Friday, September 12, 2008

sheepdog trial weekend!

I have a busy weekend coming up. Early tomorrow morning I'll be hitting the road for Esperance, NY. It's a small town about an hour and a half south of me. I'm going to the Wooly Winds Novice Sheepdog Trial to watch beginner shepherds put their dogs through their paces. I've only ever watched open trials before - which are for really experienced dogs. This trial will be more my speed - green dogs and greener handlers tripping over sheep and running around frantic to catch up with themselves. Pretty much what I'll be getting into when a border collie find it's way into my life. For now, I'll be watching from the sidelines, talking with other NEBCA members, and finding out what I'll be doing as a volunteer at the big fall trials in Cooperstown New York. I offered to help with the backstage work at Fall Foliage 2008 - a big fall trial/ I offered to help scribe or hold sheep while the pros worked their dogs. After the adventures of the morning are past, we'll take the scenic route back home and hopefully pass a cider mill where I can get some fresh press. I love apple cider, and come fall it might even trump coffee (okay, that's a bold faced lie.)

I have a busy weekend coming up. Early tomorrow morning I'll be hitting the road for Esperance, NY. It's a small town about an hour and a half south of me. I'm going to the Wooly Winds Novice Sheepdog Trial to watch beginner shepherds put their dogs through their paces. I've only ever watched open trials before - which are for really experienced dogs. This trial will be more my speed - green dogs and greener handlers tripping over sheep and running around frantic to catch up with themselves. Pretty much what I'll be getting into when a border collie find it's way into my life. For now, I'll be watching from the sidelines, talking with other NEBCA members, and finding out what I'll be doing as a volunteer at the big fall trials in Cooperstown New York. I offered to help with the backstage work at Fall Foliage 2008 - a big fall trial/ I offered to help scribe or hold sheep while the pros worked their dogs. After the adventures of the morning are past, we'll take the scenic route back home and hopefully pass a cider mill where I can get some fresh press. I love apple cider, and come fall it might even trump coffee (okay, that's a bold faced lie.)

P.S. I sold the book in the farm fundraiser, but if any of you are in any position to make an offer on any of the signs or the mask, or the painting. Please do! Just email me (now in the right sidebar is a link to my email. I also do custom pet watercolors for about 75.00 a painting) Help Cold Antler get ready for winter 2008!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

hay-lined revelations

Realizing you're becoming a farmer comes in tiny revelations. You'd think unloading a station wagon full of sheep or writing a check for 200-pounds of animal feed would snap that into place for you, but those grand gestures don't. Maybe because they're too obvious or your mind is so busy trying to figure out how to get them into pens or carry 200 pounds when you're 5'3"? No, It's the little things. Like realizing that you tracked goose crap all over the house because you're used to a life of lawns, not pastures. Or when you pull hay off your jeans when you sit down at your office's desk chair. Or watching movies with chickens running around period film sets and yelling at the screen "What!? Why would a Plymouth Rock Rooster be living in 16th Century Japan?!!" And then getting angry at the film crew for their obvious lack of poultry research. That's when you realize you've slipped into the dark side of the barn. That's when you understand you're becoming a farmer.

This morning at the office was one of those moments. A couple of co-workers were chatting about the colder-than-usual morning. One said to another "Weren't you surprised when you walked outside this morning?! Hello Winter." And I realize how completely unsurprised I was. But had this been a morning back in Knoxville three years ago, I would've been shocked. Back before I planned my life around a garden and livestock, I let the weather happen to me. I didn't live a reactionary life towards it (unless you consider putting on a sweater reactionary.) But now I stalk weather.com and haunt weather.gov. I have a garden full of corn and pumpkins and sunflowers to keep going into October. Between the fear of early frost, and planning how much work I want to do outside at 5AM, I check the weather report all the time.

I knew for over a week we were going to have a frost advisory last night. So after work I did all the morning chores in advance. I carried and refilled all the water stations. I loaded fresh feed into everyone's bowls and feeders. I forked straw. I set things up. I did it so I'd have an easier and more comfortable morning. So come the dark blue light of 5:34AM I would only need a few flakes of hay under my left arm and a lantern in my right hand. Which is all I did need.

This morning I walked outside in a heavy fleece coat, a ridiculous fur musher's hat, and my father's old red-and-black plaid hunting jacket. I looked silly, but I was warm (and the sheep could care less how I'm dressed.) Work went quick and by the time I was back inside with the dogs the coffee was ready. I was never surprised for a second. Which comes with my wooly new territory, I guess.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

pack dogs extraordinaire

farm fundraiser kick off

So below I have some items, descriptions, and such for the Fall Farm Fundraiser. If you are interested in purchasing any of these items, please comment below with an email address I can reach you at. Or email me personally at jenna@itsafarwalk.com. From there we can work out the details. I had prices listed before but it seemed crass. If you are interested, make an offer, and we'll discuss.

The reason for the fundraiser is threefold. The first to take care of winter farm costs, which include (but are not limited to) hay, feed, bedding straw, reinforced fences (snow damage), water defrosters and heating fuel. The other reason is to save for my future farm, which is seems so far away but maybe with the help of the book and readers I can get a little closer to paying off student loans and start saving for a real piece of land. The third is charity, which is where a quarter of the money will go. With the help of your donations our goal is to buy a few goats or sheep for the people of Heifer International. An agriculture based charity that helps people through livestock grants. (The teach-a-man-to-fish school of charity) Please read below for items.

The Spirit Mask(50.00 S&H in the USA)
By far the biggest ticket item here. But this completely hand-crafted Native American inspired spirit mask was made while writing Made From Scratch in Idaho. Using a hand molded paper mache frame, I used real antlers, fur, and coyote teeth (along with fake horse hair, hawk feathers, and glass wolf eyes) to make this headdress in the Native American Tradition. It took about twenty hours to make, from the original newspaper and glue on the kitchen floor, to hand trimming to rabbit fur around the muzzle. It weight about ten pounds, and rests on top of your head like a hat. It would be an amazing costume for any Hallows event! Which is why I made it - it was used at a Halloween bonfire last October, and we had a grand ol' time. But since then it has just sat in my bedroom. Please give it a nice home.

Eat Local Farm Sign (20.00 S&H in the USA)
Hand-painted garden sign. Has Cold Antler Farm written below it. Was propped up in the garden and featured on the blog a few times. Painted on old Vermont floorboard!

Wolf on Hallows Original Watercolor (10.00 tube S&H in the USA)
This is not a print! It's an original large watercolor on 12x14" paper! Painted when I lived in Tennessee (possibly PA). The signature wolf with antlers dancing fireside. the wolf with antlers is an unlikely animal, but one you see all over this site because I feel the ability to transition from a corporate employee to a full-time sustainable farmer (and farm writer) is an equally unlikely animal. So it's an avatar of hope through nature. Plus, let's be honest, wolves look better with antlers anyway.

Signed Advanced Reading Copy of Made From Scratch (5.00 S&H in the USA)
It's not as fancy as the upcoming hardcover. But it's signed and here at the cabin waiting for you! I'll also make sure it has a goose feather bookmark in it!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

colder days, warmer hearts

When I left the office last night, the Subaru's thermometer read 76 degrees. In the valley the trees were green, the sun was out, it felt like the high end of summer. Twenty minutes later when I drove up the mountain and turned onto West Road I looked at the temperature again. It was now 66 degrees, shady, and my car rumbled over a bed of brown maple and oak leaves. It really is more like fall in the hollow. This is where I belong.

Fall is the greatest. It's my favorite holiday - the most exciting time of the year. I thrive in crisp weather. I am beaming in hooded sweatshirts and beat jeans. I was miserable in the 80-degree Octobers of Tennessee (Its only true downfall.) Halloween is hands down my all time favorite holiday. Which sounds like I adore slasher movies and tacky faux zombie lawn decorations. I don't.

No, I'm an old fashioned gal when it comes to Halloween. At Cold Antler it's a celebration of a year well done. A true harvest party with a heavy focus on remembering those we lost. Old traditions like memory bonfires, storytelling, and serving a silently observed meal that was a deceased friend's favorite are all still celebrated here. The lurid stuff is not. I have no interest in a graphic Halloween championed by the horror industry. To me that modern interpretation is horrible, and makes a warm and beautiful Celtic tradtion a creepy mocking of mortality. (Honesty, I am more unsettled by spring, which is to me the creepiest time of the year). But Hallows is a happy time. A day to soak in memories, sit fireside, tell the kids about people they'll never meet, pet your dogs, and laugh with those who are lucky enough to be still among the living. It's nature's best last party before we all crawl under quilts and watch the snow confuse the hell out of the chickens.

So on that note, Vermont is really starting to feel like fall. Tonight they want the temperatures to drop into the low 40s, tomorrow night into the thirties. Which means I'll snuggle up by my fireplace with the dogs and read a cheesy mystery or watch an equally cheesy romantic comedy. Knowing that outside the sheep, rabbits, and poultry are all safe and warm in their keeps. I am looking forward to this so much it's making it hard for me to type a sentence without randomly adding words like PUMPKIN and FIREWOOD. Which apparently, I just did. Sorry, I am swept up in the magic.

I think it's important to look forward to the things that you know are coming. The guaranteed. To get pumped about the changing seasons, a sunflower's bloom, a holiday on the calendar. Putting stock in these simple things is healthy and rewarding because they can't let you down. If you put the proper levels on value on them it's hard to feel languid about life, or bored with the routine. I find that if all your priorities lay in things outside nature's control your certain to be disappointed. You don't always get promoted at work, or approved for that new car loan, or can afford a plasma tv screen without eating spaghetti for a year. But you can take fall to the bank. It's coming. And Vermont might be the greatest place in all of this small world to watch it unfold.

I am blessed over and over. I tell you there's no justice.

Monday, September 8, 2008

all my armour on

Preparing for Monday mornings is an ordeal. I need to put all my armour on. The coffee pot is loaded, and on the stove ready for me soon as I get up. My outfit for work is picked out, at grasping distance. I set the alarm extra-early (4AM) So I can hit snooze a jillion times before 5. All of this is required to mentally prepare me for the 40-hour corporate work week I truly don't belong in. But I am okay with. Because right now, I do belong there. It's what pays rent, bills, and feeds me and the animals. It might be years, decades, before I can afford to buy a farm and make that my full time job. It makes my stomach turn if I think about that too long. But let's be honest - working for an outdoorcentric company in Vermont is world's away from the same job in downtown Chicago. I am lucky. I know this.

Lucky or not - I still wish my workday was outside, with rams and lambs and a border collies named Knox and Saven. This sometimes tears at me. Am I asking too much when I strive for this rural life? Am I being foolish praying to foresake a comfy 9-5 job so I can work my ass off in the pastures? I don't know. Some people have been telling me to slow down. Not to expect too much. They have my best interests at heart, but their warnings make me lower my ears and run into the wind like Jazz and Annie do when we're mushing in the snow. I'm still finding all this out. I do know I'll happily work more hours, pour buckets of sweat, and come inside so tired I can barely stand if its what I know I should be doing. Farming and writing is the world I am clawing uphill into.

The coffee is perking now. Thank god.

I'm still somewhat tired from the weekend. I drove down to my hometown of Palmerton, PA for the annual festival. which was all but rained out. I still had a nice time. It's a small event with crafts and rides. Local community churches and girlscout troops selling their wares as a giant public fundraiser for dozens of clubs. Sadly, it fell the same weekend as the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival. But some priorities still soak in traditional waters. So The dogs and I drive the five hours to my homeland. My kind neighbors watched the farm.

Back in Palmerton, the food and familiar faces were there. My best friend Kevin drove up from Newtown to spend Saturday with the Woginrich's (his favorite thing, ever) and between Kevin (who, by the way, decorated an apple pie with a perfect likeness of Kermit the Frog, and make a human cel inpired pastry) and my family, four dogs, and deep fried twinkies. It was a grand 'ol time. I wish I took a picture of that pie.

Even though Palmerton was a nice break from farm and worklife. I kept wondering about the the chickens and sheep. Were they okay in the storm? Did Katie get them enough water? Did Dean remember to shut the coop's door at night? When you run a small farm, it's impossible not to take your work home with you. I have to go to Boston in two weeks for a book event and while I'm excited to see my friend Erin and her city, I loathe having to prepare. Having to ask the neigbor's to walk up here and care for the animals again, vaccinate the dogs for the kennel, and leave my animals. People do not get into homesteading to up and leave it every two weeks. I am excited and grateful for the book, I don't mean to sound like I'm not. I will happily promote it into the ground. But at the end of the day I just want to work hard and then relax harder, and that happens best where sheep chew grass, fiddles play, maple leaves turn red, and roosters crow.

When I came home to Cold Antler it had recovered from the storm. All the sunflowers that had yet to bloom (I planted them late) were now bursting with yellow from the rain. They seemed to say 'welcome back'. Marvin and Sal bleated a hello (Maude ignored me like usual), the chickens scurried about the yard. Jazz and Annie sat next to the car, waiting for dinner. Everything was fine. I don't know why I worry about them so much. I guess that's just how I'm wired.