Tag: Hampton

I Went To One Of Those Painting Parties

Painting parties. You know what I’m talking about.

You’ve seen them all over your Facebook feed. Groups of ladies possibly sloshed on wine, gleefully posing in that standard school picture formation (two rows, one standing, one kneeling), holding their version of the same painting.

These parties are all the rage around here. They’re blowing up my Facebook newsfeed and I’ve heard rumors that in bigger cities, they’re so popular that they have waiting lists. When a North Iowa Blogger offered us an opportunity to join a painting party, I knew I had to experience it.

Crafts and painting projects typically aren’t my thing. I’m impatient when it comes to making things that aren’t food and I like to create things I can eat. However, I do like to spend time with my friends and try new experiences. Pus, I had a jolly time at the wreath-making class even though I couldn’t eat my wreath. It’s still hanging on my front door and makes me happy every time I see it.

This particular painting party occurred at Country Heritage Bed & Breakfast in Hampton, Iowa. The company Creative Spirits of Ames, Iowa facilitated the class. Beforehand, our blogger group browsed through their gallery of paintings and voted on recreating a farmhouse on the prairie.

We arrived at the bed and breakfast and found it transformed into an art studio. After we chose a spot with an easel, we paid our $35 admission and the Creative Spirits staff outfitted us with an apron and a paper plate pallet dotted with squirts of paint.


I felt a little apprehensive while I waited for the artist to begin. I remember sending out a tweet that said, “Help, I’m at one of those painting parties and I don’t know how to paint and I don’t have any wine.”

With my limited art skills, I wondered if I could actually create a painting that resembled a real object. Would I spend $35 and end up with a blob? Barn or blob, barn or blob, I wondered. And about that wine. . . seriously, where was it!? It could either help or hurt my painting abilities. Bottles of Iowan fruit wine were available by the bottle, so we shared.

Time to begin. Our artist guided us through two versions of the barn painting one small step at a time. For example, her first instruction was to draw the horizon line with a medium brush dipped in green paint mixed with a little bit of black. Then, she walked us through painting the outline of the barn.

For a moment I got behind. I considered tossing in the towel and painting a giant smiley face. The thought of revealing a smiley face at the end of class cracked me up, but then I remembered I paid $35 and did my best to catch up.

By the time we began painting the prairie, I had sipped half a glass of blackberry wine and felt slightly footloose and fancy free. “Have a flappy wrist” the artist suggested as she demonstrated how to draw big green X’s.

Barn ex marks

Already there.

Barn almost done

In the end, my little prairie farmhouse did, in fact, look like a little prairie farmhouse. Totally not a blob. Donna and I took a sister photo with our finished paintings. Someone once thought we were sisters so now we roll with it.

Donna and Jeni Painting Party

Concluding Thoughts:
From start to finish, we painted for about two hours.

I produced artwork that resembles an actual “thing” and hope this encourages even the most hesitant of painters. The artist walked through the two versions of the painting slowly enough that everyone in our group really did create pieces that looked close enough to the example. Of course, our paintings varied and some added their own flair such as wind turbines and tractors. My barn looked like a barn, so there was no way I was attempting a wind turbine without step-by-step instructions.

The $35 price seems fair. The Creative Spirits team sets up all of the easels and makes sure that everyone has what they need like refills of paint or fresh cups of water to rinse off paint brushes. Country Heritage provided a relaxing location, beverages, and snacks. Because of liquor license laws, the B&B could only sell wine by the bottle rather than glass, but each bottle was about $12 making it an affordable share. If you attend a class at one of their locations, you can BYOB. They’ll also travel offsite if a big enough group RSVP’s.

Participating in this class taught me that I’m in the company of perfectionists which made me feel less neurotic. Because I struggled with wanting to make each feature perfect, I can’t say this experience was relaxing, but it sure was fun. Obviously, a glass of wine helped with that whole perfectionism thing.

Have you ever taken one of these group painting & wine parties? What was it like and what did you paint? 

Put A Bird On It: Wreath-Making Class & Fried Mushrooms At West Fork Wharf

Earth be still, I tried to make a craft!

I have all of the patience in the world for putzy baking projects like lefse and pita bread-making, but feel my temper and blood pressure rise when I make crafts. Growing-up, I loved crafts. I spent hours making friendship bracelets and pot holders woven with those stretchy bands. Of course, we 90’s children also loved Shrinky Dinks and those Perler beads we arranged on a plastic grid and melted together with an iron. I’m not sure what changed between now and then, but suspect my fondness of crafts is related to whether or not I can eat the finished product.

This week, I joined some North Iowa Blogger friends at Carlson Tree Farm in Hampton, Iowa and tried to get crafty with holiday wreaths. I noticed Sophie the dog the moment I walked into the wreath lodge and became distracted. Dogs always take precedence over crafts;)

Dog Sleeping wm

I spent a lot of time with Sophie who’s expecting puppies in a couple of months. Sophie got lots of pets while we waited for a wreath station and when I became impatient with my wreath-making skills. Very few things in life make me happier than a dog.

dog Collage

Left photo taken by Beth Ann Chiles.

Beth is one of my first North Iowan friends and frequent partner-in-crime, so it’s fitting we were paired as wreath-making partners (you can read about her experience here). Tree farm owner Michelle provided a wreath tutorial. She showed us how to arrange three types of evergreen into neat, little bundles. Each bundle fits into a space around the wire wreath “mold” where a quick push on the foot pedal clamps the branches together. Finally, the long branch ends get a little snip-snip so the next bundle can fit around the circle.

Putting together these bouquets is a perfectionist’s nightmare. Many thoughts like these filled my mind as I sorted through the evergreen piles:

“Ooo, this branch is a little too wide.”

“This branch is a little too short.”

“This branch is kind of curvy.”

We struggled through our first wreath, but, as you can see, laughed a lot through our trials and errors. Our instructor took one gander at our asymmetrical wreath and commented on its whimsical appearance. This made us giggle because we hypothesized that whimsical was a code word for wild, floofy, or lopsided, which our wreath most certainly was.

Making the wreath with Beth Collage

My wreath had a tail. The Carlson family did not seem too concerned and promised they could disguise it with decorations. I doubted them, but they were right. Our second wreath turned out much better. We had gotten the hang of the process by then. Our instructor explained how her family turns the branches we toss aside into the most beautiful wreathes.

We each paid $35 for our wreaths which included our choice of decorations from ribbons to bells. Beth, their resident bow expert turned my favorite ribbon into a stunning bow which balanced out my wreath’s tail.

Basket of supplies wm

Decorating and coordinating colors are not my strengths, so I added a few pine cones and a bird. When in doubt, put a bird on it. Now, if only I could figure out how to hang the wreath on my front door!

Jeni Wreath Collage

If you knew each of us, you could easily match us with our wreaths. They’re almost like holiday Rorschach tests.

Wreaths wm

Beth and I had arrived at class hungry and missing our afternoon naps (I’m an old soul). We were thrilled to find the Carlson’s stocked their workshop with hot cider & homemade cookies. Even so, we had all worked up an appetite for dinner at West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, Iowa, a restaurant several people have recommended.

West Fork Wharf is located along the town’s main street. Bob and Kim Jensen opened the supper club in June 2013. The inside of the restaurant feels both classy and comfortable. I found it fascinating to learn Bob’s hosted the local fishing show Fishing In The Midwest for over 20 years and that he constructed the tables and bar from the community high school’s old gym floor.

Several friends suggested we order the fried mushrooms. West Fork’s are unlike any I’ve tried before. The batter was thin and crispy and the mushrooms almost melted in my mouth. They’re served with ranch and the group favorite, a sauce resembling a combination of barbecue sauce, honey mustard & french dressing.

The cheese curds (or cheese balls, as they’re often called in North Iowa) had a delightfully chewy texture. Of course, they were served with ranch too. I mean, we are in Iowa, right? Both appetizers were fried well so that neither were greasy.

West Fork Wharf serves good ranch. I explain my definition of good vs. bad ranch in this post

WFW Food Collage

I ordered the fish sandwich for my entrée. The Chef toasted the sandwich bun and battered the fish in a thin coating, similar to the fried mushrooms. It tasted very fresh and I liked its moist, flaky texture. Most sandwiches come with the restaurant’s version of french fries called “propellers,” battered potatoes shaped like propellers. My dining companions’ green salads looked fresh. Next time I’d pay a few extra dollars for the fish platter my friend Amy ordered which comes with a salad and side.

The evening steak special appeared to be a popular choice. I saw many people enjoying large steaks drizzled with homemade cheese sauce and what looked like sautéed mushrooms. You can certainly find healthier options on the menu, but I was in the mood for splurging.

West Fork Wharf is a gem. The restaurant’s emphasis seems to be on scratch-made food prepared with thought and priced reasonably. The city of Sheffield is located about 30-minutes from our Mason City home and I’d like to return with Jake. If you find yourself in Franklin County, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend stopping here for dinner.

Adult craft projects may test my patience, but I enjoy new experiences like this wreath class. Next month, we’re taking a group painting class from Creative Spirits of Ames, Iowa where an artist will walk us through one painting, step-by-step. There might not be a big friendly dog like Sophie to calm my nerves, but at least there will be wine.

*Thank you to the Carlson family for showering us with warm hospitality. 

Reader Question: Do you prefer crafting, cooking, or both? I’m curious if any of my non-crafty readers have taken a group painting & sipping class and how their painting turned-out. Does wine help or hurt? 

Franklin County Harvest Bloggers Tour

Disclaimer: The Franklin County Harvest Bloggers Tour was sponsored by the The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce & Franklin County Farm Bureau who provided our lodging, meals and activities. All opinions and thoughts are my own. 

At Jeni Eats, I don’t just eat.

Although I primarily blog about experiences through the lens of food, I whole heartedly seek opportunities to explore new communities, whether near or far, and learn about lifestyles different from my own. The topic of food can be extremely divisive, but it can also bring people together. Three and a half years of blogging has brought me new experiences and connected me with people I’d never meet through my day-to-day interactions. It’s also given me the courage to break bread with strangers and for this, my life is richer and much more interesting.

When the Franklin County Harvest Blogger Tour extended an invitation to spend the weekend in Hampton, I gladly accepted.

We received the warmest welcome possible. I was most struck by the hospitality the community showered upon us. Most everyone who hosted components of the event did so on a volunteer basis, whether providing us with tours or showing us around their farms. Volunteers fed us home-cooked meals prepared during their time off and joined us during early mornings and evenings, often introducing us to their families.

Through my travels, I’ve observed that there’s something remarkably humbling about being cared for by strangers while away from home. Humble pie can taste harsh or sweet, but either way, there’s always something to be learned.

Here are some vignettes describing our whirlwind weekend:

Our Digs

Country Heritage Collage

Most of us stayed at the Country Heritage Bed & Breakfast. My GPS led me astray on the way to the B & B. I thanked my lucky stars when Donna randomly found me on the side of the road with a dead phone, cursing my brains out. She led me to Country Heritage where we turned right at the pink sign advertising their Giggling Goat gift shop.

My home away from home was the Inspiration Suite. We joked that I’d have to live up to its namesake. It provided a comfortable place to unwind after busy days. Each room was equipped with a whirlpool bath and private balcony.

I was especially taken with my sparkly chandelier.


The owners were gracious and helped us get situated. On Saturday night, they warmed us with a comforting meal of three homemade soups. Jake joined us for dinner and our favorite was beef and vegetable. Simple foods are not so simple when someone nails them. We were surprised to learn that Lacey, who prepared this soup, did so for the first time and without a recipe.

Beth and I greeted their trio of 10-month old Pygmi goats each morning with a handful of corn. They giggled as they hopped and skipped around their yard. I tried to snap the perfect photo all weekend.

Goat Collage

Where have these been my whole life?

Reeve Electrical Association Plant
Our first stop took us to the REA Museum, a former power plant that became operational in 1938. According to the official website, it was the “First Coop in the nation to put farmer-owned generated electricity out on farmer-owned lines.” The plant was renovated in 1989 and is listed on the National Registered of Historic Places.

Outside electric museum

Darwin Meyer, a board member on the Franklin County Historical Society, volunteered as our tour guide for both the REA Plant and historical museum. We peeked at components of the original plant and looked at displays of household appliances from years’ past such as old stoves and a gas-powered washing machine.

I can’t remember the intended purpose of the giant wheel, but it reminded me of the Iron Throne so I got a little bit Cersai Lannister with my selfies.

REA Plant One Collage

Beeds Lake Spillway
This evening was teeth-chatteringly cold and windy at sunset, but worth this shot.


It’s one of my favorite photos from the trip.

Carlson Tree Farm

carlson Collage

The Carlson family operates a Christmas tree farm in Hampton, along with a lodge that the community is welcome to reserve for personal events at whatever cost the party is able to pay. They also teach wreath making classes around the holidays. Dennis Carlson provides outdoor educational opportunities for many school groups and Cathy Carlson (pictured above) produces locally grown and milled whole wheat flour, which I recently added some to an all-butter pie crust that I used for mini quiches.

We unwound in the lodge during our first night over appetizers and wine from TownsEnd Winery located in Hansel, Iowa. Fortunately, wine tasting commenced after Donna and I started running into things with the Carlsons’ wiggle cars. My favorite wines were the cranberry and gooseberry varieties. Our hosts sent us home with our own bottle of cranberry wine, which has had me singing “Cranberry wine, thiiiiirty,” all week. Believe it or not, it’s not getting old.

It was all fun and games until Dennis brought out a bowl of bugs. As part of his nature education sessions, he challenges kids to try eating a mealworm or cricket. If they succeed, they earn an “I ate a bug today!” sticker.

Bug phobia and all, I wanted that sticker. I reluctantly stared at the mealworm in the palm of my hand. “Eat it, don’t pop it like an Aspirin,” exclaimed a friend as I consumed it with swig of cranberry wine. And when I got home, I caught my dog trying to eat the “I ate a bug” sticker.” I had to pry it out of his mouth.

Combine Rides
Until this weekend, I’d never even touched a piece of farm equipment. We got up close and personal with the Plagge’s. Val Plagge of Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids is actually one of the first bloggers I met after moving to North Iowa. We’ve spent time together on many occasions, but never before at her farm. She introduced Jake and I to the Franklin County Fair last July where we won green ribbons in a cake decorating contest.

Farm Scene

Val’s husband took each us on combine rides as he harvested corn, patiently explaining the difference between a combine and a tractor and red vs. green. Their son literally couldn’t believe his ears when we told him it was our first time riding a combine.

Combine CollageA monitor next to the driver’s seat is equipped with GPS and monitors data such as the corn’s moisture and quantity harvested. The points on the front of the combine effortlessly moved between the rows of corn trimming the stalks into little nubs we kept tripping over because we forgot to lift our knees up high. It reminded me of the time-eating Langoliers I once watched in a movie, except that it consumed corn.

Tractor Tire

I got a kick out of the “pew pew pew” noise it made at the end of each row.

Farm Kitties Are The Best

Farm Kitties Collage

Cute critters turn me into a googly-eyed fool. I got to snuggle lots of farm kitties at Carlson Tree Farm and Roy and Jeannie Arend’s farm in Alexander. The Arends spoke to us about their farm and described the challenges our weather poses. They offered us apples from their trees and took bloggers on combine rides through their soybean field. In the top right photo, Jeanie introduces one of her snuggliest kitties to Beth & Nic’s daughter.

Historical Museum & Latham Hi-Tech Seeds
In addition to combine rides, Saturday’s activities also included a trip to the Franklin County Historical Museum and a tour of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds. I found my childhood in the historical museum as part of a display about top toys throughout the decades. What is happening?

Game boy

After touring Latham’s seed processing facility and learning about what operations are like during harvest, we enjoyed a lunch of smoked pork sandwiches and Val’s much-talked about Sweet & Spicy Hog Wild Beans while two ladies from Ag in the Classroom program shared examples of their lessons with us. I was mind-blown when they explained that each stalk of corn only grows one ear.

Latham Collage

Main Street Hampton & The Windsor
Hampton has a vibrant Main Street. Beth and I ordered our usual Dirty Chai’s (chai with a shot of espresso) at Rustic Brew to fuel us through a brief tour of the shops. Rustic Brew also houses a microbrewery.

Hampton Main Street Collage

Hampton’s Main Street is also home to the Windsor Theater where we we attended a vaudeville show called “An Evening Like It Used To Be.” The theater was built in 1913, remodeled in 1999, and rumors say it’s slightly haunted.

The two women collecting tickets were striking. They donned glamorous capes and pink feather boas while many others also dressed the part.

We found our seats among a full house. I’ve never seen a silent film before and was surprised by funny and relevant I found it. The rest of the variety show included singing, dancing, and comedy sketches. We had a grand time laughing at dad jokes, participating in a group sing-along and eating buttery popcorn. Did you know there’s an Iowa song?

Our tour ended over a breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls and eggbake at the ABCM Rehabilitation Center. Like the Wandering Tourists describe, our visit to the care facility made me feel bittersweet. I thought of my grandparents who have since passed away and reflected on the twists and turns life has taken me on since I began blogging.

Three and a half years ago, I was a graduate student and herbalist’s apprentice who typed posts from the center island of our old condo in Bloomington, Minnesota. I never imagined blogging would bring me to Franklin County, Iowa where I would become obsessed with cranberry wine and pygmi goats and ride a combine.

Cheers always to new adventures.

Girls combine

Extra special thanks to Jennifer Healy of the Franklin County Farm Bureau, Kristina Raisch of the Chamber of Commerce, Larry Sailer, & Larry of ABCM for spending the entire weekend with us. 

Fellow Harvest Blogger Tour Participants:
DonnaDonna Hup
Beth: It’s Just Life
Bethany & Nick (and twins): Sawdust and Embryos
Lisa & Tim: The Walking Tourists

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