Under pressure

I purchased my first pressure cooker right before Christmas this year. I considered it a gift to myself (no longer would I need to plan bean-based dinners 24 hours in advance), and a gift to my husband, who enjoys the tender beans that it flawlessly produces despite our mineral-laden water. We tried it out for the first time shortly after I returned from spending a week in Colorado celebrating the holidays with my family. It took the pot longer than I expected to build up pressure, but once it did, the shiny bell-shaped regulator on top began slowly rocking and spinning in a rhythmic dance. The information booklet, a rather lengthy tome for such a seemingly simple device, cautioned against rapid, frenetic movements that would indicate excessive internal pressure. I adjusted the flame until the regulator smoothly twirled, and the pot hissed occasionally on the stove as it prepared the perfect bean.

On some levels, I’ve been in a pressure cooker for the past month. The holidays require patience and planning, and when they are over it is common to breathe a big sigh of relief as life returns to normalcy. Driving home from Colorado, I inhaled deeply as I navigated the car out of the hectic urban congestion, and exhaled my way back onto the expansive openness of Wyoming. Tension slipped away with the traffic as I returned closer to the familiar stretches of prairie and sky.

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I made it home to celebrate New Years Eve with Bart, and took a rest day to restore my inner balance while I helped him split firewood. And then the lid of the pressure cooker tightened down again as I dove into the arduous task of designing a new college course. The ideas for the course had been swimming around my head for months. I had ample first-hand experiences from graduate school to draw upon. I had stacks of books and articles to re-read and recap. And I had two weeks to synthesize all of this information into a cohesive plan for the semester. Luckily, I love the subject matter – natural history and conservation education – and I am eager to teach it. I also thrive under last-minute pressure. Every spare moment of the next three weeks would be devoted to crafting this course.

So as I watched the spinning regulator rise with pressure to twirl on top of the pot, it dawned on me that movement, particularly dancing, is the cure for what ails me. Just one week prior, when my nephew proposed the Hokey Pokey on Christmas Eve, I jumped at the opportunity to get my groove on. Evan cajoled everyone in the room to join a rousing round of moving our body parts in time with our awkward off-key singing. As we jumped in and out of the circle, I wholeheartedly shook it all about… and the tension slipped away. Yup, the hokey pokey IS what it’s all about. Just like my fancy new pot, I come with a warning: excessive internal pressure may lead to frenetic shaking. I’m going to let it all out.

And then there's skiing... which is really dancing with gravity
And then there’s tele-skiing… which is really just dancing with gravity

In the early morning hours

Soon after I arise in the morning, I usually bundle up to head out to the bathroom. Yes – out – to the bathroom, as in outdoors to the outhouse. When it’s in the single digits or below, I wear my quilted coveralls, down vest, jacket, alpaca wool hat with earflaps, mittens, and occasionally even a scarf. Some mornings this seems like a chore. Doesn’t the modern innovation – indoor bathrooms – make life just so much easier!?! Yes, I suppose they do, but easier is not always better.

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As soon as I am out the door into the dark morning, I inhale the fresh air and glance up at fading stars in the west and barely lit pink clouds in the east. At these moments I feel truly grateful to be right where I am. On a few mornings, I’ve even caught sight of a shooting star, and heard a pair of great horned owls greeting the day as I stroll to the bathroom. There is nothing quite as special as witnessing this magic in the quiet early hours of the morning. Fresh from the dreamworld, these moments close to nature keep me grounded and prevent me from rushing headlong into the to-do list of the day.

On my way back to the house, I visit the chicken coop. The girls are always up and chattering away. If it’s been extremely cold overnight, I’ll bring their water inside to deice it by the fire. Most mornings, I simply fill their food hopper, and collect the first eggs of the day. One – maybe two – of the chickens have developed the nasty habit of breaking and eating eggs. If I knew which one I would wring her neck, literally. But alas I have not yet caught her in action so we lose one to two eggs a day to this barbaric thief. When I collect the first eggs really early in the morning, I am one step ahead of her in the game.

Back in the house, my layers come off one by one in front of the crackling fire. I lay the fresh eggs on the counter, warm up my cup of coffee, and give thanks for our cozy cabin. I really couldn’t ask for more.

Potato – Potahto

Here’s a quick update from Coulee Creek Ranch. Also, I finally added content to the other pages – Garden, Hen House, Sisters’ Soapworks, and Grassfed Beef.

Today, we spent our Sunday morning harvesting potatoes. With the frequent rains this fall, I was unsure if they’d be edible or if they’d be on their way to producing the next crop already. Luckily, there were no sprouting spuds in sight. We pulled up slightly less than last year since we planted only 8 – 40 foot rows instead of 15 this year. Nonetheless, we’ll still have plenty of potatoes for at least half the year! Now to just finish that root cellar so we have somewhere to store them…IMG_3614Bart has been busy milling logs in order to finish our corrals. One more solid week of work, and they should be ready to go, just in time to sort the calves out next month.

IMG_3610With so many projects in the works, our home site still looks like it did in the spring when our friend Dave came over with his Cat and dug a big hole for us. IMG_3071 IMG_3072 IMG_3073We had high hopes of pouring concrete before winter, but we can’t get a concrete company to call us back. Next year, we may just have to tackle it ourselves. This is not an exciting prospect. For now, our root cellar is in place at the home site, but is not fully covered. Now that our potato harvest is dug up and curing in the shop, we’ll prepare at least the back half of the cellar for winter spud storage.

IMG_3081Bart cut doors into an old gas tank and welded brackets on for shelves. Then we scrubbed it 3 – 4 times with hot soapy water to remove any lingering oil. Eventually my pantry and kitchen will adjoin the door to the cellar – perhaps in another five years.

IMG_3083The biggest news, and perhaps most important development is that we now have water at both the corrals and house! We’ve piped our well to a cistern and down the hill into the coulee. It is cool, refreshing and delicious! Next year, we’ll move our potato patch out here where it is sandier, both easier for the potatoes to grow and easier to harvest.