Monday, December 14, 2009

books and boys

Everything outside is wet, slushy, and yucky. The beautiful snow that fell Sunday afternoon turned into rain, which turned the already fallen snow into mush. Now the farm is in a muck of dirty white and chicken tracks. If a snow cone machine threw up on a pile of mud—you'd be in Vermont.

I match the weather. My cold turned into a cough and I actually left the office at noon to come home and sleep. Which is exactly what I did. A long rest in front of the fireplace and a quart of downed orange juice later and I already feel better. I won't be succumbing to scurvy, anyway.

I'm reading a book many of you may already be familiar with: MG Kain's Five Acres and Independence. It's a handbook for managing a small farm, written for folks before they actually acquire one. It starts out by saying there are two types of people with the small farm dream: those who are sure to fail and those who are destined to succeed. (A 50/50 chance is pretty good odds!) The point of the book is to help new farmers figure out the messy stuff and all the pitfalls that go into buying, starting, and living on a small plot of land. So far it's brilliant. And I'm looking forward to diving into the renting vs buying chapter. I also got a used copy of Joel Salatin's You Can Farm which I look at as part two in my winter small farm home study program. Reading and notes is something I can do to now. It's information I need and helps me feel like I'm working towards something, even if all I'm doing is sitting up in bed with a husky head on my stomach. With Finn, the rabbits, goslings, hive and garden gone I feel like I have so much time now. I fill it up of course. There's always something to do. It just feels emptier.

On a totally separate note....I have a question for you guys, and when I say that, I mean it literally. Are there any men out there? I feel like the overwhelming audience of this blog is female (which makes sense, so am I) but us farm girls can't be the only clicks around here? I feel like the things I write about: farming, livestock, trucks, music, electric fences, dogs, killing roosters, etc are pretty macho. There's got to be some dudes reading this and just not causing a ruckus on the blog. I'm just curious if you're out there gentlemen? If you are, you should comment and say hello. If you don't I'll assume it's just us girls and start writing about eyeliner and tights on sale at Banana Republic.

hiking with jazz in the smokies

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I was outside early this morning. Part of me was fighting off cold and the other part was working on the sheeps' water tank. I had bought a defroster the day before in Bennington and was trying to read the installation instructions while crouched down near my munching flock. All three of my sheep were on the other side of the fence chewing the hay I just plopped at their feet. Occasinionally they'd lift their head in my direction as I mumbled between box, paperwork, and contraoption. When the defroster was installed and no one got electrocuted in the process: I considered it a small victory. No more cracking hooves through ice. No more dumping heavy rubber containers of igloo bricks. A little civility was delivered to the farm today.

After the water tank was set I headed over to the coop to grab the big white plastic bucket to refill the chicken fonts. Cyrus and Saro (who long ago learned what the white bucket stood for) followed me, waddling in the hard packed snow. I filled the bucket and set it aside for them to dunk their heads in and drink while I stacked more cord wood on the house pile. They drank and preened and I went about my chores. Then, overhead a flock of wild geese broke the quiet, causing a ruckus as they flew. I looked up but couldn't see them. They had to have been above the gray clouds. Then I looked over at my pair of geese and watched them react to the sounds of their wild cousins. Sometimes I wonder if they too want too take off? Cyrus looked up sideways, tilting his head at the sound, not moving or drinking. He seemed to be considering his options. I watched in anticipation. After a brief pause he dunked his head back in the bucket with a loud splash. I laughed and smiled as I went back to the wood pile.

Travel isn't for everyone.

etsy, snow, and books

I opened up my old Etsy shop again. It has everything from knit hats to headdresses, farm-recorded music to original watercolors... It showcases characters from the farm and songs on my dulcimer, banjo, and Irish Whistle. All proceeds go towards my future home. So browse away! There's a link on the right side of this blog.

I'm about to head into Manchester to do laundry and meet up with some readers at the bookstore in town. They are calling for icy rain and snow today, so I'm hoping to be back here at the farm before dark. If you're braving the weather to join me around two of my top three (Coffee, books, and dogs) you'll be a welcomed guest. Stay warm!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

clawing uphill

I spent the morning doing the odds and ends that make a small farm run. I bedded the chicken coop and sheep shed with fresh straw and filled up the grain bins with new feed. I carried out fresh water in heavy buckets to the sheep, dumping the old rubber bin of the spaceship of solid ice inside it. I put weight in the back of the pickup and called a tire store about getting snow tires on the rear wheels. After the spaceship incident I called a few feed stores to price water tank defrosters and found a sale at Tractor Supply. For twenty bucks a small device can be hooked up to an extension cord and float in the sheep's water and keep it from freezing solid in the night. That's money well spent, but money isn't being spent like it used to. I was never in a position to spend a lot of money, but from time to time treated myself to a lower end guitar and that used truck. Now that I'm saving and planning for a house in the spring, everything is taken into consideration of frugality and common sense. Things I used to never even blink and eye spending money on I now pass by. No more coffee at stores, the pot stays at home. No more renting videos or buying new clothes or toys I don't need. Christmas presents will be humble and I hope it doesn't offend anyone when they are. I understand if you want something (and lack a trust fund or inheritance) you need to work, sacrifice, and plan for it. So that's what I'm doing: the work that needs to be done and building my small nest egg for a down payment on that farm.

I'll be announcing my Etsy shop re-opening soon. I'll be selling a mix of watercolors, antiques, knitting, knick-knacks, instruments... anything I can part with. My banjo will be up for sale with a great backpacking case and extra strings and a strap. I'm also offering beginner fiddle and dulcimer workshops for locals, so please email me if you're interested. And if you have a watercolor ordered, but have not received it, could you do me a HUGE favor and email me a reminder with your name, address, and subject matter. My web-email program runs on slow dial-up. It makes looking through old emails a long, long, process. I'll be painting all weekend so be assured if you write, 'I'm the gal with Popeye the cat! Here's my address! Here's that photo again" you'll get it mailed next week. Just make sure files are small, like I said, dial-up.

I'm going to see Abi, Greg, and Finn today. I'll be brining his hay and hoof-trimming shears to show Abi how to do it for her alpacas, and to maintain hooves. If you go to her blog, Spiderwomanknits, you can see photos of Finn and her boys Hayden and Indy. It's a cool site and her taste in design, antiques, and her Etsy business are all top shelf. We have the same Lincoln Bread box in our kitchens. (You can trust people with like taste in retro kitchen appliances.) I'm beyond grateful for their help and yours as I claw my way into my own farm. When I get there, and I will, we need to throw a proper Antlerfest and celebrate.

Say you'll come? This farm stopped being just mine a long time ago...

P.S. I'll still be at Northshire Books tomorrow, is anyone still coming? The snow may be an issue?

photo by abi, off spideerwomanknits

Friday, December 11, 2009

annie loves the truck

Thursday, December 10, 2009

the hot middle

The storm took out my hollow's electricity last night. It also created a sheet of ice on my little private road that has just taken my truck hostage. Coming home from visiting neighbors, I started up my hill and it spun its tires till it (and I) gave up. My orange truck is currently fighting off the wailing wind, left where it was stuck a hundred yards from my cabin. In the morning my neighbor Roy (I hope) will rescue it with his big tractor. In my defense, I tried to get it unstuck for half an hour before chalking it up as a loss. Lesson 32,784 learned: the 2WD Ranger is a three season work horse.

The last two days have been focused on Finn. I brought him to work with me yesterday in hopes I could deliver him to his foster home on my lunch break. In preparation I turned the entire back section of the station wagon into a small barn stall. While the storm raged outside my goat lay quietly in his small den of hay, chewing cud and watching the storm from his warm front-row seat. Every so often I'd walk out to check on him, give him water or walk him on lead to stretch his legs, but he seemed to have other plans. Every time I came out to walk him he'd leap back inside and curl up in his nest. I didn't fight it. I'd wrap my scarf around my neck, dig my chin into my chest, and shiver and walk back inside myself. (I think Finn had the right idea there...)

When I got back inside I emailed his foster home, trying to make plans for the drop off. After a few back-and-forths both Abi and I agreed risking death to deliver livestock in a blizzard was a bad idea. So our plans were postponed till today. I won one last night with my goat.

When the work day was over the storm had passed and the temperature rose to nearly 40 degrees. The office parking lot was shining under the street lights, and not a single person was around when I returned to my car. I opened the hatch and watched him yawn and stand up. I snapped the lead to his collar. Together we walked in the perfect stillness of the corporate blacktop. A girl and her goat, in the glow of a street lamp, walking side by side in a weird place. This lasted moments but will stick with me the rest of my life: these days when the farm and my job melted into beautiful gasps of saturated instances like this. I wanted someone to see us, because it must have looked comical, then realized it was better alone. That was for him and me and it wasn't funny at all. It was goodbye.

When we got back to the cabin I let him leap out the back of the station wagon and knew the next time I would let him leap out of my car, it would be when I was bringing him to my new farmhouse. That sliver of my future was barely tasted, but understood. I have learned the subtle divinations a small farm grants us, not in tea leaves or tarot cards, but in the split second a goat jumps from the back of a beat up car. The whole world's in there I think—between the hairs and flash of black horn.

Finn went away today. He's in the loving and capable hands of Abi and Greg and their three children. I took him there on my lunch and let him run around the enclosure with two suspicious pacas. I could only stay a few moments, but that was best. When we started to leave the yard and Finn ran after me to follow me inside. My heart cracked a little at the fault lines. I waited till he was lost in close inspection of a dryer vent blowing warm air outside the house to slip away.

I cried on the drive back to work, half out of sadness for feeling like I abandoned him, and half out of gratitude for the kindness of his new family. The collateral damage from knowing I have to sink or swim is starting to wear me down and build me up at the same time. I'm treading water like never before, and feel like someone punched me in the jaw. I white-knuckled the steering wheel and promised myself I'd get my farm and get him back. He was going to jump out of this car again, no question.

No one tells you this stuff when you buy goat care books at Borders.

I spent most of the day fretting about Finn. Worried he'd be too much for the alpacas, that they'd reject him from their small herd. Or worse, that he'd head butt a toddler or eat the house paint. But tonight when I checked my email I found this:

Hi Jenna :)

I just panicked b/c I couldn't find Finn outside. So Greg went out to look for him and we couldn't see him because he was wedged between two Alpaca Fleeces! Snug and cozy in the hot middle! Lucky little guy!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

watercolor update

Just wanted to check in and update you folks on the watercolors. I have painted five, started three more, mailed three, and more are on the way. I can't do them as fast as I thought, and last week I didn't paint any (due to the fiasco). But now I'm back in my groove and wanted you folks to know I haven't forgotten you, and if you asked for one you can expect it in the next few weeks. I would like to have them done by Christmas. Thank you again, for all of you who took part in this. I also have a few just floating around I may post and see if anyone is interested in giving a home.

what a storm...

40 mph winds, 6+ inches, horrid roads, and a goat in the back of my Subaru...

more tonight.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

the red kettle and big plans

The snow that fell here Saturday night never melted. Outside a thin inch still coats the farm. Only the hundred tiny triangles of goose feet line the path between the coop and the cabin porch. It feels like winter is finally here. In the mornings I have to fill up the red kettle with water and let it whistle before I can go outside. I use the hot steaming kettle to melt the ice on the bird font and Finn's bucket. I learned that Finn will chug cold water and start to shake from the influx. Like how you and I get the chills after eating icecream on a cool night. So I pour hot water in with the cold from the outside faucet and let him drink luke warm water from the big white bucket. Maybe this is babying him: but no one should start their day shaking. Saturday I plan on taking him to his foster home long as Abi and Greg oblige it. I'm really going to miss this little guy around here.

But like so many of you have noticed, this is good. All this business since Thanksgiving has given me some beautiful tunnel vision. My head is down and I'm working hard towards this goal of having my own farm by late spring. So far I've talked with financial advisors, realtors, mortgage lenders and neighbors. The town of Sandgate knows I'm looking. Word is out, homework is being done, credit cards are being paid off and information is coming at me from every direction. I believe this will happen. I'm just not completely sure how yet...

There are a few places for sale in town but the only one in my possible price range is right on the road with once acre. It doesn't feel right. Specially when for a little more there are places scattered all over eastern New York and other parts of Vermont with 5+ acres. I found a 144 year old farmhouse across the state line in Jackson NY with 6.5 acres, a barn, pasture...the works! Knowing these places are around, even if they aren't or can't be mine yet, is comforting. I just have to hope that soon my life and finances will be in order. If the world can offer me something simple, something humble, I will make it into an empire. A small house and three acres with these god, I could make that place sing! Mark my words. If I get my own place. There will be lambs.

Keep me in your thoughts. I'm not all that superstitious, but I do think if enough good intentions can focus, amazing things can happen. I mean, crikey, today I got a Christmas card from France. FRANCE!? Someone in France is thinking about this cabin and thought to mail me a card? I read it in the headlights of my truck and just grinned like an idiot. If friends who have yet to meet me an ocean away are keeping Cold Antler in their thoughts, maybe some locals around here with hints about houses and land may be too. I'm just going to keep my head up, nose clean, bills paid and do what I have to do. I'll sell the truck, all my instruments, whatever it takes. This girl is getting her home. Hers and no one else's.

When I'm ready the right place will be available, right? It'll happen?

alan and suzanne's new sign!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

a snowy potluck

I got to the potluck sometime around 4:45. The line of trucks and Subarus outside let me know I wasn't alone. It had been snowing for a few hours and Town Hall was covered in proof. I parked, grabbed my pie, and walked inside. Any tension I may have been carrying from earlier in the day came off with my insulated vest. I hung it on the coat rack and took a long look at the scene. Inside the place was full of children running around, a decorated tree, and adults setting up the covered dishes. There was hot coffee (which I gravitated to like a moth to the flame) and familiar faces everywhere. Alan, my neighbor (and fellow musher) was there in a santa hat. He called me yesterday to remind me about the potluck and I was glad he did. How could I have missed this? I walked over with my pie and told him about my day and all the news I had about my place. He told me about their new sled dog, Tarot.

When I moved to Vermont the Tschorns' had one dog, a little coyote look-alike named Nina. Three winters later and now they have six. Six dogs and a dog box built on the back of their truck, a dogsled, and a Siberian Husky now graces the sign of the family business in Arlington. He showed me video of running a cart on the train tracks earlier in the week with a giant team. He showed this to me like grandparents show baby pictures. Allan's love of his dogs, and his new sport, makes him and his wife Suzanne glow.

As I mingled and shook hands with neighbors. When I wasn't talking I'd stop to and look around the walls of our small meeting place. Photos of men working with horses in the field, maps of the town lines, photographs of the old matriarchs and patriarchs of our village, lined the wood paneling. And here I was in a snow fall, after a long day with friends, and ending it with a hot meal in community celebration. There's feeling lucky, there's feeling blessed, and then there's being a resident of Sandgate Vermont. Why would ever I want to live anywhere else?

Then a knock on the door and a ringing of sleigh bells! Santa came inside in full regalia and walked around the entire room shaking hands and ho ho hoing. The little kids looked up in awe. The older kids smiled, probably remembering what the whole thing was like when they were four. Santa took a seat under the tree and parents lined up with their kids for wishlists and goodie bags. I sat in a folding chair in the back, spectating.

Those of us without children made the night social. I talked with my friends Phil and Marybeth. Phil plays guitar in my open mic night band along with Steve (who you remember from the death of Chuck Klosterman). I also got to meet some neighbors I didn't really know all that well before, like Joan and Valerie. Valerie, a local farmer a few decades older than me, talked sheep and animals with me and when I mentioned I was looking for my own farm in town her ears perked up. I told her I wanted to become a permanent resident she replied in a stoic, Vermonter kinda of way. "Good. We want people like you around here." and then returned to the business of pork roast and sautéed potatoes. I tried not to bust into a grin. It was like being stamped and approved at Ellis Island.

We all sang Christmas Carols with Santa and waved him goodbye and he walked out into the snow. Kids ran around inside and out. A local farmer handed everyone a gift of a dozen brown eggs and I gave my goodbye hugs and headed home. I had nothing planned for the evening but Ken Burn's National Parks Disc One, but damn, I was excited to get back to the cabin. Events like this make me feel lucky to have landed here...I know my future's a little shaky right now—but god willing I'll be able to buy some of this place in the spring, even if it's two acres for my three sheep and a garden. I want to show up to Town Meeting next year voting on the road crew and budget as a tax-paying, home-owning, resident.

And if I'm at that town meeting, you can rest assured I'll motion it's followed by a potluck. There just aren't enough of them.

sunday community brunch

Next weekend I'll be in Manchester for sure, doing laundry and errands and such. I was thinking with so many readers in the local area, we should get together. Want to have a CAF meet-up at the Northshire Bookstore? Nothing formal, just coffee and talking. They have good local food and we can get together to talk about our interests in homesteading, talk about farm issues, or just laugh with caffeine. It'll be warm and toasty in there and we can bring knitting, photos, or fiddles that need tuning. I think it'll be fun and a nice break from all the crazy holiday shopping and running around going on in town. So if you want to get together, let's meet at the bookstore in Manchester at noon next Sunday (RSVP in the comments please). No requirements to own chickens or a cow to attend.

lamb's first snow

Saturday, December 5, 2009

orphans and alpacas

I woke up early, or early for a Saturday anyway. I was done with chores and on the road by 8AM. I was on a mission to load up the Ford with hay before any weather hit. As I drove I turned up the heat and opened the windows, letting that air hit me and move my ponytails around. Southern Vermont smelled like snow, like something was in the works. I stopped at the Sherman's General store in West Rupert for a cup of coffee and read the poster board outside sharing all the trophy bucks and scores. A few hunters were inside warming up from scenting in the morning. Everyone seemed excited about the snow, and the coffee. I was among them.

After the hay was unloaded I filled the bed with my trash bags and headed to the dump. (One of the charms of rural living is no trash pick up. That's a small price to pay, far as I'm concerned.) Jazz was deep into round two of his morning nap, so Annie jumped in the front seat for a ride into town. When we returned to the farm we were met by a big silver truck. A man came out with a silver badge and announced he was Animal Control. I didn't roll my eyes, but wanted to. I wasn't worried in the least and Annie and I walked right up to him and shook hands.

He went on to explain that someone had filed a complaint about how I take care of my animals. They told him my rabbits were in too small of cages, the goat was suffering, no one had bedding, there was feces everywhere and I keep my dogs in cages all day. (That last one was especially hard to swallow with Annie sitting happily by my side.) He told me I had nothing to worry about. He said he checked out the entire property and my animals and their homes were in great shape, that the complaint was ridiculous and the case would be closed. He actually used the word pristine to describe my animals' living conditions and overall health compared to some places he has to visit.

We talked for a long time. He was a really kind man, a retired police officer and seemed to be tired of having to seek out complaints like this. He said over 60% of reports about farm animals come from people without farm animals. That a lot of activists call because they don't understand why a goat would live differently than a labrador. I asked for a copy of his detailed report so I had it on file. He told me he'd gladly mail it and gave me a contact number in case I ever need to get in touch with him again. He then shook my hand, wished me a Merry Christmas, and told me people who complain about nothing and waste the state's resources should be fined. I liked him.

The state of Vermont officially recognizes me as "not a crappy person". I'm framing that report when I get it.

After my meeting with the Officer, I packed up Bean Blossom and her hutch and drove her to Shaftsbury. I was taking her to her new home with a friend I met through Storey Publishing. Mel, an amazing woman, was taking in my orphans. She not only adopted both of my angoras but all of my goslings. Her son Ben (possibly the kindest twelve-year-old boy I ever met) was thrilled to take Bean into his arms. I had already delivered the buck and the geese earlier in the week—this was the last trip to hand over livestock. I try not to think about what's happening when I'm doing this. If I think I get angry. I'm as far from perfect as you get.

As I waved goodbye and pulled out of her farm's driveway, it was starting to flurry. I had a warm loaf of wheat bread given to me as road food, and bit into it as I drove off. I was famished. I chewed my bread and watched the weather turn. The snow was a welcomed sign of cheer. I was feeling validated after the animal-control incident and happy knowing my animals were in such good hands. The snow felt like personal applause for the kismet.

I was now heading to Bennington to meet up with Abi and Greg, local readers of CAF who offered to foster Finn for me. They invited me into their home, which they were selflessly offering to my kid as well. The reason for the drop in was to allow me to check out their digs before I brought the goat to reside. You know, to make sure I was happy with it. Of course I was. These folks were amazing.

I never met this couple before, but at first hug right inside the front door I felt like Abi and I shared a college dorm. We talked over coffee while their adorable children ran around with their black cat, Obi. They told me their stories about buying property, and the ups and downs of it all. The whole time I couldn't stop thinking how damn lucky I was to have people like this watching over Finn. Their two-year-old daughter offered me a piece of Mandarin orange, and I instantly thought of horns. I reminded them to watch the young ones around Finn. Not because he would hurt them, but a quick turn could cause a black eye. The chances are slight, but it felt like the responsible thing to bring up. I hope with all my heart it works out for us all.

Then they introduced me to their pair of yearling Alpacas. Oh. My. God. I never was up close and personal with Alpacas before and was instantly smitten. They were hilarious, quirky, gentle and calm all at the same time. They took grain right from my hand and had these giant camel eyes that made me think of cartoon princesses. I won't be changing my fate from sheep to Peru's Best anytime soon, but I can see myself adding one or two to my flock some day. What dolls, them.

I made it home just in time to pick up an apple pie at Wayside and head over to the Sandgate Christmas Potluck. It was so wonderful. Any doubt I had about leaving this town melted away. The people, the history, the farmers, the fact we all sang with Santa as the snow fell outside in thick chunks—all of it perfect. I'll write more about it soon, but know that my hearts all filled up tonight—packed to capacity. And now I'm going to listen to what's going on in Lake Wobegon, drink my hot chocolate, and call it a night.

potluck tonight!

Big day today, so much has happened. It included hay lofts, a trip to the dump, an animal control officer, and a pair of alpacas (not mine, a friend's). I'll post more soon. I just wanted to drop a note sharing how excited I am for the Christmas Potluck tonight in our Town Hall, and to share the awesome sign at the Yellow Farmhouse. It's snowing right now and the farm is covered in a blanket of white. Tonigh is going to be amazing, I can feel it in my bones.

A reader emailed me today to tell me how distasteful it was "asking" for donations to buy a farm. I would like to make it clear that I have never asked anyone, ever, to donate money to the farm fund, including this week. This recent flurry of charity was not something I started (though I damn well appreciate) and besides one small graphic link on the right hand side of this blog, there has never been a single post asking for money. The paypal link was there because a while ago readers requested it as a simple way to help pay for chicken feed or aid the dream if they felt the desire. However, if this now offends a herd of people, I will take it down.

Now, with that said, what I have done is posted small fundraising ideas like auctions, watercolors, and workshops as ways to earn extra savings, but I don't consider such an exchange distasteful. I want to be clear I am not demanding anything from my readers, nor asking. This story is free. This blog is free. And I do not want to come across as such a person.

I've had enough of misconceptions for one week, thank you.

Friday, December 4, 2009

another book!

I'm pleased to finally announce I'll have another book out next year! I can't get into any detail, but I will say it's about chickens, and once again it's being published by the fine people at Storey. I just recently handed in the manuscript and I can honestly say I haven't seen another book on the subject quite like it. I'll let you know more as more details become public, but for now I can share that it's in the works and long as things go as planned, there will be two Woginrich titles in your neighborhood bookstore.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

we're not from around here

We're not from around here. I know you see us all the time, but trust me, we're from someplace else. We may have lived our whole lives right next door to you, but we left quite some time ago. We found another place and it suits us just fine.

It's not far or hard to get to. Chances are you pass it all the time when you're driving too fast to work or throwing another frozen dinner in the shopping cart. You can't get to us that way. We aren't there.

We're the ones in the next aisle buying yeast, flour, sugar, and coffee. We buy provisions, not groceries. We learned that food tastes better when you grow it yourself. We started with just a few recipes then learned to chew at a trot and now the idea of Lunchables and drive-thru hamburgers makes us tilt our heads a little. We're not above them, not by a long shot, we just don't have those where we're from. Or maybe we did and forgot about them? I can't remember. It's easy to forget about such things when you hop the fence to go where we went. There just isn't a lot of shrink-wrapped circular ham there.

We're from another place. It's just like yours but the naps are better. We came for a bunch of different reasons but we sort of set up shop in the same community. It's not a physical location, of course. (It's much better than that.) It's a place in our actions, our decisions, our conversations, our hope. It's a place in our hobbies, our skills, our secret desire to know what a warm egg feels like in lanolin-wet palms. It doesn't matter where we came from or who we were before, this new place kinda took us all in and showed us how to calm the hell down. What? You're confused? Oh, well, you probably saw us there and just didn't realize it. Remember when we didn't pick up the phone (even after twenty rings) because we were in the garden? Or that time we gave up a weekend to make a chicken coop? Or last Saturday when we spent the whole day at that indoor farmer's market talking to the people at the wool booth we'd never met before, but felt like we knew while you kept telling us the movie was starting in thirty minutes... That's where we left to go. Sorry we missed the previews, we were talking to our neighbors.

You can spot us pretty easy. Our men aren't afraid of facial hair and our women have been known to grab goats by the horns. Our children go barefoot, so do we. We're the quieter ones, in the corner, feet propped up on a second-hand coffee table in a fourth-hand wool sweater. That's one of us, right ober there, see him? The one with the guitar slung over his back, and the black dog following his bike? See him now? He's the one with the saddle bags on the back wheel overflowing with a half bushel of tomatoes. No, he's not a tomatoes fetishist, he's canning today. He'll be eating fresh organic marinara in January pulled off the larder shelf. He'll let the black dog lick his plate when he's done. Yes, I'm sure. He's from where I'm from. We know our own.

See, where we come from people aren't scared of dirt—not even mildly abashed by it. My people will spend an entire August morning with a potato patch. We'll also spend an entire October night in front of a bonfire with some home brew and guitars. My people know how to darn a sock and bake a loaf of bread. They know how to cast on and be cast away. Sure, we'll join you for dinner in a restaurant, but we'll probably opt for pasta. Where we come from food animals know what sunlight feels like and have felt grass under their hooves. We don't eat the animals from your place. We saw what they saw before they died.

We're not from around here, but you'll see us everywhere. We're walking down the streets of Montreal, Chicago, Seattle, and L.A. We're waiting for a Taxi on the Lower East Side. We're mucking out the chicken coop, chatting at the farm stand, jumping on the back of our horses and riding the L. We're everywhere and right next to you all the time, but we left that place and now we're gone. None of us are going back. We thought about it. It passed.

HOOOO! You should see this place. Man, it's so beautiful. I mean a Wednesday afternoon at 3:47 is fall-down-the-stairs stunning. We learned to see this. We watched the fireflies come out on the porch and missed the new CSI. Truthfully, we barely look at the television anymore. It's a side effect of the new place—there's just so much to do and we're scared if we let ourselves get distracted we'll miss the fireflies. We can only take so much tragedy, you see.

And hey, this place we went to—it's yours too. To be perfectly honest we're getting a little tired waiting for you to show up. Yeah, what you heard is true. The work is hard and the hours long, but I promise it's the best quiche you'll ever taste and the coffee is wicked good. When you're ready we'll show you how to hop the fence like we did. It starts with a mason jar or a day-old chick in your palm and the roadmap kinda unfolds from there. Somewhere past the cloth diapers and the raw milk we're hanging out, yes there, over past the used trucks and beat tractors. See the bikes and carts along the barn? Keep going and you'll find us.

We know when you start coming to our place you'll get it. You won't want to go either. And hey, we'll wait, because we've got another saddle in the barn. We planted an extra row of beans. We put aside a few spare jars of tomato sauce and let the hens know there's more breakfasts on the way. We'll make room. There's always a place for you at the table.

(And just between you and me, If you want to get on the black dog's good side, let him lick your plate...)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

land on all fours

I am fairly certain my days are numbered here at the cabin. Over the past few days I've been in touch with neighbors and trying to get in touch with my landlord. I took the whole day off from work yesterday to be available to meet her and she never showed until late at night, I tried to meet with her today and she was busy. I wrote an eight page letter explaining my love for the property, care for the animals, and even offered to buy it. It doesn't matter. I get the impression she never wanted this land to be used for agriculture but allowed me to do it and now regrets her decisions. I already have found a new home/foster for Finn, the rabbits, and the goslings. I think (but am not sure) that is all that has to leave right now.

The silver lining is how much this has motivated me to buy my own place. Over the past few days the emails, comments, phone calls, and help have been amazing. I actually read some of the emails from readers crying, both because I was so touched and because everything I thought was okay is being changed on me. I broke down in Wayside crying to the owners because everything has been falling apart. The up side is so many people are pulling for me, want to see me land on all fours. Thank you so much for your concern, emails, favors, offers, and so much more.

I am announcing right now that I am on track to get my own place. Probably won't have to leave my current location till spring (I hope), but in the meantime I will be scrimping, saving, repairing old debts and getting myself approved for a mortgage for my next home. The people who have been sending little donations my way, have been adding up and I am taking the lump sum from my readers, to the very last penny, and using that to open a special savings account just for a down payment. I'm going to walk into my bank, start up that new account, hand the bank the check and say. "I'm going to buy a farm." Done.

We're going to get through this.

Monday, November 30, 2009

the rabbits too...

I need to find an adoptive home for my breeding pair of angora rabbits if the breeder I contacted does not want them as barter.(Originally it was agreed that a kit would be exchanged for the adoption of Joseph, I am trying to see if she'll accept the pregnant doe.) If she does not want the doe, Bean Blossom and Benjamin will need a new home. Ben will be shorn and have his short coat, but Bean is in full wool coat. Both come with pedigrees and are free to a good home. Email me if you are interested.

This is not a good week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

a very sad night

Without going into any detail: I regret to announce that I need to find a new home for Finn. It's a long story, but out of my control. It was not my decision. If anyone out there in the New England area wants a trained, kind, wether please email me at He is free to the right home. Finn is not disbudded, but is leash trained and started pack training and was doing wonderfully. He'd be a spriteful and fun addition to any herd. He is up to date on rabies and tetanus shots and as far as I know has no allergies or issues.

This has me very upset. I cared for him very much.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

i miss the farm when i'm away

Friday, November 27, 2009

true vintage

I spent the whole day in a shopping mall with my sister. Usually a day in a mall would be hell, but I found out that the Lehigh Valley Mall has recently added a Guitar Center, and that means one thing to me...I get to play my dream guitar. The whole day of lines, traffic, and yelling children was worth it for that alone. That's me picking away. My sister snapped the photo with her iphone. (Who knew a homesteader could be so happy in a crowded shopping center retail store?) For a few minutes the whole world melted away and it was just me and that soft-shouldered wonder. If you think I'm using dramatic license—you never played one.

The Gibson J-45 is a piece of American history. A gorgeous tobacco sunburst jumbo developed in the mid 40s. It's dark, like me. It's non-electric, like me. And just holding one in my grabby paws made me smile more than I did on prom night. I was smiling because I was playing was the guitar that blues legends, folk singers, and old-time crooners picked alike. It was the dark horse that saw the death of a World War, the birth of a rock & roll, and became the soundtrack to a social revolution. It was there to watch the entire shift in western culture happen. It was in studio apartments in SoHo during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was in the back of dusty trucks in Iowa for the moon landing. It was there to see the Civil Rights Movement and probably strapped to the back of those who marched. She's just been here, all along. Watching us happen and playing the soundtrack along the way. I think the world of her.

Someday I will own one. It'll be older, probably a model from the 60's, but perfect. She'll sit in my future farmhouse and dance in the dusty sunbeams in my barn. She'll be the harmony to my own voice at late night bonfires where my border collies circle the flames like happy sharks. She'll be the avatar of "I made it."

But right now, like so many things, she's a pipe dream. A vintage J-45 costs more than my truck and finding one in good condition in a pawn shop cheap is near impossible. But every week I hunt eBay and look on Craigslist for my lucky break. I carry her picture in my wallet. I wear a small black Gibson charm around my neck. I hope. She's the guitar that is Jenna and I'll call her mine someday, this I am certain.

You know, it's not about owning some fancy possession. It's about becoming a part of that history. It's knowing that you're making music for yourself on all of our collective nostalgia: regardless if we realize it or not. Some day I will play that guitar and lean back into warm arms and know it is exactly where I belong. It won't happen soon, and it won't be easy, but it'll be worth it. When I figure out how to get there I'll let you know.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

happy thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from Northeastern Pennsylvania! I'm here taking a small vacation from the farm and enjoying a couple of days with the other Woginriches. Neighbors and friends are watching the farm so I can be with my family, and I can not thank them enough. Jazz, Annie, and my parent's dog, Melvin, are enjoying the abundance of food falling on the kitchen floor from all the cooking goings-on. I already baked two quiches and two loaves of bread. This evening I'll bake some apple pies and my Tofurkey. No dog nor human will go hungry today. Impossible.

Alas, no Thanksgiving birds were raised on my farm this season—that was a whole big thing last year. But I thought I'd post a photo of TD anyway from last October. He really was a table bird to be proud of. Incidentally, Chuck Klosterman is in that photo as well. Now he's in my freezer. (Not to be crass, but I'm damn thankful for that particular relocation.)

My father has made the Woginrich family traditional long-neck white squash pie which is AMAZING. The evening will be a fire in the den with the family's four large dogs (two goldens and my two huskies) and we'll do what we do every year: Star Wars Thanksgiving. The Woginrich kids have always watched all three original Star Wars movies after dinner, marathon style. This is done with many, many slices of pie. I can't wait.

It's great to be surrounded by my family—which is hilarious and sarcastic. My brother John and Sister Kate are here roaming around, and friends come and go throughout the day. I forgot how much I missed them.... I think help is needed peeling apples, so I'm going to bolt. But I wanted to check in wish all you guys a Happy Thanksgiving.

photo by Sara Stell

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

new cover for the paperback!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

a lot of pie

I have baked ten pies since Sunday night. That's a lot of pie. It's especially a lot of pie when you work a full time job, tend a full-time farm, and are trying to prepare for the holidays ahead. I thought selling apple pies for Thanksgiving would be a surefire way to make some cash to help with travel expenses. It was, and I'm grateful, but two hours of baking late at night has left me drained. I'm used to the last hours before bed being dedicated to reading, music, sitting...just unwinding from it all. I can farm all day and be totally refreshed if I get my nightly ritual of relaxation. I can do nothing but nap all day and then end it with chores and feel beaten as a junkyard dog. I'd complain more, but it's a silly thing to do.

I'm glad to report the last two are cooling on the rack as I type, and will be delivered to my final customer tomorrow. Each pie had a sugar-top crust with a turkey strutting across the top. Despite all the extra efforts and nights gone to sleep with crust in my hair—they looked good. I'm also happy knowing a few families here in Vermont will be having a slice of Jenna pie after their Thanksgiving dinners. Makes me feel a little more part of this place.

The goslings are doing well. All five are squeaking away, I can hear them even with the bathroom door shut. The cabin smells of wood smoke and pie and I'm properly tired after the day. I'm very much looking forward to a long stretch, a warm bed, and a morning met with hot coffee and cold noses.

Oh, in case I don't write you before Thursday morning, Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hey ho, let's go.

I went to college in Kutztown, Pennsylvania at the State University of the same name. It's located halfway between Philadelphia and Lancaster in an agricultural valley better known for its quilts and produce stands then design graduates—but I received a hell of an education there and think back on my time spent there fondly. Kutzotwn had a large Mennonite/Amish community and on Sunday mornings it was like going back in time. You'd wake up in your apartment overlooking Main Street and hear the trotting of horses heading to services. Late at night the Amish kids (whom I'm pretty sure were coming home from parties wilder than anything we English could pull off) raced down the hill on their bicycles. They could fly. I'd never seen happier teenagers in my life.

I found this picture hidden in my iPhoto files today. It's from 2004, taken my senior year of classes. It's an Amish kid's buggy parked outside the college record store. I remember looking at it with joy while waiting in my red Jetta parked outside the CVS for my friend Kevin to return to the car—secretly wanting to slap a Ramones sticker on the orange triangle on the back. I contained myself.

When I took this photo I was planning on living in Philadelphia. I wanted a loft in Rittenhouse Square. As you know, Cold Antler Farm is a long ways off from center city Philly. Knowing how it all ended up: I can't help but wonder if the local agricultural communities from Kutztown planted the seed in my mind? I do remember always turning my head and feeling a bit of envy when the buggies went by—not so much for being Amish (fairly certain my general attitude would have me shunned in about 27 days...) but for the scaled down ways of living. The animals. The food. The certainty. If I could have a stable under my apartment in Rittenhouse square, I'd do so in a second. And now here I am trying to plan for a future where saddling up my Fell pony to check on the lambs in the south field is my new reality. Or will be, eventually.

I'm pretty sure I was always the same person, the compass needle just needed proper adjusting. Looking at this photo of the buggy outside the record store now perfectly sums me up. The only difference being my Fell pony cart will certainly have that Ramones sticker on the back, and I'll trot him back to the farm, ipod blaring. Hey ho, let's go.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

me and jazz

it's not all work

It's Saturday morning and I just wanted to check in to make a very specific point: homesteading isn't all work. This morning I am sitting here with a hot mug of coffee, quilts on my lap, a Civil War documentary on screen, and enjoying the company of my wolves in a warm cabin. I can still hear the occasional cracking charcoal from last night's fireplace. Inside the pit the ash is all black, but if I kicked up the coals I could light it again with some kindling and warm this place up beyond bliss. The sheep are out in their pasture. They're strutting around eating the last of the green grass and eating their new mineral block and hay. Finn is on his chain, chomping dead leaves and nickering at Juno (my neighbor Ed's fast, fast dog). The bathroom door is shut, and inside are the five goslings in a cardboard box under a warm light. All made it through the night. I slept in till 7.

I had a breakfast of eggs and will soon be on my second cup of coffee. From the living room I can hear a hen on the porch just outside the cabin door. I can't see who it is, but I'm guessing it's one of the ruddy production birds I got from the Poultry Swap this past May. They sound different, trill their clucks. To know a chicken by voice is a weird place to find oneself a few years out of design school....

Don't get me wrong, there is work to do this weekend. A lot of work. I need to buy some hay, write a few thousand words, run errands in town, clean out the goat pen... the list goes on and on. But there is also a lot of time to kick back and just enjoy this little empire I made from my own rib. Time for things like coffee sweetened with a dollop of ice cream (I ran out of creamer) and the Siege of Atlanta. Possibly a few rounds of Down in the Willow Gardens on the Banjo. (I am a woman who loves a good waltz.) So here in my wool socks and heavy sweater, in a cabin hidden at the end of the world, I'll grab my 5-string and prop my feet up and smile. It's not all work on this farm. A lot of this life is paying attention and enjoying the food along the way. If that means the occasional black and blue mark and feeding animals in the rain—fine by me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

it's generally pretty good

When I woke up this morning it was pouring. I'm talking angry, hard, rain. The kind of downpour that does not allow for rain drops—just a wall of water. Hearing that at 4:45 AM, and knowing an entire farm is waiting for you to feed it, is not a comforting sound. I snuggled deeper inside the pile of quilts, pillows, and Siberian Huskies that make my bed. FIve. More. Minutes.

Then I remembered the goslings. Knowing they were in the corner of the coop under Saro listening to this screaming rain made me jump out of bed. I was excited to see them. I threw on my farm clothes, (which means layers of long-sleeved tee shirts, flannels, beat jeans and a heavy wool sweater pulled over my head for good measure). I stopped buying and wearing polar fleece a while ago. When you live with sheep it feels like a space suit.

I went out in the rain under cover of lantern light and checked on my new mother. As I entered the hen house, Cyrus rose up from his slumber, flapping his wings. Two years ago this would have made me nervous, but I know these animals better than my cousins. Toulouse ganders have an impressive wingspan, almost four feet. He hissed and honked like a worried dad. I turned on the coop light and went to check under Saro for the babies.

Now, this wasn't easy. I had to use the lid of the metal garbage can that holds the chicken feed as a shield from Cyrus. Then take my chances with Saro, trying to feel under her and get her to stand up so I could take a fresh count. I pulled off the highwire act and got a new score....FIVE! Now five of her eggs were beautiful, perfect, gray goslings. (Actually, more of a yellow/green but breathtaking to behold.) I picked up one and leaned my back against the wall of the coop. He was clean, soft, so new. He chirped and nuzzled his head into the wool of my sweater. I pulled him close to my heart and whispered him welcome. Yes, I understand that whispering to goslings in a rainstorm isn't exactly normal. But it was such a new part of the day, and such a new life, that talking loudly felt harsh and not saying anything felt wrong. So I whispered to him all Iknew so far.

I told him it's a pretty good world out there. Sometimes it hurts, but it's generally pretty good.

I hit up Tractor Supply on my lunch break. I had called in advance to make sure they still carried brooder supplies in November. (They did.) The clerk on the phone asked why I wanted a heat lamp and chick feeders and I explained I had five new goslings to bring up into this cold world. He said congratulations and told me to bring a box of cigars when I came to buy my stuff. I liked him instantly.

Now it's evening and I'm spending my Friday night being a stay-at-home grandmother. I have the five new kids in a cardboard box in the bathroom and they're currently chirping away under the glow of the heat lamp. Saro seemed fine with letting them go, she's still sitting on her last two eggs and hoping to hatch those as well. Part of me felt bad removing the goslings, but the reality of the situation took over. No new baby without insulating feathers as going to survive tomorrow night when the temperature dropped to 30 degrees. They'd have a good chance if they stayed under Saro, but all it would take to die would be simple separation in the dark. Goslings aren't meant to be raised in winter. This was a fluke. So to ensure every bird gets a fair shot at the world, I brought them inside and to take care of them the proven ways I already know. This small hatching is the first batch to be born at Cold Antler. We've had bunnies, yes, but never any poultry. I was really proud of my pair for pulling this off. Cyrus and Saro have not only fulfilled their purpose in the world—they just proved to me how good of a team they really are.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

we have goslings!!!

Came home from work today to find three healthy goslings under Saro's wing! She still has two more eggs there, unhatched, but what a rush to scoop up this small life into my hands and know it's here only because I set up the circumstances. The mother is doing well, and if anyone is looking for a pair of French farm geese...inquire here. More soon...

...after a long day of antiquing

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

full circle

Don't get excited, Saro hasn't hatched any eggs hatch yet. This is Cyrus as a babe. Someone had asked in the comments of the last post if the chick in my hand was a gosling—so I am posting a photo of my gander at about two-weeks-old. As you can see, even at a tender age, a gosling is definitely not a chicken. I took this photo May of 2008. Only 18 months have passed since then and now my little goslings of that spring are on the road to parenthood.... (Talk about full circle). If eggs do hatch there will be a brooder box this Thanksgiving! Which means while most people are enjoying turkey: I may be hosting geese.

Monday, November 16, 2009

two hands

My hands are not pretty. They're calloused and scared, scratched and worn. I don't know anything about palmistry, but the lines are long and deep . As I write this I can look down and see a black smudge on my knuckle. I lifted the hood of my truck to find out where to pour transmission fluid and got them all dirty. Not all of it washed away in the sink. My pinkie is missing a circle of skin where a piece of firewood took it yesterday. Another scratch crosses the back of my right hand. It's still bright red, fresh from a sharp thin stick that was hiding in the hay. I forgot to wear gloves and that was the price. My nails are all bitten down from stress. Without thinking I bite them while fretting about work and deadlines and someday-mortgages. My fingertips on my left hand are hard from guitar and fiddle strings. My wrists are sore from the mouse I design with all day. When I crack my knuckles it is so loud the dogs lift their heads. I just found a splinter.

My hands are not pretty. They haven't seen polish in years. That's okay. They do good work and run this small farm. They might make a manicurist cringe, but they feed a small empire, chop firewood, plant corn, scoop grains, drive that truck and play an old fiddle. I roll my eyes at the cringing. I'm over it. Sometimes a choice takes a few small sacrifices. I gave up on pretty hands. I turned them in for beautiful ones.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

maude in the fog

backs to the wind

It's been wet, windy, and unseasonably warm here in southern Vermont. The nights are no cooler than 40 degrees and the days are all rain and bluster. The state turned gray and some of my prize pumpkins rotted where they were drying on the once cold porch. Things are changing. I wonder if it's the calm before the real winter hits? Perhaps in a few weeks there will be a coating of ice or snow on this cabin?

While out doing errands I pulled over and snapped this photo of the horses at the Yellow Farmhouse. The small band winters there every year and I pass them and their wooly coats every time I drive down the mountain into town. They all had their backs to the wind and ignored me. I didn't blame them, I felt bad for them. It was a day to be on straw in a barn, not standing in mud in the rain.

I felt bad because I didn't understand yet.

See, yesterday at dusk, while doing my evening chores, something strange happened. It was around 4 and I had just finished refreshing all the bedding in the sheep and goat pens. I wanted my livestock to have a dry, warm, place to retreat on this miserable day. My body was warm from the effort, so to cool down I walked into the chicken coop to collect eggs and re-line the nest boxes with new straw. I was only inside the coop a few minutes. But when I emerged I saw something so peculiar I dropped one of the eggs in my hands. It bounced on the straw at my feet and rolled to the edge of the garden fence.

The farm was veiled in a thick, white mist. It lifted out of nothing and was moving fast across the pasture. At first I thought my glasses had fogged up, so I removed them and wiped the lenses clean, but when I placed them back on my nose it was as I originally saw it. Everything was shrouded over in this white stratus. It smelled clean, not like smoke. There wasn't any smoke around, no chimneys lit nearby—just the fog. The sheep ran into their pen and the goat nickered and I was just stunned by it all. I stood and watched it like a calm ghost was passing by. It sounds creepy, and it was, but it was so beautiful. Then I realized the wind moving the fog was behind me. Like the horses in the field, my back was too the wind too.

Later that night the temperature rose and harder rain came. The mist must have been the hollow getting new air pressure and dealing with the sudden collision of air masses. It's not often people get to watch change happen like that, right in front of them. Usually we just deal with the result: missing out on the beauty of the process. But today I witnessed everything evolving around me. It was magical. A little scary, but magical. And because of this I understood the rain better at night.

You can be scared of what's happening to you, because at first it's so uncomfortable—or you can step back and take it at face value. Had I not chosen a life that forces me to be outside all the time I would have been inside my own shelter, oblivious to the changes around me. I don't want to be a passive character in my own life anymore. I want to watch the big show, even the scary parts. Farming is teaching me more about the world than I ever thought possible. Please don't ever make me turn back to that old life. I don't think I was really alive before. I barely knew the world then. I'm just starting to learn him now.

I watched the fog with my back to the wind and like the horses I didn't want the barn.