Monday, January 12, 2009

kentucky rises!

This is something else. I've been sent a lot of bumper shots, but this is the first indoor plate I received. Notice the book and plate are in special company. This is Leslie's first ever homemade loaf of bread. She wrote 'I went for the braid jenna' and why not? She said it tasted great, and I bet it did. Something about your first loaf is really special, you slap on some butter while it's still hot and savor every bite. I was told you sleep with the first scarf you knit. I say you make sure you get the first bite of your own bread. A little selfishness is okay. Keeps us on our toes.

gifts, and other thanks

Yesterday was perfect for mushing. I took the dogs out in the brilliant afternoon sun on a nice two-mile outting. You just don't know how beautiful Sandgate is when it's capped with snow under a blue sky. The dogs and I like the long stretch from our road down to Lincoln Lane. We pass goats and ponies, wave to neighbors, and try to duck out of the way of zooming woodpeckers that fly across the empty roads. There's plenty of soft sloping downhill so the dogs can really crank. For over a mile they just get a crush on their own legs and lungs till they are nearly ready to take flight. Usually we are so tired after the sprint, we all walk back home together side by side. I put on my ipod (p.s. go buy the Fleet Foxes album now, amazing) and while they silently pad along the ice, I look around the snow-covered dirt roads and birch trees with the stupid bliss a girl gets after running dogs. I am easily entertained. Which, by the way gentlemen, makes me a cheap date.

When we got near my road, I pulled the sled up to the mail boxes to see if anything came worth taking inside. We always do that after our runs, and usually I just pile angry bills into my sled bag and worry about my budget. However, instead of bills I pulled out a small, brown, package on this particular sunny day. The address was simple. Get this:

Jenna Woginrich, caretaker
Cold Antler Farm
Sandgate VT

And by god, it got here. To the mailer's credit, they did look up the zip code and include that, but props to the postal service for validating Cold Antler as a legit place. I lack any solid mail-related patience and opened it on the back of the sled while the dogs trotted home. I ripped the package open with one hand while using other to hold the brush bow while we glided along. Inside was something so hilarious, so wonderful, I nearly plotzed right there on the runners.

Mary, from nearby Clarksville, heard my interview on the Book Show. She then bought the book, found this blog, and read my open letter to Maude (who by the way, never responded) She saw Diana's comment on the post about wanting Maude T-shirts and was inspired to send this. She wrote she couldn't make me a shirt, but she did make me a set of note cards featuring Maude's photo and the line "...the mean, crotchety, ruthless old ewe" across her mug. Brilliant! I mailed one that very day to Diana (If you don't know who I'm talking about, Di was my farm mentor from Idaho. Get to know her, she often comments here) and another to my folks in Palmerton. What a treat. Thank you Mary. I think you're the bee's knees.

Then today on top of the mailbox was a package from Alaska. I knew who this was from, Joyce, a long time reader. She sent me a beautiful (handmade?) purple shawl and a polar bear card with a lovely note. She ended her letter with "please don't ever stop writing" and somewhere in my gut I felt some dirty unvarnished pride. Not for me, but for you guys.

This is going to sound silly, but you people have made me so very proud. Most of you are in the same place I am - limited by circumstances, but still big dreamers, scruffy newbies, or chomping at the bit to get into this farming gig. Yet among all your efforts and adventures - you people decided to make my little farm a part of your lives. I'm proud of you because you make time for me while you're doing the same things I am. And you make a constant effort to show your kindness even though you're all so busy. To know that readers of this blog take the time to mail photos, send letters, and e-mail pictures and stories... guys, you have no idea how much that inspires me. A woman from Kentucky sent me a photo of her first ever hand made loaf of bread. It was twisted in a braid near her state plate. When I saw it I nearly teared up. Oh, who am I trying to kid, I cried okay? I am a sap. You all know that by now anyway...

My life is pretty solitary. Yes I work a full-time job, but after work I have just me and the farm, two dogs, and a lot of books and music. But to know that there are people all over the world waking up, pouring their morning coffee*, and thinking "Hey, I wonder of Maude poisoned Jenna yet?" and then click over here to read about were-roosters and ice storms.... I don't know, I'm just so damn grateful to have folks that want to listen to me in the first place.

And I won't stop writing. I think I'm somewhat dependant on it at this point. But you need to promise me you won't stop knitting, or reading, or buying that first banjo, or gardening, or sewing, or baking, or training your dogs, or antiquing, or buying local, or dreaming about your own farms. There is safety in numbers for people with big hope and small chances. I think as long as we keep egging each other on, we're a force to be reckoned with. So again, thank you so much. So much.

I only half apologize for how corny this post was, because I really mean it. And I'm also kind of concerned I just gave Maude the idea to poison me...

*I assume CAF folks are coffee drinkers like me. Tea drinkers are also welcome. I can respect that lifestyle...

the other side

I snapped this photo of a corner of my desk at the office before I left for the day. I have a lot more junk around, but this little section seemed somewhat pretty in the 5 o'clock light. This is where I spend the bulk of my time. You guys see so much of my life at the farm, thought I'd share a small part of my work life. The other side, so to speak. Welcome to my desk. It's got charisma. If you worked with me this is the kind of crap you'd have to put up with.

japhy ryder reincarnate

Jazz is different than other dogs. There is something that is instantly familiar about him to people meeting him for the first time. It's something you recognize, but it's not at all canine. Meeting Jazz is like seeing an old photograph from the 1940s. People always tell me he reminds them of someone, but never another dog. My friend Kayo in Idaho, said he reminded her of a movie star. My friend Brian in Tennessee called Jazz one of his favorite people he ever met. For some reason, this calm boy reminds people of someone dynamic in their lives.

Jazz doesn't bark. He rarely grows. He is generally silent. He doesn't care about toys, and ignores other dogs when they appear on the scene. He isn't interested in food, and abhores loud noises. He isn't scared of them, just annoyed, and he makes that clear by trotting into a quieter room when a fiddle is played or a movie comes on. He has more important things to consider, you see.

It is near impossible to get him overly excited or overly tired. When he runs on the dogsled it is with the focus of the all. His head low, his body always taunt on the line. Unlike Annie, (who certainly reminds me of a dog) she lopes along like a heavy puppy - Jazz pads evenly as if he is keeping a beat of music in his head. Yet through all this focus Jazz is genuinely compassionate. He loves to keep me company, to nuzzle his big wolf head and half open yellow eyes into my ribs while I am reading, or half awake at 4AM. He likes to jump up and place his giant snow paws on your lap and have his ears scratched. But when he's done with you, he'll slowly (always slowly) back off and head into another room. perhaps take on the couch. He loves those quilts.

He is better at being a dog than I will ever be at being a human. He reminds me of one of the old Zen lunatics. The mountain monks who went through their lives writing poetry and living haiku to haiku. Affected by nothing, but affecting everyone around them. When you meet Jazz you get a sense of relaxation, like someone is finaly on top of things. Jazz is on it. He's always on it. He never left it, so don't be silly and stop your fretting.

If Jazz was the only reason (and certainly, he wasn't) but if he was the only reason I lived in Tennessee, my time there would've been more than worth it. I can't imagine not having this dog in my life. Don't mistake this post as not loving, or caring for Annie as much, of course I do. But Jazz was my first away-from-home dog and will always be the most impactful. I don't know any other person who instantly makes me feel like the world is in a proper order. Even if I don't understand how or why. Yet he does. Jazz trots on. He is on top of it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

how to build a fire

A reader saw the post below with the image of my fireplace and asked if I could explain how to build a fire. I answered her in the comments section, but decided to make this it's own post so it's easier to reference when people actually need it. Now, there are probably a billion ways to do this, but this is the method that works for me. It's worked at bonfires and on beaches, and it worked at campfire and in cabins. It's really easy. You'll just need to remember two things. Fires need air to breath and they burn up. If you make it so air can get under the flame and stack things like a teepee, you can start a non-duraflame fire anywhere. But hey, I use those starter logs too. It's a quick way sometimes to get things going in a hurry. No judgements here. We all know I'm not a purist.

Note: You may need to "light the flew" if your fireplace is on a lower level of the house. This means opening the hatch (flew) and throwing some burning newspaper or old toilet paper rolls up there to make sure the air is drafting up the chimney and not into your house. When you're flew is open, and taking smoke up, you can light a fire. You can test this by lighting a match in the fireplace and seeing if the flame is burning up, or leaning towards you inside the house.

1. Start small. Get small kindling-style sticks or small "firestarter" slats. (Orvis sells this stuff called "fatwood" that is gangbusters at this.) But you can use any small, dry, sticks (old dead pine is amazing, as is pine cones). You're going to want to make them into a teepee shape, with some paper or dry grass or anything that will burn easy underneath them. Have some of this on the side to keep fueling you're starter teepee incase the first round doesn't take. The firestarter, (that thing you orginally light - the paper, what have you) needs to ignite something slightly larger than itself and burn up.

2. When your original little pile is going strong, and the wood (not just the paper) is burning well, slowly add slightly larger wood to your small fire, placing it like a Teepee. Point the wood so it can burn up, leaving the bottom airy. If you pile wood on top of each other you'll just smother it. So stack it in a circle, or semi-circle. Using the back wall of the fireplace as a prop.

3. Keep your fire in the back. You don't want smoke thinking your house is where it should go. The closer to the back of the fireplace you burn, the least likely you'll have a smoky house. I learned this the hard way. Trust me.

4. When you have built up to medium sized logs burning through themselves it's okay to let the fire fall into itself. No more Teepee action needed. You can also start to add bigger longer burning wood to last for the long run. My goal is to always get the fire to a point where I can load up a decent log that will burn for hours while I sleep, keeping the living room warm. I hope this helped Debbie? The main idea is to start with that tiny twig teepee and slowly add onto it.  

good morning from cold antler!

jersey birds!

Brian in New Jersey sent me this photo of his backyard flock diving into a good read. Look a those beautiful birds! Brian's flock is just these four chickens, but they keep his home well stocked in fresh food. I have such a soft spot for Light Brahmas, these giant white hens with feathers on their feet. If you're looking for a brown egg laying, pick-up-and-hold chicken - these are your girls.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

feed day

So they are calling for another storm tonight. Reports vary, but a decent cap of snow is on the way for certain and I am wearing my heaviest pair of Carhartt socks. Outside my kitchen window I can see the first flakes starting to fall in the glow of the porch lights. They are welcomed guests. Welcomed because I am totally prepared.

Last night at the book store a young audience member asked me what my 'favorite part about farming was'. I told him it was that feeling of being done. Which I tried to explain as that profound sense of accomplishemnt you feel when animals are fed, gardens are watered, and all the chores needed to run your farm are over. Earned respite is my cocaine. To stretch out in a hammock, or curl up in front of a fire tired and happy from hard and dirty work is an addicting sensation for me. It's a refuge from everything. Tonight I feel like that because today was a special breed of farm work. It was feed day.

Feed days aren't planned. They happen out of necessesity. I was running low on my chicken's combination of layer crumbles and scratch grains and the sheep were getting dangerously low on hay. I had enough to get us through the week, but something about snow coming made the idea of procrastinating very unappealing. I wouldn't feel right putting off the effort knowing the grain bins were scraping the bottom and hay stash was down to three bales. So after a decent farm breakfast of scrambled eggs and pancakes I warmed up the haytruck (my station wagon's nickname) and the dogs and I headed west into New York.

I live just a few miles from the state line. If you take a winding dirt road from my cabin you'll cross over into New York. It's a swell drive, taking your passed beautiful farmhouses and postcard landscapes. Annie hangs out the window eyeing horses, sheep, goats and calves. To them it's a regular safari, but I was more practical about our roadtrip. I was heading to an old barn in Shusan. Hidden behind it, was my favorite feed store.

If you pull into the driveway and roll down a small hill, you'll find D&D feeds. It's a small operation, but ran by good people and whenever I can get there for feed I do. The dogs waited in the car and I went in to place my order. I needed a hundred pounds or so of poultry feed, and as I walked inside I was somewhat shocked by all the cars. Then I remembered...snow is coming and in farm country bad weather requires tailgating. I went in to join the party.

Inside half a dozen people (and a dog named Tucker) were discussing the storm. I placed my order for layer feed and scratch and lsitened to the meteorologists amongst the alfalfa pellets. It's funny how talk of snow changes when you pass the state line. Upstate New York is a lot more farmy than Vermont is. Tell a room full of Vermonters that snow is coming and the snowboards, cross-country skis, and snowshoes come out. They load up the Subaru with hot chocolate in the cupholders and head for the slopes. But Tell the same news to a room full of New York Farmers and low voices start discussing if the stock water heaters have been set, and if enough hay was brought down incase they couldnt get into the loft. They worry if the truck's engine can handle the freeze, and balance their Stewarts coffee on the dash while they look for extra flashlight batteries. One state's recreation is another states reason to worry. This is of course a rash generalization, but it's what I've come to notice. My heart leans on their side of the state line.

When my chicken side of grocery shopping was done, I loaded up the car and lugged the 50-pound bags onto the porch. I remember when I got my first chickens in Idaho, and bought my first bags like this. Oh man, how heavy 50-pounders felt before I seasoned my body to it. Now I've learned all the shoulder and arm tricks that make carrying a feed bag as hard as a throwing a backpack across your shoulder. You learn as you go.

Now it was time to go buy hay. Come closer folks because I have a little secret I am slighty embarrassed to admit...I love buying hay. I love everthing about it. I love that money I work for is going to buy food for sheep—a form of commerce exchange that used to be a pipe dream and now is an item on my to-do list. I love driving to Hebron with an empty backseat and driving back with it so full I can't see out the rear windows. I love talking to Nelson, my hay enabler, who met the same day I drove those sheep home and have loyally bought from him ever since. I love the backroads. I love the smell. I love the people I meet who are also buying hay, and I love grabbing those green, beautiful, bales by the baling wire and loading them into my car. I love how it makes my arms hurt. I love that I am doing this only because three weird sheep depend on me for everything. That first scarf I knit from those guys will be knotted with those same sore arms and green bales. I look forward to it like nothing else.

I don't know how normal it is to love heavy packages of dead grass? But I do. It's a reality of this life I have carved out for myself and I'm running with it. Hay and coffee. The two pillars that will hold up the base of any future happiness this short life may bring me. May they live forever.

I drove back home to Sandgate with hay sticking out of the hatchback and the heat and radio blaring. Ironically, Jack Johnson was on EQX. A musician known for his summer surf tunes. Yet here I was in 11-degree weather, rolling over white hard-packed roads, as the ukelellis and guitars lead me home. I liked the soundtrack, it made me laugh outloud at the crows rising from the dead cornrows. A girl from suburbia driving hay to sheep is about as out of place as Jack Johnson tunes in a vermont winter. You have to fall in love these things as they happen.

So here I am, inside my cabin with the snow falling and a sense of peace. I have a garage loaded with hay and enough feed to last the birds for weeks. I have a decent pile of wood outside the front door, and a fire going strong inside it. In front of my fire is the iron stag that always adorns the hearth. He means a lot to me. (Someday I'll explain to you why I surround my life with antlers, and what they mean to me.) I have my heart set on watching High Fidelity with some hot chocolate and watching the snow fall. I can now have that feeling again, the reason for all this, that sacred "doneness" I was talking about. It was a good feed day guys. Really good actually, and now I am off to do my favorite thing about farming, which like I said before, is nothing at all.

north to the future

Look what those Texans started... I have lost count how many of these plates we have aquired. I have a few more up to bat, so if you sent one in and haven't seen it - you probably will. But now we're getting pretty tough. Joyce from Alaska sent hers in and I thank her. Oh, and just a note, if you email me any images please keep in mind your pal Jenna is here on dial-up (seriously...welcome to rural America) so anything over 300k takes months to download. So send those images, just keep them web sized. Sorry for that lame PSA.

the inaugural

Linda, the events coordinator at Northshire, said about 60 people came for the event last night, which absolutely blows me away. (I was expecting maybe twenty.) I promised myself I wouldn't get nervous, but when I looked around and realized it wasn't just co-workers and people from Storey... I started to feel my hands clam up. Then, to relax myself, I started talking to people sitting in the front row. This was a mistake. They told me they drove two hours to hear me talk about wool and chickens. Which just upped the anti from nervous to slightly terrified. Here we go.

I had nothing prepared except talking a little, then reading a little, and then I had some music planned thanks to my friend Dave. I called Dave two hours before the show started to see what he was doing and if he wanted to play some mandolin at a bookstore? He promptly ended his laundromat adventures and came-a-running. I was so happy and relieved to see another mountain musician before I went up on stage. Watching him walk through the crowd was like a scared wolf seeing another mangy (but not at all scared) wolf walking through a thick herd of deer - together they could set down their music cases and figure out how to work with the crowd, make the task ahead seem less daunting.* Him walking in with a gig bag and an old flannel shirt instantly calmed me down. He was one of my people, and two wolves are always better than one. Dave would be my insurance policiy, because even if I tanked these people would hear some decent playing from him.

This was my inaugural event. I had never been "Jenna, the author" anywhere like this. Sure I went to bookseller conferences, but those were signings for people who hadn't read the book yet, they knew nothing about me. At Northshire it was all people who knew me, or read about my life online - a very different crowd. The more I thought about it, the less confident I felt. While Linda read an introduction to myself (a very weird thing to hear) all I could think of was how horribly ill-prepared I was for this. When I walked up to start talking, I choked something out about how this book was about three things I love - food, music and animals. And then, trying to be funny, I told everyone in a lower voice if they were with someone who didn't love food, music and animals they better get out, and quick. Because I over think everything, I was instantly worried I just insulted some nice people who happened to be allergic to cats or hated cooking - worried my foot was already shoved down my throat. I scrambled on.

My hands were shaking the whole time, which you couldn't see behind the podium, but you could easily hear when I played some fiddle tunes. I played awful, off the nerves. All twangy and soft and skittering around the bow like a 6 year old. I was secretly grateful my boss from work didn't show up because he's a pretty talented guy music-wise and hearing his employee falter through a small set like that may be horrible poor career move. But I got through a version of Wayfaring Stranger and Cluck Old Hen without messing up even if it sounded crappy. I realized then I never played for people before, only with people. There is apparently a huge divide between those two in my mind. I need to get over this. Hopefully by the events down in Albany, I will have. If not, be prepared for the shakiest renditions of old songs you ever heard...

So okay, I started out pretty shaky, but after the reading got some laughs (and my bad music got some smiles) I relaxed. Then things got easier. I felt more comfortable answering questions because it was more like a conversation than anything else. It all wound down at the signing table. There I met a CAF reader or two, like Jeff from Pawlet, who was kind enough to come. And I ran into a new couple who just moved to Vermont two weeks ago, who heard me on the radio and came to check it out, which made me happy to be someone's Friday night date.

A couple co-workers showed up! Including the three guys from the production area where I work. The same guys who helped build my sheep shed this summer and I drink coffee with everyday. I beamed at the sight of them, and everyone from work who decided to spend their time off the clock with me some more. Bless their patient hearts.

Thank you to everyone who came out on a 6 degree Vermont night. Thank you to everyone who wished me good luck via comments or emails. And thanks in advance to anyone planning on putting up with me in Albany on the events on the 24th. It means a lot to a girl in the middle of the woods.

Okay, coffee is done on the stove and I need to get these animals ready for next week's deep freeze. New straw, plenty of food, and fresh water hauling - here I come. Well, after the coffee. I'm not made of stone people.

*Sorry about the wolf metaphor, but this is how I see everything in social situations - like events happening in the animal kingdom. All the people I meet instantly remind me of an animal and they stay that animal in my head. I'm sure there were some wolves in the audience, but they came in deer costumes you see. So I'd have to meet them to know. If you can follow this, you have been reading my blog too long.

Friday, January 9, 2009

me and the gang

photo by Joanna Chattman

Thursday, January 8, 2009


When I went back to Palmerton for Christmas my parents threw me a party. They invited old friends and neighbors into their home to celebrate the book's publication. People I hadn't seen in years came to wish me well, have some nog, and dig into some pie. But out of all the guests - one person floored me with an amazing gift, my hairdresser.

Stacey had been cutting my hair since I was in Junior High. She's a short, spikey-haired, spunky, gal who over the years has watched me grow up. My mom's been going to her shop for decades, so for Christmas she gave each of the stylists a copy of Made From Scratch. Stacey really liked it. For some reason, it really touched me to hear that from such a background character of a past life. I don't mean that in a negative way, but hometown hairdressers are people you seldom see. To hear she remembered me, read my book, and was inspired to plant some veggies after so many years since I sat in her chair... well it was downright touching.

She came with a gift. Out in her car, she told me between sips of punch, were quilts her grandmother made. She said she had so many of them, and wanted to give me a pair for the cabin. I almost fell back. She then brought them inside. One orange, and the other teal. (Incidently, my two favorite colors.) They were so beautiful. There is something unspeakably beautiful about handmade things designed to do simple tasks. Things that keep you warm, feed you food, or haul water to the garden. I think old quilts, cast iton teapots, and old rusty watering cans are beautiful in their loyalty and utility. I feel that way about most things.

After the holiday was over and I was driving home to Vermont, I kept looking in the rearview mirror at them to make sure they were still there. It just was so unbelievable to me, that I was bringing them to Cold Antler. Now they are in my living room. At night I curl up under them to read or watch movies. They keep me warm, in so many ways. Thank you Stacey. And thanks to everyone who said a kind word or picked up the book over the holidays. Everyone who reads this blog, or pages through the book, is a part of a quilt in a corny metaphoric way. A thousand little pieces coming together, following a story, and hoping it turns out to be something worth settling down with.

idaho, this morning

Moose used to be a normal part of my life. When I lived in the inland north west, they were as common as barn cats. This photo was sent in by Janeen, from Idaho. Like her, I used to see these guys all over the yard and the town of Sandpoint. They were everywhere. I remember the AP picking up a story about Sandpoint's moose problem last winter. So many were wandering into town that became a civil problem. The cops were scared someone would get stomped to death for getting one angry. No one got stomped, and no one looked twice when a lanky winter cow and her calf were walking down the sidewalk by the post office and Monarch Mountain coffee either. People just hoped they weren't taking up any good parking spots.

Idaho has been on my mind a lot lately. It's still hard for me to believe that this time last year I wasn't waking up in this time zone. I would've been at the Idaho farmhouse, looking outside my window at Leopold. Leo was a gangly moose calf who had a crush on my station wagon. Every morning he'd be there. Just standing in the driveway near the car, the piles from the snow plows all around him like giant white tunnels. When I eventually went outside and told him to scat he'd lope off into the woods like a doe. I was always shocked at his grace. Then I'd make my way into town to the library to get online and figure out this cross-country adventure to Vermont. I think by this point I knew I was coming here? I remember sitting in Eich's (a local pub who's garlic fries I miss so much my ribs crack at the thought of them) with my friend Marjan and telling her I was heading to VT. I didn't know for certain, but had a hunch. One of those hunches you can't shake, even after a few Guinesses. And that was before I even flew out for the interview. Turned out of be right.

You know, I never did find out what Leo was really after, or what his car infatuation meant. But this morning, I kind of miss him. Him and many others. I miss the gang from the office, and how well we all got along. I miss Di and Bruce and hanging out at Floating Leaf Farm. I miss the friends I made in town, the Tuesday night music jam, and the fact that I used to live in a place where a ski resort, beach, lakehouse, home depot, and farm supply store were all within a five mile drive from my farmhouse. Oh well.

And hey, don't get me wrong. I adore Vermont. I think the two of us may be seeing each other for quite some time, and who knows, maybe we'll even get hitched. I know I probably won't be leaving the East ever again, it's just when you leave a place it gnaws into you in such an endearing way. All the colors in your memories are more saturated, the people more attractive, the times more pristine. Which is how I feel about Sandpoint this morning while I look outside my window at the rain and snow. There aren't any moose in my driveway right now. Actualy, I don't think you'll find that many in this state. Or maybe like the people, New England moose keep more to themselves.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

an open letter

Dear Maude,

Let's be honest. You don't like me. Actually, you don't like anyone. You stare at sheep and human alike as if they owe you something. You walk around the farm despondent, bitchy, and loud. When I walk up to your pen with arms full of expensive second-cut hay, all you do is stand there. The other sheep prance and hop about, but noooooo not you. You are a pillar. You have all the warmth of a dead gazelle. The others, they come up to me and let me scratch their heads and pat their sides. But not you. No, never you. All you do when I show up is give me a long look up and down as if to say "Yep. I hates me this woman something awful. Today's a fine day for some crackerjack-a-hating." Then you turn around and show me your very unattractive rear features. Crikey Maude, You don't even baa like the others. It's lower, angrier, and they're boys.

What's your problem Maude? Why do you hate everyone (read me) so much? What did I ever do to you? All right, there was the day I drove you here, but that day was rough on both of us. It's not easy getting livestock into the back of a Subaru. I get that you left your old home and landed with this rookie. I understand that now you're in a smaller house, less pasture... But hey, it's not the best memory for me either. That time when your halter slipped around your neck and you panicked, it was bound to choke you okay? That was like, 45% your fault. But come on, how long was that? A minute of discomfort before I was right there on the ground with you, taking it off, and making it all better. Couldn't have been that tramatic since the second you were in your pen your face was jammed into the grain bin like a fatty hamburger. Devastating, huh? Drama queen on the hoof, that's what you are.

Maude, listen, I am not going to eat you. I will never eat you. Here's a little secret: I have never even tasted sheep. Lamb has never touched these lips. You're living with a vegetarian on a small farm. You can't beat that with a stick. As far as sheeps' lives' go you've got it pretty boss. Okay okay...Yes, the rumors are true. Come spring I'll probably steal your outfit, but you'll be glad I did. No one looks or feels good in a wool suit in June. No one.

Maude, we need to work this out but I am running out of ideas. I've tried buying you off, bribery, gifts, extra attention. There was even that week where we ignored each other completely. I remember you being happiness then...When I pretended I didn't exist around you? Damnit Maude. All you're doing is proving the theory that I am crappy at making friends with girls. I have plenty of guy friends, but when it comes to making girl friends I am garbage. You're like those tall vindictive girls from 11th grade. You want me to get you a Diet Coke and a Teen Vogue? Really round out my high school experience?

Your roommates, those dudes standing next to you wagging their stubby tales - they love me. They can't get enough of me. Actually, we're thinking of joining a bocce leage together and you know what? With that attitude you're looking at a big "sorry, we forgot to invite you" right in the face. What do you think of that Sister Sledge? Huh? HUH?!

Oh, Maude. If we could power generators off your angst we'd have a potent source of renewable energy. You are hopeless. But you know what. I still kinda love you—you mean, crotchety, ruthless old ewe. Surely you will forever.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

hey, what are you doing friday?

Have any plans for Friday night? If you don't, and live somewhere around my stomping grounds here in southwestern Vermont, let's remedy that right now. If you can hear WEQX on your car radio, you can bundle up and come to the bookstore and give me a high five. On the evening of the 9th I'll be at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester for my first ever "author event." I think this means I read something from the book, and then talk a bit, and then anwser questions. I'm not sure what order to do this, but I plan on being pretty damn casual about it. I refuse to get nervous talking to people about chickens and snap peas. This isn't exactly the Gaza Strip.

I may bring Jazz and my fiddle with me, but that's still up in the air. Not because I don't enjoy dogs and violins (there are very few things I enjoy more) but the idea of walking into a place with a dog and a fiddle seems to demand a certain amount of pinash I may not be able to summon at the end of the work week. But they do sell coffee there so maybe if I caff it up I can whip something quick and dirty out of my strings... Regardless of excess mammals and music—I will certainly be there. Hopefully dressed appropriately, and will sign things people ask me to sign. Anything really. Old Civil War books, receipts from Shaws, library books. I'm crazy like that. Though I would appreciate you picking up the book. Every book someone buys in my mind is a handful of chicken feed or an inch of land.

This is what the Northshire website says about the event. I added a true extra sentence for kicks. (Good luck hunting down that dead sea scroll, birddogs.)

Share the journey of a young woman determined to learn homesteading skills in the 21st century with author Jenna Woginrich, as she presents her memoir Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life. A resident of Sandgate, Vermont, 26-year-old Jenna Woginrich is a web designer by profession. At home, however, she works conscientiously at a self-sufficient life. One time her dad walked into a friend's living room in Lehighton PA and Paul Mccartney was sitting on the couch! (For No One, by the way, happens to be her favorite Beatles song...) From the joys of harvesting freshly laid eggs from her own hens, to taking honey straight from the comb from her beehives, Woginrich has learned the pleasures of self-reliance and has become less dependent on “stuff.” Made from Scratch is the chronicle of her joyful, dramatic, and sometimes sorrowful journey of learning skills including baking, spinning, sewing, and raising chickens. A web designer at Orvis, Jenna Woginrich is also a regular contributor to The Huffington Post’s Green Page and Mother Earth News’ blog pages.

powell's this week

hey gang, fancy news - I'm a guest blogger at Powell's this week. For those unfamiliar, Powell's is Portland Oregon's own indie-book megatron. It's quite possibly the largest independent store in America and it actually takes up a whole city block. It's a hip place to be invited to, so I'm jazzed about it. The posts I've written there are pretty general, but include things like churning butter with Tina Fey and chickens in the bathroom. Plus, I'll be introducing CAF to a whole new scene. If you'd like to see the posts you can find them here all this week.

Monday, January 5, 2009

from the motherland

this place...

I am wide awake because I just had the crap scared out of me. Twenty minutes ago I was asleep, blissfully asleep. But I was snapped out of bed by loud bangs and thuds. Someone, or something, was on my porch. The thuds just kept getting louder, followed by steps. I was terrified. I slowly rose out of bed and then pulled a curtain aside from the window. There in the half moonlight, I saw a blur of activity. Then my eyes darted down right below the window.

Maude was staring back at me, about six inches from the glass. I jumped back, surprised and simotaneously relieved it wasn't serial killers, or zombies, or worse yet those serial-killing zombies that are all the rage these days. Alas, just my three clever sheep. Looked like she and the boys had escaped from the pen and made a break for the cabin. They were happily eating their breakfast that I would've carried out to them in a few hours. Guess they were too hungry for AM room service and opted for take-out instead. Christ, this place.

I rolled my eyes, slung on my boots and parka, and grabbed the crook and lantern by the door on the way out. When I rounded the corner of the porch the trio of hoodlums jumped off the planks and turned around looking at me, well, sheepishly. I felt like a fussy storekeeper telling kids they couldn't skateboard here. They looked back at me with the same mild defiance of teenagers who just started listening to the Clash circa '79. If sheep ever looked like they should be wearing leather jackets with safety pins all over them, this was that moment.

"Let's go punks, London's calling" I said under my breath, walking back to their pen. Sal followed right behind me, he knew I was going for the grain bin. The other two trotted behing him in single file. I lead the flock back to their gate, (which they broke out of by lifting it off the hinges) and bribed them back inside with grains. I rigged what I could to fix it, praying it would last till morning. Not that it would matter if it didn't since they'd just be back on the porch again anyway. But still, what a way to start the week. Barnyard rebellion in the moonlight.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

my green goose

So my goose Saro is all grown up. This week she started laying her first eggs, which are HUGE compared to the chickens' usual deposits. They're fun to find, she lays them all around the coop in little hidden places. It's like a game trying to find the goose egg every day when I go to collect the daily room-and-board from the girls. When bring them inside and set them in the fridge next to the hens' they look like ridiculous cartoon eggs sitting beside them. They're tinted baby blue and one of them cracked into a pan is the same ratio as 2-3 chicken eggs. I had some scrambled goose egg this morning with grated Vermont cheddar and some pepper. Can't complain. That breakfast was the bee's knees.

Today however, Saro got a little...confused. I went into the coop to refill the birds' water fonts and give them their morning scoops of grain when I was jolted out of my usual routine by a loud honk. There at my feet, behind the grain bin, was little Saro, trying to lay in a new nest she was hiding. But this wasn't her usual temperment? I pride myself on having raised pacifist geese, and she was acting pretty preemptive. I don't take crap from poultry, so I gave her a little nudge to see what she was so fiercly protecting. She didn't want to move and hissed at me. "Hey Saro, quit it" I said, knowing she wouldn't bite me unless I pulled a shiv on her, so I moved her to the side. What the... something white, curly, and shiny was under her. It was a spiral of glass? Then I saw it.

She was laying on a compact fluorescent light bulb.

I died laughing. I removed it and pat her on the head, telling her "Al Gore would be so proud" and then put the bulb back on the shelf where it belonged. I have two bulbs I use in the coop for light. One is the heat bulb currently keeping the coop a comfortable 40 degrees during this freeze, and the other is a regular CFL lightbulb, the kind we're all used to seeing as the green alternative to the old (and might I add, more egg-shaped) bulbs. It must have fallen to the coop floor and Saro decided it was too large to be a hen egg, so it must be hers. Flawless logic. She was all hot and bothered when I left, but she'll get over it. Geese get over horrid PR incidents like this pretty quick. They're the Paris Hiltons of the of the poultry world.

It is nice to know I have livestock that so fervently support green energy. But hey this is Vermont, so none of us should be surprised.

on the radio

A few weekends ago WAMC's Book Show interviewed me about Made From Scratch, my life in Idaho and Tennessee, and asked me to give some advice to new or hopeful homesteaders. The show is about twenty minutes long, but kind of fun to listen in on. If you're interested in hearing me talk about city chickens, sheep in cars, jumping off waterfalls and growing food on your fire escape - check it out. Or if you simply have nothing else to listen to at work (I'll take that!) click below.

I'm show 1066 in this archive

Saturday, January 3, 2009

well, it's about time

From Jeff, who's 1953 Willys CJ3B Jeep owns face.

jenna hearts grant

I'm turning into quite the Civil War buff, thanks to the influence of my friend Heather, who originally sparked my interest when we lived together in Tennessee. Her excitement for the history, music, and culture of the war got me hooked on it. Over the past three years I've studied it here and there, the occasional documentary or book, but recently I can't get enough of it. It all feels like it just happened. There is no "long ago" to it for me. The peoples' faces in the photographs look as if I could be waiting in line behind them for coffee. The places where once thousands died, are places I've walked across, driven across, or have had touching memories with friends at. The fact that I sat under a statue of Warren at the Little Round Top, and was there with some of my favorite people to catch fireflies at sunset (till the park rangers made us leave) goes to show all their efforts and suffering created something. That it let something breathe. The more I learn about it the more upset I get that I missed it. That I missed the most exciting time to be alive in American history.

Surely, that is pure ignorance. Since who wants to live through a war in your backyard? But the more I read, the more I digest, the more I wish I could've heard the conversations and been there to see it. To see Grant (who I am getting kind of a crush on to be perfectly honest) on the night before a battle where 6,000 men would die—admonish a teamster for beating a horse and then tying him to a post for 6 hours - now that's something I wish I could've watched. The little things that happened behind the scenes engage, no addict me, to learn more. That man was a failure at everything in life except love, war, and writing - He was horrible with money, with jobs, with even his wardrobe - which to me, speaks of this deep passion for things that actually matter, and I can't not think about that everytime I read about him. What a guy.

Grant hated the marching bands that followed him around. He didn't like contrived music. He used to say, "I know two of those songs. One is Yankee Doodle - and the other one isn't." Which shows he was kind of a smartass, which makes me love him even more. What a beautiful, miserable, intense, and complicated mind. That photo up there, probably the second worst day of his life, was taken at the battle of Cold Harbor. That same day, 7,000 men died around him in less then twenty minutes. My god, I can't even understand that. I can only try to make sense of it with recent events.

Now, let's think about this. A few years ago 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center attacks and it nearly brought us to our knees. I am not in anyway, at all, saying that event wasn't epic, or belittling the suffering of those who lost loved ones. But keep the intensity of that day, what you felt as someone watching it all happen, in your mind when you look at that picture above. There Grant stands after watching double the carnage of 9/11 in less time then it takes us to watch a standard sitcom. But he had to watch people die one at a time and all around him, in person, under his command, and yet he still stands. I would be shaking, throwing up, falling apart and yet somehow he still manages to stand... He looks like the world might swallow him, that if he lets go of that tree he might collapse from the weight of it all. Who could blame him if he did?

I can't see these photos without wanting to know what people went though that day - what they ate, where they slept, what they hummed to stay awake the night before they died. I think I may know more about 1863 than I do about 1982. I mean, I know E.T. lost best picture to Ghandi at the Oscars, but the rest is kind of a blur...

I'm telling you, that is when men were men. Now most of the guys I meet would rather play video games than pick up the reins of a horse. I would give anything to sit down and have coffee with him. I bet he'd like Sigur Ros's album Parenthesis, or if he didn't like it, he'd be relieved to hear it instead of those marching bands. The quiet piano, cellos, and bass sounds of it. When I look at that picture of him, all I can hear is track three off that album. Of course he'd like it. It's a far cry from Yankee Doodle.

I wish I could've seen him ride past my house. I would've given him a high five. Or something more appropriate to the period, like a kiss on the cheek or a shot of brandy. Or both. Grant was a man who deserved all three.

see how they run

This is the first Saturday in weeks where I haven't had to get up early, pack the car, and go somewhere. The last few weekends have seen trips to the dentist, holiday travel, and frantic early-morning errands. But today, I slept in (sleeping in for people with livestock is around 7:30AM) and when I woke up, I only put forth enough effort to start the coffee on the stovetop, and get dressed to see to the farm. You could sit me down for hours and try to convince me there are better things to do with your winter mornings than sleeping in a small cabin at the end of the world and feeding sheep - and I will listen politely and nod - but you will never win me over. Mornings like these, are pretty damn great.

On weekends I let the sheep have their full pasture to explore. They can't be out in it all day when I'm at work because they are too clever for the electric netting, and will escape into the neighbors' yards to forage. I've come home to messages on my machines saying "Jenna, It's 5:30 pm - Do you know here your sheep are? Roy says they're eating his lawn..." So my sheep's playtime is limited to days I can keep an eye on them. Anyway, this morning, after a cup of very strong coffee, I put on my winter gear and went out to their fencelines with hay over my shoulder. When sheep see me with hay they jump and bleat from their pen. But instead of taking it to them, I dumped it on the far side of the field, about 30 yards from their enclosure. Then I walked, through the snow to their back gate, where Sal and Marvin were beside themselvs hopping up and down. The back "gate" isnt really a gate as much as it is the place where the end of one piece of wire fencing ends and is tied to a t-post with bailing wire. It works though (and hey, we aren't fancy).

I take out a knife from my pocket and snap the green twine, opening their back door. Then all three bound out, like cotton balls on stilts who's team just won the world series, and run through the snow to their breakfast. I love seeing those sheep run like that. They seem to glide over the snow, while their hooves pound into the ground like muted drumbeats. They plunge into the hay, and stand there for a long time munching.

Then I check on the birds, who already laid two eggs (which became my morning omelet), and went about the usual tasks of feeding scratch grains and layer feed to the crowing throngs, and petting Saro, the goose who I've really grown to like. Near the chicken coop is the large rabbit hutch where Bean Blossom lives. She's the French Angora rabbit (named after a banjo I someday hope to own) who is the biggest financial contributor to the farm after me. This past year she raised ten angora kits which I sold to other spinners and knitters, all beautiful healthy bunnies. Her little rabbits paid for most of the hay, and feed, that got us this far into winter. Her water bottle was frozen, so I brought it in to set by the fireplace to thaw. Benjamin, her mate, lives on the porch of the cabin, and I grabbed his on the way in as well. With everyone tended too, I went inside the now warm cabin to do what I'm best at, which is nothing in particular at great length. Which, as you can see in the photo above, Jazz and Annie are experts in.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Hampshire, son!

Thank you Vonnie!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

the fallen ash

I should've known something was wrong when I touched Annie's fur. I had just woken up, and was warm as could be under my electric blanket, but her coat was as cold as if she had just been outside in the snow and not sleeping beside two large animals. I then noticed how cold the air was outside my little nest. I pulled off the covers and could see little clouds of breath coming out of the dog's mouths as they panted. Oh no.

The oil tank was empty.

This is a big deal people. It was -7 outside, and if the pipes froze they could shatter and burst and havoc would consume us. The cabin's heated by a great big oil tank, and it was running low. I called for a delivery earlier in the week, anticipating this, and knew the truck would be here Friday. I just prayed we'd make it till then. We didn't. The furnace had shut itself off. There was ice in the dogbowl in the kitchen. We were in trouble. Very cold trouble.

I checked the faucets, which I had let drip all night to keep it moving. Luckily, they were still running. Thank goodness, at least we're okay there. But the best laid plans...

By the time the dishes were done, the dogs and sheep fed, and the chickens were laying their morning eggs - all the pipes stopped. Whatever had remained in the water heater had been used up and no new groundwater could get into the tanks. This was getting serious. I was freezing, the inside tempterature was 37. What could I do?

WARM UP! Was all I could think. I am a person of action. I need to do things. So I started working to heat the place up with what I had around. I had a small pile of wood left outside on the porch, and I instantly revved up the fireplace. I lit every candle, turned on the stove, blow-dried the sink was a pathetic struggle really. However, I was actually able to boost the heat indoors and take off my parka. A small victory, but a victory none the less.

I then called my neighbors Katie, Dean, and his wife Nancy. I felt awful calling them at 9AM on a holiday, but I needed their help. I wasn't really sure how to tackle this. So I left a message for Dean and Nancy to please let me borrow some firewood from their huge stack so I could keep the warmth going. And since Katie is my quasi-landlord (not really, in my head she is) and has restarted this tank before, I left her a message begging her to help rescue the joint from flooding and hypothermia. Let's hear it for me.

While I waited to hear back from them, I paced around the house. My fire, the only thing keeping the place tolerable, was almost out. I called two emergancy oil services and they both quoted a trip and fuel to cost somewhere around 500 bucks. Impossible money for me to drop for one thing. I was getting scared now, but then, a small series of amazing things happened to save me from panic, and it began with a ringing phone.

Dean and Nancy had heard my pathetic message. But instead of lending me some logs–Dean went out in the the now balmy 8 degree weather with a chainsaw and chopped up a dry fallen Ash into fireplace-sized logs. Out in the freezing cold he cut enough fire fodder to fill the back of the subaru, twice. After I thanked the hell out of him, unloaded all the wood, and had the fireplace going strong again, I cried. I couldn't help it. I was sitting there by the fireplace all teared up because I was so touched by the huge gift, the effort, the goodness of these neighbors. The cabin was warming up, and I felt a little better. Gratitude melts misery.

Then Nancy called and offered me a space heater from her art studio if I wanted to go pick it up in Arlington. I couldn't believe their generosity. Hundreds of pounds of firewood, heat sources, instant service! and all from the same people who watch my farm when I go away and who let me borrow a knee brace when I got hurt last month and was limping for days... If I was a general, they'd still rank me.

Soon afte rall this. Katie and her boyfriend Sam arrived, another pair of rural superheros. Usualy when I am around them Sam and I are playing music together (he's an amazing guitarist) at some warm bonfire or at Sandgate events like the Ox Rost. But here they were in my kitchen, ready to rescue me from my cold home. Within the hour they were checking the faucets, looking at the oil tank, figuring things out. They made half a dozen trips back to their place to get things like extension cords, funnels, and tool boxes. We decided to get through the day by dumping 10 gallons of fuel in the tank to kick it back into action. The heat should help melt the icy pipes. She also brought up two 5-gallon tanks I could borrow to fill with Diesel from down at Chem Clean (a local gas station/furniture restoration business owned by neighbors, fellow mushers, and good friends, Suzanne and Allan) The fuel would tide the tank over till the oil man came tomorrow.

We all got to work, putting heat tape on the pipes, shutting off breakers, figuring out how to bleed the line, and get the water moving again. Katie set up her space heater in the furnace room to warm the place (and us) up. These people could've, should've, stayed home in bed after their late night of dancing, but instead they were here, giving me their holiday. I could have kissed them both.

When everything was in order, I ran down to Chem Clean for the fuel. Jazz and Annie came along because they adore driving and I adored being in the warm car. When I pulled up the gas station I could see Allan's dog sled and knew he had been out running his three Siberians that morning. Sure enough, inside the store were his three dogs, all asleep, curled up on fleece beds. Sherman, Nina and Leera all came up with their blue eyes and wagging tails to say hello to me. Even though they were tuckered out from their morning run, they were happy to greet some company. It's nice to see happy working dogs like those, and in the middle of a very hectic day, giving good dogs a scratch behind the ears is like a 45-second shock treatment - getting your head back in the right place after all the stress. Oh, dogs.

On the way home with the fuel, I stopped at Wayside for some fuel for myself. I got a hot coffee and a muffin, extension cords, and a can of lamb dogfood as a treat for my roommates for putting up with me. (Good coffee is essential to this story, as it is essential to all things.) On the way back to the farm, I called Ed Gust, a neighbor with a plow, to come clear the driveway if he would please. With the oil guy coming tomorrow, they demand a clean route to deliver or balk and drive away. Ed obliged and that afternoon he came rolling into the driveway on his 1952 Ford Tractor. With his red plaid hat and beard, he looked like something from a Norman Rockwell painting. His dog, Juno, a tawny black lab mix with wild long hair (that by the way, runs like the goddamn wind...I have never seen a dog run like Juno. He is but a black blur in the birches) was with him. Loping aside the tractor like a personal assistant (which I suppose he was).

We love our dogs here in Sandgate. They are everywhere with us, always.

Juno was an impressive dog, but the sheep eyed him like he was a spy from the old country. Maude stomped her foot and bitched at him with angry low bleats. Juno pissed on their fence and trotted away. This made Maude bitch louder. I laughed out loud while Ed plowed the drive. Moments like that have become hilarious to me, and a few yeras ago I doubt I'd even notice the antics of sheep. Now I thrive off it. I wish Maude drank coffee. We'd get along so much better if she did.

Together Katie and Sam refilled, restarted, and repaired all the problems. I thanked them over and over, wishing I could do something to repay them. I need to think up something really good, but the only plan I have so far is those two are getting the first scarves I knit from the sheep's wool. They certainly deserve it more than I do.

So, now the house is a comfortable 62 degrees with a roaring fireplace, and the shower spews hot water and soon the kitchen sink wil catch up and do the same. I am here still in awe of how blessed I am to have people like this all within shouting distance of the farm. The day started out terrifying and ended with this sense of home, and comfort, and this weird Vermonter-insurance that we all live by. I never really knew a single neighbor in Knoxville, but here I know everyone and they know me. This is key to me not freaking out or giving up on this farm life. Well, this and really good TV on DVD.

Just recently, Nancy and Dean called to check up on me, offering me some warm soup if I wanted any. Katie and Sam talked to me too, making sure the water was back on and all was well. I offered them all fresh baked cookies, but all four declined the gift. Which shows they not only are helpful, but healthy. Pillars of humanity, them. Surely if life has something to be winning at - they already won. Cold Antler Farm is back in order, and thanks to this small town, it'll stay that way. Mostly because they wouldn't have it any other way.

When I went back into the furnace room to check on the water tank I noticed Katie has taped up a laminated copy of the story of the grasshopper and the ant to the wall. Her version of a lecture for not ordering fuel sooner. I smiled, and loved her for it.

p.s. image above is a screen print by New England artist Dan McCarthy, who does amazing work, usually with trees, winter, and dinosaurs, look him up. He seems kinda dreamy

chicken approved

Happy New Year from the freezing-cold hollows of Southern Vermont. Hope all of you are getting over your hangovers and enjoying a quiet holiday. Mine however, wasn't exactly relaxing. Stay tuned because man, have I got a story for you. CAF had a mini-crisis this first day of 2009, and had it not been for the amazing people of Sandgate, your friend Jenna could've been in very very deep trouble. Four intrepid neighbors saved the day with helps of diesel and chainsaws and tool belts and good additudes—and I'll tell you the whole thing later on tonight. Right now I need to go outside before it gets too dark and get the sheep back into their pen and check on the chickens. Before I do, I thought I'd share this photo from Lisa in Indiana. She assures me the book is approved by her Midwestern livestock. Her small flock of eight hens and a rooster named Rico keep her stocked in eggs and entertainment all year long. Right on sister suffragette, and that's a swell looking bird.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

fair memories

If you read Made From Scratch, you may remember a story about when I entered my Silkies at the Bonner County Fair. It was a big time. I got to wash the chickens in my kitchen sink with Seventh Generation dish detergent and blow dry them on the counter. The humming whrrrrr of the hair dryer played back up to Spokane's Backporch Bluegrass show on NPR. I wrote in the book about how I remembered thinking how different my life was from the people I graduated design school with. That I hadn't traveled the globe, or bought a fancy car, or even got a promotion in the office - but I had blow-dried Japanese miniature chickens i raised from poofballs in my kitchen. Which was a whimsical experience. And hell, that beats a postcard from Paris. After all, Paris doesn't lay breakfast for me everyday.

I showed up at that small fair with those birds in a cardboard box and no clue how poultry shows worked. But after some paperwork, help from others (there was a very confusing cage tag system), I had officially entered my first ever livestock in a fair! I loved it. I just loved that I could even say I did it. If I ever have kids, I'll probably want them all in 4-H just so I get to do it more often. Showing the chickens was downright fun. I didn't really care about the contest, but hanging around the hall and talking to fair-goers and other entrants was this instant community of friendly people that seemed to come out of nowhere (just-add-chickens). If you have some birds and a fair close to home, go for it. At the very least you'll meet some interesting people and maybe come home with a ribbon. And there is this great parent organization called the APA. I ended up joining just for the sake of being in the show loop and getting their newsletters and such. I tell you, chickens are a pretty hip scene.

That stupid smile my face is half awe that we won something, and half bliss that I was even holding a chicken I raised in the first place. Just a year before that photo was taken, farming was a pipe dream. Now, a year after it was taken, I have 16 birds and supply my co-workers with free-range organic eggs, just like my mentor Diana did at my old job. Things happen like this. You'll see, when you get your own birds it all just falls into place. Usually without the aid of blow dryers though.

If you're new to homesteading, or maybe just thinking about it, I can not tell you how enjoyable poultry is to have around. If your town allows hens, seriously, don't waste another Spring without them. Chickens are easy, clean, quiet and their lives are full of personality and vigor. Here we have twelve laying hens and four roosters. The four roosters (Winthrop, Chuck Klosterman, Sussex and Rufus Wainwright) all get along. This is because Saro and Cyrus, my geese, will not allow fighting among the birds. If two roosters even consider fighting, the geese break it up and honk them away. They are CAF riot patrol. Now Chuck and Sussex are actually friends, and roost side by side every night in the coop. So peace can be made between hormonal angry men, I have proof with claws on a stick right outside.

velveteen rabbit and the skin horses

I am getting restless to start a band. I don't know if it's possible, mostly because this band would be a whole new animal. It's a convergence of old and new music, but wild and wraspy and unspecifically rusted. I'd need to find people who dab in everything, and love it all. But locating musicians (who aren't already in bands) and play music from the civil war and yet, also own the new Ryan Adam's album aren't exactly common in towns with populations of 641. Or maybe they are and I just haven't pulled away enough of the carpet to get to the real hardwood floors yet. I've said it before, I am often wrong.

In my mind, we cover modern pop or indie music with old time instruments. Instead of a drum kit and electric guitars we have a stand up bass, fiddle, banjo, guitar and a mandolin. I'd call us Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horses, mostly because I adore that old book, and it's one of those stories that has become a mantra here at the farm. The point of the Velveteen Rabbit (something you may not have read in a long time, so don't be offended by the summary) is to believe so strongly a thing can happen, that it does. Which is all Cold Antler Farm is right now.

It's a place, sure, but it's more of a dream. This small rented homestead is just the first hit to a long life of messy-rural addiction. It's the first chapter in a girl's book that needs to be bound together in lanolin, and quilts, violin strings and bailing wire to be read correctly. I don't own this farm. I don't know what it's like to really own anything. The bank and I even still share my subaru... But someday, somehow, this toy farm will become real. I'll own something. And when those first farm raised lambs's hooves hit the ground it'll mean so much to me. It will swallow everything, like distance*. There is just no turning back at this point. I need it more than I could possibly explain. You know, I have always looked up to the skin horse.

So anyway, me and skin horses, we'd write our own tunes, but also recreate new ones. We'd lasso up these modern techno and pop hits and bring them back down to the ground, cover them with brick and soil. Things like a Madonna's Like a Prayer with banjo, fiddle, and shape note singing instead of that gospel choir, yes! Or more recent songs, like beautiful Iron and Wine tunes or the Postal service. We'd play Dylan, and Cash, and the Beatles, and songs people hummed to stay awake durring the battle of Cold Harbor (Well, you'd hum them if you were Southern anyway, since all the Northern boys couldn't hum much of anying since they were pretty much all dead. Way to go Grant...)

And we'd sing little sweet songs, like Tegan and Sara's Call it Off, which I can't help but wish I had some scruffy guy to sing that with every time I sing it in my car. Just a guitar and my fiddle and our voices. I think I'll make that my birthday present. I want to be at a campfire somewhere this July with someone who wants to sing Call if Off as if it was written in 1863 and not 2007. I'm not asking for true love, I'm not even asking for a date, just a guy who wants to play that song by a fire in the Vermont woods. Let's get on that, Universe. I don't ask for much, but that would be fall-down-the-stairs good.

Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.

*Neruda. Read the song of despair, son!


Thanks Terry and Gloria

dogs and goslings

People have been emailing photos, and stories, and sharing their own experiences and it has been lovely. One reader sent me a picture of my book glowing in the light of non-electric kitchen. Another sent a photo of their car being dug out of a snow storm (with their copy of the book safely inside, a shout out to all the bumper shots) and some just send pictures of their dogs. Here's one said e-mail dogs, with a copy of the book! This is Dante, a border collie cross a reader said she was inspired to get after reading about my canine adventures. Which blows my mind and makes me ridiculously happy. Good luck to both of you.

So as I get emails, photos, what have you - I'll start posting them on the blog in-between farm updates. If you don't see your images for a few days don't be discouraged. I just want to temper reader stuff with CAF updates, which today includes a gosling named Saro.

While I was heading out to work this morning, I noticed Saro near the cabin, Henry the duck was waddling close behind. I walked over to her, and instead of walking away she just sat down. Which at first worried me, because my geese aren't exactly oozing affection. They aren't mean, but like most farm animals, feel no need to cuddle. But Saro leaned her gray body against my leg and nestled her head in my chinos. For a few brief moments she just wanted to be out of the wind, or warm, or near the gal who raised her (I'll tell myself this for kicks.) I pet her head, and then patted her on her way, which she wobbled off too, bright-eyed. It was sweet, and why I live like this. Because no matter how crappy the workday may be or whatever else happens, I started my morning with a goose hug. Which is pretty hard to top.

I'll post more about this later, but if you are in the area and want to day hi to me and Jazz, we'll be at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT on Jan 9th at 7pm. It'll be fun.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

ohio, son!

Another CAF reader has sent in her bumper-shot, and I thank her. This comes from Amanda in Ohio, who wrote about her own future mushing adventures with her dogs and inquired about kicksleds - she was a fun person to get email from. If you have been reading and hestiate sending an e-mail or writing a comment, don't. Come in, pull up a chair, say hi. Most of my inbox is about enlarging anatomy I don't have, so when an actual person writes to me, it's great. Three down, folks. Not too shabby for a shack in Vermont.

storm birds

Most of the poultry around here prefer the comfort of the coop. The coop is windless, well lit, and has a pile of fresh straw, barrels of food, and a source of fresh water. It's all a chicken, turkey, or duck could ask for. The geese however, do not wallow in creature comforts. They flat out refuse it. They love being outside, even durring last week's snow storm. Here they are walking around the yard, head into the wind, as the snow flew past them. Their names are Cyrus and Saro, and I don't think they've spent more than a few minutes of their lives apart from each other.

They can fly away, but don't. Together they waddle around, sticking their heads in windows or coming onto the porch to lap up the sun. During the summer they are expert weed eaters, great use around the garden and cabin walls - but during the winter they are just honking lost souls searching for corn that fell off the station wagon's back hatch. Not a rivetting life, but a pretty entertaining one to watch. I've grown used to them, and all their goosey quirks. The screaming, occasional hissing, and the neck-stretch-check-out of all things new. They really have become the background characters of this life.

Did you know Toulouse Geese can live to be 40? That's a good long life for those storm birds. I hope the pair follow me to every farm I land on from here on out. I'd miss them if they weren't around. They kinda give me a morale boost. Whenever I have to brave a storm or go tend to the animals in the pitch black, I can say to myself, "Hey, the geese could do this. The geese would do this." And outside I go.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

back on the farm

I knew I was nearly home when 35 miles outside Albany, I could hear WEQX introduce the next lineup of songs. I had to drive nearly three hours to tune in, and was elated when Pearl Jam's Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town, my favorite song to hear Vedder sing, was finally coming in clear. It was followed by new Radiohead, Ben Folds and then rolled into some old Beastie Boys and Iggy Pop before rounding out with Vampire Weekend stuff from last year. I love this indie station. I love that it exists in an old house here in Manchester, that it actually plays great music, and that in this weird little cabin in the woods I can hear the Pretender's Christmas carols while I pack up for a small vacation. It's become a part of my life here in Vermont, and even though it's clear I missed their prime (sometime I imagine, when new episodes of Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure first aired) I adore it. It was like an emotional landing strip flagging me back to my everyday life.

You know, EQX had me when I was on my way to a sheepdog trial at some godawful-early hour and the first voice I heard when I turned the key in the car with my moring coffee was Tom Waits. They were playing Alice, a song I love that already has probably taken seven months off my life. It's not peppy morning radio candy. It's Tom Waits. Bless those thundercats behind the mic at 102.7 FM. Bless them.

So it was Donna, the radio voice, that welcomed me back home to New England. I was winding past the small towns beyond the city and on my way back home to Cold Antler with the radio blaring and Annie hanging out the window. The dogs and I took holiday with my family and I neglected to blog (sorry guys) for a few days while I visited with them. But now I'm back. No more plush carpets, television, or a fridge full of supermarket food-stuffs. I love my family. I had a wonderful time in PA. I miss them when we're not together. But man, did I miss my little farm. It's good to be back. Time to put away those pillows and pick up a pitch fork again.

I'm back to a lot of baking, cooking, hay tossing and egg collecting. The fireplace is lit, Jazz and Annie are asleep in their beds, and from the looks of it all is well. No pipes burst, no chickens seem to be devoured or missing, and while I have yet to hike out in the dark for evening sheep duty, I was welcomed back to the cabin by their bleating. So they didn't make a break for it. Relief returns to us all, and I hope everyone had a quiet holiday week.

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.