Sunday, April 5, 2009

the worst month

This is why I hate April. This fickle bitch of a month always keeps you guessing... Last night, Cold Antler got an inch of snow and just a few days ago I was outside in my garden, tilling the soil in a t-shirt!. You'll have this with April—but that doesn't mean I have to like it. She's ruthless, and keeps me so far away from October, my favorite month of the year.

As for the rabbit in the photo; that's Bean Blossom, my little angora doe. I had her bred recently but it didn't take, so I'll (well, I won't try. My Angora buck Ben will..) to breed her again this week. Hopefully there will be some spring bunnies here soon.

Friday, April 3, 2009

things like this...

...are why I antique. Yes, that is a Michael Jackson Lamp.
Cited in Jim Thorpe, PA.


When I pulled into the farm after work last night, I saw a terrible thing.

Marvin and Sal, my two trusty wethers, were standing by the fence line baaing for hay. But behind them, a pile of limp wool lay in the shade. Oh my god...Maude.

Without even turning off the ignition, I bolted out of the car and raced to the sheep pen. Marvin and Sal watched me like a pair of golden retrievers behind chain link, sordid, quiet. Their mood made me worry more. I mean, they aren't usually wagging their tales and jumping at the fence, but they generally have some spark to them. Were they concerned too? Under the pine tree, Maude laid limp, her legs out, her head on the ground with her back to me.

"Maude?" I called, terrified. I was shocked at my own concern. Shocked that I ran to her like a toddler in front of a bus. Shocked that my heart was racing at the idea that something may have happened to her. Shocked I cared this much about this horrible animal. She still wasn't moving. Oh no...

"MAUDE!" I got louder.

Then, her ear flicked, and slowly she turned her angry face towards me. She stood up on her hooves, looked at me like I led the fourth reich, and baaed a low, pissed-off belch. Then turned around and laid down again in her shade, her rump facing my stance. She wasn't dead, she was napping.

I was never happier to be dissed by a sheep in my life.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The days are getting warmer and all of us are spending a lot more time outside. Regardless if you're enjoying an outdoor concert or toiling in the vegetable garden--it's high time for some good old fashioned refreshments.

I'm a big fan of fresh, natural, lemonade and brewed ice tea. But since I'm usually the only one drinking it, it's silly to make a giant pitcher for one. I found a way to make my own single-serving sized version in portable containers. Which is great when you're running into town and want a cold drink for the road, or have been outside raking and need something instantly cold and sweet to boost up your blood sugar. Enter Masonades:

Masonades are soda-can sized servings of hand-squeezed lemonade or iced tea. You can make enough for a whole weekend in about five minutes, which makes me wonder how powdered mix ever even made it in the public market?

Box of pint mason jars (with lids)
Fresh organic lemons
Ice cubes
Natural sugar
Natural lemon juice
Organic black tea bags
Fresh mint or lemon verbena from the garden

Take your jars and fill them up halfway with cold water. Cut half a lemon and squeeze its juice into the jar, and then plop the whole half into the jar as well, making the water tart and filled with little bits of pulp and flavor. If you really want to kick the tartness up - add some fresh lemon juice (about a teaspoon) to the mix. Then add as much sugar as you feel appropriate (depending on mood and heat it could be as little as a teaspoon or as much as 2 tablespoons) and then top it off with ice till it's nearly overflowing. Seal the lid and shake the hell out of it untill it's one big, frothy, delight. There you have it. Farm fresh, all natural, and ready for travel.

I make a few of these and stash them in the fridge for later. Instead of grabbing a can of soda, I grab a cold jar of real lemonade in a reusable container. Which not only tastes amazing, but feels a little more authentic than most beverages. Masonades can also be made into iced tea - which is a healthier alternative. I just pour hot water from a kettle into room-temperature jars with an organic black tea-bag and let it cool on the kitchen counter. Then I add in a little lemon slice and a pinch of sugar, some ice, and a sprig of lemon verbena or mint and let it sit in the fridge alongside the jars of lemonade. When it's cold enough to condense water off the sides, it's manna from the still.

I posted this last summer, but felt it deserved the spotlight again.

Monday, March 30, 2009

maude is watching...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

baking and records

Sundays are when I bake my weekly bread. It's a ritual I started in Idaho, and here in Vermont the faith survives. It's cold and rainy out there, a striking difference from yesterday's gardening-inducing sun. I'm inside enjoying music, and the feeling of a wooden spoon moving batter. Right now Sodom, South Georgia is playing on the record player, and it is indeed a grand way to pass an afternoon. Heat up the morning coffee, take off your shoes, scratch a dog behind the ears and breathe a little slower. Everyone has their own definition church. Mine is here. A place where time can slow down for songs and softer voices and good food and strong coffee puts the soul on the mend. Have a beautiful day, all.

coveralls and seeds sown

A few weeks ago I came home from work and found a package on my mailbox. It was from a company called Rosies, who make coveralls specifically for woman. Inside the package was a teal pair of overalls, which fit me perfectly. Sliding them on was the clothing equivalent of sitting in a tractor. We're talking gardener super-hero garb: padded knees, cargo pockets, hidden zippers inside (so the ipod doesn't get destroyed), and a big chest pocket perfect for seed packets and utility knives. I had no idea the fine people over at Rosie's were going to send this to me, they even put a note in saying they were going to carry my book on their site. Shucks, thanks guys. I wanted to wait till I had a day outside to try them out before I reported on them here, but they are top shelf. If any of you farm girls out there pick up a pair, you will not be disappointed.

So I'm telling you about these overalls because this weekend, my dear friends, I beat the crap out of them. They are now a dirty pile of crumpled-workhorse on the cabin floor (as overalls damn well should be). I was outside all day Saturday. I worked till my hands blistered and my back ached. It was amazing. It was 60 degrees outside, and my day was one of those perfect farm afternoons of work and love. Get some coffee, get comfortable, and I'll tell you all about it.

It stared with the sheep. I went outside with hay and knife in hand. I set down their pile of fresh greens and then walked to their back gate to let them out into their pasture for the whole day. They came tearing out, and they raced to their buffet. With their wool on thick (and in need of shearing). It has a half-second delay bounce to their gait. So when a sheep runs all full of fleece their hair has to catch up with them. These silly little observations make my morning. While the sheep dined on their breakfast, my eyes glanced over just a few yards to where my real work lay...

The garden.

I spent most of my afternoon with a hoe. I turned, tilled, and cleaned-up three of my raised beds—a small dent in the big picture, but it felt so good to get my fingernails dirty again. I was listening to a live concert of Bon Iver, which was amazing. As the chorus of Skinny Love broke out I'd sing along, slamming my hoe to the punctuation of each line.

And I told you to be patient!
And I told you to be fine!
I told you to be balanced!
I told you to be kind!

...Musical hoeing: it's the only way to go. Everyone go buy For Emma, Forever Ago.

When my arms and back hurt from the sod, I'd switch over to the pitchfork. The plan was to move out some of the chickens' old winter straw bedding and use it as mulch in-between the beds. It would help the soil, and stop the weeds. So my whole day was dedicated to dirt and punctuated by the occasional chicken/goose garden break in. Every once in a while the geese or a rooster would step past the garden fence when my back was turned and start scratching up the mounds and rows I'd been working on. Then I'd try to chase them out, which was just feathers, squawking, and confusion - but hilarious. You haven't lived till you cursed out a French goose.

And so my effort ended with three food-ready beds, a few hundred pounds of mulch down, and phone numbers of shearers lined up. I even (and I'm almost scared to admit this to you...) but I even planted some seeds. I put peas and lettuce varieties in the ground in one bed. So what if it's too early? Then I'll plant more. It just felt like the right thing to do. To crouch down and place those peas in the dark earth, and look up from my garden fence to see the sheep all fat and happy, laying there in the pastures, chewing their cud in the sun. Beautiful, that.

The birds however, were not as passive. They all lined up against the garden fence, wondering why they couldn't come inside and eat all the earthworms writhing about the beds' edges. You can't please everyone.

The epic day ended with a potluck and campfire over in Cambridge, NY. My friend Dave hosted the shindig, and it was lovely. To end a long day of hard work with your feet propped up on a fire pit, and a slight buzz from a cold beer, well that's just perfection. Perfection in a very tangible source for us all.

I'm back guys. No more proposal to push through, no more long, cold, winter nights with nothing to report. I'll be updating every day on the farm, my big plans, and all the up-and-coming adventures here at Cold Antler. In the coming weeks I think there will be shearing, sheep-swapping, new chicks, the annual chicken swap, and bees bees bees... So much... so much of it back in my life again. You know, I'm not a fan of spring, but this year gratitude may bring me to my knees.

Stay tuned. Right now, I am off to buy hay. Welcome to my world.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

burning daylight

There is a cold spring rain outside cabin as I type. Compared to just a few short weeks ago, the days seem long. Tonight after work today I took Jazz and Annie out for a muddy-road jog and by the time we came home, did the farm chores, plucked the banjo on the porch, and then came in to finally cook dinner...there was still a hunt of daylight. Summer is not far off, my friends. Not far off at all.

Sometimes, for kicks, I look back at the July archives of this blog and I am amazed I live in the same place. Cold Antler right now is a hideous mudpit of chicken poo, melting snow, dirty baling wire and old hay. But to think, in just a few months the garden, chicks, bees, and I will all be living under lush green leaves, and treading barefoot over soft grass... seems impossible. But every year the impossible happens, and I spend it sweating in the garden and swaying in the hammock. It's a fair trade.

My snap peas are growing just fine, about two feet tall. I have an office team and a cabin team, and the cabin team seems to be winning the race. But both plants are doing well. It's really great to look over from my design work and see those two seedlings become what they'll become. In a few weeks my desk will be awash in white blossoms. I can not wait. I get excited about such things.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

fall farm tour

I want to welcome all the folks who have stumbled here thanks to the fancy article in Mother Earth News. If you're new to this blog, you'll find a few years worth of blog entries (from three different states) and one gal's ongoing story about becoming a modern homesteader and future farmer. Now, welcomes aside, I have some photos for you.

This past fall two friends of mine, Sara Mack and Sara Stell, came up north from their suburban Philly home to visit Cold Antler. Stell is a hell of a photographer and in this link below you can see an intense slideshow of the farm, animals, cabin, and our trip to the Cooperstown NY sheepdog trials. Enjoy the photos, and your own personal farm tour!

See the slideshow here!

Since these photos were taken, Sara and I have lost a total of over 50 pounds!
I'm proud of us!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

this is what i wake up to

free roosters!

A spring snow is falling outside, and the usual crew of birds is avoiding the weather by making a jungle gym out of the hay stacked on the porch. The roosters and some of their lady friends are perched in a Jenga-like fashion on the tottering bales. The poultry here is in rare form. Now that the snow is nearly gone they are back to ganging around the neighborhood, crashing crow and dove parties in the neighbors' yards and hootin' and hollering around the hollow like they own it.

But there are just too many roosters... I lost two more biddies yesterday. Two fat red hens closed their eyes for the last time and having lost three layers (over 600 eggs between them in a year) It'll be time to replace them soon. Since I don't want to add to the flock (14-16 is a good number of chickens for me) I would like to also add more layers and replace all these boys running around. With only ten hens left, and four roosters between them, the girls are flushed. They need less sexual congress in their lives, and more time on their nest boxes. I think the neighborhood could use a quieter morning too.

So if you want a beautiful, hand raised, friendly, muscial rooster. Come pick one up. I'm keeping just one.

P.S. Saro's egg is a bust. I removed it today. However, she is sitting on one of Sam's eggs right now instead, which the hen ever so slyly laid while Saro was out getting feed. Kind of a deadbeat mom thing to do, but hell, it's a chicken. So maybe Saro will hatch a chick instead of a gosling?! Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

refugin, if you will

My weekends are my refuge. I spent the morning lazy as hell. I slept in, rolled over the the stove to make coffee, and then spent the whole damn time playing guitar, baking bread, and doing my farm chores. One task melded into the other, and the only armor I needed to be outside in the sunshine was a trusty beat sweater. I used to wear polar fleece all the time, but now that I have sheep in my life (and always will) it seems hypocritical. I'm back to wool, indefinitely.

The proposal is coming along. Soon my writing time will be all back to the blog. I have a meeting with my editor Wednesday night, so after that you can expect big ol' updates about all things Cold Antler. But right now your patience and dedication is appreciated, very much so. And while you politely wait for me to get over myself, I'll post some old stories from Idaho.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

cold morning dogs

It's a cold, rainy morning here at Cold Antler. In a few minutes I'll be outside in the morning dark feeding the chickens and sheep by lantern light, but right now I'm trying to prep the percolator and wake up the dogs. Jazz and Annie are still curled up on the bed, watching me with mild interest and raised eyebrows. They know it''s cold, dark, and rainy outside. No part of them feels the need to rush out into the wet just yet. But dogs don't feed sheep, so they can revel in that luxury. I throw on my jacket, pull my hat over my eyes, grab the lantern and go.

This week has been dedicated (writing wise anyway) to preparing the proposal for another book, so I apologize for the thin attention to the blog. But don't fret. Soon that will be in the mail (with my fingers crossed) and I'll be so deep in spring farm work you'll quickly grow tired of all the updates. That's for certain.

I did post a small update to the Happy Homesteader blog at Mother Earth News, so if you're interested in that just click the link on the right hand side of the blog here. Enjoy your day folks, hope yours is dryer.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

hay addict

following the flock

Daylight savings gave the sheep a special gift. The extra hours of sunlight allow just enough time to let the sheep out into their pasture every evening. For a few hours they can play in the yard. Then before I turn in for the night, I brine them back inside the safety of their wire pen for the night. Most of the winter they've been stuck in their enclosure since the heavy snow took down most of the electric netting. But now the snow is nearly gone, and the flock can run in the field again. You should see them go.

So after work I walk across the field to the back gate and with my trusty Gerber blade slice my shoddy baling-wire knots that held them in. Then they happily trot to their hay I dumped at the far end of the field. When I first open that gate Sal comes bounding out, followed by Marvin, and then Maude scuttles past in an angry shuffle. Then comes the best part. I turn and walk behind them into the sun. A shepherd and her small flock at sunset. If you knew how long I wanted this, you'd understand how beautiful those three minutes are to me.

This weekend brought days in the 40's and is slowly melting what's left of the ice crusting over the garden. In a few weeks I'll be able to start turning soil, and getting my early season veggies in. Lettuces, peas, broccoli, onions... (you get the idea.) But there is so much to do outside right now, the garden is mostly haunting the back of my mind.

Yesterday was a hard core farm day. I spent most of the afternoon working outside. I had to clean out old straw in the sheep pen and chicken coop and replace it with fresh. I hauled 50lb bags of livestock grains over my shoulders. I carried bales of hay and buckets of water. I also moved a pile of firewood my amazing neighbors cut down for me. And when I wasn't doing intense physical labor I was tending to the bees, who are running on fumes right now and need my help to make it till first pollen. I also collecting eggs and checking on the birds general health. I looked over the sheeps' hooves, and cleaned out rabbit hutches. Needless to say, I came in at the end of the day and was hurting. Sore, tired, and happy. A long hot shower and some fiddle tunes did the trick to remedy the situation, but this morning my back still feels like Maude did Shiatsu ala hoof.

It's all worth it.

I'm brewing a pot of coffee now, and listening to the roosters outside greeting me to this day. In a few moments I'll go out to feed them and the sheep and then drive over at Nelson's farm in Hebron for more hay. But right now I think the dogs and I are going to enjoy some morning radio and Vermont Coffee Company Dark roast. We'll let the birds holler for a few more minutes. It's not like the town of Sandgate isn't used to their song. You folks enjoy your sunday.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

this place is a musical flophouse...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

mud season

And so it's Mud Season. That wonderful time in Vermont where the top layers of our dirt roads thaw and the base remains frozen. This creates a foot of waterlogged garbage with ruts deep enough to lose a Jack Russell terrier in. Driving to work is like trying to find the right set of tracks to hook your tires into and hope you don't bottom out. But crappy roads mean temperatures are rising, that things are changing, and I'll put up with them because of what happened after work last night.

I came home to a relatively warm, and sunlight porch. It was 52 degrees, the stream down the hill was roaring. I grabbed a bottle of hard cider, put on a heavy sweater, grabbed my guitar and banjo, and went out on the porch to play a few songs outside. Since the porch is screened, I can leave the door to the cabin open and the dogs can pad in and out from the fireplace to me. So we had this weird twilight time of open front doors, a fire inside, a bubbling creek, a waltz on the banjo, and dogs milling about at the same time. With the chickens strutting about, and the sheep finally back in their spring pasture the whole farm seems to be stretching its arms into daylight savings. That deserves a few songs.

I hate how far away from October we are, and how long ago fall was. But to know the seeds of summer and a lot of change are getting planted, well that feels good. Really good. Mud be damned.

P.S. My peas are a foot tall and climbing up my desk at work and my kitchen window. So front porch dog concerts aren't the only signs of spring.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

annie always rides shotgun

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the backyard homestead

So there's a new book out for us front-lawn farmers and I highly suggest it. It's called The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan. I actually know Carleen fairly well since she was my editor for Made From Scratch. She's visited the farm in Idaho, and I've met her a few times down at Storey's HQ. (She has a paint-by-number of Monticello over her desk, which is awesome.) So if you liked my book, and after reading it considered gardening, baking, chickens or any homestead skills I wrote about, this book is the next step. It's a chunky info-packed volume going into the details you'll need to take on this farm life one step at a time. And the great thing about it is it isn't meant for people with acreage and rural mail boxes—it's a book written for people working with a quarter acre or less. I have my copy on my coffee table at the farm, and it's been the first book to make me seriously consider pork in the backyard. Not this season, but in the future for sure.

So I think it's a dandy, and here's a little more off the Storey website:
With just a quarter acre of land, you can feed a family of four with fresh, organic food year-round. This comprehensive guide to self-sufficiency gives you all the information you need to grow and preserve a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, and grains; raise chickens for eggs and meat; raise cows, sheep, and goats for meat or milk; raise pigs and rabbits; and keep honey bees. Simple instructions make it easy to enjoy canned, frozen, dried, and pickled produce all winter; use your own grains to make bread, pasta, and beer; turn fresh milk into delicious homemade yogurt, butter, and cheese; make your own wine, cordials, and herbal teas; and much, much more. It truly is possible to eat entirely from your backyard.

Monday, March 9, 2009

farm update

A lot of people have been asking about different aspects of the farm. I've received emails about the sheep, comments about Saro, and questions about the chickens. Seems like it's high time for a status report. Here's an update on all things Cold Antler. Make sure you're in a comfortable chair. This may take a while.

The Sheep
So my trio of Romney crosses seem to be ready for sheering and some possible de-worming. With days hitting the balmy 50's now, and all three of them still wearing their winter coats, it's high time for a trim. I'm quietly thrilled about this. CAF's first ever sheering day is hopefully going to be attended by friends and musicians. I want the day to start with hard work and end with a campfire and friends with instruments. This may not be a possibility, the whole post-fleece shindig, but if it isn't this year for certain it will be in the years to come. My life as a shepherd-in-training has some very specific goals and the annual fleece and fiddle night is one of them.

The Hive
They made it. My first ever fully-wintered hive of bees survived. I'm proud to say that the whole backyard colony of Italian bees is now flying around the hive and drinking their spring sugar water I already have on tap for them. Come May I'll throw on another super and by late summer I hope to get my first ever backyard honey harvest. This is also a big deal. As you can see, my bar for "big deal" is pretty low. Bee vomit, fiddles and sheep hair and I'm over the friggin' moon.

The Flock
All the birds made it through this brutal winter save for one. The old Dominique hen died last night. When I walked into the coop yesterday morning she was there on the straw as if asleep. I gently removed her and thanked her for all her hard work. One chicken isn't a big deal, and I certainly wasn't brought to tears over it, but if I lined up the breakfast platters of omelets, quiche and baked goods just one hen contributed too I'd have a buffet. I want every animal here to know they did good.

The goose is still sitting, but I think Saro's egg is a lost cause. It seems like it should hatch any day, but she has left it for hours at a time (I recently found out) and I've already touched it when it was cold. If nothing comes of it in the next few days I'll remove it. Even if her laying was in vain it doesn't mean she won't try again this spring. I hope she does.

I'll be ordering a few chicks from the feed store again, just some Silkies because I miss them. I switched to bigger homesteader breeds when I moved to Vermont to be more serious about production animals. But I miss those quirky little birds. Plus they were amazing at eating garden slugs and I have big plans for that garden in the next few weeks. I can use all the help I can raise.

The Rabbits
My breeding pair of Angora rabbits have been mated and Bean Blossom is expecting her kits in mid March. Six weeks after that, early May, they'll be ready for the open arms of you fine people. It's been a long winter for those two troopers. They've been stuck in their hutches for months, riding out the snow and storms. When the weather got really cold I brought them into the furnace room to ward off the bitter—but mostly they've lived their wooly lives outside. Soon the snow will melt in the fenced in garden and they'll be able to hop in there and stretch those long legs. I look forward to that as much as they do.

The Writer
I've been okay. I think this winter wore me down a lot. I found myself feeling stretched thin between the book, the blogs, the office and the farm. In a way it made me run into the arms of my music, and for that I am beyond grateful. Because of music I have grown closer to neighbors and coworkers, and our little band (By the way, we named ourselves Swearing Hill, after the steep, miserable, Sandgate Road we all know and love) We played at an Open Mic Night, we practice regularly, and this fiddler sleeps happy with that thought. We cover songs right now, mostly things you guys have heard on this blog like Iron and Wine and Old Crow Medicine Show, but we also mix it up with some stuff like Dinosaur Jr and the Cure. It's fun.

I might be heading to Brooklyn for the BUST Craftacular in Williamsburg. I need to figure out if that's something I can pull off, but I hope it is. I have some friends from design school living in that town and I would love to get a drink with them and catch up. Plus, I think Williamsburg could use some old-time fiddling and banjo frailing. I'll tear the place up with a fiddle on my back and a banjo on my knee.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

we're so fancy

This week my Books for a Better Life Award came in the mail. It is by far the fanciest thing I now own. I brought it out to the sheep and chickens to show it off, but no one seemed to care. Well, Marvin was possibly interested in eating it, and gave it a lick, but that was the closest thing to an ovine accolade I got. Maude hates anything that has to do with me, including acrylic book-shaped objects, and so she just gave me her trademark glare. Oh 'ol reliable Maude. Surely you will live forever.

I showed the chickens and Sam perched on it without defecating on it, so I guess that's a thumbs up. Besides that little pat on the back, none of the other birds seemed to notice and/or care. Aren't I a classy broad? I get a fancy award and walk around my muddy farm shoving it in livestock's' personal space. I bet Michael Pollan just put his on his mantel like a reasonable person. But Pollan doesn't live with vindictive sheep and codependent poultry, so really comparison has no merit. I tell myself things.

P.S. Big farm update to follow later tonight.

the best company has 3-inch incisors