Monday, January 11, 2010

voice lessons

When I was outside tonight feeding the animals I heard a sound so bone chilling it took each piece of my spine and stuck frozen Jell-o in the orifices. I was out by the car and stopped dead in the snow path. I was certain I was a dozen yards from some murder scene. The sound was something like a banshee wail mixed with the death rattle of a mako shark. (I speculate. Don't judge.) After the initial spookiness was past I realized that, once again, the scary sound in my backyard was coming from the chicken coop. Why can't any of my roosters be like normal chickens? Why do they all have to audition for Spinal Tap?

When Winthrop (my reigning rooster) started to crow I was shocked by the sound he made. He didn't crow, he moaned, and then graduated to an all-out werewolf howl. I could not believe that noise came from a chicken and not a dog. (He literally howls people. When Winthrop hollers the neighbor's dogs holler back.) Now John (the new rooster I raised since I bought him as a chick in July) has followed in his footsteps. John howls too, but the difference is his voice it totally normal. It's the same rooster crow you've heard a million times in movies and on the Waltons, but stretched like taffy at a long, shrill, pitch. All I can gather is this little boy grew up listening to the man of the house bay at the moon, so he must think that's the way to do it? I'm possibly horridly wrong but unless there are some audio-linguists of the domestic avian practice out there to correct me, I'm going with my nurture over nature thesis.

I like this. We all howl around here at Cold Antler.

Even me, sometimes.

sal in the light

Sunday, January 10, 2010

brown baggin' it

Here's the messenger bag I made last night. (A few of you asked if I would post the pattern or instructions.) I didn't use a pattern though, just some basic outlines in a book called Sew What! Bags By Lexie Barnes. The book has instructions for everything from wine bottle covers to advanced carrying cases. (My favorite is the DJ bag - made for carrying your records.) I used a basic personal purse guideline and figured it out from there. The book is big on common sense and easy instructions, so it made it easy even for a beginner like me. I bought the fabric online: a thick corduroy for the outside and a pattern with birds and antlers for the inside. (I lifted the flap there so you could see the pattern better, but you get the idea that it just covers the front of the bag.) It also has little pockets on the side panels for my phone and a granola bar. I took it out on the town today for a test run and it carried my life around just fine. The bottom worked and no one asked me to remove it—so I think it passes!

fiddle workshop?

If you emailed me with interest about the beginner fiddle workshop in February, will you please email me so we can make arrangements? So far out of the original six interested only one has reserved her spot.


across the water

I picked up a magazine at Tractor Supply a few weeks ago because it looked interesting, but I had never seen it before. It was called Home Farmer, and was about small scale farming and homesteading, with a heavy focus on backyard livestock. I scooped it up, checked out, and then let it sit on my coffee table for a while before I really dug into it. Last night after sewing (and two episodes of HBO's John Adams - which is wonderful) I started paging through it. It was wonderful! Turns out I wasn't familiar with it because it's a British publication. But I was so thrilled reading it because it was like sitting in someone's backyard in England and being shown around their gardens and coops. (Let me tell you something, the British have perfected backyard bird homes. Check out and Framebow.) Anyway, my favorite take away from the magazine is how universal homesteading is. This was an English magazine, but could easily apply to someone in New York or Portland. Same animals, same desires, same understanding that freedom isn't in our bank accounts or the cars we drive—it's right past the garden gate.

This is one of my favorite things about backyard farming- everyone needs to eat, and we all want to eat a little better. To some that means a better restaurant and to others it means a hen house and a veggie garden. I'll always be on the second side of those options, but I'm just thrilled the later is so well understood 5,000 miles away.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

cars, goats, and phone calls

So I feel like I should share some good news after all this rough stuff. Starting with a little freedom. Today I made the final payment on the Subaru! As of today I own both of my vehicles. No longer is my chariot co-owned by Chase Bank. It is mine, and another step towards owning my own place. (Banks love a girl without car payments.)

Another bit of goodness: I got to visit Finn today over at Abi's. Soon as I parked the car in the driveway I ran to the fence and yelled for him. He came running and nickering! I was so happy to know the little guy had not forgotten his girl. I kissed him on the forehead and scratched his ears. My good goat.

It is so So good to visit him like this and be able to stay in his life. I feel blessed with how well he's doing with the alpaca's and the Connors. I stayed and had a cup of coffee with Greg and the kids. It is so great to talk to other people who dance between technology and homesteading. Greg's a novelist and computer guy, but has 60 chickens and a pair of alpacas. (Talk about my scene...) Abi's a blogger and an amazing knitter. I'm so happy they came into my life.

The last bit of good news: I talked to the family out west that owns the cabin. Turns out they're in Oregon, not California. It was like talking to old friends. They seem like wonderful people. I was on the phone for a long time, listening to the history of the place. Man, it was great to witness the stories. Hear the anecdotes about snakes and toads and the beautiful people who have owned it in the past. I heard about tulips and fishing, childhood friends and famers. It was almost surreal how perfect it all sounded. It seems like having me there may be a good thing for us both.

I have no idea if this place will work out for me, but after the conversations I have had with the people who love it—I want to make it mine so it stays a beautiful place. They call the cabin Foothold, as in the "Foothold to Heaven". It has raised summertime children, told stories, entertained girl scouts and made these people 3,000 miles away nearly cry on the phone. I might have fallen in love with it too. Which is scary because I don't even know if the place is something I can afford, or if the repairs would be prohibiting. But I do know what my heart tells me, and it is singing for this place. The last thing the daughter of the owner said to me before getting off the phone was, "I'm glad you called." So was I.

Paying off my car, scratching the kid I love behind the ears, hearing the owners of the cabin teach me the history of this town... This is all good news. To celebrate I'll be raising a bottle of hard cider and sewing a new messenger bag as a present for myself. I ordered some brown corduroy and this fabric of songbirds and deer with giant antlers as a lining. Working with my hands will be a good distraction from the stress and end in a fine result.

Friday, January 8, 2010

a day of panic followed by a day of rest

Yesterday I went out with my band to play some music at a bar and eat good food. We laughed and sang and it was just what I needed. I am still worried, but calmer. (Or maybe just tired from being out till 1AM) Regardless, I'm determined to figure out the next steps, however daunting. I tracked down some information on the cabin, and yesterday Steve and I went to see it in person on our lunch break. There it is in the photo! My instant reaction was great, just look at that place. Tucked into a hillside with a winding staircase. A neighbor with ample land to loan or possibly sell. A small, affordable, cabin almost waiting for me to bring it back to life. I could make this place everything. I could start new. I'm trying not too get too excited, but honestly, just the idea that this might be the perfect solution is what had me smiling as I sang last night at the bar. This could be home.

All I know right now is that it is in fact for sale and the woman with a connection to the owner will call me tomorrow. It's a long shot. Everything from getting approved for a mortgage to finding a new rental is a long shot. But I feel like I am finding my feet after being knocked down and starting this new part of my life.

Everything is up in the air right now. I'm running on fumes and gut feelings. It's been a raw week: both in good and bad ways. The hit of finding out I was losing my home, followed by a night of music and friends and forgetting, followed by the slightest hope I could buy this small house and start all over again—has left me emotionally exhausted. Tonight I am just staying in to write and enjoy the fire and maybe sew. It has been one good day of work in starting over, possibly mildly hung over. I am okay with that moral deficit in this situation.

I am constantly amazed at the kind words, emails, offers of help, moving buddies, and letters I have received since I announced the cabin vacating. Thank you so much. The longer I write this blog and read your comments the more I feel like I'm building my future community. I am lucky (even when I'm not) to have all of you. If it takes me a while to reply to your email, or if I forget, please know I read everything and am deeply grateful. You just can't know how much.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

the beginning of an end

I came home to find a note in the mailbox from my landlord. My stomach instantly went empty. That feeling you get when a plane just drops from turbulence or you miss the bottom step. I stood outside in front of the Subaru's headlights to read the notice in the dark. It said—in a polite and calm tone—that she would be moving back to Vermont this summer and doing renovations on the cabin. She would soon be mailing me a notice to Vacate on or before May 1st.

After I read it I just stood there. I stood there with that same hollowness you feel when you realize something you thought was real, wasn't. Like when you finally understand your love for someone is totally unrequited (I'm actually an expert on this) or Santa wasn't real. Tonight, reading that letter, I finally understood Cold Antler wasn't real either—it was always someone else's. You could have pushed me over with a feather.

I understand that four month's notice is generous and ample time to pack up and move. I understand that a kind note sent to alert me of a notice was courteous and friendly. (I have no ill will towards my landlord, at all. She is just doing what landlord do.) I get all that. I am not an irrational person. It doesn't make the feather-pushability go away.

I want to write something to you about the amazing affirmation the note was. How it was just validating my own plans and dreams, and that the universe is colliding to make my life happen as I visualize it. But honestly, I don't feel any of that. I'm terrified. I. Am. Absolutely. Terrified. I'm sitting in a ticking time bomb and have no idea how I'm going to pull this future farm off. I always thought I would be the one sending a notice to my landlord. I thought this place would be mine for years...That I could live here until I was ready to move onto the next big thing and plan my life around that. But things have changed so much since the holidays started. So much.

If it was just me and the dogs, this wouldn't even be cause to blink. I've done that time and time again within a month, no sweat. But this is no longer moving a girl and some huskies to an apartment in Bennington—this is trying to move an entire lifestyle. I have to find a place for me, a flock of sheep, a coop of birds, and two dogs in what is now just sixteen weeks. I need to either get myself into a position to buy, quick, or find another small plot of land that will let me rent for another year while I save. That second idea means finding a landlord somewhere in the area that welcomes a working small farm. It's not impossible, but unlikely. If I can't buy a small home with a bit of land in time, I will have to find new homes for the remaining animals (not Jazz and Annie - they will never leave my side) and abandon the farmlife for a while. The idea that this is a likely possibility feels like someone just knocked the wind out of me.

Like I said. Terrified.

Now, with all that said, there is a bit of gossip in town that gives me hope. A small house on an acre and a half on the other side of Sandgate might be for sale. It's nothing fancy, but the locals say it's in solid condition and the woman who inherited the cabin recently lives in California and doesn't want it. Which means it mightbe up for sale and in my modest price range. I called the contact that the owners of the Wayside gave me, but I haven't heard back from her yet. I am hoping the rumor is true. Crossing my fingers. Knocking on wood. If it is, it will give me the slightest bit of comfort on a night humming with anxiety.

I know I'll be okay. I know this will somehow work out, even if the situation isn't ideal and involves a lot of heartache. I knew this was all coming. I was just hoping it was coming in late summer, or maybe fall. I just wish I had a little more time to figure this all out. I'll keep you posted, and please, wish me luck on this mess.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

home from a run

Monday, January 4, 2010

maybe, then.

After three days of being housebound (save for the two trips to Wayside) I am back into the weekly grind. It's always a shock going from the farm to the office—but after three days of writing/cabin life it was like emerging from a monastery into a freeway. That sounds negative, but I don't mean for it to be. I love my job and am grateful for the people it brought into my life. Sometimes it just shocks you. Sometimes that's a good thing.

We had a going away lunch party for my boss and another coworker just announced their move to the midwest. (A pretty happening day for the small company I'm a part of.) A lot of people's lives are changing all around me. There are promotions and plane trips and moving companies involved in that office. Sitting at the lunch party felt a little sordid. I'm never the person eating soup and wishing someone else good luck. I'm the person the going-away parties are for. I've lived in four states in five years. That lunch was the first time I realized I was staying put. I have a lot to figure out first.

I know I don't want to move anymore.

I would like to stay right here in Vermont, thank you.

...except maybe when I am much much older and Tennessee asks me to come home.

maybe, then.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

fiddle workshop update

I've slotted the weekend of February 20th as the Saturday for the beginner fiddle workshop here at the farm. About four people contacted me and I have faith we'll find a fifth. If you have no idea what I'm talking about—last week I announced a four hour intro-to-fiddle workshop for people who want to learn old time mountain music but have no idea how. (Of course, musically experienced folks are welcome too!) But if you are free that weekend, and always wanted to learn, email me to make arrangements and such. I plan on hosting it from 11 AM - 3 PM, and if anyone comes from out of town (or wants to stick around) we can plan on going out to dinner that night as a group in Manchester. Maybe hit up Northshire books too. You know, make a day of it.

The point of the workshop of course is to help beginner fiddlers find their feet using the Native Ground method. I'll have beginner materials for all the people who come, you just need a fiddle (and no problems with large sleddogs who may demand you keep scratching them if you sit on my couch). The other point is to put some more coin in the farm fund, which is what will be the nest egg that gets me in the door of my own home this spring (god willing). So please, come over and learn to tune, bow, rosin up and play with us. It'll be a lot of fun and a way to meet folks who share your love of music, farming, and fresh eggs. Plus, you'll be helping your gal Jenna turn the key to the dream.

the locavore way

A great little book hit the presses recently, and I wanted to share it with you. It's called The Locavore Way by Amy Cotler. It's a beginner's guide to eating locally and understanding food economies. It's not what you think, which to some might be a scary anti-industrial food book with pictures of confined feeding operations and charts about cloned corn. Nope, this is a kind, light, read with beautiful illustrations and good advice. It covers all the options we have now from CSAs to farmers markets, small farms, and how to get local food at the grocery store too. There are recipes, dining out guides, and even beginner gardener advice. It's the kind of book every farmers market in America should have on a rack. Its best feature is the chapter on building community—a theme the book never stops singing. Amy knows the importance of putting farmer's names to our food and learning how to get involved. Also, people with similar food values have a lot in common, and learning to eat local may not only help our health and environment - it may make you some new friends. You'll find some mighty cool people at those weekend markets. (I think it's the new dog park for blind dates.) The book costs less than a large pizza, so pick up a copy and make your own at home instead!

sal beyond the garden gate

Saturday, January 2, 2010

the best view in town

soft wool. dry hay.

I spent a good part of the morning outside. It was pleasant. Even though it was twenty degrees outside my body was warm from shoveling my chore paths around the farm. I had made a small maze of cleared footpaths for delivering feed and water. The geese followed behind me as I labored, as if they were inspecting the job. The geese are the only poultry at CAF that travel around in the deep snow. They were honking outside the cabin door this morning and each got a piece of pancake for their bravery. The chickens stay in their coop. Egg production has all but stopped. Some birds are hibernating and others are going out to brunch.

After the plowing was done I was breathing heavy and stopped to rest on the handle of my shovel. I looked over to the sheep pacing in the pasture, baaing at me for more hay. They'd already eaten their morning meal so I went into the garage for some fresh straw instead. I carried it out to them and their eyes got wide and ears perked up. They always think straw might be hay, and thought I was carrying them a giant dinner. They followed me back towards the shed. A small parade of shepherd, a black lamb, an angry ewe, and an old softy. I lined the sheep shed with straw while Joseph and Sal joined me inside it. Instead of leaving them—I plopped down in the corner, sitting with my back to the wood and my legs stretched out into the straw. The shed was wonderful. It was windproof, clean, and dry. I sat on the new straw and watched the snow falling outside just like I imagine my flock does.

Sal walked over to me. A beast of nearly 170 pounds with a skull hard enough to kill me instantly if he wanted to. He was at my eye level now, and nuzzled his head against my shoulder. I reached up to scratch his ears while he stood, calm as a monk in his monastery. I scratched his chin and he closed his eyes. The fleece under his jaw was the softest, warmest, sensation I had ever felt. I nearly gasped, realizing the most comforting sensation I'd known so far was happening outside in the middle of a Vermont snow storm.

Maude watched from the entryway, suspicious but calm as well. She smelled my boots. Then Joseph came over, and I was surrounded by my flock. I was resting in the wooden shed built with the care and compassion of friends and neighbors. I was wearing my close friend James's old wool sweater he gave me since he outgrew it. I can not express the happiness and contentment that filled me just then. It coated my lungs and swirled in my head. I didn't laugh or smile, I just knew this was the greatest place in the world. That people travel for miles, live their whole lives, just hoping to find this place.

My three sheep. A barn raised by friends. A hand-me-down sweater. A lamb's breathe turning to smoke. Soft wool. Dry Hay.

I have come this far.

from a goose and a hen

snow and pancakes

We are in for a storm system here. Over the next few days we're to get anywhere from 6-12 inches, brought down by constant and calm snowfalls. It's storybook weather and during a holiday weekend to boot. I'm wrapped in wool and surrounded by two kind dogs and about to head into the kitchen. I'm making pancakes. If there was ever a morning for strong coffee and pancakes, this was it. I've posted this recipe before, but in case anyone else feels inspired to join me:

Cold Antler Pancakes
1 1/2 cups organic flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanila
1/2 cup sugar
1 farm egg
1 1/3 cups milk

Tun on the range and heat up the skillet at a medium high heat, make sure a good spoonful of butter is melting in the pan and coating it with a good layer. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the egg and milk. Mix fast and quick and then give it about 4 minutes to set and get fluffy (from the bakiing powder) in the bowl. When "risen" pour into skillet to the size you like your cakes. You know a pancakse is ready to flip over when the middle bubbles. Serve hot with real maple syrup (Grade B, son. Grade B is dark, rich, and get this tastes like maple.none of that flatlander grade A sugar water they sell in gift shops okay?)

Friday, January 1, 2010

i'm a homesteader with an iphone

Among modern homesteaders there seems to be a marriage of high tech and low-tech living. This is especially true of folks like me: people who are new to self-sufficiency and have to come to the lifestyle as adults. We've discovered this new/old way to live but still love some of the conveniences we grew up with. We want to weed our organic gardens with our MP3 players in our pockets, ripping out stray blades of grass as the fourth track from a record we just downloaded roars in our ears. We like the ideas of hybrid cars, WiFi in the barn, and popping our hand made mozzarella in the microwave before stretching it. We’ll knit our own clothes while watching a favorite movie on DVD. We’ll plug our sewing machines into the wall socket and spend three hours making a pair of canvas coveralls to help us attain the means to never want for a grid-pumping socket again. It’s a contrarian’s way to live, for sure. Perhaps some would say it’s downright hypocritical. If it is, I don’t care.

You can call me out as much as you want. You can say, “Hey, didn’t you write a whole chapter in your book about playing your own music? What’s with the iPod?” and I will continue to preach the magic and satisfaction of the fiddle and learning old tunes. That doesn’t mean I don’t think every car in America should have a copy of Ok Computer in the dash. I have no qualms with blaring Radiohead on the way to pick up canning jars. You can scoff at my iPhone, but I just found out I can download a program that helps me identify mushrooms and edible wild plants when foraging. This isn’t heresy - this is awesome. Shucks, I think the 21st century may be the greatest time in our collective history to pick up homesteading.

I feel like we’re balancing on an apex of good fortune and good advice, us modern homesteaders. We live in two worlds and have the sense to marry the best of both for a more fulfilling life. We’ve set aside any preferences for easy—allotting a little more time for the tasks that make a home run. If this was 1856 that would mean practically living with an ankle bracelet. In the past homesteaders were under house arrest. Leaving the farm meant something wasn’t being fed, cooked, skinned, weeded or sewn. But today, thanks to the advances in that same technology we can run a small farm, go to our jobs, and then come home and go see a movie. We can do this because have automatic timers on our coop lights and rototillers for our backyard gardens. We can shop online for fabric and fill our pickups with feed sacks. If you want to call this way of living hypocritical, be my guest, but I just call it lucky.

We have the tools to live in modern society and still work, eat, and breathe like the best portions of our past. Before everything got too easy, we may have worn ankle bracelets to our homes—but at least the prison food didn’t have E. Coli and we slept like draft animals because still knew how to lift a scythe or hammer. We don't need to stay within twenty acres of our houses anymore, but even if we chose to we now have high speed internet to build communities and share stories online. To me, my internet connection is as vital as the radio was when it first came out. A way to get news, hear music, share wisdom and learn. I wouldn't want to be so low tech I couldn't be without it, and I say that as someone who still breaks sod with a steel garden hoe.

good morning from a snowy cabin in the woods

Good morning from a snowy first day of 2010. It's a three day weekend for me, and for many people. I'm making the best of it by spending as much time holed up in this cabin as possible. I want to write, sew, and tend to the animals. I toyed with the idea of making an epic trip 45 minutes north to Rutland to buy yarn and fabric but decided to order some online instead and wait. The world will not be less if Jenna Woginrich sews up her corduroy messenger bag next weekend instead.

I'm at that point in a weekend morning where the farm chores are done and the rest of the day hasn't started yet. Outside the sheep are in the pasture chomping away at their pile of hay, and inside the dogs are sleeping to the record player. I have Fleet Foxes on the turn table now. The song White Winter Hymnal is playing and it is beyond perfect for a world covered in snow. (It's also the song that makes trudging through knee-high snow with forty-pound water buckets delightful.) Sub Pop put out a beautiful double LP for Fleet Foxes self titled album and the packaging itself makes me happy.

What I love about records is the size and biography. I love the detailed sleeves, lyric sheets, and liner notes. One time my friend Nisaa and I were in a record store and she pointed out the inside jabs and jokes on Paul McCartney's LP of Ram. There was one black beetle, um, how do I put this delicately, "enjoying the company" of another beetle on the back side of the old record case. A passive aggressive jab at his old band, based on the falling outs. I felt like she was teaching me secret code on an ancient text, but about my own pop culture instead of some canopic jar. I cracked up and instantly was glad Nisaa and I were friends. She knows music, and you don't get that kind of gold when you download songs.

Well darling, that's my soundtrack and my morning. Hope all of you are having an equally peaceful start to this new year.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

one down

One down, folks. This year has come to an end. If you've been following along with this story you've watched a lot happen in just 12 months. 2009 has been the most intense year of projects, gardens, writing, and homesteading here at Cold Antler. When I think about this past May, I still get tired.

I just wanted to thank you for making my life a part of yours. Since last winter when Made From Scratch hit bookstores, this blog has grown from 100 hits a day to 2,000. It's grown from 2 blogger followers to over 400. I've hosted guests, workshops, fence building and music lessons. I've been part of people's honeymoons and weekend vacations. I've had the chance to write for websites and magazines and slowly, ever so slowly, am working towards my goal with the amazing witness of an audience to support and comfort me. You guys have gone from readers to friends, and become a part of my life. I've made relationships here and received gifts and feel like I grew a small network for when I get that farm. (Which I wil. It will just require some serious luck, saving, and more luck.) Point is, you've been amazing and have become the reason I write here. Knowing that people are checking in and keeping track, know my dogs names, and may say hello at a sheep shearing demo is why this blog exists. So I raise my mug of morning coffee to you, and with all I've got, thank you. Over and over.

I hope you stick around for 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

the remedy

Meet Clark. Clark is my music station/coffee mug holder at the office. (His brother Gable, is here in the living room). He reigns over my two monitors in my work station and holds my vintage pioneer headphones, burned cds, and Fire King mugs. I think I'm the only person on my floor with a dead animal filing system at my desk? It's okay. I know someone on the third floor wins the contest. They have a bear head by their computer. (Hey, at least mines utilitarian.) I work at a colorful place and my coworkers kindly tolerate me. Some have even become close friends. Hell, they don't even blink an eye when tiny styrofoam coolers of livestock antibiotics are delivered to my desk...

Today a small refrigerated box holding fast-acting penicillin and syringes came to work. I'd ordered the medicine when Maude was looking pathetic, but since she's returned to full health I won't be doping her up for kicks. I'm am glad to know the medicines in the fridge as I write you. Some day it may save a life.

So, I now live a life where designing corporate web sites and listening to audiobooks is interrupted by the delivery of overnighted sheep meds. This is the kind of right angle in your day that throws your whole life into a more understandable order. I like it when I'm designing on my computer at the cabin or when the farm kicks down the office door like that. Balance, son. Balance and antlers in everyplace I call my own.

I'm enjoying these nights here at the cabin. Outside the nearly full moon hits the snow and it is so bright out there I can see the whole neighborhood. I can spot a buck waltzing through the hollow from a hundred yards away. I don't even need the lantern on my night rounds to move across the farm. The moonlight makes the place feel smaller too, like a still from an old movie. I worry if I walk too far out of my yard I'll discover it's actually a movie set and the buck below me was just a prop guy that lashed Clark to a great dane. At the risk of blowing my own reality, I'll keep the existentialism at bay and just stay within the property lines. It feels safe here. If things get rough we just figure it out or learn to heal. Afterall, if things get hairy the remedy's in the fridge.

Monday, December 28, 2009

one hour better

There is this anomaly in Vermont that happens during a snowfall at dusk. When the light's almost gone, and the sky is heavy and gray, the world takes on this new color of slate blue. The whole farm is bathed in this color, and it is a show stopper. I was outside in this light tonight, trying to coax the flock back into their pen. When the sheep were inside I tied the gate and started walking back towards the cabin. I walked the long way, following the fence and hitting it with the metal grain scoop to shake the snow off. Somewhere in the geography of the moment I stopped and just stood there in the slate blue light. I was now in the middle of the property, surrounded by these glowing arches of snow-covered branches. All around me was this thick blueness. The yellow lights inside the cabin and the small white train of smoke from the chimney made me nearly lose my footing. It was so beautiful I think it caused tiny splinters in my veins. I let out a long sigh and watched the breath swirl up into the air. It was blue too.

How the hell did I get lucky enough to land here? How in god's name did I end up in this job, with these people, in this town, with this life? How did I let all those mistakes happen? It could have gone a million different ways, and yet, here I stood. In the snow. Alone. In the slate gray light that wasn't even real in the first place? I wish I understood all this better.

The new year is just around the switchback. We're almost there and people are talking about resolutions and changes and a hundred tiny things that are going to make us all better people in 2010. I have goals too, but not for the year. I don't have the chops for those kinds of resolutions. I do however, have a system that works and I measure it in hours...

For what it's worth, here is some advice from me. Don't attempt to be a drastically better person in the next calendar year. Don't plan on being thirty pounds thinner, or sixty-thousand dollars richer, or the front man of your own band. Instead, how about just trying to be a slightly better person in the next sixty minutes. This may sound like a weak attempt
but it's not. Results happen slowly and only when we focus on what we want and who we want to become right now. If you want more money, for the next hour, don't spend any and try and pull a quarter off the floor of your car. If you want to lose weight, try not to eat that candy bar for the next hour, and walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. If you want to be kinder, spend the next hour on the phone with old friend and tell her you miss her. If you want to plant a garden, raise chickens, or own a farm—spend the next hour online ordering seed catalogs or going to the library for a book on coop building. Make small changes constantly and just try to meet that next turn of the clock one hour smarter, one hour thinner, one hour kinder, and one hour richer and watch your life change.

If everyone could just see the day as 24 chances to make their life a little better, imagine the resolutions that could be met? I try to be an hour better, every hour, and hope those choices add up into something I can grasp with both hands. I think total dedication to the present is what improves ourselves, and not the empty promises that are too big to get our arms around. Just try be one hour better, starting right now. My favorite movie whispers the quote "that every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around". It's a chance worth taking.

Or at least that's the hunch I'm running with. But I'm saying that from quite an awkward location. I don't know how valid the advice is from a girl standing alone in the snow in the middle of a sheep pasture she doesn't even own. I guess we'll find out.

postcards from a snow day

it's snowing like crazy!

she seems better

I woke up this morning and instantly thought of Maude. Without hesitation- I threw on a wool sweater and an insulated vest and ran outside in my pajama pants and rubber boots. Maude was standing in the pen watching me run towards her. As I got closer she narrowed her eyes and put her ears back and started backing away from me. (This is good. Hate is Maude's natural state of being!) I ran back to the porch and got some hay and let the sheep out into their pasture to eat their morning meal. Maude scuttled over to it like the well-insulated crab she is and ate like a beef steer. I sighed the sigh of ages. Not only was I thrilled she was okay—I was pragmatically relieved there wasn't a 150 pound carcass for me to remove from a sheep pen in a snow storm...Anyway, I think she's back. I'll call the vet regardless, see what he says about her symptoms. I'll ask if I can get some Pro-Pen G injections for around the cabin in case someone does fall ill quick. But as for Maude—you can't keep a good* sheep down.

*good is relative...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

sunlight and a sick ewe

When I got back to the farm today I was shocked by the atmosphere. It had poured that morning, suddenly and hard. All the animals were soaked and homely looking, but their appearance was where all pity stopped. Despite the fact everyone looked like extras in a low budget zombie movie—everyone was in high spirits. The weird break in cold weather granted us a 45-degree, sunny afternoon! Every hen, rooster, and goose was somewhere on the farm they hadn't dared venture since it was covered in ice a few days before. For days they've been holed up in their coop and now the farm was theirs again. If they didn't like the fact they were wet, it didn't show.

I carried hay out to the sheep pasture and noticed three Rhode Island Reds right at my feet. They seemed as revved up as starters of a basketball team, dodging and darting all around me. They just wanted to be where the action was. They liked the novelty of traction under their claws again. The sunlight must've felt like pure gold. I dumped the hay in the field and watched them jump in like kids in a leaf pile. The chickens scratched at it and started spreading it and I laughed at the antics. Shaking my head, I walked over to the gate to let my sopping sheep come out in the sun and stretch their legs too. It was good to be home.

Joseph and Sal trotted out like always, but Maude seemed different. She had a little drool on her mouth and seemed slower than usual. She walked behind the rest and appeared to be huffing and puffing. As the others dove into their hay she stood to the side, ears back, wheezing. I was worried, and walked up to her. She let me get close (this had me really worried now, she never lets me get close) and she looked like I did when I had a cold a few weeks ago: generally okay, but sorry and congested. After a few moments of hacking in the sun she seemed better. She joined the others and munched her hay. I went inside and called Suzanne (who watched over the animals while I was away) and she told me the sheep and birds all seemed fine and acted normal. Which makes me think this cold of Maude's is a new developement brought on by the sudden snap in weather.

I'm a little concerned. I hope come morning she's her old horrid self again. If not, I'll call the vet and have him stop by. She may simply need some TLC and a shot of antibiotics. Keep my miserable ewe in your thoughts, folks. We need her around here. She keeps me honest.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

one of the crazies

I'm currently reading Joel Salatin's You Can Farm, which is fantastic, but it's raising a lot of questions. Not questions for Joel concerning his methods and philosophy (I think the man's brilliant) but questions for me. This book is making me realize how society (in general) views farming as a career choice. The most prominent of all questions the book's raised so far was this: "Do people think I'm crazy for wanting to be a Shepherd in the 21st century?"

His answer: yes.

The book opens up with the harsh reality that if you want to pursue a profitable, family-friendly, self-employed life as a small farmer—you're going to run into a lot of naysayers. It's just not something a lot of people want to do or even want to understand anymore. Young people from non-agricultural backgrounds without farming friends are going to meet a lot of push back when they "come out of the chicken coop" and admit: Yes, they want to be farmers. To some people that's equivalent to happiness suicide. Thanks to the distance from our food sources the supermarket grants us, the perception of farming is bleak. People think farming for a living is back-breaking, mindless, drudgery. To some, saying you want to start a farm is like saying you want to be a Navy Seal for kicks. Why would anyone put themselves through that?

This makes me ask another question. When did work become bad? And not just work, when did putting any sort of effort into our tasks of eating, clothing, and sheltering ourselves become crazy?

Friday, December 25, 2009

merry christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

come to my beginner fiddle workshop!

I'll be hosting a Beginner's Southern Mountain Fiddle workshop here at the cabin this February. It'll be a Sunday afternoon mid-month. The workshop will run from 12-4PM and cover all the basics you need to get acquainted with the fiddle. We'll cover care and feeding, tuning, supplies, finger placement, scales, and your first song. You'll also learn and how to read and follow beginner tablature. There will be group and one-on-one sessions. All you need to come join us is a violin in working condition with a bow with some rosin on it. No musical experience needed, just the desire to play. I'll provide beginner instruction materials and home-baked snacks and coffee. All this will be for a flat donation rate which will go towards the farm fund. As long as five people sign up (and no more than eight) I'll host it here at the cabin. If you're interested in the workshop please email me at

a happy and merry

Good morning from the wilds of the suburban mid-Atlantic. I'm in Pennsylvania with my family for the holidays. Jazz and Annie are somewhere in the house, running around with my parent's collie mix, Melvin. I just made a very strong pot of coffee, and in a moment will go downstairs to drink copius amounts and take the quiche out of the oven. But first I wanted to check in and say thank you to all the readers who sent me cards, gifts, emails and kind words recently. With the travel, office, farm, contracts and freelance all gnashing at my flanks I feel like I fell behind in proper thank yous. But please know I appreciate it, so much, and that you folks made this the warmest Christmas in recent history. It's hard not to smile when your mailbox is stuffed with cards from all over the world.

Have a Happy and Merry.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

night mares in the barn

Every night, but especially on nights when it's hard to sleep, I lay awake in bed thinking. I'll toss and turn for hours unless I lay still and decide to go to the barn. I don't get up and go outside. The barn is a place in my mind. As long as I can remember I've had the same calming meditation right before I fall asleep. I imagine myself in this same situation and within minutes, I am breathing slower and grateful. I know it works because I can only remember what I'll share with you in a moment, and then it's morning. Maybe it will help some of you when your mind is loud. Here's where I go:

I turn over on my side, close my eyes, and imagine I'm in a high loft of an old gray barn on a rainy autumn night. I've been riding a horse for miles and besides the mare and I, the only other soul traveling with me is a black sheepdog. I have made a handshake deal to rest my horse in the stall below while I sleep in the hay storage above. The owner has offered me three quilts and a pillow and told me I could rest on the loose hay piled in a sheltered corner. I lay the biggest, thickest, blanket down first on a giant pile of hay and create a nest. (Sometimes it feels so real I can smell the dead grass and feel it crinkle under my mattress.) A lantern shines above me, flickering from an old beam. Besides the occasional quiet lightning outside—this is the only light. Outside a constant, inconsequential rain falls. I watch the shadows the lantern casts dance across the gray walls. Sometimes the light sneaks in-between the cracks and paints an old oak tree outside. Below me I can hear my small horse's gray hooves shuffle. She is a night mare keeping nightmares away. I am so weary from traveling the loft feels like heaven. I am so relieved to be dry and warm and have finally stopped moving. I curl my spine and sink farther into the nest. The black dog rests his head in my chest and sighs. We're warm. The mare lays down. Tonight will be okay.

I've imagined this nearly every night before I've fallen asleep for over twenty years. Long before I ever wanted to homestead, or ever considered a Fell Pony, this was my imaginary oasis of my most comforting things: shelter, companionship, and warmth. I went to the barn in sixth grade, in college dorms, in cities, and on snowy nights in Idaho. I'll go there tonight too. I feel particularly weary.

Monday, December 21, 2009

pick up the new issue of paste magazine

I got to write a full page essay for the new issue of Paste, which I was beyond thrilled about. Incidently it may be one of my favorite things I've ever written. Also, they hired the illustrator Meg Hunt to do this picture of me for the piece and she managed to really capture Cold Antler!

turn up your speakers

Sunday, December 20, 2009

geese in the glow

a small flock

I like that my sheep are a little chubby. I like that they are always covered in a bit of straw from their warm bed and how they seem to smile when the snow comes. I like their dignity. (Contrary to popular belief, sheep have dignity in spades. ) I walk out on mornings like this and let them out of their pen to run, butt, and eat. Sal walks right up to me and looks up at me with those amber eyes and demands in his own way some sort of attention. I grab his head with both my hands and kiss him on the forehead. I scratch his ears and tell him he's the finest sheep in Vermont. Sal tells me, everyday, that a proper sheep is a Romney sheep. I then do the same for Joseph, my lamb. Then I dart my eyes over to Maude (the only purbred hoof on the farm) and tell her she's the chain that makes chainsaws go and she stomps a foot and walks away. There's one in every crowd.

I've spent time with a lot of farm animals. I've raised all sorts of poultry, rabbits, bees, reared a goat kid and rode in my college equestrian team. But sheep are the beasts of my future and will fill my barn someday. Me and a good border collie or two will make my small farm a great work of music. Black paws, dark hooves, sharp teeth, thick wool...

What more could a girl want?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

losing my religion

I'm hitting a point in my life as a small-scale producer that makes me question certain things. Since I started raising my own vegetables, eggs, baked-goods, and learning to source my dairy closer to home—I realized there is another abundant source of healthy natural food I've been ignoring: meat.

I've been a vegetarian for nearly a decade. I became one because it seemed like the logical and responsible personal choice after learning about the factory farm system. I didn't want to be a part of that, so I stopped eating all meat altogether. Honestly, I never missed it. Some people go vegetarian and start crumbling at the knees at the smell of sizzling bacon, but not me. Sure, I get a little nostalgic, but never had another bite after that choice was made. This made so much sense to me because all the meat in our stores was shipped from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) but now that I'm living in the rural Northeast, and have so much local, grass-fed meat around me—I am beginning to wonder about that original decision's validity.... Within ten miles of this cabin there is free-range beef, lamb, and poultry. There is a rabbit farm, a thriving trout stream, and a freezer full of all these things wating for me at Wayside. Have I been avoiding meat out of plain old habit, or worse...pride? Have I been selfish, and wrong, to buy organic tofu from California trucked on a oil-guzzling rig all the way to Vermont when there was rabbit stew a walk down the road waiting for me?

Catherine Friend (the author of Hit By a Farm, a beginner shepherding book I adore) recently published a book called The Compassionate Carnivore, and it is amazing. Written by a small sustainable farmer in Minnesota, Catherine raises her own poultry, lamb, and beef. She spends an entire volume talking about the kindness for animals (and activism) local meat entails. I know to some of you that may sound batty. Some vegetarians will never look at eating any animal as compassionate - but hear me out. Her reasoning is solid.

Friend's argument for grass-fed, humanely-raised meat is simple—if you care about animal welfare, support the system doing it right. If you think the factory farm convention is cruel, don't put your money into that business. As consumers our dollars are our voting ballots. Paying for local, organic, meat shows the industry we not only refuse them, but will reward the farmers we feel are doing things better. This is simple business. The factory farm industry exists because it makes money. Personally, I don't care if they change their practices because it's bad business to mistreat animals, I just want those pigs out of those steal cages. When the big wigs in the meat packing industry see droves of people going back to their neighborhood farms...things will change. So will the lives of pigs. Catherine made me understand that eating happy meat makes these changes happen. I'm starting to doubt my old food religion. For me, it makes less and less sense.

You can eat all the veggie burgers you want, but buying fake meat makes you no longer collateral damage to the CAFO business. Vegetarians, by refusing to assist the small organic meat efforts, are simply quietly sitting out the controversy in this particular aspect. This is not an attack on vegetarians! This is exactly what I am doing! But you must understand that this persona decision to return to meat, as a future meat farmer, feels right. I want to support the farmers in my community letting their cows out on grass and letting their chickens dance in the sun. Actually, It seems ridiculous not to take part. I think I'm just balking at change. It feels like such a huge step after such a long time. What is it with me? I can move cross-country but eating a slice of my neighbor's cow feels like a major life change? Jeesh.

What do you folks think?

Friday, December 18, 2009

feast or famine?

anyone want some music?

I'm offering the farm's iPod up to the farm cause. It's a fairly new, silver, 8G iPod classic. It has over 600 songs loaded on it and two movies (Spinal Tap and a Wilco Documentary) and has plenty of space left to fill it up. It's also plumb-full of farm photos and a great chore playlist. Since my phone plays MP3's I don't need a double, and I'm happy to offer it to any music-loving reader who can't get enough Iron and Wine (live shows on here as well). If you're interested email me at and let me know your offer. Highest bid gets the prize. I'll throw in a Chuck Klosterman tail feather as well.

UPDATED: Sold! Thank you barb!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

the greenhorns!

dark mornings

I woke up to the sound of wind and coyotes. I pulled the covers up over my head and reached under the pillow for the knit hat and wool socks I put on before even getting out of bed. Jazz is aside me, and always seems bigger in the morning dark. I feel his fur and hear him sigh and feel warmer so I get up. I put on a the percolator, and the red kettle for my oatmeal, and turn on the radio to hear the news. Congress just passed the jobs bill. The dogs are both up now. I leash them and we go outside.

It's cold. Really, really cold. I'm wearing layers of wool, canvas, and an old fur musher's hat. Jazz and Annie pee quick then rush back inside for round two of their morning nap. I too go inside to fill up the chicken's water font I'd brought in to defrost late last night. When I go back outside it feels colder. I trudge through the icy slick to the coop. My flashlight scans the snow around the hen house for coyote prints. I'm relieved to see none. The birds their feed and water, and I return to the porch for a flake of hay.

I'm walking back to the cabin and see the porch light and stop to look. I realize how comforting this place is and for a moment feel warm. My little rented house is like a hot coal dropped in the snow. What a blessing to know I'll be back inside soon. I grab an armful of hay and head back out into the dark, but do so knowing breakfast and coffee are mine soon. I then realize another thing: I can't wait for the solstice. Dark mornings are grand in their own way, but I find mysself whispering Goethe's famous last words as I walk to my sheep...

"More Light."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

chance and slumber

I've had a bit of tunnel vision lately and for that, I apologize. I feel like the blog has taken on this manifest destiny of finding and buying a farm. Since Thanksgiving it has been a pretty chaotic sprint, but I'm starting to settle back into old routines and learning to just enjoy this place again. For a while the cabin turned into a problem that needed a solution. Now I've accepted that all I can do is, well, all I can do. For tonight this place is mine and the fiddle sounds just as sweet as it always has by the fireside.

Outside isn't as welcoming... The wind chill is supposed to drop to -10 and a steady light snow has been falling since I left the office. During my night rounds I tied an old blanket to the coop's chicken wire door, creating a windbreak from the snow. Winthrop watched me from his roost like a benevolent dictator as I struggled to do this before my hands went numb. That chicken always makes me feel like he was once Canadian Royalty. I guess it was nice of him to allow the help.

When the birds had fresh corn scratch and the door safely shut, I walked over the the sheep to make sure the defroster was earning its keep. The water wasn't frozen and no snow dared to set on it's rim. I felt like I won something and gave the flock their hay.

I used to get really stressed out and I'd call my friend Raven to talk me down. The best advice she ever gave me was this. She'd say, "Jenna. There is nothing else you can do about it tonight. You can't fix all your problems, or even begin to fix them, in one day. Just know that you're moving forward, did what you could, and nothing in the next twelve hours is going to change. So go make some tea, read a Harry Potter book, and breath."

And that is exactly what I'm doing. Well, almost. I'm reading that Five Acres book, not Rowling, but you get the drift. Sometimes you just need a friend to whack you over the head with the obvious so you can get a decent night's sleep. My teapot is on the stove heating up as I write you. After this long day, I'm resigning the next twelve hours to chance and slumber. This is what it must feel like to be a cat.

Jazz is with me, breathing heavy and asleep. He seems more tired lately. I try not to think about him growing old. I know how foolish that sounds. I only try.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

hive minded

Bees have been on my mind a lot lately. Late December is the time beekeepers start getting contemplative. We all know January is just around the corner: and that means it's almost time to order new nucs and dust off our gear. We become hive-minded, letting our thoughts turn to clover flower seeds and letting the back field get overtaken by dandelions. Our apiary's number is on the fridge. Our catalogs are on the coffee table. Our smokers and hive tools are down from the shelves. We're beekeepers and we want to keep some bees, son.

Yes, honey is on my mind... But with such an uncertain future ahead of me - I don't know what to do with these thoughts. I want to place my winter order and start preparing for a fresh hive but I have no idea where I'll be living in the summer, and that means a little extra planning if I want to start the early stages of my next hive.

I talked to my friend Roger today, knowing he may be able to shed some light on the predicament. He's a like-minded coworker if there ever was one. Roger works with me all day as a designer in the office, but goes home to his chickens, gardens, and bees. His wife and daughter are just as involved and excited in their backyard homestead as he is. We alays have something to talk about when we catch each other in the halls. So I felt like I could swing a deal his way. I asked him if he'd be willing to home the hive if I couldn't? Would he take the bees if I was in an apartment in the spring?

He gladly obliged.

I left the office today knowing I could order my new colony. If the bottom dropped out I could keep them at his place. He said I was welcome to stop by and tend them as needed until I could move the whole establishment to my own farm. I don't think he had any idea how happy that simple offer made me. I did a little dance in the snow walking out to my car. I can get bees again, even with the question marks. Hot Dog!

When you're living without a net you take these gifts as they come. I hope I never forget how good grattitude feels at 5:06 PM on a Tuesday.

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!