Tuesday, February 17, 2009

nebraska represent

Thanks to Sandy, in Omaha, who sent along this new bumper shot. It was Texans who started this weird CAF ritual and it's still going strong. To be frank, as a new author just seeing that hardcover near a license plate far away makes the hair on my arm stand up. I still can't believe I published a book. I am not trying to be cure or self-deprecating here, it really hasn't hit me yet.

So thanks Sandy, and thanks to anyone who takes the time to send me an email, write on my facebook wall, comment on the blog, or do anything interactive with the Cold Antler world. Your feedback is what makes this less of a stand-up act and more of a conversation and that is how I like it. Every night when I sit down at the kitchen table to check emails I look for that one gem amongst the 67 junk emails from an actual person. You have no idea how much they mean to me, even if I don't always have time to reply. Which is nothing personal, and please don't feel that way. It's just really hard to get back to everyone in all these venues with everything else in these short winter days. But I do read them, and they are the fuel that keeps me writing.

I'll say it again. Thanks.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I would just like to say before I posted this I was sitting in front of the fireplace learning a clawhammer rendition of Wayfaring Stranger on the banjo while simotaneously watching deleted scenes from the Office Season 2 on DVD. I think that pretty much sums up my life right now.

Moving on.

I like patches. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I was once girl scout (currently lapsed)? Or maybe it's the neat embroidery? Perhaps they're just more interesting and less annoying than buttons? Regardless, I like patches. I pick them up from places I've been, or from clubs I do and do not belong to. One of my favorites is an old Moose Lodge patch I found on the back of an old order-member vest. (It is huge and awesome). I take these finds and sew them into my life. I stitch them on plain hoodies or shirts to spice them up, make them feel more like me. I have an old police badge patch from Weiser* Idaho sewn onto the left sleeve of a blue plaid cowboy shirt, and that one really strikes my fancy. Someone once told me it was "illega" but I doubt anyone will confuse a short swarthy girl hauling hay in southern Vermont with an Idaho police officer... I sleep fine about that choice.

Anyway, I like how they add a homegrown personalization to things without being very specific. They make things your own, special, fun. If I ever get married, instead of bags of almonds or candles, everyone is getting a boyscout-style wedding patch with a deer head on it and some corny fireworks or rockets (or something like that) that says "Blank and Jenna's True Love Jamboree 2014!"** I am certain that idea isn't mine, but I can't remember the source to lend proper credit, so let's pretend I was being orginal there.

* Weiser Idaho is where the world-renowned Old Time Fiddle competition is held.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

ready. set. plant.

The peas in this photo are from the farmhouse in Idaho. As you can see, I built them a very fancy lattice from dowel rods and chopsticks. As you can see, it worked fine. The snap peas crawled up the window and a few weeks after this snapshot was taken we had pods.

If you click on the photo to look at the larger version, you may notice Mary Todd Lincoln outside on the back deck. A nice chicken cameo from my past. So guys, If I can plant snap peas indoors in an Idaho Panhandle winter - anyonce can pull it off. Okay so, my peas were planted at 7 AM this morning in Sandgate Vermont. If you took part in the challenege, please leave a comment with a timestamp and your location. We'll use it as a record of how many peas were finally planted.

So far, 1!

Friday, February 13, 2009

snap pea 101

This is it Antlers, Sunday is the big day. We're planting those peas. Now, if you're new to the blog and have no idea what I am talking about, I assure you there is a method to this madness. A few weeks ago I announced the CAF Snap Pea Challenge. You can click that link and see all the people (over 80!) that signed up across North America to plant seeds together on the 15th. Hopefully all you participants already got your seeds, plant bulb, potting soil, and a pot ready and waiting. If you're feelin' really motivated there are SPC shirts for sale in the farm store, and buying them gives a small donation to the farm here in Vermont.

How to Pea

Step 1: Dirt

All you're going to do is fill your container (which should have holes in the bottom for drainage. This is important. Let's not drown our viney brethren) with dirt. Hopefully you bought some decent container gardening soil, but really, any bag of dirt marked "potting" will do. The reason for this is bagged potting soil assumes you're planting your seeds in, well, a pot. Since your peas will be indoors that little bag of potting soil is prepared to give your plant some things other bagged garden soils may not have. Think of it as vitamins for the indoor kids. I grabbed a small bag of Miracle Grow's Organic potting soil for around 5 bucks, and I'll be filling a small flower pot Saturday night in preparation. I'll probably also add a little something something to the dirt. I'll crush an eggshell and about an 1/8 cup of old coffee grounds that are already dried out and mix them in with the 4 -5 cups of dirt I'll be using. This is to add a little calcium and grit to the dirt, and help things drain a little better. It also makes me feel like I'm doing something fancy, which I enjoy very much.

Step 2: Plant & Placement
Some of you may want to soak your pea seeds in water the night before, which is fine but not necessary. It's your call. Plant your peas shallow. Cover them with just enough dirt that a mighty wind won't reveal them, about a 1/2 inch tops. Pour on a little water, but don't drech them. Now, set them in a place that gets some natural sunlight. Peas are cold weather crops, the earliest of the garden. You don't need them baking in a window, but hiding them out of direct sunlight isn't the best idea. If you don't have a choice, this is where our light bulbs come in. I bought a 60 watt grow bulb, and have replaced the lamp above the kitchen table with it. Grow bulbs are great, and fun top start seeds with but you can't treat them like X-ray machines. Don't hover a desk lamp a foot above the pot. You will certainly get seeds sprouting fast, but they'll turn into spindly worthless things. You want fat happy stems, and it's better to wait a few more days then bake a quick growth that won't be able to take your indoor environment. I suggest having a nearby lamp's bulb replaced. Between that and your window, you should be set.

Now, the big point I want to make is location. Where you plant your sugar snaps is important because these suckers are going to climb. That picture right there was taken after just a few weeks, maybe two? Point being your peas can't sit in the center of the kitchen table unless you are willing to make some sort of jungle gym for it to climb up. Also, be mindful of what's around. If you have a collection of Victorian glass animals above your windowsill - move them. The vines will crawl up and take over in a very cool way, winding their little tentacles on your stuff. I like this, but I also keep my antiques away from it. (You can't really dust something held in place by nature.) Regardless, I like having food holding onto my shutters and winding around bookcases. But just make sure the place you're putting your peas can climb. Sugar snaps are the athletes of your indoor garden.

Step 3: Research, Share, Comment, Repeat
So I urge you guys to page through some pea-reading. I found this at yougrowgirl.com, and found it helpful. There is endless information online, magazines at your bookstore, and books at the library to help you out. If anyone reading this has a helpful comment or tip, please, let us know. Also, comment and let us know where you're peas are going? Maybe really good hanging basket ideas or furniture planning has been figured out by you fine people? I want to hear it all. Also, make sure to take a picture of your just-planted peas. We'll all take a photo every Sunday. It'll be fun to see how crazy things get by April.

Guys, this is going to be fun. If you give it an honest try and follow these basic guidelines we should be set. Make sure to keep your soil damp, but not wet. Don't water your peas for the sake of watering them and you'll be fine. With some patience, moderation, and good faith we'll all be smiling at white blossoms in a few weeks. Some of us with our fiddles and banjos by our sides. We've got it good kids. We really do.

seedlings, songs, and goslings

Last weekend I planted my first seeds for the growing season. I start early, crazy early really. I know I should wait till May like all the normal people, but I like my rogue spring attempts. There is something cavalier about going out there with a hoe when you still need winter boots. I like the faux-parenting of covering the sprouts with newspaper to protect them from frost, and knowing it's a team effort to make early food happen that locally. Plus, having those early spring salads always taste like heaven after such a long winter away from my own backyard produce mart. So, Soon as the dirt thaws in late March I move my peas, greens, onions, and broccoli outside. Soon after that potatoes hit the soil, and from there it's a downhill run into summer. I can't wait to get my fingernails dirty again.

Right now however, those seeds I planted are just babes. They are sprouting In a small Jiffy greenhouse I bought for $2.29 at Home Depot. Inside it I have peat pots teaming with butter crisp, romaine, and broccoli and a few days ago they started to sprout. I don't know what it is about seedlings, but just having them on the kitchen table has transformed the mood of the cabin. What was once a dark, quiet, borderline sordid place is now feeling lighter and happier. Between the new green kids and the twang of my hobo banjo the world seems strangely optimistic around these parts. Not a bad vibe to get from some 99-cent seed packets and some dirt caddies. Considering the average 50-minute hour with a therapist would set us back a crisp Benjamin - it's nice to know you can alter your serotonin levels for $11.87 at the garden center. So, there's that.

Don't worry. I didn't jump the gun and plant any peas. That will happen on the 15th, along with all of you fine people. Get pumped, son.

Oh, and I have some exciting news! Saro, my goose has not left her nest in days. I think she is going to try and hatch the egg she is camped out on. She is dead set on giving this incubation thing a real college try. I haven't disturbed her, and if I so much as nudge her to check she instantly goes right back to setting. Man oh man, if her and Cyrus raise a gosling here at Cold Antler I will be thrilled. My Toulouse geese are possibly my favorite fowl, and to know I was able to raise a breeding pair right here in Vermont, well that would be a considerable victory in itself. Not too bad for a Mid February weekend: seedlings, mountain music, and possible goslings. Things are certainly looking up.

Oh, and I added a Saro shirt to the store, in case anyone needs a goose that supports green energy, as their own garment. Just a head's up.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

makin' music

A reader asked me to explain how and when I started fiddling. In Scratch I tell this story in more detail, but to summarize here on the thrifty internet - I just taught myself. Now, for anyone who read that last sentence and assumes I have some natural talent and that's why I was able to learn - I want to stress that is definitely not the case. I don't know how to read music (I barely get by) and when people at jams start throwing around heavy musical terms I just nod and smile and listen. The reason I was able to teach myself was simply because I wanted to. I was bored and anxious when I first moved to Idaho. I missed Tennessee horribly, and how the culture, mountains, and people made me feel. I wanted to taste it again, feel it again, hear it again. Old Time fiddling was going to be my sensory passport. I would learn in the dead of winter by myself in the farmhouse. Since I didn't know anyone, I was spending all my time in this with the dogs, so after work I had this open window of time to dedicate to my studies. Since all the ingredients were in place, I just needed a violin. So I ordered the saddest student fiddle money could buy off eBay, and taught myself over the long weeks till summer came. I think the fiddle was fifty dollars (and that includes shipping) and the book/cd I bough to learn from was another twenty. Which means I taught myself to fiddle for less than what most people spend taking out their Valentine's this weekend. The main difference between me and them, I was certain to get some play that night. (GET IT!)

Seriously though, learning to play any acoustic instrument is like learning to drive. You don't just jump into a racecar on your first lesson. You start slow. You get some help along the way if you need it, but generally you learn by doing. Driving becomes second nature from experience. So much so that a few years down the road it's almost automatic. You don't think about shifting or changing pedals, you just do it. Which (I promise) is exactly how fiddling is. Sure, it starts out squeaky and lame, but you get better. Things start to become comfortable. And before you know what hit you - you're practicing for an open mic night with your first band. Which is what I was doing last night. The reality of that still shocks me, and I've been playing for years now.

So like I said, I'm not special, I just made it a point to practice everyday. I was also lucky to come across the right beginner's books that made teaching myself easy. Those "Ignoramus" books by Wayne Erbsen of nativeground.com are pure gold when it comes to self-instruction. If you pick up his old-time fiddle book and a cheap violin, you're set. You'll be playing by the campfire come June if you're willing to practice. Really. He also sells banjo (bluegrass and clawhammer) and mandolin ignoramus books as well.

The point of mountain music is enjoying it. I think a lot of recreational fiddlers and banjo players feel the same way. We're not in this game to win prizes or be the best - we're in it to keep a tradition alive and entertain ourselves while doing so. Personally, I'm also in it for the community. Pickers, pluckers, and strummers are some of the happiest, most laid-back, and interesting people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Because of my dulcimer, fiddle and banjo I've been put in situations where new people and new experiences are always popping up. jams, festivals, lessons, campfires - thanks to music I get out there and learn people's names. Something that isn't always easy to do when your road has more horses than humans. I am even considering going to a banjo camp for a weekend this summer. You just don't get these kind of experiences when you take up scrimshaw.

So folks, if you want to learn, learn. You need no one's permission but your own. Start cheap and slow, and build on it if it makes you happy. Which, and I'm talking from direct experience here, it certainly will. See ya at the next jam, son.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


snap pea shirts!

Thanks to your requests I included two new shirts to the farm store. Now there's plain white Snap Pea Challenge Shirt (only ten bones!), and a baseball shirt of the same ilk. Both have the wolf, the peas, and claim you participated in the 2009 challenge. Let's be honest, you pretty much need one of these. Every shirt also gives a one dollar donation to the farm, so that in itself is a quarter bale of hay for the sheep (and much appreciated). So grab a ten dollar shirt, confuse your friends and coworkers with my wolf with antlers. Tell them it's a new thing, they found them in Bulgaria.

Order your 2009 Challenge Shirts Here!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

faking grace

That photo perfectly sums up my night. I spent it right there, camped out in front of the fireplace on quilts and blankets. My bare feet warming against the sputtering flames as I strummed my new banjo for hours. It was bliss.

Yes folks, after months without a pot to play, your girl Jenna has reunited with a fine banjo. My new best friend is a Morgan Monroe Bean Blossom Hobo—a modest beginner 5-string open back. She arrived today from Tennessee, delivered right to the office in a giant cardboard box. Her much anticipated arrival back to Cold Antler was announced by me as I got out of the car. The verdict being...the dogs remain apathetic, the sheep have no comment, the chickens blinked, and I am falling in love all over again, this time in double C tuning.

After weeks of setting aside cash, I found a bargain online and had it sent here to Vermont. Tonight I rushed through my farm chores, fed the dogs, and then lit a fire and didn't leave it's side for hours. Like a conversation with an old college rommmate, slowly it all came back to me. The clawhammer frail, the hammer-ons, the beautiful slow songs that made me smitten with mountain music in the first place. After a while my fingers throbbed, and my stomach growled (I forgot to make dinner in all the hootenanny) but I pressed on. You gotta work at the things you love, son.

Now it's late for this farmer to still be up. I can't help it. While going to bed would be wonderful, it wouldn't be nearly as wonderful as leaning my back into the fireplace grate, and mindlessly, instictivly, playing a waltz till I'm half asleep. Currently the tune in heavy rotation is Down in the Willow Gardens, and it is beautiful. I love a good waltz more than most.

So tonight, I am a very content little girl in a cabin in the woods. With my fire, and my kind dogs, and a fairly optimistic outlook abut all this 2009 business - I feel okay. I wish everyone ended their days closing their eyes to a mountain waltz. If we did, the world would be a better place. A place that can occasionally temper our collective exhaustion with the heartbeat pace of 3/3 timing.

I have no idea how anyone gets through this life without music. Without making it, without breathing it in, without listening to it like it's the homily of the all. Which is exactly what it is. These songs that I've been playing all night take me far away, back to humid southern summer nights where I could spin around in a skirt and bare feet. During a country waltz, even I can be caught faking grace. So with that thought keeping a stupid smile on my face, I am going to bed. Probably.

Probably not. GCGCD.

Monday, February 9, 2009

get your maude shirts!

I opened a dry goods store as a small fundraiser for the farm. For each shirt you purchase from Cafepress, a few dollars will be donated to Cold Antler. Four shirts buys me a fifty-pound bag of organic chicken feed, so while the markup isn't much, it is a fun way to help out with the load. I'll add designs as I go along, but right now we're starting this off with everyone's favorite jerk, Maude. I promise you'll be the only person at the office with this little number, and it'll be our little inside joke. There are also CAF coffee mugs (of course), hoodies, organic tees, and other odds and ends in there you can also buy if you are so inclined. Design suggestions welcome for other shirt ideas, so if you want a were-rooster sticker or "I give great bread" shirts... let me know. We'll have fun with this.

Shop the store here

Sunday, February 8, 2009

the sound of settling

Friday night I came home from work energized. I was uncharacteristically wound. Most week's end with me coming back to the cabin with a mixture of exhaustion and gratitude—happy to know I have some time to catch my breath and catch up with the farm. But for some reason, on that particular night, I was smiling and singing. I came into the house belting lyrics to the ipod, which had been cranked since I turned off my computer at the office and trudged down to the parking lot. The whole ride home I sang along with an old record. Transatlanticism was the culprit. A Death Cab album that has become quasi-nostalgia for people of my age and disposition. If that's fair to say? I think it is.

I crashed into the cabin, throwing on my dad's red plaid coat as I headed out into the night to tend to my scene. Between feeding, refilling water containers, and cleaning rabbit cages I found myself tapping my feet. As I moved from the sheep pen to the coop, I kinda swayed to the music, keeping up some jaunty steps with the beat. Soon after in the hen house, I was hitting my hips against the metal cans that hold the grains as I sang along with Ben. Within minutes I was flat-out bopping around, dancing by myself in the chicken coop, smiling like an idiot. I watched my long shadow stretch out into the snow from the glow of the heat lamp and when I realized there was two of us, kept dancing.

Sorry, but I just can't help myself when a band knows how to use a clap track. I was singing to the geese now, who eyed me suspiciously from their nest. When The Sound of Settling came on I got even more pumped. I started singing directly to the poultry. "...And I can't wait to go greeeey.." I laughed this at Cyrus, who incidentally already is grey and apparently isn't a Sub Pop fan. If geese could roll their eyes, Cyrus could've been one of the kids in The Breakfast Club. Since I don't owe my livestock explanations for my musical taste - I just kept my straw-floor dance party going strong. The geese did nothing to stop me. They are all talk. Honestly folks, If I ever did have any pride it died in the walls and rotted somewhere on the crooked road between Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Now, I dance in coops. And I dance with gusto. Ba baaaaa, ba baaaa.

Not that Friday night like these are exactly the envy of my peers. To the untrained eye I am a crazy person, possibly a fear-biter, spinning around a chicken coop singing backup to music no one else can hear. But hell guys, I'm happy. I'm happy to laugh and dance around my animals. I'm happy to come home from a job I like and feel like I was needed at said job. I'm happy to realize a whole weekend is ahead of me with friends, dinners, guitars, books, and fiddling. What more could I dare ask for?

It takes very little to make me content anymore. Maybe that's because of the farm, but I think it has a lot more to do with giving up on a lot of likes and dislikes, and letting go of what I consider good and bad. That's not some flippant comment on lacking morals, not at all. What I mean is I don't take changes in my life as positive or negative anymore. I don't assign them an emotion, I just let them happen. When something comes up I look at it logically, a long look up and down, and then act accordingly. It makes things better. By dropping my own stupid preferences I feel like I'm constantly winning some booby prize for social competence. I win by writing in my own loopholes, allowing myself to accept the things I can't have right now, regardless of how much I want them, and slowly planning a way to find them again later.

A perfect example being the border collie Sarah who had to leave. I couldn't have that part of my life now. That is just how things are. I can be miserable about it, or I can look forward to finding one again. Sometimes being content is a choice, and the only governing body is us. Right now I have this place and it fills me up with feathers, fur, wool and dorian chords. It's what I can have now. It's enough. I just let out a big ol' objective sigh.

Maybe that's the sound of settling?

my birds have mad flair

They're not designer chickens, but they are a designer's chickens.

photos from installing my first hive

Saturday, February 7, 2009

snap pea challenge check in

Just wanted to check in with everyone who signed up for the snap pea challenge. If you haven't signed up yet, you still have a week to get your seeds, grab a plant bulb from the hardware store, and throw a small bag of potting soil in the shopping cart. We're planting our seeds next Sunday, and if all goes as planned we'll all be throwing those beautiful pods into our stir fries in a few short weeks. It's going to be such a mud season treat to eat food we grew ourselves, right in the comfort of our own kitchens. later this week I'll write up a small tutoria on getting your seeds started, but for now, can't hurt to do some old fashioned book-learning. Dust off those gardening hardcovers off the library shelves. We've got an order coming up.

Also, the new Feb/March issue of Mother Earth News has a whole story on peas. Read up kids because it's a fine article by Barbara Pleasant that's great homework for the challenge. It also wouldn't hurt to do a little online research on your lunch breaks at the office, afterall you have some decisions to make. Like are you going to soak them the night before you plant them? Are you going to get little peat pots and start your seedlings on a heating pad or just wing it like I am? Get pumped guys...one week in counting and spring is on it's way.

Friday, February 6, 2009

used cow lot

Took this photo in a small sheep town in western Montana on one of my cross country drives. Sometimes the world throws little snacks your way. This is one of those snacks.

defending the stereotype

If you’re the first of your friends to move to the country, get some chickens and plant an organic garden there will be some inevitable social fallout. It’s not your fault, but you’re going to raise the eyebrows of some of your more cynical friends. While there are plenty of people out there excited about self-reliance, there are just as many folks jaded by the hype and greenwashing that society has been slinging at us ever since Al Gore shared his slideshow. As green living gets trendier, it can’t help but jump the shark. You just can’t blame people for rolling their eyes when oil companies air commercials about sustainability. Read the rest here at Mother Earth News Online...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

i tell myself things

My morning started with lugging bales of hay in the -4 degree weather. Hefting the 40-pounds bales over my shoulder, I carried them across the farm to the sheep pen from their hibernation in the garage. After a few trips my arms hurt like hell and I was barking for coffee. Caffeine addiction aside - I don't mind the extra morning efforts that running a small farm entails. Honestly, I look forward to a morning with literal purpose. If I sleep in there are consequences. I like knowing there is a small empire outside my cabin door that depends on me. Everyone needs something that depends on them.

With a scarf and headphones the cold becomes obsolete. Time flies while I'm stepping over chickens and pouring grains for the sheep with the aid of Wilco. Still, that doesn't (shouldn't) mean it was wise try to get it all done before work. I knew I was out of hay late last night, but inside the couch was beyond comfortable and Annie and I had already dedicated the night to reading and ear scratching. I couldn't possibly break our date for a nighttime hay-haul. I tell myself things.

So thing morning I did the chore. It would've been fine had I not decided to wear a skirt today. I spent a lot of the morning trying to manage constrained thighs, snow boots, and shoulders-of-hurtin all at the same time'. Which worked - but caused little strands of hay to fall onto me, everywhere. I am the only women in the office pulling hay out of her bra and coffee mug at 9AM. But you'll have this.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


So I joined facebook. Feel free to friend me up, son. I'm listed as my full name, and I'm fairly certain there isn't another Jenna Woginrich out there, and if she is, her page probably won't have sheep on it. But that's how this cat rolls.

oh, canada

sharing a memory

In late June 2007, a few friends and I decided to go on a special outing. We signed up for a guided trail ride under the full moon. The local ski resort hosted these events, and for two hours you and your rented horse spent some time trotting through the dark woods till you come to an amazing overlook over the town of Sandpoint. There you drink wine, eat cheese, and watch the moon rise before you take the trail back home. Looking back it was one of the best nights of my life. Going through the old blog I found this post about it, and while it has nothing to do with Cold Antler Farm - it's important to me, so I'm sharing the memory. (Proust aint the only cat in search of lost time...)

July 1st 2007

Last night, under the glow of a pregnant moon, I rode alone through the Rockies on the back of a white mustang. For a few holy moments, it was just the two of us in the wilderness. Somehow we had fallen behind the other riders and found ourselves in simpler company. It was after 11, and the rest of the horses knew the trail well and wanted their hay. But my horse, a wolf of a blue-eyed mare, was the personal animal of one of trail hand’s and was in no particular rush to want or need anything. My feelings were mutual. We took our time.

We were high on a ridge. Stalking a treeless overpass cut into the shoulder of the Selkirk mountains. The mare walked in meditation as I looked all around me at the cedars and stars. I originally had a skittish Arabian, but the riding instructor traded reins with me when she prooved jumpy—so instead of a trail horse, I had this amazing animal with some fire in its hooves. I was a little intimidated, but breathed slowly. I hoped we didn't run into a moose or I was screwed.

We rode silently up and down steep passes. Me leaning back and lifting the reins as she descended into a small gulch, or moving my hips forward and hugging her neck as she trotted up hills. The moon was so bright it flung our shadows on the bear grass and huckleberry bushes. It couldn't have been more than twenty minutes of this lonely riding, but to me it felt like time had turned around three times and laid down for us. Sometimes this happens.

I stopped her to look over the view; The view of the lake below us looked false - like some dreamy impressionist painted it in on a romantic whim. I could hear the voices of the riders ahead of us. We had caught up. Soon we weren't going to be alone anymore. I wanted to keep this, selfishly. I learned a long time ago that you can take photographs of these moments in your head if you really focus. I did just that. I will never forget what Idaho looked like that night.

From the perfection of that black saddle, I gave myself permission to forgot how much I missed the fireflies.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

migrant workers

Slugs eat vegetables. Chickens eat slugs. I have a small Japanese immigrant workforce at the farm taking care of the problem. They work for next to nothing and rarely complain. It's pretty great. Here is two kids from the gang patrolling the rows of Romaine and Buttercrisp. It’s a team effort.

This photo and post was from June 2007. It was back in Idaho that I discovered the hidden pest-control powers of a small band of chickens. Sometimes you got to let your flock get your back.

Monday, February 2, 2009

mama rock me

Old Crow Medicine Show has been a part of my life for many miles. I discovered them in Tennesse, played their songs at jams in Idaho, and recently my weekends here in Vermont have been spent with them once again - covering their songs with friends on the weekends. One of their songs, Wagon Wheel, is an all time favorite. Based on some old Bob Dylan lyrics, their incarnation makes me want to pack up the station wagon and head back home to Knox county.

Runnin' from the cold up in New England
I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time string band
My baby plays the guitar, I pick a banjo now
Oh, the North country winters keep a gettin’ me now
Lost my money playin’ poker so I had to up and leave
But I ain’t a turnin’ back
To livin’ that old life no more

Sunday, February 1, 2009


So here is the deal. For all of you out there new to gardening, and all of you people with thumbs so green it could blind a vegan - we're all going to grow some food together. We're starting simple, humble, with one of my favorite indoor gardening buddies: the snap pea.

All you need to do to take part in the challenge is sign up. Once you sign up, you are making a promise to all of the CAF community that you will indeed go out and get some potting soil, a pot, and an agricultural light bulb for one of those old desk lamps you have lying around and grow some food. The point of this is to get everyone out there who reads about me doing this stuff also doing it. No more passive voices or living vicariously son, we're all getting our hands dirty together. And selfishly, I want to learn more about indoor gardening and get some sick recipes from you kids when our peas are hanging heavy on the vine. I think it'll be a fun, cheap, and interesting way to tell winter to go to hell.

We're choosing peas because they thrive in cooler climates (like our winter houses), crawl up windowsills, bloom pretty white flowers, and taste amazing. Unlike other peas - snap peas can be eaten whole, pod and all. Now, regardless of all the people out there who will poo poo our early planting - we're going to do it anyway. What's the worse that can happen? Some of ours won't grow and then the rest of us will learn why. However, some of us may get to eat something from our own hands for the first time, and share it here. And I think that will be pretty cool. Maybe even inspire them to do it again in May with tomatoes or onions?

We're going to stick all of our seeds into our pots on the same day, February 15th. That gives you two weeks to buy, order, or find the few items you need to participate. Really you just need seeds, dirt, a pot and a bulb. I plan on switching out the bulb over my kitchen table with a grow bulb, and that's as technical as I'm going to get. A trip to the hardware store and a few dollars should cover this for you.

So that's the plan. Together we'll watch delicious food grow right in our own apartments and kitchen windows. Come March/April we'll swap stir fry and soup recipes, snap photos of our dishes and plants, and have a big time. So what do you say future pea farmers? Eh?

So here's how you sign up:
Post a comment saying you'll do it
Order some organic sugar snap pea seeds online
Buy, borrow, or find some container garden potting soil
Get a grow-bulb if you don't have great light indoors

We'll be soaking our seeds the night before we plant them, and like I said, they'll go under our grow lights/ windows on the 15th. The "challenge" of all this is simple. It is just to take some green action in your life. To take the first steps to a little more self-reliance. If you're already a homesteader or pro gardener, stick around and do it anyway. Teach us new kids how to do it up proper. Show us where to buy seeds, how deep to plant them, all that. I plan on posting updates to the challenge and giving a "snap pea primer" the weekend of the 15th so we're all on the same page, but I'm not a professional - I'm a chick with some raised beds and an open mind.

I don't care where you live, or where you keep your peas, just plant them. Let them rise up cubicles and catering businesses alike. But together we'll figure out peas, and have one garden vegetable under our belts by the time the ground outside is thawed enough to plant more.

So what's the verdict guys? Y'all want to plant something?

cinnamon rolls, son!

Spent my morning making a dozen giant cinnamon rolls. I snapped this photo right before they went into the oven. I baked them all in cast iron and they came out golden, sticky, and wonderful. I used goose eggs (thanks Saro) in the recipe, and that seemed to oblige them just fine. I will try to write it down next time I whip these up, but today's concoction was made up on the spot. I can't remember how much oil, egg, and sugar was added to the bread recipe, but I can say it will be duplicated. When I write it all down, I'll share it. I had two already, and the rest went to neighbors and the guys I played some music with this afternoon. Annie also stole one, but that was a given.

you got to start somewhere

This was my first ever chicken coop. It sat on the back deck of the Idaho farm house. You can see the snap peas behind it crawling up the kitchen windows in the March sun. Yes, it's small, but it was all my original trio needed to keep me stocked in all the eggs I could handle. I positioned this coop in such a way that I could open the kitchen window and slide open the back panel of the hutch, and collect fresh eggs without going outside - still clad in a bathrobe. Now that's living. I also installed an inexpensive solar panel in it for winter lighting, making it the first off-grid house I ever bought. You got to start somewhere.

The pen itself is a small, portable, coop called the Chik-N-Hutch. These kit coops cost about a $160 and are all you need to house those first three hens in the backyard. They generally ship free, fold flat, are assembled in twenty minutes with just a screwdriver (so anyone of us can handle it). Which means, dear readers, you could transport your whole starter-chicken farm with some cat carriers in the back of a Geo with a folded back seat. I am telling you, if you want chickens, you can make it happen. These are not the birds of barn-owners and rural yuppies. They are everyman's backyard buddy. Chickens are easy, clean, hilarious, and perfect introduction to livestock. What I learned from my hens has carried over into breeding and raising rabbits, tending sheep, and keeping bees. They keep my garden pest free. They put up with beginner lessons on the fiddle. They feed me in exchange for room and board. They are the old standbys. I can't praise them enough.

If you are getting some spring birds—it's about that time to start planning your chick orders. Seeing as I am well stocked in the poulty department, I don't think I'll be buying many birds this spring. Probably just a handful of to replace any older birds that may die this winter or roosters i need to re-home. Now if you live near me, and just want a handful of birds as well, let me know and I can tack on your order to mine and we can both save on shipping (to just ship three chicks is ridiculously expensive), and you can pick them up here at Cold Antler. Hell, I'll even throw in a free rooster. Chuck Klosterman needs to go before Winthrop kills him in a were-chicken fit of hormonal rage.

For any of you folks just thinking about spring chickens, I strongly suggest you grab a copy of the Murray McMurray Hatchery Catalog. It's a full-color guide to birds for every backyard. Just having it on the kitchen table to page through over your morning cereal is a hoot (and educational, since it lists breed facts and history.) And hey, if you live in a city - where else are you going to order your hatchery-inspired trucker hats and amish egg baskets, eh? They also has everything you need to house your flock regarldess if you live on 30 acres or have a 30' lot behind your apartment. And no, Murray McMurray isn't paying me to write this. I just think they're a great place to get started and approach poultry in a freindly way. Honestly, I want chicks in the hands of everyone who wants them this spring. However I can enable that in you is fine. Even if it means hocking hatchery catalogs to you nice people. Pride is dead!

Request your free Murray McMurray Catalog here.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

rumors and prayers

A photo from September, which I am sharing only because it's proof positive that once upon a time it was summer here. Man, do I miss those days. I adore winter, really, but I miss going out into the pasture with the fiddle, a blanket, a book, and the flock. Marvin never minded getting close to the violin, nosing it out of his way if it happened to be on a tasty patch. (Sheep are fairly inconsiderate when it comes to our ridiculous notions of property.)

Listen, sheep and fiddles (in any proximity) are a beautiful thing and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Don't mess with that sort, they are probably the same people who run to their cars when it's drizzling as if a nice shower was acid and not a nice thing to take a jaunt in. Also Travis Gray's song "It's not Love" just came on and it was so good it made me grab my fiddle, turn the radio all the hell up, and play along like Travis owed me something. Spontaneous 7AM radio jam sessions people, I friggin' love Saturday mornings. Now let's bow our heads and pray for summer. I don't care who or what you pray to. You want to place a photo of Elvis above the mantel with a candle and a dollar bill, fine by me. Let's just get on this, because I want summer on this farm to be more than rumors and prayers. I'm proving anxious.

well rested and making plans

I am feeling much better. I came home from my dentist appointment (guess who's getting a root canal!) and promptly curled up and went to bed. I slept a long time, and I think it was the remedy. I woke up this feeling brand new, less cranky, and really cold? My quilts were all missing from the bed? Did I sleepwalk in some stress-induced trance and fold them into a closet? No, of course not, I'm not that interesting. Turns out Jazz took all the heavy blankets from my side of the bed and balled them into his own little nest some point during the night. Who's dog steals the covers?! Mine. Well, I was already up. Time to get this weekend started.

This Saturday will start like they all do, with EQX's Coffee House. It's two hours of wonderful—playing great acoustic singer-songwriters old and new, obscure to cult-adored. And guys, you can listen to it too. WEQX.com streams live, so even if you're in Florida, you can wake up to the same playlist. Nikki's got your back America.

While the radio keeps me company, there will also be lots of actual coffee. The percolator is on the stove right now heating up. I'm deciding if I want to whip up pancakes or not. I can't make up my mind between them and cinnamon oatmeal. It's a nice problem to have. Looks like we got a little snow last night, the farm seems cleaner. A nice observation to nod at. Snow aside, the sheep are up. Even in the kitchen I can hear their baaing out on the farm. They saw the porch light come on, and know that means some sucker will be out with hay shortly. They're right. Things here are fairly predictable.

Winter has been slow on the farm. The lack of actual farm-work has me writing too much about music, men, and my lack of banjos - things I usually would be too busy to think about. But since I'm snowbound without a garden, goslings, or anything to can - so you're going to have to put up with it till spring. By April I'll be far too dirty and busy with food and animals to bother with playlists and online dating.* But hey! It's almost February! That means certain plans are starting to fall into place. Now is the time to figure out the garden on paper, peruse hatchery catalogs (I am thinking of bringing back a few Silkie Bantams to my backyard. I miss them), order seeds, and plan breedings. The angoras will be having a spring litter in late March/April. That photo up there is of the first spring litter from last year. Just seeing it makes me wish I already had a nest of babes in the hutch. But that would be borderline animal cruelty, to breed a litter now without a heated hutch. But if anyone out there wants a fiber Easter bunny, I'm your girl. I'll put you on the breeding list. All of the CAF bunnies come with pedigrees, tattoos, food, and are beyond adorable. Plus, you get to have an animal you can also wear without skinning it. It's a win win.

This weekend is going to remain low key. Tomorrow I'll be playing music with some neigbors but besides a date for my fiddle - I remain a social nomad. No dating, no movies, or parties or what not. Just me, six acres, coffee and a white winter. I think tomorrow morning I'll make cinnamon rolls, and if the recipe gets the approval of my jam buddies, I'll share it here on the blog. I think I'm going to try making them with goose eggs since I have those in bulk right now, taking up space in the fridge. Oh, and as a side note: I am so impressed by the eggs I'm getting in the heart of winter. We can thank all the spring chicks for that. The old girls shut down their vents, but the new kids pump out 4-8 eggs a day. Me and my egg customers will wont for nothing. Well, wont for nothing that includes yokes. That's something, isn't it?

P.S. here is the link to the pancake recipe, for those who asked: Click here for some northern comfort

* I'll never be too busy for playlists. That was a bold-faced lie. Size 48 type.

Friday, January 30, 2009

let's bring back

pocket watches
wash basins with matching pitchers in bedrooms
large indoor analog clocks
hats for men
hats for women
non-ironic suspenders
majestic facial hair (men)
travel by sea and rail
hand mirrors

You see where I'm going with this.
Feel free to add more.

find your place on the earth and dig in.

I found this old blog post from May 2006. Now, just three short years later some of the random thoughts I was typing from an apartment in Knoxville have transpired. This was written when the idea of homesteading was just a dream. It wasn't till a waterfall, a roadtrip, and some serious dirty hands got involved that my farm became a reality. But reading this, this morning while I'm all tired and cranky, made me feel a lot better. Things happen if you let them.

I'm looking into hobby farms more and more. If it's possible, in anyway, I would want to buy a small farm in 10 years, I don't know in what state, or where exactly but i am hoping the northeast (more north than PA) because of the snow. I've been looking at Agriseek.com and finding out things. Like if you look for real estate that has land that allows horses you know your in hobby farm territory. I research chicken coops and goat pens and look at seed catologs. My dream is to have this shabby warm farmhouse and be able to work from home. Get married to some sucker with a guitar, maybe have kids, certainly raise dogs, and sit on a pair of adirondak chairs outside under the stars at night. Maybe Vermont, Maine, Minnesota... Jim Thorpe.

But if I could find a mountain area, just 5 acres or so next to gamelands... Something protected with trails for running dogs and enough space for the goats and some gardens... Oh man, and to have these dark eyed sleddogs and wake up everyday in a bed of fur and teeth and leathery paw pads...that would be heaven. That is heaven.

sometimes the cart runs over the horse

So guys, I am beat. This week has been quite the drain. I think the mix of stormy weather, freezing cold, and lack of sleep has me finally crying uncle. I am exhausted. What I would love, what I would shave your cat for, would be a few days of just soup and blankets. Something decadent as hell, like napping at 2PM while the snow falls outside, you know what I mean, sleeping just for the sport of it.

Usually at 2pm I am sitting at my desk fervently responding to emails or balancing a copywriter and coffee mug on my priorities list. I throw myself into graphic design projects with the ferver of a drugged-up petstore puppy, but In the back of my mind the farm exhales and inhales. It's a living part of my day job even though it's miles away. Notes to pick up scratch grains and hay line the same post-it notes as projects and doctor's appointments. I sometimes feel like the two lives i share, office and farm, will have a cage fight to the death. Only problem is, I'm the cage.

Really though, all is well. I may sound tired (i am, very much so) but I'd rather be a tired homesteader in Vermont than a well-rested graphic designer in Philadelphia.* Complaining now and then is just a small selfish luxury I can afford. So I'm shutting up now, putting my head down into the wind, and biting my lip. After all, tomorrow is Friday, and this weekend's most exciting plans include laundromats and grocery stores. And that's fine by me.

*Nothing against Philly designers, of course

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Thanks Melonie!

above the notch

To get to my hollow, you need to drive about eighteen miles into the hills from the closest town with a restaurant. When you've driven so far that the road twists into a steep corkscrew up into the mountainside (which we lovingly call 'the Notch') you are in my stomping grounds. The Notch sounds scary, but is actually beautiful. Beyond beautiful. It delivers us West Sandgations down to the roads to town center. The sunrises you meet as you turn the corner are breathtaking. In winter it is so beautiful draped in ice along the cliff's edges you want to stop and get out watercolors. And once you're up this beast, the modern world falls behind me. The roads begin to turn to dirt, and there are more horses and carts on the roads than cars. After the Notch you're about a mile from Cold Antler (which lives on a small side road on a hill).

This photo was taken on the way to work, right before I hit the Notch and slid down the twist into my other world of design and office lighting. This farmhouse hosts a big pond and some horses on their hill. It's such a beautiful place. In the snow it looks like a scene from a Charles Frazier novel. Forgive the angle, it was taken with a hand on the wheel.

Monday, January 26, 2009

in the company of ducks

Alli took this photo over in Saratoga Springs at the library. It might even be her library (where she works). I'm not really sure. Point is I am proud to be in the company of ducks. I find them whimsical. Specially these guys, because they are too cool to be bothered by the simotaneous presence of random memoirs and the paparazzi. Let's hear it for them. Seeing Scratch outside a big ol' temple of books with some hip city poultry made my day. Thanks Alli.

P.S. The banjo-fund has already hit $27.00! Only $253.00 to go!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Written July 2007. Back in Idaho I had a very mean, loud, possibly mentally unstable chicken named Ann Coulter. She hated Annie, always had. One day the foes met. I came across this old post and thought you guys might like it.

It finally happened. After months of taunting, yelling, and staring each other down – Ann Coulter and Annie had their big showdown. Ever since the first time Annie chased Ann Coulter, Coulter seemed to take it extremely personal. From that point on when Annie was stuck behind a screen door or a pane of glass Ann Coulter would make a point to taunt Annie by standing right in her view. Staring at Annie’s dark brown eyes with her beady little black ones. Annie wouldn’t pant. Just stare back. I don’t know what dogs and chickens say to each other, but you could tell it wasn’t kind. Not with these two anyway.

This morning I was walking the dogs back into the house from their morning walk and I didn’t see the little flock behind a rose bush. Annie and Jazz did. And in a Siberian husky second (much faster than a human second) They had bolted at the four big chickens scratching behind the bush. Veronica, Mindy, and Mary Todd Lincoln flew away from the dogs in a frenzy. But Ann Coulter, wings and talons out, flew right at Annie. The world fell into slow motion. Ann had chosen to either protect her flock or just hated everything Annie chooses to be. Jazz watched in awe. If you don’t spend a lot of time around Siberians then you might not have been able to recognize the absolute bliss that overcame Annie’s face. Teeth open wide in a giant smile she caught Ann Coulter is mid air, like she was a tennis ball, and held on. Ann Coulter screamed. I yelled at Annie, who dropped the chicken and had a mouthful of feathers to figure out. She was smacking her mouth like it was full of peanut butter, feathers in her teeth and on the grass. Coulter scuttled off miraculously in tact, albeit missing a large chunk of feather, and Annie seemed content beyond measure.

It was a very dramatic morning.

a winter sunday

That mug you're looking at is Sal's. Sal is by far the most gregarious of the flock and has never been camera shy. When I am at their pen filling up their grain bin or throwing down fresh straw, I let Sal out to walk around and nose the outter realms. He follows me around like a St. Bernard, puttering close behind, paying attention. Heck, he even comes with called. After we're done with our chores I can open the gate and he'll walk right back in (as long as I dumped the grain inside the pen, that is). I like him. He's a pretty dependable guy.

I wish I knew that when they first escaped and I had a near panic attack as they trotted around the yard. I was so worried they'd storm off into the woods. Now I know better. Sheep with a built in bed and breakfast aren't going anywhere. Even if they break out at 9 AM they will be standing in the driveway when I get home from work—waiting for me to light a lantern and let them back into the gate. They'll follow me single file (Maude last) and hope I let them back into their comfy shed they can't figure out how to return to. I feed them some hay, we talk, catch up, then I close the gate and repair the part of the fence they escaped through. That wasn't a great story, but you get the jist of our lives together.

So things are quiet here today. I am done with all the big outdoor chores and bread is rising on the kitchen table next to my laptop. I think all the animals are content. The dogs ran errands with me in Manchester and are now happily sleeping in the bedroom. The sheep got a new mineral block to gnaw on - so they're pumped. The birds have brand new nests already blueprinted out in their piles of fresh warm straw, and are laying as I type. The rabbits are being wooly, they don't say much. Soon the fireplace will be lit and I'll be horizontal on the floor in front of it, sprawled out on big quilts with two dogs and the three new Civil War books I wrangled up this week. Hello 1861.

I had two book signings yesterday. One was in Troy and the other was in Albany. I'll write more about them later (and Troy's AMAZING indoor farmer's market), but for now I just want to thank the readers who came out on a cold Saturday to get their books signed and say hello. It was a really special day for me because of the people who went out of their way to be there. My parents drove four hours to watch me "be an author" and Emily (my best friend from high school) surprised me by showing up at the Albany signing. Between family, friends, and blog readers I felt like I was just sitting with a bunch of people in my living room. Surrounded by people who already know me and just wanted to shake a hand and say hello. And when you're just meeting friends you haven't seen in person yet, it's bound to be a good time. So thanks again guys. I hope to meet a lot more of you out there. Massachusetts and Maine*, I'll see you in the sping.

*Not a sure thing, but probably.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

two dog trails

This is a video I made in Idaho last winter. It's nothing fancy, but shows Jazz and Annie and I doing our thing at the old white farmhouse in Sandpoint. I took these mushing videos while on the back of the sled, so needless to say it's a bumby ride. Also, I am slightly embarrassed about the music in it, but I chose that song because of it's association with one of my favorite episodes of Northern Exposure. Refrain judgment please.

Friday, January 23, 2009

lonely banjos

There's an ongoing question that keeps coming up on book reviews and blogs. People read about my life here, or read about it in the book, and keep asking the same thing: isn't she lonely? They aren't judging my whole single-farm girl status—they just think having a full time job, running a small farm, and writing all the time may be a bit of a drain for one person without the help of a spouse or family. I just wanted to say this...

I'm fine. Really.

I guess I would be lonely if I was homesteading full time. There might be some cabin fever if the cabin was the only place I could complain about a fever in—but 40 hours a week I spend daylight in a busy office. Soon as I come home from work I throw myself right into farm chores, dinner prep, dog walking and barely remain standing by the time couching rolls around. My weekends are packed with neighbors, music jams, rural adventures, baking, and fiddle lessons. I talk on the phone with friends and family daily. Loneliness doesn't really have a chance to factor into the equation. Sometimes it creeps in, like the Christmas I spent a lone in Idaho, but even then I live with two kind dogs who've been by my side since Knoxville. Yes Virginia, she isn't a total recluse.

As for men? Well, there isn't one. But I'm not in some mad rush to land one either. I don't date for sport, and wouldn't want to be with someone just for kicks or to fill up conversation time in the car. I feel like dating is a lot like getting a dog. You shouldn't do it unless you're all in - ready for when the shit hits the floor but optimistic about the long haul. I'm not talking about marriage or mortgages here - just a general loyalty to making it up as you go along. Which, turns out to not be what most guys around my age are into, and I'm not much for the text message, strappy shoes, and bar scene...

So yeah, a guy would be nice, but I need to keep my head down and ears back. My eye is on the prize, which isn't a husband, but another type of marriage, my own farm. What I really need is good working sheepdog to make my future bliss a reality. I'm just saying, gotta keep those priorities in check. I think I just caused a collective-furrowed sigh from mothers of single women across America.

Oh well. Like I said, no rush. I'll know him when I trip over him at some point (I am a klutz). Also, finding a guy equally excited about the Daily Show and dairy goats isn't exactly a cake walk. Whomever he is, hopefully he's not allergic to wool. That could be problematic... but there are hair sheep. Anyway, we'll work it out.

I am lonely about one thing though. I miss my banjo. I miss having it when I come home from work. I miss seeing it propped up against a chair or out on the porch catching a tan while I'm in the garden. I sold it when things got really tight a few months ago, and I justified hocking it because it was a resonator banjo, and I needed an open back for the clawhammer style I was learning. I have my eyes on this Morgan Monroe bruiser called the Hobo. It's nothing top of the line, but it looks perfect for slinging over my shoulder and walking into the woods with the dogs. I can't wait to have one of those five-string wonders back in my hands again, and this time I won't let it go so easy. I started setting aside some cash, just a little a week. But I promise you all by Spring I'll have a banjo at Cold Antler again. I'll need it to calm me down after sod breaking. I get all worked up when I'm with my hoes.

Tonight's Farm Chore Playlist
Blind Dog - Norman and Nancy Blake
In the Devil's Territory - Sufjan Stevens
Sixteen, Maybe Less - Iron and Wine with Calexio
God Bless Mom - The Frames
Bixby Canyon Bridge - Death Cab For Cutie
Nothin' But Nothin' - Yonder Mountain String Band


This is an illustration I'm working on of two characters that have been haunting me for the past four years. Their names are Saster and Adah, and they are the ghosts that I can't shake. I'm trying to write a novel about them, their world, and their story.

I can't stop thinking about them. They have been the background of this whole life of mine on the road. Every car ride I'm in, every song I putter around listening to on headphones creates scenes and events for these two dogs. The basic plot came together years ago while listening to a myriad of Iron and Wine tunes. Last summer, when Sam Beams new record came out and was called "The Shepherd's Dog" I nearly stroked out. Someday I'll get the whole story down. Till then, I'll keep writing and drawing to flesh them out a little more. Just giving you a taste of the haunting.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

jam night at floating leaf farm

*photo by Ben Anderson, taken may 2007

quiet time

Things are quiet. Things are calm. Winter on a small farm isn't exciting. Most days are a logistical breakdown of chores and routines. Morning feeding is cold. Nightime feeding is colder. Everything is stagnant in the way winter is. Nothing is being born, no plants are asking for water, the farm is pateintly waiting to come back to life. To get stirred up with young chicks and seedlings. But I can barely remember that life now in the heart of Vermont's bitchiest season. Seems forever ago I used the push mower.

There are hints that spring will come back. Seed catalogs are starting to show up, as are hatfchery and bee booklets. The short days are starting to feel slightly longer. I can sense it when I come home and there's a little more light in West Sandgate. But besides slightly (ever so slightly) warmer weather and a little more daylight —the farm is in its winter lull.

Sorry guys, nothing riveting to report.

I've been staying late at work to focus on some personal illustration work, and when I finally do get home I'm tired. A full office day doesn't wind me up, but it does make for a sharp transition when I go from high-tech office land to the homestead. But that's what the drive home is for. I crank up my music, I clear my head, I focus on the night's chores. Who needs fresh water? Everyone. Who is due for fresh straw this weekend? Everyone. The checklist goes on and on in my head. Human like a House, a Finches Album is what I've been listening to recently in the car as I roll home up into the mountains. It's lovely music. And the last track is called Leviathan's Home! Which, quiet frankly, is fantastic to me. Any sweet song about riding a biblical sea-beast gets a nod from this gal. We need some whimsy in our lives when the most intense thing going on in our evening involves feeding sheep dead grass.

But with music, all work becomes scenes to a soundtrack. I have a hat I knit out of icelandic wool that I put a pocket on that perfectly fits my little ipod nano. I do my chores around the yard with tunes in my head (literally) and sing along. Some I just get lost in, like Sigur Ros. Others I meditate on, like the Trapeze Swinger, which may always be my favorite song. I'll never forget hearing it live (which is where I heard it the first time). That was years ago. My goodness.

This weekend will see some book tour events. If you live around Troy or Albany check the dates in the right sidebar. I hope some of you can make it out to say hello, hear some fiddling, buy some books. You know, the works. Sunday my plans aren't half as exciting. All I want to do is listen to old records I've collected over the summer and bake bagels. That's right. Just me, some dusty vinyl I foraged from garage sales, and high gluten flour. I think a Hipster in Flushing just got his wings.

Tonight's Farm Chore Playlist
Step Outside - The Finches
White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes
California Stars - Billy Bragg and Wilco
Flume - Bon Iver
Track 4 off ( ) - Sigur Ros
Trapeze Swinger - Iron and Wine

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

my wayfaring stranger

This was written Februrary 9th 2008. This was posted as a goodbye to the people I still miss in the northwest. They knew me as Jenna-of-Tennessee- a scrappy girl with a pack of dogs and iron and wine on the kitchen record player. I'm sharing it because I don't not think enough was written on this blog about the transition back east. It is a little emotional, but you'll have this.

The song Wayfaring Stranger is incredibly old. Its lyrics tell the story of someone returning home (or hoping to at least). But sadly, the person in song realizes death is much more realistic than the possibility of ever seeing familiar faces again. The few verses of hope, memories, and the acceptance of suffering with unwavering faith is what has kept this song alive for hundreds of years. From the 18th century to today you’ll find people humming it on dirt roads and midtown elevators alike.

This is the story of my Wayfaring Stranger.

The ballad didn’t become familiar to me until I lived in Knoxville. Maybe I heard it in passing, but it didn’t stick. However, my good friend Brian (an ex-New Yorker who's life I fell into because we shared a love for the mountains and happened to work in the same office) introduced me to it’s lonesome beauty as if for the first time. When we were driving through the Smoky Mountains, bobbing his black pickup over the winding cove roads he’d turn it up and sing. Not just sing, but really sing it. Meaning every word of it for all it was worth. I’d hear his voice on those southern mountain roads and for the first time listened to what the lyrics meant. Just thinking about Brian makes me miss him like crazy. He introduced me to trout streams and hidden hikes. He got me into Pablo Neruda, and shared the front seat of his truck with me often. We were just friends, but both hopeless romantics when it came to our love affair with the mountains. So it made our friendship a geographical thing. Which, was neat. I can't see a black pickup truck and not think of him, I haven't spoken to him in years.

It was like going to a monastery. Simple. Poignant. As we rolled through the hollers, passing dilapidated barns and cabins long-abandoned, their emptiness and rot echoed the lines of the song. If the world had anything else to say to me, I couldn’t hear it while that song played.

Wayfaring Stranger became Tennessee. It became every state I've lived in since home. I adopted the song. I memorized the words. I learned it on the dulcimer. When someone else played it at a concert or campfire I became quiet. Church was in session.

When I left Knoxville to move out west. I knew I was repeating the story of thousands of Tennesseans who also left their cities and farms for the Homestead Act of the mid 1800s. How many others had loaded up their wagons with their family like I was? Grant it, my wagon was a station - not a Conestoga, and my family was two sleeping sled dogs in the backseat and not seven children, but hey, at the root of it I loved them and together we were heading into unknown territory. And on the car stereo as we rolled out of town with tears streaming down my face we listened to Wayfaring Stranger. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that in 1887, a family from Knox country mouthed the same exact same words I did as we headed past St. Louis and up into the plains.

There was comfort in the repitition, and while it may sound silly, it brought me immense comfort. They sang that song and were okay, Denver and San Francisco and Seattle are standing testament that for some it all worked out. I would be okay too.

When I was established and at home in the Rockies, and the violin became my musical love interest, I learned to play it the way it was meant to be played – on the fiddle (then on the banjo sometime later). I learned to close my eyes and mean it when I played that tune. I learned to let the whole song fill me up and even if an accomplished musician told me it sounded like garbage I didn’t care. The song was too good for one bad musician to screw up. It could soar out of my bow with right intentions. That’s all that mattered.

Monday I head back East, back home. With me will come my two dogs, my musical instruments, and again we’ll be singing Wayfaring Stranger as we drive past Deadwood, and Wall Drug and Chicago and back into the place where thunderstorms and fireflies are writhing all summer long. We’ll stop in Palmerton for a few nights, and when we do we will be living the hope that that song so strongly conveyed—to go out into the wilderness and come back again.

And that’s what I plan to do. After all, I’m only going over Jordan. I'm only going over home.

my first chick

Photo shown is of the first chicken I ever owned. He was one of five black silkie bantams, that came home with me from my mentor's farm back when I lived in Sandpoint, Idaho. This image is from early spring of 2007, and shows just how small those little guys were. I adore these birds. Silkies are small, goofy, gentle, and quiet. They don't mind being held, they are amazing parents, and come in all sorts of solid colors. These chicks were solid black right down to their black bones. Pretty badass.

Monday, January 19, 2009

burning off the fog

I found this photo from September 2006. It was taken at the end of an early morning hike in the Smokies, back when I lived in Tennessee. In the picture all the smoke is burning off from the sunrise, and light is coming back into the trail, making things clear again. Earlier that morning there was so much fog that when you took a few steps down the path, whatever you left behind you vanished within moments. You could tie a bright red bandana to a tree and then watch it disappear as you backed away from it. All you could really understand was what was right around you. Everything from the past fell apart, and you couldn't see a thing ahead. I suppose that's how it always is though. If you only knew how often I thought of Tennessee... That state changed my whole life.

I used to have another blog, it was called Dogcoffin. I named it after a small wooden box with a latch I found on the side of the road when I first moved to the South. It was such an odd box—too small for a chest and too big to be a breadbox, so I called it a dog coffin. I still have it, my foot is on it right now since it currently resides under my kitchen table. Like me this random object has traveled all over, never sure what it was or where it was going. So I thought that was a good name for a blog about a person in the same condition.

Now I rarely update it. It was kept from 2005 on. Everything about Tennessee, Knoxville, the move out to Idaho, and starting Cold Antler Farm was recorded on that other blog. When the book was coming out I made it private since it was far more personal than this one is. But I think I'll be posting pictures and stories from it here from time to time. I'll let you know when the proper dates are, like this one. I just think a lot of the things you read from Scratch started on that blog and you'd be interested to see photos of those first chickens in the northwest or hikes in the Smokies that gave me this homesteading infection in the first place. Let me know if posting older content bothers you, since it wouldn't be "new" technically. And new updates are really what blogs should be about, no?

the night we burned christmas

Before I dive into this story, I want to say that all is well. People have expressed concern over those past two posts. I apologize if I sounded grave or despondent. I was just reeling from the past few days. There was a death in my family, and a lot of lay offs happened at work. In one week I sat on the sidelines while a lot of suffering happened around me in which I had no control. But my family is healing and I still have a desk—two things I am very grafeful for tonight.

Now, with that said, let me tell you about the night we burned Christmas.

Saturday was busy. I spent most of it baking in the kitchen. I was trying to make three apple pies for the night ahead. I was invited to a community potluck, and was going to bring what I alway do, a pie. However this time I also baked two smaller ones in little tins for the men I was meeting pre-potluck to play music with. A coworker was nice enough to invite me to play fiddle with him and his friend Phil. Both guys play guitar, and they wanted to mix things up, bring a fiddler in. For welcoming me into their homes and their music, I thought pie was in order. So I baked them each their own to take home. Since I was on a roll I also baked pies for three other guys at work and my new friend Chris. So all in all I baked six men their own little pies this weekend. I am quite the pie hussy.

I can't help it. I love baking for men. I don't mean that in some scary anti-feminist way. I just love the way a guy's face lights up when you hand him a pie you made for him. When I met Chris for a coffeedate in the bookstore, and handed him a little blueberry pie as a thanks for driving down to meet me, you would think I handed him keys to a new car the way he beamed. I selfishly love it that simple look. So really, to be honest, I bake pies for guys for my own eyes. Hot damn, say that three times fast.

Later that evening, I rolled into Phil's place late with a basket of pie and my fiddle case. I apologized for the tardiness but tried to explain that being late with pie is really like bing ten minutes early anywhere else. The guys seemed to buy that and invited me to join them. Inside on a chair in the living room was Steve, the guy who invited me to play. He was sitting there in his socks and a sweatshirt by the fireplace plucking his guitar. It's weird seeing coworkers in their natural habitats, far from khakis and twill shirts, but you get over it quick and focus on the task at hand, which in this particular story, is beer and music.

Phil handed me a cold Long Trail Ale, and we tuned our instruments by the fire. For two hours we played through a pile of songs. Both guys had a lot of talent, (much better on their guitars than I was on my fiddle) but I kept up best I could. I wasn't doing as good as I hoped with those birddogs. It's hard playing modern pop songs when the entire climate of music you hold in your heart thrives in some dark hollow in East Tennessee two hundred years ago... Or at least that's my excuse for not playing as well as I felt I could. But hey, I was nervous. Steve offered to learn a few traditional songs to balance the scales a little. He was able to belt out a respectable Wayfaring Stranger, which he learned that very night. Earned my respect, that.

After the music we all piled into my Subaru and drove uphill to the homestead hosting the big event. Cars lined the snowed-in dirt roads for a long way before we reached the house. We shuffled inside and what a sight it was to behold...There must've been a hundred people, kids, and a few dogs mulling about. A spread fit for some Arthurian court was laid out on the tables. Everything from venison and wild turkey stews to vegetarian quiches was laid out among the chiles, breads, and cheeses. Piles of cakes and pies leaned over the edges of the wooden table. Hot cider and a giant apple crisp sat on the cast iron stove behind it, making the place smell like heaven on earth. Tonight we were rich in food.

The house was hundred's of years old. Really packed with that New England colonial-clapboard character. Narrow stairs, old wooden beams, a giant fireplace in the kitchen. I was in heaven. This was exactly the kind of house I'd pray to call a home someday. If the people who lived there knew I was secretly planning out locations for chicken coops and sheep sheds, they may have asked me to leave. It is kind of rude to walk around a place quietly imagining your own weird antiques on the walls and Maude out in the backyard bitching about something or another while the dogs and I napped on the couch....but I can't help it. If you give me an old farmhouse, I see a farm. Hell, I see my farm.

We ate and ate. The kind of non-stop plate filling that happens at these things. Steve told stories about his family, Phil talked about his kids, we all talked about music and the food. All went well and we were so into our little corner of conversation we were almost shocked when we were told to put on our coats and come outside, the bonfire was starting.

Everyone else was prepared for this. I wasn't. I was prepared for baking and playing the fiddle. In my excitement for manpies and music I forgot the whole main event. I didn't have coveralls and a parka - I had on comfortable jeans, a cowboy shirt hanging over a green paisley sundress, covered by a mere leather jacket. I was wearing my brown Chucks, not the best footwear for a winter bonfire, and my scarf and gloves were all I had for my extremeties. Regardless, I went right up to the blaze. I didn't want to miss this.

The host's lit the torch and piled on the old Christmas trees one by one. I stood there by Steve and Phil watching the embers fly up into the dark. I watched the neighbors' kids and dogs run around the woods in the corners of my eyes, throwing snowballs and barking at the giant flames. I ignored the cold and hugged my own arms as I watched the pine trees explode into flames one at a time. People cheered as the burst of warm air would hit us.

It sounds harsh doesn't it? Burning Christmas But it was far from vindictive. It wasn't a night of malice or darkness, just a nickname for an excuse to have a nice get together when Vermont is at it's least social. It's been so cold here, and to spend a night defying it, outside smiling in it, was downright warm all over. When I felt I had grasped the experience enough (and couldn't feel my legs) I plodded back inside for more food and drink and a spot right next to the woodstove.

We ended the evening with slices of pie and Northern Comfort (booze in hot cider). We also lapped up some more conversation. It was nothing fancy. I have long since rescinded my need to be fancy. My cool has died. I used to scamper around galleries in Chelsea with the ferver of a design student, or spend nights in crowded shows in Philly watching Indie bands at the Troc. Now I am more content to spending my Saturday nights with a few people, some guitars, and plates of food instead of more intense plans of just a few years ago. You go out to the parade, I'll be here. I know a guy with a mandolin and a campfire, and he wins everytime. Heck guys, I don't even like going into bars. Thank god for internet dating or I'd never even meet men, but I am a firm believer that everyone I want to meet is staying at home with Netflix anyway.

I don't know if the farmlife did this, domesticated me. Probably not. I think I was always more inclined to fireplaces over fireworks, but living here in Sandgate has certainly given me more chances to practice. Come next month I will have spent a full year here in the Green Mountain State. It took a while, but now I feel part-of. I really hope that I can stick around for another year at my little farm here. It's becoming home.

a short one

No matter where I end up—I will never forget waking up in this small cabin in my bed of fur and teeth, and walking out into the wold to feed the animals in the dark before work. If you let them, everyday chores become a legacy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

winter socials

Last night was quite a sight. After a few hours of playing music with my new pals Steve and Phil—we headed over to a neighbor's place to take part in the big bonfire/potluck. A huge pile of dead trees were sacrificed to our festivities. I can't really put my finger on it, but there is something unspecifically cavalier about outdoor parties in winter. Like you're breaking some unwritten rule by hanging outside and laughing when it's 7 degrees. The paths to the house were lit with candelabras, christmas lights, and the huge blaze. Whimsical things to see when you're fighting off frostbite (Note to self: Do not wear chuck taylors to bonfires ever again) I'll write more about it all later—but I just wanted to share this photo I took coming into the house after leaving the bonfire. I just thought it was neat.