Monday, December 30, 2013

The Christmas Letter

Dear Family and Friends,

I wasn't going to send a Christmas card this year...

I convinced myself to not send a card this year, in hopes of saving time, money, natural resources, and, mostly, my sanity. It didn't take too much convincing. I didn't have a nice recent picture of all of us, or even just the kids, since at least one of us has had a red, runny nose or some other illness since Halloween. And, I wanted more time to bake Christmas cookies and make Christmas gifts with the kids.

But then all of your cards and letters started filling our mailbox, and I started to feel bad about not sending out a holiday greeting of some sort. So, I compromised with myself and agreed to send a holiday e-greeting. For the first time since we lived in Cambridge, I am attempting to write a Christmas letter to go along with our Photoshopped family picture. Since I continue to write a column for the Dairy Star and this blog, writing a Christmas letter should be an easy task, but it hasn't been so. What to include? What to leave out? Where's the fine line between sharing accomplishments and bragging? I tip my hat to the folks who have mastered the art of writing the Christmas letter.

It only took three pictures to make this one...

Our Christmas was wonderful. Dan and Monika both had delightful Christmas programs at school. We were able to gather with both Glen's family and my family. I have enjoyed the break from school, but I think Monika has had just about enough of Dan being home every day.

March 2013

Daphne is 1 now. She is an easy-going little girl who loves to laugh and smile. She's on the brink of both walking and talking. One of her favorite activities right now is riding her stuffed rocking horse, trick pony style. She hangs onto the handles with both hands, then stands on the horse's back with both feet, and finally, looks up to make sure someone's watching so she can flash her triumphant grin.

June 2013

Monika is 4. She is enrolled in the Little Saints preschool program at St. Mary's School, which holds class three mornings a week. She was an angel in their Christmas program and played the part well. Monika is always singing and has recently started interpretive dancing around the house. She also likes to help milk her favorite cows in the barn.

September 2013

Dan just turned 7. He is in first grade at St. Mary's. His favorite subjects are math and reading. I continue to be amazed at how education has evolved since I was a student; Dan is doing early algebra and reading books that I'm sure I didn't read until second or third grade. He also enjoys building machines and animals with his LEGOs, taking electronics apart, and drawing.

December 2013

Glen keeps the farm running while I run after the kids. He did a little deer hunting this fall and even fired his muzzle loader this winter. I spend as much time farming as I can and as little time keeping house as I can. I avoid housework by baking, writing, and reading to the kids.

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and wish you all the best in 2014! Keep in touch!

Glen, Sadie, Dan, Monika and Daphne

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Man meat

Maybe you had to be here for this story to be funny...

One of the ladies we do farm business with brought us a Christmas gift yesterday. Included in the gift was a package of summer sausage. As she left, she said, "Each meat shop has their own recipe. I hope you like it."

I assured her that any kind of summer sausage would be enjoyed in our house.

When Glen saw the sausage in the fridge, I could tell he was delighted. The meat shop where the sausage was made happened to be one of the plants Glen visited when he worked as a meat inspector.

It didn't take long for the summer sausage to be sampled. Glen cut himself a slice as soon as he saw it. After he took a bite, he asked Dan if he wanted a slice.

"This is man meat, Dan," Glen explained, with an air of excitement in his voice, as Dan came over to the cutting board.

Then, there was a bit of silence.

What Glen had meant to say was: This is food fit for a man. Man food. Or something like that.

But Dan's literal, six-year-old mind interpreted Glen's statement about the sausage another way.

Quizzically, he asked, breaking the silence, "Is it made from people?"

It took everything I had to keep from laughing out loud. I would have let myself laugh, but I didn't want Dan to think his question was silly. Because, in reality, his question was very valid. We talk about the different kinds of meat we eat, and which animals that meat came from, at almost every meal... "This is pig meat; it's called pork." or "This is meat from a steer; it's called beef." or "This is chicken meat."

I like to think my kids have a good understanding of where their food comes from.

Thankfully, while I was stifling my laughter, Glen was able to answer Dan's question.

"No, this sausage is made from pork and beef."

And it happens to be a very tasty combination of pork and beef.

May you, too, be blessed with little moments of humor this holiday season!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

#CookieChatter: Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

A little while ago, the folks at Land O'Lakes invited me to participate in their #CookieChatter Twitter party, as a representative of the dairy farmers who are members of the Land O'Lakes cooperative.

I agreed to join the party. But I had no idea what to expect. I've had a Twitter handle for a while now, but I rarely tweet. And I had never participated in a Twitter party.

Well, the party was tonight. And it was wild. My head is still spinning.

During the party, I shared the last guest post I did for the Land O'Lakes blog – Baking Memories Together: Our Holiday Traditions on the Farm. The post includes some tips for baking and decorating cookies with kids – and keeping your sanity. It did not include the recipe for the sugar cookies I make, because I figured just about everyone has a sugar cookie recipe already.

Several requests for the recipe were tweeted during the party, so here's the recipe I got from Glen's mom for Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies. (The raspberry extract was my idea; I use it all the time in place of almond extract.) These roll-out cookies are made with both real butter and cream cheese. They bake up perfectly crisp, yet almost creamy — even without frosting.

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

2 cups butter, softened (4 sticks or 1 lb)
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp raspberry extract (or almond)
2 egg yolks
4½ cups all-purpose flour

Cream together butter, cream cheese and sugar. Beat in egg yolk, salt and extracts. Stir in flour until well blended. Divide dough into six pieces and chill for 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

On a well-floured surface, roll one piece of dough out to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness. (Keep other pieces refrigerated.) Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Leave cookies plain for frosting or sprinkle with colored sugar before baking (press sugar into dough with back of spatula to secure).

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until light and golden brown. Cool completely before frosting.

Tips & Tricks  (added January 10, 2014)

After my sister made these for the first time and called for advice, I decided I should add a few tips to this recipe.

→ If you're new to rolling out cookie dough, this video from Land O'Lakes is extremely helpful.

→ When you take this dough out of the fridge to roll, it will be rock hard. Either take it out 5 to 10 minutes before you start to roll or squeeze the dough gently in your hands (while still wrapped) to warm it up before rolling.

→ Use a generous amount of flour on your rolling surface and your rolling pin.

→ Lots of rolled cookies recipes will recommend re-rolling dough only once (so will the video above), but I re-roll this dough until it's all cut into cookies. There might be a slight difference between the first rolled cookies and the re-rolls, but it's insignificant.

→ The number of cookies this recipe makes varies considerably depending upon how thick you roll the dough and what size cookie cutters you use.

→ I think these cookies are best when the dough is rolled out to 3/16 of an inch, but since I started using an adjustable rolling pin to roll my dough, I roll this cookie dough out to 1/4 of an inch – but only because my rolling pin doesn't have an option for 3/16 inch. They turn out great at either thickness.

 → I've tried several recipes for frosting these cookies, but this recipe has been the best so far.

I hope these tips help. Happy Baking!

I am a farmer-member of the Land O'Lakes Cooperative. Affiliate links were used in this post.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How Dairy Farmers Carve Pumpkins

Halloween is over. The rest of our country is now decorating Christmas trees and tackling holiday shopping. (It seems that Thanksgiving has once again been overlooked.)

But I still have a skeleton hanging on my patio and a jack-o-lantern sitting on the porch. There are still some Halloween cookies in the container on the counter. And, thank heavens, the kids' collection of candy from trick-or-treating hasn't been polished off yet . So it's not too late to write about all the fun we had with Halloween this year.

About that jack-o-lantern...

I'll let you in on a little secret: There is nothing about carving pumpkins that appeals to me. Well, the carving part isn't so bad. It's cleaning the pumpkin out that makes me gag.

But, from the way my kids talk, carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns ranks right up there with Santa Claus coming. So, for my kids' sake, I steeled my stomach and we managed to get one of our pumpkins carved after chores one night.

During chores that night, as I was dreading the upcoming carving, I had an idea. An ingenious way, if you ask me, to make pumpkin cleaning much more tolerable: an AI glove.

The kids thought that using a glove was hilarious and, of course, insisted upon using the glove to help.


The glove worked really well. And so did the canning lid I used to scrape the pumpkin guts off the shell. Next year, maybe we'll get all three pumpkins carved.

About the cookies and the candy...

My favorite part of Halloween this year was baking Halloween cookies and decorating them with our friends.

I stayed up late one night to roll and cut sugar cookies... by myself. I love baking and I love my kids, but, sometimes, baking with kids can be tricky. Baking by myself is a treat. A quiet, peaceful treat.

I also tried a new recipe for chewy chocolate cookies that the kids could frost and decorate with candy.

Cookie decorating with five kids was a little bit crazy and a lot of fun. So fun that I didn't manage to take any pictures during the decorating. But I did get one of the finished cookies.

And, we really didn't need any more sweets in the house, but I took the kids trick-or-treating anyway.

My little dragons and ladybug and I hope you had a fun Halloween, too.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Equation

aka How to Calculate a Cow Owner's Share of Milk Income 

Last year at Midwest Dairy Expo, Glen and I shared our experiences as beginning farmers as part of a producer panel. One of the questions we were asked was how we calculated our milk check while we were working on another farm as herdsmen and housing our milk cows there. I'll explain everything below, but here's The Equation that Glen came up with:

number of cows
x  average daily milk production in pounds
x  days in month
x  milk price (per pound)
x  farm's net farm income ratio
x  cow owner's percentage of income
= cow owner's share of milk income

Before I explain how we ended up using this equation and give an example, let me share a few assumptions and requirements for this equation to work.

This equation can be used in a situation where the Cow Owner(s) own the cows, but someone else (the Farm) provides housing, feed, veterinary care, breeding expenses, labor, etc. Cow Owner(s) might be farm employees who own cows, like we did, but Cow Owners do not necessarily need to work on the Farm. Milk from the Cow Owner's cows is commingled with milk from the Farm's cows in one bulk tank. This equation is set up for a once-monthly payment from the Farm to the Cow Owner.

To use this equation, you need to know the cows' average milk production for the month. We used the production information from our monthly DHIA (Dairy Herd Improvement Association) test. We kept our cows in a separate string, which allowed us to easily determine average production.

For milk price, we used the Farm's mailbox price, which, of course, isn't available until the milk check for that month comes. (For example, we were paid in mid-January for the milk our cows produced during the month of December.)

You also need to know the Farm's net farm income ratio. The net farm income ratio, which is a measure of the Farm's financial efficiency, is the percent of the gross farm income that remains after all expenses are paid. The farm where we housed our cows was enrolled in the Minnesota Farm Business Management program, so we pulled their net farm income ratio off the executive summary of their financial analysis. We included this ratio in The Equation to make sure the Farm was compensated for feeding, housing, and otherwise providing for our cows.

The Cow Owner's percentage of income is a percentage that's mutually agreed upon between the Farm and the Cow Owner. We used 66%, which meant that we received two-thirds of the income from milk our cows produced and the farm kept the other third. This figure wouldn't necessarily need to be included in The Equation, but we added it so that our situation would be a win-win for both us and the farm we were working on. Adding our cows to the farm meant longer milking times and rearranging some fencing. In other situations, employee-owned cows might be occupying stalls that could otherwise house farm-owned cows. If the cows being housed on the Farm are owned by multiple owners, this percentage could be divided accordingly.

Here's how we ended up needing The Equation:

Back in 2006, we were milking cows on my dad's farm. We had just purchased the cows from him, but were still renting the facilities. Jane Salzl needed a herdsman for one year for the dairy farm she owned with her husband Sam. Sam had been badly injured in an accident earlier that year and was still recovering. Jane called us on July 29 and asked if we would be interested in the herdsman position. (Glen and I had done relief milking for Sam and Jane before we started farming.)

After considering Jane's question, we said yes, but with one condition – only if we could bring our cows along. As most dairy farmers and cow owners understand, we were attached to our cows. And we knew that after our year of working for Jane and Sam, we planned to find a farm in Stearns County and return to dairy farming on our own.

Jane and Sam decided that they could make room for our cows in their dry cow pasture, so we brought three-quarters of our small herd along with us. (Glen's dad and brother milked and housed the rest of our milk cows, along with our older calves.) We brought our bottle calves along to Jane and Sam's. We left our yearling heifers at my dad's.

During the four weeks between Jane's first call and the day we moved, one of the things we needed to figure out was how we would get paid for the milk our cows produced while they were at Sam and Jane's. One night during milking, Glen came up with The Equation as a solution. When we presented the idea to Jane and Sam, they agreed that The Equation would work.

Finally, here's an example of how we used The Equation:

In December of 2006, we had 32 cows milking at Sam and Jane's. On test day, they averaged 77 pounds of milk. Sam and Jane's milk price for December was $14.81/cwt. Sam and Jane's net farm income ratio was 37% (based on their financial analysis from 2005). As mentioned above, we used 66% for our share of income from our cows' milk.

So, plugging those numbers into The Equation...

32 cows  x  77 lbs.  x  31 days  x  $0.1481  x  .37  x  .66 = $2,762.51

We used this money to make our equipment and cattle loan payments while we worked for Sam and Jane.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The salamander's great escape

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails and puppy dogs' tails,
That's what little boys are made of.

This bit of the little poem about boys and girls should have included a line about salamanders. At least, that's what I've decided after observing how much Dan loves the slippery, slimy, wiggly little creepers.

Each summer, Dan waits and waits for salamander season. When is salamander season? Salamander season is that time of year in the fall when, all of sudden, there are salamanders everywhere.

When salamander season starts, we find salamanders in the gutters in the barn (not a good place for them). We find salamanders hanging out on the sidewalk to the house. We find salamanders creeping through the grass on the lawn.

black and yellow spotted salamander

And when salamanders are found, they're captured. Most of the time, the captive salamanders are kept in a pail, with a little bit of water in the bottom. We let the kids keep the salamanders overnight and then they have to let them go. Sometimes, captured salamanders end up elsewhere – like in the refrigerator.

So, it should come as no surprise that we had a salamander in a pail in our front porch a couple of weeks ago. I found the salamander on the sidewalk and gave it to Dan. He asked for a pail to keep it in, so I got him an ice cream pail from the house.

When the kids came in for dinner, the salamander came with them – right into the kitchen. I turned Dan around and told him the salamander had to stay in the entryway. So, he set the salamander's pail in the corner by the doorway.

After dinner, we all went back outside to do evening chores. When we got back to the house after chores, Dan went to get the salamander. I was just coming through the door, when I heard him exclaim, "Where's my salamander?"

"What?" I automatically asked, hoping I hadn't heard him correctly.

"My salamander is gone," Dan said.

I looked in the pail. The water was still there. But there was no salamander.

Great. There's a salamander loose in our house.

I told the kids we'd look for it after we changed out of our barn clothes.

Glen just laughed and said, "You realize you're trying to find a creature that makes its living by being a master of disguise."

While we changed, I told the kids that salamanders like dark, damp places. They decided they should search the bathroom first.

By the time I changed my clothes and had undressed Daphne, Monika was squealing that she saw the salamander.

"It's in the office," she shrieked. "I saw it's tail go under the door."

I rushed to the office. It took a couple seconds after I opened the door, but I soon spotted the salamander crawling toward the desk.

Except it didn't look like a salamander. It looked like a salamander in a dust bunny costume. Which was seriously discouraging, since I've been deep cleaning like a mad-woman since school started.

No, I didn't take a picture. I whisked the dust bunny-salamander to the sink and rinsed him off under the hard water faucet. Dan had fetched the salamander's pail, so I set him back in it.

Then I told Dan that he had to say good night to the salamander and let him go outside. He protested until I explained that if the salamander managed to escape from the pail once, he could probably do it again.

"But, how did he get out?" Dan asked.

"I have no idea," I said. "Maybe he climbed out."

"We should have put him in a milk house pail (aka a five gallon pail)," Dan said.

"Yes, we should have. No more salamanders in ice cream pails."

I should probably extend that to no more salamanders – or other critters – in the house, but I know better than to put unrealistic limits on a little boy who loves creatures, especially the slippery, slimy, wiggly ones.

Monday, September 30, 2013

MooChews – Amazing Dog Toys Made From Upcycled Inflations

Note: Since this post was published, MooChews has changed its name to MooTugs. The name was changed to clear up confusion about the nature of the toys. MooChews/MooTugs are tug-of-war toys, not chew toys. Their new website is (April 2014)

We dairy farmers use inflations for harvesting milk.

cow being milked with milking machine

For you non-farmers, inflations are the rubber tubes that attach to cows' teats when the cow is being milked. Milk from the udder flows through the inflations, into the milking machine (pictured above) and then to the pipeline and bulk tank. Below is what an inflation looks like when it's not installed in a milking machine.

rubber inflation from milking machine

Because inflations must always be in excellent condition, both for the cows' well-being and to ensure food safety, each set of four inflations is used for only a short time before being replaced with a new set. Exactly how long each inflation is used varies with each farm, depending upon how many cows are milked, how many milking machines are used and how the milking machines are cleaned after each milking. On our farm, inflations are changed every three months.

So, what happens to all those used inflations?

Well, if you're one of our kids, you turn them into hoops...

farm girl making hoop from inflations

And necklaces...

farm girl wearing necklace made from inflations

And trains...

farm boy connecting inflations

And snakes.

farm boy making snake with inflations

But, if you're Dan and Cristen Breuer, the ingenious creators of MooChews, you upcycle those used inflations into dog toys, like the one below.

MooChews MooTug dog toy made from upcycled inflations

Even Ozzy thinks it's the most brilliant idea for a dog toy (but wouldn't smile for the camera).

Australian Shepherd farm dog with MooChews MooTug

I first learned about MooChews this spring when Cristen contacted us to ask if we'd be willing to donate our used inflations to MooChews. Of course, since I'm unconditionally obsessed with recycling, I agreed. On most dairy farms, used inflations have no purpose so they are discarded; prior to Cristen's request, ours were thrown away, too.

Now, Cristen and Dan come out to our farm every couple weeks to pick up our used inflations and the used inflations from several other farms. Our milking equipment company collects used inflations from its clients' farms and drops them off here. Dan and Cristen also get inflations from Cristen's family's dairy farm in Colorado and a couple other Minnesota dairy farms.

Before Dan and Cristen turn the inflations into their tug-of-war and fetch toys, they soak, scrub and sanitize the inflations in their home. But even after all that cleaning, the inflations still smell a little bit like dairy farms, which, according to Cristen, makes the MooChews toys irresistible to dogs.

French Bulldog with MooChews MooChucks dog toy
Photo used with permission from MooChews

You can read the whole story behind the invention of these clever dog toys – and the company's contributions to dog rescue charities – by visiting the MooChews website or checking them out on Etsy and Facebook.

And, if you'd like one of the great MooChews toys for the canine in your life, you can get free shipping by entering the code BDDAIRY1 at checkout.

Monday, September 16, 2013

To be a calmer, happier mom

Shortly after we started milking one morning a week or so ago, Glen turned and said to me: "Why do you look so tired?"

"Well," I told him, "I stayed up to finish my blog post and then the night turned into a game of musical mattresses."

After I finished my blog post, I slipped into bed with Glen, who was sleeping on the mattress in the living room because the sheets for our bed were still in the wash.

But as I laid there trying to slow my mind down, I couldn't stop thinking about how poorly bedtime with Dan and Monika had gone. Bedtime had been a disaster. Dan wouldn't do what I asked. I lost my temper and yelled. Dan and Monika cried. I left them upstairs crying while I went downstairs to cool off. They eventually fell asleep.

But I felt terrible. Guilty. Bedtime is supposed to be a peaceful transition from day to sleep. A chance for us to read a book and pray together, for me to sing to them and rub their backs. It's not supposed to be a fight.

So, I crawled out of bed and tiptoed upstairs to Dan and Monika's room. I sat down on the bed between them and watched them in the blue glow of the night light. Their beautiful faces looked so peaceful as they slept.

I smoothed Monika's hair and rested my hand on Dan's cheek. And I thought to myself:

How can these little people, who I love more than life itself, make me so frustrated, even angry, at times?

I whispered into their sleeping ears: "I love you so much and I'm so sorry."

As I sat there, unresolved guilt bubbled up in my heart. Guilt from a question Monika asked a few weeks ago.

I was sitting on the floor in the living room with Daphne. I had just finished changing her diaper and she was now standing up between my bent knees. She was grinning from ear to ear and I was smiling back at her.

Monika was sitting right next to us.

"Momma, how come you're only happy at Daphne?"

My heart stopped for a second. Time stopped. I sat there reeling as my four-year-old's innocent, honest words hit me like a fist in the gut.

Monika was right. I do smile at Daphne a lot. When Daphne beams her big smile at me and coos, it makes my whole being happy, and that shows on my face.

But am I only happy at Daphne? Do I smile that much more at Daphne than I smile at Dan and Monika? So much more that it's noticeable?

Apparently, or Monika wouldn't have asked. But, why?

The explanation I tried to give Monika only half-answered her question:

"Well, honey," I said, "maybe because Daphne doesn't whine and misbehave."

What I didn't tell Monika was that maybe if I didn't spend 86% of my time with her and Dan on refereeing and redirecting and keeping them on task, I would have more time to smile.

I also didn't tell her that I felt awful. How horrible, that my little girl would think that only her baby sister makes her momma happy.

Even though I did my best to make us all smile that morning by giving Dan and Monika airplane rides on my feet, Monika's words still hung in my head.

I kissed Dan and Monika on the cheek and tiptoed out of their room. I wrapped myself up in a quilt and tried to fall asleep in my own bed.

Just as I was starting to relax enough to fall asleep, I heard Daphne start to fuss. So, I crawled out of bed and went to lay with her.

Before I finally drifted off to sleep, with Daphne cuddled up next to me, I resolved to be a calmer, happier mom.

A few days later, this quote showed up in one of my parenting magazines*:

           "Emotions are contagious
in families, and moms are the
                               emotional centerpiece."

I cut it out and put it up on the fridge.

Seeing these words on paper every day helps me remember that if I remain calm and happy, instead of losing my cool – whether it's over bedtime or supper or homework – everyone else will stay calm(er) and happy(er), too.

I'm also trying to smile more at all of my beautiful children.

*This quote was from the 5 most stressful moments in your week by Mindy Walker, published in the September 2013 issue of Parents.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pasture perfect

Summer is over. It might not feel like it, but it is.

The kids are back to school. Dan is super excited to have his own desk this year. Monika is delighted to have several new friends in her preschool class.

Glen has been busy trying to get the silo ready for corn silage. We didn't use it last year so there was some old silage to clean out and a couple doors to replace. Chopping will start any day now.

Daphne has been enjoying the relative quiet in the house. She can pull herself up to stand at the living room gate now and likes to play by herself when she has a chance.

I've been working to return the house to some semblance of order after what seemed like a summer of mayhem. I swear, everywhere I turned, there was a pile of something – clothes, papers, toys – that needed to be sorted through and put away. My digital piles are just as bad. While organizing all of the photos I took this summer, I was reminded: I take a lot of pictures of the cows in the pasture.

Not quite as many pictures as I take of the kids, but close. And I would take a lot more, but half of the time when I stop to capture a scene, I tell myself that I already have a photo just like this one.

I don't know what it is about watching the cows out in the pasture that makes me want to snap a picture. Maybe it's the peacefulness out there and wanting to capture a little bit of that serenity to bring back with me. Maybe it's simply the beauty of the colors – black and white (and red and brown), vibrant greens, sapphire blue – all mixed together and a calling to share that beauty with the world.

Maybe my desire to preserve those moments with the cows is my way of honoring this wonderful opportunity. This opportunity for our cows to graze. This opportunity for me to share the joys of grazing cattle with my children. Or, sometimes, the opportunity to escape from everything for a couple minutes and surround myself with the sights and sounds and smells of nature.

Summer is over, but the grazing season isn't. I still have a couple more months to enjoy these pasture perfect moments.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The last of my butterhead

Last night I watched as Minnesota's 60th Princess Kay of the Milky Way was crowned.

MarJenna McWilliam, our new Princess Kay, will spend most of today sitting in a cooler while Linda Christensen sculpts her likeness into a 90-pound block of butter. Before the end of the Minnesota State Fair, eleven more butterheads will join MarJenna's in the butter sculpture booth.

Thirteen years ago, I became a part of Minnesota's butterhead tradition.

One of the most common questions I heard after becoming a butterhead was, "What are you going to do with all that butter?"

My answer was always, "I'm not sure."

A lot of dairy princesses serve their butterheads at pancake breakfasts or sweet corn feeds as a way to say thanks to their local dairy farmers for supporting the dairy princess program and thanks to their community for supporting the dairy industry. Others display their butterheads at their weddings. And some dairy princesses, like these three sisters, keep theirs.

I wasn't ever sure what to do with mine. I used the scraps of butter from the sculpture to bake Christmas cookies that year and sent them to many of the people who had supported me as a dairy princess. My butterhead itself went into cold storage in my grandfather's freezer.

As time marched on, I figured there wasn't much I could do with my butterhead, other than keep it. I figured the butter probably wasn't safe to eat anymore. Then, I happened to judge a dairy princess contest with Dr. Florian Ledermann, a dairy veterinarian from Alexandria, Minn. As we talked about my butterhead, Dr. Ledermann assured me that the butter would be safe to eat for many years. Dr. Ledermann had been a food inspector when he served in the military, years before, and butter was one of the foods he inspected.

So, after my grandfather passed away, I buckled my butterhead into the backseat of our car and drove it home. My sister helped me slice it into chunks, which we bagged and returned to the freezer. I baked those pieces of my butterhead into all sorts of recipes over the next year and a half.

Two years later, long after I thought the last of my butterhead had been consumed, I found one last package in the bottom of our freezer.

The butter may be all gone now, but the memories will last a lifetime.

P.S. If you're going to the Minnesota State Fair this year, and you'd like to have Princess Kay of the Milky Way visit your school sometime this year, follow Midwest Dairy (@MidwestDairy) on Twitter, take a picture of yourself at the Butter Sculpture Booth in the Dairy Building and tweet it using the hashtag #MNPrincessKay. One winner will be randomly selected every day of the Minnesota State Fair and announced by noon the following day. Good luck!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Up, up and away!

Two years ago, I had what I thought would be the ride of a lifetime: I got to ride along during a test flight of a personal airplane. I figured it would be my only chance to fly in a plane that small. Last week, I was proven wrong. A friend of Glen's parents, Gary is a pilot who happens to enjoy giving rides in the two-seat airplane he built himself. Gary and his wife, Betsy, live in Arizona, but spend part of their summer in Minnesota.

Dan and Monika got to check out the airplane with Gary before our flights. Gary built the plane in 1982. It weighs about 700 pounds.

Gary and Glen, just before they taxied down the runway at the Sauk Centre Airport. Gary gave both Glen and me a short ride.

Up, up and away they go. Betsy said the plane is so small it reminds her of a dragonfly when it's in the air. The weather was perfect for flying.

The aerial view of the Stearns County countryside was gorgeous. The landscape was remarkably green for this time of the year.

We got to fly over our farm. If you look close, you can see which part of the pasture was clipped and which wasn't. Big Birch Lake is in the upper left corner. I got to fly over the lake, too, and it was so neat to see the topography of the lake from above.

There's so much we don't see when we're on the ground. Glen said he was able to pick out the variety differences in our corn fields and see where one soil type changed to another.

Thanks for the great rides, Gary!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Daphne's toes

baby chewing on toes in swing
Omnomnomnomnom! Toes!

surprised baby
Agh! You caught me!

smiling baby
Ha! They're so delicious, I'll eat them anyways!

Daphne Helen joined our family six months ago now. I won't say that having another child in the house hasn't been challenging at times, but those challenges are quickly erased from memory by joyful moments like the ones above.

Daphne is a delightful little person who has been affectionately nicknamed Squeaky by her father and siblings. She loves to play with, and eat, her toes. She likes to be out in the barn or in the yard, watching the animals or her siblings. (I'm guessing she has a hard time differentiating between the two at times.)

She squeals when she laughs and sometimes snorts. Daphne is almost always smiling, is very patient, and is very tolerant of being s-mothered by Dan and Monika.

Above all, she is loved and adored by everyone who meets her – most of all, her family.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

First crop, summer fun, and the best summer bars

After flirting with us for quite some time now, it feels like summer has finally arrived. In true summer fashion, Dan and Monika have spent most of today both soaking wet and half dressed. I can only imagine what the couple who pulled into our yard looking for directions thought when they found Dan and Monika in the milk house with the water hose.

Lunch on the picnic table with Cocoa Crispy Bars for dessert!

They were too wet and dirty to come in the house for lunch. Thank goodness for the picnic table.

And after waiting nearly a month for the fields to dry out, we're finally making hay. We started cutting first crop on Father's Day. The guys finished baling and wrapping the hay from our fields yesterday. Now we're trying to finish up a couple of Glen's dad's fields. I'm so glad we have a good neighbor who can wrap our hay; it would have been nearly impossible to make dry hay and we didn't have enough acres to harvest to warrant putting up a bag of haylage.

I'm hoping that after first crop is all wrapped up (pun intended), life will settle down a bit. I know this is most likely a futile hope, but, hey, I can hope. We've packed a lot of activity into the first 20 days of summer vacation – the Stearns County Breakfast on the Farm; a visit from my sister, her boys and their friend Kaelyn; finally getting the heifers out to pasture; the installation of a new manure pump; the celebration of Glen's grandfather's life; the Central Minnesota Youth Dairy Days Show; and camping at Millwood Ranch (an annual Father's Day weekend event for Glen's extended family).

With Princess Kay of the Milky Way, Christine Reistma,
at the Stearns County Breakfast on the Farm.

With their cousins, Hailey and Kallie, after the Dairy Days Show.

After my sister, her boys, and Kaelyn left, Kaelyn emailed and asked for the recipe for the bars I made while they were here. I'm always tickled when someone likes something I've made enough to ask for the recipe, especially when the recipe is one I've developed myself. I sent Kaelyn the recipe and decided I'd share it here, too.

These bars are great anytime, but they're especially great in the summer. (1) There's no frosting (they don't need any) to melt all over your hands. (2) They're extremely portable and easy to eat with one hand – great for the guys while they're in the tractor or skidloader. (3) They take only minutes to make. And (4) you don't have to heat the oven.

Cocoa Crispy Bars


¼ cup butter (half a stick)
1 cup white corn syrup
1 cup white sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup peanut butter (I use crunchy)
6 cups crisp rice cereal (about half of a 12 oz. box)


In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar, corn syrup and cocoa powder and stir or whisk until cocoa powder is all mixed in. Stirring constantly, bring the sugar/syrup mixture to a boil. Immediately remove from heat. Mix in peanut butter. Then add cereal and mix well. Press mixture into a 9x13 inch pan. Let cool for a little while before cutting into squares.

[Update: To make it easier to remove the bars from the pan, spray the pan with cooking spray and then wipe out the excess with a paper towel.]

Enjoy the bars! I hope you're having a great summer!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I Just Can't Take It Anymore

One night earlier this week, I was trying to apply ointment to the sores on Monika's face. It was late. She was tired and uncooperative. I was doing my best to remain calm. Finally, through tears, Monika sobbed dramatically, "I just can't take it anymore."

As I tried to sooth her back to a cooperative state, all I wanted to say was: I hear you, baby girl. I'm right there with you.

This has been a limit-testing month. The kind where you're sure whoever it is that has your voodoo doll has got to be out of pins. The kind that no amount of flourless chocolate cake can make better, even if only for a moment.

I try really hard to focus on the good in life. But this month, it's been hard to do.

We said good-bye to my cousin, who lost his life way too young.

Helen – the sweet, little old lady who we played cribbage with and shoveled snow for and eradicated dandelions with when we lived in St. Paul – passed away, too, at the age of 99. Her death caught us by surprise; she had sent us a card only a few weeks ago.

Glen's grandpa spent several days in the hospital. He's back in the nursing home now, but he's still very sick.

Somehow, Monika got a bad case of impetigo. Thus, the need for the ointment. She had to miss a day of school, so I got to listen to her sob all day about not getting to go to school. And I know impetigo is a minor condition in the grand scheme of life, but is has been one more thing to deal with and worry about.

All of the prayers we said last summer for rain are finally being answered, except now we really need it to stop raining for a couple days so we can finish planting our corn. Plus, the lack of sunshine has only exacerbated our gloomy moods.

We had to euthanize the best cow in our herd. The next day, a 10-month-old heifer got stuck in the J-bunk and died.

The barn has flooded twice. Once when the calves' drinking cup got stuck. Once from the deluge of rainfall. (That's where the term Gutter Flooder comes from.)

On the Sunday night before Memorial Day, a belt broke on the vacuum pump with three cows left to milk. I swear nothing ever breaks on a weekday morning.

The Sunday before that, one of our heifers delivered her bull calf and then her uterus prolapsed. Veterinary emergencies never happen during regular call hours, either.

Then, yesterday, I started thinking that maybe our voodoo doll really had run out of room for pins. I was wrong.

broken glass bowl on stove top

I turned the burner on under a pot to make supper and went back outside. But I turned the wrong burner on. My blue mixing bowl was sitting on the burner I mistakenly turned on. When I got back to the house, I discovered my error, moved the bowl and it promptly exploded all over the stove.

Just before the bowl incident, my thumb had a run in with a pipe and the Sawzall I was using to cut it. Although it hurt like the dickens, it didn't look that bad at first. Then the blood started running out the wrist of my milking glove. So now my thumb is out of commission for awhile. After a case of laryngitis a few years ago, I thought being a mom without a voice was challenging; but being a farm mom without two good hands is even worse.

But, amidst the challenges, there are always joys.

Our first two red and white calves of the year were born.

red and white calf

We finally got the cows out to pasture.

cows resting in pasture

cows walking in pasture

Dan and Monika's classes took a field trip to our farm.

Dan got on the bus for the last day this school year and graduated from Kindergarten.

boy walking to bus

Kindergarten graduation

A new month is right around the corner. I'm hoping for more joys and less challenges.