Sunday, December 21, 2008

special delivery!

Just in from a short mush to the neighbors. Jazz, Annie, and I delivered via dogsled French toast gift baskets. They were full of warm bread baked right before we harnessed up (still warm!), farm eggs, and Vermont maple syrup. I wanted to find a special way to thank my amazing neighbors that watch the farm while I am away over the holidays or for book events. Because of them I have the freedom to take a break from the farm and be with family and friends. That deserves French toast.

We wanted to deliver their farm baskets in style, so I tied a basket to the kicksled to hold all the gifts, covered it up with some alpaca wool, and tied some jingle bells on it to sound the way. Oh and the snowstorm...what snowstorm!? You can't stop a girl on a mission. Just thought you guys would find that picture of the dogs running back into the farmhouse fun. Happy holidays from all of us at Cold Antler!*

*Oh, well not all of us. Maude the angry ewe does not wish happiness to anyone.

riding it out

Holy crow folks, it is a blizzard out there! I woke up to the BANG BANG SNAP SLAP of the scren door on the porch being whipped open by the screaming wind. Jazz, who sleeps with his head on the pilow next to mine, shot his eyes open and snarled his teeth. Which is something I am used to seeing, but not used to waking up too. He made me think the place was blowing down. I sat up and moved the curtains aside from the window behind the headboard. Snow was falling horizontally across the farm. In the wind the howling crow of Winthrop the wererooster made me feel like the Donnor party was about to trudge by any second. Oh. Great. That'll be fun to be out hauling feed in in about twenty minutes...

After the fire was lit, and a strong cup of coffee downed, I bundled up and headed out. Sunday mornings are the heaviest work time at the farm. With a 9-5 job during the week, this is when I have the most free time to take care of bigger jobs. It's when fresh straw is bedded, and fifty-pound bags of grain and feed are hauled out of the back of the Subaru to refill the metal rat-proof cans. I also bought extra straw, and had a new mineral block for the sheep to set out. So between the extra goods, heavy snow, wind, and foot on the ground already - I had my morning work cut out for me, but I want to know every creature is as comfortable as it can be during weather like this.

The chickens have it the best. Their outbuilding is windproof and the chicken wire front is now covered in a wool blanket. Inside a heat lamp keeps it a comfy 45 degrees even when the temp drops below zero. After I laydown a bed of fresh straw, I like to plop right on the floor of the coop and watch the birds eat, scratch around, and live their free-range life. Plus, being inside the snowless, windless coop in the amber glow is a little oasis in a blizzard. I looked outside at the sheep, chewing their hay, and got up. I needed to get them ready too. So when the sheep had their minderals, grain, fresh straw in their shed and a pile of hay - I called the morning done. Usually farmwork like this takes an hour tops. But with the snow, pulling hay and straw and feed on a sled, and the deep snow I was outside for well over two hours. I would come in to warm up and feed the fireplace, but only for a minute. I didn't want to be seduced and hang up my parka and scarf before everyone outside would be as okay as I was indoors.

When I did come back indoors to start making breakfast and baking my sunday bread, the dogs were curled up and in deep sleep. Annie was on the couch, her black fur warmed from the fire. Jazz prefers the bed, since it smells like me and it's where he prefers to stretch out. A sleeping husky is pure peace. Unless a harness was in their immediate future they had no interest in going back out into that garbage. I don't blame them. That's Jazz in the photo, when you come back into your cabin, covered in ice, shivering for the fire, and see a putz like that, you can't help but laugh. Jazz rides out this life better than most.

Also - Happy Solstice to all! It's officially winter here, and I think this weekend is a heck of a birthday party for the new light coming into our lives. The days will start to get longer, and before you know it mud season will be getting our cars stuck in ditches. Here here. And I hope everyone has a safe and warm holiday, whereever you are. I'll be traveling for the Holdiays, going back to PA. But when I come back there will be a little book tour and some New Year's resolutions to see too. I hope to meet some of you at the Northshire Event on Jan 9th, or down in Troy or Albany.

Friday, December 19, 2008

the storm

Everyone at work was talking about it. The office was tense with the news that a storm was coming in. A big storm. The first real blow of the season. Reports were ranging all the way up to 14 inches tonight, and more on Sunday. One of my coworkers even mentioned "snow thunder" which made me laugh and dismiss him as spouting crazy talk. Who ever heard of snow thunder? I lived all over the country and never heard thunder once during a single blizzard, and Idaho sure as hell gave me my share of blizzards. They were windy. They were dangerous. But they weren't thunderous. Crazy talk, that.

Being a Friday, a snow storm, and the day of our office Christmas party - the day was pretty much shot all to hell. It was one of those days where you get as much done as you possibly can, but you're limited by peoples' natures, and most of all, limited by my own. I was as anxious as a girl with a dogsled could be. I wanted to be home at the farm. I wanted to be behind a team of dogs. By noon the flurries started to fall and by 1PM it was a white out. Here it comes... I paced around the pod like a wolf tied to a lamb pen.

From inside the big office windows I did the holiday stuff. The secret santa gifts, the cheese plates, you all know the drill. I talk about work flippantly, but actually, I am really starting to feel comfortable there. I feel confident in what I do, and I like my projects and the people I fell into. Some of them are hilarious, and some may even turn into great friends down the road.

It's just harder to get into people's lives in New England. In Tennessee or Idaho, people were a lot more open. They invited you over, met you for drinks, asked you about your weekends. It took a few weeks to build relationships with people that weren't based on the 9-5 life we shared, but here in vermont I have to guess what most of my coworkers lives are like. Sure, there are a few I know better and them me - but most don't know anything about me other than I have a deer head at my desk, drink a lot of coffee, drive a horror of a station wagon, and wear a lot of plaid.

Anyway, point is, I generally like work. But today I fumbled around the office party sporadically and awkwardly (I never know how to act at those things...or what the social norms are when people huddle into little cabals around punch bowls. Give me a working dog or the reins of a horse - and you'll see a confident women. Give me a martini glass - and you'll see a schmuck with some booze.) I left around 3:30. I had to leave while the going was safe. Sandgate roads aren't forgiving friends. I didn't want to be out driving a car in the dark during the wail.

I drove home slow, stopping at the Wayside for the essentials. That's the Wayside Country Store up there in the photo. I took it just as the snow was starting to pick up. Wayside is my home base. I am there nearly every day for coffee, groceries, anything really. It's the kind of place you can buy dinner, rent a movie, grab a bottle of wine, a hunting licence, car parts, spark plugs, ice cream, sweaters, and a greeting card at. I adore it more than Doug and Nancy (the owner) will ever know. I picked up coffee creamer and some votive candles in case we lost power. I already had plenty of wood and water stored for the storm. Outside was getting worse.

When I pulled into the farm it was almost 4:30. Daylight was becoming a memory. I was thrilled to be home. I left nearly everything in the car and went inside instantly to see the dogs. Jazz and Annie could smell the snow in the air and were wild with it. Their pupils huge, high on it all. I had them in harness johnny on the spot. I lashed a lantern to the dogsled, slipped on my rabbit fur hat, and yelled out "HIKE HIKE!" and we loped off into the night and down over the icy bridge covering the stream that surrounds the farm.

There is something about running dogs that I will never be able to explain correctly to you, or anyone, but it is beautiful. I think the closest thing I can do is compare it to jumping from something high into water you assume is safe. You let go of any real control, trust it will work out, and just let the experience devour you till you're under it all and gasping. With my feet on the runners, the only light the glow of the lantern, and the only sounds the slamming of paw pads on powder and my drumming breath - I am ten feet deep.

I drove the sled two miles into the storm along West Sandgate Road. Down towards Lincoln Lane where we bolted past neighbors, snow plows, and a pair of ponies munching hay in the dark by an old barbwire fence. Yes, the weather was bad, but when you are mushing you pay no mind. You are somewhere else. I held on with both hands, taking in the woods around me. Looking down the valley into the farms and far-away lit houses with smoke wafting out of chimneys. My boots grazed over the ice as I slowed down here, or turned the sled there. I glided like a phantom.

I was only twelve miles from the office on the map, but as far as I was concerned I was much farther. A thousand miles. A hundred years. Time lays down for those who let it.

When the dogs and I came back into the driveway, the sheep were bleating to be fed. I came down from the run, and threw myself into farm work. I let Jazz and Annie in the cabin to drink and cool down while I went back into the storm to haul out feed and water. For half an hour I trudged and prepared the animals for the howl. I covered hutches and the coop with insulated blankets. I made sure the sheep had a feast of hay and their shed was lined with fresh straw. I brought the rabbit's bottles in to defrost by the fire I planned to light soon as I could get inside again. When I wanted to go inside. I was singin radio war in the snowstorm. A song I play on the fiddle till I forget what it all means. It's an Iron and Wine tune, listen to it sometime. It's nice.

I am so in love with all of this.

I was tired and happy. With a few miles of mushing under my boots, and the animals all bunkered down, I was ready to go inside, content that everything and everyone on the farm was safe. I went in the cabin and the heat hit me like a punch in the jaw. It was only about 55 degrees in there but after mushing and batting down the hatches, I wasn't ready for it. I put some coffee on the stove to ease my shock, since coffee solves everything. I then lit a fire, and laid out my gloves, boots, socks, hat, and vest on the hot stones in front to dry. The wind whipped the screen door open. It was really pounding us out there.

I made some soup, fed the dogs, and opened my mail. I had a small package from a music shop. New rosin and fiddle strings, a blessing in a snowstorm. Hill dark rosin is my patron saint. I buy it whenever I get the chance. It makes an okay fiddle sound ten degrees better. Tonight I wanted to wail on it. I also had a Christmas card from Heather and Mike down in Knoxville.

I sighed whenever I see the 37917 area code. East Tennessee is the only ghost I'm haunted by anymore. If it snowed there, or had a bitter fall that my heart needs to function right - I'd be in the southern mountains right now. If you are reading this from Knoxville, please raise a glass to me next time you're in Market Square.

So now the dogs are asleep, just as tired as I am. The fire is crackling, and the snow is still coming down strong. I'm not going anywhere, son. I am in for the night. I have a date with St. Anne's reel, a song I have been meaning to learn for months now. I think tonight we're going to seal the deal. Quick and dirty style. It's how I want the day to end.

It has been a good one. All of it. The office to the fireplace, perfect.

Oh, and by the way, turns out my friend wasn't bullshitting at all. Snow thunder is a real thing. I heard about it on the radio while I was making dinner. An announcer on NPR warned about the oddity possibly happening tonight. Actual thunder in the Vermont December, well I'll be. As the weatherman talked about it, I shook my head smiling. I was wrong of course, as I often am.

Snow Thunder. Christ.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

minnesota!

Our friends at Swamp River Ridge had this photo to share. They hail from the great north, and sent along their own picture of tailgating with Jenna. So hey, the book makes another farm truck bumper! Which is a cool, and kind of weird (but more cool than weird) tradition CAF readers are starting thanks to the Lone Star State. I love this stuff guys. Makes me feel like a jet pilot who just won the lottery.

come in, it's cold out there

So here's a picture of inside the cabin. The place your friend Jenna spends a large chunk of her time when she's not in the office or outside tending the flock. Thought you guys would be curious to see an indoor photo. This is part of my kitchen looking into the living room. It's not fancy, but I like it. I'm easily pleased by any space that lets me fill it with my weird antiques and musical instruments. I don't know how many people have Maruska prints on their walls and blast Sigur Ros cds while driving with backseats full of chicken feed, but they are certainly my people. This I'm fairly sure about.

Hey guys, things are getting kind of exciting! Tonight I recorded a phone interview for WAMC's Book Show. It's a national show about authors and their works. It airs next week and when it's online I'll post a link to it. It was a lot of fun actually. Tune in to hear about my near-death waterfall jumping experience in Tennessee and sheep in station wagons in Vermont. Also, in a few moments a guy is coming to the farm to film an "acceptance " speech in case Made From Scratch wins the MS Society's "Books for A Better Life" Award in the green category. I can't go to the actual awards in New York, mostly because it's on a worknight and I don't have the vactation time for it. But still, just to be nominated for an award is staggering. Can you believe this? I can't.

I hope this kind of news doesn't come across as arrogant? If it does, I'm sorry. I don't want to be that guy. But honestly, I can't even begin to feel cocky about this life. Afterall, I still need to lug out the chickens' water font that is currently defrosting in the bathroom. I keep my awe in check. It's hard to feel cocky when chicken- scented water is de-icing by your toilet.

Crikey, interviews and speeches... I never thought a book about bees and chickens would get such a rise out of folks. I hope it keeps it up. My fingers are crossed I can keep up with it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

imprinting

So outside the cabin right now is a couple inches of new snow. It's still dark out there, but in the porchlight I can see the shadows and all the white. Beautiful, that. The ice from last week has melted away, and now instead of heavy-glass trees and danger sidewalks - we have this beauitful brand-new carpet installed.

Aestetics aside, there is a fun practicality of fresh snow on the farm. It lets me see what the birds are up to all day when I'm at work. When I come home on lunch, or even when I'm walking around in the lantern-lit dark, there are little paths and tracks all over the farm from the goose patrol, ducks, chickens, and other animals. There are tracks from wandering deer, neighbor's dogs, and sometimes the occasional moose. There are little dance steps from the crows, and tiny imprints from the chickadees on the windowsill. The snow prooves that a lot of life is happening while I'm at the office. Which is comforting to me, to know my farm has a heartbeat when I'm not there to witness it.

Of course, a lot of life is happening at the office as well. It's just a different set of animals leaving a different series of impressions. But it's all the same thing. Coffee mug rings and bad jokes are just as pretty in their own ways, but I like coming home and seeing proof in the snow. I really do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

a day in the life

AM:
4:45
wake up, hope nothing was eaten overnight
5:00
fumble out of bed, turn on percolator, flip on radio
5:15
coffee, e-mails, blogging, more coffee, copius amounts of coffee
5:45
farm chores (feed sheep, haul water, open chicken coop, etc)
6:00
walk dogs if they'll rolled out of bed yet
6:30
shower like I mean it, because I do
6:45
more coffee, pack up for work, fit in a fiddle tune or two because I won't be able to play for another 10 hours
7:25
leave for the office, possibly stop at Wayside for conversational coffee
8:00
Get to work, and start one of many, many, web design projects

PM:
12:00
take lunch, run home to let out dogs, collect eggs, check on sheep, wood pile, and the cabin
1:00
back in the office, probably eating fig newtons and peach yogurt, the lunch of champions
5:00
leave office, crank cd player, head home in the snowy-vermont dark
5:21
pull into CAF driveway, automatic lights turned on in coop already at 4pm, it's a warm glow
5:30
walk dogs, feed dogs, light fireplace
6:00
farm chores, PM version (same as AM, but with closing doors instead)
6:35
come inside, make dinner, which is nearly always Japanese inspired (rice, veggies, tofu, eggs)
7:00
eat on the couch with the dogs, watch movie or tv on dvd (Vanilla Sky and Stella, was last night), play music, gab on phone, check emails
10:00
try to figure out new music, worry about things, email people, plan for tomorrow
11:00
out cold.

Monday, December 15, 2008

CAF hearts Texas

Got an email from a reader, Kerrie, in Texas. She sent me a picture of her copy of the book on the back bumper of her old farm truck. I think I grinned at the laptop screen for a good three minutes after opening her message. It just blows my mind that people in Texas are reading about this little homestead and checking in on me. Thanks for reading Texas, and shucks Kerrie.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

coyote considerations

I shot out of bed this morning to a sound I haven't heard since last winter in Idaho. It was that loud cackle yip of a pack of coyotes. They were close.

Now, had I heard this in Idaho, I would've smiled, rolled over, and went back to sleep. I like these wild sounds, and I like that they're here trotting through the leafless woods, tounges lolling as they pad uphill. But back in Idaho I had nothing the yotes could hurt. The hens were locked up and literaly right outside my bedroom window in a pen up against my siding. They were safe as houses. But here there are sheep vulnerably far from the abode, and my birds' coop was no match for a clever coyote that really wanted to break in. I had to go check it out.

So in the moonlight, not sure what time it was exactly (maybe 5AM?). I went into full wardobe. Parka, boots, wool scarf and hat. Jazz and Annie watched me confused and tired from the bedroom. The coyotes were still carrying on. I grabbed my shepherd's crook and lantern and walked out into the night to the sound of the feral chorus.

Three years ago I graduated from design school, moved to a city to work for a television network, and spent Sunday mornings watching TV and eating sugared cereal out of a salad bowl. The night before I would've been out to the movies, or had sushi at Nama downtown or Indian food with Leif on the strip. I woud still be high from the galleries I saw on First Fridays, and all revved up to design some new posters for bands that didn't ask me for them...But last night I spent a few hours playing bluegrass and old time tunes with some friends in Cambridge next to a woodstove, and I woke up before first light to the braying of wild dogs ready to rip the throats of animals I have become surprisingly protective of.

Oh, how things have changed.

I stood outside between the coop and sheep pen, staring into the woods as the coyotes got louder. It was cold. Even with my layers of gear on, I was cold. I stood there for maybe half an hour, looking through the birches and sugar maples uphill around the hollow. I then stupidly realized the coyotes could be anywhere, and it was these echoing chasms all around the farm that were fooling me into thinking they were north of us. But I trusted the sheep, who were all looking the same way I was.

I banged the crook against the metal roof of the coop, and yelled to the yotes to go away. I turned on the heating lamps for the birds, making it clear human activity was going on. The sheep, like kids watching a car wreck behind a schoolyard fence, were lined up and tense. I decided to stay up with them till the coyotes took off. It seemed like the right thing to do. It's what I'd want if I were a sheep.

And so I stayed outside. I hauled hay and grain, refilled water, chucked three frozen eggs I forgot to collect in time into the compost bin (they were cracked open, useless) and went about all the morning chores till the sounds of howls and yips were replaced by roosters crowing to welcome the blue sunrise that us Vermonter's see in December. When all was safe and sound, I went back into the house to start some loaves of bread and tend to the dogs. No animals at Cold Antler would be coyote doo doo tonight. With that happy I thought, I went inside to bake.

I do miss the city sometimes. Who wouldn't? Specially when you can't feel your fingers as monsters scream at you from the abyss. But I'm here, and falling in love with the whole thing. I'll trade woodstove-bluegrass and the occasional monsters for car alarms, tv, and sugar ceral anyday. Hell, I'll learn to make my own sushi and rava idli.

I'll play it by ear. It's what I'm best at. I think that'll do.

Friday, December 12, 2008

monsters and full moons

I heard an awful sound tonight. Something like a cross between a human moan, a dog's howl, and a dying antelope being dragged through the parking lot of a Best Buy. It was a long, draw-out, wail that bounced off the hollow all around the farm and frankly, it scared the hell out of me. It actually spooked me enough to drop the lantern when I was out feeding the sheep. I was in the middle of bitching about a design slump I've fallen into (yes, I talk to the sheep, don't judge), when I spun around at the horrid sound.

Dear lord. It was coming from the farm.

When I pulled myself together, I located the noise. It was coming from near the coop. It's dark here in the middle of the woods, but with the growing moonlight and stars above, I was casting a shadow on the snow. I could see everything around me clear as day, and there wasn't any stray dog around, neighbors outside, or people in the drive. What?

The howl came again, twice as loud as before. Now I was a little freaked out, and it was definately coming from the chicken coop... but this was no chicken.

I creeped up. (This looks especially ridiculous when said creeper is wearing a giant red parka and a hat with ear flaps and sheep are peering out from behind her, chewing hay loudly whiles he whisper-yells back at them to "quiet down, because I mean busniness here!") I peered into the coop and saw no beasties. Just Winthrop, the Light Brahma rooster. He stood among his throngs, craned back his neck, and then...

Howled?!

Yes friends, I think I have a wererooster. It looks like a mere chicken, but during the full moon he turns into hybrid of sorts. Some monster of the night that sounds like a horror-trailer backdrop. No joke. If come morning there is nothing but Winthrop and a pile of bones and feathers, we know what's up. So you heard it here first. WereRoosters. Keep the kids in after dark, I'm not making any promises about the safety of stray cats. It's a crapshoot out there fluffy.

Anyway, I hope wherever you are, you look outside and up tonight or tomorrow. This moon you and I share is at it's brightest and closest to our little planet it'll be for the next 52 years. So darling, please look up. We only get these things for an instant.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

dusting off the dog sled

So they are calling for a real storm to hit Vermont today and into tonight, meaning by the time I get home from work (fingers crossed) there will be a few inches of fresh snow on our dirt roads...You know what that means people? The dog sled is coming out! The first storm of the season is a big deal for the dogs and I. We get excited for it. giddy for it, we can't get over it. And tonight I'll do the usual pre-first-run ritual: Hot coffee, dark chocolate, and a good movie set aside for when we come in from a few miles on the Sandgate roads. We'll shake off our coats, serve up some hot caffeine, and then collapse in a pile on the couch in front of the roaring fire. I need to pick up some new batteries for the lantern so snowmobiles don't confuse us for a pack of wolves on the lam. But folks, I can not wait to be holding that brushbow. This is torture being in an office right now...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

here is your early christmas present.

Since I can't actually give you fine readers something to touch, I'll offer an experience we can share. It's easy. All you need to do is get in your car on a snowy night, and follow these instructions. Now, these three parts are the key to this working. You need to be driving. It needs to be dark. And you need snow. If you live in Arizona, or don't drive in bad weather, I am sorry but there are no possible exceptions or exchanges in this scenario. I will try to be more inclusive next year.

Now, what you need to do is when you're in your car, and moving forward through the dark, driving, snow - pop in Radiohead's Ok Computer and listen to Let Down. It's the closest thing to magic I can share. Promise.

The only possible daytime snow driving song is the Flaming Lips, Do you realize. This is also wonderful, but not as good.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

chomp chomp

mornings like these

Woke up to a bed of fur and teeth - which sounds kinky, but I just live with Siberian huskies. I love waking up in this super-warm pile of wolves and quilts. Jazz and Annie sleep like the dead, generating heat and sighing heavy all night. When they dream they curl their lips and wimper or growl at their nightmares. So I'm used to this morpheous pile of fangy sleep that occasionally wakes me up with a paw in the face or a growl in my ear. Regardless, I like it.

Outside there's a fresh light coating of snow, and the weather report says an inch or two is on the way. On a Sunday morning, this is poetry to me. Mornings like these are why I live like this. To walk outside into the snow, with hay in my arms and to the morning bleats of the sheep, is nice. It's just plain nice. Today I'm baking bread, lighting the fireplace, and making new straw beds for the animals. When the flock's fed and chewing their cud on clean warm straw - it feels good. I love taking care of them. It even feels good enough to justify indulging in some overly-caloric pepermint mocha coffee back in the cabin. Or that's what I'm telling myself. Don't judge.

The chickens and geese aren't as aloof about the snow as the sheep. They walk out into it when it first comes, and then their little dinosaur feet get cold and awkward and they go back into their large coop. In there is fresh straw, water, and feed. I don't blame them. Dinosaurs and snow do not mix.

Right now, the farm is quiet save for the four roosters- Rufus Wainright, Chuck Klosterman, Sussex and Winthrop - who are crowing from the coop. Or they were until the great horned owl started to call and then they shut up. Chickens are made instantly quiet by birds of prey. I'm not worried.

Last night I was in the Northshire bookstore in Manchester. I picked up a pamphlet of the Indiebound Next List. I knew I was in it this month, but standing in a bookstore reading about your own book was a sureal moment. I picked it up as an emotional souviner and shoved it into my magazine. I was holding the new issue of BUST with Jenny Lewis on the cover (if you're not familiar with her, think Neko Case light for indie kids who are still too scared of liking anything quasi-country. I like Rilo Kiley though, and It's a Hit, still makes me smile whenever I hear it). Anyway, I finally read in all it's glossy glory, the review their editor, Debbie Stoller wrote about my little book. Here's the quote that made my weeked.

"Maybe you can stitch together a skirt. Perhaps you prefer to shop vintage. You might even manage to grow some of your own food. But whatever it is you do, Jenna Woginrich can kick your earth-friendly, DIY, recycling ass."

Thank you Debbie. And now I'm going to make an unforgivably large pot of coffee and spend the day working on some design freelance. I have the NEBCA newsletter to finish today. Which is bittersweet since I don't have a border collie anymore and just found out from my landlord I never can. Two dogs is the limit at the cabin. Oh well, what can I do? And now I have something to bite the bit on for the future right? This demands I keep moving forward with it all. I also have some fun goat logos to whip up for one of you fine readers. My day is packed. The snow is falling. Jazz is already back to sleep. Life rolls.

I also think a farm breakfast is in order before I fire up the mac, and right now quiche has my ears perked. Or maybe pancakes? This is a good problem to have, and I'll eat them with gusto. Have a great Sunday folks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NOW IN STORES

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

let's be honest

The real reason to bake your own bread and raise chickens is to eat French toast. Amazing, fall-down-the-stairs-good French toast.

I am a fan of this breakfast food, more than most. I've eaten it everywhere from Idaho pancake houses to the Empire Diner in Chelsea... and over the years I have become a bit of a conisuer. However, the first time I bit into that thickly-sliced homemade bread battered in real milk and fresh farm eggs...man it was a whole new pantheon of yummy. If I was a Scientologist, I'd be up a few new levels. You know, like the ones where they tell you about volcanos and aliens. (No offense to any of you farming Scientologists out there.)

I have no recipe. I pretty much just pour some milk (about 3/4 a cup), an egg, add some cinnamon and a pinch of vanila flavoring in a bowl and whisk it up till it's a yellow delight. Then I battter the sides of a thick slice of bread and go to town in my trusty skillet. I always fry them in real butter in cast iron, and serve it in a smaller cast iron pan for kicks. I pour real maple syrup and powdered sugar on top. I urge you, fine readers, to do the same.

I can't eat it every morning (or I'd be dead) but when I do indulge in simple pleasures like theses I really dig it. It's a hell of a way to start your weekend, and it's something small to look forwad to. Let's be hoenst, who doesn't need soemthing to look forward to on a Tuesday morning? So this week, get some farm fresh eggs and a small cast iron skillet, bake some of your own bread this Friday night and get pumped - because Saturday morning you get to hear about aliens, son.

P.S. Thank you all for your emails, comments, and kind words about Sarah. It really helped me out, and I'm fine. It was just a sorry weekend, but I'll be back on my feet with a new pup sometime in the future, and you'll hear all about it here. Maybe I'll even run into some of you out at a sheepdog trial next spring. Stranger things have happened.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

three bags full

Well, there are three individuals who are thrilled the sheepdog is gone and their names are Sal, Marvin, and Maude. With Sarah no longer here they have just lucked out. Since there isn't a dog-in-training on the farm there also isn't a need to replace them with dog broke sheep as fast as I intended. So they've just won a winter at the exclusive Cold Antler Sheep Resort and Spa. A place where second-cut hay is delivered regularly, water is poured on demand, and all the ear scratches and back rubs they can handle are given with wild abandon. I just took this picture outside as the snow was starting to fall. I told the trio that the sheepdog was gone and no longer would they be chased around the pasture or forced to stomp hooves and bleat in anger at the little black beast. I told them they could stay a while longer, probably till I shaved them down in the spring. I think Marvin is actually gloating in that photo, beaming at his stupid luck.

So, giddy sheep is a silver lining, I guess.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

sarah's gone

Sadly, Sarah is no longer my dog. The decision to return her to the trainer came after weeks of incidents I didn't share online. In the past month Sarah has bitten four people five times. She didn't do it out of malice, or even rip a pair of pants, but after running across the kitchen Thanksgiving morning to bite my father's leg, I had to step back and let logic punch pride in the stomach. I'm still reeling from the gut.

Sarah's an amazing working dog, but when I adopted her she had less work to do. She was too cooped up in my cabin and when I found out I couldn't work her on my sheep, that one real outlet she had fell apart so the stress in her just built and built till it hit a breaking point. She became anxious and ended up herding people instead. At first I made excuses for it or blamed circumstances, but after one person threatened to sue me and then my father got hurt in such an unprovoked way, I knew keeping her wasn't fair. She was too much dog for a beginner shepherd with such few unworkable sheep. If she stayed here she'd go crazy, maybe really hurt someone.

So today I returned the little girl, crying like a four-year-old. I feel so guilty for failing her as an owner. Besides those random acts of stress-invoked bites she was a good dog. When I was leaving the farm and she ran back to me instead of going with the trainer into the barn stalls, I almost buckled at the knees.

Dogs are important to me. I don't expect people to stick around, and generally keep folks at arm's length. But I give everything to dogs, knowing it's safer there. I can trust them. When the dog does what it can with me, and I can't return the favor it tears me up because I broke this one solid thing two species have created over thousands of years. I drove most of the way home in silence. Jazz and Annie, knowing I was upset, were silent too, letting me scratch their ears when I needed to know they were there.

This was a pretty crappy Thanksgiving guys.

This is my fault. She needed a handler with more land and stock for her. Now that she's back at her old farm she'll have that, and keep working till a farmer who needs a bullet of a dog can take her home. I wish I could've been that person. I was not that person.

I only had her a month but it had been an adventure. We'd been to sheepdog trials and herding lessons and did farm chores and work side by side. I was getting used to her tempo. Now the cabin seems empty and quiet. She was more than a pet to me, she was a step towards a goal, a team mate, and had become a trusted friend. I let her down.

I really wanted this to work out, you just can't know.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

sheep feet, bees, bunnies and borders

Right now the farm is a sorry, soggy sight. While some parts of New England are getting hit with storybook snow for their holidays - we're getting rain. A lot of rain. Which makes for slightly different chores around here. Did you know sheep hate wet feet? Well they do, and to preserve their hooves from disease and rot, I line their pen with fresh straw to keep them above the mud. Which takes some finese. I've learned when to time this, and how to get the most out of a bale of straw. Not exactly riveting news, but news just the same, and a lesson in shepherding I can only learn from experience. Not that strawfeet is something larger flockmasters do, they just let the sheep find their own high ground. But space is limited here. So we do what we can with what we have.

Besides the sheep's pedicure procedures, other parts of the farm are adapting to the changing weather. The bees are still active, but only when the world hits 45 degrees or higher. Given that window they come out of the hive for water and pathetic foraging. Honestly, I'm just happy to see they have survived a week of temps in the teens and lower, and I'm debating wrapping the hive in insulation. Something a lot of beekeepers do here but was never done in Idaho. I doubt it's necessity to keeping bees as much as it's necessity for the peace of mind it gives the beekeeper.

I have two nine-week-old Angora bunnies left that really need to go to new homes. So far no one is buying, even at lower prices. I'm hoping they sell as Christmas gifts for spinners because I don't want to invest in two new hutches to get them through winter. Soon they will be too large to share the cage with their mom. If anyone out there wants a great deal on a fiber animal, I'm your girl.

And of course, there is Sarah. Unlike Jazz and Annie, Sarah is a handful. A young pup with a lot of energy and sheep she can't work. Which leaves us poultry to herd instead, which is working out fine. Sort of.

This weekend while wrangling geese, Saro (the female in my pair of Tolouses) took off flying away to safety, and Sarah tore after it away from the farm. She ran well over a 100 yards away from me, below the flying bird. If I wasn't so goddamnc scared of losing her I would've appreciated how beautiful the site was, her loping like a gazelle below outstretched gray feathers, convinced she would herd the airborn charge. Chills ran through me, panic lurched in my throat. She ran away before and it was a disaster. But when I yelled her name she ran back to me, and that is proof positive this relationship is working uphill - no matter how slowly.

I refuse to give up on this little dog. Bad sheep, bruises, and carpet accidents be damned. Our obedience training is paying off. Sarah now can sit, stay, shake, come when called, and lie down. We work on her herding commands when she's out with the birds. And of course, we'll get back into lessons soon. But with the holidays and other things slowing me down we haven't been back to our instuctor's since that first lesson, but we will. We certainly will. Afterall, Sarah's my insurance policy in this farm-dream. If I can come out of this Vermont rental with a working sheepdog and some knowhow about my own sheep I'll be one step closer to my goal. And when you've got so many steps ahead of you, you treat that far walk with the same conviction as anything else around Cold Antler:

You do what you can with what you have.

Monday, November 24, 2008

our chances

Right now, while you’re sitting in your desk chair reading this sentence, over 100,000 things are happening in your body to keep you alive. 100,000 separate little actions that are totally unrelated are sparking and pumping and flowing so your eyes can see this and transport it to your brain. And even more things are going on in that brain of yours to decide how you “feel” about what it is that I write. And those "feelings" are just how you have trained you synopsi to trigger from repeated events. Which I know is getting into sketchy quantums but I don't care, it's Monday.

And you know what? All those 100,000 things happening right now aren’t even really “human” because almost 90% of what makes our skin and bones and muscles "us" are collections of bacteria and fungi that trace back 400 million centuries to the same bacteria and fungus that started life on this planet. So what we call “human” is pretty much 90% stuff you blow out of your nose on a bad day that happens to be inside you next to the right atoms and protons. Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight.

And did you know that there was a one in a million chance (some estimates say 2 million) that the sperm that fertilized the egg you came from created you? And that if any other sperm or egg collided you would look and sound and possibly even think completely different then you do today? And the chance that you ran into me on a planet of over 6 billion other flukes is so slim that I couldn’t even type the number on this page because of all of the decimal points? Nuts.

What I’m getting at is it’s pretty insane how much had to converge for you to sit in your chair and read this. And what’s even more insane is that two people can stand in line at the supermarket and have drastically different ideas on what reality is, or the right way to organize power cords behind a desk chair, or whether of not ham is okay to eat on certain days of the year. Which is all sheer lunacy when you look at it on paper. It’s hilarious, the stuff that distracts us.

And what’s it distracting us from? Hell if I know. All I know is that you’re sitting there and I’m typing here and that it took over 400 million centuries of random chance for this moment to happen and instead of basking in the awe of it, we’re arguing about how much wasabi to mix in our soy sauce. Which I don’t get, and I’m really tired of people telling me "how to get it", and I can’t think of anything sadder than needing to get it, because just being here should be enough, right? Well, regardless of what I should think, the whole train wreck of the human animal is pretty great. Keeps things interesting.

Anyway. Thats some of what's been on my mind. So, don’t get pissy with the people cutting you off on the highway when you're driving home for Thanksgiving - because far as the facts go that little blob of water and fungi is just as lucky as you to be here today. Given our chances, that in itself is something to be thankful for.

Have a great Holiday folks.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

the best laid plans

Last night I was rescued from failed-date plans by my friend Dave. Dave's a carpenter in Cambridge and somehow knows every single person who owns a chromatic tuner in our collective zip codes. He's a birddog mandolin player (a really good mandolin player) and when I get an invite to hang out with him there's a good chance music will happen. Actually, a 100% chance since he knows every house or apartment with a musician in it from his work as a builder or volunteering at the co-op. So Dave's got a lot of friends. He's a hip cat to know.

We ended up in North Bennington at Joe and Alisa's house, local artists who work in metal and moved up here from Jersey. Inside their warm woodstove-heated home about twenty random musicians, kids, food lovers, and a black dog named Scruffy were enjoying a potluck meal and carrying cases into the music room. When stomachs were full, we all got together to play some tunes. From Cash to Dylan, to songs so old Cash and Dylan never heard them*, we were holding our own.

By the height of the jam there were four guitars, a banjo, two mandolins, two fiddles, drums, an electric bass, and a harmonica. It was a lot of people. I tend to like smaller groups where everyone gets their chance to show off a little, try a new thing, really get put on the spot. Mostly because if you pull it off (I pull it off one in five times or so) and get that smile and nod from the other pickers - you know you've really done something right. It feels good. But in a large group it's hard to even hear a soloist, much less get a chance for that humble nod.

But there was this point when just myself, Dave, and Justin (a Bennington College grad-student banjo player) got together for a few chords, and I must say that was a fine time. In smaller groups you can focus on the little parts of old-time songs that have preserved them. The parts where the mandolin rings out and the fiddle cries and the banjo grabs a slide and we all sink into this place with an address like DAG, CGC, or EBD. It also helped that Justin sounded like he was born in the wrong century and wanted us all to know about it. And he did, and I loved him for it.

I'm glad I went out, as a homebody (a very unfashionable thing for a younger person to be today) I rarely just venture out like this on whim. But the farm was already bedded down for the night. Animals were penned, cooped and fed, and firewood was stocked by the firepace for when I came home to it. And I was already dressed for a night on the town, so I felt like I had some stolen freedom, and it came out in some tunes like Wagon Wheel and Old Joe Clark.

Anyway, I'm telling you all this because at this random session there was a guy in his mid-forties with a brand new gorgeous Guild guitar who had never played with people before. He was a grown man but as nervous as a freshman frat guy during rush week. To his credit, he was there. He knew a few chords and really held his own. I love, LOVE, going to jams with new people. I feel like I'm an old Mason or Elk shaking the new pledge's hand and welcoming him into this secret society of old songs and coffee and music festivals and firesides. To see someone brave a jam like that, and go home standing a little taller is truly rewarding for me. To witness this subtle transformation of a new musician holding his case like it's the reins of a trusted horse and not a ticking time bomb, is a little whimsical snack the world throws up in the air for this sheepdog. And I will leap in the air to catch it, and chomp down on it with all I've got.

Music like this knows no class or priveledge. It doesn't matter if you're a plumber, a prostitute, or a doctor when you're in that circle. What matters is how hard you practice and what you earned on your own time. This equality rarely seems to thrive in the modern world, and I long for it after a week in a desk chair where I am constantly reminded of my place in the world. But when you leave a good jam, bonefide from it, you sleep better at night.

As I get older, and become more and more of a citizen in this world of 401k plans and dinner parties, I am noticing all those little rights of passage fading from adult life. There are no more ceremonies, caps and gowns, or anything remotely like that. But playing music like this, brings some of those old rights back. It gives us a place in the world where you need to work hard and earn those nods, and each one is a little black cap and gown. "Conratulations Jenna, you just graduated from Dorian University -you may turn your tassle to the other side". Maybe I just see this because I want too. But I doubt that matters.

So, point is, pick up that guitar you always wanted to play son, even if you're sixty-five and never took a lesson. Get some beginner books and CDs, give yourself 15 minutes a night, and if you want to play, you will. This isn't like watching the Olympics and wanting to be a speed skater in six months. This is possible, practical really, because for such a small intial investment you have this tool that is your social network, best friend, and boredom remover all in one. Maybe in few months you'll be at your own first jam? But even if you're not, being able to pick up a fiddle and play Blackest Crow just for yourself beats most scenes. Or so I say, but I can't get a date, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

*they probably heard them