Monday, June 15, 2009

a stolen monday

I feel like I stole this morning. I took a vacation day from the office, and so instead of the usual commute I really took my time with the farm chores this morning. Nothing crazy—just a little extra time to glance over all the animals, sweep the porch, and brew some fresh coffee. Which, Incidently, I just pulled off the stove as it gurgled and pumped from its percolating. Oh, the decadent verve of an office farmer with a day off.

Just a few moments ago I walked outside and the grass was damp from last night's rain. Despite its sogginess, the sky was blue and the sun was out and everything was saturated, like memories. So I just breathed in deep, trying to savor it. But it's hard to feel Zen when thirty animals are baaing, squawking, and howling for breakfast. You can imagine the moment wasn't that serene. But hell, it was to me.

I started the morning chores like I always do, on the porch. There I fed and checked on Benjamin (my breeding rabbit) and moved the pen with the two remaining Angora kits off the wooden planks and under the big oak by the hammock. There they could feel grass under their paws and enjoy the shade.

I carried a small armful of hay out to my two sheep, walking past Finn's pen (who bleated at me to let him out). Sal and Maude seem despondent. I know Marvin's back where he should be, back to a big farm that misses him and will treat him to a barn and pastures I could never offer here—but I miss him. I can't believe I miss a sheep. Two sheep seem incorrect. They are not animals that should live in small numbers. I hope Finn grows up fast so he can join them and even the score.

Every morning I let the goat kid out of his pen, and give him a spot in the pasture to chomp away at via a chain tie out. He's too clever to stay in a fence and too curious to stay out of the garden, so the tie out seems like a fair trade. He gets sun and green grass and I get some peace of mind knowing my lettuce is safe.

I came inside refreshed, and now I'm writing to you.

My weekend mostly involved rabbit trafficking (sold two buck kits) and June gardening. I have learned that "June gardening" is just a romantic way to say weeding. This year's garden is the largest I ever attempted, and the weeds seem just as verdent and thriving as the veggies. I was out there for hours in the sun pulling between the rows. Vermont's a good place to be in this situation. I have never lived and worked with so many people who also grow their own food. Nearly every neighbor, co-worker, and acquaintance I have sows their own. I tele-garden as well. Last night on the phone with my parents, we were talking about the new live trap they bought to catch the rabbits their manic-depressive cat won't scare away from their garden. Seems like everyone's working for their salads this year.

Right now as I type things are quiet outside; a rare occurrence. Everyone's silent because their mouths are busy eating. From the kitchen window I can see Finn on his tie-out landscaping the edge of the garden fence. I can see Tthe sheep are eating hay in their pen. I know the rabbits, birds, and dogs all had their morning meals as well. And I—the magistrate of this scrappy empire—am enjoying a cup of coffee strong enough to varnish a coffin.

Not a bad way to start a stolen Monday. Not bad at all.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

cyrus & saro

quite the weekend

I do apologize for the thin updates this week. Annie has been a main focus and her extra care has gently lead me away from any writing while we're at home together. I know you guys understand, and she's recovering beautifully. We just got back from visiting a neighbor's sleddog kennel where she ran around a giant dog-run with Jazz and five other dogs. She's back. I can not thank you enough for all the kindness, emails, and comments.

So much went down this weekend. Marvin went back to his old farm (I'll fill you all in on the details soon, but trust me when I say I've loaded my fair share of sheep into the back seats of cars in my day...). I'm down to just one Angora kit. All the boys have been picked up or paid-for in advance, leaving just one little doe who may stay. Life keeps on going, everything is changing so fast around here.

Big news: tomorrow I have a meeting with Storey Publsihing to talk about some possible future projects, which I'm both nervous and excited about (wish me luck!) and I'll be updating soon with Fiddler's Summer news and that bread recipe you fine people have been asking on. I'll catch up. I always do.

Friday, June 12, 2009

she's okay

Annie did have Lyme, like they thought. She is getting treated, and is supposed to make a near-full recovery. She's here with me at work today. Tonight she eat's lamb with her kibble. She'll be okay.

Thank you so much for your well wishes and kind words.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

the concern of wolves

Annie is sick. Her disease came on suddenly. A few days a go she was barely limping, then overnight, she became nearly paralyzed with a stiff pain in her front legs. I called the vet, who thinks she has a crippling case of Lyme, and tomorrow we're going for antibiotics and shots. She'll be okay, but she's not herself. Last night she couldn't even move. It's so hard to see a dog you know can pump uphill in harness during a blizzard—barely able to stand. I have been beside myself with worry.

Jazz ran away this morning. You just can't know the panic. Sibes are not farm dogs. They run away. They can't be trusted with small animals. They are wolves on the lam. Anyway, he loped out the screen door I left open by mistake, and ran off towards the poultry and Finn. (Both of which he would've happily ripped apart). Yet, he didn't. Here's what happened: I saw him run off, but was so occupied with helping Annie hobble outside to relieve herself, I couldn't stop him. I gave up on him. All I could do was hope he'd come back to me and not hurt the livestock. But in my head all I could think was "One dog is dying, the other ran off" As Annie whined from the aches of holding up her own body weight, I started to cry. Sometimes everything happens at once. It's too much.

Then Annie howled from the pain of standing, and collapsed into my arms. Jazz heard this (and in a highly unSiberian husky way) turned on a dime and ran back to his girls. He trotted right through the threshold of the screened porch door, head high, golden eyes searching for the pain. Then he sat beside us. He watched me holding Annie, limp and whimpering. He saw me teary and breathing heavy. He gave up his golden chance at blood and freedom to make sure we were okay. I love him so much. He's a good man.

I hugged him and Annie on that dirty Vermont porch like they were the most important things in the world.

I have no idea how any of you are getting through this life without dogs. You're stronger than I.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

previous lives and eating like kings

I woke up this morning to the sound of pounding rain. In my previous life (before my world revolved around planting, feeding, and fences) waking up to rain was one of my favorite things—meditative and simple. Today however, I knew it meant sloshing in a downpour to take care of a lot of damp and hungry animals. But I have learned to blueprint my mornings out on such occasions. I'll play upbeat music on the record player while I cook up some breakfast. I put on good rain gear when I venture into the angry Vermont morning. And I make sure I set aside enough time when I get back in the cabin for a longer shower and an extra cup of coffee. It amazes me what patience, a hot shower, and coffee can get you through.

This past weekend was delicious. The photo is a small sample of the bounty that was my weekend. I'm now hitting that time of year when every meal comes out of the backyard. I spent the weekend devouring farm omelets with melted VT cheddar cheese, fresh salads from the garden, homemade breads and pies for dinner and dessert, and just savoring every bite. The best meals you could ever eat you pay for in sweat, blisters, and dough under the fingernails. I promise.

So, another Fiddler's Summer update is coming along. I'm going to tell you about my current fiddle: an 80-100-year-old Czech shop fiddle that has become my best friend. But before I do, I just wanted to make clear to all of you out there that there is no "official start date" to all this business. You can sign up anytime, and there is no real rules to follow either. I just set out the guidelines to help you teach yourself. We're all chatting about it together as we stumble along. It's the only way to learn. I want you to take that book, your fiddles, and a few minutes every day to get to know each other, and then please report back here with your advice, links, videos and comments. So far so many of you are already helping each other out, and I swell with pride when I see the back and forth in the comments.

P.S. Looks like two of the kits are sold and will be picked up by some blog readers in June. Two to go. Wish all us rabbit folks luck.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

a homesteader's porch

Saturday, June 6, 2009

the farm library

Before Cold Antler was up and running like it is now, I knew I had a lot to learn. I dove head first into research. I would pour over books and small farm magazines. Before I had any hoofstock or rabbit hutches—most of my energy was put into preparing, research, and trying to cook, can, and bake while dreams of sheep and chickens loped in my head.

But now, a few years down the road (and two dozen animals later) time to sit and read is at a premium. But I can't tell you how much those early days of research and library building helped me and continue to help me. Not a day goes by I don't use something I read, or have to run back into the house to look up gardening or livestock information. How much space do pumpkins need? How much milk replacer should a three-week-old goat be swilling? These are the questions that make a decent library the most important thing on a small farm since the pickup truck.

I am constantly in my bookcase. It has plenty of reference, but it also hosts memoirs, music, and inspiration for when things get low around here. It started in my kitchen, but has long since taken over the rest of the cabin. The porch, bookcases, and any free level space around here is overflowing with books. I need them. They're mentors and entertainers. There's no TV or cable here, just books and DVDs. I like movies as much as the next gal, but nothing beats a book in the hammock. Nothing.

Like I said, time for farm studies now is limited. But everyday I try to crack a book and read up on something. Maybe it's just an article on hay in The Small Farmers Journal, or maybe it's a chapter on growing Okra in the backyard. But still, I am constantly learning. I have so far to go.

If you're thinking about this life and dreaming about your own small farm—I can not stress enough the importance of starting a farm library. You might feel silly subscribing to Countryside if you live in downtown Detroit, but who cares? All those articles, books, and notes I took in classes or at small farms have become invaluable. And you'll be thrilled you did all that reading about chickens in your apartment when the time comes to put up your own backyard coop. So read up farmers. Read up and never stop. Books are our friends and it's hard to fit a Kindle in your coveralls and not break it.

rabbits for sale

This season's first litter of French Angoras is ready to go to new homes. The four bunnies are about six weeks old, weaned, and happily munching on solid pellets and chugging water. Right now they are small, can be held in one hand, but they'll grow up into handsome wool stock - their parents both weigh about 9 pounds. CAF is a member of the American Rabbit Breeder's Association. You get ARBA pedigrees and the assurance of a quality animal.

I have three bucks and a doe available (which I might keep for breeding). All Cold Antler Bred kits come with champion lined pedigrees, tattooed ears, and some wool blend high quality rabbit food for the road. They make wonderful pets, fiber livestock, or show animals. If you're interested, please email me

Friday, June 5, 2009

finn & flowers

photo by Tim Bronson

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

grab some rosin

Checking in and checking up on all you new fiddlers out there! Did everyone get a hold of the book and a violin? It looked that way in all your comments. I did a quick internet search and saw some folks already posted some videos! I hope those of you brand new to the music wold have found a local music store to help you if needed. Also, those of you still doubting you can play Old Joe Clark by July, well, watch and see. America's squawking today, wonderfully so!

Soon as everyone's ready to go we'll go over the strings and talk a little about starting out as a beginner. Right now you should be reading the intro sections of Wayne's book and getting aquatinted with Old Time music. If you can listen to the CD on your drive to work, it'll help immensely. Start filling your heads with fiddle sounds, new players. Trust me, it'll help down the road to already know what your tunes should sound like.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

collateral damage

The rain fell off and on all day. Generally things were gloomy. However, it seems the only animal on the farm who felt that way was me. The overcast sky and occasional shower seemed to invigorate the livestock. The sheep are jubilant out in the cool wet pasture. No flies in their faces and their new wool coming in seems to keep them weather-proof. They saunter around the wet, windy, field like rock stars while the waterfowl spread their wings into the raindrops. The chickens weren't as thrilled about the precipitation, but psyched for the rain-fresh worms that squirmed along the fenceline of the garden.

I spent the morning weeding and planting my sunflowers, which I grow mainly to brighten up the cabin and office or give as gifts. Those flowers make me happy. Right now the striped seeds are resting in a bed of mulch enriched by my rabbits' and birds' old meals. In a few weeks I'll have those high-summer yellow lions in vases. I can't wait. Sunflowers mean we're that much closer to fall.

Between spurts of weeding and planting—I came inside to bake while the rain made the former too much effort. The cabin smelled of baking bread and homemade pizza when I walked in from chopping firewood or adjusting the goat pen. The work seems endless here (and it is) but it flows through my day as normal as commuting to work does. It's a mean to a common goal.

Not everything is faultless here. I paint a picture of perfection, but only because I ignore the things that make this so hard. I attempt to cheat hardship by ignorance. But know my body is always sore and sometimes I feel like I'm the most tired 26-year-old in America. I have to get up before 5 most mornings, and sometimes I don't come inside for dinner till dark. When I go into the shower at the end of my long day I find I'm covered in bumps, bruises, cuts, scrapes, bites and bad tan lines. I'm currently adorned in scars from roosters, a bite mark from a rabbit, and a pinch-bruise from a pissy bull goose right on my stomach. Cold Antler, as humble as it is, is a full time job. And it shares a life with a person already working a full time job. It's hard. Consider that fair warning to anyone out there living vicariously through me...

But I feel the same way about this dark side of homesteading as I do about learning an instrument. You pick up a guitar for the first time and it sucks. You're not good, and it sounds it. Your fingers throb from the steel strings. Your neck gets cramped from holding your shoulders in a new way. You get angry and frustrated learning so slowly. But at the end of it all, you know there is the possibility of music. You've seen it before, and know the appreciation it can render. So you shrug off the pain, forget the bad things, and keep at it. Which is what I do with every scar and sore arm. Collateral damage.

wolves howl. dogs bark.

I wrote this last May, but wanted to repost it for the folks taking on the Fiddler's Summer Challenge. I'll be posted an update later for all you new musicians, but in the meantime if anyone has any videos to share, please post a link in the comments!

I do not know of anything that feels better than playing hundred-year-old songs in firelight with pleasant company. I don’t know of anything more beautiful than when you look up at low hanging branches, with green leaves tinted yellow and coal gray by the flames and smoke, and then look beyond them at a deep night and hollow stars.

I don’t know of anything more comforting than understanding that I can sing a verse, and you can sing a verse, and we can sing it together without knowing each other's last names or what cars we drive, or caring about those things. But understanding with complete certainty that those same words were whispered before us by long-dead people and will be sung by those long-alive. Because of this—it is forever.

Us musicians, singers, and storytellers know that every time we gather in the glow of a campfire, we're just a small piece of a bigger story. We happen to be holding the songs for a short time till we pass them on, and we're okay with that mortality. We drink and laugh and dance to it. And between songs we'll sip some libations and talk about the night we heard St. Anne's Reel shake Quebec, or how a stranger asked us to play a tune at a mountain lake in Idaho. And we'll do this like it's the most important thing in the world. Because at that moment, it is.

Wolves howl. Dogs bark. Humans sing old-time songs. These are the sounds animals make. You can disregard this music, laugh at it, or live your whole life without lifting an eyebrow at dorian strings. But regardless of you-it will keep on padding through our culture like a yellow-eyed sheepdog in high grass. Hidden and wild with a unwavering focus. And like a lowline dog in the grass, you can see it if you look for it. It is there.

This all happens, all this emotion and loyalty, because we all know the words. It's a language we picked up here and there. We did it without amps or outlets. We learned it by ear. We play it because of how it makes us feel. Old time music is, and always will be wet rocks and green moss in a shaded creek in Tennessee. It is bonfires in the shadows of Idaho hills. It is being alone in a blizzard in farmhouse owned by woman named Hazel. It is a campfire by a strangers garden in New York. It's Brian. It's Heather. It's Emily. It's Dave. It's even Erin on the indie rock lam.

I love this music. It writhes and quivers and will keep running uphill when I am dead and forgotten like a fast, fast dog. I don’t understand how it can be ignored. I shudder under thick skin when it is mocked. I feel bad, horrible even, for those who can’t hold it in their fists and know what it feels like. Like a clump of grass you just submerged in a creek.

It is absurd to feel this way about Old Time music and the matted old dog that is these songs. But this is how I feel.

And I love it with the all.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

good morning from cold antler

It's Saturday morning in Vermont. That's Annie watching from the porch as I shuffle about indoors prepping the percolator and listening to the radio. She took a moment to look inside after staring down the bird feeder. She has big plans to tear through that screen and eat a Cardinal. I can tell.

Coffee's on the stove, the sun is flirting with the clouds, and I'm back in from feeding the sheep, goat and birds. Today is dedicated to some time with friends in town but the bulk of my afternoon will belong to the farm. After the last few days of rain, I'll be hunched in the garden picking all the fresh weeds and watching Finn chase the geese. He's good entertainment for tedious work.

Nothing riveting to report, but I can share that yesterday I ate my first salad greens from the garden. I brought in a bag of buttercrunch, romaine, mesculins, spinach and oak leaf lettuce and my friend Andrea and I used it as a base for our salad bar attack at the office. There's no reason why farmlife and worklife can't team up from time to time.

Friday, May 29, 2009

growing up

Thursday, May 28, 2009

loft of these hills

I'm a homebody. I like the comfort of this place. Outside a blustery wind and cooler-than-normal temperatures have all the houses in the hollow pumping woodsmoke. It's almost as if Autumn stopped by uninvited and we all welcomed him inside for the evening. I am enjoying his company along with a cup of tea, a book, and a favorite sweater. He is always welcome. Always.

Here on the mountain in my little three-room cabin there's a fire roaring. Candles light up dark corners and my dogs are asleep in the other room. On the other side of that door my sheep, goat, birds and bunnies are all resting on fresh straw with full stomaches. Knowing they are all content, makes me even more comfortable. I too had a fine meal, and after a few songs on the fiddle in front of the fireplace—I am ready for bed. Because I'm a homebody, and I'm happy to be tucked away in the highest loft of these hills.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

it's not delivery...

I have been having a recent love affair with homemade pizza. I find that making a small pizza (dough and all) from scratch only takes about ten minutes. With fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, savory sauce, garden herbs and a pre-heated oven you've got yourself fast [farm fresh] food. The dough is incredibly easy and with fresh rosemary and basil in the garden...the final product is amazing. I like baking mine in a cast iron skillet, and here's how:

Makin' Dough
1 cup warm water
1 package yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups flour

Take one cup of warm water (leaning towards hot) and pour it into a bowl, add all the contents of a yeast package inside. Mix and let stand for 5 minutes (add a tsp of honey if you want). Once the yeast has set, add your salt and veggie oil and then add cup of flour at a time as you mix it in.

Next, knead into a dough and then set it aside for a few minutes while you slice up your cheese and tomatoes. To finish it off, take your dough and make it into a circular crust shape that fits the bottom of your skillet (or your cookie sheet, pizza stone, or right on the grill). Add your toppings annd bake at 400 until crust slightly browns and the cheese melts. When I pull mine out of the oven--I set some fresh basil leaves on top. Enjoy!

Monday, May 25, 2009

trees are good for scratchin'

pasture rotation, farmers markets, and fiddles

By 8:30 this morning I'd already let the sheep out into their new pasture, bottle fed a goat, drove to Hebron and back on a hay mission, and was bitched at by a goose. Most people I know haven't even had their first cup of coffee (being a holiday and all). I however, had already slung giant bales of dead grass over my shoulder and fell through a rotten board in a hay barn. Thank goodness I was wearing knee-high boots, or I'd be cut up all to hell. I've learned farmers wear certain things for a reason.

My three-day weekend's been full of hard work, but I am starting to see the signs of repose up ahead. Thanks to this May's killer efforts, things are coming together and soon the workload will be lighter. The sheep are eating grass almost exclusively. Yesterday I moved all their electric netting to a fresh pasture and they were thrilled. Their new digs has trees, hillsides, and trees! (They love the shade and rubbing their backs on bark.) It was a bigger job than I anticipated. It involved lots of cursing and untangling Finn from unplugged netting while he followed me around the field.

But frustration aside, their rotation was so worth it. Usually I have to bribe them back into their pen at night but last night they ate so much they just trotted back to their little barn and went to bed. Easiest gate shutting in CAF history. And who doesn't like going to their beds at night, knowing those in their care are tired and happy?

The garden is almost entirely in. I planted 5 rows of corn, 12 plantings deep. That's nearly 60 stalks of sweet corn all by the wrath of one hoe over three days! My back still feels it. But it was the last big planting job. Now my time is open to just weeding and watering, tending and taming. Finns nearly off the bottle and is eating grass like crazy. When he's not on such a feeding schedule, I'll have time to possibly run back to visit my family for a weekend. I miss them.

So, with all that work put in—I decided to hit the Dorset Farmer's Market with Finn to celebrate. The kid was good at the market (generally speaking). He walked on his leash, and followed me around the stands. You'd think a girl and her pack-goat-in-training would be a novelty, but this is Vermont. He was one of three goats there...

He did try to jump on a bread table once, but I stopped him and bought some focaccia in apology... No bakes goods were trodden in the making of this blog post.

Looks like it's going to be a fine day. The sun is out, the sheep are already chewing their cud, and the garden will shortly be watered. Once that's done I think I'll finally hit the river and get some fly fishing in. Nothing wrong with ending your weekend chasing rainbows.

So thrilled to see so many new fiddlers out there! You won't regret it, and just wait till you're playing Blackest Crow on your porch. That song, and so many other mountain ballads, fill your heart up. You'll see. Before you know it you'll have a dozen tunes memorized, and you'll be ordering Gid Tanner CDs from Elderly. I can't wait to hear about your first tunes. You guys who are learning need to keep me posted.

...Speaking of Elderly, I see they have a bunch of vintage fiddles for sale in their used section. Some are reasonably priced too. If anyone of smaller stature is still looking—I though this one was nice. Too small for big hands, but perfect for a petite woman or younger teen. It's kinda pricey ($225), but in the land of violins, not bad for a great European handmade instrument. Click here to see her.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

may the fiddles rise again

In that photo you're looking at the twenty dollar student fiddle I learned to play on. That's my old lawn in Idaho, and three summers ago I learned how to play with that beginner instrument, and on that very grass. I never played before, but thanks to a great instruction book and CD (and a healthy sense of humor) I am now a happy addict. I play everyday, help new fiddlers get started, and can't imagine a life without rosin in my pocket and a violin neck in my left hand. I'm inviting you right now, to join our club.

Playing the fiddle is easy. It really is. Don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise. There are just four finger positions, and one of the four isn't touching anything at all, just playing the string itself. So really, you only need to learn where to press down on three places. That's it. And get this: it's the same on every string. Cake.

I'm telling you people, if you're willing to laugh a lot, and put up with squeaks and squawks - you'll all be fine fiddlers in a few months. You won't have to spend money on lessons, and you don't need three hours a day to sit with your violin. Just a twenty dollar instruction book, a CD player, and fifteen minutes a day. Fiddler's Summer isn't going to be me teaching you. It's about you teaching yourself, but with the help of a whole community of beginners around the country, and a place to ask questions and get help when you need it. Above all, it's about learning some musical self-sufficiency. The ability to play a song without earbuds or an outlet. Hell yeah.

So, this is how we'll get started. If you want to sign up for Fiddler's Summer leave a comment in this post. In your comment leave your name and location, and your history as a musician. If you don't have any musical history, this will be easiest on you guys. Since the book we're using is meant for total beginners who can't read a note--you guys got it made.

After you sign up:

1. Buy, beg, or borrow a 4/4 violin and bow. Some people hit up Ebay and found some student violins under 50 bones. There is no reason to blow $400+ on an instrument right now. If you like playing your student model, you can always trade up later.

2. Promise me you'll dedicate fifteen minutes of practice everyday. That's it. You can play longer, sure, but you need to promise me that fifteen minutes minimum every single day if you sign up for Fiddler's Summer. It has to be a daily thing. It's that everyday dedication that makes music. Take it slow, and with a smile.

3. Pick up a copy of "Old Time Fiddling For the Complete Ignoramus" by Wayne Erbsen. It's an amazing intro to Southern Mountain style and reading it is fun and warm. Amazon's got it, as does his website: This book will be your teacher. It comes with a CD so you can hear songs played slow and fast. It also gives a great introduction to the culture, history, anatomy, and world of Souther Mountain fiddling.

4. Get an electronic guitar tuner, some decent rosin, and a spare set of strings. None of this should be expensive either. A cheap guitar tuner costs 15 bucks, Hill Dark Rosin costs about 10, and Anton Breton Perlon strings can cost less than 15 a set. These three things will make your 50 dollar fiddle sound like a 350 dollar one. I suggest going to Janet Davis Music online for all three. If you're too worried to string and tune it up yourself. See number 5.

5. Find out where your closest music store is. You might need their help getting started with strings and tuning. Get out the phonebook, find someone around you who knows violins, and put their number on the fridge next to the ambulance and poison control digits. Google "Your-City-Name-Here Luthier" and see if anyone builds or repairs violins in your hometown. They'll be happy to help you get started.

6. Get excited. Go watch Cold Mountain or Songcatcher tonight. That'll be you kids in a few weeks. I promise.

From here, we'll start with tuning, and getting to know the instrument and the musical history. But we're not there yet. Right now we're just getting pumped up, and learning what a violin neck feels like in our garden-dirtied hands.

I will say this. Just have fun. Pride is dead, so let yourself fall in love with the idea of being a mountain fiddler. You don't need to be sawing out the Devil Went Down to Georgia to be a bluegrass musician--you need to love what you're doing, and make people sing or dance. Bonefide fiddlers are people who love to play, and play for that love. In a few weeks of practice there isn't one of you that won't be able to whip out a tune, if that's what you want.

The end of this will come around July 4th. We'll post links, audio clips, or YouTube videos of our playing--and for everyone who posts a clip or video of themselves, we'll all vote on the best new musician and that person will be getting a fine prize from me. I'll mail the 'winner' a CAF gift basket complete with Vermont goodness (Like Maple Syrup, a Wayside Country Store T-shirt, Some of my sheeps' fleece, etc) and a signed copy of Made From Scratch with some chicken feather bookmarks.

How's all this sound? And hey, if you tried growing peas, you've already done something harder.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

good morning three-day weekend!

That's Chuck Klosterman, one of the honchos here at CAF. He's outside crowing right now, along with the bleating sheep and a very hungry goat kid. I'm going to head out there in a minute (I slept in, what with the holiday and all) but first wanted to say good morning, and let you know to keep checking back over the three-day weekend because a lot of corn getting planted and I might hit the river today for my first fly-fishing adventure of the season. So if you're into trout and dirt, I'm your girl. But before any of that—I'm going to make some pancakes and enjoy it with some eggs. Because I have a full day ahead of me outside on the farm and on the river, so I think a real breakfast is in order.

Anyone out there want to learn the fiddle? I'm thinking about doing a Mountain Music Challenge, where I'll explain step-by-step how a total beginner could start playing southern mountain style fiddle - on the cheap. If at leat ten of you are interested in joining up, I'll get it started. I think a lot of people out there want to play and are making it a bigger deal than it is. I'll happily hold your hand, and help you get started. Just think, It's Memorial Day now, but you could be playing mountain music at your campfires by the 4th of July.... Any takers?

Friday, May 22, 2009

this kid's got talent

Last night I was taking a short chore break, and got out a fiddle to play for a while. Finn didn't mind the music, but did fall in love with the case...While I played some old Irish tunes he played jump-the-devil's-box, and learned a month-old goat, when perfectly balanced, can stand on a violin case and eat his keeper's shirt at the same time. This kid's got talent, people.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

peace and hope

I am slightly amazed you nice people have made my scrappy farm a part of your life. I get emails and comments from readers all the time, from all over, and I can't help but sit here in this Vermont kitchen and grin like an idiot as I read them. It's so exciting knowing other people are watching out for you, keeping track. The idea that Jazz, Annie, Maude. or Finn come up in conversations in Australia, Milwaukee, North Dakota.... blows me away.

Tonight after work I came home to this farm, and worked harder than I had all week. I let Finn run amok, and let the sheep out to graze. While they chomped away in their small pasture I moved dirty straw from the henhouse into the garden, making my mulch, singing old southern mountain songs as I dug the pitchfork in. I was happy. I like the happiness that comes out of working with your hands. It makes sense to me every time.

I ended my day playing the fiddle. I sat with Annie on my porch and played Amazing Grace in a long, droning, Appalachian style. I sipped a bottle of hard cider and thought about the beautiful day I just had. Today was 87 degrees and sunny in VT. I spent it laughing and rolling over our green hills. I got to ride in a sidecar on a Russian motorcycle, and eat ice cream with sprinkles. I ended the day tending my gardens and laughing at my fat silly sheep. In appreciation, I sat there and played Grace as I learned her, in that mountain way you only know if you woke up in a place where everyone had ceiling fans on their porches and knew holler as a place, not a verb.

Tennessee will never leave me. I think about her every day.

People ask me why Cold Antler Farm is called Cold Antler. It's a mix of Zen Buddhism and hopeless romanticism. Cold comes from the poet Han San; who's Zen poetry's responsible for so many cross country moves. Antlers: well, antlers to me are the most primal and historical symbol of masculinity. I always have an antler necklace or a deer around because someday down the road, if I am very lucky, I'd like to fall in love. And I hope it's as natural, ordinary, and simple as spikes are on a deer. Some girls spend their whole lives praying for a white knight—I am just trying to find my antlers.

So Cold Antler means, quite simply, peace right now and hope for love later. But while I hope, I'll farm. I certainly dont expect this kind of thing to happen anytime soon. Maybe in the next ten years or so? In the meantime, my music, animals, writing, and gardens will keep me going. A girl can run on fumes for a very long time if she keeps her thoughts ahead of her, and lets herself fall in love with chicken shit on her wellies in the meantime. I'm in no rush. But you know this.

king finn

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

a new kind of tired

This year has been my most ambitious year of homesteading ever. The garden, the animals, the day job.... all of it more intense than ever before, than I ever imagined when I started writing this blog. Back when I lived in Idaho I had no idea my life would lead me to Vermont, to sheep, goats, and border collies... Yet here I am, writing you fresh from a short nap in my hammock. I fell asleep because I stopped moving. I have found this to be a common side effect of May.

I love this little farm, but this month has taught me a new kind of tired. I have never been this consistently sore and exhausted in my life. It's the kind of work that leaves you aching, reeling, and hopeful at the end of every day. It's is a lucky place to find yourself. To know you're alive and healthy enough to take care of others, and make dinner rise out of the ground like Lazarus himself.

I wake up around 5 and start my day the exact same way. I kiss Jazz on the head, I scratch Annie behind her ears, and I stumble to the percolator, fill it with something black and strong, and turn on the stove. While my coffee heats up and brews, I feed my animals and work in my garden. By the time I show up at the office at 8 -- I've already put in two hours of work and three cups of coffee.

At the end of the weekday I use up as much daylight as possible while the garden is so young. There is so much to plant, and weed, and tend. We had a killing frost a few nights ago and it wiped out some of my more fragile beds. I replaced all the dead plants tonight-digging in the mud with my bare hands to find a home for new basil, beans, and squash. As I squatted over bed 10, I looked over at the 8x8 corn plot I've been hacking away at. My big goal for the long weekend is to plant a mess of sweet corn seeds. They'll live just north of my small pumpkin patch. I do this all for October, whom I love.

Finn is doing well. He's growing like a weed and nearly off the bottle. The kits are growing and happy, and all the birds are strutting like debutantes. All is well here, and in my heart I know all this toil May shoves at me will only make that July harvest taste even sweeter. You pay as you go in this world, and I'm happy to shell out.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

the garden, before the rain

a man on a mission

That bird you're looking at is Sussex, the Ameraucana rooster. He's one of four honchos in the coop. I snapped this photo while carrying him to the cabin. I had a mission for him: to rescue a pair of hens having a panic attack.

I bought two pullets at the poultry swap a few weekends ago, but to call them timid is a ridiculous understatement. They are beautiful Red Stars, hardy brown egg layers to help replace some of the gals that died this past winter. They were instantly welcomed into the coop, but either their age (15 weeks) or upbringing has made them too scared to leave the hen house. In two weeks they had yet to feel sunlight on their feathers, or chow down on bugs and green grass. I decided to push them out the door.

In an act of tough love I took the young pair and brought them to the hammock's trees. I placed them underneath it, with the other birds and they stood there like statues. Then they shook a little, hunched down, and looked ready to die. Great.

instead of the wilds of the yard, I decided to bring them to the safety of the porch. All my birds love the porch. They can jump on the hay stacks, walk around eating worms and bugs where the rain collects.. it's pretty much the best place for foraging poultry. I brought the hens to the porch and they scurried under it, and that is where they hid out all day.

"We'll Smoke 'em out, Sussex!" I said to my rooster, who had no idea I was going to shove him under the porch in an attempt to coax (or scare) out the new birds. I held the rooster in my arms like a puppy, and then gently launched him at the hens. Which he noticed, clucked at, turned around and left. Thanks buddy.

The hens did eventually come out. Last night near dark one was on a hay stack, and I carried her out to her throngs. This morning when I went out to deliver formula and feed the other was in the same place and was thusly returned as well. Now all the birds are accounted for, and back with the safety of numbers where the local dogs and cats can't scare the hell out of them. (Or the local foxes or coyotes).

It's Sunday morning people. I already called Wayside and had them set aside a copy of the Sunday NY Times for me, a pot of coffee is percolating on the stove, and I'm getting ready to make a quiche to enjoy on the porch to with my Peet's before I take on more hoeing and weeding. Today's another day of hard work in the garden, but I think only suflowers will get seeds in the ground today? The rest of the day is preparing for corn. Sweetcorn pulled off the stalk and then thrown into a fire might be the greatest thing you can eat all summer...

Enjoy your weekends, folks. If you get a chance, set aside some time to put a seed in a pot or play a song on your guitar. Monday comes too soon not to.