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Make Mom “Happy” in May

My mom says she really doesn’t need anything… or does she?

While taking a walk recently, I was thinking about what I could give my mom this Mother’s Day. Then thought occurred to me, “Don’t just spend money. Spend time together.” 

I believe time is more precious the older our children become because their lives become busier. If my two kids were to ask me what I want for Mother’s Day, I would answer with “family dinner.” My son and daughter are both in college now, and I miss sitting down at the table and enjoying dinnertime conversations. Plus, I always enjoy a good meal with good company!

This led me to think about how “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman could be applied to moms this Mother’s Day:

  1. Words of Affirmation – show appreciation with a heart-felt note; write Mom a poem
  2. Acts of Service – unload the dishwasher; pick up the yard
  3. Physical Touch – give Mom a back rub or rub her feet; little ones can cuddle during story time
  4. Gifts – bake Mom her favorite dessert; make a handmade card or another craft
  5. Quality Time – take a walk together; do chores together 

“Acts of Service” is definitely my love language. Working together equates to spending quality time together for me because that’s how I was raised. I truly enjoyed working at Enchanted Acres with my parents and treasure so many memories from our hears here together. I hope someday my kids will look back at the memories we’ve made here and treasure them, too.

Perhaps you can make your mom “happy” this Mother’s Day with a craft or a recipe. Because I tend to show my love for others with the food I make, I’m sharing with you a few of my favorite delicious, yet simple recipes:

CONFESSION: I remember my mom clipping recipes from newspapers or magazines when I was a kid. She would have a stack of recipes she wanted to try. Well… this apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I have a digital folder with links to hundreds of recipes that I want to try “someday.” Perhaps Mother’s Day will be “the day” for one of these:

Seriously, what could be better than dessert for breakfast on Mother’s Day? A couple of these recipes legitimize it! Holidays and special occasions call for recipes that you only make a few times each year.

Celebrate Earth Day in Fun Ways!

When a polluted river caught fire about 50 years ago, Americans were called to into action and vowed to take better care of our natural resources. We have been celebrating Earth Day annually on April 22 since 1970. 

Why should YOU celebrate? Why should you CARE? 

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

“The Lorax” is one of my favorite books to read when I’m hosting fall field trips for school children because it reminds us that everyone, no matter how big or how small, has a role to play in protecting our environment. I had characters from the book made into signs, which are hidden throughout the Enchanted Forest. I lead groups on nature hikes as we search for characters and other items on a “scavenger hunt” list.

Many of the hands-on activities we host at Enchanted Acres also have the same goal in mind. Today I’m sharing with you three ideas:

  1. Recycling Relay
  2. Nature Walk
  3. Growing plants from seeds

As a Girl Scout leader, I looked for ways to make caring for the environment relevant to kids of all ages. One year I set up a recycling relay. Girls were divided into two teams. There was a series of containers at the end of each “racing lane” for: (1) Trash, (2) Recycling, and (3) Compost. Each team was given a box of the same items to sort: newspapers, plastic milk jugs, aluminum cans, banana peel, etc. Even if you don’t want to do a relay, you can help your kids get into the habit of recycling by having them help you sort the recyclables. Kids can learn how to reduce waste in the landfill while practicing fine motor skills.

Nature walks also are a popular Girl Scout activity. As a lifelong Girl Scout, I guess it’s only natural that I would make them apart of the activities offered at Enchanted Acres. We host group Nature Scavenger Hunts when groups request them, but you can easily do this on your own. There are so many great parks to explore across North Iowa! A few of my favorite include MacIntosh Woods State Park by Clear Lake, Lime Creek Nature Center near Mason City, and Beed’s Lake State Park in Hampton.

You can find lots of ideas, and you can even print many adorably designed Natural Scavenger Hunt Lists online. Here are a few ideas for those of you who want to create your own list:

  1.  Acorn
  2. Pinecone
  3. Unique rock
  4. Wildflower
  5. Stick shaped like a letter
  6. Animal tracks
  7. Nest
  8. Feather

There is so much to see in nature! We will soon be planting flowers and pumpkin seeds at Enchanted Acres. Your kids can discover the magic of watching seeds and plants grow, too. Here’s a link to a blog post about planting seeds in a clear cup and watching them sprout and grow into seedlings.   

April is National Gardening Month, so you can celebrate that by starting a few seeds inside your house. Many local greenhouses and nurseries will be opening soon, too. Perhaps you and your family will be inspired to plant a tree this year in celebration of Earth Day. 

Food Brings Everyone to the Table

Who’s up for an Ice Cream Road Trip? I took one this week in celebration of spring. 

During the first official week of spring, our nation recognizes the contributions of America's farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses. This year’s Ag Day theme is “Food Brings Everyone to the Table.” (I appreciate a good play on words. As a state representative, FarmHer and agribusiness owner, I especially appreciate the 2021 Ag Day theme.)

National Ag Day is celebrated annually to encourage every American to:

  • Understand how food and fiber products are produced
  • Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products
  • Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy

Hands-on activities at Enchanted Acres help our farm visitors understand how food is produced. For example, we offer educational and fun field trips each fall for school groups. We also hold public events, such as “Peeps in the Patch,” to teach little farm hands and their families about chickens. Iowa farmers raise more eggs than any other state in the nation. Our state also ranks #1 in corn and pork production. Depending on the year, we rank first or second in soybean production and fourth in cattle production. In addition, taxes generated from local farms and agribusiness help fund schools and libraries in our local communities.

Although most Iowans are no longer full-time farmers, one in five Iowans goes to work because of agriculture. Biochemists, biophysicists, veterinarians and environmental engineers will be the agricultural jobs most in demand, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There is a need for agricultural engineers and food scientists, too. 

Speaking of food scientists… The Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at Iowa State University in 2009 hired Dr. Stephanie Clark, who holds a Ph.D. in Food Science. Dr. Clark teaches dairy food science courses and conducts dairy research. In 2020, Dr. Clark re-established the Iowa State University Creamery. The Creamery offers hands-on training for students and short courses to entrepreneurs. Signature flavors of ice cream are sold four days weekly: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from noon to 4:30 p.m. Starting Saturday, April 10, The ISU Creamery Retail Store will be open every Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m.

Each Day is Getting Warmer and Lighter… Hurray!



Although the temperatures were bitterly cold during the Polar Vortex, it also was beautiful.
My friend Kristi Johnson captured these sundogs on January 28 in rural North Iowa.

Who else breathed a sigh of relief when we turned the calendar from January to February? January is historically the snowiest, coldest and darkest month of the year. This January was downright pleasant, however. I was looking forward to experiencing even warmer temperatures in February.

Of course, 2021 is anything but typical! The average temperature in North Iowa averages 29 degrees during February. Twenty-nine degrees ABOVE zero would have been welcome, especially compared to the subzero temperatures we experienced for about two weeks during the 2021 Polar Vortex. Windchills were 40 BELOW zero on Valentine’s Day. Did you know a person can experience frostbite within 10 minutes at such temperatures? (NOTE: It takes longer than 10 minutes to do chores.)

This is the third Polar Vortex we have experienced in three years, including January 2019 and February 2020. Thankfully, every one of our animals survived this month’s frigid temperatures. I am so thankful for warmer temperatures that I’m not even going to complain about the snow we received on Sunday, February 21. (A BIG thank you to my brother for moving the snow and creating a path for my goats to get to their water pail.) Although it created extra work on the farm, Sunday’s snowfall was quite pretty. I felt like I was stuck inside a snow globe as I watched the large, fluffy flakes fall.

The extremely cold temperatures, as well as the copious amounts of snow that we’ve experienced in 2021, have prompted to spend less time outside and more time in my kitchen. I recently talked with a dietician at Hy-Vee who reminded me how important it is to get enough sleep, practice self-care and fuel one’s body with nutritious food. Because we are in the season of Lent and many people are looking for ways to enjoy fish, I’m sharing this delicious recipe for Walnut-Crusted Salmon Winter Salad.

Winter salad seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? I’m ready for Spring Salad. Now that we’re about to turn the calendar from February to March, the countdown to spring is on!

“Community” is Our 2021 Word of the Year

Rather than set New Year’s Resolutions, each year I pick a word on which to focus. A couple of years ago I focused on “experience.” I am passionate about creating hands-on experiences, so families can create wonderful memories when visiting our pumpkin patch in North Iowa. 

Another year I focused on “engagement.” To make the most of your experience at Enchanted Acres’ pumpkin patch, one must engage in the activities. You must actively participate in activities whether by painting a pumpkin, taking a hayride, roasting s’mores over an open fire, feeding our goats, walking through our field to find the perfect pumpkin, and/or listening to our Books in the Barn story time. Purchasing our delicious apple cider and homemade goodies inside The Market only enhances the experience, in my opinion.

I truly enjoy seeing families take their annual photos in front of our “How Tall This Fall” photo board. I know our life-sized tractor keeps many kids coming back year after year, too. The corn pool and our friendly goats are other highlights of a visit to our little North Iowa farm. 

After reading the Winter Issue of the beautiful “Fresh Pickings” magazine from the Iowa Food & Family Project, I’ve decided my focus word for 2021 will be “community.” Editor Kelly Visser, writes, “Nine months into a global pandemic marked with grief, frustration, uncertainty and many indescribable emotions, it’s easy to turn sideways on our goals and lose sight of the bigger picture… I’m a work in progress but finding new ways to connect with my community has helped me remember my bigger picture through this isolating time.”

Let’s make 2021 the time we come together for the benefit of the North Iowa Community!

Here are a few ways in which Enchanted Acres – and YOU, our farm guests – have contributed to the North Iowa Community for the past nine years:

 

  1. Fall Ball” to benefit Make-a-Wish Iowa. Enchanted Acres presented the Fall Ball for five consecutive years. Click here to see how wishes come true for people in our own community.
  2. Embarked on a Mission to help a local veteran raise funds for his service dog. Gate proceeds plus two generous anonymous donors helped Andrew O’Connor of Sheffield, Iowa, surpass his $7,500 fundraising goal. 
  3. Paws in the Patch to benefit the Humane Society of North Iowa. Although we sponsored this benefit in 2017, the pet supply donation list is still relevant. 

Each year we host at least one fundraiser. This year I’m asking you to help me choose our cause. This spring we will start accepting nominations. I want our 2021 charity benefit to be bigger and better than ever. It feels good to do good, so let’s do some good! 

Donations will be collected for the winning charity during the 2021 fall season opener. More details will be forthcoming. 

20 Ideas to Make Winter Break Festive & Fun

Most school-age children countdown to Christmas, eagerly awaiting a visit from Santa Clause and relishing time more time to play at home. I always looked forward to my kids’ winter vacation, so our family could enjoy outings and activities that we otherwise didn’t have time to do in the midst of school and extracurricular activities. So what’s a parent to do when a worldwide pandemic prevents you from enjoying many traditional holiday activities like ice skating, watching the latest blockbuster movie or taking a mini vacation?

My answer is to return to the basics.

Although my children are now young adults, they’ve been home since Thanksgiving Eve. My daughter had to finish taking her first semester of college classes online, and my son’s college accelerated the semester and he’s making the most of a nearly two-month break from studies. Honestly, this creates a lot of downtime for kids who are used to being busy and active.

20 Ways to Brighten Your Holidays:

  1. Raise the bar. Make your own hot cocoa charcuterie board because they’re hot this season! I got inspired to make one after watching Hallmark Channel’s “A Little Christmas Charm.” Last weekend my daughter and I enjoyed a festive cup of cocoa and enjoyed a holiday movie on Netflix.
  2. Make paper snowflakes. Snowflakes can decorate your windows and refrigerator through February, so cut away!
  3. This season is for the birds. When I was a Girl Scout leader, we would simply spread peanut butter on a bagel; dip it in bird seed; then use yarn to hang it on trees.
  4. Trim the tree. When I was a kid, my mom and I made ornaments from pinecones. My Girl Scout troop made cinnamon ornaments. Click on this link for one Iowa farm family’s recipe to make adorable ornaments that look like gingerbread men and women.
  5. Picnic around the Christmas tree. When my kids were young, they enjoyed special times when I would put the “picnic blanket” on the living room floor for lunch. They also enjoyed sitting in the living room while the only lights on were on the Christmas tree. Why not combine the two ideas and make a fun memory?
  6. Bake and/or decorate cookies. You could buy cookie dough and help younger kids frost and decorate cookies. For easier clean up, have kids sprinkle sugar and candies over a 9x13 pans.
  7. Decorate a gingerbread house. You can make simple houses out of graham crackers. After all, Tiny Houses are in! All you need are candies like red hots, gum drops and candy canes.
  8. Deliver the goods. If you don’t like to bake, support one of our local bakeries and then make special deliveries to family members and special friends
  9. Make the holidays sweeter with homemade Christmas candies like peppermint fudge
  10. Take a drive. Drive around looking at holiday lights and lawn displays. Make the evening more festive by packing snacks like party pretzels or Dot’s pretzels.
  11. Fill the holidays with fun and games. You can download everything from coloring sheets and crossword puzzles to BINGO game cards.
  12. Give to others. Demand has doubled at food pantries, even in Franklin County Iowa. Consider donating a few non-perishable items. Click here for items in demand.
  13. Write before Christmas. Cards don’t have to be fancy or expensive. Encourage your children to draw pictures for special friends or neighbors. Send a letter to someone in a nursing home, even if you don’t know them. My daughter wrote letters for eight weeks this spring and delivered them to our local care center. I think it’s time she provided them with an update!
  14. Build a snowman.
  15. Read “The Polar Express” or your favorite Christmas book.
  16. Go caroling. Carolers can stand outside a person’s home and bring joy from a safe distance!
  17. Call a friend.
  18. Watch classic movies like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
  19. Make homemade stew on Christmas Eve. When I was growing up, we always enjoyed homemade oyster stew and chili on Christmas Eve. Last year we made the switch to chili and homemade chicken noodle soup. Why not adapt traditions to suit your tastes?
  20. Take a walk under the stars. A rare celestial event will help mark the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere on Monday, Dec. 21. Jupiter and Saturn will appear very close together from an earthly vantage point, forming a Christmas star. These two gas giants are in conjunction, an occurrence that happens every 20 years or so.

Very few of the ideas above must be done by Christmas. For example, you could deliver cookies or muffins any time to special friends and neighbors. If you don’t get letters written in time for Christmas, wish people a Happy New Year. Adapt and change. Birds don’t know Christmas falls on December 25, but they enjoy your homemade treats throughout the winter.

I would love to hear what ideas you have to make winter break fun, so feel free to share them in the comments on our Enchanted Acres Facebook page.

3 Tips for Making Thanksgiving Memorable

As a child, the highlight of making the 45-minute trip to visit my grandmother in Howard County, Iowa, was a chance to drive around the beautiful countryside and watch the Amish tend to their livestock and care for their crops. I was – and still am – intrigued by their commitment to family and their sense of duty.

Each member of the family plays a part in the family’s economic survival, says Dr. John Hostetler in his book, Amish Society.  He writes: “Like most parents in American society, the Amish recognize the teen period as critical. The Amish family needs the help of its teenage child more than the typical American family, and the child feels the family’s need. The young person who works on the farm can understand and feel the contribution he is making to his family.”

Children see their parents working hard and want to help whether it’s feeding cats, gathering eggs or milking cows. Amish children are needed to help inside the house, too. Amish women often get together for a frolic, or a work event that combines socializing with a practical goal. Common frolics include quilting, canning, pie baking and applesauce making.

Like the Amish, we can make preparing and hosting a holiday meal more fun by inviting people into our kitchens. Just the word “frolic” sounds like more fun than work! Here are three tips to consider this Thanksgiving:

  1. Assign age-appropriate chores. When my kids were in pre-school, they each had an apron and chef’s hat. They helped wash vegetables, put plates on the table, etc. Now that they are teenagers, I ask them to peel potatoes or brown hamburger. Maybe your kids could help prepare an adorable turkey-shaped relish tray. After all, kids are more apt to eat veggies when they help with food prep.
  2. Count your blessings. I thought it was corny at the time, but now it is a cherished memory. On my mom’s side of the family, each person sitting at the table expressed thanks for something or someone before we began eating. Counting our blessings helps us focus on what we have rather than on what we wish we had. When my kids were small, I traced around their hands. Then I wrote a word on each paper finger for what they were thankful for… we literally counted their blessings. Now I keep gratitude journal by listing 5 things for which I’m thankful. Even if I don’t write them down daily, I still begin my day with gratitude.
  3.  Focus on fun and games. When I was growing up, my mom and I used to make holiday crafts like a turkey craft at Thanksgiving. (I still have a bag of colorful feathers from my own kids’ turkey crafts.) When I was older, Mom set a timer and we would race to see how many words we could find in a Word Search. As an adult, I look forward to playing cards. What have you done to create wonderful holiday memories? How could you start a new tradition this Thanksgiving?

This holiday I plan to “get my ask in order,” and invite people into my kitchen to help with food prep. Today I’m sharing recipes for a few of my family’s favorite holiday dishes:

Thanksgiving will probably look different for all of us this year as we continue to navigate through the pandemic. “Different,” however, doesn’t have to mean “bad.” I will treasure memories of holidays past while doing my best to create more wonderful memories with those who are gathered near. I wish the same for you!
 

Free Gate Every Weekend This Fall

Open sesame!

The gates to our magical pumpkin patch open for the 2020 fall season on Friday, Sept. 25. You and your family are invited to join us for your favorite fall activities. Enjoy taking hayrides, decorating pumpkins and roasting campfire s’mores.
 
Enchanted Acres will be open from 9 AM to 5 PM every Friday and Saturday and from 11 AM to 5 PM every Sunday from Sept. 25 through Oct. 25. Please note that Fridays are “shop or play” days. You’re welcome to pick pumpkins or shop inside The Market. The Marketplace Café is open on Fridays for beverages and pre-made snacks, but please note that we don’t offer the full concessions menu that is available on Saturdays and Sundays. If you’re interested in enjoying lunch or dinner nearby, check out Sheffield’s eateries including West Fork Wharf and Brickyard Bistro.

The Marketplace Café will be open on Saturdays and Sundays, serving up our popular Pumpkin Patch Paninis. We have a great panini menu, plus each weekend we will be serving up a homemade lunch special.

Check out our Schedule of Events, and make plans to join us throughout the season. NOTE: Special workshops, including succulent potting and the 1 PM crafting sessions on Saturdays, require advanced registration. This year we’re excited to once again offer Goat Yoga, starring Lil’ Romeo and his big buddy, Chip. Be sure to visit our farm mascot, Nibbles, who gave birth to adorable twins on September 2. 
 
It’s our hope that a visit (or two or three!) to Enchanted Acres becomes an annual tradition. We often post event updates throughout the season on Facebook, so be sure to “give us a like.” You can follow along with the fun all year long through Facebook and Instagram. In addition, we provide a complimentary quarterly newsletter to which you can subscribe by clicking here.
 
We look forward to seeing you see you soon at Enchanted Acres in Sheffield, Iowa, where memories grow!