Saturday, December 20, 2014

Evening Roundup

These days, the weather has been nice enough that we can graze our cows back out on the stubble of our crop fields. This is also possible because there's no snow cover on the ground. It's great that they can graze because then we don't burn through as much hay, and there's plenty of stuff for them to munch on out there. 

Because the only water this time of year is back in the corrals, the cows have to be driven back in each evening. They go out during the day to graze, then back to the yard for overnight water access. Those of you who follow my blog and read regularly, will remember me discussing this a few weeks ago when I had the task of letting the cows out in the morning to their day grazing. Yesterday, I got to ride along with Jeff for the evening portion of this twice a day chore. 

But first, I took Harvey and Abby for a nice little three mile run! We did a short out and back route from Tom and Carol's house and had a great time. Here are a few photos from our little jaunt:

View of the Sweetgrass Hills from about a mile north of Tom and Carol's house. 

My running companions, Harvey and Abby.

Looking out toward some of the cows, grazing on crop stubble and winter wheat.

Headed back up the hill toward home.
Harvey likes to run ahead, but he always turns around to make sure I'm still coming!
After our little run, Harvey, Abby and I went back to the house for a drink of water. It was about 4:00 p.m. when Jeff and I were ready to head out and start moving the cows in. Harvey came with us in the pickup and Abby stayed home. By this time of day, this time of year, the sun is just starting to set. We have been having some really beautiful skies lately, primarily in mornings and evenings. This is why they call it the Big Sky State I guess. :)
A few cows, starting to head towards home.
 By 5:15 or so, it was pretty dark. We were really having a hard time trying to see cows. And then, I saw something that looked like it was too small to be a cow and moving much too quickly... it approached the vehicle and we saw that it was Abby! She had run back out from the house to join us, even though she must have been tired from our run earlier (she's getting kinda old...)  So Jeff loaded her up into the tailgate and she joined us.

Not long after that, we heard the sounds of another dog panting outside our window. This time, we looked down and it was our neighbor's dog, Bella! You might remember her from THIS POST. Even though she lives over three miles away from where we were, she ran all the way out to see what all the commotion was about! She has BOUNDLESS energy. Harvey and Abby, not to be outdone, had to get out and run around with her!

So, we continued on with our cattle roundup, driving them towards home, with the three dogs "helping" us out!
Can you see three dogs and one cow in our headlights?
I know it might seem silly to wait until dark to get the cows in, so here's a bit more explanation. We like to maximize the time the cows can graze during the day before driving them back into the corrals. This time of year, the days are really short, and especially when you live as far north as we do. Typically, we do start during daylight hours, but sunsets seem to not last very long either sometimes and it's dark before you know it! This particular evening, the herd was really spread out, too, so it took us longer than normal to get them back in. 

After we got the cows in, we left Abby and Tom and Carol's, then dropped Bella back off at our neighbor's place. She's quite the country traveller! Who knows who we'll have next time we bring the cows in?! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Holidays from Harvey

Harvey, our handsome four year old vizsla, would like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season!  As would our barn. :)

This year, we are looking forward to staying around home, taking part in our HiLine Christmas traditions, and then hosting my family from December 26-Jan 2. Harvey is looking forward to receiving a new dog toy or two (but he doesn't know that yet!) and definitely getting lots of treats of leftover people food from holiday meals.

Here are a few traditions we'll be taking part in this year:

- Christmas Caroling in the Country
- Prime Rib Christmas Dinner, cooked by Jeff
- White Elephant Gift Exchange
- Family games of Trivial Pursuit
- Watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
- Hiding and finding the pickle ornament on the Christmas Tree

I'm sure I'll write about some of these as the holiday season continues to unfold. Who knows what else the holidays will have in store! What are your plans? What traditions does your family have?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Winter Neighboring

Living so rurally, as we do, one really comes to appreciate the benefits of having good neighbors. People you know you can call on if you need a hand or to check on your home or animals while your out of town are something we all need from time to time out here. People are generally very happy to help one another out because we all know there will come a time when we need someone to do something for us.

When we were gone over Thanksgiving, our good friend and neighbor, Brett was a fantastic neighbor to us. We were in Bozeman for four days, and had lined up ahead of time for Brett to check in on our cows, feed them if necessary, bring in the mail, etc. While we were gone, the weather turned polar and he ended up having to do more work than we anticipated-- chipping out our watering fountains, making sure our power came back on. 

Right after that four day stint, Brett left for vacation himself, so Jeff and I have had a chance to return the favor for his cows. This past Sunday morning, I joined Jeff as we drove over to Brett's place to check on his animals. I took a few photos on my phone, for your viewing pleasure!

 Brett's family farm has a really cool old barn in the yard. Gotta love old barns with lots of character!

Ok, so I didn't realize this photo turned out a little bit blurry. These young calves looked like they were feeling pretty good. They were curious as to who we were, for sure!

 The cows looked pretty good, too! Brett's cows are Angus, most of them are black. I really like the white markings some had on their faces, too.
Last, we paid a short visit to the heifers. You can see Brett's brand on the right rib. Brett's dad had actually been out the day before, we think, to feed all the animals, so our visit turned out to be mainly just a check-in. We did roll out a lick tub for the heifers, though, per Brett's request. All in all, the animals looked great, and it was neat, as always, to see someone else's corrals and see how another rancher sets things up. 

As winter continues to unfurl, I am sure we will find more opportunities to be neighborly and help our fellow north-country residents out, just as I'm sure we'll need others to help us out again, too. We all know that we are here for each other and all you have to do is ask. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Oh, How the Cookie Crumbles

Today, I bring you the next adventure in my Quest for the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe search.

I tried another recipe that was given to me recently by my Aunt Jean. I think it may be my Grandmother's recipe, which I've written about before. Let me just say immediately that these turned out NOTHING like how my grandma's did.  I have many several reasons in my mind as to why that could be, but let's back up a bit first.
Mixing up another batch!
First, in looking at this recipe, I noticed that it was almost identical to the recipe I had tried last weekend. The differences were that this recipe included slightly more flour, slightly more of both sugars, slightly more baking soda, slightly more salt, and half as much vanilla. When I say slightly, I really do mean very slight differences of each of these ingredients. The proportions were very, very similar in both recipes.

The biggest problem I have dealt with so far in making any of these recipes is that I do not have butter flavored crisco or Nucoa brand margarine on hand. Almost every recipe specifically calls for one or both of those ingredients. I do have a large tub of regular crisco, and I hate to waste, so I've been using that. And, I have regular unsalted butter that I've been using instead of nucoa or margarine of any kind. To make matters even worse, the butter I'm currently trying to use up is generic store brand that I bought at the local gas station convenience store because I needed it for something else. Not to be all baking-goods-snobby, but I do believe quality (sometimes expensive) name brand ingredients make a difference when baking. Again, I hate to waste, so we're just going to suffer through for a while longer. And, I live an hour from the grocery store.

Moving on.

Today was not the day to get all experimenty with this recipe, but I did it anyway. I used 1/4 cup of almond flour in place of regular flour when I mixed up the batter. And, I decided to use 1 1/2 teaspoons of almond flavoring, too. The batter smelled really heavenly and I was really excited to bake these up!
Using a fancy schmancy cookie scoop! (Thanks, Carol!)
I formed the dough using a cookie scoop Carol had sent over a few days prior and placed the round balls on my trusty air bake pans, and into the oven went the first batch.
This is what came out of the oven, twelve minutes later:
Super flat, crispy, simultaneously burnt and undercooked, and they didn't scrape off the pan without breaking!
I did salvage some of the cookies from the first tray.
This picture makes it look like they're in jail, which is how I feel about them anyway. 
These were just as bad as the very first batch I made, following the recipe from the back of the chocolate chip cookie bag. I already had dough on my second pan, so the first two pans both turned out sad and holey. Pictures don't do justice to how crispy and crunchy these were.
Sad, broken cookies. This is how the cookie crumbles, folks.
That's when I nearly lost it. I was so excited for this batch of cookies, but they were turning out terrible! Jeff, the ever-eager cookie sampler, tried one with me and we both agreed that they tasted terrible, too! bleh. I was trying to continue scraping cookie parts off the pan, but they kept breaking or sticking to the pan and making a mess. I was getting really frustrated then, so I turned off the oven in a huff and attempted to put plastic wrap on the remaining dough, but it kept sticking to itself instead of the bowl... By now, I felt like nothing was going right at all and I myself was teetering on the edge of a chocolate chip cookie meltdown!

Jeff, my ever patient husband, was trying to help me figure out why they weren't working and eventually suggested we try adding extra flour to the dough. Perhaps we should have made adjustments for high altitude? There was nothing to lose at this point, so we added another quarter cup of flour and two teaspoons of water, and tried another batch in the oven.

These came out a little bit better. They held together better, but still spread out quite a bit and were very crispy.
After adding more flour, the cookies held together better.
We decided to add more flour still, and try again. This result was the best tray of cookies so far, although they still didn't taste great, and were still really crispy.

So, this was the first of what I would consider to be a true bust in my Quest. You know it's bad if Jeff hasn't come back to sneak any more cookies throughout the day.

Thoughts as to why these turned out so bad:

  • Almond flour maybe isn't exactly interchangeable with regular flour, even though the package says it is.
  • A little bit of almond flavoring goes a LOOOOOONG way!
  • Once again, altitude seems to make a difference. Recipes that I get from my friends and family in the Midwest will likely need to be adjusted.
  • I didn't use butter flavored crisco, or nucoa, as the recipe suggested.
I decided to research the altitude thing a bit more and dug out my trusty High Altitude Baking book to see what they say about cookies. The book suggests that most baking recipes will need to be adjusted for altitude at 3500 feet above sea level. That's pretty much exactly our altitude, so it makes sense that some recipes would need to be tweaked. Here's an excerpt:

Cookies: Although many sea level cookie recipes yield acceptable results at high altitudes, they often can be improved by a slight increase in baking temperature; a slight decrease in baking powder or baking soda, fat and/or sugar; and/or a slight increase in liquid ingredients and flour.

So then I went back and compared this recipe to the one I did last week. Remember how I said they were almost identical? If you take the suggestions from High Altitude Baking and apply them to the recipe I used today, you'd pretty much end up with the recipe I tried last week. Interesting, no? Once again, we've more or less proved that altitude DOES make a difference! Not that that excuses my almond obsession for these cookies, or the fact that I had the wrong fats...
With each addition of flour to the cookie dough, the cookies held together better and better.
Can you tell which cookie was baked first, second, and last?
Better luck next time! Thanks go to Jeff for keeping me sane! I definitely owe him some better cookies, and SOON! :)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

November Fitness Challenges Recap

Now that December is half way finished, it's probably about time that I recap the November fitness challenges that I did, don't you think!?

If you remember back a ways, I had decided to participate in two 30 day fitness challenges, one that called for doing planks every day, and the other asked for running a total of 48 miles in November. You can read about them in THIS POST I did in early November.

I know all three of my faithful readers have been just waiting in agony, wondering how I did on those challenges! Ha!

Well, here's my hand-written calendar that I filled in along the way, to show my results:
30 days closer to being a Badass!
It took me the full month to get all my miles in;  I actually didn't get the full 48 in until my very last run on November 30. But hey, I did it! It was also really great for me to see my mileage written out in a calendar like this. It gave me a visual of how much running I had done and when I could have done more. It's something I'm thinking about continuing. Does anyone else use a calendar or journal to track exercise? If so, what do you like to use?

Both challenges were fun and challenging but not deathly hard to accomplish. I am really noticing the benefits of the planking challenge in my overall posture, both running and non-running. And, the added core strength has helped my running form overall, in addition to just becoming stronger.

The 48 mile in a month challenge was really good for me, too. 48 miles in a month is more running than I had been accustomed to doing, and really helped me train and get in shape for the 10K I did on Thanksgiving, Huffing For Stuffing.

The running challenge was one that I actually paid money to do and came with great prizes. It's all on the honor system, so I just tracked my miles in a spreadsheet and emailed it to the race organizers at the end of the month. About a week later, I received my goodie bag:
The t-shirt is great, and the medal is nice too. The necklace was completely unexpected. I don't know if that's something they give everyone, or only some people depending on the event they do, or only women, or just at random, or what, but I got one. I never saw anything about receiving a necklace in the event description or anywhere on their website, but hey, it's cool.

Funk~N~Run events are all put on by these people who call themselves Flower Child Productions. The necklace is actually a little flower charm with stones (I'm assuming they're crystals of some sort or maybe even CZ).
The necklace was a nice surprise, but it's not really my style, and since I'm thinking it's not worth anything anyway, I'll probably donate it to the Prize Bin in my classroom at school. Some little second-grader would probably love that thing to death and would wear it more than I would.

All in all, the challenges were a great success and I'd definitely do another 30 day challenge in the future. I would also strongly consider doing a Funk~N~Run challenge again the next time I want to train for a specific race distance. It was fun, and the fact that I paid a little money and was going to earn some prizes helped keep me honest and consistent in training for the HFS 10K.

No races or events are on my horizon right now, although I'm thinking about doing a virtual run or two in the long winter months of January and February, just to keep myself motivated. Have any of you ever done a virtual run? Shape Up Montana starts in February, too, so that will help. I'm travelling to Wichita, KS in March and have already checked to see that they have a St. Patrick's Day run, so that might be the next actual race that I do.  Besides all that, well... SKI SEASON is upon us!!! Can't wait to go play in the snow! :)

What are you doing for winter fitness?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Weekend ReCap

Hello out there, everyone! How was your weekend?

Ours was nice. We stayed around home for once, which was nice, and allowed us to get a lot done around the house. We took in some North Star Junior High Basketball as part of their District Tournament on Friday evening. Of the games we saw, the girls won against Fort Benton, and the boys lost against Chinook. The girls went on to win the entire tournament, beating out a very tough Box Elder Bears team. Our boys finished the tournament in fourth place, but earned high accolades for never giving up and displaying excellent sportsmanship. In my opinion, those qualities are just as important as winning.

Apparently we had freezing fog overnight that night because when I woke up Saturday morning, our environment was transformed into a beautiful frosty wonderland:
I now wish I had taken more photos of this. It was so lovely outside! I drove into town to get my Bountiful Basket, and they didn't seem to have the same effect that far south (twenty miles). By end of day, it had burned off, but it was really pretty while it lasted!

Saturday afternoon, our friend Tom from Fort Benton took some time in between his daughter's basketball games to visit our farm and take a driving tour. It was great to host him and always feels awesome when someone wants to drive all the way up to Almost-Canada to see where we live and spend time with us.

While driving around, we saw a beautiful Snowy Owl perched on a telephone post. Jeff got a few photos, getting as close as he could without scaring the owl away. We discussed whether it was a Snowy Owl or just a Barn Owl with it's winter coloring. Jeff was sure it was a Snowy. Afterwards, I did a brief internet search just to learn more. Snowy Owls live above the Arctic Circle during summer months and only come this far south in the winter (hard to think of where we live as being "this far south" from anywhere!). Barn Owls, while they can have white coloring in the winter, tend to have a more mottled white and brown or tan appearance. Additionally, Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal, so it would have been highly unlikely that we would have seen one during the middle of the day, although we do have some Barn Owls around.
Snowy Owl!
The weather was by and large pretty nice over the weekend, so I got some good outdoor runs in, too. Here's a bunch of photos from Harvey and I out for a few walks and jogs...
Running in tire tracks on a section line.
 I went for a nice jog on Friday afternoon before our snow melted, and followed in someone's tire tracks. It really is more of a workout on the snow, I think.
Harvey cuts across a stubblefield to catch up to me.
 I had gone a different way than I normally do, and Harvey was momentarily confused! Also, it's nice that we no longer have to wear our blaze orange vests as big game hunting season has ended. Harvey still wore his red hoodie, though. It was around 20 degrees for this run.

 After a while, the tire tracks I was running in disappeared, so I decided to follow in the clear path of animal tracks. I love how winter snow can reveal the paths little creatures take, and I figured they'd know the best path to run on, and why would I know better than them?  Looks like mostly fox or coyote tracks, based on the size.
 The landscape where we live is very flat, as you've undoubtedly noticed. I used to think that it was boring, but I've really come to appreciate the subtlety and nuance that does exist. From the perspective of a runner, too, I think running out here makes me mentally tougher. I'm used to having to entertain myself while I run-- no music, no varied scenery or people watching. Just the sound of my feet on the ground, and looking out at the wildlife. This next photo was taken about a mile and a half away from my house, looking back towards home.

The next image is just a fun shot of Harvey doing some digging. This dog LOVES to dig! We've had a surge in population of pocket gophers, which are sort of like a mix between a mouse and a mole. They dig these big mounds of soft dirt and Harvey will catch their scent in there and just dig like crazy!
After this walk, Harvey had a bath!
Sunday, I went through my Stitch Fix Box and tried on all my stuff and made those decisions, then Jeff and I went to Havre for some errands and then to dinner and a movie. We saw MockingJay. It was pretty good, but nothing unexpected. If you're a fan of the series, you'll like it.

So that's about it for us! What did all of you do over the weekend? 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

StitchFix December 2014 Review

Somehow, I got my Stitch Fix box today. On a Sunday. Out here, we only get mail three days a week ~ Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I got pinged that my box had shipped on Wednesday, and was due to arrive by 12/9, Tuesday, so I expected to actually see it on Wednesday 12/10. Must have come Friday and we just haven't been over to Tom and Carol's to get our mail until this morning when Jeff went over to help with chores.  I'm happy it's here early because it gave me a chance to not be rushed, and, with Jeff's help, get some photos taken of all the items.
All my stuff, with the box and the style card. I like the color story of my items this time. 
I'm trying to get better at staging photos of my items. Jeff is a very patient photographer and husband, so kudos to him for helping out! The hardest thing is finding a spot in our house to take photos that has good lighting and a neutral backdrop. Not too many places fit that bill. I have one little corner of wall that works OK if I crop the photos. If it were nice weather, maybe I could talk Jeff into taking the photos with me outside? Next time maybe. Also, I downloaded a very basic frames app so I can group some shots together, show multiple angles, and details. Welcome to modern times, Katie! lol

Let's have a look at what I got this time!

Outfit One, featuring: Mavi Freida Corduroy, and Collective Concepts Gustav Textured V-Neck Sweater. 
 Let's start with the sweater. I don't love it. White/cream is generally not a good color for me- it tends to wash me out. Also, it's a little short in the body for me, and the sleeves kept creeping up as I wore it, too. The material is 100% polyester, which I'm not opposed to in a different style of shirt, but not in a sweater. This one's going back.

Ok, now the cords. I specifically requested a corduroy or velveteen pant in a modern cut, knowing full well that it could be a challenge for my stylist to find a pant that actually fit over my booty without gapping at the back waist. What can I say other than my stylist totally delivered on these! They fit great, with no gap at the back, they're a good length, and they're SUPER comfy. I foresee myself wearing these a lot. They'll work for school, and can be dressed up or down. I can rotate them in and out of my wardrobe with my other black skinny pants from Banana Republic, which is a good thing, since those have to be dry-cleaned. These cords are a definite keeper!

Here's another basic outfit I created with pieces I already had...
Outfit Two, featuring: Mavi Freida Corduroy, denim shirt from Eddie Bauer, and Timberland Earthkeepers boots.

Let me just take a moment to note that this is my third fix and my third different stylist. I haven't requested different stylists, they've just assigned me to someone different each time. I don't know what's up with that, but I'd love it if I could keep the same person for a while at least. Maybe it will lead to consistently better and better fixes? Who am I kidding-- they probably use an algorithm to decide what goes into each fix anyway. Nevertheless, I'm going to try to make a note of that when I check out and see what happens.

Let's move on to the next item.

Outfit Three, featuring: Collective Concepts Esten Button-Up Sleeveless Blouse, and (again!) Mavi Freida Corduroy.
 We've already discussed the cords. I love them. As for the blouse, this is another case where my stylist listened to my request and checked out my recent Pinterest pins of outfits with primary colors. I requested yellow/gold as a color I'm interested in because I can wear it with red for my Iowa State Cyclones or Navy for my MSU Bobcats. Yes, I like to wear team-spirit outfits on days when my teams play. I'm cool like that. I also just really like to wear bright, cheery colors.

This shirt on it's own isn't really fabulous for me. Yellow is another of those colors that just doesn't suit my skin tone very well. That being said, the shirt fits like it's supposed to and is comfortable, and will meet some of my other outfit ideas, as you can see in the next image...

Outfit Four, featuring: Collective Concepts Esten Button-Up Sleeveless Blouse, Mavi Freida Cordoroy (there's those pants again!), cardigan from Target, and hand-made scarf that my dad brought be back from Ireland. Oh, and those Timberland boots again, too.
 Primary color outfit achieved! I could wear this outfit straight to school on a Cyclone game day! I think this looks happy and festive for a day that I'm working in the Elementary school. Jeff also agreed that the shirt looked a lot better as part of an outfit like this. So, I think I'll keep this one, too, along with my cords.

Outfit Five, featuring: Collective Concepts Esten Button-Up Sleeveless Blouse, Look by M Celine Lace Pattern Fringe End Scarf, Pink Martini Augustina Lace Back Open Cardigan, and my own Miss Me straight leg jeans. 
This last outfit features the final two pieces I received in my fix, the lace back cardigan and the scarf. My stylist suggested these two pieces together with the sleeveless top. I think on the whole, the outfit looks good together and I like the style of it. I'm not a huge fan of the scarf. It's just really big. Jeff's comment was, "Why did they send you a blanket?" and then I told him it was a scarf. Oh. I think I may have been more inclined to keep this, even though it's large, if the pattern was different. I also thought about it as maybe a gift for someone else for Christmas. If I were on the border of keeping all five items, I'd probably keep this for the 20% discount when you keep all five, but I knew I wasn't keeping all five, or even four of five.

On the cardigan, it's the right color and the right size. Again, my stylist followed my request for blue and navy, and layering pieces. This piece fits all of those check-marks. The cardigan is nice, but I'm just not a big fan of the lace back trend that's happening right now. I can't explain it, don't know why, but I just don't love the look of a lace back shirt.

Overall, I think I can accomplish the same look of this outfit with pieces I already have, like the scarf in the primary colors outfit, and my own navy cardigan that's already in my closet (not pictured). So, I'm returning both the cardigan and the scarf.

So, after my third fix, I'd still say that I'm happy with Stitch Fix. I still think it's a lot of fun, and I really like having someone else pick out pieces for me and give me outfit suggestions. Again, I think my stylist really listened to my requests and picked out some great pieces, even though she was my third stylist. The shipping and check-out process is easy and fun. There are a lot of benefits to me for continuing with Stitch Fix. The biggest reasons are that there's not a lot of shopping opportunities in Almost-Canada, MT,  and when I am places where there is decent shopping, I don't seem to have a ton of extra time to do said shopping. The prices are reasonable, in my opinion, and I'm getting pieces I may not have picked out or tried on for myself otherwise. I'm getting great styling ideas for cute outfits, too.

Most of all, I think the biggest benefit to me of Stitch Fix is that I'm getting back into looking cute and taking more pride in being fashionable, which is something I had gotten away from since living up here. Ultimately, I'm feeling more confident in my appearance and therefore, in myself. And that's a good thing.

Here's a rundown, again, of what I'm keeping and what I'm sending back.
Look by M Celine Lace Pattern Fringe End Scarf: Returned.
Mavi Freida Corduroy: KEPT, Enthusiastically!!!
Collective Concepts Esten Button-Up Sleeveless Blouse: Kept.
Pink Martini Augustina Lace Back Open Cardigan: Returned.
Collective Concepts Gustav Textured V-Neck Sweater: Returned.

If you haven't tried Stitch Fix and you want to, please consider signing up through my referral link (below) so I can get a little credit when your first Fix ships. If you've already signed up for Stitch Fix using my referral code from last time, but you're still waiting to schedule your first fix (there are a few of you who have done that!) maybe consider scheduling it. You might get some awesome things that you really love, too!


And, in case you're curious, here's a link to my October Stitch Fix Review. 

So, there you have it, folks! Hope you all have a wonderful week!