Tag: iowa (Page 2 of 8)

10 Things I Learned In Auction College


I am not an auctioneer, but I went to auction school and auction school is hard.

Living in three different states in three years brings joys and challenges. Moving is emotionally and physically draining, but it’s also introduced me to industries about which I knew very little, such as agriculture and auctioneering.

Mason City is actually the home to one of the top auctioneer training programs in the world and this still comes as a surprise to many North Iowans. I recently started helping out in the office at the World Wide College of Auctioneering. My first weeks corresponded with their winter class session, so I found myself attending class and gaining an intensive crash course into the world of auctioneering.

Before class, I had never attended an auction, so I made sure to find one before my first day. The only auction I could find that week was a hay auction. I stood quietly in the back of the gravel lot with my arms pressed tightly to my sides, being careful not to sneeze, lest I accidentally came home with a truckload of hay. Fortunately, this was not the case and the auction was more relaxed than I expected. I’ve learned a lot since then and continue to be fascinated with this occupation.

Please note that the auction school in no way asked me to write a blog post about auctioneering or suggested the idea. I actually approached them about writing the post because I just find it really interesting! Here are ten of the most memorable things I learned in auction school.

1. Auctioneers are funny.

Almost every auctioneer I spoke with made me laugh. I observed how many of them had the ability to seamlessly weave jokes and stories into the most ordinary conversation.

2. Auctioneers don’t just call out numbers. 

One reason why many auctioneeres are so funny is because they are show people. I had assumed their main role was to call out numbers and learned this is not the case. Auctioneers represent the seller and aim to obtain the highest prices for the items they sell. Although the format of auctioneering is a more public type of selling than we see on a day-to-day basis, they have to be effective salespeople. Charisma, a sense of humor, and ability to read others go a long way.

In addition to encouraging people to buy, auctioneers also have to know a lot about the product they are selling, whether it’s classic cars or farm land. The auctioneer must also understand auction law and those that govern their specific subsection. For example, laws vary by state regarding sales of real estate and fire arms. In Iowa, an auctioneer who sells real state doesn’t need to have a real estate license, while he or she would in Minnesota. In other states, an auctioneer without a real estate license may be allowed to conduct the auction sale, but is not allowed to market the property or facilitate open houses.

3. Bid calling is hard.

The auctioneer’s trademark chant is as hard as it looks. I giggled when I saw this Geico commercial portraying a cashier auctioning a grocery item. His bid call was on point. I had the inkling that this individual wasn’t just a Hollywood actor, but a real auctioneer and I was right. Joseph Mast actually won an International Championship.

The best auctioneers worked hard to sound the way that they do, and they never stop working to improve. To begin developing that bid chant, auctioneers recite tongue twisters, study recordings of championship auctioneers and practice, practice, practice.

4. There are different bid calls for different categories of sales.

Bid calls vary depending on what’s for sale. An auctioneer will use a different style of bid call to raise money for a charity at a fancy benefit than a cattle auction. More attendees who are less experienced auction-goers buy at charities and real estate sale auctions so the auctioneer may speak slower. A cattle or car auctioneer will speak faster and use more filler words. Afterall, auctioneers selling cattle or cars may have to move a massive amount of product in one day, so talking quickly helps them sell more efficiently.

Shane Ratliff instructed at the last bid calling seminar. 

5. The field of auctioneering continues to diversify.

More and more minorities and women are entering the auctioneering field. The bilingual Spanish-English auctioneering certification is very popular at the school I work for.

6. The fastest growing sectors of auctioneering don’t reflect reality TV.

Despite the reality television show Storage Wars and broadcasting of Barrett-Jackson car auctions on the Discovery Channel, the fastest growing sector of auctioneering is actually benefit auctions. Nonprofits hire professional auctioneers to raise money for their cause. Good benefit auctioneers are strategic and provide pre and post benefit auction planning and analysis. There’s actually a Benefit Auctioneer Specialist accreditation. Other quickly growing sectors include real estate and heavy equipment.

7. If you want to see an auctioneer’s eyes light up, mention Barrett-Jackson.

With fast cars, celebrity buyers, and warm Arizona weather, Barrett-Jackson is like Hollywood. Opportunities to work for Barrett Jackson are considered coveted positions within the industry. This company’s classic car auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona attract celebrities and are broadcast on major television networks. Those who land a job here are often championship auctioneers who are highly regarded within the community. Of course, many auctioneers find equal success through other avenues, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of selling rare cars to celebrities.

 8. Many talented auctioneers come from Amish and Mennonite communities.

I was very surprised to learn so many Amish and Mennonite students attend auction school. The Amish and Mennonite students I’ve observed have bid calls that blow most everyone out of the water. One instructor explained how Amish and Mennonite communities used to hire him to facilitate auctions. Now, they are sending representatives to school to serve as auctioneers in their own communities.

Exact rules governing technology usage depends on the community. Students from Amish communities often travel long distances by taxi to attend class. Some Amish students use email and cell phones to build their auction businesses, but prefer not to have their photo taken. These communities regard Auctioneering as an acceptable career students demonstrate a lot of dedication to the craft of bid calling. Farming and crafts still play a large role in Amish and Mennonite communities, meaning auctioneers are needed to manage livestock and quilt auctions.

9. People of all ages enroll in auction school.

At this particular school, students have enrolled as young as ten and as old as 80+. Some students are multi-generational auctioneers who knew they want to pursue this career at an early age and work in their family business. Others attend so they can start a new career.

10. Auction school is intense.

Auction school may be the most challenging experience I’ve ever had, and I wasn’t even a student. Auction class sessions vary among schools, but many follow a similar format: Class is held at a hotel outfitted with convention space where students attend class for five to eight long days. Students spend a lot of time developing their bid call and also study auction law, benefit auctions, real estate, clerking, vocal care, and marketing. At the end of the long week, students in this particular school sell three items at a public auction open to the community and take written and oral exams.

Thanks for joining me in this brief detour from my typical topic of food. I love sharing the most interesting parts of my life with my readers! What do you know about auctioneering? 

Natural Plus Nursery Tour + Gardening Tips For People Who Treat Plants Like Tamagotchis

My mother and her mother grew beautiful roses. They loved to garden and my childhood home was surrounded by snapdragons and peonies. A magnolia tree grew beneath my bedroom window and I looked forward to spring when it would bloom. Back then, I had to stand on a little rock in the garden to sniff its blossoms.

I did not inherit my family’s green thumbs. When we lived in Fargo, I was determined to have a bountiful container garden on our apartment patio. In typical Jeni-style, I became extremely excited about my vision of a glorious container garden and moved forward with zeal.

To begin, I bought big garden pots, lots of dirt, and heirloom seeds which I started too early. The herbs sort of grew, but the vegetables didn’t. It became apparent that I just wasn’t going to grow beets and carrots in pots on my patio. When we went out-of-town for a weekend in July, everything died. The situation reminded me of that time I got tired of taking care of my Tomogatchi and threw it under my bed. This time, I felt way worse because the plants were real, living things. I call it the great container garden disaster of 2012. It was a lot of work to haul all that dirt back down the elevator. Now, we live in a condo development. The beets will have to wait, but I think I could bring out those containers again for an herb garden.

My friend and blogger Mary owns Natural Plus Nursery in Clear Lake, Iowa with her family. She and her husband recently bought it from her in-laws who started the business in 1978. The A-Frame house below is made from recycled barn wood. She invited us over for a tour and garden-themed snacks prepared by Beth.


For this post, I thought it would be fun to ask Mary for advice she’d give to hesitant gardeners like me. I wanted to know what’s her quintessential garden tool and what plants are easiest to grow.


Mary responded that her motto is:

 “Just plant it!”

She adds that gardening isn’t rocket science. If it grows, that’s great. If it doesn’t, that’s ok. You can always try again.


For plants that are easiest to grow, Mary recommends basil and any perennial (as long as they have enough sun). She explained how starter plants can be easier to begin with, since they are already established and you don’t have to begin them from seed.


She simplified gardening to plants needing two main things: Water and sun. “Don’t forget to make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of the pot,” she added.


For new gardeners like me who are completely starting from scratch, she recommends obtaining gardening gloves. For planting a vegetable garden, she considers her tiller an essential tool, adding that they are sometimes available to rent.

More plants are arriving in time for their Open House during May 1st-9th. Learn more about Natural Plus by visiting their website or Facebook page. Mary gave the North Iowa Bloggers a $100 gift certificate to give away to one of our readers. The Rafflecopter entry form is located at the bottom of this post. Enter by selecting one option or multiple. It’s really up to you!

What advice would you give to a new gardener?


puppy chow

Dirt N Worms

Never too old to eat dirt and worms dessert.


Yes, this is a mini margarita.

Natural Plus Group Photo

a Rafflecopter giveaway

My Five Favorite Food Reasons To Visit Clear Lake, Iowa

Disclosure: In exchange for traveling with the Clear Lake Chamber to Chicago, I have agreed to write five posts about the trip. It is my commitment to share my honest opinion about my experiences. This first post introduces our trip and the Chamber. 

Writing a post about Clear Lake, Iowa is a breeze for me, because I have a really easy time thinking of things I like in this city. There’s a Raygun shirt that says, “Clear Lake: The Hamptons of Mason City. It’s funny because it’s kind of true.

Clear Lake Dock

They’re our neighbor with the biggest body of water! It’s probably the biggest lake in North Iowa which makes it a popular vacation/summer home destination. Jake and I have our favorite spots in our current hometown of Mason City, but venture to Clear Lake often. When I received an opportunity to travel to Chicago with the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce and seven North Iowa Bloggers via our new carrier Air Choice One, I jumped.

Two years ago when Jake and I moved to Mason City, our airport was actually air-carrierless! The airport sat vacant until last November when Air Choice One began its contract. We heard tales of the previous air carrier’s unpredictability and hoped along with the rest of the city that things would improve. Now, flights go to and from Chicago, IL and St. Louis, MO for about $100 per roundtrip ticket. We’re a two-hour drive from the MSP and Des Moines airports and an hour from Rochester. I hope Air Choice One will continue to improve its service. We need a dependable air carrier and I’m hopeful about these new flight options. This will be my first time flying this airline.

For those road tripping north or south along I-35, Clear Lake is located next to the freeway making it a convenient place to grab a break or meal. The Surf Ballroom and Buddy Holly Crash Site are also located within the city. These are five of my favorite food reasons to visit Clear Lake:

My favorite butcher shop is in Clear Lake.

I drive to Clear Lake almost weekly to purchase meat from Louie’s Custom Meats. Sure, I could purchase meat closer to home, but I like this small, family owned and operated butcher the most. Plus, everything we get here just tastes better. The prices here are affordable and I can also grab a growler of beer produced by Lake Time Brewing, a Clear Lake Brewery.

You can get broasted chicken in Clear Lake.

Barrel CHicken
Jake and I get fried chicken cravings occasionally. We’ve indulged this craving at other places in North Iowa, but like the broasted chicken from the historic Barrel Drive-In the best. The skin’s crispy and the meat is tender and moist.

You can enjoy cheap cocktails and better bar food at Rookies in Clear Lake.

Rookies Collage

We’ve mentioned Rookie’s often, because it really is one of our favorite date night spots. I hear the atmosphere can get rowdier on weekend evenings, but we’ve always found a laid-back vibe at dinner time. Rookie’s is connected to the restaurant Sevens so customers can order more than just bar food while sitting around the big, shiny bar.

This is not to say their bar food isn’t good, though. Rookies serves one of my favorite version of sweet potato fries in North Iowa. They’re sprinkled with an addicting seasoning salt and served with a creamy dip that tastes like bacon. One of our other favorite entrees is the sautéed lemon-pepper cod served with a crisp green salad. The fact that I can sidle up to the bar and eat a better than average salad with homemade lemon vinaigrette is enough to make me loyal.

An old school supper club is located in Clear Lake.

half moon Collage
Half Moon Inn is an old school supper club near the Surf Ballroom. There is no flashy sign and the building isn’t showy, so you might not know it’s there unless someone tells you to look for it. Many rave about Northwestern Steakhouse’s Greek-style steak, while other friends prefer Half Moon.

We haven’t visited Northwestern yet, but liked the charred flavor of our ribeye. It was tender and the juices had a compelling acidic note. Meals start with a cute, pre-bread basket cracker basket with butter and dinner salads. A small loaf of bread arrives later with the entrees. The blue cheese dressing indeed included chunks of blue cheese and one can order hash browns as their potato side. Most restaurants in North Iowa offer shredded hash browns as a potato option and I love this.

You can dine lakeside at The Landing in Clear Lake. 


To my knowledge, the Landing is the only lakeside restaurant located in the city of Clear Lake (however there is a popular supper club called the Muskie Lounge in Ventura). The Landing is connected to a small hotel, so don’t be surprised to see vacationers hanging out on the yard or their patios. We enjoyed a meal here late last summer near the end of the season and have looked forward to returning. You’ll really get your money’s worth if you dine here on an evening with live music.

The Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce welcomes questions from visitors. Contact them online or visit their office at 205 Main Ave. They also share information through their tourism blog and visitors’ guide

My Quest To Understand Ham Balls

I’m on a ham ball quest.

Ham balls are a food I’d never heard of until I moved to North Iowa. Growing up in Minneapolis-St. Paul, we rarely ate pork. It never appeared on our school lunch menus, except in the form of Mr. Ribs, and we missed out on pork burgers at picnics. My friend Val of Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids introduced me to my first ham ball at a blogger potluck.


After looking at some recipes, I created my own version with a spicy cranberry fruit glaze and called them “Iowan ham balls.” My friend Katie was like, “Oh no, those may be good ham balls, but those are not quite Iowan ham balls.” She even left her family’s recipe in case you want to try them.

Hamballs watermarked

If you think I’ve been talking about ham balls a lot, you’re right. When something piques my curiosity, I tend to pursue more information about the subject with tenacity. Remember my obsession with learning about the Lincoln family after visiting Springfield, Illinois last summer? My friend observed that I was dedicated to the subject of ham balls, to which my genuine answer was, “I must understand them.

Friends continue to suggest their favorite family recipes as well as local stores from which to purchase ready-made ham balls. I stopped by Louie’s Custom Meats and Fareway in Clear Lake, Iowa to try two popular versions. These balls are pre-cooked and available to purchase by the pound.


Fareway, $4.99/lb: I’ve received so many suggestions to try Fareway’s ham balls. Each ball is larger than a golf ball. The meat’s grind is finer and the sauce is sweeter with a maple note.

Louie’s, $3.99/lb: These ham balls are the size of typical meat balls with a courser grind. Their flavor is smokier and the sauce is slightly less sweet.

I’m not quite done investigating ham balls. Val has graciously accepted my plea to learn how to make real Iowan ham balls and invited me into her kitchen later this month. There will be a blog post and video to document our adventure. In the meantime, here’s a silly little video explaining my quest to understand ham balls.

JeniEats Investigates Ham Balls from JeniEats on Vimeo.

Not Too Cool For Gas Station Breakfast Pizza + A Pizza Party

“Cause there ain’t no party like the pre-party
And after the party is the after-party
At the gas station pizza party (yea, pass me the chicken wings).”

I have no idea why this, but Lee Brice song comes to mind. We weren’t eating pizza in a parking lot and there were no chicken wings.

Gas station pizza is kind of a thing here, especially gas station breakfast pizza. In early February, actress Mila Kunis made the Des Moines Register when she commented that Casey’s General Store makes her favorite gas station snack, a “delicious breakfast pizza” in a Reddit AMA.

It’s not that we have bad taste in North Iowa, it’s that we have a lot of Casey’s and that their breakfast pizza is actually pretty good. North Iowa is composed of many small towns. We live in the biggest city in North Iowa which clocked in at 27,500 in 2013. Some towns like Plymouth are tiny with 373 residents and many fall somewhere in between like Charles City at 7,500. We drive a lot just like we did in the Twin Cities, but unlike a 30-minute commute between Apple Valley, MN and Minneapolis, there might not be as much between the cities. There’s usually a Casey’s somewhere in-between and there are some small towns in which a Casey’s in one of the only businesses.

During the first year I lived in Mason City, I worked at a small nonprofit in Osage, a town of 6,500.

Osage Fiargrounds

The Osage Iowa fairgrounds, summer of 2014.

It took me 40-minutes to drive to work on good-weather days. The only place to stop for gas, or anything, really, was Manly, Iowa. When my tank ran low or a train blocked Highway 9, I’d pull into Casey’s to fill my tank and grab a slice of breakfast pizza.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Casey’s Pizza is Pizzeria Lola or Broders’, but you might also find their breakfast pizza tastes surprisingly good. It’s the only breakfast pizza that doesn’t gross me out and it’s available at gas stations in rural Iowa. I like the crust and the cheese is the real, chewy kind. After I eat a slice, I keep smelling whiffs of butter. In fact, I think it tastes better than many chain pizza joints.

After Mila mentioned Casey’s breakfast pizza, we began talk about it on Twitter. Gas station Kum & Go jumped into a conversation and offered to let us try their breakfast pizza, too. Before I knew it, my North Iowa blogger friends had coordinated a pizza party.

caseys box

Casey’s, Kum & Go and Godfather’s generously donated pies. Jenny brought Iowan beer, Donna contributed a frozen, gluten-free Udi’s pizza, and I brought a pizza margarita from our new, local Italian restaurant Pasta Bella.

Me and Pizza

Beth always offers to host our tasting parties and really is the hostess with the mostess. She made voting sheets complete with smiley face stickers for voting, pizza signs, and caprese salad.

Beths caprese salad

Val brought her famous Overnight Salad. It’s a layered salad of lettuce, cauliflower, onion, parmesan, mayo, and sugar that sits overnight and you toss before serving.

Val Salad Collage

Honestly, I preferred Val’s salad over the pizzas and returned for seconds. My version of Overnight Salad will never be as good as Val’s because it included bacon she and her husband made on their farm. They cut it into super thick chunks. It was like I was eating succulent pieces of pork belly instead of the bacon strips I usually find. Val said she and her husband chuckle when presented with what people typically refer to as “thick-cut bacon.”

There were so many types of pizza that I lost track of what I tasted. I filled my plate with pieces of cut-up slices and soon gave up keeping track of what they were. Plus, I kept wanting to eat that salad.

Pizza Collage
Everyone had their favorites. I posted about our party on my social media accounts and learned that Godfather’s has a very loyal following. I haven’t eaten it since college.

godfathers combo

In case you were wondering, this is what a Kum & Go breakfast pizza looks like. Why should let Casey’s completely sweep the gas station breakfast pizza game;) I was in a pizza coma when I tasted this pizza, but someone said Kum & Go’s also adds hashbrowns.


We voted for our favorites and Pasta Bella received the most. I liked that it had a thin crust and delicate tasting toppings that included fresh tomatoes and basil. Our newest blogger Loni said it tasted closest to the pizzas she enjoyed in Italy.

Pasta Bella Pizza

And so a North Iowa Pizza Part: Part II is in order. Obviously we are missing many places like Little Chicago, Pete’s Kitchen, Breadeaux, Azzolina’s, and The Other Place. We’re just taking it a few pizzas at a time.

pizza party group

Photo taken by Donna with a selfie stick. Carrying on our dear friend Amy’s tradition.

Fifteen months ago, four of us North Iowa bloggers met for dinner for the first time. Now, our group’s grown to nearly 30 people. Comparing life in a big metropolitan area like Minneapolis-St. Paul to North Iowa is like comparing apples to oranges. Sure, I miss the lakes and ordering eggplant pizza from Broders’ anytime I’d like. But the skies here are big and I hope I’m never too cool for gas station breakfast pizza.

I miss Amy and I love these women. Life with these friendships is good.

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