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