Monday, May 31, 2010

Day 72 - Garden Prep

Today was all about the garden.  Mowed down weeds, tilled, weeded, raked, etc.  We have most of the ground ready to go for planting tomorrow.  I know, we're late but if I don't have plants ready for the ISF at least maybe the majority of the crops I need to process will hold off until after the fair is over so I can get them all put up!  I'm betting with nice weather and some good watering, mulching, weeding strategies I should still have some veggies for the ISF.  Plus, I have a nice crop of volunteer squash, pumpkins and sunflowers currently coming up.  Great for harvesting but not so good for ISF since I am unsure of the variety name and if it was a hybrid who knows what this generation of plants will look like.

Set the live trap to catch our woodchuck.  Will probably catch a skunk (again - went to check the live trap on Friday morning thinking we caught one of our black cats but no it had a lovely white stripe down the middle.  Back away slowly, slowly - then run for the house and the husband).  We are actually trying to live trap our bobcat (personally I think she's too smart) so that the DNR can take it away from our chickens.  However, we will probably first catch all the other critters around here first.  Well, this way Alan can keep up with my parents who last summer had quite a coon streak going.

The  bobcat is either getting more aggressive, more desperate or is feeding young since it took my goose (which had to be quite a fight) and I seem to be missing more and more of my barn kitties.  Not good.  Plus, my chickens have to stay in the coop and outdoor cage which probably doesn't make them too happy even though they have plenty of room it's not the same as free reign of the yard.  But the bobcat has not just been hunting at night (lock-up hours).  It also kept us up from it's yowling a few nights ago at 2 AM.  Honestly - where were the neighbor dogs?  Can't blame the neighbors if we had a dog I think at this point I'd keep it in the house at night too - although my big neutered male barn cat seems to be the only thing left standing that has fought with it to protect the acreage.  Go Purple Kitty (aka Pumpkin and Oscar) - don't ask!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day 73 - Happy Birthday Party

Sorry all for my absence - no, I did not fall off the face of the earth!  Today we celebrated the boys' birthdays (1 and 3).  We had lots of friends and family and had a wonderful time celebrating with everyone!

This has meant a whirlwind week of cake baking, decorating, cleaning, small home repairs, boys' professional photos, outfit selection, etc.  Needless to say this feels like the first time I have had a moment to sit in days.  But the boys and I had great fun making preparations and we enjoyed sharing our efforts with everyone today.

Above are the boys helping to measure and "mix."  Does this add time to my baking?  Yes, but it's so worth every precious minute.

Clark's 3 year old crayon cake.  This was the first time I had worked with a sponge/roll-up type cake.  I made two types - chocolate with chocolate frosting rolled in the middle and vanilla cake with orange marmalade and orange buttercream rolled in the middle.  They were both tasty.

Grant's 1st birthday cake!  He had a duck which was a vanilla pound cake (made with whole wheat flour).  The duck cake tasted delicious even though I had a few oven problems with it.  Very heavy and dense (like pound cake should be) yet kept it's moistness.  The bottom square cake was a four layer limeade cake with limeade butter cream frosting and raspberry filling.  It was quite delicious.  OK - the balls are bubbles for anyone unsure.  Didn't get the fondant rolled on as pretty as I would have liked but each time I do it I get a little better.  The poor duck was the last cake frosted/decorated and it was so warm in the house I couldn't keep the frosting stiff enough so the duck had some frosting issues.  But it still looked and tasted good and I know my one year old didn't care.  But more practice needed if I want to enter in the decorated cakes contest at the ISF.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day 77 - Birthday Cake

Today focused on cakes.  I'll be the first to admit I am not good at cakes.  I love to decorate them but baking them challenges and/or frustrates me to no end.  Today had some good cakes and some not so good.

For Grant's base cake I made a raspberry limeade cake and his stand up duck cake was a nice pound cake.  Clark's base cake is a chocolate cake with a roll-up vanilla sponge cake for the crayons.

I didn't fluff the butter/sugar combo enough on the limeade cake so ended up making another one (much better - amazing what proper mixing can do).  The duck cake mixed up well but somehow the oven shut off in the middle of baking.  It looks OK but I am concerned about what it will cut like - oh well we have plenty of cake so I am going to go ahead and decorate it if this one ends up for our family later that's fine it can freeze and be eaten later or used with strawberries and syrup to give more moisture.

Clark's chocolate cakes fell but I think I can selvage them.  Have never tried sponge cakes before but they rolled up OK.  We'll see how they taste.  I had to cut the edges off to roll them up and Clark liked the cake "strips."

Well at least I got lots of practice - however, still don't know about entering any cakes.  I must say a big thanks to my guys though!  For Mother's Day they gave me a new beater for my KitchenAid stand mixer that has special blades that scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl - so worth every penny!  Simply amazing how much better that beater works!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Days 78 & 79

Whoops!  Had date night last night and didn't post my blog.  Oh well, no big news other than my sewing room is awesome (not completely organized yet but can get to everything), my canning supplies are now all neatly organized and easily accessible and my entry tags all arrived in the mail!  So, I guess I'm ready to go.

Baking cakes for the boys' birthday party tomorrow.  Grant gets a duck cake and Clark decided he wanted a blue square cake with LOTS of candles.  So with some jelly roll magic and fondant fun I think he gets a Lego cake base with crayons and candles - if it works it should be cute!

Then after the party must get rest of garden in.  Checked tomatoes this morning they look like I bought them from a greenhouse.  So proud of how much money I saved on plants this year - will definitely start my own tomatoes again next year.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day 80 - Inspirational Photos

Going to do something different tonight.  My family has a history with the Iowa State Fair and with showing cattle in general.  Grandma and dad taught me all they knew when it came to showing dairy cattle.  I always admired my grandma and found her an inspiration since she showed cattle even when it may not have been as proper for a women to do so.  She showed not only at the ISF but also at the National Cattle Congress (Need to change this after a call from dad.  Grandma exhibited at the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago not the National Cattle Congress).

Sitting on my desk is her 4H medallion that reads County 4H Live Stock Champion 1934.  She never bragged about what she did but she would tell me amazing stories such as going to Chicago with livestock by herself.  She rode in a special car with the cattle.

Grandma with her "baby beefs" in her 4-H uniform.  Thanks grandma for leading the way and never letting me not pursue a dream simply because I was a girl!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 81 - Preparing to Sew and Other Odds and Ends

Breakfast this morning included the last of the cinnamon rolls I made on Friday for the photo shoot.  They were good even a day later.  One thing I worry about when taking breads is how the bread still functions after sitting for a time.  Bread is truly best 1/2 hour after coming out of the oven but since my entries have to travel about 40 minutes and will probably sit a couple of hours before judging I like to make sure they hold well.  This was a new dough that I tried and it held well.  However, I think the dough would have risen better if I had not put the rolls in the fridge to rise overnight.  Probably better off baking right away.  The filling was awesome - other than I forgot to add the toasted nuts to it so I added them on top of the frosting.

This morning Clark and I went to a few garage sales.  He had his own birthday money (thanks Aunt Sara!); bought two items and he still has money left over for next time.  I didn't fair as well as he did other than picking up a bunch of Little People for Grant's birthday present.  Well, also picked up some very cheap fabric for my stash.

This afternoon my wonderful husband helped me hang my notion's cabinet in the sewing room.  After some furniture moving my sewing/craft room is finally coming together.  I haven't had a great place to spread out and store my craft items so this is great!  I do better when things are organized - pretty non-functioning when everything is disorganized.  Honestly - you have no idea how excited I am to have this near completion!  No more hauling my sewing machine upstairs to work on projects. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 82 - Photography

Today was a truly interesting and fun day.  The freelance photographer for Successful Farming (Meredith Publishing) came by this morning.  Let me say this was no normal photo shoot - at least not like any I've ever done before.  Harlan is a fabulous photographer and was a very interesting person to talk to.  He has won many awards in photography and for photo journalism including a first place 10 years ago in the photography contest at the Iowa State Fair.  Last year he earned a second place for at the ISF for one of his photographs and had 3 of his 4 photo entries on display.  Truly amazing!  He showed me the book the ISF prints up of the winning photos.  The photography area at the ISF is one I stay far away from as far as entering - but love to look at the pictures!  There are so many entries to be chosen much less win is an astounding feat.

We did photos of the rolls and casserole which was fun.  Then we did some photos of flower arranging.  I liked the flower photos best out of the whole group of shots.  Plus, I have this beautiful arrangement gracing my counter that I may not have put together otherwise.  Last night I had my husband pick up some yellow roses for $10.00 and the rest of the materials all came out of my own yard.  I think it looks so very expensive; however, I also notice all of the design flaws as well - wasn't paying as much attention to detail as I should have been since I pulled it together pretty quickly.  Then again sometimes with my arrangements I tend to add too much so this helped me focus and edit.

Harlan did ask me why I was doing this challenge of 100 entries.  At the time I didn't give a very good answer but after thinking about it today this is my response - why not?  I am a person who throughout life has set goals and challenges for myself.  My last greatest challenge was having children.  After 10 years of marriage and a lot of prayer, struggle, heartbreak and disappointment we finally became pregnant with our first son.  Two years later our second son was born.  I think I have knocked that challenge out of the way now.  During this time is when I started exhibiting at the ISF in open class as a way to do something to take my mind off the whole trying to get pregnant challenge.  Growing flowers, cooking, baking, sewing are all relaxing things for me to do and give me joy and pleasure in even minor accomplishments.  Even if I wasn't competing I would still do these things as a way to relax or unwind or to provide for my family.  I loved helping my mom and my grandma in their gardens and take great pride in my own and in all the things it provides my family whether food for the table or beauty for the home.  Sitting down to cross stitch in the evening in front of the TV gives my hands something to do rather than reach for food (which I have a weight problem that I am working on so this accomplishes two goals).  Since having children I have found myself with many unfinished projects so this also gives me a way to set goals that ensure I accomplish some of my projects sitting around the house - from cleaning the sewing room to finishing a quilt.

Anyway - why do people train for decathlons?  I am sure each competitor has their own answer but I would think for most it is the challenge.  That is my answer to why - for the challenge.  Harlan asked how much prize money I earn - that it must be a lot.  Nope - it is really not about ribbons and prize money for me.  Don't get me a wrong a ribbon here and there can make your heart sing because it means you have done something well and my mom is always the first person I call to let her know because she also gets excited and she has helped me so much through 4H and FFA she deserves that call.  But in the end it is all about the challenge - my personal challenge.  This is my decathlon if you want to think in those terms.  Just like my fitness challenge is to be able to run around the section (4 miles) this summer.

Since I was flying on Mother's Day I didn't get to post that day so before I end my blog tonight I must say this:  Mom you always encouraged (pushed) me to do these same types of entries when I was in 4H and FFA.  I did not understand then but I do now.  I apologize for all of the trouble and grief I gave you during my teen years when it came to preparing fair entries.  But thank you, thank you so much for keeping after me.  I learned so much from you (and grandma when I think you gave up on me on the whole learning to sew thing). You made sure I had the skills I would need later in life to care for my own family and to find a creative outlet that brings me joy and relaxation.  I love you - Happy Belated Mother's Day!
Clark helping this morning by mixing the frosting for the rolls.  He did a good job!
Grant helping by supervising from his favorite seat in the house with his favorite kitchen utensil - the whisk!
I hope their enthusiasm for cooking, baking and growing plants continues.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 83 - Casserole Take 2

Today was spent washing cupboards and floors and cleaning the oven.  Tomorrow there will be a photographer from Successful Farming coming to take some photos.  I'll have to be sure and thank the columnist for forcing my hand and washing down the kitchen.  It needed it - especially considering the fact that we are having a big family gathering next weekend.

In preparation I decided to try my egg bake casserole a second time around (the one I made at Easter time).  This time I made some changes.  I put it in a smaller casserole dish rather than a 9 x 13 pan which should provide more height.  Also added in sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms.  My only concern with this is the pepper and onion flavor may overpower the rest of the dish.  This is why I wanted to try it a second time around in case this happens I can readjust again.

I also put together some cinnamon rolls.  This would be my entry for the non-traditional cinnamon rolls.  I use a jam I make in the filling to add some surprise.  I thought when I spread the filling on I had it sticky enough but it still ran a little when I cut the rolls to place in the pan so need to add one more tablespoon of flour to stabilize the mixture.  Letting them rise overnight to see how that works.  I also tried a new sweet roll recipe which turned out excellent!  It rolled out so nicely.  I am excited to see how it tastes - if it is as good as it seems then it is a keeper.  For competition with rolls I always cut the ends of the log off and bake them up separately.  This works out nicely since it gives me two test rolls (one for each son)!  The ends if you use them bake up unevenly so I find taking them off makes a more even pan.  Any way just one of the little things I do.

More on how everything turns out tomorrow . . .

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 84 - Cherries & Berries

Checked out fruit trees today.  Our sour cherry tree is loaded with cherries.  Apple trees look good.  Raspberries seem to have a lot of berries on as well.  Let's hope for a good harvest!  Can't wait for strawberries.  Mine are just new this year so will have to go to the local berry farm which is still fun.

This evening I cleaned up and clear coated an old turn of the century kitchen cabinet.  It is beautiful to me and will be lovely in my sewing room.  I can't help but wonder what the old cabinet has seen in its long life.

Sorry - not much to report today had a lot of work and a sick hubby.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 85 - Beautiful Day

What a beautiful Iowa day!  Today I worked on mulching the garden.  So cute, Clark wanted to help so he took his little rake and helped rake grass into a pile.  Than he put it in our wagon one handful at a time.  Finally, he very much wanted to push the wagon to the proper location.  Yes, slower than I would normally go but so much fun!  Hopefully this will help keep my weeding down to a bare minimum.  The glads are coming up so I want to be sure they are well mulched.    No time for weeding!

Transplanted the peppers into larger pots.  I hope to set them out in the cold frame tomorrow with the tomatoes to harden them off.  Holding off on planting the tomatoes and peppers in the garden until maybe Memorial Day Weekend -- want to make sure those cold nights are gone for good.  Somehow I had a white fly infestation on the peppers - hopefully I took care of most of them when I transplanted them.

Also worked on cleaning up the sewing room.  Need to spread out and have a bit more space down there.  Plus it is just so much nicer working in an organized environment.

Clark wants to know when I plan to bake cake so will probably have to work on that later this week!  He still hasn't decided what he wants for his "happy birthday party" cake so I may just go with whatever I think looks cool for turning 3 (I realize this won't work many more years).

Trying to determine if I want to do rhubarb jam up or not.  I think I would rather wait for strawberries.  However, should probably think about freezing some rhubarb so I have it for later use.  I suppose a rhubarb crisp would be good for dinner one of these days too.

Anyway - rather random today but am trying to get things organized before jam and jelly season and hot afternoons spent in the basement sewing room.  Enjoy the great weather this week!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day 86 - Entries are IN!

Submitted my entry form on-line today!

I actually had a couple problems with the form but they were fixed in no time.  I went to recalculate the totals and they were all double the price listed in the entry book.  Whoops!  E-mailed the ISF entry department and had a quick reply that they had been contacted by others facing same issue and were working on it.  It was back to running properly this morning.  I must say the turn around time and response time was very fast and very appreciated!

So for my entry tags I asked for 10 in Creative Arts and Crafts; 10 in Heritage Exhibits; 10 in Fabrics and Threads; 40 in Floriculture; 20 in Horticulture; and 100 in Foods.  So 190 total entries.  Now, this number is high.  There is no way I'll fill all of these but here is my line of thinking. I am never sure exactly how many entries I will be able to fill in any one area; however, I know a rough estimate.  So, if I decide my goal is 8 entries I will round up to 10 entries.  It costs me the same whether I enter 8 or 10 so I go with the highest number available in my goal range.  This way if I end up with an extra exhibit or two I have some room to play.  Plus, it never hurts to have a spare tag in case I mess one up so horribly it becomes illegible (or my son drops it in water).  You just never know - and the fair doesn't hand out extras.

My youngest was sick today as was my husband so other than taking care of paying for entries I didn't get much else accomplished on the actual entry side of things.  Plus, after vacation and graduation cakes this house needs a good cleaning so that will probably top my to do list this week.

Just letting you know the entry form process is super simple - you have until July 1 to complete your form (before they double the prices for real)!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Day 87 - Freezer Plans

Thanks to all who commented on yesterday's blog.  What great supporters I have - so let's have some fun this week!

Reading through my always handy "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving" I found the chart for recommended storage times at 0 degrees F.  Just a tip on keeping this book clean - since I use it every year under very messy conditions - I actually have it torn apart and each page put in sheet protectors.  This has saved my book many times as I seem to be a messy preserver!  A good friend gave me that tip many years ago and it has been great.  The pages are stored in a large 3 ring binder that I add other preserving recipes to as I find ones I like.  It is always easy to find when I need it.  I realize that the fair rules and guidelines state that freezing foods can change the quality.  However, I have found that if you prepare an item carefully and store it in the freezer properly some items don't seem to be hurt from the process.  My one rule here is breads.  I do believe that fresh bread is simply supreme in comparison to frozen bread.  Bread that is frozen can be great for reheating and eating immediately following reheating; however, for competition where it won't have a heating process it can get pretty hard so I don't try freezing with my bread entries.

But here is my list of items on the freeze list:
Quick Breads - store for 2 months (plan to start these in June), I actually think some quick breads taste better after resting and freezing.
Cakes - store for 6 months (hmm, can start cakes any time)
Cookies (baked) - store for 6 months (time to start these too)
Pastry (unbaked) - store for 2 months (since I have issues with pie crusts I should probably work on some and freeze them for later)
Pies (unbaked) - store for 3 months (time to make pie!)
Candies - store for 12 months (didn't consider freezing candy but might try freezing some)

Goodness - look at that I could have started storing certain items 6 months ago.  I may need to clean my freezers in order to have enough room but if I freeze things as I go there will be a lot less prep time come fair entry date for foods.  Now I just need to remember to label well and to type up the recipe cards in advance (the recipe cards sometimes seem to take longer to prepare for exhibit than the actual food entry)!

Checked on the garden today to see how things did in the cold last week after being gone.  The tomatoes did OK in the cold frame however they are looking stressed.  The strawberries, asparagus and peas are all OK since they like cooler weather anyway (has actually been good for the peas).  The onions are fine.  The potatoes aren't up yet plus they don't mind cooler weather so they're fine.  My glads are starting to come up so hopefully it gets warmer since they don't like cold.  The only thing frosted were all my son's marigolds he started.  Shoot - I thought planting them after May 5th would be OK but guess not this year.  Looks like he and I will need to start some more and put them out later.  I am so happy we waited on putting in the corn, beans and other items.  I am extremely happy I left my started pepper plants in the house instead of moving them out to the cold frame - I don't think they would have made it even in the cold frame.  See, sometimes procrastination (or lack of time) can work in your favor.  I am not promoting procrastination - just saying sometimes you get lucky!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Day 88 - Hate Mail Homecoming

Hello again!  My family and I are home safely from our trip to San Jose, California!  It was a great fun.  The trip was actually work related for me but it is a great part of my job.  Taking the Iowa Science Fair Delegation to the International Science and Engineering Fair each year (at least on years I am not pregnant) is quite an honor.  We have such amazing student researchers from across the globe as well as right here in our own state!  Congrats to all of Iowa's students they all had very impressive projects!

Now, I thought tonight would just be a welcome back blog; however, in going through our mail from the week I discovered a letter that I decided I could do one of two things with.  A. ignore and toss or B. explain to the person how misinformed they are.  Having a Master's Degree in education I choose option B since I believe it is better to educate when the chance arises!

I really dislike drama and pain that others try to create.  I am not sure why others feel they have to bring others down.  Quite frankly I tend to follow my grandma's teaching of if you can't say anything nice keep your mouth shut!  But I guess some people would rather be mean which is too bad.  I will give you the letter in detail and than provide my arguments/counterpoints.  Just a note I doubt this person reads the blog since if they did I don't think they would have so many misunderstandings but in case you're out there some words of advise -- probably not good to send an anonymous nasty letter to a woman with her own blog.  Here goes:

You really do have a mental problem - you seek extreme attention and don't do anyone any good by it.  You are the laughing stock of family and community.  Five or even (umm - I think they meant to have another number after this but must have been so over wrought they forgot) fair entries would be fine, but 100!  Waste time and food by doing good for unfortunate people, not just satisfying your own ego.
Truthfully, there are many more talented people who could show you up big time, but they are more interested in not hogging the show.
People with obsessions such as you have need (of) pyschological (their spelling not mine) and medical help before you crash completely.  We feel sorry for those around you.  They suffer from your compulsive behavior.  Get hold of yourself and devote those hundreds of hours to some good.
A friend"

Let's just start at the beginning.  As far as I know I am of sound mind and body.  For those that know me well  within my circle of friends and family I do not seek attention and tend to prefer working in the background rather than being an "out in front" type of person.  I actually test on personality tests as an introvert and am a self diagnosed introvert who works hard to socialize and speak in front of groups.  The whole reason I started the blog was so friends and family could have some fun in my adventure and help me by following my progress.  It was never meant to be a large public forum but I happen to have friends who know friends who know other friends that led to me to being asked if I would mind being interviewed for a story because they thought it was a neat idea!  I never sought the attention I just started a fun little blog that I told a few friends about.

As to be a laughing stock -- I guarantee my friends are laughing with me as good friends do.  As to the community - well I suppose some find me a bit nuts and they can laugh if they want but no one has to read the blog or follow my progress.  Plus, I don't think you understand the point of a fair - it's to have FUN!  They do say you can burn a number of calories by laughing and add years to your life so laugh as hard as you want!

Now enough about me - self promoter that I am.  The next few lines is where some education is needed.  Even as a beginner in open class I know I never had five entries.  When I started with floriculture and food exhibits my bare minimum was probably 25 entries or so.  Hence, keeping track of my entries by blogging gives me a goal and I can track the number of entries I actually exhibit this year.  If you want to call me crazy for entries call me crazy for entering in so many divisions rather than focusing on my comfort areas like food and flowers.  I know I have entered probably up to 50 exhibits in a year before and maybe it's more than that I really just don't know.  However, if you read the Des Moines article and if you have ever been a part of the fair in general in the divisions I enter in; my 100 entries is a SMALL number!  I never set out to have the most entries at the fair.  I have friends who in floriculture alone exhibit well over 100 entries probably closer to 200+ entries (friends I am sorry if that number for you is small - you can correct me via e-mail)!  In the news article the reporter did an excellent job covering other women who exhibit food who have large entry numbers (like 300+ just in FOOD)!  How awesome!  I can't imagine!

As to wasting time my time is never wasted.  I am much too busy to waste time.  I am a stay at home and work at home mom.  I cook and bake for my family so the food(s) of choice go into the weekly meal plan for my 2 young sons and husband.  Food is NEVER wasted in this household.  What we don't eat I freeze for later to make meal planning easier during extremely busy weeks.  I actually do a lot of large batch baking and cooking to have meals my husband can easily take for lunch or that I can pull out quickly for my boys.  Whatever scraps or vegetable clippings are left over go to my chickens and hogs.  And anything left after that goes into the compost pile.  Even newspaper goes to mulch the garden and junk mail is shredded for nest bedding.  I am really not an environmentalist but I believe when God asks us to be stewards of the land we should take that to heart and follow His teachings.  Anyway that's the way my grandma raised me.

Now, as to waste at the Iowa State Fair (if that's what the letter was implying) this is where I would like to educate.  Any food that is not picked up by the exhibitor is taken to a Des Moines shelter to provide food to those less fortunate.  So even if I don't get in to pick up some of my food entries I know that they will be going to a good cause.  Usually though I do pick up my food entries and I take them to the FFA Headquarters to feed students that are at the fair for 3 weeks and miss good home cooking.  My jams and jellies if not eaten by the FFA members are brought back home in a cooler for my family to use.  If this is referencing my gardening let's make this clear my garden is for home use and preservation (canning/freezing) FIRST and foremost but if I have some nice vegetables those few can be taken for exhibit.  If referencing my sewing I actually utilize material I have selvaged from yard sales, auctions or grandma's (OK and my own) stash.  So this is really reusing/recycling materials that may otherwise have gone in a landfill.  Sure, I like shopping fabric stores too but I do what I can to use what I have or what others no longer want.  And my sewing projects are all being lovingly sewed for friends and family.  And just for the record my ego doesn't need satisfied I am actually a very happy and content 35 year old.

I have never once claimed to be talented and I know that there are tremendously talented people in Iowa.  In fact, for those that have been reading my blog since the beginning I am pretty sure I state that fairly frequently.  My goal is not ribbons or rewards; my goal is to learn new things and maybe help encourage others along the way.  I have actually learned how much fun it is to teach my 3 (as of tomorrow) year old how to do some of the basic things.  He loves to measure!  My one year old likes to measure too but we'll let him have empty cups and spoons for now - lol (sorry, laugh out loud).  I will be the first to admit that I am not the best at anything but I sure have a lot of fun figuring out what my favorite entries are and what I can do to improve for the next year and just in general improve my skills to benefit friends and family and actually some of my volunteer activities for church and other non-profit organizations.  Trust me I am not trying to "hog" the show. I am in awe of what others create and usually feel completely inept when watching the judging.  I don't even know that I'll enter cakes simply because there are some Iowans who could compete nationally with cakes and put many to shame.  I know I can't come close to what they create!  I also know that in Floriculture I don't have much of a chance but if out of the few entries in that division that I bring if I can squeeze out even one blue I consider that a successful year!

Hmm - obsession?  Maybe - but not really. Decided I should look up the actual definition.
1. Compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety.
2. A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion.

Nope - not an obsession.  No anxiety and really not an unreasonable idea.  I can quit at any time, I always put my family first and really as far as time I don't put in as much as people think.  As I said above I work this into my regular weekly schedule and routine.  Having the blog has helped me put together a better schedule so that come fair time I will have more things pre-done/prepared so I won't be as busy as in previous years.  For me this is more about how do I organize this and prepare rather than the number of entries I'm taking.  I am an organizer at heart.  I have done much more strenuous things in my life and many more stressful things.  I used to monitor seed corn fields worth millions of dollars a piece where my performance on the job could make or break a field.  I run one of the nation's best state science fairs which I consider an honor and a privilege.  But I do this during my husband's busiest times of the year and many consider us nuts for that but we love working with students!  Trust me I am far, far away from crashing.  This is minor in comparison to caring for my children and the stress of my job!

As far as I know, no one around me suffers in the least.  In fact, my boys are happy and healthy and eat wonderful nutritious food.  Plus, they get to try all kinds of new foods and ingredients - yummy!  I share lovingly and willingly with friends and have never heard any of them complain about my gifts.  My life is very personal but I do devote a lot of time and energy to helping others and this is my way of having a little competitive fun with other people who like the same kind of fun!  So raspberries to that last statement in the letter!

Finally -- please don't sign as "a friend".  Obviously someone with so many misconceptions is no friend of mine.  I choose my friends carefully and wisely and all are very near and dear to my heart.  Plus, if you are going to send such a non Christian letter at least have the strength, courage, and courtesy to sign your name.  Quite frankly my philosophy is if you can't sign your name to something it must not be worth much!

So, now that you've heard my response (if this person even knows how to read a blog) I hope I have given you some "food" for thought and I would encourage you to try entering in the Iowa State Fair.  To my other readers - my apologies - I promise to get back to good old fashioned Iowa State Fair Entry FUN tomorrow!

Oh and P.S. -- Successful Farming called - they'll be coming out this week to do a story for the August issue - teehee, giggle, giggle - me and my silly ego!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Days 94- 91 California Dreamin'

Sorry about not having any blog posts recently!  I am in California with the science fair students who qualified for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.  Finally had a few minutes of downtime so thought I would post a quick blog.  Yesterday the group traveled up to San Francisco for the day.  It was a beautiful day and saw so many neat things.  Lunch was absolutely fantastic.  All I have to say is if I had that corn muffin recipe and could execute like they did it would be a blue ribbon winner for sure!  They melted in your mouth - the only thing that would probably have made them better would have been fresh Iowa sweet corn.

We are in San Jose and currently the students are being judged by judges from around the world.  We'll see how our Iowans do tomorrow and Friday during the 3 award ceremonies.

Next week I'll get back to baking and experimenting.  For now I am just gathering ideas and thinking about my projects back home. Till next time good luck on all of your projects back home!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Day 95 - Congratulations Grad!

Here is the cake I have been working on all week - completed!  The diploma had a cute little bow on it but when they moved the cake it was knocked off.  Oh well, it was still a cute cake!
Still have some work to do on learning to smooth out the fondant a little better but Whitney (our grad) loved it and that is all that matters.  Plus, the cake tasted delicious and was marvelously moist (dense but moist).  Loved doing the cake for a great friend.  Good Luck Whitney!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Day 96 - Fondant

Tonight I worked on decorating the graduation cake I am working on.  This was the first time I have ever worked with fondant.  It was a fun experience!  It is amazing how smooth it makes the cakes look.  Although I have to admit I really do enjoy piping.

I have all of the fondant on the tiers and my shapes cut and ready to put on tomorrow along with the piping.  It will be an early morning so the cakes are ready to go by noon.  There isn't a lot of piping but enough.  Luckily the frosting is all made.

Now to clean the kitchen up for tomorrow.  Then some much needed zzz's.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Day 97 - Red Velvet

Baked the cakes for the graduation party on Saturday.  Our friend wanted red velvet cake and funfetti cake.  The bottom tier is a 10" red velvet cake, the center and top tier are 8" and 6" funfetti cakes all topped off with a graduation cap (mini wonder mold cake pan) in red velvet.  I know, my family is cringing after the disaster that was the red velvet cake for Christmas.  I made two square red velvet cakes and my sister did an absolutely fabulous job decorating them as Christmas gifts.  The cake looked so good but when we cut into it the cake was intolerably dry (no really - it was awful)!

I really watched the timing on the cake this time as it approached being done.  I also used moist cake wraps around the pan to increase the humidity in the oven.  When done they were beautiful and they look ultra moist.  We tested the mini cake that was done with left over batter for lunch - it is definitely little boy approved (and moist).  I also used the Wilton red food coloring (gel) rather than liquid food coloring which yielded a beautiful red throughout the cake (not marbled at all).

With the funfetti cake I did use a cake mix - I know I cheated!  I realized after adding the eggs that my white cake was going to be a deep golden yellow cake.  My chickens lay eggs with tremendously yellow yolks - store bought yolks simply don't compare.  However, since this is an ISU graduation the yellow and red cakes just make perfect sense.  So, I did it on purpose! Yeah, that's it!  I did "upgrade" the cake mix.  I used buttermilk instead of the water and 4 eggs rather than the 3 called for.  It did yield a nicer cake than just the regular cake mix would have.

Now to decorate it all tomorrow night!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Day 98 - Starting the Completion List

Today you should notice a new list on the right side of the blog.  To start counting down my entries I thought this would be a helpful guide.  In order to make the list the item must be either a.) ready for exhibit or b.) in the case of foods an approved recipe is in my fair book and a time frame for baking has been determined.

I have determined the recipes for white pan rolls and dilly bread.  I have the heritage exhibit for the Iowa Souvenir class ready for exhibit.  So, just 97 left to go!  I have a number of sewing items in process - hopefully I will be able to focus on these more in June.

Cake baking tomorrow for graduation cake - wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day 99 - Love of Garden Centers

Not much to tell today - had a lot of other work to do.  However, after stopping at the office we needed to run a couple of errands.  While at Walmart Clark decided we had to go see the flowers.  He picked out some impatiens to plant after carefully considering all of his options -- he really wanted some marigolds but I convinced him we had plenty of those at home already from the seeds we started.  Went to Earl May to pick up another 10 lbs of potatoes to finish off the potato plot.  Clark and I tend to mutually love this store.  Clark enjoys the bunnies and fish. He absolutely loves all of the water features and he likes to pick out flowers for home.  Today we made it out of the store with just our potatoes (a variety I haven't tried before - Cobbler) and 30 glad bulbs.

When it comes to the glads I have decided that I need a couple of varieties that I mass plant so that I have a chance of having multiples of one color for arrangements.  Hopefully my planting time is right.  It is best to plant glads every couple of weeks to extend the bloom time (and hope you get one planting that hits the time frame you want).  My luck I'll have blooms on both sides of when I need them but none during the competition - ha, ha!

We do have the plot ready for the glads to go into; however, today was so windy even after supper that I decided not to take the boys out.  So planting will have to wait tomorrow.  Sorry for any foodies reading the blog - not much in the food department this week -- need to get the plants in first!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Day 100 - The Countdown Begins!

Day 100 - let the countdown begin!  Now for those of you expecting me to "complete" one entry a day that is/was really not my plan.  However, I will blog each day about a project I am working towards completing and usually a few hints of what worked, what didn't work and any possible tips I may have regarding a class/division.

Today my progress on an entry involved digging and planting new flower beds in the backyard.  Needed to get those plants from my brother planted plus divide and transplant some of my own plants.  Looking at the number of plants still in buckets in my backyard I may be able to plant the entire yard!  Doubt time will allow that but we'll see what can be accomplished this week.

How does this relate to entries?  When it comes to entering in floral design classes I tend to love natural plant material I have raised myself.  Ornamental grasses, hosta leaves, even iris and day lily leaves can add to the beauty and structure of a floral arrangement.  Hosta leaves are one of my favorite green fill to utilize in floral design.

I do have to tell you that the gauntlet has been thrown down by a friend of mine.  She wants to enter in the table design class at the Clay County Fair and I mentioned she should try to enter one of the table design classes at the Iowa State Fair.  She said she would if I entered with her in at both fairs.  So we shall see how this plays out.  The biggest factor is being able to actually get into the class.  They are very popular classes and are limited classes.  So first people to get their entries in and paid for are the ones that will be able to exhibit in these classes.  I have entered in the design classes before and have even earned a rosette but I always feel out of my league since many of the exhibitors are professional florists.  The design has to be well thought out in advance and I have to be confident it will look wonderful before I try to enter.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Day 101 - Garden Day

After church and lunch, today was spent in the garden.  Alan tilled up another portion so we could plant the potatoes.  He cut and cured them last night with the boys so they were ready to go today.  Clark helped me plant the onions and admired the violas I tucked in the strawberry beds.  I finished off the evening by planting some marigolds around the potato plot.  I also raked the area (already tilled and ready) for the glads and Alan helped me lay out the grids for them.

I have learned that marking the end of rows with sticks may not be the wisest choice with a 3 year old that believes sticks are some of the best toys.  Luckily I do write all of the variety layouts on paper and save it in the house so I know what is where even if my markers all get moved around.

In addition, picked up lots of rocks.  I have quite a pile going.  Maybe I should take up rock collecting/polishing like my grandpa.  Well, at least that way I would have plenty of pretty jewelry pendants without having to buy them at the store.  Alan and I actually did find a few that were very pretty.

On the plan for this week:

  • Finish (bake and decorate) graduation cakes
  • Plant the first planting of glads
  • Plum jam
That may be all this week since we will be preparing to leave for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, California next Sunday.  However, tomorrow starts the 100 day countdown!  Let the entries begin!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Day 102 - Bargain Day

Today was just an overall fantastic day!  Started out this morning hitting garage sales with two other friends and Clark.  After 3 hours of walking and sales Clark was still going strong.  Clark even found a birthday gift for Grant and plenty of items for himself as well.  All of us did well.  My two favorite finds included a stainless steel jelly pot (for making yummy jams and jellies) for $2.00 and 6 yards of fabric for a coat I want to make for only $2.00.  I am so excited!

When we returned home we ate some lunch and I decided to try making some plum jam (in my new pot).  However, when Alan and I started cutting up the plums we decided they just weren't ripe enough.  So, I put the plums in brown bags on the counter and will try again later this week.  As I was wondering what else to do in the afternoon my brother called and said if I wanted some plants I should come get them.  Headed into town and dug up 8 bags of lilies, day lilies, and some unknown bulbs.  Not sure if we can get them planted tomorrow afternoon but will try.

Later I rode with a friend down to Ankeny for a girl's night shopping trip.  The best find of the day was at the fabric store.  Since I had found my coat fabric at a yard sale I decided to get the lining so I can start working on it one of these evenings.  We found some beautiful fabric to line it with that will simply pop when the coat is opened.  Since the other fabric had been such a deal I decided I could splurge a little on the lining to make it a $20 coat.  When it was rung up we found out it was on sale today so now my coat total is down to $8.  Can't beat that!  I have the thread and buttons needed - the only other items I need are the buckles which shouldn't add too much to the total.  Later in the evening we spent time at Michael's just looking at various craft items and gathering ideas.  I did pick up a few beads and will try a piece or two.

Whew! It has been a long day.  Calling it quits for now - we'll just have to see what tomorrow brings!