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Blogger Book Club: Girl on the Train, Bright Side, The Detective and Mrs. Jeffries, Buried in a Bog

I drive a lot – more than 8 hours between Monday and Friday – and I like to listen to books on tape while I drive.  I check them out from my library through the Overdrive app and have heard some great ones that way.

But earlier this month, I discovered podcasts.  I downloaded PocketCast and most of my “listening” time has been spent trying out new podcasts, instead of “reading.”

So I don’t have as many reviews to share this month, but they are all good reviews!


The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries (Mrs.Jeffries Mysteries Book 1)

Mrs. Jeffries, the housekeeper for The Inspector, sneaks around with the other household servants to solve a mystery for their employer, and then gracefully lead him to the correct conclusion, and he doesn’t have a clue (pun intended.)

The story was a light-hearted mystery, with interesting characters brought to life by the reading of Lindy Nettleton (I listened to the audiobook) and I really enjoyed it.  It was part “Nancy Drew” and part “Downton Abbey” and mild enough that I didn’t mind if my 6 year old overheard it. “Mrs. Jeffries” is a good pick if you’re looking for something that won’t make you cry your eyes out or question humanity.

(By the way, I much prefer the cover for the audiobook, don’t you? Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have chosen the book if I’d seen the cover the for the paperback instead.)



Buried in a Bog (A County Cork Mystery)

When Maura Donovan returns to her grandmother’s homeland, Ireland, she gets more than she bargained for. 

I enjoyed Buried in a Bog, despite the painfully obvious title, probably because of the setting and fantastic reading of Amy Rubinate (again, I listened to the audiobook.) But this wasn’t a mystery, really.  The mystery played in the background as Maura’s journey of self-discovery took the main stage. Like The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries, this book was a nice break from the deeper novels my blogger book club chose.


Blogger Book Club Reviews:


(March’s pick) The Girl on the Train

Rachel, a divorced alcoholic who commutes by train to London, finds herself daydreaming about a couple who lives along the train tracks. After studying them from afar, she becomes more involved in their lives than she ever though possible.

Dark and unpredictable, this was definitely a page turner like Gone Girl, without as many loose ends or such a disappointing ending.



(April’s Pick) Bright Side

When Kate Sedgwick leaves her home in California to attend college in Minnesota, she brings with her a secret – er..secrets. And she thinks she knows what the future holds for her, until she meets (and falls in love with) Keller Banks, who has secrets of his own.

I didn’t expect to like this book, because I’d heard a bad review.  But, I found myself pretty heavily invested by the time I was 1/4 way through, and couldn’t put it down after that.  The main characters were almost too good to be true, and the push and pull of Kate and Keller’s relationship was perfect. I will say, however, that this book is probably written for a slightly younger audience, but I’m at the stage where I look back fondly on my college years (and wish I could go back!) and Kate and Keller’s story reminded me of the excitement of falling in love with my own tall, dark, and handsome college sweetheart (who is now my tall, dark and handsome husband.)


Next month we’re reading Home Is Where My People Are by fellow blogger Sophie Hudson (which has the most beautiful cover I’ve ever seen.)

Be sure to check out the reviews from my fellow book clubbers:





Meet 6 New (or Improved) Iowa Bloggers!

Celiac disease, Type 1 Diabetes, bratwurst, running, quilting, conservation, volunteering, parenting – what do these things have in common? They are all topics covered by the bloggers I’ve been working with recently!

One of my dreams came true this past month. For the last couple of years, I’ve really wanted to combine two of my passions: teaching and blogging.  And in April, thanks to Iowa Corn and the Iowa Turkey Federation, I got to do just that.

new bloggers

With our ag organizations’ support, I was able to bring together a small group of new and aspiring Iowa bloggers, and help them get off on the right foot.  The group met one night a week for four weeks, for what was really a crash course in blogging, writing, photography, social media and more.  We had a lot of fun, and I think all of us learned a lot (including me!)

After creating the course, I decided I need a “home” for it online.  So I am launching another website – this one will focus on social media, blogging, and storytelling, with an agriculture twist.  If you are a farmer, I encourage you to check out KatieOlthoff.com and sign up for my email list. I have a few freebies for my email subscribers and will be putting my blogging course content into an ebook for subscribers.

And be sure to check out these new (and/or improved!) bloggers:

Val from Corn, Beans, Pigs and Kids.

I live by the saying "Bloom where you are planted."  I am proud to be a farmer, a farmer's wife and a stay at home mom.  Combine that passion with my love for my community and volunteering, there always seems to be "fields of opportunities" for me and my family in rural North Iowa.
My blog shares all of my life's passions and roles.  At the heart of it all is my growing family.  They are the ones who motivate me to do my best and be the best wife, mom and role model possible.  My family members include (all of our children's nicknames are what we referred to them as before they entered the world - Little (LP), Mini (MP) and Junior (JP)):
  • My Farmer:  AKA my husband of seven years.  We met and started dating while we were freshman at Iowa State University and married a year after graduating.  He enjoys farming, butchering and smoking meat, and hunting.  My Farmer is not only my husband but my best friend.  
  • LP:  Our son is 4 years old and loves using his imagination!  He likes pretending to be a superhero, an astronaut, animals, Daddy, etc.  You name it, he's probably pretended to be it.  He also enjoys putting things together and taking things apart; he loves to figure out how things work!  He also loves helping on the farm.
  • MP:  Our oldest daughter will be 2 at the end of May and is known for her big smile and big laugh!  She loves reading books and playing with her baby dolls, which makes having a real life baby in our house a treat for her.  She is her brother LP's best friend and gives her sister JP kisses and hugs all day long.  MP is my right hand gal in the tractor!
  • JP:  Our youngest daughter was born in January of 2015.  She enjoys watching her older siblings and learning how to be a country girl.  She is an easy going baby who has jumped right in and adjusted well to our family's active lifestyle.
  • Bailey:  My Farmer's and my dog who we received as a wedding present from one of my sisters.  She is a great companion and playmate to all of us.

Sheila from Sheilapalooza

Hi everyone! My name is Sheila and I’m a Sheiliac. What’s a Sheiliac you ask? Well – it’s really just my name and Celiac Disease put together. Why? Because I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in the fall of 2012 and it’s who I am, it’s a big part of my life and it’s never going to go away. I’m also a farmwife and mom of two – a sweet farm boy (G-money) and a sassy Diva. Sophie (a miniature schnauzer) our inside dog and Lucy (a black lab) our outside dog complete our family.

I can’t forget my “other” full-time job! I work at the Iowa Turkey Federation as the Director of Membership Services. I love it. I get to visit with farmers and all the companies that supply goods to the farmers and I plan the parties – I mean meetings. I also design our magazine –Turkey Talk. It lets me be creative and showcase all the wonderful things our organization, famers and allied members do throughout the year.
Why I started blogging – well that’s actually a really long story but my friend Katie, from On the Banks of Squaw Creek – has told me and told me I needed to. I had seriously thought about it when I (and my daughter) were diagnosed with Celiac Disease but then my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and I knew it was time.
So what is Sheiliac going to blog about anyway? Good question. Seriously. This is why it took me so long. What the heck did people want to read about and why would they want to read mine??? I struggled. Now – I know. Hearing other people’s struggles and success with Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes has been a life saver. It makes it easier somehow. So….
  • The Diva & Diabetes – I will share the stories about my sassy little Diva living with Type 1 Diabetes and anything else related to her – not to mention our favorite diabetic recipes.
  • Sheiliac – it’s really all about me. LOL. Seriously though – my life, celiac disease and gluten free recipes. Trust me, my grandma (GG) is awesome at making recipes into GF recipes. LOVE HER.
  • Sparkling Chaos – Life is awesome but let’s face it, it’s always a little chaotic. Plus I am a major sucker for fashion, glitter, sequins, design and parties.
  • Levis & Boots – my husband and our little farm boy and of course our farm. What’s on the farm? Glad you asked – we areturkey farmers and we also row crop corn and soybeans. It’s awesome and I can’t wait to help you understand farming more.
Other stuff I love and that I just might blog about sometime – DIY, summer life – aww, warm nights and steamy days, water skiing, fitness and photography.
All of this makes up Sheilapalooza – it’s a crazy life but hey it is what it is. So let’s be friends – I’d love to know about your chaotic life too!

Ashley from The Journey by Ashley Smeby

The Journey
My name is Ashley, and this is my journey. I grew up on a farm in northern Iowa where my passion for agriculture began.I am currently a student at Iowa State University studying Agronomy and Animal Science. 
Why the journey you ask?
1.) This crazy thing we call life is the journey 
2.) Each new day is a different journey worth finding joy in
3.) The journey through my final years of school as a Sophomore at Iowa State 
4.) Being raised by faith, each new day is a journey in our faith whether the day ends in smiles or tears my God is always leading my journey. 
I began blogging after starting a communications internship, and realized how important it is to tell our individual story in agriculture. 

Kellie from Home Again Finnegan

Home Again Finnegan
“I am a mom in central Iowa advocating the family farm!  We are the 4th generation on our farm and have lots of stories to tell.  I grew up on a farm in western Iowa.  I went to Iowa State University and majored in Forestry and Agronomy.  While at ISU I met the love of my life and moved to the farm.  We have 2 wonderful kids, of whom most of my stories surround.  The Lord has looked after me, and given me great responsibility to tell my story!”

Emily from Wynns of Change

“My name is Emily.  I am a born and raised fifth generation Iowa farm girl who has a passion for her family, her new marriage and her family farm.  I am lucky enough to live on the family farm; where my husband and I raise hogs, cattle, corn and soybeans with my brother and sister-in-law and my mom and dad.
I work at my dream job; where I have the opportunity to educate and inform the million plus visitors of the Iowa State Fair each year on agriculture. My husband and I may have off farm jobs but we get to come home and live our farm dreams every night right along side my farm family.”

Mama Hen from Beneath the Old Oak Trees

Beneath the Old Oak Trees
“Welcome to my daily life as a mother, wife, cook, gardener, runner, reader, world traveler, educator, and blogger.  I began my journey in a small, midwestern town with parents who were open-minded; loved local adventure, nature, sports, and most of all family.  I spent summers on the softball diamond and the school year running cross country, track and playing golf, all the while with my nose constantly in my books.  At a young age I developed a love for learning and that grew into a teaching career.  This passion of learning took me to attend college out of state in a large city and, eventually, around the world to England, Ireland, Italy, and Hawaii.  After all of this travel, and much adored city-living, my heart still belonged back home with my high school sweetheart, whom I married.  We settled just outside of my hometown and live on an acreage adjacent to our large family-owned century farm.  We raise turkeys, grow corn and soybeans and, of course, have started a little brood of our own kiddos.”

Are you an Iowa blogger? Share a link to your blog in the comments so we can all get to know each other!

Bird Flu: What You Need to Know


Bird flu is trending on facebook tonight.

But truthfully, it’s been “trending” in my thoughts and prayers for weeks now.

Ever since the first outbreak in the Midwest, which took place on a breeder farm for the hatchery we use, I’ve thought about bird flu (or highly pathogenic avian influenza – HPAI) almost hourly.

The first two weeks, I barely slept.  I had a constant tension headache and my jaw hurt from clenching my teeth. Why? Because HPAI is unlike any other disease for poultry.  There is no vaccine and no treatment.  Infected poultry show few symptoms, and after a 21 day incubation period, die quickly.  Entire barns can be wiped out in a matter of hours. And to keep the disease from spreading, all remaining birds on the affected farms are euthanized as soon as possible.

An outbreak of bird flu is absolutely devastating for the farmers involved. It is heartbreaking to see livestock die, especially when we work so hard to care for them. It is truly a poultry farmer’s worst nightmare, and my prayers are with those who have been affected.

But there’s no reason you, the consumer, should be worried right now. Here’s what you need to know:

bird flu

  • There is very little concern that this will affect human health. The virus can mutate to affect humans, but anyone who has been in contact with infected flocks is being monitored by public health officials, and none have contracted the flu.
  • There is no food safety risk associated with poultry or eggs because of HPAI.  ALL flocks are routinely tested for bird flu, and infected poultry does NOT enter the food chain. (Eggs, however, are safe after they have been pasteurized, so the eggs from affected farms may enter the food supply after pasteurization.)
  • Although there have been more than 40 outbreaks in commercial turkey flocks, avian influenza has only affected 1% of the turkeys raised in the US. Turkey prices have not been affected at this time.
  • Avian influenza has affected approximately 1% of the egg laying hens in the US. Egg prices are not expected to rise from this latest outbreak.

If you raise chickens or other poultry, you need to be prepared. Find out how to protect your flock here.

And keep America’s poultry farmers in your prayers, especially those affected by this disease. Although there is no food safety risk and minimal human health risk, it is absolutely devastating for those directly affected by the outbreak.

(For up to date info on outbreaks, visit the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website.)

8 Tips to Keep Container Gardens Alive and Thriving

I don’t know about you, but potted plants are one of my favorite ways to add color and d├ęcor to my yard.  And working with Nicole from Red Granite Farm for the past couple of years has taught me a thing or two. And today I want to share what I’ve learned with you.IMG_5339

Potted Plants: 8 Tips to Keep them Alive and Thriving

1.  Containers for annuals should be at least 7 inches deep. This leaves plenty of room for the roots to grow and plenty of soil to hold moisture (so you don’t have to water as often!)

2.  Shallow containers should be reserved for succulents, hens and chicks, or moss roses. These have shallow root systems and don’t require a lot of water.  They actually like it a little dry.

(I know this looks a little sparse right now, but it sold before we could get a picture of it all filled in!)

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3.  Containers should have drainage holes.  Too much water can be as much of a problem as too little water.  If you can NOT put drainage holes in your container, use rocks (or recycled plastic or metal, like pop bottles or cans) on the bottom to give water a place to pool.


4. Don’t overcrowd your plants. The container should look sparse at first.  The plants WILL get bigger and the roots need plenty of space.  Overcrowded containers slow plant growth and dry out really quickly.IMG_4643The photo above is the end of April, when this was potted.  The photo below is from the end of June.IMG_5339

5. Use potting soil in your containers.  Potting soil is formulated to hold water and, at the same time, drain well.  If you have an extra large container, fill the bottom with something lightweight and NOT biodegradable – like the plastic pots your plants came in, cans or plastic bottles.


6. Fertilize your potted plants.  Nicole adds a slow-release fertilizer to the top layer of soil when she plants her containers.img_8044

7.  Check to see if your plants need watering by sticking your finger in the soil.  If it’s damp, they’ll be fine.  If it’s dry, water.  On hot summer days in a sunny location, some containers will need watered twice a day.

8.  Containers and baskets with a coir lining will need watered more often.


Any other tips? Or questions?  Let me know!

A Woman for President?


I know there’s going to be a lot of talk about gender in the 2016 elections, and I feel the need to weigh in. As an Iowan, I am proud to take part in our first-in-the-nation caucuses. I’m not sure who I’ll be supporting, and I’m not even sure whether I’ll caucus with the Republicans or Democrats. But you can be assured that I’ll be paying close attention to the early candidates and doing my best to make an informed decision.

But there is one question I already know the answer to: whether or not a woman can be president. Because we should be focusing on a different (and much more important) issue: whether it’s the right woman.

I truly believe that a woman president would not be a bad thing for the United States, but only if it’s the right woman. The right woman can bridge the divide between the parties and bring a different perspective to the White House. The right woman can help shatter glass ceilings and provide girls (and other women) with an amazing role model for success and leadership. The right woman can use her God-given talents to lead our country in a way that hasn’t been done before.

kristof quote - women in politics

So, let’s not discount any candidates based on their gender, and let’s not support them solely for the same reason.  Think critically about what each candidate has to offer, including their gender, and vote for the one you believe would make the best president.

Greener Grass Ahead

Last night, I drove home in a storm.  Rain turned to blinding snow in my headlights as I crept along through the pitch black night. When I finally made it home, I tucked my boys in to bed, made bottles for the lambs and had to head back outside to feed them, all the while grumbling about the miserable, un-April like weather.

Things were much worse for a friend of mine.  Her farm, several hundred miles south of mine, was hit by a tornado, her barn was completely ravaged, and her kitchen destroyed by a tree that crashed through the roof. The storm had devastating consequences for her.

But this morning, the landscape (and my perspective) have changed.  As I look out my kitchen window, I see bright green grass, the likes of which we haven’t seen in months.  And I am reminded that the grass is always greener where we water it.

grass is greener where you water it

Sometimes, that water comes in the form of a storm.  Although we’d much prefer a gentle rain, God knows that a raging storm makes a much bigger impact.

And after the storm clouds clear away, we are left with new opportunities. Grass, dormant all winter, comes back to life. Old trees fall and new ones grow up in their places. Kitchens are demolished, only to be rebuilt, better than ever. And our hearts, and faith, and trust in the Lord, become stronger than ever.

A series of gentle rain storms also initiate change, but it is a much slower process. The storms in our lives are here for a reason. God uses them to give us new perspectives and new opportunities.  Sometimes, when the wind is rushing around us and we can’t see more than a few feet ahead, it’s hard to believe that the sun will shine again.  But faith in God’s love and His promise of a new day usher us through the storms, until we can see the green grass with our own eyes.

Dear God, lead me through this storm, and help me see the green grass and new opportunities that lie ahead. Amen.

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Raising a Child who Perseveres

When Adam was just a baby, I remember watching him play in his carseat, trying his hardest to reach the dangling toy above his head.  While I got ready for work, he kept at it for more than 10 minutes.  Later that day, working with a middle school student who seemed to give up before he even tried, I thought back to Adam. He spent more time trying to solve his problem (catch the toy) than most of my students would have.

I think some children are born with more will-power and perseverance than others.  Just like some are born with faster developing gross motor skills (not mine!) or a more laid-back disposition.  But a fear of failure or poor attitude can cause a child to lose the will to succeed that they may have been born with.

How do we encourage perseverance? My experience with my students (and my own boys) helped me come up with a few simple steps to encourage children to keep on trying.


Simple Steps to Encourage Children to Keep Trying

1. Model perseverance.  I’m a firm believer in modeling the behavior you want your children to replicate.  When they see you working hard to solve a problem or fix something, you show them that perseverance is important to you.

2. Talk about it!  Tell your children about a time you had to work hard to learn a new skill or find the solution to a problem.  If you are actively modeling perseverance, describe what you’re doing.  “Ugh. I tried this and I tried that and the toilet still won’t flush right!  I’m going to keep trying though – I want to fix this!”

3. Emphasize a growth mindset.  There are two “mindsets” according to psychologist Carol Dweck. (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck) A person with a fixed mindset believes that they are born with certain skills and that is their lot in life.  A person with a growth mindset believes they can develop skills through practice and learning.  Practice may not make perfect, but it DOES make you better.  Look for examples of this in your child’s life and point it out.  “Wow, Adam! At Christmas, you couldn’t read nearly as many words as you can now! I can tell you’ve been practicing a lot at school.”

4. Don’t push them too hard.  I know, this seems backwards, right? If we want our kids to try hard, we have to encourage them to do so! That’s true, but we also have to take a second and think about whether or not the problem or activity is developmentally appropriate for them.  Teachers refer to this as the “zone of proximal development.” There are things that children can do independently, and then there are things that are just  outside that range – that’s the zone of proximal development.  For example, I would not force my preschooler to write a whole sentence if he can not write his name legibly.  A sentence is beyond his zone of proximal development. My kindergartener, on the other hand, can spell several words and knows a sentence begins with a capital and ends with a period.  He could (and should) write a sentence, even if it takes awhile to do it!

5. Focus on small successes.  Never punish a failure.  How many times has fear of failure kept you from trying something new? My fear of looking ridiculous has kept me from participating in team sports since I was in elementary school. Maybe if I’d had a growth mindset related to sports, and someone had helped me focus on small improvements I was making (instead of calling me butterfingers every time I didn’t catch the ball) I would have tried harder and enjoyed myself more.

6. Don’t say, “This is easy.”  Acknowledge when your child is doing something difficult, and then acknowledge their successes.


Always remember, your child isn’t perfect, but neither are you.  And sometimes, there are situations that call for your child to “give up.” But those situations should be the exception, not the rule.  Encourage a growth mindset and perseverance, and someday, your children (or their spouses or employers) will thank you.

Looking back on 3

My baby turned 4 last weekend.  When he woke up on his birthday, he looked down at his body and said, “But I don’t wook bigger! Maybe in a few years…”

Three and four year olds are full of funny quotes, have you noticed?  And they’re still young enough that they don’t mind when you laugh at them.

I think it’s only fair that I spread some of Isaac’s funnies around, so that you, too, can laugh at the boy whose name actually means “laughter.”


When I grow up, I want to be…..’Piderman!2014-07-24 11_12_39

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Mom, you’re the best mom in the world. The best mom in the whole wide world.  The best mom in the whole wide world….that lives with me.


Isaac: How will you snuggle me when I’m a grown up?

Me: When you’re a grown up, you’ll live in your own house.

Isaac: But I’ll miss you!

image2014-09-06 11_52_19

Brinley is my best friend.

But my real best friend is Adam.2014-07-05 17_45_30

2014-09-08 19_12_13


Isaac: I'm going to call you Mommy Poopy.
Me: I don't like that name.
Isaac: How about Farty Poopy?

image2014-11-03 14_36_24

Me: Isaac, don't do that!
Isaac: Why?
Me: Because you might fall.
Isaac: But I might not fall!
(In a cute little sing-songy, eternally optimistic voice.)



Before a reporter came to the farm, I tried to prep Isaac...
"Isaac, she's going to ask if you help on the farm, and what are you going to say?"
"I'm gonna say, 'Who ARE you?'"


Adam: (In the bathtub) Isaac, quit spitting!
Isaac: But I have to spit out the pee water!
Adam: It's not pee water.
Isaac: Yes, it is! I peed in it!


Happy birthday, Isaac! May you continue to live up to your name and bring us lots of laughter forever!