Thursday, October 8, 2015

Life lessons

This piece about the lessons I've learned working with my life coach first appeared as one of my columns in the Dairy Star. I hesitated for a long time before writing this piece. But after it was published, I got thank you messages from so many fellow farm women that all my fears were forgotten. I hope it resonates with you just as much.

In middle school and high school, I was lucky enough to have excellent guidance counselors – people who helped me wade through all the muck that somehow builds up between middle school girls and later helped me wade through all the important life decisions a high school student needs to make. When I look back at those years, having trusted advisors like my guidance counselors made all the difference between sinking and soaring.

I’m also sure that in 10 or 20 years, when I look back at this time in my life, I will say the same thing: having a trusted advisor to turn to with life’s challenging situations has made all the difference between enduring life and enjoying life.

For almost a year now, I have been working with a life coach. We meet once a month to talk about strategies for better dairy farming, parenting, communication, relationships, stress management, and just about every other topic under the sun. My life coach isn’t a dairy farmer herself, but she’s a mom and a small business owner, so she understands most of my challenges.

One of the great quotes my life coach has shared with me.

I don’t adopt every strategy we talk about, but there are several which have had a big impact on my life.

One of the topics we talk about most is time management, because that’s my biggest weakness. My life coach has helped me understand that extroverts, like myself, tend to overschedule themselves. But if my values and my time expenditures don’t align, it results in a constant state of stress. So, now, when I’m invited to participate in an activity or event, instead of just asking myself if I have time, I also ask myself, “Is this really important to me?”

One of the discussions about time management with my life coach had a huge impact on the way I think. We were talking about being overextended – not the financial kind of overextended, but the time and energy kind of overextended. I explained that when life gets extra busy, I always think to myself that one of these jobs or activities has to go. But that’s really hard for me to think about because I love everything I do – being a mom, dairy farming, writing, volunteering – so how could I give one up? That’s easy, she said. “If you were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, what would go?” I’m sure you could substitute some other serious condition, but the word cancer hit me hard. Cancer killed both of my grandmothers, at relatively young ages. I thought long and hard after that meeting about my values and how I was spending my time.

Another strategy that has helped me immensely is one that I call “finding the middle ground”. I tend to think in terms of all or nothing – it’s a symptom of perfectionism. For instance, I used to think that if I didn’t have time to do a full workout, then I didn’t have time to exercise at all. Now, I look for something in the middle of all or nothing, like exercising for 10 or 15 minutes. I constantly remind myself, “Something is better than nothing.”

I’m also working on tackling one task at a time, instead of multi-tasking. A fair amount of research has shown that multi-tasking reduces productivity. I think we all have a story that goes something like: I went into the shed to get a pail of grain for the heifers, remember that I forgot to collect the eggs earlier, go to the house to get an egg carton so I wouldn’t forget again, see that there’s a new message on the answering machine, go find Glen to relay the message (so I won’t forget), along the way notice the float malfunctioning on the stock tank, go up to the shed to get a screwdriver to fix the float, see the empty pail and realize I haven’t fed the heifers their grain yet.

We run around for an hour working on parts of eight different jobs and feel like we get nothing done. When I’m working outside, I now use the mantra: “Focus where your feet are.” And if I think of something else that needs to be done, I write it down on my arm. I believe this idea of focusing and being present is also a big part of living fully. When I'm milking cows, I focus on milking cows; sure, my mind wanders while I'm milking, but I steer it away from thinking about what jobs I need to do next. When I'm helping the kids with their homework, I try to focus on my kids, not the pile of mail on the table or the dishes that need to be put away. When I'm writing, I resist the urge to check email in between paragraphs or check the tracking on the package that's on it's way.

When I’m working on the everyday, less-enjoyable jobs, like e-mail, laundry, processing the mail, etc., I set a timer for 15 minutes and focus on just that job until the timer goes off. Then I switch to the next job. I can get a lot more done when I focus. Plus, since I’m a deadline-oriented person, the timer gives me a deadline for jobs that otherwise don’t have set deadlines.

Some of the most important conversations I’ve had with my life coach have been on the topic of making time for family and making time for self.

When summer started, my coach asked, “What are you going to do for fun, each week, with your kids?” It was a much-needed question. When the 2014-15 school year started, I looked back at the summer and realized that we had taken the kids to the lake exactly two times. So this summer, we made it a priority to make time for family fun. We went swimming as often as we could, we took the kids fishing, we went to a collegiate league baseball game, we actually went out to eat for Father’s Day, and we went camping. There’s never a time when we feel like we have enough of our farm chores done to justify taking the afternoon off, but we had to get over feeling like that. A quote one of my friends shared recently sums it up: “In business, what you don't get done today can likely be done tomorrow, but with family, what doesn’t get done today is gone forever.” (from Procrastinate on Purpose by Rory Vaden)

Life is both challenging and joyful and I believe it’s meant to be that way. But sometimes a little coaching can help us minimize the challenges and maximize the joys.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dollop & Scoop – No. 0915

Highlights from September...

Jersey attitude

I always love it when a cow is in the mood to pose for photos. I snapped a number of great photos of Lily one afternoon in early September, but this photo was my favorite. Jersey cows (and calves) have such unique attitudes and this photo epitomizes that attitude.

Curious cows

When our neighbors' grandchildren come to visit, they often bring them over to see the calves and chickens or take them out to the pasture to see the cows. This time, they got an up close visit from the cows. Cows are naturally curious, but their curiosity really piques when new people come into the barn or pasture. Most of the time, one cow will come up close to check visitors out; a grand reception like this one is pretty rare.

Barefoot in the barn

Daphne doesn't get dressed up very often. If she's wearing clothes at all they're usually barn clothes. So I couldn't resist taking this picture when she showed up in the barn in her town clothes to help me finish cleaning stalls. When I posted the photo, though, most of the comments were about Daphne being barefoot in the barn. Well, Daphne is almost always barefoot outside. And I think most farm kids can remember running around barefoot for at least part of their childhood.

Chopping corn

Harvesting corn silage was September's major event. Thankfully, we had lots of help from family and friends and everything went extremely well. I wrote about our incredible harvest in one of my recent Dairy Star columns. It was amazing to see what crops can do during a summer of near-perfect growing conditions. The highlight of chopping for me was riding along in the chopper for the first time.

Mama Duck and her duckling

You might remember Mama Duck as the white duck that lived on our pond for most of 2014 and then moved into our barn on the eve of Snowmageddon '14. She then went to live at Glen's home farm for the winter and returned here this summer. She spent all winter setting on a nest of eggs, but none of them hatched. She made a new nest when she moved back here, but no ducklings ever emerged – until two weeks ago. Finally, one duckling hatched and Mama Duck earned her name.

Learning first hand

I'm sure I've said this a million times and wrote it just as many: I love having friends from town out to our farm to learn more about dairy farming. I met Kim when I was in Washington, D.C. last month; Kim started working at Land O'Lakes in July and said she wanted to learn more about dairy farming. I'm a firm believer that the best way to learn about farming is to experience it first hand, and that's exactly what Kim did. During her visit she milked a cow and fed a calf and asked lots of really good questions.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Chicken 'N Biscuit Casserole

Chicken 'N Biscuit Casserole
This hearty, easy-to-serve meal combines the flavors of
aromatic vegetables, chicken, cheese and buttery biscuits.

My best loved cookbooks are full of scraps of paper marking the location of favorite recipes. And in the margins alongside those recipes are the date I first made it, my thoughts on how it turned out, and all the future tweaks that inevitably happen if I make a recipe more than once.

The recipe that inspired this Chicken ’N Biscuit Casserole comes from a cookbook handed down to me by my mother. Inked in the margin next to the recipe is: “Very good! 2/07”

That means I first made this casserole when Dan was two months old. How is it that he’s now a third grader? And how on earth did I manage to put a real supper on the table with a two-month-old baby who never napped?

Now, I make this casserole while the kids are at school. Sometimes I use leftover chicken, which reduces the prep time. But we like this dish so much that, more often, I cook up a couple chicken breasts while I’m prepping the rest of the ingredients.

Chicken gets the naming rights in this recipe, but this casserole is full of flavors: carrot and celery and onion with sour cream and co-jack cheese. And then all of that yummy goodness is topped with a half-batch of Glen’s butter biscuits. The result is an easy-to-serve, family pleasing meal.

Dan and Monika enjoying Chicken 'N Biscuit Casserole

This is also a fun make-together meal for the weekends. Dan and Monika love to chop vegetables and measure ingredients. Cooking together gives us some much needed quality time that’s hard to find during the week now that Dan and Monika are back in school.

And then when we sit down to eat, Monika, my first grader, always reminds me to write my recipes down so that she can make the same dishes for her kids someday. I sure hope this casserole gets passed along for another generation to enjoy.

Chicken 'N Biscuit Casserole

Chicken 'N Biscuit Casserole

Makes: One 9 x 13 pan
Prep Time: 30 to 40 minutes
Bake Time: 40 to 45 minutes


for the casserole

2 to 3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 3 cups cubed, cooked chicken)

2 to 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (about 1 cup)
2 to 3 stalks celery, trimmed and diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 of a large sweet yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon chicken boullion

1 can (10 1/2 ounces) cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

for the biscuit topping

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup LAND O LAKES butter (one half stick)
1 1/4 cups shredded co-jack cheese, divided
1/2 cup milk
1 egg


for the casserole

Preheat oven to 375°F. Arrange chicken breasts in 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake chicken until internal temperature reaches 165°F, 30 to 40 minutes depending upon whether you’re starting with fresh or frozen meat. (If you have cooked chicken on hand, omit this step.)

While chicken is baking, dice vegetables and combine in small sauce pan with water and boullion. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

While vegetables and chicken cook, stir soup, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, and salt together in medium bowl. Stir cooked vegetables and cooking liquid into soup mixture. Cube cooked chicken and add to soup and veggies.

Spread chicken and vegetable mixture in bottom of 9 x 13 baking dish.

for the biscuit topping

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Cut cold butter into tablespoon-size pieces and blend into flour mixture using a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Lightly stir 1 cup of cheese into flour mixture. Mix slightly beaten egg and milk into flour mixture until flour mixture is completely moistened. Don’t over mix.

Using two spoons, drop tablespoons of biscuit dough onto casserole.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until casserole is bubbly and biscuits are golden brown.

Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese and return casserole to oven until cheese is melted.

This post also appears on the Land O'Lakes Blog.

I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner. I received compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

One-Minute Budino

This dessert is so decadent and delicious,
nobody will know that it only took seconds to make.

chocolate fudge, butterscotch, and white chocolate budino in dessert cups

I originally shared a basic version of this recipe as part of my 100+ Reasons to Love Dairy post, but I've had lots of questions about preparing this budino, so here's a little more information about one of our favorite treats.

My One-Minute Budino is a simple combination of milk, heavy cream, and instant pudding mix. All of the ingredients are added to a blender, whirred for 30 seconds, and the result is a magical dessert that everyone loves.

But, really, I should call it "our" budino, because Glen is the one who came up with this idea. All I did was quantify amounts (because Glen never measures) and take some pictures.

Do you really just mix the milk, cream, and pudding mix in a blender?

Yes. We've been making regular pudding (milk + instant pudding mix) in our rocket blender for over a year now. That was Glen's idea, too. We will never whisk pudding again. Making pudding in the blender takes less than 30 seconds to mix. What other dessert can you whip up that fast?

Glen took pudding up a notch one day when he added heavy cream to the milk and pudding mix. Glen is a big fan of heavy cream; so much so that he often makes a big glass of chocolate milk with half milk and half cream. (I wish I had his metabolism.) So I really wasn't surprised when he added cream to the pudding, but I was surprised by the result: it was unbelievably delicious.

Of course, Glen had no idea how much cream he had added, so I experimented with a couple batches and found that half milk and half cream makes the best budino.

What is budino?

Budino is the Italian word for pudding. True budino is thickened with both egg yolks and corn starch. I first had budino at a fancy restaurant in Minneapolis a year ago. When I first tasted this cream-enriched pudding, it reminded me of that budino. Plus, this dessert is not at all like regular pudding – it's much smoother and silkier – so we decided it needed a name of it's own. Technically, you could call this mock budino, but it really is a lot like the real thing. And it's so much simpler to make.

What size rocket blender do you use?

The cups for our rocket blender hold exactly 2 ½ cups (20 ounces) of liquid when filled to the brim. That means I can comfortably put 2 ¼ cups of liquid in them and get the lid on without making a mess. The single serving cups that came with my big blender will not hold 2 ¼ cups of liquid. If your blender cups hold less than 2 ¼ cups, simply reduce the amounts of milk and cream a little, figuring that the pudding mix takes up about ¼ cup when dissolved. Keep in mind, too, that different flavors of pudding mix have different amounts of powder in the package. (See the note below under flavors about making chocolate fudge budino and cookies and cream budino.)

Since there's not a lot of extra room in the blender cup, it's important to put the milk into the cup first, then stir in the pudding mix, and, last, add the cream. The pudding mix won't dissolve in cream, so if you put the cream into the cup first, the rest of the ingredients won't fit.

If you'd rather use a full-size blender, I recommend making a double batch, to make sure you have enough liquid in the blender for good mixing.

What flavor pudding do you use?

Our favorite budino flavor, hands down, is white chocolate (made with Jell-O brand mix). It is pure bliss. It's so good we've talked about using it as frosting or cake filling.

Every other flavor we've tried – vanilla, butterscotch, coconut cream, french vanilla, chocolate fudge, cookies and cream – has been delicious, too. But not quite as divine as the white chocolate.

Our kids love the cookies and cream flavor, but it turns a slightly odd shade of grey because all of the cookie pieces are blended up. This flavor needs to be made as a double batch in a full-size blender; the mix takes up too much room to fit in a rocket blender cup.

The flavor we make the least is chocolate fudge. Chocolate fudge budino has great flavor, but it lacks the silky, smooth mouth feel of other flavors. And texture is part of what makes budino so great. If you do make chocolate fudge budino, use a smaller amount of cream; there's more powder in a package of chocolate fudge instant pudding mix and the powder mixes up thicker than other flavors.

one-minute budino in cones

One-Minute Budino

1 cup milk
1 3 oz. package of instant pudding
¾ to 1 cup heavy cream

Pour milk into single-serve rocket blender cup (20 ounce cup). Add pudding mix to milk and stir briefly to dissolve mix in milk. Pour cream into cup and put blender lid on cup. Blend for 15 to 30 seconds. (The sound of our blender changes when the budino is thick enough.) Serve immediately for soft-set budino or refrigerate 15 minutes for thick-set budino.

If you really want an impressive dessert, top with some fresh berries and/or a layer of freshly whipped cream. Or just add sprinkles.

Serves 4 - 5.

Jell-O has no idea who I am. My mention of their brand is solely my opinion.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Why I don't blog frequently

I've had several conversations in the past couple weeks that started with the question, "Why don't you blog more often?"

Before I answer that question here, let me say that I really am honored to know some people visit my blog regularly enough to notice how infrequently I publish blog posts.

I should also mention that I'm not a big fan of excuses, so please consider these an explanation, not a list of excuses.

It would be easy to say that I simply don't have time to blog more often, but that's not really true. I have as many hours in my day as everyone else. The truth is that blogging isn't on the top of my priority list. Which means that even though I would love to write a post every day, I have other responsibilities that are more important – namely my kids and my cows. I say this all the time: "Nothing is going to die if I don't publish a blog post today." Kids and cows, however, require daily attention.

I also believe that spending time on my blog should never be more important than spending time with my kids. There were so many things I wanted to blog about this summer, but Glen and I set a goal of making more fun time with the kids, so my blog posts had to wait. I shared this quote from Rory Vaden's book, Procrastinate on Purpose, in my last Dairy Star column, but I'm sharing it again here because I think it is such a good reminder.

Rory Vaden

The other part of this explanation is that I do have a lot more on my plate now than when I started blogging in 2008. We are milking twice as many cows and we have three times as many kids as we did back then. We choose not to have any employees, which means that all of the extra responsibilities fall on our shoulders. It would be easy to stop blogging altogether, but I cherish the stories I share here and sincerely hope that Dan, Monika, and Daphne will one day cherish them, too. If I didn't write these stories down, they would be forever lost.

I also now place more value on my need for sleep. Right after Daphne was born, I was part of a panel that discussed social media strategies. During the discussion, an audience member asked about what it takes to have a blog and be active in social media. When it was my turn, I answered, "Midnight oil." Everyone laughed, but my answer wasn't a joke. At that time, any blogging and social media I did was after the chores were finished and the kids were in bed. I'm not the spring chicken I used to be... I can't stay up late anymore and still function the next day.

If you're one of the loyal people who read my blog and you'd like to keep up with what's happening with our family and farm in between blog posts, I invite you to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. I share photos and updates there several times a week.

You can also sign up here to have new posts delivered to your email inbox. The entire post, with photos, is emailed the morning after the post is published. The form only collects your email address and nobody else sees it. The only messages you will receive when you sign up are my blog posts – nothing else. However, the first message you receive will be a subscription confirmation, which you will need to reply to.

I hope this helps you understand why I don't blog frequently.

As always, thank you for reading.