Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Farm that Built Me

I can remember where I was when I heard Miranda Lambert's song 'The House that Built Me' a decade ago. I was in New Mexico for a six-week dairy program between my sophomore and junior years of college. I vividly remember one of my classmates saying how the song is so relatable to many people because we all have that house we grew up in that helped shape us into who we are today. At 20, I didn't think too much of it. At 30, I do.

For me, that house was a two-story white farm house with a kitchen overlooking one of the cow pastures. It was full of cow decorations, Mary Moos and so many family photos. If you didn't know better, you might think the dairy farm had moved indoors. Today, you'd think that of my place. It was where my brother and I grew up. It was where we learned about hard work. Actually, a lot of that also took place in the barn, on the tractor, and in the driveway where we would lead our show cows around.

That house. That barn. It was home. It always will be.

However, that wasn't our parents house. As the kids of very busy parents who both worked in the airline/aviation business, we were lucky to have dairy farmers for grandparents. Although the milk cows have been gone and the stantion barn empty for years, you couldn't convince me that Grandpa wasn't overjoyed the day two Holstein heifers arrived back on the farm as our first 4-H projects.

This house. This farm. This is the farm that built me.

The hardest thing I ever did was leave. It gets easier every time, but I'll never forget that nervous feeling the summer I jetted off to New Mexico to a small town I had to find on a map because I didn't know where it was. 'What was I doing?! They could use my help at home. I only know one person in this program. What did I get myself into?' All of these thoughts passed through my mind while boarding the plane in Salt Lake City on the second of three flights to Clovis. Leaving that summer opened many doors into the dairy industry for me. It reassured me that I could stand on my own two feet in a place where I knew no one; that sure came in handy later when I moved to Indiana. And Grandpa? He was always sad to see me leave. It broke my heart everytime. And everytime he would say, "I'll be waiting for you. Good bye!'

It's hard to describe exactly what growing up on a farm does to you. Between the new show calves that have yet to grasp the concept of walking on a halter and the frustration caused by equipment breaking as you are trying to beat the rain because you've got hay down in the field, something happens. Something special. And it definitely doesn't feel special at the time. At the end of the day, it's building perserverance. It's building grit. And it's building character.

It's also building tight-knit families and communities.

I never could imagine what life would be like without the farm or without my grandparents. Then Grandpa passed away at 93 and I fell apart. And in February, we lost Granny. I haven't really talked about it. I haven't known how. Even as a writer, I couldn't find the right words. They were the backbone of our farm and of our family. They shaped us into the people we are today and gave us the best gift of all: a love of farming.

As farmers, we talk about the number of generations involved on the farm. It's something to take pride in. Passing it to the next generation can create challenges, but it's the perserverance, grit and character that keeps each generation going. Milk prices are terrible. Many farms are struggling. And yet, they can't quit. I hear ya. Once it's in your blood, it feels like losing yourself to lose the farm. Fortunately, we didn't.

Before I was old enough to remember any memories, I was riding on the tractor with Grandpa, grocery shopping with Granny and tagging along on random adventures. Before long, it was ingrained in me. I'm beyond thankful to be involved in the dairy industry.

June is National Dairy Month. It's a time to celebrate the dairy community, our cows and the amazing product produced by an industry that creates so many jobs on and off the farm and impacts the community in a big way.

For me, June Dairy Month is a time to reflect back on what brought me to where I am today. It was my Grandpa. My 4-H leaders. My family. Our dairy community. Our farm. It truly takes a village, especially to raise a 4-H kid. And for that, I'm truly grateful.

My Grandpa's legacy is something I strive to carry on each day. It drives my work, my passion for dairy and the kind of person I am. So many families in the dairy industry could say the exact same thing. And that's also part of what makes this community more of a family.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Almond Crusted Tilapia

If you are looking for a dinner option that is light, filling and delicious, you'll want to add this Almond Crusted Tilapia to your menu rotation.

Many people create New Years Resolutions each year and many of those go out the window before January is over. Especially those weight loss and fitness goals. If losing a few pounds is on your 'To Do' list this year, check out my weight loss series here. Losing weight is HARD. There is no short cut and no quick fix. It takes time, patience and a lot of perseverance. Last year, I lost 30 pounds. I wanted to increase my energy and more importantly, my confidence. I'd struggled with my weight on and off since I was 8 years old and it took more than 20 years to find the real secret to losing weight. Now I'm down to the last few pounds and onto the lifelong journey of maintaining it. Like I said, no quick fix.

While exercise is a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle, about 80 percent of the battle is nutrition. Planning meals ahead of time gives you more control of what you are eating and also saves you money at the grocery store since you are only buying ingredients you actually need.

If you don't have a food processor, you can use a blender or similar device to chop the almonds.

Almond Crusted Tilapia


  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Tilapia filet
  • Coating (use for multiple filets): 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, 2 ounces almonds, thyme, rosemary, pepper


  1. Add almonds, garlic powder, grated parmesan cheese, thyme, rosemary and pepper to food processor. Grind until finely chopped
  2. Coat tilapia filets evenly with Greek yogurt and then with almond mixture
  3. Broil fish on high until crust is crispy and a golden brown. Check on it regularly to prevent it from burning or drying out. After 5-7 minutes, I start checking on it every two minutes. 

How to make blackberry jam

Homemade jam. There's really nothing like it. Just the idea brings back memories of Mom and Granny canning at the end of each summer. It wasn't until a few years ago that I decided to try my hand at it and turns out I'm not too bad at it. You'll love this Blackberry Jam recipe!

Blackberries grow like weeds in our pastures, and while our cows love their treats from the garden, they seem to leave the wild blackberries alone. It may be the thistles. Smart cows.

Jam is easy to make and you can make it year round. I love to use extra fruit from canning to make jam, but have also been known to use frozen fruit. Frozen fruit is readily available in the freezer aisle and tastes just as good in jam. This is actually what I usually give to people as Christmas gifts.

Blackberry jam is perfect as ice cream topping, on toast, in PBJ sandwiches and anywhere else you need something sweet. I made a marinade with blackberry jam and barbecue sauce last week for chicken and we loved it. Very versatile.

Mom's secret is to add a small amount of butter to the berry and sugar mixture while it is on the stove to reduce foaming.

This makes about 8 cups of jam.

Blackberry Jam


  •  4 cups crushed blackberries or 8 cups of whole berries (frozen or fresh)
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 pouch Certo Premium Liquid Fruit Pectin
  • 1 tablespoon butter


To prepare jam:

  1. Start with about 8 cups of blackberries
  2. Crush berries
  3. Use a dry measuring cup to measure crushed berries (you should have about 4 cups of crushed berries) and sugar and place in a large pan or stockpot
  4. Mix sugar and berries together
  5. Add 1 tablespoon butter (This reduces foaming)
  6. Cook on medium to high heat until it comes to a rolling boil
  7. Set a timer for 60 seconds
  8. Add the pectin 
  9. Stir continuously for 60 seconds 
  10. Promptly remove from heat
  12. When jam is done cooking, remove jars from the baking tray and place rightside up on a towel on the counter
  13. Use a funnel on the jars and a ladle to add jam to the jars
  14. Wipe the rims of all jars
  15. Place lids on jars (always use new lids; you can reuse jars and bands after cleaning and sanitizing them, but not lids)
  16. Tighten bands on jars
  17. Turn jars upside down for about 10 minutes
  18. Turn jars rightside up
  19. You should hear the lids "pop" (seal)
  20. Let jars cool on a towel on the counter

To prepare jars: (Do this as the same time as jam is cooking)

  1. Place a baking tray over 2 burners on the stove
  2. Add jars upside down
  3. Add enough water to cover the rims of the jars (ensure that there is enough water throughout the process; you may need to add more)
  4. Turn the heat on high for both burners
  5. Periodically move the jars around so they heat evenly (be careful, they will be hot)

Enjoy the jam!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Healthy New Year Recipe Round Up

Welcome to 2018! If you are like nearly 40 percent of Americans, you set some New Year's resolutions to improve your life in some way this year. Did you know that only 8 percent actually achieve those outcomes outlined in their resolutions? 8 PERCENT!

Striving to live a healthier life is a common resolution set by many. If this includes you, check out these healthy recipes to start the year off on the right foot. Don't forget to add your favorite workouts, enough sleep, and some scheduled downtime to round out your healthy lifestyle.

If losing weight is on your bucket list this year, you've come to the right place. Weight loss is tough. It has been a personal struggle since I was 8 years old. 2017 turned out to not be an ordinary year and with the help of a personal trainer, I lost 30 pounds. It was a complete overhaul of my workouts and the way I eat. I'm not done yet and realize that maintaining the weight loss will be a lifelong adventure.

For tips on losing the weight, check out these posts.
Planning for weight loss
The secret to weight loss
What happens when you get injured
10 Healthy Recipes

Let's talk nutrition - since it is about 80 percent of the weight loss equation. You cannot outrun your fork and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to meal plans since everyone's body responds differently. Try out different things and find something that works for you and your lifestyle to achieve your goals. A tip for everyone: add protein to each meal.

Losing weight is about finding a balance you can live with. Not everything has to be 'clean eating' - although everyone seems to have their own definition of what clean eating is. Balance side dishes with the main course. Portion size is also very important in keeping calories in check. The 80:20 method is a good rule of thumb; eat healthy 80 percent of the time and leave some room for the occasional indulgence. This can help prevent binges on your favorite unhealthy treat.

The trick that worked for me is managing the margin between calories consumed and calories burned. Recording food in the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, which links to and interacts with the FitBit app, makes it very easy to do this daily without much extra effort or thought. You just have to keep yourself accountable. If you eat it, record it. No exceptions. Keeping promises like this to yourself boosts confidence in the fact that you can do this! You can lose the weight. It takes (a lot of) time, patience, and determination. Don't give up if you have an off day - it will happen! - or if you fall off the wagon and certainly don't beat yourself up about it. Just get back on track immediately. You got this.

Here are some recipes from my friends' and my recipe boxes to get you started:

Ham, Potato and Cheddar Quiche
Low Carb Egg Muffins
Southwest Breakfast Casserole
Spinach Tomato Veggie Omelet

Berry Chicken Salad
Chinese Chicken Cabbage Salad with Peanut Sauce
Southwest Fajita Steak Salad
Very Veggie Pizza Pasta Salad

Slimming Vegetable Soup

Garlic Parmesan Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Southern Slow Cooker Green Beans
Pineapple Baked Beans 
Rainbow Fruit Salad
Spicy Roasted Zucchini

Main Courses:
Caramel Apple Pork Chops
Cocoa Chile Pork Tenderloin with Triple Cherry Sauce
Grilled BBQ Chicken
Lemon Pepper Tilapia
Low Carb Salmon Patties
Rosemary Baked Halibut
Sesame Ginger Steak Cabbage Boats
Sweet & Sour Chicken 

Crock Pot:
Chicken Taco Bowls
Crock Pot BBQ Chicken Wings
Crock Pot Beef Brisket
Crock Pot Chicken Fajitas
Slow Cooker Honey Dijon Ham
Slow Cooker Pineapple Chicken 

This post was sponsored by The Glass Barn, which is funded by the Indiana Soybean Checkoff. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

What happens when you get injured

Everything was going so well. You were on point with nutrition and your workouts were going flawlessly - until you got injured. A pulled hamstring or worse can derail the best of goals and intentions.

So what do you do now?

There are two options: (1) throw in the towel and go back to your old ways of eating and not exercising, or (2) modify your approach.

In an effort to up my running game, I joined a running club late this fall. Like-minded people, scheduled runs - it was like a grown up cross country team. Perfect! What wasn't perfect was pulling my hamstring during a 5K holiday lights fun run in early December. Definitely nothing fun about that! Each run in the following days just didn't feel right and I could not figure out why I was in pain.

Here are some steps to take if you find yourself in a similar situation:

  1. Consult a medical professional to assess if it is a minor injury that will have you on the bench for a few weeks or if it is more serious.
  2. Maintain your routine. If you are still able to do other types of physical activity, substitute those for activities that aggravate your injury, which leads to point three...
  3. Modify your workouts. Let's use the hamstring example for simplicity. Running hurt, but short walks, upper body and ab workouts did not. Find ways to move your body that strengthen it without bothering the injured area. Your doctor or a personal trainer can give you some tips on this if you are not sure what you can do.
  4. Continue your nutrition plan. An injury does not have to derail your fitness goals. Nutrition is a major component in the equation. Continue meal planning and eat healthy, nutritious meals. You will feel better.
  5. Start slow. When you get the all clear to start again when your injury heals, start slow. Do not attempt a six mile run on the first day back. This part takes some restraint, but you will thank yourself later

Keep moral high and prevent your mindset from assuming the worst, even if the diagnosis is not good. Find new methods to achieve your goals in the meantime. You might even find new cross training activities you enjoy.

For more weight loss advice, check out these other posts:
Planning for weight loss
The secret to weight loss
10 Healthy Recipes

Planning for weight loss

So you want to lose a few pounds or maybe the number is much higher than that. Congratulations! You are about to embark on a transformation journey that will change your life in every way, from how you eat to your mindset on exercise and even your confidence and how you live your life.

Before we get there, we need a plan. Just like a good road trip, this journey needs a road map.

Plans are great. Planning and dreaming are different, however. Dreaming about how amazing it will feel to be free of all of the extra weight literally dragging us down and the confidence that will radiate from us is inspiration. That alone, however, will not get us there. We need a plan.

How do we start planning for weight loss? Much like you would for a strategic initiative. You need a mission and a vision. Let's start with the big picture. What will your life be like when you reach your weight loss goal? What will you be able to do? This is the dreaming stage, so think big. A mission goes hand in hand with a vision and is more of a purpose statement. What is the purpose of this weight loss journey?

One of the most important areas to think through before embarking on this journey is why you want to lose weight and improve your health. Are you hoping to fit into a smaller dress size for an upcoming event? Are you tired of having no energy and feeling run down? Do you realize that you deserve so much better than how you have treated yourself and your body? There is no wrong answer to this question. Do keep in mind that while it's always great to look great at a particular event, that cannot be the reason why. If it is, it will be very difficult to sustain your weight loss. Been there, done that. That can definitely be a driving factor in the short term, but find a long term motivation as well. This is different for everyone.

Now that we know why we want to change our lives, we need to set some goals. What are you going to do? By when? There can be multiple goals. We want these to be specific. For example, I want to lose 4 percent of my body weight this month. This is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. SMART goals are smart for a reason.

How are we accomplishing these goals? What actions will make it happen? This is where you pull out the calendar, schedule your workouts, and plan some meals. Add any other activities that motivate you and assist in accomplishing your goals.

Big goals can be overwhelming. It can help to break the large change into milestones. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Let's revisit the example of losing 4 percent of body weight in a month. The overall goal may be to lose 10 pounds. 10 pounds can seem like a lot when you are struggling during a workout or not used to your healthier meal plan yet. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel assists with perseverance.

You'll also need a plan for when life gets in the way and things get off course. Since you are planning, it's obvious that you do not want to give up. What can you do to get back on track immediately? How will you be kind to yourself about the slip up? How can you prevent it from happening again?

Accountability. Without it, you may fall off the wagon. Each of us are different and the method of accountability will also vary. A personal trainer is wonderful accountability, but a fitness-minded friend can also fill the role. If you'd rather not check in with anyone, check in daily with yourself in a journal. Did you meet today's goals? What can you improve on tomorrow? You may have to try a few methods before you find the one that clicks with your life.

Enjoy the process!

For other weight loss advice, check out these posts:
The secret to weight loss
What happens when you get injured
10 Healthy Recipes

The secret to weight loss

Losing weight is a roller coaster. Anyone who has gained and lost the same 5 to 10 pounds year after year can attest to that. There has to be a secret to all of this. (There is - keep reading to learn more about it!)

Life is busy and there are so many commitments and people competing for limited hours in the day. How is it possible to fit in healthy meals and exercise and all these healthy habits when there is barely time to sleep?

These are all questions I've asked myself far too many times over the years. I'm too busy. I'll start after the holidays. After this project is over. After the State Fair when I'm not surrounded by delicious treats 24/7.

And my motivation for losing the weight was always different, but always the same. It was usually a milestone or an event. I wanted to look amazing when I ran for national president of a student dairy science organization the summer before my senior year of college. And I did. It didn't take long for the success to unravel later that summer and by the time school started, I was about 10 pounds heavier. Ugh. Why does this keep happening? I was asking this in college and still asking it nearly 10 years later. Why can't I keep it off?

I wanted a quick fix. To lose the weight quickly so that I would look (and hopefully feel) perfect for _____ event (Fill in the blank). Quick fixes don't work. Those drops that require near starvation don't work. Exercising five hours a day quickly leads to injury and burnout. Cutting calories significantly leads to a binge. What gives? Torture to fit into smaller jeans does not work.

What does? A lot of work. Yeah, yeah...we've heard this before. Exercise several times a week and eat healthy foods. Watch portion sizes and get enough sleep. We got it.

My weight has been a struggle and major insecurity since I was 8 years old and I've been looking for the secret to quick and permanent weight loss since 1996. What did I find on this quest?

It took me until this year to figure it out. The secret to weight loss - and most importantly, keeping it off - is believing in yourself. It sounds cliche, but it's not. On the surface it's easy to say that we believe in ourselves and know we can do anything we set our minds to. We can also go to extremes for a short time if needed. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the deep belief that comes from surprising yourself and overcoming challenges you never thought you could. This includes fitness accomplishments and others outside the gym as well.

Extra weight is an insecurity, and also a security blanket. It can be a way to protect yourself from getting too close to anyone and anyone really getting to know you. (I mean, what if they criticize my weight or just don't like me?! Ahh!)

It's critical to get uncomfortable in this process. Push yourself further than you think you can go in your workouts and have the power and strength to tell yourself no. No, you cannot eat all of that pasta, but you can have a serving of it. Workouts get hard and there is some pain as strength is improving. It's so easy to stop or switch to another exercise. However, if there is serious pain, by all means, listen to your body and stop.

Don't always listen to the voice in your head, though. That voice doesn't always like change. That voice may also try to sabotage your progress. That's why it is so important to believe in yourself.

If you aren't sure where to start or don't truly believe in yourself (it's okay - it's a hard thing to do in this process), surround yourself with people that can help you. Hiring a personal trainer was one of the best investments I've ever made. She wouldn't let me stop in the middle of a set just because it was getting hard and I wanted to switch to something else. The accountability was just what I needed.

Weight loss is truly a process and not an easy one. I'm still learning how true this statement is every day. Hitting your goal weight on the scale or fitting into those jeans is cause for celebration, but it is not reason to stop.

Know the reason you want to change your life. For me, it was my confidence. I didn't feel confident in my own skin and it held me back at work and in my personal life. It's okay to want to fit into a smaller dress size, but have a bigger reason in mind. What will keep you going long term? After all, health is a marathon and not a sprint. Speaking of marathons, training starts soon for my spring half marathon.

It's not easy, but it is worth it. I know, this post is full of cliches, but they are true. We are all in this together. If you're in the same boat, share what has helped you lose weight and keep the weight off. Let's create a community and support each other.

For more weight loss advice, check out these posts:
Planning for weight loss
What happens when you get injured
10 Healthy Recipes