we have here. It’s something I never truly understood when I was growing up.

There are lovely statues.

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That also have beautiful perennials that bloom in the spring and summer.

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Shady avenues of stately pines

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And even some bare, gnarled, spooky old trees (what self-respecting cemetery would be without at least a few of these).

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The majority of the cemetery is on top of a hill that overlooks a large grassy lawn and small creek. Throughout the various areas of the cemetery, are these wonderful cement faux bois memorial benches. What a lovely place to sit and rest and remember your loved ones, or enjoy the view.

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The town we currently reside was incorporated as a city in 1870, so there are graves dating back to that time, and even prior to that, as the county was founded in 1851. Some of these old graves are so interesting to look at.

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Down to the exact day.

One of my favorite sights, though, is the flags local volunteers erect during certain holidays. Rows of what has to be nearly 50 flags all lined up and waving in the grassy lawn the weekend before Memorial Day, Flag Day and the Fourth of July.

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The torrential rains we got Memorial Day weekend had flooded the creek and grassy area of the cemetery where the flags are located, and for a day or so, they stood in water. Above you can see the debris leftover after the waters had receded. Thanks to the cemetery crew, and probably more volunteers, all the garbage had been picked up a day later and the lawn looked as pristine as it usually does.

It’s not something I anticipated loving when we moved back to my hometown, but the cemetery is definitely something I’ve grown to appreciate the longer we live here. Unfortunately, I probably don’t love running as much, but at least I have a beautiful space to run through while I torture myself with exercise.

I love rhubarb

June 19, 2013

Rhubarb seems to be one of those things that you either love or you hate. The hub and I happen to love it. My sister, on the other hand, calls it a vile weed and won’t go anywhere near it. She also shuns most green vegetables, would rather eat chocolate (but only in certain desserts) and is so-so on most forms of protein. Weirdo.

Thankfully, there is usually no shortage of rhubarb from May to mid-June. The hub’s family has a 100-year-old rhubarb stand on their family farm that is quite prolific. Closer to home, we have free reign over the rhubarb at my aunt’s house, and in a pinch are even able to go next door and take what we need from the stand at the neighbor’s.

The rhubarb from the hub’s family is a gorgeous bright red color, with a pale green center and lines of green running through some of the stalks. They are huge, most stalks are easily 1″ or more in size, and even cut are 15″-18″ long. One or two stalks cut up is about equal to a cup, so a boxful from the ILs goes a long way.

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Hello Lovelies!

With the batch of rhubarb the hub brought back from his parents I made two loaves of rhubarb bread (those lasted about 36 hours in our house).

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Rhubarb, pecans and loads of sugar in the bread mix. How can you go wrong?

One strawberry rhubarb pie, that lasted just over 36 hours (and was possibly my breakfast and my lunch one day. Possibly.)

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Heaven in a pie crust.

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Yum!

Then, keeping with the strawberry rhubarb theme, I tried my hand at making strawberry rhubarb preserves. The recipe I used was pectin-free, and other than having to simmer about 30 minutes longer than I anticipated in order to cook down, turned out fabulously.

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They look so pretty together, don’t they?

The recipe stated it made 10 4-ounce jars, but, in reality, I only got four jars. Two four-ounce jelly jars and two pint jars. Still, not a bad haul. We’ve already finished one jar.

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The little jars just look so cute!

The jam used up the rhubarb we’d gotten from the ILs (and the hub had to run next door and snag a handful of stalks so I’d have enough to do the jam). A few weeks later I went over to my aunt’s and grabbed two dozen stalks or so to make another pie.

This time I figured I’d use the rhubarb pie recipe my aunt gave me, that was my grandmother’s. Only I didn’t quite read the recipe right and made a rhubarb meringue pie. It was extremely delicious, albeit somewhat tart, the crust was one of the better crusts I’ve done and the meringue whipped up perfectly. Only, in talking with my aunt, I realized the egg whites were supposed to get mixed in with the filling to make more of a custard pie instead of whipped up to make meringue. Oops. I’ll have to try it the other way sometime.

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It was still delicious, even if I didn’t quite make it right.

Rhubarb season is pretty much over for the year. Any longer, the stalks get too tough and the flavor isn’t as good. I did manage to make and freeze two batches of strawberry rhubarb pie filling that I’ll use in pies for the foodstand during the fair. Otherwise, once the jam is gone, I’ll just have to wait until next May to get my fix.

Spring is finally here!

May 20, 2013

It’s hard to believe that two and a half weeks ago, we were in the midst of a May snowstorm.

Five days ago, the temperatures reached 96 degrees.

I think Mother Nature is still a bit confused.

But I do believe spring is finally here in north central Iowa. The grass is green, my iris and tulips

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are blooming, our crabapple tree is a beautiful pinky purple color

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and the farmers are out in full force in the field (provided it hasn’t rained and the fields are dry).

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The hub had some spring tillage to do before he could break out the planter, but that’s mostly finished and he’s only got about a day left of corn to put in.

It also means he’s been putting in long hours in the field. Some days he goes out there sometime before dinner (he puts in a few hours in his other job in the morning) and doesn’t get done until well after the kids are in bed.

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I don’t mind too much, and the kids and I get to take dinner (also known as lunch for the non-farm folks) and supper out to him in the fields. Last week we got to see a spectacular sunset over the farm where I grew up (and my parents still live) while we waited for the hub to finish out a round before I could give him his food.

We had a big storm roll through last night, though, which means it’ll be a few days before the fields dry out and he can get back out and finish his planting (provided there’s no more rain – unfortunately, the forecast calls for a chance of precip the next three days). There’s plenty of work to do, however, like fixing the blower fan in the big tractor, getting the bean drill ready, and making sure the planter is set to do the last field of corn. There’s always something that can be done.

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