Friday, August 29, 2014

Hard Work vs. Talent

Came across this article on a friend's FB news feed:

Montana High Schools Ranked by Enrollment Numbers

If you click on it and scroll down, you can take a look at a well-organized chart of enrollment numbers for all Montana high schools, organized by class. Here's a few thoughts that come to mind after glancing at the chart.

North Star, where I work, is in Class C. Class C is the largest of all four classes of Montana schools/sports, but is comprised of the smallest schools. This tells the astute reader that Montana has A LOT of small towns.

For sports, many of the small schools listed in the Class C column co-opt for one or all of the athletic seasons. Our sports offerings are much fewer than a school in AA, as well. At North Star, we have only Football/Volleyball in the fall, Basketball in winter, and Track and Field in the spring. Some Class C schools also have Cheerleading, Golf, Wrestling and Tennis, but often only if they're one of the larger Class C schools or Co-Opted teams.

Some schools, again, such as North Star, are actually an agglomeration of several small towns together in one school. Another example on the list would be Chester-Joplin-Inverness, or Powder River.

Ames, IA, where I grew up, had enrollment of around 1600 students when I graduated in 2002.  If Ames High were in Montana, it would be Class AA. When I graduated, Ames was class AAAA, but in Iowa the class system is a little different. If I remember correctly, from smallest to largest, it went A, AA, AAA, AAAA. In Montana it's, C, B, A, AA.

Something else worth noting is that there is some overlap in enrollment numbers between the different classes. Chinook, a Class C school with 145 students could very easily be in Class B. Butte Central is Class A, but only has 136 enrolled students. That makes them even smaller than Chinook, so one could argue they should jump all the way down to Class C. My understanding is that there is some governing body that initially decides or recommends to different schools whether or not they should change classes, but that a school board or superintendent perhaps could appeal that recommendation and remain where they are.

If you're the school who is the top dog on the pile for your class, you're likely the most despised adversary in your district or conference, especially when competing against schools much smaller than you. In my high school days, that school was West Des Moines Valley. They were a common enemy among foes.

Something that one of my fellow Track coaches says often when we're all talking about competing against bigger schools, is, "They still gotta compete." They still have to show up and work just as hard as we do. Even if we feel like we're perennially the underdogs, facing teams that are larger, or drawing from a larger talent pool, good work ethic makes a difference. A phrase I like is "Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn't Work Hard."

So anyway. Those are just a few thoughts to ponder. The plaque above is a reward I gave myself for sticking with running so well this year. I think it'll be a great way to chronicle races over time and show off my hardwear- ha! Ok, so two of those medals are from the IceBreaker 5K in Great Falls, where every finisher wins a medal. The middle medal is from Dawson's Run, in Joplin, MT, which I did this year for the second time and actually was the first-place female finisher. Even though it was a small race, I'm still proud of that medal.

Really, I'm proud of all my races because of the hard work and dedication I have put in to training and staying in shape. Each finish memorializes that. Hopefully, an athlete from Ames competing against Valley (or whoever today's Valley is), or a kid from North Star going up against Chinook feels like their hard work is memorialized in battle, too. And hopefully, sometimes that hard work will pay off and beat the talent pool they're facing.

Go Cyclones, Go Knights!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Harvest: Take 2!

After a long rainy break in the harvest action, I'm pleased to say that we have started cutting again as of yesterday at about 4:00 p.m.  Hooray! Right now we are cutting spring wheat on the fields that Jeff and I are farming. Tom and our friend Brett are driving combines and Jeff and Stennie are driving truck back and forth from the field to the yard. Carol and I are on home-support/meal crew. I would like to say that we are getting back into routine quickly, but this year's harvest has been anything but routine.  It is definitely good to be cutting again, though.

The yard is filled with trucks and machinery during harvest!
How many trucks can you spot?
How many pickups?
(Did you know those were two different things?!)
Last night we had dinner in our house, provided by Carol and Jeff's Aunt Dorothy (Tom's eldest sister). Dorothy has been visiting and staying at Tom and Carol's since last Friday. It was so great to have the meal all thought up and prepared by them so that when I got home from school, I didn't have to worry about it. I even had time to sneak in a short run with Harvey, since we didn't eat until late.
Harvey is always ready to run! 
Dorothy and Carol are both great cooks, and had planned a delicious meal for the evening. Dorothy has a specialty sandwich called Muffaletta that Carol had requested the recipe for upon hearing that Dorothy was going to be visiting. Dorothy did her one-better and brought most of the ingredients to make the sandwich, too! They also had made a peachy rum upside down cake, which was fantastic as well.
Me and Dorothy with the muffaletta.
The photo should have been Carol and Dorthy, since they were the ones who actually made it! 

Close up of the sandwich. The ladies baked the bread from scratch, too. 

Delicious sandwich, corn from the garden, pickled beans (also from the garden), and a delicious Montana brew! 

Peachy pecan rum upside down cake. Yum! 
Tonight, we'll be taking dinner out to the field and then, hopefully dodging a rain shower that is supposed to be in the area later this evening. If we miss the rain, I think the plan is to cut wheat late into the night, or at least as long as it doesn't get too dewy. I haven't taken a meal out since the very first night of harvest, so that will be fun. It will be nice not to eat at 9pm.
Yes, that's our our bed...
He likes to have his head under the sheets. Goofy creature!
Because it was so rainy over the weekend, some farmers are experiencing wheat sprouting in the head. We've heard whispers of that occurring in our area, but haven't been seeing it in our own wheat yet. It's not good if the grain is sprouting, but the elevator will still take it-- they just dock your price because of it. We're hoping that we continue to see good, dry wheat kernels. So far, so good.
This is some grain that had spilled onto the ground before the rain, and since sprouted.
I think it's pretty and it reminds me of spring. 
It's so satisfying to finally be cutting our own crop off our own fields. I think so far Jeff has been pleasantly surprised with the yield on the fields that have been cut. Always a good thing to be pleasantly surprised. If we stay dry, we should be finished with harvest more or less within a week. Here's hoping for steady progress and no breakdowns!
Life is good!
Can you spot the Vizsla?! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rain, Rain...

Today is the first sunny day after several rainy, cold, and frankly, quite dreary days. As I was climbing into my car this morning, I saw the sun peak through the clouds in the east, and I remembered that it was, in fact, still summer, still August. How quickly we forget. Today, though, was beautiful. The sun shone and the high was in the upper 60s, with minimal wind. I was so inspired by the weather that when I got home from work, I popped out a 5 mile run. Just perfect! 

Our rain total for the weekend was just a hair under two inches. In town (Rudyard), they had another inch over what we had. Our rainfall total amounts to a pretty significant precipitation event these parts, where our annual average rainfall is only something like 10”-12”. In a year that has been significantly under average in terms of precipitation so far, to get two or more inches of rain at a time is a pretty big deal. In the long term, it is a very good thing.

In the short term, however, it’s an inconvenience. We are still hoping to continue harvest someday… 

With the rainfall, the roads out here are pretty muddy, which means the fields will be, too. Not to mention the grain itself will be wet for a few days yet. We are hoping to recommence harvesting the remaining half of our crop later this week, maybe by Thursday or Friday.

Jeff and I are feeling a little under the gun to get harvest in the bin before we leave on our final FUE trip
to Washington D.C. on September 5, but hopefully with a string of nice, warm harvest-weather days over this long Labor Day weekend, we can get a lot done. 

We spent our rainy-day weekend mostly indoors. Saturday we took a trip to Havre and showed Stennie the sights. Yesterday we were here, mainly working on cleaning projects. I did a lot of cleaning in the house and Jeff cleaned our garage. Not terribly exciting, but all things that needed to be done. That's what rainy days are good for.

They are also good for impending winter wheat seeding, which I'm sure I'll write more about later this fall. Moisture in the soil is a great boon for winter wheat! There's a plus-side to everything. :) 

Always Look On the Bright Side of Life!

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Food Post

I know I have been writing a lot about food and baking lately on the blog, so I wanted to take a post here to show some photos and share a little bit about what I have been up to. Some projects have been solo endeavors and others with either Stephanie or Carol. There is something very satisfying about making a home-cooked meal from scratch, especially when using ingredients one has grown oneself. 

Again, as a disclaimer: I'm no food photographer! I'll try to get better if I keep posting food images, but... no promises! 

One of the first things Stennie and I did when she got here was mix up a batch of pie crusts. We made four crusts and formed them into discs. Three went into the freezer and one was made into a crust for this delicious pie:
Wishing I had taken a photo of a slice of pie so you could see the key lime part... 
This pie is a key-lime pie topped with fresh raspberries. The limes came from my Bountiful Basket and the berries were from Carol's raspberry thicket. Stennie and I did the crust together, but I whipped up the custardy lime filling on my own. I had never made anything custard-like before, and was really pleased with how it turned out.

It was a big hit at dinner that night, too. I carried it over to Tom and Carol's in this wonderful food carrier:
Made by Nancy |Olson
This was something I received at my bridal shower up here on the Hi-Line about three and a half years ago. It was made by a local woman who has since passed away. It's a perfect carrier for harvest-time meals, potlucks, or any time one is taking food to and fro.

Another plentiful garden vegetable right now is green beans. A few days after Carol returned from her vacation, we picked and canned these green beans as bean pickles, or dilly beans as some people call them. The contents are simple: green beans, dill heads, garlic, red pepper flakes, sugar, salt, cider vinegar. Canned using the hot water bath method, they are pretty simple and very delicious! I like bean pickles on grilled brats especially well in the summer, but they're also delightful eaten plain. 
The beans, garlic, pepper flakes, and dill have been packed into jars and are awaiting the hot cider vinegar solution, then to be processed. 

Carrots are also plentiful in the garden this year. I am really loving these rainbow carrots we planted. I think the colors are very beautiful. They look like a sunset in carrot form, some of them. We have been noticing that they vary in strength of carroty flavor depending on the color. The white ones are very mild, yellow is slightly stronger, orange tastes like a normal carrot, and the red ones are even more carroty. They are all delicous!

With the most recent Bountiful Basket, I also ordered a case of peaches. I have had a few questions from people as to the quality of the peaches, so I thought I'd answer those here. The peaches came from Washington. They were very sweet and lovely flavored. They weren't too big or too small in size. There was not a single unusable peach in the box. The whole thing was great in every aspect. 

Including, baked into peach pie! 

This was another tag-team effort between me and Stennie. We pulled two pie crust discs out of the freezer ahead of time and rolled one into the bottom crust and the other into a top-crust, destined to be a lattice crust. We had a lot of fun cutting the strips for the lattice top and weaving them together. It can be a bit tedious to accomplish, with several trips back and forth between countertop and freezer to keep the butter in the crust cool, but.... 

In the end, the pie turned out so beautiful and delicious, that it was well worth the effort! 

We shared the peach pie at a neighborhood dinner with some dear friends and family. It was a nice treat, especially with a little ice cream! 

My recipe made 9 pint jars of peaches in a light simple syrup.
I used those two books as references. 
With the remaining peaches from my case, I decided to tackle another canning project. I had never canned fruit straight-up before, so this was a fun process. I was delighted at how simple it was, too, especially contrasted with making marinara sauce, which is highly involved and usually takes me about two days to get through all the steps. The peaches only took about two hours, including blanching and peeling, packing into jars, making simple syrup and filling the jars, and processing. Stennie's help is also another big reason why the canning process went quickly and smoothly. I can't wait to open a jar on a cool fall or winter day for a little bit of canned sunshine and love from summer!

We've had many other delicious meals and baked goods, from homemade pizza to canned meat dinner. Stay tuned to the blog for updates on all our culinary adventures! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Is It Ready Yet?

Well, it's still harvest time around here and looks like it will be for a while yet. Harvest this year has felt very disjointed as compared to previous years. At this point we are more or less half finished, maybe slightly less than half. We have Tom's winter wheat and barley cut as well as some re-crop spring wheat. I'm not sure, but I think each field has some pot-holes or patches left uncut that we'll have to go back for. 
Beautiful Spring Wheat!
Right now, we're waiting for things to dry up enough to be able to continue on. In the meantime, our crew has been helping a neighbor and dear friend of ours, Brett, with his harvest. My understanding is that his wheat will all be cut sometime yet today, then the plan is to move all the way up to some re-crop spring wheat that Jeff and I have on our leased ground way up north. 
Jeff is checking on some wheat near the only tree on our farm ground.
There's been a lot of crop tours wherein we'll drive out to the fields, walk around looking at the wheat and assessing it's done-ness. Is it ready yet? Probably not. Jeff thinks the majority of our crop has probably another week-10 days to go. Maybe more. Hopefully we do get to try out the re-crop this evening and it will be cut-able. It would be nice to keep rolling along!

We have had a lot of humidity and rainy weather patterns this August, which is a big reason behind the slow cutting season. You can't cut wheat if it's too wet. It just doesn't go through the combine. All the moisture may not make good cutting weather, but it's great for the impending winter wheat seeding season, which will take place yet this fall. Always look at the bright side! 
Outstanding in our field.
The joke that never gets old!
Today was actually my first day back at my "normal job" at school. We had staff meetings today, then tomorrow is the actual first day of school. I've had a lot of mixed emotions about starting back. I feel bad that I'm not around the farm to help more, but also thankful that we have Stephanie here to help out. I also have some regret over not getting more done over the summer from some arbitrary mental list I created for myself back in May. Trying not to be too hard on myself, though, as we were nevertheless very busy this summer with travel. I did work some over the summer, too, with our Altacare Summer Program. Despite all of this, I am proud of myself for continuing on with running and fitness all summer long, which has been a challenge for me in the past. I feel stronger than I ever have, since high school, so that's good. I am excited for the kids to come back to school tomorrow and to see them all, which will make this wistful feeling of summer's end a little easier.

And, someday too, we'll be done with harvest. Just not anytime in the next couple weeks. We'll keep you posted!

Can you find Quincy, the cat?

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Thanks to my membership this year in TEAM BEEF MONTANA, I have had reinvigorated enthusiasm for running and racing. It is a sport I have always been into, since I began participating in Track and Field at Ames Middle School in 7th grade, but I'll admit that I have gone in waves of varying degrees of fervor toward the sport since my high school days. It's hard to stick with running through college (if any of my North Star tracksters are reading this, take heed!), especially when one is a natural sprinter, such as myself. Transitioning to running longer distances was a challenge for me, as someone who never ran longer than a 400 meter race in her Track career.

Ames is such a strong running community, however. There were always races in town or in nearby Des Moines a person could get excited about. Thankfully, too, I grew up in a household where I watched my parents regularly fit running and workouts into their very busy schedules . I had a great example for planning and training for races by watching them over the years. When I was in college, I did make the transition to running 5Ks, often with my parents participating in the same race. When Ryan was around or available, he joined us, too. What a great family tradition! I had a great group of active friends in college, too, who were often looking for races and events to train for. By the time I was a Junior or Senior in college, I had made it my goal to race in one 5K each month. A goal I was largely successful with.

Upon moving to the West in 2007, I had a harder time sticking with running. Races were much fewer and farther between, and often greater distances from my house than I might have been comfortable traveling. Without races to train for, my motivation to run slipped heavily.

Then, in 2009, I had what seemed like a minor skiing accident, but resulted in ACL surgery. During my recovery was when I realized how much I actually missed running. It felt like since I had the option of running taken away from me for the better part of a year or more(knee surgery combined with several related-to-knee-surgery foot injuries), that suddenly running was what I wanted to do most of all. Even more than get back on the ski hill. Luckily, by this time I had moved on to Bozeman, where there were a few more 5Ks and other races available, and I was able to pick back up with a sport I had truly grown to miss.

Now, I am finding more and more races in Montana all the time, and even some in faraway lands that I can do when I travel, such as the Beat the Deadline 5K that I'll do in a few weeks in Washington DC! I have also decided to take a risk and sign up for my first ever 10K, The Kickin' Asphault Half Marathon and 10K,which will be this September 13 in Great Falls. Moving up from 5K to 10K is a big deal for me, but it's going great so far! Just this morning I knocked out 5 miles on the dreadmill (outside running was not possible due to muddy roads and no access to pavement at my house), and I feel pretty good.

Sometimes it's hard to keep motivated to run, especially as the distances get longer and the workouts harder. These days, I am constantly inspired by the kids I work with at school and those on the North Star Knights track team I am fortunate enough to coach. I think sometimes when I tell them that they inspire me every day, they think I'm full of it, but I truly mean it. Nothing makes me want to work hard like seeing how hard those kids work for me and the other coaches.

Additionally, my husband has been such huge support for me and my running hobby, and has gotten into it a bit himself, signing up for 5Ks with me, when his schedule allows. I love that we can be fit together and I love sharing a sport that I love with someone I love.

One last little bit of motivation/inspiration, is running clothes. I was a Textiles and Clothing major in college, and still believe, to an extent, that the right outfit can help you go far. Here are some recent additions to my running-wear stash--
Picked up this super cute, soft t-shirt on a trip to Missoula earlier this summer.
I don't actually wear it to run in because I prefer a quick-dry athletic-material top and this is just a t-shirt, but it's so comfy and soft. Makes a great pre-or post- workout shirt. 
These shorts were on the sale rack at our local sporting goods store and I couldn't pass them up. I haven't decided if the text is a description of how I feel when I am running, or if it's more like a mantra to remember when the run is challenging. Either way, they're great, and super comfortable.

These socks were a recent gift that I tried out for the first time today. They couldn't have been more perfect in message, especially in light of THIS recent post I did about confidence. I am pleased to report that they were cushy, wicking, and kept my nagging blister from flaring up. Perfect!

I'll let you know how my two upcoming races turn out! In the meantime, thanks to everyone who has ever encouraged me or inspired me to keep running. Truly, thanks. :)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Barley Harvest

(See how long you can go reading this post without getting that classic Sting song, "Fields of Gold," stuck in your head!)

Another phase of harvest is more or less complete as of yesterday-- our barley has been cut. During the barley harvest this year, I realized that I don't think I have ever written much about barley during harvest, or really any other time. So, I rode around with Jeff for a few rounds in the truck a few nights ago and snapped a bunch of photos.

First of all, I should say that the barley crop was actually that of Tom and Carol. Tom has raised barley every year since I've been living here and always has a great crop, especially for dryland farming. Jeff has referred to him as the "Barley Wizard" from time to time. This year was another good year for his barley crop.
Tom is in the combine, emptying barley into the red truck, which Stennie is driving.
 Jeff and I had actually wanted to grow some barley on our own farm ground this year, but were not able to get a contract. My understanding is that barley is a crop that you have to have a contract with an elevator or malt plant in order to raise it, promising them so many bushels, etc. If you don't have a contract, you may be stuck with your crop, unable to haul it anywhere, or only able to haul it to an elevator very far away because they're the only one who will take it. So, since were not able to secure a contract, we didn't raise any.
Photo a little fuzzy with the sunlight, but I still really like it. Can you pick out the farm and then the Sweetgrass Hills in the background? 
 Barley is great in a crop rotation because it has different nutrient needs from wheat. Barley's roots also grow differently in the ground, so it breaks up the soil a little differently, too.

Another kind of fuzzy photo, but I just love the mood of this photo. We have had some great skies lately!
 Barley dust has a way of sticking to sweaty skin, which then makes a person's whole body feel itchy. Of course, our hottest days of harvest so far this year were the days we were cutting barley. Stennie has been a real trooper for signing on and sticking with us! Although, I am thinking we talked it up so much that maybe it was actually slightly less itchy than she expected? I hope?!
Thumbs Up for Barley! 

Love this view through several windows out to the combine. 

Tarping up the truck by the light of the setting sun.

Among the fields of barley... 
 Barley looks pretty similar to wheat, but has a longer awn. Read a bit about awn here: Farm Awn. Also, when barley is ripe, the head kind of gets that sad, laying down look. This is because the kernels are so heavy that they weigh down the heads. So in fact, it's not sad-- it's happy when the barley does this because it means it's time to cut!
Our barley is raised as malt barley. So, once it's cut, a sample is sent to the elevator/malt plant in Great Falls and they'll test it to see if it makes malt grade. Then we haul the harvested crop to the elevator. I'm not actually sure what would happen if the barley doesn't "make malt," as they say, because since I've been here, that's never been an issue.
Some of you are probably a step or two ahead of me, but since we raise our barley for malt, the final to-consumer product is...BEER! The elevator we sell to is a malt supplier for many different brewers. From Miller-Coors to small craft breweries, when you take a swig, you could be supporting Prairie Sun Farms! Drink up! :)

And because who can resist this cutie, the next three photos are of Harvey checking out the Barley!

Such a handsome Vizsla!
As of now, we are about right in between the winter wheat/barley harvest and spring wheat harvest. We're going to have a bit of a break before the majority of the spring wheat crop is ready to cut. Stennie and I are thinking about a day-trip or two to close-by environs. Jeff and Tom may do a bit of custom cutting for some of our neighbors. Then, likely next week sometime the spring wheat harvest will pick up and we'll really begin again.

Anyone else still harvesting out there? If not crop, then what are you harvesting in your life (either literally or metaphorically?)

Until next time!