Saturday, November 27, 2010

yuletide and holy barns

It is an ideal weekend afternoon here at the farm. Actually, the whole day's been ideal, like something ripped out of pages of some made-for-TV movie script sponsored by Hallmark. I started the morning with Gibson at herding lessons. He did well, better than ever before and so did I. We're a long way from being Jock and Wiston Cap, but we're learning how to become a team; starting to make sense of each other. Loading up back into the truck after our hour with Denise I realized I knew enough to start working Gibson with his Blackface ewes when they came. Denise encouraged it. She said the more he works, and the older he gets, the more dependable and mature he will be around the sheep. I drove away beaming. Gibson fell asleep passenger side within minutes, his head resting on my coffee mug.

We took the back way home. Instead of the straight shoot back to New York over the Green Mountains, we turned our wheels to make a loop that would land us in Manchester Vermont. I had some places I want to visit, to harvest ideas and pick up some important little things. I stopped at the Grafton Cheese Company and the Vermont Country Store. I wasn't there to shop as much as I was there to steal ideas for homemade gifts. I saw the idea of an Italian basket with homemade mozzarella, canned sauce, and pasta in brown paper, wrapped in a bow. A day of canning and some simple cheese making and thrift store baskets could easily whip up a beautiful artisan meal. I made a mental note for future dinner parties. I left with a small wheel of their Maple Cheddar, which might be the best thing to happen to scrambled farm eggs since cast iron. I swear.

Next stop was the Vermont Country Store. It was starting to snow as I pulled into the lot. The store was packed so tight you could barely move, but I did manage to get the one item I needed to send my sister as a belated birthday present. (I'd share what it is, but since she reads all this nonsense on here I can't spill it till after she gets my parcel in the mail.) Mission accomplished: I set out to the truck with my little paper bag and had to stop when the Season started to really hit me. Between the snow, the music, the smiling people buzzing for gifts...I got my first real taste of Christmastime. The yuletide spirit was alive and well in Weston, Vermont. I sang carols to my sleeping dog the rest of the flurried ride home.

I got back to the farm and tended to the animals. I am amazed at the productivity of the new hens I bought Thanksgiving morning. I collected ten eggs today, browns to white from the new Reds and Leghorns. I fed the pig leftover rice, tofu, and broccoli from last night's stir fry and she gobbled them up with her pellets and corn. I turned on her light and fed the rabbits as well. behind me the hay was stacked up twice as high as me. As I turned my back to the hay to feed the pig, a Barred Rock burst out from a nest seven feet above the barn floor. She scared me with her post-egg cackle! I thanked her for showing me the new cache of the day's eggs. (I had been checking that spot for a while now. Glad to see it finally was enticing some nesting.)

When I moved here the barn held a few garden tools and plastic Christmas ornaments. Now it was a living, breathing barn again. Lit up at night with a warm light while a pig eats her dinner, a hen lays an egg, rabbits chomp on their pellets and winter feed stacks above where my arms can reach. I look up at the cobwebs in the heat lamp's glow. At the fresh hay Nelson cut this summer, a July pasture caught in time. Every bale of hay is a still life. A memory of a summer gone, sustaining us till spring. I still touch them with reverance for what they do, and what they are. Above me the old wood sings stories about the barn's past. The Sistine Chapel has nothing on a this place.

The sheep got a bit of hay and fresh water, the snow hitting their backs and making them seem even warmer in their thick wool. Sal always seems to know more than a sheep should know.

Outside a light snow has covered the ground with a layer of harmless white. Just enough to make the naked trees look like they belong again. The wood stove is lit, and puffing smoke above the white farmhouse, making my little corner of the world comfortable to those who drive by up the sharp hillside road. There's a pine wreath with a red bow on the door, picked it up from a guy selling them from his pickup near Peru on the ride home from. Inside the oven is the big fat rooster I harvested when my friend Taylor came to visit a few weeks ago. The house is filling up fast with the smells of his garlic-herb rub and olive-oil soaked skin browning in the oven. Coffee I made for the road trip this morning is reheating on the top of the wood stove. Why use electricity for what's already free?

Tonight I starting a new memoir called Fiddle, by Vivian Wagner. The story of a woman who hit a musical-midlife crisis and decided she needed to learn to play this instrument. (I can relate to that.) Her story goes from inspiration, to lessons, to 8,000 miles of traveling America with her instrument. Visiting that fine four-stringed music everywhere from post-Katrina New Orleans to Appalachian music camps. I'm hoping Vivian's story lifts my own playing to a new level. And that I have to put down the book to saw out some Old Joe Clark. So here's to a night of good food, good books, good music, a quiet farm and tired and happy dogs.

Stay warm tonight, darling. It's cold outside.

roll call

Cold Antler Farm currently hosts: Three sheep (five more pregnant ewes delivered December 6th!), two geese, sixteen laying hens, five roosters, two rabbits (the doe might be pregnant?), three dogs, a hive of bees, a pig, and me on six-and-a-half hillside acres in Jackson, New York.

I do not have a gym membership.

Friday, November 26, 2010

a handmade nation, divided?

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to host a film event here in town. It was part of a local craft celebration, a night for artisans in the hood and surrounding countryside to show off their art, do some networking, make some sales and watch a documentary. The turnout was fantastic, and the crafts on display were gorgeous.

Folks brought handmade guitars, birch fishing creels, pottery, wool sweaters, and more all scattered around a table of books on how to do everything from brewing your own beer to making your own furniture. When mingling was done, Connie, the proprietor of Battenkill Books, announced the film Handmade Nation, and we all stopped chatting and plucking to sit and watch the big show.

When the hip little indie documentary was over, I got to speak a little about homesteading and then there was an open discussion about film and the modern state of Craft in America. One woman raised her hand and brought up an amazing point that hadn't crossed my mind. In the film, it was all urban hipster types, making hand-blown glass, letterpressed posters, designer embroidery, and apartment decorations. Even the items that were more utilitarian (things like dresses or quilts) were treated more as specialty designed artsy clothes more than what you'd wear to stay warm in. Yet all around our little Cambridge train depot there was only utilitarian items. The person who pointed this out asked why the crafts in movie, or the younger crafty folk in the film, where just making the knick knacks they would usually buy? Why weren't they making things of use?

I was knocked over by this question. She was taking a somewhat self-righteous stance, but her point was valid. However, all I could think about was my sheep farm and the platypus night light.

The movie did focus on the urban craft scene. It wasn't about traditional craft as much as it was about a consuming public turning into a producing public—trying to show us that a new generation was picking up their grandmother's knitting needles and working with their hands. So I was all for the documentary, in that sense. But it was a sharp contrast to the earth-toned pottery, undyed yarns, and wooden guitars around the walls of this particular crafting junction. Where even our hobbies shaped by the environment we live in? Was there something more to our traditional crafts as opposed to their anime-shaped dolls or tiles with owls all over them?

That said, I'm not knocking this modern crafts movement by any means. One of my favorite gifts I ever received was from a fair just like the ones featured in Handmade Nation. A small night light in my bathroom glows bright yellow and melted into the tile is a happy little platypus. My college roommate bought it for me the Christmas after I moved to Idaho. Knowing I was living in a rugged homestead and a proper gift would be an oil lamp or some chicken-encrusted mug she opted for the most ridiculous, most non-farming item she could find. I adore it. I have brought it across the country and it has lit up three happy bathrooms, in three states, for years. It is as knick-knacky as it gets. It may not be able to carry hot beverages, play a song, or cross-tie a horse in a barn but it makes me smile. It was made with care, funded a local Boston artist, and I have never seen another bathroom with one like it. What's so bad about that?

This Christmas my gift-giving won't be as grandiose as I once planned. The realities of being the sole breadwinner for a mortgage and a start-up farm means dropping a couple hundred bucks on gifts just isn't practical or, well, realistic. But I will spend a few hours making, baking, sewing, and being clever. I ordered some wool-blended flannel for 70% off online and between the discounts and free shipping was able to get enough fabric and patterns to cover my entire immediate family for half of what it costs for a sale sweater at L.L. Bean. Between warm pajamas, hats, and scarves and some homemade breads and jams, I think it'll be a nice handmade holiday. If I knew how, I'd make everyone glass platypus night lights but a girl needs to keep some goals a head of her. Gotta trot towards something.

free lunch?

I worked out a deal with the catering company at the office. I bring them a five-gallon bucket with a lid on it and they'll put their food scraps and edible trash inside it for me to take home to the pig. They get rid of their trash, and I get a free bucket of goodies for the pig. I told them as a barter I would bring back some of the USDA certified pork and they could use it in a few meals here for their business. They seemed delighted at the trade as I was.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the roosting goose and turkey day

The geese are considering expanding their family. I know this because while I was getting ready for work this morning, I witnessed some nesting attempts for the first time since we moved to Jackson. Outside the kitchen window the usual collection of hens were thick into a conversation of coos and clucks on the stacked bales of straw. The Stacked straw bales are kind of like those bird feeders you see in gift catalogs that let you suction cup the two-way mirror feeder right to your glass so you can watch the birds. Well, this is like that, but with 8-pound chickens on hay next to my microwave stand/bookcase. They come right up the glass and peck at it. It drives Gibson wild.

Anyway, I was typing away mindlessly when I heard cackles from the birds and then saw what I thought was a chicken caught in a white paper bag. What it was, was Saro the goose flapping wildly, her white underside contrasting with her gray top. I was suprised. Saro never "roosts" anywhere. This was a good four feet off the ground, but she somehow clogged her tubby self up into the rafters of the bales and was making herself a nest. I walked up to the window (about 5 inches from her face, protected by glass) and she hissed at me. Geez.

So perhaps there will be spring geese? I would like to add a few more Toulouse to the flock, but I'm in no rush. So maybe those eggs will just be for baking. Goose eggs are amazing in cookies and breads. Something about their more jelly-like whites makes grains bounce, feel more filling. Like you already used the piece of bread to clean the edges of a cast iron skillet of stew, only without that meaty-after taste. Just more, is what I mean.

It's the night before Thanksgiving here at Cold Antler, and I am not driving back to PA. I will do my very best to get myself back to Palmerton for Christmas, but with the farm, car repairs, and a killer cold-snap (14 degrees tonight!) the pipes would freeze without the wood stove roaring and the animals need constant care. It's a trade off with many perks, but also heavy guilt and losses. I hope someday the family will be willing to come up here for some Bourbon Red, garden potatoes, and smoked pheasant but one can't get her hopes up.

Tomorrow I'll be joining The Daugton Family in White Creek for my meal. I have a chicken pickup first thing (down to just five laying hens right now, and just as many roosters!) but my afternoon will just be about joining the family of Tasty the calf (from earlier this fall) for some turkey. I was told I could bring a dog and a fiddle. These are my kind of people.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I'm grateful you check in on me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

coldantler.com coming soon!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Em C G D

Sometimes a girl just needs her guitar.

sissy farmer

barter?

I need a camera with some video capabilities for the blog. I'd like to barter with the readers out there who may have a spare or used digital camera around? I could trade you anything from fiddle lessons to wool. I'm not interested in anything fancy, (my last camera was three years old from Target and cost 100 dollars brand new). Just something with a cord so I can hook it up to my Mac. My iPhone isn't doing the best job and my old camera died. Let me know if you want to trade?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

it works great!

over our heads?

Some one recently put up a review of Made From Scratch on Amazon and pointed out something I never really considered. There are a lot of folks publishing books and blogs on urban homesteading or small-farming adventures right now. From Barbara Kingsolver's family odyssey in rural Virginia to the authors of The Urban Homestead in California. People of all ages, locations, and interests are jumping into their own food production. But what this reviewer wanted to remind folks was that not many of this new crop of homesteaders are single. Certainly few seem to have off-farm jobs. In fact, she couldn't think of another modern homesteader with a book or blog that was going it alone. I thought about this and decided that can't be true, can it? Many of my blog readers are single, many have their own farms. But it does seem like the farmers in the lime light have a spouse or family in the picture.

I guess people assume it's too much? I think it depends on how much you love it though, and how bad you suffer from Barnheart. I don't think my life would suit a lot of people, simply because of the restrictions it puts on the single person. For me, the work of the farm is nothing compared to the social fall out of being a farmer. Dating is hard. Picking up to travel is out of the question. It strains on my family, work, and I no longer belong to a church like I did in Tennessee. But again, the good things about running a farm outweigh the bad ten-to-one. I mean, I think staying late at the office is too much, and yet there are people who practically camp out there. I think twenty minutes of algebra is too much and hard as hell, but there are folks who adore math and made it their careers. Which brings me to this question, which is much more interesting than the single-vs-team aspect of homesteading. Do you think people with no interest in farming are drawn to homesteading because it has become a green trend? Do you think folks who perhaps have no desire to take on that amount of work, and maybe aren't the best suited to country living, are jumping in over their heads? And if they are, do you think a handmade life makes them better people in the end, or just frustrates the hell out of them?

pie in a jar

A friend at the office forwarded me a link to such a recipe, and I loved the idea instantly. You can bake single-serving pies in little canning jars! These would make such fantastic desserts post-thanksgiving with pumpkin pie, or work as beautifully latticed tiny pies brimming with cherries, berries, or apple slices. I haven't tried it yet but Sunday's a long way from over.

Photos and recipe here