Sunday, April 12, 2009

what are you in for?

breaking out

After a few years of homesteading, I now know exactly what the sound of fugitive sheep hooves on a wooden porch sounds like. When a breakout occurs, the flock always make a run for the porch. It makes sense. That's where the hay is stored. And this morning, as a light snowfall covered the farm, I was shaken out of bed by a "clop clup Cluppy BANG!"- which is what clumsy hooves knocking over a water pail sound like. Very cumbersome antics, those.

As this happened, Jazz and Annie whipped their heads out of sleep. Jazz showed every tooth in his wolfy mouth. This is also, something I am accustomed. Waking up to fangs doesn't phase me in the slightest. I pet his head, half awake, and told him "That'll do.." He lowered his lips over his canines and placed his head back on a pillow, then curled his back for another round of sleep. My dogs are all talk and no consequence. I however, needed to wrangle some ovine...

I smiled, stretched, and went outside with the camera to get photographic evidence of the convict. There by the porch was Sal. (The only one who jumped the fence. The others were watching from the pen.) He was chewing on his pilfered breakfast, glaring at me. I laughed. Then I grabbed an armful of hay and asked him to follow me back to the pen. He heeled beside me like a golden retriever. The snow fell like cold ash around us as we walked back to the flock.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

it's always everything

Every night I do the same thing. Around 10pm, the final rounds go on around Cold Antler and I put the farm to bed. It's just me, the stars, a small lantern, and my ipod. While listening to some slower, end-of-day music I go about the night chores I now consider as common as washing my face and brushing my teeth.

I feed the sheep some grain, and check on every bird in the hen house. I walk in the garden, planning my big plans. I carry out all the animal's water. I turn out lights. I scratch under the chins of Marvin and Sal. Sometimes I sing. I do these things and let the music swallow me, and I let myself get lost in whatever is on my mind at the time. Tonight I was grateful for the temperance of the music, and the full moon. Good company, them.

Tonight I was listening to a live concert Iron and Wine recorded for NPR's All Songs Considered. When He Lays in the Reins came on, I was particularly pensive. That song, even in all it's intensity, has the ability to consistently haunt me.

I was singing along tonight, checking on the flock when something fairly magical happened. From between the two wethers Maude walked right up to the gate. She was inspecting me, considering me. I kept singing along. "One more tired thing. A gray moon on the rise..." I carefully, slowly, put my hand out, still singing to the leery sheep. "When you’re all tuckered out and tame..." I stood there softly singing, my hand extended.

She touched it with her nose.

I nearly fainted. Then, recovering mid-stride, smiled like an idiot. What a win. What a perfect ending to a beautiful day. And the big lesson learned: Farming is infinitely more beautiful with a soundtrack. Burn the Louvre to the ground. Throw every book in the goddamn sea. But please, please leave me music. It's always everything.

sheep shearer booked!

I made an appointment with a sheep shearer to trim down the flock in the next few weeks. Calling about getting your sheep shorn on your lunch break at the office is kind of a surreal experience. Or maybe not surreal—more of a conflict of whimsical interests. Like watching TV in a lawn chair outside or sticking a couch in an elevator to hang out. But call I did, and soon Maude, Marvin, and Sal will hand over their three bags of wool. I think they'll be grateful too—as the days grow slowly warmer I can tell their lapping up a lot more water and spending their time in the shade. You'll have this.

P.S. Does that sheep engraving look like the rabbit in Donnie Darko to anyone else?

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.