Saturday, October 10, 2009

this girl can grow a pumpkin

*Thanks for taking the photo, Jeff

we clucked and we strummed

The four people who came to attend the workshop just left, and I think they had an okay time. Jeff, Jillian, Bobbie, and Jordan came from as close as two towns north and as far away as outside Boston. We did spend time inside by the fire learning basic dulcimer strumming patterns and taking turns playing for the group. (I hope they left with a solid idea of how to play the basics and where to go next if they like it....)

We spent time outside in the chicken coop talking about feeding, housing, lighting, and handling some birds. It was chilly, so we didn't spent a lot of time outdoors. It was nice to be in the kitchen full of others of like mind—talking about goats and winemaking and sharing our stories about coops and big plans. While I do feel questions were answered and dulcimers were played, I think most of us just wanted to learn from conversation and enjoy our homemade pizza and local brews with other homesteaders.

I think it was a success. Chuck didn't bite anyone. Maude didn't headbutt anyone (though the sheep did escape and hung out with us for a bit near the coop. Maude, would not come near us. Humans are "below her," I think). No one complained about the food, beer, or hard cider. Jillian suggested I do another workshop on knitting and fiddling next, which I think would be a blast. That would be a great winter weekend in the cabin.

Thank you to the readers who came to the farm. Take care of those dulcimers and keep practicing. And thanks for all who donate, write, read the blog, check in on me, buy books and send emails. Workshops like today made enough money to feed my sheep all winter—which means I can save more of my paycheck for that someday farm. Which as we all know, is the dream I'm crawling uphill towards.

Friday, October 9, 2009

cold antler's gander of two

hard cider!

Homesteading has made it into every corner of my life, even when it's not necessarily welcome or invited. It's become the cat that adopts you, the guest that won't leave, and the rain that won't let up. During the most mundane situations, where the farm has no business being, it finds a way to sneak in. It happens subtly, usually. In the middle of an e-commerce meeting I'll realize I didn't clean off the bottom of my boots and everyone at the office can smell sheep as well. Or sometimes someone at grocery store a stranger will stop me to ask if I was hurt? And I'll look confused till they pick off pieces of hay and grass from the back of my jacket. Or Sometimes (like earlier this week) I could be sitting down at my desk at the office, minding my own business, when all of a sudden the phone rings at the and someone who works in shipping wants to know if I want to come to an antique hard cider press next Saturday?

There was a time I thought I could get out if I wanted too. I thought I could quit anytime. Sorry folks, that train track has been stepped over. I'm in this. And the lines between worlds are thinning. I have proof of this because now, even in the world of web design and spreadsheets, new fiends are beckoning me deeper into the world of farm shenanigans...

Come on! How could I turn that down? I think the only way to make an October weekend more Vermonty would be if I sat there eating a block of extra-sharp cheddar in red plaid while the granny smith's pressed. My friend Mike (who's friends with this gentleman of cider, named Dave) have both welcomed me to their annual fall ritual of collecting wild apples and spending a Saturday making their knock-out hard cider. Next weekend I'm to show up with as many apples as I could pick, borrow, barter, or steal and we'll meet to make the cider. Dave told me he had the recipe from an Vermont Old-timer, and ex Veterinarian, and it was the best and strongest he's ever had. I'll get to watch and learn the whole process, from apple to bottle. I'll be taking notes, pictures, and laughing the whole time. I think last year's batch may be involved in the festivities as well...

This isn't light stuff folks. I've tried it. It has teeth. It was like drinking concentrated autumn-bonfire-party in a bottle. Dave and Mike are both new fiddlers as well, so I am hoping while the apples crush we can take some time to play some old tunes. Should be a fine Saturday, next week.

win some homemade goodness!

I've been able to meet a lot of interesting people these past few years, thanks to this farming habit. One of them is fellow author and homesteader, Ashley English. Ashley has some books coming out soon about chickens and canning (more on those later) but in the meantime, check this out: She's doing a contest on her blog for some of her own apple butter. If you want in, or if you can't get enough of us crazy women at home with our chickens and goats. Check out her site as well.

Photo off English's blog

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

attention: cluck & strummers

Anyone coming to the farm this weekend, please email me. I want to send out a group list and check in. Looks like four of you will be here at the farm Saturday for the workshop. I wanted to let you know the dulcimers and books are in and the chickens are ready to do some hands-on teaching. Dress for inside and outside, wear boots, bring a blanket for the campfire, and if you want, something to share for potluck (though lunch will be made in the farm kitchen - pizza!). See you this weekend!

reading the whole thing

It's really dark outside and the wind is picking up into a fever. Annie is here at my feet as I type in my kitchen (Jazz is still in bed). Coffee is heating up on the stove top and in about twenty minutes, when the first blue cracks of light come, I'll put on an insulated vest and some work gloves and go out and feed the animals by lantern light. Daylight savings will come soon and I can't wait. I look forward to greeting the animals in natural light again and not tripping over the wood pile. A lot of folks will look outside at 5PM and get bummed it's already dark out, but those of us up at 5 feeding chickens and stock will be thrilled to stop having to buy so many bandaids.

Every now and then I get an email from someone who admits to reading through this entire blog in a few days. This is flattering as hell, but shocking to read. They start in August a few years ago in Idaho and end up here in October in Vermont just a few days later. I have never done this (read the whole blog), but think if I would It would leave me with only two conclusions: Either this girl is crazy and needs to get out more or making dreams happen without giant inheritances or trust funds takes forever.

Forever is a stretch, I know. In three years I've managed to find two homes, get some sheep, fall into some subcultures and make a lot of things happen. I'm proud of the book, the farm, the writing gigs I've managed to land...but that farm and financial security are a long way off. A really long way off... Like most of you I need to be in the office by 8AM and make my rent and car payments. I'm a regular gal with a farming disease.

To be frank, I don't really care about the financial security. I'm fine with getting by if "getting by" is figuring out how to make tractor and mortgage payments and deal with slaughtering fees and how to pay for a weekend competing at a sheepdog trial in Canada. Those will be glorious problems to have. But the farm of my own...I hope to get there in three years. That is the great big hope. I want to own a small piece of Vermont by 30. I want to be walking out to check on the lambs with my border collies at 35. And I want to be reading my the woodstove, sick of (but still addicted to) shepherding at 55. My high trial sheepdog curled up at my feet. If some bills get paid late, or I can't retire at 65, then so be it. I'll be out in the pasture till I drop.

I view this process, and I view it slow. I don't expect anything to come fast or easy. I never have. I can only imagine reading through this whole blog and seeing it move from a few chickens and raised beds in Idaho to the the hooved and truck-fueled farm it is here in Vermont must seem like such progress, so fast. But I assure you the days, bills, jobs, heart ache, paperwork, contracts, moves and sleepless nights in-between posting times makes it all feel a lot longer to me. So do all the things I don't write about. I'm not living some double secret-agent life or anything (I don't have the time) but you know what I mean. The everyday dramas and events that don't really have to do with Cold Antler or make headlines.

And honestly, most of the big things that happened (i.e. finding people willing to trade sheep for fiddle lessons or having coworkers help raise a small barn) are luck and chance. Hey, I'll take luck and chance any day, but right now I'm taking this coffee outside to feed a goat.

P.S. 6:35 AM - I just got inside from the morning chores. The world is still navy blue. I was outside filling water buckets when a high, warm wind filled the hollow. It was almost scary, the trees cracking and the leaves swirling, everywhere. I walked across the farm with my water buckets, watching the yellow and red leaves fly across the lantern beams and all of stuck in the awkward warm wind and blue world. If Cold Antler ever reminded me of a twisted snowglobe, one that's all black and blue and gold and red, it was just now...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

angora goats at the vswf

Monday, October 5, 2009

more sheep and more wool

The festival was larger than I thought it would be. Tons of cars filled the parking lot and as I walked into the fields the the first thing I saw was my shearer, Jim, giving a herding demonstration with some of his dogs. As he explained to the crowd the various commands and such, I walked past the border collies and into the barns. Not that I didn't appreciate the working dogs, it's still such a sore spot in my heart. At this time last year I first met Sarah, the border collie who was once mine. She was a cannon of a dog, but too much for me and my three sheep (who are not dog broke). So After some incidents and the phone explanation from an already saintly landlord that three dogs was unacceptable: Sarah had to be returned to the breeder. Bad timing. I'll get my collie someday, and when I do it'll be right. When I have the right sheep, and the right land, and the right life.

Here's something I noticed" if you're coming to a wool festival you better not be sporting any polar fleece. Everyone I saw seemed to have on their finest Irish fishing sweaters, felted Ibex vests, or smartwool coats. Some people had on the occasional fleece, but seemed to notice the faux pas and bought some yarn from a conspicuously leering vendor. I understood. It must be frustrating struggling to keep a dying market alive for a natural, warm, renewable fiber like wool and see people in synthetics. But I also understand how amazingly comfortable and non-itchy synthetic fleece is. It's hard for me to say no to those North Face Jackets on the outfitters racks, but as a future shepherd, a girl's gotta shop how a girl's gotta shop. My new winter coat is all wool. Right on, sister suffragette.

Anyway. I was very pleased to see that the long barns used to house and display the various fiber animals (sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas, and angora rabbits) also had vendors between the animal stalls. You could literally buy wool and look at the sheep it may have been shorn from the season before. For people of a certain disposition, this is remarkably cool. I am of that disposition.

I ended up buying four skeins of hand-spun wool, a lambskin, and some new knitting needles. I nearly bought this awesome little Vermont-invented spinning wheel called the Hitchhiker, but remembered I had a car payment due and was able to resist. When I was all shopped and sheep-petted out—I went to watch Jim do a shearing demo. He had quite the crowd. I sat down and a woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder. "Are you Jenna?" And she introduced me to her family, explaining that she read my book and I was the reason they now had chickens. This was beyond flattering, and made me kind of blush. I really like that the closest thing to celebrity I have attained is being recognized at a sheep shearing demonstration by new chicken owners.

I got home from the festival and decided to accept my symptoms and take it easy. I was now feeling tired, and coughing a lot. So I went about the normal evening chores of feeding hay, chopping wood, carrying water, collecting eggs and breeding rabbits and then came inside to collapse in front of the fire on the new sheep skin and work on Wildwood Flower on the Dulcimer. Now that's a hell of a Sunday.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

the vermont sheep & wool festival

If you thought a bad cold could keep me away from the Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival, you'd be sorely mistaken. No cough or runny nose was going to stop this future farmer from jumping in her orange pickup and heading north to be among her favorite people, the wooly people. That weird breed of New Englander that still raise sheep, spin yarn, knit their own sweaters and know how to throw a good party.

I left the farm around ten. I stopped at Wayside to fuel up on pumpkin coffee and Dayquil. I'm pretty sure that was the magical combination that fought away any real sickness and kept me smiling as I turned up the radio and drove towards Killington. I've been listening to a lot of Deer Tick lately. A band that is hard to describe but easy to love. Their song, Smith Hill (which is beautiful as it is miserable) seemed to be written for my Ford Ranger as it swooped and dove over the mountain roads to the festival. I could not help but sing along. As the lyrics growled "I could drink myself to death tonight. I could stand and give a toast. Here's to the one's that made it out alive: it's you I miss the most..." When the violins kick into the simple guitar chorus...damn. Made me wish my truck had wings.

The obscure location of the festival meant a lot of long hidden side highways and mountain climbs. Vermont is near her peak and the foliage along the way was mesmerizing. If any sniffles remained, I had willed them away with sheer, stupid, love. Good music and natural beauty are proof positive a remedy.

More on the festival tomorrow. This cold I'm fighting has me wanting rest...

dinner, last night