A Quilt from My Mother

IMG_3849At the end of the day, I snuggle into bed underneath a warm cotton flannel quilt. This quilt is especially cozy because my mother made it for me. Several years ago, she and I spent an afternoon picking out fabrics at the quilt store. As someone who likes to sew, I am easily absorbed by the process of selecting fabrics, envisioning all the things I could make – so I have fond memories of looking at fabrics and talking about quilt patterns with my mom. After a few unavoidable delays – back surgery and a move to Colorado – my mom got down to work. She finished the quilt and gave it to me and Bart as a wedding present shortly after we eloped in October of 2012.

The quilt has a deep yellow background with “flying geese” of various vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds. They are framed by a cool blue inner border and outer border of maroon and forest green. IMG_3848They are the warm colors of autumn – my favorite season. In the afternoon, the sun streams through our bedroom window onto the quilt, inviting me in to read and relax… or perhaps even to take a nap. I hoped to catch the radiant colors of the sun-lit quilt in my photos today, but stormy clouds have taken a hold of the sky and cast a grey pallor on the world. With the winter storm arriving, I will be especially thankful for our warm flannel quilt as I cozy into bed tonight.

Monday’s Thankful

IMG_2402When I get out of bed in the dark hours of early morning, I head straight to our wood-burning stove. Barely awake, I stoke the fire, adding a log or more kindling, and opening up the damper. Next, I make coffee. When both tasks are complete, I stand in a reverie in front of the stove. I take my first sips of coffee and slowly wake up while basking in the warmth of the fire. It is truly the most marvelous way to start a winter’s day. So today as the days become shorter and colder, I am thankful for fire.

I love the whole process of gathering wood for the stove – from chopping to splitting and stacking it in neat piles on our porch. We often do this on crisp fall and mid-winter days when it feels good to get outside and work up a sweat. On Saturday, we brought home a truck-load of firewood in preparation for the coming cold front. IMG_3840I feel a deep sense of satisfaction when I walk by the wall of wood adjacent to our door. Let the snow begin – I am ready to cozy up by the fire!

If you missed the introduction to my week of thankfuls, you can read it below or here https://couleecreekranch.com/reflections/

A Thankful for Sunday

IMG_0551Today I am thankful for all the furry friends in my life – past, present, and future. They shower me with unconditional love, and when they joyfully greet me, they always bring a smile to my face even after the roughest of days. They ask little in return – some food, water, shelter, and occasional ear rubbings. I, of course, tend to spoil them rotten with attention and daily romps on the prairie.

I am especially thankful this year for Ox, our big friend who passed away in August. He had been Bart’s faithful companion for 10+ years. When I began dating Bart, he’d walk over to my house in Billings, crossing the campus of MSU-B with Ox in tow. We’d inevitably get looks and questions about Ox in Billings, even though it is in close proximity to sheep ranches with Great Pyrenees dogs like Ox. Is that a bear? What kind of dog is that? He’s like a little horse! And always – can I pet him? Ox graciously submitted to multiple sessions of petting by enthusiastic kids. He was gentle and kind, with just a little wild and stubborn streak in him.

On our first backpacking trip together in 2008, Bart and I ventured into the Beartooth Mountains in early October, despite a three foot and counting dump of heavy snow. Luckily, Ox pitched in and broke miles of trail for us – his furry back just grazing the top of white blankets of snow. He plowed ahead, giving our legs a much-needed rest. IMG_0506

Ox loved winter the best. He was famous for his snow angels and would get down and roll around in every little patch of snow he encountered. IMG_2782 He accompanied us on many ski trips – slogging up the hill behind us and then joyfully careening down the slope in our ski tracks. He even trekked with us on the infamously long Reefer Ridge ski run – off the top of Beartooth Pass to the Rock Creek valley outside of Red Lodge.

IMG_0853One time we camped off the Beartooth Highway on a side road just past a sign that said “Grizzly Bear Country. Store Food Properly”. As dusk fell on the Plateau, headlights came slowly down the dirt road toward us. Ox, curious about the noise after an evening of relative peace, roused himself and stood out by the dirt road. As the car approached, the passengers rolled down their window and checked him out. Then they hollered to us with a laugh, “hey, the sign said to watch out for grizzly bears… not polar bears!”.

I miss my big hairy white guy, the polar bear. I am thankful for all the laughs, love and adventures that we shared with Ox. We all miss him terribly, perhaps Doc most of all.

IMG_2692
Synchronized Sleeping
IMG_2851
Ox had a calming effect on Doc
IMG_2696
Sometimes, you just have one of those days where you want to hide your head in the fur of a friend and forget about it all!

My Thankfuls

Evan, age 2
Evan, age 2

When I sit down for dinner with my nephew, Evan, we always say our “thankfuls”. Evan brought this tradition home from preschool, where the kids learned to pause a moment and reflect on the things for which they are grateful. Saying thankfuls with Evan is always a treat. As the sole vocal member of the youngest generation of our family, the spotlight is on Evan as he picks who says thankfuls first. I prefer not to be picked right away. I want the opportunity to collect my thoughts and speak from the heart. I love listening to everyone share their thoughts while I deeply inhale the rich scents of the hearty meal that we are about to enjoy. The meal always tastes better and the company more joyful after we say our thankfuls.  This week I’ll share a daily thankful in honor of Thanksgiving and the tradition begun by Evan.

Soon to be a scrumptious cuke
Soon to be a crunchy cucumber
Baby butternut squash
Baby butternut squash

Today, I am thankful for the harvest from our garden. In August, September, and even into October, I canned, froze, fermented, cured, and dried a variety of vegetables – from pumpkins and peppers to beans and cucumbers. Meals now are accentuated by produce that we grew. They taste somehow sweeter and more satisfying for all the work that we put into growing them.

A typical August day's harvest
A typical August day’s harvest

This morning I pulled four gallon-sized bags of tomatoes out of the freezer. All day they’ve been stewing on my stove, warming our cabin as they cook down to a thick sauce. I’ve added our onions and carrots from a neighbor’s garden, along with basil I dried back in July. Some of the sauce will go into lasagne tonight – the perfect meal for a windy and brisk autumn evening!

IMG_3839
Straight from the freezer to the pot

Ranch Camp, Part II

Like many good mothers, Pippi takes lots of photos. She recently shared all these wonderful pictures from her week here with the kids for Ranch Camp. You can find Part I here: https://couleecreekranch.com/2014/10/16/ranch-camp-2014/

It’s such a pleasure to think back to the golden days of autumn now that winter is settling in around us and whisking the last brown leaves off trees with icy fingers. I continue to hope that winter, with its long dark nights, will bring me more time for writing and reminiscing here. For now, here are the last of the fall memories:

Nothing captures the taste of fall as well as fresh-pressed apple cider
Nothing captures the taste of fall as well as fresh-pressed apple cider
Yum!
Lip-smacking good!
Time for French toast!
It’s time for some French toast
Pickin' 'maters before the temperature drops - they arrived on a 90 degree day and were ushered out by 40 degree winds
Picking the last of the ‘maters before the temperature drops. Pippi and family arrived on a 90 degree day, so hot we went swimming. They were ushered out five days later by 30 degree winds and snow
Red Talus meets Red Angus cattle, aka hamburger cows
Red Talus meets Red Angus cattle, aka hamburger cows
Baby Annika's first 4-wheeler ride (with Talus, Doc, and me)
Baby Annika’s first 4-wheeler ride

Ranch Camp 2014

IMG_3646The last weekend of September we began what shall turn into an annual tradition – Ranch Camp with the Graham family from Colorado. My delightful friend Pippi drove north with her kids for a lovely long weekend with us. Talus, four years old, loved helping me and Bart IMG_3641with our chores, from pouring concrete into the new stock tank to breaking up clumps of chicken poop with the hose. His absolute favorite task was collecting the chicken eggs – and taking them straight to the kitchen for french toast. On his first day in town, I returned home from work at noon to find him close to exploding with excitement at the prospect of looking for eggs.  He was full of questions and boundless energy, matched only by that of our English Setter, Doc.

IMG_3627
Moving the coop takes three: Doc, Talus, & me
beach2
Mud bath!
beach
Miles of muddy beach at Deadman’s Basin

Spending time with Talus reminded me to appreciate the joy of the little moments each day. Forget drudgery! It can be such a grand adventure to drive the 4-wheeler out to move the chicken coop across the yard! Why not run in circles around the hay bales, getting lost and dizzy in a towering maze of sweetly-scented clover?! The muddy shores of Dead Man’s Basin were made for soupy mud baths, right? That last escapade ended in the kids’ first wash basin bath together. I imagine by next year they will have outgrown the tub – but I am already counting down the days and planning grand new adventures for Ranch Camp 2015!

Big brother Talus bathes with Annika
Big brother Talus bathes with his sister Annika

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.

Chicken Kitty

I had visions of filling my blog with stories from the beginning – our first months on the ranch in the winter, the many adventures of planting and building in the spring, and the blossoming of a routine in summer. Yet here it is, July 31st, and I have yet to find time to post more than one story. Long days outdoors planting, weeding, fencing, watering, and weeding some more leave me exhausted at dusk with little creative energy to rehash the past. Perhaps the long months of winter ahead will provide me with time to reflect on how we got here and the many memorable moments thus far. In the interim, I shall begin right here in the now with a kitten we call Chicken.

 

It started yesterday late in the morning. IMG_3303My dog Doc got my attention with incessant barking on the porch. Doc is not a barker. I ran to see what was up. There he was barking at the porch steps, agitated and riled up by a calico kitten. The kitten, for her part, had a most ferocious look on her face with claws drawn in front of her upright body like a miniature boxer. The fact that the kitten stood untouched at least a foot from Doc is astonishing in its own right. Doc, a trained bird dog, is not fond of felines. Small, moving objects are all too similar to pheasants. Squirrel equals kitten equals chicken equals pheasant. Two prior encounters with small cats have ended quickly with the cat dead in Doc’s mouth. This feisty little kitten was giving Doc a run for his money. She was not to be messed with. I hustled Doc away to the confines of the house, and went back in search of the kitten who had disappeared into the rose bushes in search of refuge. I left hoping she’d leave. I already have enough chaos to manage between Doc and our 19 free-roaming chickens. Adding a cat to the mix didn’t seem like a pleasing prospect.

 

Later in the evening, I heard the kitten meowing, that poor, sorrowful cry of an abandoned and lonesome creature. At least that is how I felt upon hearing her cry. It was way too small to be alone. From what crevice under the house did it emerge? Could it have wandered over from a neighbor’s farm, and been too scared to leave following it’s run-in with Doc? Whence went its mother and when would she return? I hoped beyond hope that it would leave in the dark, and find its way to a home where it belonged. During the night, I heard her once or twice, but by dawn the memories of meows seemed distant and dreamlike. Doc, patrolling the yard as usual this morning, had checked out the porch and surroundings, and hadn’t brought a dead kitten to me… yet. So on with business as usual. After collecting the day’s eggs I opened the chicken run to free the birds into the yard. Underneath the usual chorus of clucking and the rustle of feathers I heard it: the mournful meow. I opened the coop door, and there was the kitten, IMG_2902climbing up the chicken ramp into the coop right in front of my eyes. The chickens towered over the little creature, and didn’t pay her any mind as the filed out the door in search of grasshoppers and grubs. I called my husband to help me corral the kitten into a corner, but he was uninterruptable. Alas, gloveless and solo I gave a feeble attempt to corner and catch the kitty, but it quickly escaped down the chicken ramp. I will forever wish I had my camera to document what followed next. The kitten began following the chickens. Not in the low, stalking pose that I’ve seen cats use when hunting prey. No, this little kitten was bouncy and playful, apparently glad for the company of a creature its own size. The chickens, a fussy bunch with their own social hierarchy issues, were not impressed with the cat’s advances. They shuffled away from the prancing fur ball and went on with their business of pecking and preening. At about this moment, my husband looked up from his project in the shop, and caught sight of the kitten following the chickens across the driveway. Certainly a laughable sight! This got hisIMG_3580 attention and he decided to help me with the kitten. But help me do what? Leave it to defend itself against the malice of Doc? Or, if its feline prowess trumps Doc’s malevolence, then let her grow up alongside the chickens until one day she realizes that she has claws and a hunting instinct that’s unquenchable? Neither of these prospects meshed well with our relatively tranquil life on the ranch. Capturing the kitten and relocating it to a new home became our best option. What followed was confused cat wrangling with leather gloves and two towels in the dense shrubbery along the edge of the property. Again, did I mention a camera would have been really good here? Finally, the kitten, found herself pinned alongside some downed timber, and I grabbed her from behind and quickly wrapped her in the towel. Thank goodness for the gloves as the feisty feline bit me twice in admirable self-defense. The kitten, feral as they come, is now fed and sheltered in a cage in our carport. I am working on taming her so we can find her a new home. I’ve never owned a cat in my life. I’m not a big fan of housecats: furry feet on every surface including kitchen counters and the stinky litter box that someone has to clean, about as appealing as changing a baby’s diapers. Do I want to keep her, tiny little fluffball in need of a friend? Yup. But our barn won’t be built for another year so we aren’t in the market for a barn cat yet. In the meantime I’ll do my best to socialize this cat and help her become well-adjusted enough to move off the streets into a loving home. And I’ll try not to get attached to this little kitten we call Chicken.

 

Leaving the city

Although our move was in the works for a long time, we ultimately left the city on a whim in late December. Two days before Christmas we rented out our house and a week later, on New Years Day 2014, we were packed and gone from Billings.

Doc loads himself into the horse trailer with our furniture in order to be sure he gets move north too
Doc loads himself into the horse trailer with our furniture – he will not be left behind!

Thus began our new lives together on the ranch in Lavina, though several months would pass by before the transformation was complete. Keeping my job in the city for awhile meant I would stay with a friend during the week while a cold, dark winter rendered the roads unpleasant if not entirely impassable at times. Weekends on the ranch were piled with chores that never seemed to end, but the pace of life was already shifting, becoming slower and richer. Returning to the “real” world of work in the city was a stark shift of reality that shook me out of my ranch reverie every Monday morning.

Our third and final calf of the year, born in early March
Our first calf of the year

Remarkable changes were taking place as I commuted to and fro from what-was-to-be and what-had-been. In late February, our first calf ever was born. On a bitterly cold night during a snowstorm, our newest cow birthed a healthy young heifer out in the pasture. By the time we spied her early the next morning, she was up on all four feet, completely dried by her mother’s tongue, and nursing contentedly despite the two feet of fresh snow and frigid temperature that hovered around four degrees Fahrenheit. This tough little calf born in a blizzard was a harbinger of our new future together on the ranch – challenging times with extraordinary rewards.