Monday, November 30, 2015

Cooking 101

Hi friends.

I trust you have enjoyed a lovely holiday. I am certain you spent a little bit of time with friends and family, maybe did a little shopping, napping, decorating, perhaps?

I did a lot of all, sans the napping, because what one year old set of twins wants their mama to NAP??

Anyway, in my quest for always informing you all about 1) my thoughts on life and 2) food and agriculture, I would like to take you on a little voyage. An educational pilgrimage, if you will, and it will be known as Cooking 101.

My friends. I have not always been a cook. As a single gal, I considered "tacos" (a shell and some cheese) and cereal as meals. I was the girl with the two frozen pizzas, a bottle of Moscato, and some bananas, like the one behind me at the grocery store the Friday before Thanksgiving. As I hauled my cereal boxes, produce out the wazoo, loaves of bread and gallons of milk, I looked longingly at her little basket full of "essentials," wondering if I could pull that memory out of the back of my mind.

Good times.

However on this same evening, I was in the shoe department on my quest for the perfect black shootie (yes, that's a word). As I stood at the register happily purchasing my new kicks, I heard the clerks discussing Thanksgiving.

It was a little like this:
Clerk A, "I don't know how to do it. My mom just does it."
Clerk B, "Does it take ALL DAY?"
Clerk A, "I don't know, but wouldn't it break your oven?"
Clerk B, "I'm not sure. I have only baked frozen pizza."


I couldn't stand it. Feeling high and successful because of my shootie purchase, I chimed in:

Emily, "Are you two talking about turkey?

I'll spare you the detailed dialogue, but yes, they were discussing turkey baking, and in my short interjection, I was able to hear that neither of these women, one in her 20s, the other 40ish, had ever used their ovens for anything other than a frozen fill-in-the-blank.

Never had it up past 400 degrees.
Never had it on for more than 30 minutes.

I asked them if they ever did a roast or anything like that, and they had never heard of a roast.


These women had helped me find the perfect shootie, and yet they didn't know the glories of a roast cooked all day in a Dutch Oven!???

Again, bless.

I left them, offering cooking classes in jest, and just shook my head.

Friends, this is a crisis. These are the people we need to share our knowledge with. These ladies need to understand the budget friendly meals that are pork roast, roast beef that will stretch for days, and turkey.

Friends, the "processed food crisis" is real, and it's not because of the marketing or the placement or whatever. It's because of the convenience. The not knowing when it comes to cooking.

So, this weekend, I did some research...

I watched Food Network and read Better Homes and Garden.

Here's the problem. All of you folks who claim that cooking it "too hard," or "too time consuming," or "too messy" need a Janet.

That's my mom.

Put down the Better Homes and Garden. Look away from Giada, Rachael, Guy, and Bobby. Your cooking does not have to be fancy to be delicious. You just need to understand the basics:

Mama Janet enlightened me on these basic principals in the past 12ish years I have been the primary cooker:

1) Your oven can operate all day without burning your house down.
2) There are essential spices, oils, canned goods, etc. that you need in your arsenal.
3) Don't be afraid.

Cooking is all about experimentation. Now, while I did not make the Thanksgiving dinner (thank you Jessica and Jeremy and Heather), I could have. I'm not a rocket scientist, but there are things that are tried and true and just take time and patience.

Cooking is one of them.

While a whole turkey is generally a once a year thing, roast beef and pork and potatoes baked in the oven or mashed are things we have quite often around here.

And it's not because I'm gourmet.

It's because it's easy to sear a roast, season it, and let it simmer in the SAME POT all day. When I pull it out at 6:00, it falls off the bone. Now, I know we're spoiled with good beef, but I will tell you, you can find it, you just have to look.

I know, I know. Time is of the essence.

Do you remember I have six kids?

I have no time, and there are days we have corn dogs, take out BBQ and cereal still (those nights are lovingly called "randoms."), however, I cook most days. Nothing too crazy, but I have my recipe box that my grandma gave me in the fourth grade and the list of "quickie meals" my mom swears by.

There are times we venture out of our comfort zone, and it flops. There are times that our family gets in a rut, but my cooking has evolved as I have been the primary food prepper at our house. I think that's because I have learned to not take my cooking too seriously. I have learned that with good meat, veggies and fruit, you can have a meal that will satisfy. You don't need crazy ingredients all the time. You don't need to freak out. This is food, and because I have a first grader, I know that food is one of our "basic needs." Thank you, social studies.

We have decided that food has to be an event. All the time.

That's a lot of pressure, folks.

I have gone the opposite way. While there are times that I revel in my culinary prowess, nine meals out of ten, we just eat them. No fanfare. No worries. Just dinner.

I have never been one to be a crazy foodie, so if I offend all you food picture takers, I'm sorry. I'm an eater out of bodily necessity and a cook out of family role. The end. I think the trend to have this beautiful meal that goes on Instagram the minute you plate it is ridiculous. Friends, can't we just eat our food, and not have to worry about it getting its accessories right? I guess it's hard enough for me to be showered and ready, why should I worry that my pork chops are perfectly Pinterest placed on the plate. Good food is easy to enjoy without worrying about making it camera ready.

So, as you slip out of your turkey coma and into the holiday season, enjoy some time spent whipping up a favorite recipe from your childhood. Or, if you don't have one, send me an email, and I'll send you some of mine.

Again, I'm not fancy, but I do understand the importance and brevity that is an oven.

And a good shootie.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Never Lost in the Shuffle

Today, Josie is nine.

I can remember vividly being anxious about our second child to arrive. How in the world would I have two children?


My biggest concern was her getting lost in our shuffle of life. Her big sister was the center of the universe around would she fit in? She was going to be born around would we celebrate her birthday around the turkey and dressing? Would she feel like a second fiddle, being the second girl in our growing family?

Thankfully, Josie burst into this world with lots of personality, and hasn't quit. She's one of those kids that comes into a room, and you know it. She's full of life, charm, songs, stories, and endless energy. She's the last kid to fall asleep at night-the whites of her eyes shining as I come in to tuck her in. "I can't sleep. There's so much to talk and think about."

Obviously, she's my kindred spirit. Josie and I are so much alike, it can be scary at times.
We will never cease in finding the perfect outfit.
We are always finding excuses and reasons to hang out with friends.
And we never. stop. talking.

Sorry, family.

Josie, I am happy to say that thanks to your bubbly, spunky personality, you'll never be lost in the shuffle.

This year, her birthday landed on Black Friday. When a birthday coincides with a holiday, a party will have to come a few weeks later. While our Thanksgiving with family took precedence, she enjoyed a birthday cake and presents yesterday amongst the pumpkin pie and football, even announcing the events that were to come next: "And now it's time for candles!" and "Time for presents!"

Today, though, Josie really seemed all of her nine grown up years. As she opened her presents, I flashed back to when she was one, getting her first dolly, and two, all the dress up clothes, and four, her bike. She squealed as she opened her "experience" gift, a trip to St. Louis to see Wicked, her favorite musical...even though she's only heard the soundtrack. She then spent the rest of the morning shooting iMovies about her gifts! She's always one to entertain herself, and in turn, entertain us.

What has kept Josie from being lost in our movable middle of kids is her helper spirit. She has always been good with all of our little ones, no matter what age. Today especially, as we were loading up to go to Grandma's for Thanksgiving, she was zipping Jack's coat, grabbing for whatever needed to be carried out, and were holding the door for us. Anna and Dad are gone today at a cattle sale; I needed help, and she was, stepping in.

Our Josie is a helper, for sure, and that will never have you lost in any shuffle.

Oh the silly things you worry about as a parent. You have these little beings, and all these worries and expectations and plans and thoughts, and then they come with their own opinions, and if you choose to embrace it, what a ride. Josie is going to go places. She's going to be something big, some day. And I can say with great confidence, she'll never be lost in the shuffle.

Happiest of birthdays, sweet Josie. We love you!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Let's Go To the Movies

So Joe and I went to the movies yesterday.

No, it wasn't to see Mockingjay, Part Two (which we are both hoping to see. I know, nerds.)

No, it wasn't The Peanuts Movie with the kids (which we are both hoping to also see. Yes, nerds again.).

It was Farmland.

Yes, Farmland. For those of you who did not give birth to twins or have a major home renovation, I'm sure you're rolling your eyes that I, a self-proclaimed advocate for agriculture, had not actually seen this award winning movie yet.

I'm sorry. 2014 was not a year in which I saw movies.

Unless you count movies I listen to as my kids watch them in the car.


I finally sat down to watch Farmland, thanks to the good folks at our county Farm Bureau. You see, this was an outreach event. Joe was to emcee the whole shebang, leading the farmer panel afterward. We headed to Galesburg and the beautiful Orpheum Theater, the one where I graced the stage as a hairlip sister in the musical, Big River, and tap danced (poorly) in Crazy for You.


The Orpheum Theater is a restored theater in the heart of Galesburg, the biggest town in our county. The most urban area our county Farm Bureau could reach. After the Santa Clause parade, the doors to the theater opened up for a free showing of this movie.

Nice, huh?

That's not my point. We are nice people here, but the movie, friends, it is something to behold.

I'm not going to give you a whole review of it, as it just needs to be seen. It is award winning for a reason, and it's not because of its one-sided view on agriculture. Represented in this cast are conventional, production farmers, organic producers, small CSA/Farmer's Market growers, and livestock producers. The verbage is easy for those of us who don't speak "ag," without being insulting. The story follows a growing season, thus makes it a logical conclusion when harvest hits.

What really struck me, and got me misty-eyed was the story. As advocates, we are told to tell our story, tell our story, tell our story. However, telling your story in a "I grow blah, blah, and we do it this way because blah, blah." is, in fact, BLAH, BLAH.

There are few folks who want to hear the nuts and bolts of farming before they know that you have a heart, a soul, and a story. You can feel the heartbeat in this movie. It shows the brothers disagreeing, the son missing his recently deceased father, the rancher welcoming twins (not calves, kids). There's the only child who's mom still makes him a sandwich, and the daughter who set out on her own to farm who's mom thought she was crazy. These are real people with real stories who were given the opportunity to really share.

Friends, if you have questions about ag, this is a good place to start.

To start.

After this, however, I implore you to ask more questions. I loved the farmer panel aspect of the movie viewing we had last night. This is a movie that has no agenda. There's no scare tactic used to lead you to believe that what you're eating is terrible. There's no hidden camera footage, other than the snippets that have been floating around the Internet that we all have seen. For lack of a better term, this movie felt organic, real, truthful.

I urge you to see it, if you haven't already, since it HAS been out for over a year.

Ask questions, seek truths, and enjoy some popcorn while you're at it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

World Prematurity Day

Well, this is not exactly agricultural, but in light of all that has been happening in the world, and all that has happened in our little world in the past year, I thought I should recognize this day.

Facebook has told me of this holiday via my sweet sister in law. Joe's sister, Jessica, and her husband Jeremy are parents of four beautiful children: three girls and a boy. Their middle two, the twins, were born at 27 weeks. I was barely pregnant with our first at the time, and visiting Jessica in the hospital that August afternoon was about the scariest thing I ever saw as I was beginning to embrace being pregnant.

Fast forward eleven years, and her twins are perfectly perfect. Willowy and wonderfully smart and athletic, they defied all odds that were shared with them in the NICU for the three months they were there. We experienced just a taste of this family's journey during their first few months: monitors, check ups, missed holidays thanks to colds and flu that would send these tender babes back into the hospital.

After having four healthy, term babies, I figured I was only going to be an aunt of preemies.


So when I found out I was having the twins, I was told I would probably go a little early. Twins are most likely to not go the full 40 weeks, and I was more of a higher risk because I was considered "maternally advanced," aka, old.

However, the NICU was for tiny babies.
The NICU was where my friend Julie worked.
I wasn't high risk. Sure, I was old, but not THAT old. I was in great shape pre-babies, never have had high blood pressure, blah, blah, blah.

Ha, again.

Our babies were born at 35 weeks and 4 days, just three days shy of the "out of the woods" area. Mary came out as pink and screaming as a normal baby. She was small, but doing okay, considering her early birth. Caroline, however, was a different story. I'll spare you the gory details, but I will never forget Joe's facial expression or the doctor's tone of voice as they began to work on getting little Caroline out.

She wasn't crying.

That's all I remember.

She wasn't crying.

I asked Joe why she wasn't crying and if something was wrong, and he said words that I will never forget.

"I don't know."

That's all I remember, as I was pretty drugged up and going into shock.

Luckily, my sweet friend, my talented friend, my amazingly gifted friend Julie worked on our girl. Born in respiratory distress, gray and struggling for life, Julie got her breathing. As they wheeled me from recovery to the NICU, she hovered over my face and told me that Caroline had a hard time coming into this world, but that she was going to be taken care of by the best, and would be okay.

And while she and Mary both were taken care of and are fine, Joe's words that completely freaked me out are quite prophetic and appropriate for a NICU parent.

You just don't know.

You don't know what can happen, and you don't want to leave, but you need to. You just don't know, even though you begin to speak the language, listening during rounds for words or tones that are encouraging. You are in a constant state of awareness, despite mental and physical fatigue.

Our nieces were there for three months. There are babies there for longer. We were there for nine days, and while I know we are very fortunate for this short stay, once you've been a NICU parent, you know.

I have read all the post with the National Prematurity Day hashtag. I saw faces of parents in the NICU during our time with the expression of guilt for being exhausted and confused and fear for their child's life. I think that's what has struck me today, seeing all the photos of my friends and folks around who are part of this club. The look on all of our faces in our first pictures is roughly the same: a mix of exhaustion and elation. You just don't know what's really happening, but you're holding it together because it's your kid.

Time spent in the NICU is time that has stood still. Lights are dimmed, so you have a sort-of sense of day and night, until just before dusk and just before dawn. The temperature is so warm, I was wearing tanks and t shirts at times, even though it was October. It's confusing, but you begin to speak the language, Bradys, PICC Lines, catheters, etc. fall into your conversation very easily. A NICU parent deals in feedings and changings, timing each and measuring all. And, in the back of all of our minds, is the dread that news won't be good. Babies will stay sick, or worse. Our family was lucky, and tonight, we should also pray for those who weren't.

Fellow NICU parents, we are a strong group.

We should be celebrated, even if it is just a hashtag and a picture on Facebook. Being in the NICU, even though for a short time, changed me as a mother. I had taken my other four easy births for granted, bringing home each baby with me as I left, not leaving my little ones, driving home with empty car seat bases in the backseat. That's tough. I can still smell the soap and feel the bristles of the brushy sponge we had to use before entering the NICU. However, whenever I drive by our hospital, I can't help but lift up a prayer of thanks to all the people who worked on and with my girls, who are back there saving precious lives every single day, around the clock. How they work 24 hour shifts is beyond me.

Friends, I don't have to tell you that we live in a hard world. Life is difficult. Life is confusing, but life is precious. I am so lucky to have given life to six souls who will hopefully make a mark on this world that will give back to those who helped make their life happen.

Happy World Prematurity Day, fellow preemie moms and dads. You are a part of a special, select group. A club membership given to you without being asked, but you are a part of it nonetheless. Whether you tuck your baby in tonight or pray to her to see her some other day, today is a day to remember, and I celebrate you.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Big Announcement with John Deere


There has been much chatter in the world of John Deere this week.

Mainly because Deere and Company has purchased Precision Planting LLC from Monsanto, which also means they are discussing details about "digital ag" with the Climate Corp, according to this Farm Futures article. My ag Facebook groups were quite abuzz with this information. However,the big announcement we have been excited about is this one:
Yes, my beloved readers. While Precision Planting and The Climate Corp do affect our farming operation, nothing makes a bigger impact at my house than a new toy, especially one that comes IN THE MAIL!!

Oh happy day, my friends, a new toy has arrived. Our little guy was the lucky enough to test out this John Deere Mega Force Tractor with articulating scoops and Jackson the operator, among other fun accessories, thanks to the good folks at Tomy and Deere.

When first removed from the package, after having to have what seems to be a masters in engineering to remove it (why is this??), Jack was ecstatic!

Before we even had all of the accessories out of the package, Jack was using his imagination with this product. That's what initially struck me. Joe was very skeptical, as it didn't seem as "real" as Jack's other John Deere toys (have I mentioned we deal exclusively and obsessively with John Deere around here? Sheesh.). While the double articulating scoops do make it less realistic, our boy loved that aspect. 


He's a KID. 

With an imagination!
Working the scoops.

The tracks are actually mounted on very smooth moving little wheels. It's pretty slick.

"Please Jack? Can I play?" Mary, age one

I could hardly get him to be still for some pictures. It was very exciting at our house, and all the kids from our one year old twins to our 11 year old (who wanted to blog about it too! Ha!) wanted to get in on the action. 

While the double scooper makes for an interesting option, our son especially loved the fact that the cab popped up and down, while making a satisfying relatively real start up sound. Lights add to the fun, but neither the bells nor the whistles such as lights and sound take away from the fact that this toy offered imaginative play.

That's my biggest factor that determines success in a toy. Does it offer free, open ended play? 

In this case: YES.

While many farm boys are content to set up their farm scenes and mimic what they see their dads and grandpas and uncles do on the farm every day, our little guy is a slightly different. Jack is our make believe dude. He loves to act, set up scenes, pretend to be someone else, particularly super heroes. Farm toys are generally filled with Batman, Robin and villains as a part of make believe play. This toy falls into line with imagination expanding play. As a former educator and mother, I believe this line of toys allows for kids like Jack to use it in many different scenarios: farm and fantasy.

Age difference: Age four and age eleven. No fights, just playing for about 15 solid minutes. That's a win, my friends.

Sweet success! Mary finally got a turn! She didn't tear it up, either? Durability is a plus!

The articulating scoops even can play the piano! It's the toy that does EVERYTHING!

We were thrilled to be chosen to review this product. Thank you so much to the good folks at Tomy and Deere and Company for the fun toy. From a mother's basic toy needs, it had a lot of great qualities: opportunity for imagination, durability, and age appropriate for many different kids. From a kids' perspective, well, this should be enough of a plug:

Jack tested and approved!
While this is not a sponsored post, this is a review of a toy we received c/o Tomy toys, and all opinions are mine and my four year old's. Just a disclaimer. However, if you're interested in having me reviewing any of your products, I had a lot of fun receiving and reviewing, and would love to do more! Please contact me at should you have something for me to look at and try out. Joe will tell you that I'm never short on opinions!