Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

#NorthIowaBloggers Help Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank this Holiday Season

In November, the North Iowa Bloggers teamed together to gather donations and food to help two local food banks, the Franklin County Food Pantry in Hampton and the Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank in Mason City.  And luckily for me I was able to join a few other North Iowa Bloggers a week and a half ago to drop off those donations.

Beth Ann from It's Just Life, Donna from DonnaHup.com, myself,
Jeni from Jeni Eats and Amy from Modern Rural Living dropping off our donation
Thanks to your comments on my blog and several others, as well as actual food donations, we were able to donate 235 pounds of food off at the Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank in Mason City!


After we got everything finalized with our donation, Ozzie Ohl, volunteer at the Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank, gave us a tour of the new facility and demonstrated how it operated.  The Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank is volunteer ran and currently has around 125 volunteers, making it the largest volunteer ran food bank served by the Food Bank of Iowa.  Ozzie's focus at the Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank is to help tell the facility's story to the general public and to help with special events and campaigns in the community.  In the three short years since he started being a volunteer he has worked in the order filling room, gone on food pickups and assisted people at the counter.

Ozzie Ohl demonstrating how the Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank
works for North Iowa families
The Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank is an emergency food bank, so families can visit the facility once a month, where they will receive the equivalent of a four day ration.  In the picture above you can see Ozzie talking about some of the different food areas.  Above each section is a chart that tells how many items a family with different amount of members can receive.  For example, in the non-edible section that Ozzie is currently pointing to a family of one receives three non-edible items, family of two receives four, family of three receives five items, etc.  

Volunteers stocking fresh produce at Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank
Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank collects food through donations and purchases food and non-essentials through monetary donations.  Currently over 80% of the Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank goes toward food acquisition, while the rest goes towards building costs.  The majority of the food they purchase from the Food Bank of Iowa since they are able to buy it for 14 cents a pound.  They also buy food and non-perishable items from local grocery stores.  Hy-Vee East donates their day old bread and baked good to the food bank, and they partner with Community Kitchen bi-weekly receiving collections from Target and Wal-Mart through their partnership with Feeding America.  In the end, Ozzie told us that the food bank simply couldn't exist without the generosity of North Iowans.  In 2013, Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank served 17,580 people.  At the end of November this year, the total was 19,533 and officials expect to serve at least 1,500 in December, creating a record year in the number of people served.

If you'd like some ideas on how to help your local food bank this holiday season, check out my Food Bank Guide.  How do you help your local food bank during the holidays?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Check List - 1 Week Before Christmas

1 week before Christmas!  Can you believe it?  Are you ready?  I do have to admit, that my mind has been busy lately because besides thinking through everything Christmas, I am also thinking everything baby, as we only have a week or two till our third child JP arrives!  I'm happy I've been making my Holiday Check Lists this year so I've been able to stay on top of things that need to get done for Christmas.  Here is my check list for this week, one week before Christmas:

  • Wrap Gifts (I don't want My Farmer finding himself on Christmas Eve having to figure out who gets what gift and having to wrap them if I find myself in the hospital with a new baby so I need to get my wrapping done.  Hopefully the last of my gifts will arrive in the mail or via UPS this week!)
  • Christmas Letter (Did you hear how today was the busiest mail day for the Postal Service?  Were you part of that craziness?  You need to get your cards out soon if you want them to arrive before Christmas.)
  • Buy Groceries (Just like at Thanksgiving, I try to avoid the grocery store if possible the week of Christmas.  By simply buying your groceries at the end of this week, you'll save yourself a lot of headache and crowds.)
  • Christmas Baking (This is a great week to look at all of your Christmas sweets you've stocked over the last couple of weeks and start thawing them so you are ready to make cookie platters for your Christmas parties.  If you are still needing some Christmas cookies, check out my Iowa Christmas Cookie Exchange for 16 goodie recipes, including my family's favorite - Peanut Butter Balls.)
  • Christmas Traditions (Don't forget the reason for the season and to make sure you have everything you need to incorporate new and old traditions into your Christmas celebrations.  I think LP asks everyday if it is Jesus's birthday because he is excited to have a party for Him and have our family over to celebrate at our house!)

What is on your holiday check list this week?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

If you are feeling behind, check out my previous week's Holiday Check List for more ideas:

Holiday Check List - 1 Week Before ThanksgivingHoliday Check List - Thanksgiving Week Holiday Check List - 3 Weeks Before Christmas Holiday Check List - 2 Weeks Before Christmas

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holiday Check List - 2 Weeks Before Christmas

How did it already become two weeks before Christmas?!?  I'm happy I've been making my Holiday Check Lists this year so I've been able to stay on top of things that need to get done for Christmas, but will have to admit between being gone at a conference last week and then having the flu hit our house I have fallen slightly behind...  I guess that is why it is good to make check lists so you can still feel okay and not stressed out if things take you out of the loop for a few days!  Here is my check list for this week, two weeks before Christmas:


  • Finish Shopping  (I still need to order a couple things online so I'll get that done tonight!  Plus, I just need to review my gift list and make sure I have everything taken care of.  If you are still looking for some Christmas gift ideas, check out my family's picks for this year here.)
  • Wrap Gifts (I don't want My Farmer finding himself on Christmas Eve having to figure out who gets what gift and having to wrap them if I find myself in the hospital with a new baby so I need to get my wrapping done now.)
  • Trim Your Home (If you haven't finished decorating your home for Christmas yet this is the week to get it done.  We still have a box in our basement which probably means I should just make it a garage sale box instead of putting the decorations in that box out... This is a perfect time to sort out your decorations too!)
  • Christmas Letter (Finish writing and printing your Christmas letter and cards this week.  Also, address your envelopes so you can get them in the mail as soon as your have all of your components done.  One of our Christmas traditions is to take our Christmas photo in the same spot with a fresh coat of snow on the ground - we're waiting for the fresh December coat of snow...)
  • Finalize Christmas Menu (Whether your hosting or traveling to other's for Christmas, this is a good week to finalize your menu.  What are some Christmas dinner traditions for your family?)
  • Buy Non-Perishables  (Talking about that Christmas Menu, this is the perfect week to start buying your non-perishable grocery items.  Many of them start going on sale this week, plus it will help ease your future grocery lists.)
  • Christmas Baking (Keep making all of your favorite Christmas sweets and then freezing some of each batch back that way you will have a variety to choose from to make cookie platters close to Christmas.  Check out my Iowa Christmas Cookie Exchange for 16 goodie recipes, including my family's favorite - Peanut Butter Balls.)

What is on your holiday check list this week?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

If you are feeling behind, check out my previous week's Holiday Check List for more ideas:

Holiday Check List - 1 Week Before ThanksgivingHoliday Check List - Thanksgiving Week Holiday Check List - 3 Weeks Before Christmas


Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Check List - 3 Weeks Before Christmas

The holiday season is full of fun, laughter, and good times with family and friends.  And if you let it, the holiday season can be full of stress too.  I have always been a planner, and I like to think that my family and friends appreciate that.  It seems even more important to stay on top of my holiday check lists this year since we're expecting our third child (JP) anytime around the end of December.  So, without further ado, here is my check list for this week, three weeks before Christmas:


  • Finish Shopping  (I'm planning on finishing all of my Christmas shopping this week between online and locally, after getting a large majority done on Black Friday.  Did you take advantage of any Cyber Monday deals today?  If you are still looking for some Christmas gift ideas, check out my family's picks for this year here.)
  • Wrap Gifts (This is an area I usually fall behind on but this year I'm planning on getting my wrapping done as I get my presents bought.  I don't want My Farmer finding himself on Christmas Eve having to figure out who gets what gift and having to wrap them if I find myself in the hospital with a new baby...)
  • Christmas Tree (If you haven't gotten your Christmas tree yet, now is a perfect time to get your tree so you can enjoy it for a few weeks.  If you do have your tree, crank up the Christmas tunes, chill the egg nog and decorate your tree.  We went and got our Christmas tree this past Saturday and decorated it on the first day of Advent.)
  • Trim Your Home (Don't forget about decorating the rest of your house beyond the tree!  I'm planning on hanging our stockings and decorating throughout the house this week.)
  • Christmas Letter (If you write a Christmas letter start writing and get it printed this week.  I'm planning on getting this done mid-week this week and then hopefully getting them printed by the end of the week.)
  • Christmas Cards (Be sure the select your Christmas cards if you haven't already (I always get ours in early November when Hallmark has a buy one get one free special).  If you are creating a card online be sure to choose your design and order your cards this week.)
  • Christmas Card Recipient List (Review and finalize your Christmas card list.  You can also start addressing your envelopes so you can get your cards out as soon as possible.  It always feels good to have your Christmas cards in the mail!)
  • Christmas Photo (If you haven't selected a photo yet, you better take one fast.  We are actually planning on waiting for the next snow fall to take ours so we have a fresh layer of snow on the ground - it is one of our family traditions.)
  • Plan Christmas Menu (Whether your hosting or traveling to other's for Christmas, start planning your menu.  What are some Christmas dinner traditions for your family?)
  • Christmas Baking (Keep making all of your favorite Christmas sweets and then freezing some of each batch back that way you will have a variety to choose from to make cookie platters close to Christmas.  Check out my Iowa Christmas Cookie Exchange for 16 goodie recipes, including my family's favorite - Peanut Butter Balls.)

What is on your holiday check list this week?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

If you are feeling behind, check out my previous week's Holiday Check List for more ideas:

Holiday Check List - 1 Week Before ThanksgivingHoliday Check List - Thanksgiving Week

Comments for a Cause - Dance Marathon

It is December 1st which means it is time to talk about Comments for a Cause!  First thing to cover is my donation to the #NorthIowaBloggers Food Drive for the month of November.  Thank you for the 26 comments posted during the month, which results in a $13 donation.  I had a lot of fun with the #CanHunger Challenge earlier this month and look forward to delivering our food and monetary donations this Friday with my fellow #NorthIowaBloggers.  Thank you to everyone that is helping hungry families this holiday season.

In the month of December I am excited to be helping families with children with life threatening illness through the Dance Marathon fundraiser at Iowa State.  One of my readers, Courtney, reached out to me about this cause and I'm happy to help by donating $0.50 for every comment during the month towards Dance Marathon.

Let's hear more from Courtney on Dance Marathon:

This month’s Comments for a Cause truly shows the power of networking through 4-H. I first met Val when she was the President of my 4-H Club when I joined 4-H in fourth grade. Since then, I have continued to follow her blog on Facebook and Pinterest. That is when I first found out about her Comments for a Cause she does on her blog. I approached Val about doing Comments for a Cause for Dance Marathon, an organization near and dear to my heart since I started school at Iowa State, and she graciously agreed.

Dance Marathon is neither a dance nor a marathon; it is a celebration of life. (It’s also a fundraiser.) Dance Marathon is the largest student-run philanthropy on Iowa State’s campus, helping children with life threatening illnesses for 18 years, giving financial and emotional support to hundreds of families across Iowa. All money raised through the event is given directly to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital through the Children’s Miracle Network. This year’s Dance Marathon at Iowa State is January 23rd and 24th.

I first got involved with Dance Marathon my freshman year in college, participating as a dancer. I fell in love with the organization and have been a member of the Families Committee for the last three years. As a member of the Families Committee, I get assigned a family and serve as their contact. I have been partnered with the Graber family since they first joined Dance Marathon three years ago. This is a picture of me with the Graber family at last year’s Dance Marathon.


The Grabers are a member of Dance Marathon because they have a Miracle Kiddo named Gabe. To be “eligible” for Dance Marathon, a family has to have received care from a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. In Iowa, that is the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. Gabe is an energetic 4th grade boy who loves to read books, tell jokes, and cheer on the Cyclones. Before he was born, he was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome. Gabe’s right ventricle never fully developed, so he only has 1 pumping chamber in his heart. This defect is corrected with a series of 3 open heart surgeries—one at birth, one at 6 months old & one between 2-5 years old. Gabe had surgery at 6 months old and 2 ½ years old. He recovered well except for a stroke paralyzing his left side. He has fully recovered from the stroke but has weekly physical and occupational therapy due to significant delay in his fine motor skills with his left hand and foot. He sees a cardiologist once a year.

Some services that Iowa State Dance Marathon has helped fund at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital include:
  • Library materials (If you ever are at the hospital, you will notice the library is painted teal, Iowa State Dance Marathon’s color, to honor our donation.)
  • Patient support “comfort kits”–parking and food vouchers for family members during extended stays
  • Music therapy equipment
  • Infant CPR training kits
  • Surgery teaching model
  • Diversion tools
  • Zaky positioning tool in NICU–a parental simulation tool to stimulate development in premature infants
  • Video laryngoscope for PICU
  • MRI vision distraction tools
  • Continual improvement in recreational therapy

Above is a map that shows the patients Dance Marathon programs across Iowa support.

Thanks to the generous support so far, Iowa State Dance Marathon has made a 1 MILLION DOLLAR pledge toward the brand new, state-of-the-art Children’s Hospital opening in 2016 in Iowa City. This picture below shows the hospital when I visited one year ago. Click here to see the progress that has been made!


At ISU, our big event happens in January.  At this event, our participants (dancers) stay on their feet for FIFTEEN hours to symbolize our support for the families who spend countless hours in hospital waiting rooms.  But it’s not a punishment for us; it’s a party.  We listen to music, play games, hang out with the kids we help, and even do a bit of dancing. Watch last year’s Thank You Video to get a better visual for what the big event is like!

Dance Marathon is for the kids, and at Iowa State, that’s always our focus.  We build up to our big day all year long by raising money for the kiddos at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.  After a dancer raises $250, they get to come to the party in January.  In 2014, we raised over $427,000.00 together, for the kids.

As a member of the Families Committee, we host families at various events throughout the year. Some examples of events include a “Teal Gate” before an Iowa State football game as well as attending the football game, a Families Appreciation Dinner, the VEISHEA parade, and Make-A-Miracles.

Some Make-A-Miracles, similar to Make-A-Wish, I have help organize these past three years:

  • Matthew was the puck and stick boy at an Iowa State Hockey Game.
  • Gabe had a Captain Underpants party and Dav Pilkey sent him autographed copies of his Captain Underpants series!
  • Cy surprised Will for his 4th birthday party! 

If you would like to make a personal donation, feel free to donate here to help make miracles happen.  For more information about Iowa State’s Dance Marathon, check out their website.

Have you ever participated in Dance Marathon or have a Dance Marathon story you'd like to share?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Cookie Exchange - 16 Iowa Cookie Recipes

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is baking and indulging in Christmas Cookies!  I love making Christmas cookie plates as gifts and to bring to Christmas parties, so I start making, freezing and storing Christmas goodies now!  The key to a good Christmas cookie plate in my opinion is to have a diversity of goodies, so I like to make a couple different varieties weekly.  I asked some of my fellow Iowa bloggers what some of their favorite Christmas cookies are and am happy to share them as part of this Christmas Cookie Exchange!


Cookies from Left to Right, Top Row to Bottom Row:

Got your oven on preheat now?  Which one of these recipes are you excited to make?  Remember to Comment for a Cause!  Also, a special thanks to all of my fellow Iowa bloggers that helped contribute to my Iowa Christmas Cookie Exchange!