Saturday, February 12, 2011

here i come

The kindness of my banjo has lifted me up, so much. It is amazing how much some bright strings and those those mountain tunes have raised my spirits. I feel like a new woman. Between the instrument, the warmer days ahead (mid thirties this week!), and the promise of spring adventures here on the farm. Bees, seeds, and chicks are on the way. Plans for a raised-bed salad garden are already rolling around in my head. Today I was in a wood-heated greenhouse looking at how they have managed to grow food all year and felt so inspired around those baby greens. To see rows of kale, buttercrunch, and spinach all around me was a farmsmack of goodness. Standing on dirt, tasting cabbage off the stalk, laughing with a fellow farmer and talking about our farm's own plans for summer...

This recent turn of events is just want I needed.

I am beginning to feel like the worst is over. The winter is coming to a close and never before in my life have I had such a soft spot in my heart for spring. It's a season I usually despise, but this year I will meet it on my knees.

I have some neat things to announce, including a joint project with two readers who are starting a small business making bamboo notebooks. They are using Kickstarter, a program that lets you rally funding online in the sense that a bunch of small-scale investors help get you started. A micro-loan thing much like Janet described in her post. You can see information about their notebooks here, which will focus designs like the CAF barnheat, veggies, woodcut animals, and other funky agricultural designs I come up with.

And the second neat thing....I want to propose Banjo Equinox. We're going to start an online old-time banjo course here, and it will go a little something like this: anyone who wants to learn to play the banjo will. You won't need any musical experience, or need to read music—you'll just need some stubbornness and dedication. You'll learn with me right here on the blog. All you'll need to get started is a 5-string banjo, a tuner, and we'll all use the same books and materials and share videos, ideas, stories and what not. To kick it off I will be giving away a beginner banjo kit here on the blog in mid-march. It won't be the fanciest banjo, but it will be a nice open back perfect for some clawhammer action.

Okay guys. Spring is a real thing. She's coming, and when she does, I will be ready with a hoe in one hand and a chicken in the other...

I can not wait.

truck errands

woven in

A corporate office isn't the kind of place that makes you think of banjo music, but yesterday right in the middle of my pod I was playing some beginner clawhammer. Right next to my computer I was strumming and picking on our lunch break, filling the third floor with an old waltz. Out of those who took notice, no one complained.

My banjo arrived—as most of my mail does—at work. I had been stalking the UPS website all morning, waiting to see when the delivery truck had arrived. At noon the men in brown where here and I floated down to the second floor. The long box marked Fragile was there, as was a slew of other employees, and the UPS guy. All were eating cake. It was the driver's birthday, and Tami, our mail maven had made sure he had a vanilla sheet cake waiting for him. (I adore that I work for a company that remembers the mailman's birthday, and bakes for him). I had my cake (at wolfish speed) and then took the box down to an empty room on the first floor to open it, tune her up, and frail away.

When I was in the sanctity of the little private room I opened the box and pulled out the black case. INside was green felt, a little hydrometer, and a thing of beauty: a 5-string open back banjo. It was a modest model, a Morgan Monroe. (They also make the great beginner old-time banjo, the hobo) and since it was ordered from Knoxville's Banjo Hut: it was ready to play—strings on, bridge set, nearly in tune. I lifted her into my arms. I took a deep breath. What a feeling to have back again.

It had been a while since I had played, but the old Waltz came back to me. I played Down in the Willow Gardens, which I learned from a Wayne Erbsen beginner tab book, and that mountain music was back. I closed my eyes, playing from automatic memory. The same type of motions that get you twenty miles down the road you don't remember driving to. I played that song, clumsily, making mistakes and keeping on. I felt the dark green grass under me, and the navy blue and purple sky above me, and the blesses summer heat of Tennessee. I felt the warmth of a campfire on my cheek. The sting of muscles sore from hiking up Chimney Tops. The flash of heat lightening, the glow of a firefly just outside my line of site, the constant percussion of a cold stream.

Old Time Banjo is all these things, every time. From that first lesson of learning how to frail the timeless clawhammer strum to your mastering of Georgia Buck is Dead: it's that exhale of place and past. It's a postcard and a memory. It's instant smiles and heart-wrenching reflection. It's the music played in camps of the Civil War, and 60s protests, and my own adventures around America. It's a part of me, woven in.

Thank you for this fine gift.

Friday, February 11, 2011

a chicken story

Thursday, February 10, 2011

janet's hat

I got an email from Cold Antler CSA member, Janet. She lives up in Nova Scotia, sews quilts, and supports small farmers like me just starting out by buying a share of wool in advance, and then waiting patiently for her booty to be mailed after harvest this spring.... She sent me email with photos and the project she created with the help of Maude and Company. The following post is from the email she sent me, and the photos of the project she knit from her first skeins. (Some members got two skeins to start, others got one. The number you got was based on how cold your area of the country was! All members will receive the same amount when the rest of the shares are mailed, so it will even out, promise.) Thank you, Janet. It is a special kind of satisfaction keeping people on the cold north sea a little warmer!

I had been following Jenna’s blog for about a year and enjoying her quest for a few acres of farmland on which to establish herself, her dogs, chickens, ducks etc, and quietly applauding her grit and determination.

At the same time I had been slowly building an investment portfolio of loans through Kiva, despite misgivings about the sustainability of some of the projects funded.

Mainly I had been concentrating on Africa and on women who were responsible for the future of children and grandchildren. I had been strongly influenced by Canada’s Stephen Lewis an advocate for both AIDS funding and the African grandma’s who were shouldering the burden of raising children orphaned by AIDS. So the concept of microloans to enable women for the first time to access funding for their business and agricultural pursuits struck home.

I knew that if I had had access to microfunding twenty or thirty years ago my future might have been very different.

When Jenna announced her plans to purchase a half dozen blackface sheep and form a CSA (community supported agriculture) cooperative through which to market her wool, I came right on board. In my view it makes a great deal of sense to receive your money upfront with which to finance your ongoing operation rather than seeking a bank line of credit (with its attendant control issues) and paying interest for the privilege of lining someone else’s pockets. Right now, the less we rely on and submit to the control of banks the better we will be…. After viewing the recent meltdowns in the US, Iceland and elsewhere.

To make a long story short, just before Christmas I received Jenna’s preliminary packet of info and wool from Maude and other 4-legged friends and the other night I wound some and chose a pattern I had enjoyed making up twice before – a funky, folky hat with huge tassels, designed by NavIne, I must say I am enjoying using this lovely soft wool, and that it knits up into an elastic, warm, yet lacy fabric. I think all Cold Antler Farm’s other CSA members will be as enchanted by it as I am.

I can hardly wait to receive next summer’s installment of skeins and roving – I see thrummed mittens, a traditional New England and Atlantic Canadian concept using roving knit into the inside of mittens to provide loads of insulation for cold days. As I say, I can hardly wait!

Jenna’s prices, from what I can see by cruising the web, are realistic for the quality of wool on offer. Now I need to learn how to dye wool! Perhaps even to spin! Being able to knit is not enough……

Attached is a picture of the hat I made with Jenna’s first wool CSA installment. Who to give it to? What would be more appropriate than to send it off to Jenna in appreciation of her grit and determination in developing a flock to help support her small hill farm? Perhaps she will use it to publicize her products when she appears at farmers markets.

I can hardly wait for the really big installment of wool to arrive – what will I knit with it? I’m busy scanning the internet and collecting patterns to help me decide.

Thank you Jenna for re-introducing me to knitting with wool, rather than blends and acrylic fibres.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

gifted a banjo

I got an email from a reader who saw my post about missing my banjo, and how it meant spring to me. In an act of pure kindness, she made it possible for me to order one, on the condition I will never sell it. I must treat it like another dog, a thing of companionship and import. I found a Morgan Monroe model, a fine open back design for clawhammer and it will be delivered on Friday. I am so excited about this banjo, you just can't know.

I decided if a gift like that could be given from a stranger, than I must honor that with a dedicated practice of the beast. I will be studying the banjo, in the Old-Time style this spring with a fresh heartbeat, a renewed intent. I want to approach it as a beginner all over again. And if anyone out there wants to join me, we'll do an online webinar course.

As soon as I am able. I will be gifting a banjo here on the blog to one of you readers. We'll keep that sweet music grazing.

hay time switchel

Hay Time Switchel was a popular drink in New England once. It was the original Gatorade for farmers. A homebrew of various potent sources of protein and sugar (maple syrup, molasses, eggs, cider, vinegar, ginger, honey, and cane sugar: among other regional ingredients) and together they created a lasting source of hydration and stamina for men working from dawn into the full moon to bring in the hay. It was quite the thing.

I have created my own Switchel here at Cold Antler, and while the ingredients are different the effect is the same. I make a combination of really, really, strong green Yerba Mate green tea,100% fruit juice, and raw honey. I make it in giant two gallon pots and then let it cool in the fridge. I then bottle it into beer bottles, cap it, and set it in the fridge. These switchels then are ready to be drank as a booster when I come inside from morning chores (so refreshing cold) or this morning, I still am fighting a cold so I poured a bottle into my giant brown mug and heated it up for two minutes and added more honey and lemon. It did the trick.

Yerba Mate isn't like coffee or tea. It's an herb from South America and bought loose and green it brews just like coffee in your percolator. I brew it strong, almost brown, and pour two coffee pots of it into a stainless steel saucepan before I add my can of berry juice concentrate and a half cup of honey from my bees. It is a true natural energy source. Yerba Mate doesn't give you that jolt like coffee (something I still adore but drink much less of) instead it slowly rises you up to a calmer state of awareness.You just feel like it's four hours before you drank it. Refreshed.

So there's something to consider. Either digging up some ancient Switchel recipes and trying them out instead of buying corn syrup and food coloring, or giving Yerba Mate a try. It's pretty awesome.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

this morning

weather and such

I woke up to the snow from childhood memories. The kind that covers every tree, every fence row, and hides all sin. It was still dark when I was outside delivering hay and water, but in the glow of the lamppost the flakes seemed magical. No cars drove by, and because of the atmosphere I would have been shocked if they did. The only transport that would have made any sense was a jingle horse. Inside the coffee was perking, there were some oatmeal cookies in a quart jar, and all the dogs had already been taken out and fed. I stood out by the well, on a slight down slope from the farm house and the sheep and just took it all in.

The weather has been flirtatious lately. Saturday night temperatures rose to nearly 40 degrees and a thunderstorm ripped through Jackson. I wasn't prepared for it. I was out late with the dogs, giving them their last trip outside when I noticed a giant flicker of light. I though the house shorted, or the lamppost was on the fritz...but then a clap of thunder filled the sky and I felt six again, I was so excited. I fell asleep with a window cracked open as the rain fell. It was almost like a summer pre-show. A trailer of what's to come. I missed my banjo. The rain reminded me of spring, and spring is for banjos, mud, chicks, and pea vines.

Sigh. They want it 0 tonight.

Monday, February 7, 2011

shepherd shirts!

I added some more stuff to the Dry Goods store. You can now get this design on some products (including an iPhone holder) and some other nifty farm goodies at my Cafepress store. Might be fun to stretch out on a Barnheart yoga mat, or eat your pulled pork lunch from an antler container. Every item puts a few dollars towards the farm.

peas and snow


Every time I hear someone tell me how stupid sheep are I think of my boy, Sal. Sal's my British Longwool crossbred wether: half Border Leicester and half Romney. He's huge, easily 200+ pounds, and to some people that makes him a little menacing. I remember when my friend James came to see my new farm and he saw Sal up on the hill standing under the apple trees he just stared, asked "when I got a pony with a sweater?"

Truth is, Sal's the calmest and most social sheep at Cold Antler. He comes when called, nuzzles you, and will lay next to you in the pasture if you promise to scratch his ear. I have watched toddlers stand right next to him and tug at his wool. I have set a dulcimer on his back and played it at length. He's just an easy going guy. A Golden Retriever in sheep's clothing. When Gibson charges up at the fence every single sheep but he race up the hill in a dust cloud. Sal stands calm as an iron Buddha. He chews his cud, looks at me, looks at the dog, and says in his own sheepy way, "What?"

Someday Gibson will snap his nose to teach him to respect the Law of Dog, but until then he is unmoved by 55 pounds of talk.
I like that about Sal.

He and Maude change people's minds about sheep. Most people think they are all without personality or thought, but spend one afternoon at this farm and interact with angry, sullen, Maude and joyous Sal and you'll see emotions and complex thoughts like our own behind those eyes. I'm not saying sheep are people, but they are individuals. They react with the world in their own way.