The Story of My Gardens | July

27 Jul

The Story of My Gardens | July | via

“Gardening is akin to writing stories.”  – Eudora Welty

I love this quote, no doubt because I am both a writer and a gardener. I’m not quite sure if my gardens tell stories, but perhaps if they did, they would say I love an overabundance of color (I’m not terribly matchy-matchy) and I enjoy trying new plants along with my tried-and-true specimens.  My gardens would also likely tell you that I have penchant for hydrangeas, white phlox, zinnias and any flowers with names that randomly connect back to my family.

Case in point: Joe-Pye Weed (for my son, Joe, of course); ‘Duke of Earl’ daylily (for Earl the pug), and ‘T. Rex’ Sedum, planted when my son was obsessive about dinosaurs.

My vegetable gardens (of which I have three), would tell you that the carrots are mostly for Earl the pug, the peppers are really puny this year because they haven’t particularly liked our weather, and the squash are horrified I have so many plants in such a small area.

Such is life in my gardens.

Take a look:

The Story of My Gardens | Limelight Hydrangea | via

‘Limelight’ hydrangea, dwarf variety – one of my absolute favorites. It’s just beginning to bloom.

The Story of My Gardens | Annabelle Hydrangea | via

‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas along the north wall of our house, bordered by several varieties of hosta and a few other shade-appreciating perennials. Annabelles remind me of my family farm; my mom still has annabelles on the north side of the house.

The Story of My Gardens | Daisy, Sedum and Phlox| via

‘David’ phlox, ‘T. Rex’ sedum, ‘Becky’ daisy and coneflower tell the story of the dog days of summer. I love how the phlox seem to glow a bright white at night. And truth be told, I have this variety of phlox in multiple locations in my gardens – I’m a little obsessed.

The Story of My Gardens | Goldsturm Rudbeckia| via

One of the best parts of gardening is giving or receiving plants from other gardeners. My mom just shared three ‘Goldsturm’ Rudbeckia plants with me in June and they love the spot I made for them – hours and hours of southern exposure to the sun.

The Story of My Gardens | 'Chincherinchee' | via

This is ‘Chincherinchee’ or Wonder Flower. I am fairly sure there couldn’t be a more perfect name for this amazing flower. I have five of these planted around the bird house you see in the background, but the best photos of this flower are close up. The detail is incredible.

The Story of My Gardens | Coneflower | via

I love coneflowers for many reasons but I especially appreciate their toughness.

The Story of My Gardens | Cotton Candy Petunia | via

While my gardens are full of perennials, I love to fill in with colorful annuals, like this ‘Cotton Candy’ petunia. It’s low-growing, spreads like crazy and is even brighter and more pink than this photo shows. With color, I am more of a “go big or go home” kind of gardener.

The Story of My Gardens | Bleeding Heart | via

I can’t tell you how excited I was to see one lone bloom on my new bleeding heart plant! Seriously. (#GardenNerd)

The Story of My Gardens | Lamb's Ears | via

My niece, Morgan, came for a visit this weekend and she and I walked around the gardens so she could see and touch some of the plants. The lamb’s ear was just about as soft and cuddly as Morgan – but not quite!

The Story of My Gardens | Gazing Ball | via

Can you spot Morgan and me in the gazing ball?  (And look – more ‘David’ phlox! I told you I was obsessed.)

The Story of My Gardens | Winter Squash | via

My winter squash is starting to take shape! True story: last year, I planted a seed packet that had a variety of mystery squash seeds in it just for fun and about 95 percent of what I got was spaghetti squash. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with spaghetti squash, it’s definitely not my favorite – I much prefer winter squash varieties like butternut and acorn – so I made sure I wasn’t getting any surprises this year.

The Story of My Gardens | Carrots! | via

The Story of My Gardens | Carrots! | via

This is the moment Earl the pug has been waiting for all summer: the first harvest of carrots from the garden! He received his special treat after supper tonight and now I know he will go crazy every time I step out the back porch to head to the garden. He can never get enough carrots.

What’s growing in your garden right now?


7 Ways to Enjoy a Small Town Parade

13 Jul

Happy Sunday night, everyone! How was your weekend?

Teacher Man, Joe and I drove out to the farm on Friday and enjoyed some time with family. My dad grilled the most Uh-Mazing turkey on Friday night that was the perfect complement to this light and tasty pasta salad. We finished off the meal with my mom’s peach crisp with maple cream sauce so no complaints from this girl.

Saturday was a weird weather day – it was humid but cloudy, and a light rain parked itself over my hometown (Hector, Minnesota) and threatened to to put a damper on the annual Corn Chaff Days parade. We all piled into two vehicles and were heading into town when my brother called me and said his daughter (my niece, Miss A.) had texted that the parade was cancelled and he could pick her up at the school.

After further investigation, however, we found out that while the marching band was cancelled, the parade itself would go on as planned. Whew!

Hector’s annual Corn Chaff Days is very much a typical small town parade – heavy on the tractors, trucks and general machinery. This isn’t a bad thing; rather, it’s source of pride in the community and you can tell the town’s agricultural roots are celebrated. I love that.

So what are the best ways to enjoy a small town parade? Here are seven I came up with as I was experiencing the parade on Saturday:

1) Enjoy it with family. In this case, my parents, sister, her daughter, my brother, his daughter and Joe and I took our spots on Main Street in front of the bank. A small-town parade is always better with your family around you!

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.comMy baby sister and I under the cover of an umbrella, waiting for the parade to start. Do you see a resemblance? :)

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.comMy farmer brother, Ladd, and sister, Jodi, with my niece, Miss Morgan.

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.comJoe and his cousin, Miss A.

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.comMy Dad loves his Miss Morgan time.

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.comMy Mom, Miss Morgan and the sis.

2) By visiting with a clown on Main Street. Here’s something you don’t see every day: my mom chatting it up with local clown who was walking the parade. Let’s face it, everyone in Hector seems to know everyone else; that’s how it works and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via

3) Listen to the bagpipes. This may be the first parade in Hector that didn’t have a polka band playing on a float (that I can recall, anyway), but we had two brave bagpipers who added a little Scottish touch to a town that tends heavily toward the Scandinavian and German heritages. (On an unrelated note, that building in the background, named the “News Mirror”, is where I wrote some of my first news stories while I was a journalism student at the University of Minnesota. I was a summer intern there for two years. Memories.)

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via

4) Wave to a politician. Our little parade always has at least one politician – and often more. Doesn’t every parade? This is Congressman Collin Peterson, who, incidentally, I will be meeting with in Washington DC next week to “talk turkey”, but that’s another story for another day …

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via

5) Admire the long line of tractors. Old tractors, new tractors, red tractors, green tractors, big tractors, little tractors. It’s all about the tractors in this parade – as it should be. Hector’s agricultural roots are traced back to the town’s very beginnings and like most small towns, farm implements are a welcome addition to any parade.

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via

6) Enjoy with a first-timer. My niece, Miss Morgan, is nearly 7 months old and this was her very first parade experience. She was looking a little skeptical at first but she loves being outside and warmed up to all the activity. Mostly, the parade was devoid of any crazy loud sounds that might freak her out. Except, that is, for a locomotive-turned-vehicle that emitted a pretty obnoxious noise every once in awhile. Lucky for Miss Morgan, her momma, Grandpa Michael and cousin Joe were there to cover her ears and let her know she was in good hands.

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via

7. With lots and lots of candy. An hour later, give or take, we all headed back to the farm for lunch. And for Joe and Miss A., that included lugging a very large bag full of a ridiculous amount of candy they picked up while at the parade. I called dibs on the Smarties. (I’m old school like that.)

6 Ways to Enjoy a Small-Town Parade | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.comDo you have any favorite ways to enjoy a parade?


Double Yolks Explained | Guest Post on Beef and Sweet Tea

10 Jul

Double Yolks Explained | via

A while back I found the most lovely blog, Beef and Sweet Tea, about a 5th generation beef cattle farm in the south. (Or perhaps the blogger, Emily, found me. I can’t quite remember exactly how that worked.)

I am not ashamed to admit I am completely enamored of the way Emily writes.

It’s very southern – like an easy, friendly drawl – so fluid with humor and beauty as she writes and shares photos of agriculture and whatever else suits her fancy. (See, I start writing about Emily and I’m throwing in phrases like “suits her fancy.” We don’t say that often enough here in the cold north country.) Whenever I read her posts, I want to sink down into my couch, put my feet up, sip my glass of wine and just enjoy.

Which, of course, I usually do.

A few months ago Emily contacted me about doing a guest post on double yolks, and of course, I immediately jumped at the chance. Notice I said several months ago. It’s taken me a while, but I finally made good on my promise this week. (Emily, by the way, was completely flexible and wasn’t worried in the least about my forthcoming post. I also like that about her.)

I am honored to be included on her blog today. As such, you MUST follow the link to the post on Emily’s blog; it’s a requirement. Seriously. I mean it. (Think of it like a field trip! And you’ll read all about her hen named Bobby Lou.)

And please, if you have a few minutes,  while you are there please take a full gander at Emily’s blog – you’ll learn about her family’s farm (she posts all sorts of agriculture-related information on Thursday) and some of her favorites (always on Friday). It’s a delight, I promise!

Click here to find out more about double yolks at Beef and Sweet Tea!

Double Yolks Explained | via


Stop the Chicken Bashing, Dr. Oz!

8 Jul

Dr. Oz Cries Foul Over Fowl  | via

Cue the scary video images and dramatic voiceover. Dr. Oz is at it again.

In an episode on his TV show today, he apparently “exposes the horrors” of conventional chicken production.

The full episode isn’t available on his website as of yet so, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to watch it all, but judging from the trailer, it looks like classic Dr. Oz.

  • 95% of us eat chicken every day … but is it safe?
  • Chickens go through multiple chemical baths in the slaughterhouse!
  • Gut-busting bacteria in chickens may be contaminating your food!

All the “good” stuff.

Only it’s not the accurate story. It’s more fear mongering than anything.

And if you’ve read some of my blog posts, you know I can’t stand that sort of fear marketing of our food system – the safest food system in the world, I might add.

Dr. Oz, by the way, just got called out a few weeks ago by Congress for, in fact, touting weight loss miracles that are anything but proven weight loss miracles. (You can read more here.) I’m hoping more and more people will come to see his true colors.

But I digress. Let’s go back to conventional chicken farming. While I regret that the full Dr. Oz episode hasn’t been posted for viewing yet, based on the trailer, I think I can cover a few general areas of information that are useful.

First, let’s start with the safety of the chicken you and I eat.

  • Americans eat 160 million servings of chicken every day (EVERY DAY!) and virtually all of them are eaten safely.
  • Raw poultry products certainly may contain naturally-occurring Salmonella. (So do fruits, vegetables, fish, etc., for that matter.) Chicken, however, is safe to eat 100% of the time when properly handled & cooked to 165 F.
  • The chicken industry has reduced Salmonella to all-time low levels. I work in the poultry industry every day and I can tell you straight out that farmers and food companies alike are doing everything they can to minimize salmonella in poultry as much as possible. They research and study and work together to figure out the best ways to raise and process these birds. Salmonella is taken very seriously – after all, we all want safe, healthy chicken on our tables.

For more information on Salmonella and food safety in chicken, click here.

So what about those chemicals used in chicken processing plants?

There are food-grade antimicrobials approved for use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration as a safe and effective way to kill potential bacteria, like Salmonella.

“Antimicrobials” are things like paracetic acid (PAA), chlorinated water and cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC). These sound scary but aren’t nearly so terrible when you know what they are.

Peracetic acid, for example, is an organic compound of, basically, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. It is permitted for use in both conventional poultry products and those labeled as “organic,” as well. Here’s a great (short) video from a veterinarian I know personally who talks about the safety of paracetic acid:


And CPC is an antiseptic that kills bacteria and other microorganisms and is commonly found in toothpaste, mouthwash and nasal sprays.

For more thorough information, head to this link for a Q & A on what chemicals are approved for use in chicken processing. 

Of course, the other component of the conventional chicken story is what’s called “vertical integration” – in other words, companies that handle all aspects of chicken production, from hatching and raising to processing and packaging.

Minnesota Chicken Farmer | via

Dr. Oz implies this is inherently bad – probably because it doesn’t sound very “Farmer in the Dell” or “Old McDonald-like”.

Well, the truth is chicken farming has evolved over the past several decades, just like everything else in our lives. Americans eat a lot of chicken (over 83 pounds per person per year!), and we need all kinds of chicken production to make this happen. We need large chicken companies and the 29,500 family farmers ( like Minnesota chicken farmer, Bill, pictured above) who work with them to raise the quantity of chickens purchased in grocery stores, restaurants and other foodservice establishments. (And I haven’t even mentioned the chicken that’s exported to other countries.) These companies and farmers provide consistently high quality and safe chicken and yield a variety of innovative chicken products for millions of people.

We also need other types of chicken production, including organic and smaller flocks for niche markets and other sources. Truth is, none of these production methods are inherently good or bad – it’s not that black and white; farming never is – so let’s please stop the chicken bashing.

That goes for you, too, Dr. Oz.

You can find more information about chicken farming at and at

And please feel free to share any comments or questions you have about chicken. I am happy to track down answers for you from actual chicken farmers and chicken companies. (Infographic below courtesy of the National Chicken Council.)

How Chicken is Produced - An Infographic | via



Family, Food & Fun on the Fourth

6 Jul

First of all, did you notice the alliteration in my blog title? I know – I love it too! (#GrammarNerd)

So it was a long 4th of July holiday weekend and in a crazy bit of good weather karma, the sun came out and the temperatures got warmer as the weekend went on. I happen to love the heat of July and I want it to feel like summer. No, actually I NEED it to feel like summer. If it doesn’t, I feel cheated and I get really worried that I’ll be wearing a sweater and snow boots and watching weather reports of blizzard warnings all too soon.


Let me refocus after that hideous thought.

On Friday, we packed up a cooler full of food, wine, beer and kid-friendly beverages and headed to “The Lake”. (This is what Minnesotans do in droves every summer weekend, and especially on the 4th of July.) My brother and sister-in-law own a cabin on a lake just 45 minutes west of our house and they invited a bunch of family to gather to celebrate the holiday.

I love getting together like this for many reasons, including:

1) The kids hang out all day outside – swimming, playing croquet and bocce ball, or just relaxing on the hammock. No need to track screen time on electronics because they hardly even think about sitting inside with their iPads or video games.

2) All kinds of good food and drink to enjoy at our leisure. My brother grilled up a whole mess of hamburgers, turkey burgers, hot dogs and brats, and we had a table full of salads, baked beans, watermelon and multiple desserts. If you are looking for some good ideas for your next cookout, I highly encourage you to check out these recipes – all were BIG hits with everyone at the cabin:

  • Taco Dip via Iowa Girl Eats – A healthier version of a layered taco dip with hummus and greek yogurt with great flavor
  • Southwest Chicken Chop Salad via Lauren’s Latest – A super yummy chopped lettuce salad with a light, creamy dressing
  • Broccoli, Grape and Pasta Salad via – A unique combo that’s utterly perfect for a summer picnic
  • Perfect M & M Cookies via Picky Palate – A big winner in the cookie department – we all loved these!

3) No schedule – just a whole bunch of down time, catching up on what’s happening with everyone, going for boat rides, taking the WaveRunner for a spin (or two or three), setting off some fireworks after the sun goes down, and just laughing at the chaos that ensues when seven (yes, seven) dogs get together at the cabin.

Teacher Man, Joe and I had so much fun, we stayed two nights so we could help my sister-in-law, Dana, celebrate her birthday on July 5. That wasn’t in the initial plan, but we couldn’t seem to drag ourselves away from the lake view and the good company. We arrived back home this morning, a little pink from the sun; low on energy after a couple of late evenings sipping wine on the patio; and entirely grateful for the time we got to spend with our family.

Enjoy the photos of our weekend and let me know in the comments if you did anything fun this weekend!

Laralita Champagne Cocktail | via

My drink of choice on the 4th – a “Laralita”, which was so named by my cousin’s wife, Kellie, in Texas when we visited them a few years ago. It’s easy and refreshing: fill a large glass (or cute, polka dot outdoor plastic cup like I brought with me to the cabin) with ice and pour a bunch of sparkling wine or champagne into it, top with a splash or two of white grapefruit juice, shake gently and enjoy!

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via

This is my Farmer Dad, who was enjoying his beverage of choice – an ice cold beer – with a little added fun that made us all laugh. Nice pink moustache!

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.comThere is always plenty of food to be had at any of our family get-togethers. The grillmaster on the 4th was my Farmer Brother, who handled both the charcoal and gas grills with ease. Many of us topped our cheeseburgers and turkey burgers with a fried egg and slices of bacon. If you’ve never had a fried egg on your burger, you really should make a concerted effort to do this soon. The combination – which Teacher Man and I first tried at pubs in Ireland many years ago – is fantastic!

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.comDessert option #1 – amazing M & M cookies that were the perfect combination of chewy and crispy and full of chocolate. I may have had several throughout the day.

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via

Dessert option #2 – My mom made these patriotic cupcakes that were super moist and completely delish – not to mention adorable.

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via

Dessert option #3 (we take our desserts very seriously) – an ice cream birthday cake from Dairy Queen to celebrate three birthdays – Teacher Man, my brother (Ladd) and my sister-in-law (Dana). Yes, Teacher Man asked the folks at Dairy Queen to put his name bigger as a joke. On the flip side, we actually didn’t realize they had spelled Dana’s name wrong until we were in the car, headed for the cabin, so I guess that little joke was on us!

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via

Obligatory cute photo of my niece, Morgan, with Grandma Marilyn (my mom). Morgan was decked out as patriotically as the cupcakes!

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via

General goofiness can and does ensue when Joe and his cousin, Audree, get together!

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via

And I love, love, love this photo of the older cousins reading to Miss Morgan.

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.comHave I mentioned we’re a bit of a dog family? You might recognize Earl the pug at the top. He was joined at the cabin by a German Shorthair (Avery) a French bulldog (Vinny), an English Bulldog (Louie), another pug (Murray) and a chocolate lab (Hunter). And believe it or not, there is one dog that I didn’t get a picture of (sorry, Finley)!

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via

Teacher Man and Miss Morgan. This one always makes me smile.

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via

More goofiness, brought on, no doubt, by copious amounts of Gatorade, M & M cookies and ice cream cake.

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.comTrue story: Miss Morgan loves when her auntie takes #selfies of her with the iPhone. Seriously. That girl gives me a big smile pretty much every time I aim that phone at her!

Family, Food and Fun on the Fourth | via

And finally … fireworks!





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