Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Learning to Fly

Sunday afternoon, when Fiddle Camp was over and everyone who had attended had said their goodbyes and headed down my winding mountain road – I trotted off on Merlin and headed for our beloved trails. I wanted to ride, badly. It had been a few days and after such a wonderful camp I felt so proud and confident and there was nowhere I wanted to be more. It was a celebration on horseflesh. So on that black Fell I cantered across field and forest. We splashed through the creek and galloped up a ridge side. I was on fire, as happy as a woman can be. My farm is what it is. I am what I am. But to send people off into the world that may create new music made me so ridiculously happy I was drunk on the thrill. I laughed. I sang. I talked to Merlin in my broken Gaelic and told him I’d write a song about him, too. I was in heaven, beyond reason, and that is why I did something very stupid next.

We came to a wide trail with some fallen logs. Merlin and I know these logs. He steps over them without any fuss on a regular trail ride. They are only about a foot off the ground, far from a mighty barrier. So I smiled like a wolf, dug my heals as far down as they would go in the stirrups, lifted up into two-point position and asked him to run. Merlin did as I asked, and did it at a full gallop. He was not in a controlled canter. He was moving fast and free. I gave him his head as we reached the log and he curved his muscular neck and lifted those mighty hind legs as we soared. I swear we could have jumped a coffee table.

Time seemed to slow down, I could not believe how high we had gone. He easily cleared the log by an extra two feet and I was aware of this split second of my life when I was flying through the air above four suspended hooves. It froze, slow as bullet time, and was over and spilling back into reality when Merlin hit the ground running like a buck at gunshot.

My landing was not as graceful as his. My stomach plowed into the saddle horn, my legs lost their grip, but I stayed on. I’m sure I felt more like a sack of potatoes than a rider when we landed but it didn’t seem to bother or slow Merlin down at all, like that jump as a booster back of speed and power. He continued to run and I cheered and whooped like an idiot.

Okay, so doing that one time? That was foolish. Making the sober decision to do it again today, that was courage. I admit I was scared to jump him again. Since Sunday I had watched Youtube videos and read some passages in my riding books about proper jump training and realized how lucky I was. You do not start jumping with three feet of air and a full gallop. You start at a trot with a few inches. And that was the plan today. Merlin and I headed back to that jump and with our scrappy education and stubbornness, tried again.

It took a few tries but at a gentler canter we jumped that log half a dozen times. These jumps were not the mighty leap that ended our airborne virginity, these were controlled, softer, and I felt very safe. He did not soar, he bounded, and I felt what a reasonable bit of air felt like. It wasn’t as dramatic but it was on purpose. And having gone back to face it a second time, knowing how rough it could be if I messed up, made me feel proud again. Merlin and I were learning to fly.

I am 32 years old, single, and built like a hobbit. I am not wealthy, or attractive, or particularly savvy. I have more flaws than virtues and have made many mistakes. But when I am on this horse, above the world, I feel a hope and possibility that I have not felt in years. I don’t feel like the girl I am ashamed of for all she lacks, I feel like the woman I can become. People sit in therapist’s offices their whole lives, drink into oblivion, and hurt people over and over looking for that feeling. I have found it in foolishness and luck, attached to a thousand pounds of equine born on another continent gifted to me through blessings I will never truly understand. If that comes across as arrogant, it is not meant to be. It is meant to be confident, which I know straddles that line. But I am beginning to learn the stupidity of overthinking about what other people assume about my heart, have assumed, or will assume. It is known that people who live with one foot in the past, and another in the future are perfectly position to piss all over the present.

I’m choosing to focus on those moments as they are gathered, be it in foolishness or determination. We are what we believe we are, and I am starting to believe in my ability to fly. For that, I thank the fiddlers. For that, I thank the mistakes. And for that, I thank myself for the permission for take off.

ANNOUNCING NOVEMBER FIDDLE DAY CAMP
ONE SPOT LEFT!

Holy Crow! By all your emails I received since the last post I think a Fall Fiddle Day Camp is in order! I'd like to invite five of you (no more, since it'll be indoors and intimate here in the farmhouse) to join me by the wood stove on a few sheepskins to learn the fiddle. This workshop will be Saturday, November 8th. This will not be a camp, just a long day here at the farm. It'll start at 9AM and go until 5PM - a bit longer than most workshops - but I am certain you will leave knowing how to teach yourselves and be on your way to memorizing your first song! You DO NOT NEED any prior musical experience. You DO NOT NEED to know how to read music. You DO NOT NEED to be right handed. You DO NOT NEED to be a musical prodigy. What you do need is a strong desire to learn to fiddle, 15 minutes a day to practice at home, a love of old time and bluegrass music, and a sense of humor! And I can make you this promise: attend this workshop, and make daily practice a commitment and by Yule you will be able to play carols by heart, easily!

This day camp will include:

1 Student Fiddle with bow, rosin, and case.

You will learn:

The parts of the fiddle
Fiddle folkways
Tuning your fiddle
Fixing and adjusting your bridge
Restringing your fiddle
The D scale
Bowing, shuffling, and droning notes
Reading Tablature
Your first song!

You will need to bring:

Wayne Erbsen's Fiddle Book
A set of spare strings (4/4 size)
an electronic guitar tuner (I suggest snark tuners)
Laughter (in barrel loads, please)!

If you want one of these five spots let me know ASAP. They are first sold, first reserved. The cost for this workshop and basic student fiddle is $225. If you want a higher quality student fiddle, I can have a very nice mid-level instrument waiting for you here for $350 (includes the workshop, of course). Either fiddle will be fine for learning with, just one will grow with you longer. Contact me via email to sign up!

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Birchthorn Project Beta is LIVE!

So Proud to announce that the Birchthorn Project has launched! Just a week after funding, backers can go to the private website and join the conversation starting over there! Right now it is just greetings and introductions, but starting later this week a conversation and (optional) research homework assignment will be announced on The Pandemic of 1918 (links for research on flu section of website).

I thank all of you who were involved at any level of pledging! But this site is only for folks who pledged for a physical copy of the book. Get your password to enter the website in your email from Kickstarter (update #12 for Birchthorn). Get excited guys, we're writing a book together!

Fiddle Camp 2014!

It was on the second day of camp, as I was walking around the farmyard instructing, that my flock of sheep trotted by. They had been grazing free on their hill and decided to see what all the music was about. Sal, Maude, and the whole gang hoofed right through the Big Show under the King Maple. They had plans to eat chicken feed in the normal place (Drat! I had thwarted their plans by putting it in the barn instead!) and so all it took to get them back on their hill was a shake of a grain bucket and some encouragement from a border collie with confidence issues. We paraded, the geese honked, roosters crowed, and the goatee bleated. It was a happy scene to be sure, and the fiddle students around us on all sides just kept playing. I know there are a lot of places and ways to pick up the fiddle, but few have this sort of sideshow. I gotta say folks, there is a feral joy in seeing a lamb trot past a woman from Connecticut sawing into "Ida Red" on your front lawn. The farm lives on!

Someday, if I am lucky enough to reach a ripe old age, I hope I look back to weekends like this, shared with so many wonderful folks. Two days of music, fiddles, farm life, and perfect weather here in Jackson. The third annual August Fiddle Camp was possibly the best one yet. Everyone who came left on that second day able to play their first tune, with the tools and practice schedule to learn even more. That is of course the point. No one comes to camp expecting to leave an expert, but they do expect to leave as their own teachers. That is the whole point of the weekend, to introduce this intimidating instrument with a whole pile of beginners just as clueless as everyone else and leave knowing how to teach yourself the rest. People had traveled from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New England to spend two days with strangers, sitting on hay bales, meeting the farm animals and learning the way of the ol' Devil stick. I thank you all!


This year's crop of summer fiddlers did amazingly well, and had the advantage of a teacher with three years of teaching these weekends under her belt. Instead of starting with our first notes, we spent the first hour learning to tune, set up, and adjust the bridge on the new fiddles. A tedious beginning but all weekend they knew exactly how to get themselves in tune and handle the new instruments. By warm up on the second day they pulled them from their hay-strewn cases the way a carpenter picks up a hammer, as normal and comfortable like. That made me smile wide enough to cause minor injury.

I use (and ONLY use) Wayne Erbsen's method and books for Fiddle Camp. If you are considering taking up the fiddle and can't join us, I strongly urge you to get his materials!  Do not buy any other sort of book or invest in any sort of expensive lessons before trying them out. His little green book and CD is the best teacher out there for people interested in having fun and taking up a musical life. You can find all the information on beginner fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and banjo (in several styles of old time and bluegrass) at nativeground. Wayne isn't even a sponsor of this blog, I just adore his spirit, music, and the lessons from the southern mountains he shares. He explains the difference between a fiddle and a violin in the video, below. It pretty much sums him up.



In two days we covered a lot, and it makes me wonder if I should change the name to Fiddle Boot Camp? It is a constant ten hours of lessons all weekend long. You get pretty tired sitting outside all day, not matter how excited you are to learn, but I think the fuss is worth it. I still hear from folks from previous Camps that still play and have made the violin a part of their life. All of them are middle-aged, having never played an instrument before and some can't read music. Thanks to Wayne's method's that doesn't matter. I will tell you what I told the campers on Saturday: Becoming a violinist takes talent, precision, and very hard work. Becoming a fiddler just takes stubbornness. Keep playing, keep having fun, laugh your way through the beginning squeaks and squawks and you'll be just fine.

I thank everyone who came to this camp, traveled so far, supported this farm, and shared my home and life for a few days. It was an honor and a blast, and I hope you keep playing and never let yourself think you can't be the musician you always dreamed of. I see a lot of jam circles in your future ladies (and Bryan!). And to those who already attended camps, I thank you too.

P.S. I am considering a one-day camp here in October if anyone is interested in a single day of introduction and lessons. It would come with a fiddle, of course, and cost much less than the usual Fiddle Camp. I could get 4 folks here in the farmhouse for a good long day if you want to be playing carols by Yuletide! Email me if you're thinking about it!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Getting Ready for Camp!

It is a bit misty and overcast right now, but that isn't stopping me and my friend Shimshone from getting ready for Fiddle Camp! The lawn is being mowed, hay bales (for our bums as well as feed!) are being stacked in the barn, and I am unboxing, rosining, and tuning every single fiddle waiting here for its new owner. I will be up before dawn tomorrow, getting the chores done early and the farm readied for the long day ahead. Be first light I'll be checking instruments and setting up the music circle under the big King Maple. I am so excited, what a celebration of music and new musicians!

I am not an amazing fiddler, but I am a passionate one. Last night I was playing through Pretty Saro, a song I adore so much, and got lost in it. I make mistakes and here or there a squeak comes through (specially when I haven't played in a while) but I find that perfection was never the point of my playing and certainly not the point of Fiddle Camp. Fiddle camp is about beginnings. It's about understanding the neck and strings, your fingers, the way to bow and play your first song. We learn Appalachian style, by ear, and within a few weeks of playing this way you can teach yourself anything with a good ear and some patience. It's liberating and magical. Once you can pick up a piece of wood, wire, and horsehair and make a song out of thin air you are hooked.

We can still fit one more in if you want to join us, there's a spare fiddle sitting here!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blinders On: Time To Make It Happen




This was originally written and published on November, 6th 2011. A reader shared it on her Facebook Page today and I wanted to share it again, update it a little, and I hope you enjoy it. 

There's a chicken I raised and potatoes I grew on this farm in the crock pot right now, swimming in a stew of cream of broccoli, carrots, and onions. Later today I'll ladle it into a butter pie crust and bake it into a pot pie. It'll be served with bread I am baking today, and green beans I blanched and froze from this past summer. Dessert will be with apple turnovers brushed in butter and sugar. The meal is for Brett and I, after a we spend the afternoon constructing supports for the basement floor. The floor of of this house was always wonky, but recently, due to either the high moisture of the summer followed by the daily heat of the wood stove, age, (or all of this!): the floor has been creaking, dipping, and rising up in new bumps. So Brett's going to inspect and correct it, and for his kindness I'm making him dinner. It's a fair trade, as a home-grown pot pie is out of this world and I don't care who's making it (even if they cheated with some Campbell's in the stew). I am looking forward to the work, the company, and the meal!

I spent the morning enjoying the extra hour of sleep granted by Daylight Savings. But when I woke up the house was a chilly 56 degrees. Talk about motivation to get outside and do your chores! By the time both stoves were cleaned of old ash, re-lit, and roaring I was outside feeding the sheep, chickens, pigs and handing carrots to Jasper. Out there the world was crusted in ice. The thermometer read 22. The sheep had ice on their backs and the chickens were already up on the open areas of pasture first hit by the sun, so they could scratch and explore in the defrosting horse patties. I live on the east side of a the mountain, so I get daylight before my neighbors on the other side. I think it's nice this time of year to see that sunrise sooner, and to watch the grass go from white to dark green as a flock of mini dinosaurs trot past me to eat some horse poo. Nice, indeed.

I am spending the day at home, both taking care of it and being taken care of by it. The work of reinforcing the floor, stacking wood, and animal chores is just as vital an enjoyable as baking fresh breads and pot pies by a warm fire. This farm grew the food and some of the wood, and it deserves some TLC from time to time. When I stand up in the pasture and look over this place I am held in an emotional limbo that leaves me floating somewhere between ebbs of gratitude and incredulousness. I can barely believe it happened, but it did happen, and that's what I want to write about this morning...

I bought a farm. I bought a farm at 28, with no savings, poor credit, and no experience with negotiating beyond livestock tailgate parties. I want you to know that if this is something you want as bad as I did, you can do it too. Do not let ANYONE tell you otherwise. Those naysayers are full of more horse shit then my chickens.

Buying this house was a blur. It was the first (and only) house I looked at. I walked in it, around the property, and felt every kind of heart-gripping compulsion to make it mine. I just wasn't sure how? The realtor, Leon Barkley, was the man who showed me around the place. The first time I met him I was terrified. Not because Leon was in any way scary, but because he represented a possibility I had never let myself believe in before. He, however, sold many homes and knew who was and wasn't going to cut the mustard. He had faith in my story, and felt this old girl was a good match for me. His instincts were right, but it turned out his connections were even better...

I told Leon about my below-average salary, zero savings, and 530 credit score and he didn't even flinch. He explained that traditionally I might be in a fix, but other options existed outside of banks and the FHA. He said I should talk to a mortgage broker he trusted named James Teele. He said James knew the USDA loan program inside and out, and those mortgages didn't have as strict qualifications as some banks, and required no money down. This sounded made up to me, but I called the man he suggested.

James Teele explained that Washington County, all of it, was in an area the US government considered "Rural Development". Unlike Vermont, where I was living at the time, this place had options for a new homeowner without a fat bank account. I was intrigued, and James was kind, honest, and coached me through the process of buying this farm. He was invaluable and without him I would not be here today. That is a summary of my personal story of the winter of 2009/2010. But what you need to understand is that this isn't a case of luck and circumstance. This farm happened because I walked into a house with the belief that no matter what I would make it mine. It wasn't a case of money, or who I knew, it was a case of stubbornness, faith, and belief in myself and in the outcome I had written down on a piece of paper months ago that I carried with me everywhere I went in my back pocket.

I'm going to stand on my soapbox now.

Listen, if you want a farm then you need to stop telling yourself it'll happen later. None of us are getting any younger, and as far as I'm concerned putting it off is the same as giving up. Life is happening now. You need to start making it happen now, because for some of us it isn't a matter of just moving boxes and road trips. Some of us have credit and savings to repair, and it might take a five years. Well guess what folks, five years are coming no matter what, so why not be on your own farm at the end of them? Start the process now. I don't care what your situation is, start now.

Pick up a homes-for-sale flyer at your local diner and send some emails, scan the local papers, walk into local realtor offices and check want ads. Drive around the places you want to live and ask questions, notice For Sale signs, and take notes. Make appointments at your local, and other credit unions. So what if you walk into a bank and are laughed at?! (I was laughed out of three.) So what if you are told no, over and over again? There is no law on the books that says that you, the dreamer, can not pursue the dream of a farm. No police who scan you for credit scores before you take the tour of that farm outside of town. You can and should do this! Call those Realtors, walk into those houses and see them. Touch the banisters and barn walls. Fill your current coffee tables with those library books on goat shed building, chicken care, and gardening. Create the reality you want to live in. Surround yourself with it. Take classes, attend workshops, spend time with like minds at local CSA, craft, and community events. It will be forced to happen to you as long as you believe it can.

Ask questions and never be ashamed to be totally honest. You might see some hackles raise when you tell folks you just got your first job out of college, have little savings, and four credit cards, but they will either say yes or no to you, and soon as they say no, ask why. The information will be invaluable to your process. Maybe that rejection is what you need to start paying off those credit cards and eating plain pasta with red sauce for a month (that was my case), or start that major yard sale and eBay jihad to get the nest egg to build your confidence. A rejection is a gift, it tells you what you need to start doing so the next time your try it can't be because of credit cards, or lack of savings, or loans. Accept these hard lessons and fight to repair them. The work will be hard, require changes in your current standards of living and frugality, but again, in five years wouldn't you rather be lighting a wood stove in New Hampshire than a cigarette outside your break room?

That whole rant's point is to explain this very basic point: start now. Do not put off your plans. Do not expect the world to be the same in ten years. Now is the time to take advantage of all the foreclosures, care taking options, rural rent-to-owns and so forth. If you are sitting on an expensive home you already own in a subdivision, but desperately wish you could be on a farm...well. it might require you purge yourself of that mental disease that is the "addiction of prior investment". Just because you put everything into where you are not doesn't mean you have to stay there, but it will become a prison if you convince yourself you can't leave until the economy gets it back to it's 2007 home value. Walk away and start living.

Some of us simply will not qualify for a traditional 30-year mortgage. And for those that do not, you still shouldn't be vanquished. In this economy, do you have any idea how many second country homes are up for rent or foreclosure? Up for rent-to-buy options or seller note-holding? Thousands. You'll have to scurry a little, dig a little. Maybe ask the person who posted that place with the barn, stables, and brick house on Craigslist if they are the owner, and if they would consider a renting proposal that after a year would allow some conversations about taking over the mortgage? There are choices and chances out there for all of us, but they will only be presented to the people who are willing to chomp bits, paste their ears back against the sides of their heads, and run forward with blinders on. You need to sprint past who you were before, and past the other people letting life happen to them. Your dream is only as far away as you are willing to believe it is.

Find it. Fight for it. Believe in it.

It's waiting for you.

Under 24 Hours to Join Us!



I am so glad that with less than a day of pledging left, Birchthorn is at 125% of its goal! For that I thank you, the farm thanks you, and for the first time in years I can go into winter with a lighter heart! Only 22 hours or so left to be a part of this group project! I thought I would share the plan moving forward for those unsure of what this even is?!

1. Upon funding I will get to work writing a new introduction/exposition to the story, before the first chapter you already read.

2. While that is being written, the new blog will be created to get the community involved who supported this story, starting with a conversation about world building and story-crafting. Your opinions, inspirations, and ideas matter. I'll suggest watching stuff like this video with fiction writers talking about story, crafting, and the work of making a piece of fiction worth reading!

3. Once the new introduction is written and some tweaking done to the first chapter I will post it to the new blog and hope all of you will give your thoughts, story ideas, character suggestions and so forth. We'll build this all together! THIS IS WHAT IS THE BEST PART ABOUT BIRCHTHORN! It is not just a novel you help fund, it is a novel you help WRITE!

4. When a chapter has been out for a full week it will be re-worked, taking the comments into consideration (though as the author I do get the final say on creative decisions) and reposted as a raw part of a story.

5. This will continue on a weekly basis until most of the book is completed. The final chapters will only be read by the hired professional editor and myself, since I want there to be some excitement for those of you when your paperback or hardcover comes in the mail! Are you a professional fiction editor? If so, send me your resume and books under your belt and your rates! I would love to hire someone from this community!

6. Any questions? Let me know! And of course, thank you all for your support and I urge you to get excited about being a part of this mystery! You'll be haunted by Birchthorn all winter if you join in at the $45 pledge or higher!

THANKS! PLEDGE HERE!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shake. The. Dust.

2 Ribbons, 20 Bales, 1 Cord

I woke up this morning excited for a hay pickup and a day at the county fair, but found out through a phone call I had the event times confused and while I was on the road north to Hebron to buy hay, Patty and Steele were already trotting around the ring. So I missed them, sadly. But She did place second in Parade Class and third in Lady's Carting! I'm sharing their ribbon photo right here! Congrats to Patty and Steele!

So I missed the fanfare fair  I did get twenty bales of hay put up in the barn and reserved another 10 to go pick up. It is a good feeling, even that small dent towards winter feed. I also got a hold of a local firewood guy and he is delivering a cord next week. Again, not a huge delivery but enough that I can stack it out of the weather and save for the next cord.

Early Morning Hay, Fiddlers, and Wool Shares

Shortly, I'll be on the road to buy some hay. Coffee in my thermos, dog riding shotgun, music and news on the radio. It's Patty and Steele's big day at the County Fair and I hope to go and help her tack, groom, and watch from the railings as she and her horse strut their stuff! Rain is in the forecast, but I think this day goes on rain or shine, so I'll probably be there with camera and a poncho. This is a sadness that can easily be fixed with a Bloomin' Onion. Or so I hear tale...

Fiddle Camp is THIS WEEKEND! Looks sunny and gorgeous all around! Be here by 10AM and be ready for a whole new life of music, tunes, campfire jams and new friends! I'll remind you to bring a camp chair, your lesson book, tuner, and spare strings and get ready for a weekend of music and your new instruments! I have a dozen fiddles here waiting for their new owners and I'll start tuning them up tomorrow and checking out each one individually to make sure all is well and ready for your eager hands! This is one of my favorite weekends of the whole year!

On another important note: farmers make mistakes. I know I sure make mistakes. The wool CSA and Webinars I hosted a few years ago were just such mistakes. I have sent out emails to folks about their wool products last night and this morning, but have only heard back from three so far. If you did not get an email from me because communications changed, please email me for a refund for anything you would like your money back for and it will be paid by December 2014. I am honestly trying to remedy this to the best of my ability. I thank you for your patience and valued the good faith you made those purchases with.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jasper!

Small but Mighty! Jasper, my 11.2 hand POA being ridden by Joanna T. He trail rides, trailers, good with feet and farrier, Amish broke, high spirited, drives, and looks snappy. He's for sale to the right home. Will have his coggins updated before sale as well.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

BIRCHTHORN IS FUNDED! THANK YOU!

I was in the shower, getting ready for Saratoga's Author Event when my phone rang. I knew what it was about, had to be about! It was patty who just watched the Kickstarter Campaign fly past the goal and wanted to share in the excitement. I was not able to grab the whole but got in touch with her quick, we were both so happy and relieved. We all did it, guys! We made the goal! What this means is I am officially an employed writer again! It means I will have a creative job, a means to get ready for winter, and Cold Antler Farm will be avoiding the wolves at the door! This has been a anxious, nerve wracking and wonderful process. THANK YOU ALL!

There are still four days left in the campaign, so you still have four days to become a part of this story. This is the pre-order process, guys. This is how you get this book. You can choose an ebook, paperback, or special hardcover. There are limited copies left, I think only 167 paperbacks and 51 hardcovers. I don't have plans to yet to make this available outside Kickstarter or bought here at workshops in person. So if you want to hear this story consider just getting an electronic copy. And if you want to be a part of writing it, grab one of those last paperbacks! You can still pledge to be in the story itself, too! There are four spots left!

And anything raised over the goal goes towards making more books, making a BETTER website for the project, and keeping this farm a safe place for the animals and human alike. So be a part of this. Help tell a story. And have a physical book in your family you can always tell your kids and grandchildren YOU helped write! A spooky story, a good thrill, and a fun way to spend this long winter - creating a monster in a farm community of the past.

GET ON THIS HORSE CART WHILE YOU STILL CAN!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

98% FUNDED!

The Kickstarter for Birchthorn is down to the less than $250 to reach completion! If that mark is met not only will this community project begin right after the campaign ends, but emails will be sent out to all who donated letting them know how to get involved! Know that there is a limited number of books available and being printed, very limited. The only way to guarantee you get a copy is to pledge for one in the next 5 days. If you pledged for an ebook, you might want to adjust it to the paperback level so you can be a part of the private blog writing the story! But even if you just kick in a dollar or two you are helping make this project go from idea and flirtation to actual reality, and helping this farm in ways you just can't realize. So I urge you to help us push past the finish line!

PLEDGE HERE

Northshire Reading Was a Celebration!

Manchester last night was so lovely! The author space was packed, chairs filled, and the audience was full of friends and strangers alike, some traveling as far as Wisconsin! I read from Cold Antler Farm, a few passages, and then there was a nice, long, conversational Q&A with supportive and energetic folks of all ages. I saw old friends from my office days I had not seen in ages. I met fans from all over the area, and Nation! And I got to spend a lot of time taking photos, signing books, laughing, and drinking that amazing Mocha Joe's coffee that have on tap over there in the Spiral Press Cafe. It was a lovely part of the CAF tour and books were sold in numbers. I was so glad to be there and look forward to returning with my next book!

A Day in the Country!

I handed Eric the lines and showed him where to stand behind Merlin. My horse was in full harness, his tugs attached by chains to a single tree which was loaded with small logs. Eric is a science teacher  in Greenwich, Connecticut and I don't know if he ever helped harness and drive a draft animal before, but he took those long lines and told Merlin to "Walk on" and I was so proud of this person I didn't know the day before. He was steady and true, Merlin walked straight, and I think I saw the beginnings of a couple's decision to someday own a working horse. I could almost here the spark ignite.

Eric and Christine came for an Indie Day on Thursday, it was mild and partly sunny but the rain did not show up and stop our fun. We spend the morning learning the basics of archery and shot at a target in the high field. We extracted honey from my beehive and poured the liquid gold into jars in my kitchen. Lunch for them was in the little cafe in town and then they returned to meet Merlin and ride, drive, and see the cart hooked up and trotting down the road. After all that we still had time to let the goats run and play in the yard until evening milking. They got to squeeze out some milk, get nickered at and their jeans tugged on, but were all smiles. It all wrapped up with watching Gibson and the sheep in their small hill pasture, Gibson herding and heckling and the sheep munching on fallen apples and grass. Not a bad way to spend a Thursday, if you ask me.

Indie Days are great in general, one-on-one instruction with folks who know me through the blog and want to experience what they read about. It was wonderful meeting Christine and Eric, and when they left with hugs and thank-yous I was the truly grateful one. For their support, of course and their friendliness - but also for their beer. Because Eric is a master home brewer and he left a large bottle of the best stout I have ever drank in my entire life! It was a borderline religious experience. After my first big pull from the pint glass I am sure I swore an oath. Holy Crow, it was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Or, so I thought…

When chores were done and the animals all content I was getting ready to call it a night after that good day's work. But I felt the urge to text friends, Patty and Mark, and ask if I could swing by later that evening? I just wanted to kick back with friends. A few hours later I was in their kitchen, talking over a glass and eating a hamburger with a side of beans from the garden.

After a good meal (there went my juice fast….) we decided to go outside and get her horse, Steele, a ton of Percheron, out of his pasture and saddled up. Patty wanted to see how a new Aussie saddle felt on the lad. While she tacked up I had this wild idea in my head. Patty saddled the horse and liked the new furniture and when she got off I asked if I could try it out as well? Patty cocked her head a little to the side, but said okay. I NEVER ask to ride her horse. She's 5'10 and built like a goddess from another age. I am a hobbit, at best.

The last time I rode Steele was two years ago, inside the arena at Riding Right Farm. I had professional staff, instructors, and was inside an equestrian facility. Steele was in English tack and I was more comfortable in English gear at the time. Also, there was a first aid kit the size of a large backpack on the wall and I had a helmet on my head. I rode him around the arena once, walking and trotting, and was pretty much scared to death. Too big, too much power, too much for a new rider just getting used to a Fell Pony. But Patty was proud and gave me a hug just for trying.

This night, two years later, there was no arena, no helmet, no professional staff. There was a horse on a friends farm in the front lawn. I got a boost and I rode him. I rode him down the lane onto the road. I rode him back at a canter up the driveway. I walked around the lawn. I was not scared! Not at all! Thanks to a few years in the saddle with a stubborn pony under my belt. I loved riding that giant horse and most of all, I felt strong and proud. I feel strong often enough, with feed sacks and piglets in my arms, but rarely do I let myself feel proud like that.

It wasn't perfect riding, as I was choppy and green compared to the song I know so well with Merlin. But I did it, and I knew when I hopped down the woman whose boots hit the ground was not the girl who trotted in a circle indoors two years earlier. Patty took some video, Mark got on next to try out the saddle as well (which we all LOVED!).

Mark trotted and cantered around his property on that magnificent gelding the rain started to spatter and the wind started to pick up. He hopped off and we untacked the big boy as the real threat of rain came down. We got the horses in the barn and the tack put up just in time for a downpour to soak us! I tried to think back to how the day started, with new friends from another world, shooting arrows into the big burlap and hay target, and a few hours later I had drank the world's best beer, ridden a dinosaur, and got a free shower from Nature herself. Dare I ask for more? We went inside, arms around each other and our little victories. A fine day, indeed.

We were laughing in our cups when we all got a text at the same time. Checking our phones, we saw our friend Joanna (Jasper's Joanna) needed help and now, she was panicked! She had 20+ turkeys escape from their electric netting in the storm we just laughed thought and they were all over her yard in the dark. This was not a tragedy but her husband was away at work, she was exhausted from the long day, and you all know how it is when the last straw breaks in half. She just needed some friends. Since she literally live two houses down from Patty and Mark we hopped in the back of Patty's truck and rode to the rescue.

It did not take long to wrangle the turkeys. We set out a fan of arms and hollers and soon they were all back in their fence and the charger turned back on. Joanna was relieved and we all headed back to Mark and Patty's to sit and talk, laugh and smile. It felt good to help a friend. It felt better to just be in a place where help is a panicked text away, loaded in the car or ready to charge into scene on the back of a white horse, literally.

A day in the country. A fine day.
And I slept the way heavy rocks sleep when they are very tired and the moss doesn't itch.


P.S. The Birchthorn Kickstarter has only 5 Days Left! Please take a minute to pledge and be a part of a story. A story that supports this farm, that lets you take part in the creation, and will employ me into early winter! We are 77% towards the goal and this project will not happen unless it is 100% funded! So do not wait, check out the new reward posted (a LIFETIME ticket to CAF events and workshops!) and keep telling friends and family about this project! I thank you!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Living Iron Forge & Meg Paska at Antlerstock 2014!

I am so pleased to announce that joining the presenters and activities at Antlerstock this year is Author, speaker, farmer and beekeeper Meg Paska and the owner and artist, blacksmith, and ironworker Greg Clasby! Meg will be talking about bees and getting started with a backyard honey harvest. Greg will be there to share his art and creations. So if you are passionate about honey or homemade weaponry, I gotta say darling, there is seomthing here for you this year at Anterstock! By the way, only a few slots left, so grab them if you want them by emailing me.



Down to the Wire from Daniel McCord on Vimeo.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

We Are 70% There!

As of tonight this Kickstarter Campaign has reached 70% funding with a week left to go! I'm feeling more confident than the start, but that 30% still means there is a chance we won't pull this off and make Birchthorn happen. Remember, unless I hit the goal within the next 7 days zero pledges are collected and the project fails. So I thank all of you who are still thinking of pledging just for considering it, and I really thank those of you who already have! Every pledge, even at the $1 level, helps make this project a reality and I am so looking forward to it! I have never published a novel and this one about magic, history, farming and friendship will be an adventure on many levels. It's a new kind of excitement and I like it!

What is this Birchthorn thing?!

Low Rent Honey Filtration

All right, so I'm not especially proud of it but this contraption did the job! I went out on this drizzling afternoon and pulled four heavy frames from the honey super. I extracted the way a gal with one hive does, quick and dirty like. The plastic frames were scraped clean of all comb and honey and dumped into a stainless steel brew kettle. Then I poured the clumpy mess of honey and comb into a kitchen colander (standard issue) and using a kettle handle and an inverted hammer I was able to strain out the raw honey into a pyrex bowl my mom found for me at a yard sale. 20 pounds of honey were extracted this way in under an hour! I used special muth jars, mason jars, an old whisky bottle (which I saved for this very reason) and couldn't be happier. I didn't even get stung (at least not during the harvesting. I did get stung when I thought busting the lid off in a tank top was a good idea without my smoker, but just once).

Honeybees are wonderful. They are such easy livestock to keep and give back so much. I'll harvest the other six frames later this week but right now I am just feeling so darn satisfied about the honey surplus in this house! I think honey is a great gift as well, and will tie some baling twine around a few of my jars with a honey stick on them as housewarming presents. But most will stay right here, used for homebrewing and everyday use in tea, baking, glazing meats and spread over homemade breads. There is a saying that the first harvest of the season is the best tasting honey you'll ever have and I believe it! Mine is light and mountain-based, created from wildflowers, goldenrod, clover and tree blossoms. I savor it. And while it's origin is as scrappy as the rest of this farm it was harvested at zero expense in the form of fancy extractors or even much time. This morning all I had was half a squirt bottle of honey from the farm stand. Now I have enough to shower in it! Tonight I feel rich!

And will celebrate with my chicken dinner of roasted bird over kale and potatoes, a cold beer, and my 12,023 viewing of Braveheart.