About Polka Dot Farmer

Life, Parenting

About the 2nd, 29th and 200th day of school…8 tips to managing a school routine.

Adult kids
It’s not the first day of school photo.

I have always loved fall. The cooling weather, the leaves turning colors, new clothing and the fresh start that a new season and school year brings.

Since my kids are grown and there is no backpack photo to share, I am providing a little unsolicited life advice for parents on how to manage school routines with kids. Here are eight points to help you navigate the new school year.

  1. Celebrate each day. Beginning a new school year is a big deal and gets so much attention, as it should. But I also encourage you to celebrate every day. Talk to your children about what was amazing and what was difficult about each day. Help them learn to recognize the good, even in the midst of challenge. This habit will serve them their entire life.
  2. Don’t compare yourself. A friend of mine shared recently that she was a loser because she didn’t have the requisite photo of her children on the morning of the first day of school. Social media provides a snapshot of one micro-moment of others. Did you ever consider that none of those photos show the parent? Who knows, they may be haggard and cranky monster on the other end with a meme-worthy morning of pure chaos to capture that photo. Remember, you only get to see one side of the lens, so be gentle to yourself. Each of us is uniquely created and we love and nurture in our own way. It does not require a cute little chalkboard sign. But if you are that parent who stages a photo shoot each year – you are awesome and the photos are adorable. No shame – just be you – either way.
  3. Eat a meal together. I’m not kidding. There is a lot of research that suggests sitting as a family unit together for a meal, is so important to health – emotionally, mentally and physically. I didn’t do everything right by a long stretch, but one thing I can say I did, was make sure we ate dinner together most nights. Was it frozen pizza sometimes? Yes.  The content of the food itself was not the point, sitting together provided not only a structure to our lives, it was our opportunity to talk and just land in the same place together. Now don’t get all spun up about time. Sometimes we sat for just 15 minutes, but that time was ours and it was important as a parent to listen and keep tabs on our how our kids were doing. This time was also our chance to check in on any homework assignments or permission slips needed.
  4. Prepare the night before. Ok, stop the eye rolling. Before you clean up after dinner (and we still do this today), make up the lunches for tomorrow. Side benefit is that you only clean up the kitchen once. Then once that is complete, have the backpacks with homework, permission slips, instruments, gym clothes, etc. packed up and placed in the same spot every night. I never had the benefit of an Instagram worthy entry with cubbies and hooks, but we had one spot where everything went the night before. The mistake many parents make is doing this step for your children, which leads me to my next point.
  5. Involve the kids in the process. No where in the universe does it say the parent must do all the work. Nope. Not true. Nor should you. Even kindergarten students can help with some of the preparation for school and every student should be taught to take responsibility for their success. So, make them pack their backpack and put it near the door. Expect them to help pack lunch, get their permission slips signed and ensure they have everything they need for tomorrow. I can tell you how wrong I did this for so long, but once I shifted the balance of accountability, it changed me and my children for the better. Note for parents of high school students: this involves “waking up” for school too – especially when they are driving themselves. Don’t give them an excuse to blame you, they need to take responsibility and secretly, they like it. It did wonders when I began to expect them to get up on time to do the 10 minutes or 1 hour of primping they needed. This may be a big shift, but if they know what is expected, they can do it. (BTW: Ask me about the day the high school called to have me excuse my late child and I did not. Mean? Maybe. But, they were not late again.)
  6. Pick your battles. This one is tricky depending on your personality. But seriously, decide if a perfectly picked up room is the highest priority or not. This is especially true to older kids. We had only two rules – no food in the bedrooms and if it starts to smell, I will get involved. When I learned to just close the door and let them have their space, they began to self manage and got tired of the mess themselves. Parents, please don’t do all the pick up after your kids – it does not serve them well in life…trust me.
  7. Dealing with uniforms. Whether school uniforms or gym clothes, this point is important. When my kids were little and had a uniform, we couldn’t afford multiples of everything, which meant washing during the week. My kids knew which days I had to wash and when they got home, they put their uniforms in the basket so I could get them started right away. Remember, I worked full time, so this little habit served as a reminder to me too! Side note, if your uniform involves small items like a tie, keep that in their back pack to avoid the search in the a.m. Those are scars talking here….you’re welcome.
  8. Be flexible. We had a routine, which worked most of the time, but sometimes when life blew up, so did the routine. Be flexible and go with the flow. That might mean that you buy lunch that day or eat a granola bar in the car, or dress in the car….but adapting to life’s surprises is a critical life skill for all of you. If you are going to be late, what good is it to show up 3 minutes late and in a frazzle without the parts you need? Just own it. Take your time, get your selves in order and then deal with the 15 minutes or 20 minutes late…or, dare I say it?…a call out day to work through the situation. Life happens, give yourself a break and do what you must, but our ability to show our children flexibility is important. And spoiler alert: your grown kids will remember what choices you made and the priorities you placed on things, time, obligations.

I know you are all so excited for school to have begun and I can remember those days. I do hope you will enjoy the second, 12th and 200th day of school as well. These ideas aren’t brand new or rocket science, but even choosing just one will help your school year hum a little bit better. Best wishes to you and your homes this school year. Hope it’s the best year yet!



Farm life, Life, Recipes

Cookies…because we love.❤

White chocolate, cranberry oatmeal cookies

I like a good cookie, but my sweet husband…he loves, no, he needs cookies, and there is no one else I’d rather bake for than him. Today, since it was a slightly cooler day and I may have put a few fall decorations out, I’m feeling the delicious warm hug of this white chocolate, cranberry, oatmeal cookie….just enough cinnamon to give me all the fall feels.

This recipe is slightly adapted from cookies that used to be served at Shriners Hospital in Spokane where I worked for years supporting that great mission.

Recipe and directions:
Cream together until fluffy:
1 c. butter (room temperature)
3/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. white sugar
2 t. pure vanilla
Add two eggs and mix well.
Combine together in a bowl, then slowly add to the creamed mixture:
1-1/2 c. flour
2 t. cinnamon (you can cut this in half, but really? why would you?)
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
Stir in, just until combined:
2 c. oatmeal (old fashioned, not quick cook)
1 package white chocolate chips (2 cups)
2 c. dried cranberries (or raisins if you prefer)

Scoop dough onto parchment lined cooking sheets. Bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes, let cool slightly on pan before transferring to a cooling rack.


Farm life, Life, Recipes

Meal Prep Hack – Onions + Veggies

red brown white and purple onions and garlic displayed

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Chopping veggies, particularly onions, is not my favorite cooking chore. I have tried every trick in the book to keep from crying and the closest thing I’ve found is working near an open flame (gas stove or a candle – per Martha Stewart) and it seems to help. But this post is about making it really count when you do need to cut or chop onions and veggies…and ultimately to save you time during the week.

For me, when I look at my meal plan for the week, I consider all the meals that need onions or veggies and chop them all at once. Not revelational, I get it, but my real hack is how to store it.  Since I rarely use an entire onion in a meal, I used to try to triple bag the remainder in zippered baggies, but inevitably my fridge would smell and everything in it tasted like onions.

Now, when I slice or chop onions, peppers and other veggies, I put them in a glass quart canning jar and tightly close the lid before putting them in the refrigerator. It doesn’t make the fridge or anything else in it smell or taste like onion and they stay fresh and crisp for about a week.  You can either have just one for onions to portion out or  you can prep a jar for each meal. Fajitas or tacos?  One with peppers and onions in it.  Chicken and Dumplings? One with mirepioux (carrots, celery and onion).  Stir fry veggies? Celery, carrots, peppers, onions….well, you get it. It makes meal prep so fast and the jars can go right into the dishwasher for clean up.

The added benefits of less plastic bag use and only needing to clean onion off the cutting boards once a week are a nice perk as well. Happy cooking!

I’d love to hear your tips or tricks for making meal prep easier.

Farm life, Life, Recipes

5 Steps to Planning Meals for Those Who Hate Meal Planning

I love to cook from scratch with fresh ingredients and it’s important to me to prepare good food for our family. I do it all the time. So why then, do the words, “what’s for dinner?” seem to reduce me to an incompetent mush that can not, for the life of me, recall a single recipe or meal? Anybody relate?

I work full time outside the home, with a near 3 hour commute a day, so to get home and then figure out what is for dinner is very at risk of looking like cereal or nachos every night. But here’s the deal, I hate meal planning.

At it’s root, I gristle against meal planning, feeling it far too constraining or inflexible. I mean what if I get to Tuesday and don’t feel like spaghetti? Perhaps it is some deep seeded rebellion in me that doesn’t want anything else in life to boss me around. “Take that meal plan!” I declare as we eat nachos on hump day. I only partly jest here.

But, I think I have finally found an approach that works for us. I have downloaded every kind of tool, planner, and hack, but found just a list works best. This one is from the $1 bin at Target.

I live by a gospel of grace in meal planning

Here are five steps to planning meals that have worked for me:

1. Start with your calendar. Be realistic on what you can do based on life commitments, events, etc. I know that we have guests on Saturday and one of them is a vegetarian, so I’ve planned a quinoa and veggie dish that night. We are at a concert Friday so I get a vacation day. Common sense, don’t try to prepare a high touch meal on soccer practice night, that’s a good night for crock pot. Put the cape away, save your super hero for another opportunity.

2. Give yourself a break. A healthy meal doesn’t have to be four courses and gourmet every night. Let’s be real, how many of our families really like that anyway? Quick story, when we were first married, I found and made this recipe for porcupine meatballs….yeah it tastes like what you are thinking. My husband of 2 months, in his sweetest voice says, “um, can you never make this again?” That is still a good laugh years later, but truth is, those meatballs were a pain in the back end to make, set dinner back to like 8pm and tasted awful. He would have been waaaaay happier with just plain ol spaghetti and meatballs. So bottom line is, plan what your family will eat. Be realistic. I save my complex or new recipes for the weekends when I have more time.

3. Shop for the weeks ingredients all at once. This step was forced by our move to acreage in the country, but saves us a lot of money and time. After I decide what I want to make, I get a list for the “stuff” needed to create them, then head to the store. This also is where flexibility is introduced. If I get to Wednesday and have steak salad planned but we had a client lunch out today with beef, I can make Thursday’s meal because I have everything I need on hand. It sounds so simple but it’s these little shifts and changes that make it workable for me.

4. Cut veggies once for all meals. I have discovered a great way to prep onions and veggies for the week so I’m not crying every day over my meal prep (literally). If you’re anything like me, just the thought of prep time can be enough of a climb when I am tired after work to have me dialing for delivery. Check out my onion and veggie hack that saves me so much time (coming in next post). With this prep out of the way, I can get most meals on the table quickly.

5. Have a few standbys….just in case. There will be days when you just aren’t feeling it and that’s ok. The goal of nutrition should be looked at globally. I plan a week at a time and consider the full week of nutrition, not one meal at a time….because, well that could make you crazy, but sometimes all the kids will eat is macaroni and cheese. So, again, I live by a gospel of grace in the meal planning world. An egg frittata (read a baked egg casserole that tastes like a quiche) which is filled with leftover veggies and cheese is still a very good meal with lots of health benefits. And it’s not cheating that it takes 15 minutes to make and 30 mins to bake. That’s brilliant and we need a few “emergency exit” options on the dinner planning.

I’ll share some of my emergency options for 30 minute dinners in another post. I hope these steps help you with meal planning. I know that for the first time, I am really making it work and knowing there is an idea ready is very helpful to success!

Go get ’em, you’ve got this,



Tomato Basil Soup + Parmesan Crusted Grilled Cheese

I’m tired and feeling a little uninspired at the moment with just 45 mins to get dinner ready. After a quick flip through the pile of papers and recipes to try, I land on a favorite. Comfort food to the rescue!


Comfort food to the rescue

This recipe was scribbled on a scratch piece of paper by a sous chef at a four star resort I worked at and it was a favorite at the restaurant. I couldn’t believe it used canned tomatoes and sauce! But that makes this super fast to make. Add a parmesan crusted grilled cheese and night made.

So, I’m going to share my secret recipe because I love you…and you’ll love it.

Tomato Basil Soup (Bisque)

2 T olive oil

1 small to medium yellow onion diced

15 oz can tomato sauce

2 – 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes

2 T balsamic vinegar

2 T sherry

4 cups heavy cream (or half and half but it’s a little grainy looking) **I’ll admit I use less, just to save some calories.

fresh basil – chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Sautee onion in olive oil until soft. Add Sherry and cook for a couple minutes until reduced. Then add all tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, cream and half of cornstarch mixture.

Let simmer on low heat until warmed through (about 20 to 30 minutes). Note, don’t try to rush by turning it up, you’ll scald the cream. Add additional cornstarch mixture to thicken as desired/needed and add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix in fresh, chopped basil just before serving and garnish the top of each serving with a little more if desired.

This soup is amazing with your favorite grilled cheese sandwich, but I sneak a little grated parmesan onto the outside of the sandwich (easiest to sprinkle on pan and set sandwich on top of it). The crispy cheese on the outside is an awesome extra little kiss for your mouth and makes your family feel extra special. ❤


Farm life, Life

Farm Lessons #4: This Farm $#@&^ Just Got Real

As much as I hate to admit it, this farm thing has been a romantic dream that I knew would be a bit of an adjustment, but not really that big of a deal, right? I mean, I did goat classes before I brought them home. I did my research, I studied. I’ve been ON farms before. I have got this, right? But life on the farm has opened my eyes to many things. And this week, this farm #$%& just got real.

You know we added 14 animals in the space of a six weeks, right? Right. Don’t judge, I’m not the type of girl that does a slow ramp up or half way work. I may need to reassess that character feature later, but I digress.

At one moment this week, standing at the sink in the kitchen, I see a goat in with the puppy. I panicked and ran out screaming. Lucky, our 6 month old, sixty pound puppy is larger than life and doesn’t know it. Mr Bean, although looking undignified all covered in puppy slobber, was fine. Phew, crisis averted.

Not much later, I was literally rescuing my top hen from this same knucklehead when she flew into his pen. On the verge of tears and feeling way in over my head, I saw the damage…most of her back feathers had been plucked by the eager puppy host. I was upset but willed no tears to come. It’s just a chicken, right? These things happen on the farm. Problem is this one is named after my grandma Dorothy. Crap, I went and got attached to the chickens. I’m not a good farm girl AND I let this happen by not paying attention. I felt like a total failure and had no idea what to do.

So, I did what every good farm girl does. I Googled it. Armed with chicken advice from the online experts, I headed to the feed store for supplies. I separated her and gave a quiet little space to come out of shock. She drank water and ate…all good signs. After a saline bath and wound spray, things are looking better.

I am pleased to tell you that Dot is doing ok and seems to be healing. Her behavior is all normal, despite her chilly backside and she seems to have resumed her place at the top of the pecking order.

I’m so relieved. I am getting farm tougher day by day, but am not ready for my first farm funeral. Not yet. I need a little more seasoning.


Blueberry Granola

I love the crunchy goodness of granola with Greek yogurt…and this special recipe uses up some of our blueberries too!


1 c. butter melted

1 c. brown sugar

1/4 c. water

1 T vanilla

1 T. cinnamon

6 c. old fashioned oats

2 c. shredded coconut

2 c. chopped almonds

1 c. pumpkin seeds

Melt butter, sugar, water, cinnamon and vanilla in a pan until sugar is dissolved.

Mix into dry ingredients, spread on baking sheet, bake at 250 for an hour or until dry, stirring every 15 minutes.

I added dried blueberries on the last 15 minutes.

Farm life

Farm Lesson #3 – Outside Pets

We spoil our pets…always have. If you were to sum up the way our pets are treated, it may sound like this, “Whatever you need…at your service my leege”.

So to have outdoor pets is a new experience for us. I mean, at some point, our bed is full!

So we have the barn set up for goats and kitties, and a separate set up for the puppy. But we refresh the bedding every week, deliver food, water, treats twice a day. Our day begins and ends with the needs of these pets.

We visit regularly, let them out, pet, scratch, provide a pool for them to cool off in, talk to, fuss, tend and serve.

Our outdoor animals are ok. So if you are like my mom who thinks they are suffering, just know that as we speak it’s 80 something outside and a fan is running in the goat barn for our poor goats and kitties.

I think they are going to be ok.

Farm life, Life

It’s the little things

Way to go girls… our first egg!

Starting off on a farm is hard work! I am sure I put in two miles a day just watering and feeding pets and gardens! There are days that I fall into bed after a full day of work and chores and wonder about taking on this amount of work in our fifties. But there are so many little things that make it so worth it.

The quiet as we just sit and enjoy the gorgeous sunset, the peace of walking the puppy along the property to learn his space, the satisfaction of cooking with berries and veggies right from your own yard. The muscles that are refinding themselves after schlepping 40 pound bags of feed, hauling hay and wrestling naughty goats back into their pens.

Everyday, when the goats and chickens follow me around like toddlers yelling, “Mom, mom, mom” with their bleating and clucks, it makes me smile. And today, we found our first egg! It’s exciting to see progress. So far that egg cost about $600+ but I’m sure the cost balance will even out over time. None the less, we know that those chickens are eating organic, non-GMO feed so the eggs will be pure and good for our health!

I love life on the farm. Come visit anytime you need a little more peace..there is nothing like a dose of fresh air and an animal snuggle to heal ya! ❤❤❤

Farm life, Recipes

Blueberry Muffin Lessons

Baking with blueberries, lessons in baking with blueberries
Blueberry Sourcream Muffins

These Blueberry Sourcream Muffins are tasty! A little fresh lemon juice and zest mixed with sourcream adds a fresh tang. But, I learned a couple of lessons with this batch.

When cooking with blueberries, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Coating the berries with flour help suspend the berries in the batter.
  2. Don’t just add a few extra berries. The fruit needs to be exact or it puts the whole moisture balance off and you end up with soggy bottoms.
  3. Since these cute paper cups don’t use a muffin tin, they need just a little longer to cook up the bottom.

Overall it was a great idea and they look lovely but we only ate the tops and tossed the rest.

Good thing I have lots of berries to experiment with!