Tuesday, September 13, 2011

after-work herding practice/chaos

here's a promise

I will never, ever, ever, ever use this blog to bash another blogger or peer.


Monday, September 12, 2011

the new shed has begun!

Update: 8:45PM 9-13-11
The crew put up four front support beams today and sided the back with the rough cut pine. Should I stain this? What kind of stain?

if you are coming to Antlerstock....

Please leave a comment here. I need to know how many copies of the Backyard Homestead to order, and some of you are pairs. Please let me know!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

practice, practice, practice

Here's a short video of ground driving with Jasper, my good friend Brett at the reins. Brett knows how to work a team and I know enough about tack to get by, making for the best ever practice with Jasper out in the pasture. All of us worked up a sweat—and now with a properly-fitted harness, chains, and singletree—I'm ready to get into a serious routine of practice with Jasper. It'll be a half hour a day in harness from here on out, slowly complicating the course, adding weight, and working out near the road and around the farm and woods. I was grateful for Brett's help, and proud of my little pony, who did a bang up job out there in harness.

While out at dinner in Manchester, I asked Brett when he last thought that singletree was used? He said a hundred years, probably. It was the same singletree that was hanging on the side of the farm house as a decoration. The folks I bought this place from probably found it in the barn and thought it was better for ambiance than use. A few years later, some kids are in the pasture training a cart/logging pony with a small dead sumac trunk that fell down in the hurricane. Life rolls.

My new routine:
Sheep herding with Gibson in the morning.
Horse training at night.

Thank God for the internet, books, and instructional DVDs.

my boys


metrics as a measure

People say it's a fierce independence or love of animals and the outdoors that tips parents off that their children are going to become farmers. I think the real red flag out there on the future farmer charts is attention to weather. If you know a child who looks up at the sky, asks about rainfall amounts, checks weather.com, and pays mind to the changing seasons with unusual attention: that's a farmer. I'd put money on it. Same goes for adults who have an urge to homestead or become farmers. You might love fiber or cheese, or always dreamed of hosting a cook out with your own Belted Galloway steaks and microbrews: but dreamers alone do not make farmers. I say the guy in the cubicle on weather.com with a rooftop garden's a better bet than than guy at Outback Steakhouse doodling branding logos on his napkin.

Here's why:

As a small farmer there is nothing that excites, terrorizes, or impacts my life more than weather. I wake up and check it first thing. The farmhouse is set up with a mini weather station in the kitchen, telling me indoor temps, outdoor temps, forecast, barometrics, the works. I own two weather radios I can switch onto NOAA at any moment. And if I am 7 hours into the workday, wishing I was home with Gibson on the hill, it is the weather websites I turn to. Because when I know what it's like outside I can shape my whole day around it, every part of it. I know what boots to put on when I come inside and change and weather I need to put on a sweater and my waxed cotton or a light hoodie and a bandana. I know what the animals will be doing, how they will be acting, where they will be resting when I pull in the driveway. I can already see Gibson's panting and muddy frame, the way the sheep run uphill in poorer weather and how they run out to the far pasture in fair. The weather rules everything around here.

Today will be a mild day, this morning it was cold enough to see my breath. This afternoon I will work with Brett and Jasper in the field. I already know what to wear, how to be comfortable, and how the day will go. It's my rulebook, best friend, worst enemy and addiction, this weather. And I don't know a single person with acres or a herd that could disagree.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

poems, tea, and dogs tonight

Pictures pass me in long review
Marching columns of dead events.
I was tender and, often, true;
Ever a prey to coincidence.
Always knew the consequence;
Always saw what the end would be.
We're as Nature has made us - hence
I loved them until they loved me.

-Dorothy Parker

tired gal

Yesterday after the installation I ended up rushing to my friends' farm for dinner and didn't get home to late, having been happily suckered into helping with Hors d'oeuvre for a wedding for people I do not know. I spent the evening in a restaurant after-hours, with twenty people, laughing and joking around. I filled so many dates with cream cheese I started thinking they were tiny footballs. Drove home with Gibson hanging out the window, me singing to the radio.

Spent today helping friends move (When you have a pickup truck, and most of your friends do not, this is a common request). I love moving, did a lot myself, but today I helped Tyler and Chrissy move in a caravan of friends up the mountains of southern Vermont to the town of Londonderry. By the time 4 PM rolled around I had hauled enough mattresses and dressers up a flight of stairs to earn some sore muscles. Afterwards I enjoyed my gift of a hamburger and beer, and came home to the farm ready to relax. Jasper is fed and in his stall. The poultry are locked in their coop. I herded sheep with Gibson (it's an uphill battle) earlier today, and there was some progress. And now I am going to enjoy some soup and Prairie Home Companion. I heart Lake Wobegon.

The stove is in and I will post photos soon, I promise. But tonight I am keeping it short, without photoshop or extra effort. I am dog tired, can't wait to put up my unshod feet and play that banjo (any of you still playing since spring?). I have some Dorothy Parker to read tonight. That's a treat, no matter who you are.

Tomorrow Brett is coming over to help with Jasper and altering his harness to fit properly. Photos of the stove installation and draft training tomorrow!

Friday, September 9, 2011

small lesson

Favorite thing I learned today:
Amen is Hebrew for Let it be.

Simple and beautiful, that.

chimney men

stove day!

That photo was taken this spring (as you can tell by the flowers), but it took since it was delivered to build up to this day. It is STOVE DAY! My Vermont BunBaker is nearly ready to use and I feel like I just won the self-preservation lottery. A wood stove means a lot to me. It means that without electricity or power to the furnace in the basement this farm will stay warm even on the coldest nights. It means that when both stoves are burning I use less foreign oil, eventually I will use none. The goal is to do a project each year that makes this North Country farm a little more energy independent. This year is wood heat. Next year: solar hot water.

I pulled an apple pie out of the oven and coffee is on the stove. The man from the Stovery in Argyle is here to install the chimney. He's a retired NYC policeman from Long Island who moved to Saratoga County a few years back. We're talking dogs, taxes, stoves, and such. Great guy. He's too professional to accept the coffee and apple pie I made for him and his partner, but I always err on refreshments for anyone who comes and does anything at this farm I can't do myself. They rarely accept, but I think the offer is appreciated.

This stove pipe, chimney, and random stove essentials will mean after today this stove will be ready to light and heat this house. It took 6 months of saving and planning to cover the over $2,000 in parts and the 500 installation fees. That might sound like a lot, but to have two men take half a day to cut holes into walls, climb high ladders, and professionally ensure my house doesn't burn down is worth it to me. I can make 500 bucks if I work extra hard. I can't buy another house. And my insurance won't cover a burned down house if I didn't get my wood stove installed by professionals and inspected by the County. Dems the breaks.

I called the Inspector too, and was quietly proud of myself for having all the right permits and code numbers he needed to set up the inspection. I went through this whole process by the books, got my chimney permit, paid the fees, got the double insulated pipe. I'm trying to do my best by this house and this amazing gift of a stove (well, barter).

Folks are coming up from the city today to film a DIY video project, about what they consider "Superstar DIYers" and I think we'll make cheese or plant some winter rye. I want to make them lunch as well, but not sure what to serve people who can eat anything they want, from any country in the world, whenever they want. So I decided some homemade pizza would work out. Pizza and apple pie are the great equalizers. Unless they have gluten allergies and are lactose intolerant, which in that case all I have is hay and balsamic vinigarettes.

More updates on the chimney (already over estimated costs, oy) and the video folks later in the day. Gibson is amazed at how one man can put a hole in his house.

Thank you to everyone who attended a workshop, bought a CSA share, books, or donated to the farm. This is where your cash goes: into projects like this. The mortgage, insurance, truck payments, and bills are still paid by my day job, but all farm animals, feed, projects, improvements, and extras (including groceries and clothes) are covered by Cold Antler itself.

And now there will be pie in my living room while it is snowing outside. Amen!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

someone tell jake

...that his girl is waiting in Jackson.

soggy place, this

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

why do you do this?

Why do you do this? Why do you raise your own vegetables, meat, mushrooms, and eggs? Why do you want to live in the country? Why are you turning suburbia and the city into food-producing land? Why are you drawn to draft horses and tractors?

Tell me.

an alliance?

I am so happy to share this. Today, just now, was the first time ever Gibson and I worked with the whole flock of ewes! Lambs and ewes together! It was slightly chaotic, but Gibson and I managed to do the simple task of bringing all the sheep in from the far field. He even went back for Pidge, the smallest lamb who ran off away from the rest of the herd. Maude stomped and glared at him (of course), but didn't charge. While it was far from polished, I worked my farm with my stock and my dog. I am thrilled tonight!

Celebrating on this soppy night with French Onion Soup in a bread bowl. But I need to go outside and see to the animals first, I can hear Jasper hollering for evening feed from the kitchen!


face off

Working Gibson with a few lambs everyday, getting him used to sheep, used to working with me. We're slowly forming a partnership on our own land. Ashe, seen here, isn't scared to face off with G every now and again. Gibson never grips, but he does have the dance moves to dodge even the angriest headbutt. He's a lover, not a fighter.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

it's NATIONALS time!

Antlerstock Is Gonna Rock!

So plans are being finalized for the Fall Festival/Antlerstock being held here October 15th and 16th. Saturday will be the main day of workshops, starting at 10AM with: Backyard lumberjackin' and woodlot management workshops presented by Professor Brett, Soap making by Tara Pommer of Texas, Cheese making (hard and soft cheeses) By Cathy Daughton and Diane Kennedy, and Myself doing tours and all the animal classes. There will be a Sheep, Chicken, Rabbit, and bee workshops taught by me throughout the day along with farm tours. I will also do a wool workshop, showing how to go from fleece to yarn as well as knitting lessons. Food will all be locally sourced from Veryork farms (as much as possible), you can expect brunch and a midday meal both days (vegetarian options). Cyrus and Saro will do absolutely nothing but walk around yelling at people. Expect nothing from the geese.

Jack-o-lantern carving stations will be set up at your convenience: hoping to light the farm up with jacks for the campfire!

Saturday night will be the campfire, with hay bales to sit on and refreshments. Please bring WARM clothes and blankets, and if you have a musical instrument, bring her along as well. This campfire is a totally casual "after-party" to enjoy just conversation and music. But there will be also a raffle for a student fiddle kit, and you have to be present at the bonfire to be there to enter into the straw hat.

Sunday morning will be another brunch (starting at 9AM) and series of workshops including a canning demonstration in the kitchen, and basics of food preservation (water bath canning to freezer bags, how to blanch, etc). Bread making from scratch, fiddle and dulcimer beginner introductions, the weekend festival ends with a field trip over to Merck Forest and Farmland Center for a hike in the early afternoon (weather permitting!).

There are only two spots left, folks. Please let me know at jenna@itsfarwalk.com if you would like them!

Kevin Wins!

Kevin of Odd Ducks Farm, you are the new winner of the Week at the Folk School, last winner had to back out due to personal scheduling! Email me!

Monday, September 5, 2011

hard respite

It's pouring out there, and I just missed the deluge. I had been outside for a few hours taking care of Jasper's stall. I turned him out to the pasture and then filled a few wheel barrows with manure and soppy hay. I took note of his housekeeping. Jasper rarely, if ever, went to the bathroom in his indoor stall. He kept most of his dumps in the paddock. The far corner of the stall had a small nest of hay untouched by even mud. His bed.

I spent most of my Labor Day afternoon mucking this stall, giving him some fresh straw for bedding. With the three days of rain coming our way, clean, dry bedding seems important. It's what I would want. He walked back to his paddock without much fuss. He's getting used to his routines and used to me. Someday I will ride that pony. Today, I just flushed his toilet.

I have a little cornish hen in the oven over a bed of new potatoes. If you read this blog for some time, you know them as well as I. I thought a homegrown chicken dinner was fitting for Labor Day. Alongside it: watermelon from the farm down the road, and raspberries over vanilla Greek yogurt for dessert. A feast! And a savory, warm meal of meat and potatoes on a rainy night post a day of farm work. This is comfort pornography to me.

It's comforts like this that best explain why I do this, why I live this life. I am a junky for hard work followed by hard respite. But not just any work or any respite. I love working outdoors, with animals (sometimes in service to them) to grow and raise the food and music I will enjoy when the work is over. This is timeless, in our blood. Not one of us doesn't have an agrarian back in their pedigrees. It was simply how our culture became. So to spend a day in a light rain, dripping with sweat, shoveling horse shit into a wheel barrow in hopes that some day I will harness that pony to a log chain or cart: this to me is good work. This is joy paid for up front, emotional insurance.

I can take the work. (Hell, I'm a sadist for it.) I know after that stall is clean I will walk Jasper into it, hand him a little grain, fill his canvas hay feeder, and pour clean well water into his trough. He will have his every need met. He ran across a pasture, chomped apples, worked with me, and now has his bed and breakfast waiting for him post room service. Same goes for the rabbits, the sheep, the chickens—all of them are fed, watered, with warm dry places to call home tonight. When I go inside to rest, it is only knowing I did right by these animals. An unspoken agreement of mutual dependency sings.

When I sit in my farmhouse—even without anyone to share dinner with—I feel so secured and calm by this work. Sometimes, quite honestly, it is the only thing that makes me feel safe. Between my anxieties and a world and economy falling apart, this 6.5 acres cares for me. It stands up to blizzards and hurricanes. It holds fireplaces and warm dogs. It is worth all of it.

The meal I will eat tonight was known as a chick and a seed. It took months to get here, from people I know and do not know. I know myself and Ben Shaw, who raised and processed the bird, and how much work we both did. But what about the people who bagged those seed potatoes? What about the workers at the Hatchery who shipped that cornish? What about the folks who made that hoe, who sold it to me? There is a chain so endless, even in backyard-produced foods, and you don't have to be a religious person to be in awe, or grateful, or say an honest grace because this meal tonight, is a miracle. This day of Labor, is a celebration.

You grow food and you're forever. A part of past, future, life and death. You are sore, and tired, and to wake up without a kinked back or aching hips might require an hour of yoga before bed, but that's okay.

I hope all of you had a wonderful and safe holiday.

green=knitting likelihood

berries and fried dough

Went raspberry picking yesterday afternoon with my friends Wendy and Diane. The farm of our fruity desires: Gardenworks in West Hebron. It was a muggy, overcast morning at that farm, but the booty was worth it. $3.50 a pound for U-pick berries (and a pound is A LOT of raspberries!), and pick we did. I ended up bringing home around three pounds of the late-summer jewels. I froze four pints in ball jars with plastic lids, and ate the remaining berries fresh. It was hard not to eat them all....I don't think I ever ate a berry as good as those. Nothing compares to the sun-and-humidity seasoned orbs I feasted on while picking in those rows. It was also pleasant being out there with friends, talking, laughing, and getting my mind out of the usual anxieties and stresses anyone feels if they stay cooped up to long. I had not been out since Thursday night and three days of staying home with a bug convinced me I had every disease on WebMD. What I really needed: sunshine, fresh air, laughter, and a Bloomin' Onion.

Yes. a Bloomin' Onion.

After the berries were stored in the cooler in the back of Wendy's car we headed to the charming Schaghticoke (Skat-eh-coke) Fair. It was getting ridiculously hot for September, and both Diane and I kept checking our phones for weather updates. She has a small farm and so do I, so if the upcoming storm the weather apps had been flashing warnings about all morning would be bad, we both had work to do. But the sun stayed out, and we walked around the small fair enjoying the cows, sheep, goats, poultry, horses, and displays. In the NY State Products building one department of Random Agricultural Goodwill that was handing out large 1/2 pound seed packets of winter rye. I grabbed three. I'll cover the entire raised-bed row system I have and let them grow as a cover crop for soil health. I never grew any sort of grains before, but when a gift horse hands you three bags of rye, you say giddyup.

I also managed to eat a third of a fried petal onion (AKA heaven), fried dough with apples on it, ice cream, and lemonade. My quota of fair food is up for the year—and I'm happy to report this morning was back to oatmeal and yogurt—but that was a fine act of debauchery. And as awful/wonderful as the food was, and as hot the evening: it was that time spent outside with friends that made me feel so much better than I had in days (That, and making myself sleep at least 7 hours a night). Not a sustaining remedy, but a good shot of temperance. Everyone once in a while you got to set down the pitchfork and go eat some crap with your friends. Does the soul good.

And as for that storm...what a doozy! Sky went black around dinnertime and what ensued was a few hours of off-an-on pummeling of rain, lightening and thunder. One crack was so loud Gibson dropped his Nylabone and jumped right into my lap on an easy chair. But the power stayed on, and the basement stayed dry, and I felt lucky to be in this place. Safe as houses, they say. They're right.

dairy queens

Sunday, September 4, 2011

dark as night and it's only 6PM

...big storm coming....

real progress

The lawn is covered in leaves, and the king maple out front of the farmhouse is starting to turn orange and red. It's still humid out there, and weird to be hot and bothered among all those signs of fall everywhere. All around this farm, things are changing. Jasper let me slip his halter right over his head yesterday for the first time, and the walk out to the pasture from his paddock went smoothly. This morning I called him from the farthest reaches of the pasture and he came to me, and let me snap his lead rope on him, and we went for a walk down the mountain on the road, even jogging together for a while. I walked him back to the paddock (rain all day today) for some grain and breakfast. He walked right in. This might sound simple, or even boring to some of you, but this is progress for both of us. Acceptance of each of our roles. Being new to horses (new to everything, really) I am still learning how to work with what I hope will become my second vehicle. I used to have these goals of hopping on his back and riding bareback into the sunset up the pasture, or throwing on harness and taking a quick trip into town, but we aren't there yet. Right now we are learning manners, and our names, and who is in charge, and expectations.

It is slow progress, but real.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

no honey no booze

No honey no booze, that's my rap. Sometimes these homesteading projects don't work out. You plain mess it up. I grabbed the mini keg out of the cupboard to bottle today and found a hot mess. The all malt stout I had been looking forward to for the past month— when I pulled it down to eye-level—had a nice topping of mold where bubbles or foam should be. It went bad and it wasn't coming back. I'll dump it and will brew a new batch soon to bottle in a few weeks.

As for the honey? Well, the queen excluder, didn't. The Queen Excluder is like a little screen you put between boxes stacked up on the hive. It is supposed to keep the queen from crawling into the honey production area. But she, or a new queen, got in and started laying eggs in the combs. When I went in today to extract a bit for fall/winter the shallow combs were covered with larva caps. It's a baby house now, and taking honey would be the equivalent of genocide and possibly hurting the future of the hive. I returned them to their place among the frames. I'll wait till next summer for the sweet stuff from my own yard and start getting these guys ready for winter.

Dems the breaks, folks. I have some Saranac IPA in the fridge and I bought a jar of local honey at the IGA. They'll do!

the cotswolds are here!

The Cotswolds have landed! At 2PM yesterday afternoon a black pickup delivered four pedigreed ewes (two mother/daughter pairs) and they have melded in perfectly with the Cold Antler flock. In the video you'll meet Pearl and her gang (Pearl has the Justin Bieber locks) and see Maude right there with them. For the first time in years, Maude is surrounded by gals that look like her, and she was instantly drawn to them. In fact, she was the first to walk up to the new recruits through the fence. Atta girl, Maude!

It was great to welcome the new sheep, and things are the farm seem to be happening at a slow and steady clip into autumn. The chimney gets installed next Friday. The new sheep shed will be up within a few weeks, or sooner. I am going to try and find a home for Lisette and her lamb (free to anyone who wants them). They are on the mend, but not ill, just no longer breeding stock. Lisette needs a barn this winter with constant grain to put on weight, and her lamb Pidge, is 100% back to good, just needs her rump shorn from dirty wool. Besides a dirty bum and needing some heavy calories, these sheep are fine as backyard lawn mowers and fiber, they just are too small for breeding here with Atlas. So if you want them, you are welcome to them. Just email me about picking them up.

Speaking of sheep: no spots left in the Black Sheep Winter Wool workshop, but if enough people are interested, I will post a second in February and source some local wool for us to learn with. I also have four bags of Alpaca wool in storage a reader gave me, and we could spin that as well!

I only have 3 spots left for the Fall Festival, and am excited to report that several states and two countries will be there! Lots of Canadians are braving south as well as Texans, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, Vermonters, Marylanders, Jerseys, Californians and even a pair of Arkansarians (I made that term up, but to me it is an Ozark Librarian). So excited for our two days of Homesteading Celebration!

Friday, September 2, 2011

time to slow down

I am realizing how much I haven't been taking care of myself. Not enough sleep, not eating well, not stopping when I am tired, and filling my days with do-to lists that could cripple an OCD ward. I need to make some time to breathe and stretch and put on some moisturizer and pick up a pair of jeans without holes in them. A few days ago I was so worn out it scared me into slowing down. My body pretty much demanded, without argument, that I rest. So I am resting this weekend.

I'm not going to stop writing or blogging (that would drive me crazy), but I am going to take my activity level down a few notches. I am making more time for me, even if it's just an hour in the morning. The farm here is a beautiful thing, but sometimes it moves forward with pounding hooves and I need to learn to step back or it can trample right over me. I have to remind myself that just because I have all the supplies and daylight to extract honey and bottle two gallons of beer doesn't mean I have to do it. Maybe I can do one each day, over this weekend, and spend a little more time stretching in the morning sun, breathing deep, being grateful, and enjoying healthy meals. I think I need it. Last night was the first time I slept 8-hours straight in years. It made a difference.

Feeling very tired tonight. Not complaining (I hope this doesn't come across that way) I'm plain worn out. It happens every now and again, and if you already have a small farm or wish to own one yourself: you'll probably relate to this silly plight. I expect the first colder nights with woodsmoke and crisp leaves to pull me back into full speed, but right now I could curl up into a dog bed if it was the closest mattress...

Not sure you folks want to hear about this sort of thing? But it is what's happening right now, and since this blog is pretty much a play-by-play of one life, it was shared. Some nights I'll stay up hours typing about loving this farm, and some nights I hope it leaves me alone for hours so I can stand upright without tottering.

Anyone have any suggestions on best ways to unwind? I should preempt that by saying I don't have a bathtub and this is a family-friendly site.

Here's to sleep.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

it's rare that a commercial makes me this happy...

Thanks to Linda on the Facebook group, I saw this ad. Chipolte is one of the few fast food companies in America to source pastured and local foods at their chain. Showing us that even the most corporate of businesses can move towards a better future. Willie Nelson covers Coldplay in this animated short. Enjoy.

where cars can't go

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the open road

I was listening to a Jim Kunstler's podcast, and the subject of the America's love of spontaneity came up. The conversation was about our national love of instant, personal, gratification (i.e. jumping in our cars whenever we feel like it, doing our housework whenever we wish, etc)—just the freedom our modern lives have in this cushy, air-conditioned, iPad-and-digital cable filled world. And how that all could change so quickly due to economic hardships and energy scarcity. It was a really engaging episode, but it also had me reeling. Why is spontaneous behavior and escape so romanticized in modern society?

Why do we want to be those people on the open road roaring into the sunset with nothing but a suitcase in the backseat? Is it just a luxury of a post-war affluence and their novelty of the new interstate highway system? Did it auto-drip into our craniums from decades of movies and music videos, novels and inventions? Or is whimsical travel part of who we are? I mean, we are constantly being told that escaping responsibility equates freedom. I guess that make sense when it comes to unfortunate emotional/social responsibilities (a bad marriage, an abusive home, etc)—but escaping from good work, solid ground, and healthy food no longer seems like freedom to me.

There is no freedom on a road trip. It is the epitome of bondage. You at the mercy of so many things: money, weather, oil, road conditions, food availability, police officers, traffic laws and so on.Your entire survival is in the hands of other people (and corporations). I think people are confusing rapid speeds out of doors with freedom.

Let me tell you what freedom isn't: Freedom is not an open highway. It is not drilling for oil. It is not having an endless line of credit. Nor is it having your every whim and comfort catered to. Freedom is the ability to wake up, laugh, eat, work, and love without fear. Freedom is walking outside your front door and knowing that if the world around you falls apart, you can make it a little while, maybe longer. It means not being at the whims of the power company, grocery store, and highway crews. For some of us that means a garden, saddle horse, and a flock of chickens. For others it means a thriving community where neighbors know each other by first names and help and support each other. But it certainly isn't something you can achieve peeling off into the sunset. Not unless you're driving home.

What is freedom to you?

illustration from kunstlercast.com

September Sheep Workshop Canceled

Sorry folks. Too many people switched from the Sheep workshop to the Fall Festival (Can't blame them!) so we'll move this to the spring, and cover basics with lambing too.

the cotswolds are coming!

Four Cotswold sheep are coming to Cold Antler, two ewes and their lambs from this past season. They are a longwool breed, and much like Joseph (who is half Cotswold) and here to add more spinning wool to the flock. I want to blend a half blackface/half longwool combo to make a soft outerwear fabric. These guys are needed to up the softness!

Also, I paid off the chimney! I just need to pay the installers to come and build it, but I amover 2/3rd paid off! It'll be installed on the 9th!

photo from ross farm museum, nova scotia

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

old school

just give me the frisbee, lady

hard times ain't gonna rule my mind

Monday, August 29, 2011

a short story

Three-Minute Fiction is a contest NPR runs every once in a while, and this was my entry, but it lost. The rules are simple. You have to write an original piece of fiction that's under 600 words, but the judge of the contest (some author or journalist) decides the rules, and to win you can not break them. This latest was too much fun to pass up. Judge and author Michael Cunningham just had this to say: the first line of the story had to be Some people swore that the house was haunted and the last line had to be Nothing was ever the same again after that. Here is my entry.

P.S. You will notice comments from when I posted this a year ago. I had to remove it from the blog because entries could not be published, in any form, before the winner was announced. So when I knew that I took it down. But my sister asked about it today so I reposted it.

Mark The Frame

Some people swore that the house was haunted. The black dog knew better. Sitting outside on the porch of the old Federal mansion the Saster knew how foolish those words were the moment they came out of those stuttering human mouths. Why they chose to label some homes haunted and others not always annoyed him. He was a black sheepdog, heavy in coat with yellow eyes and he stared at the haunted house the same way all dogs did. Don't they understand that every house is haunted? Filled with the smells of generations of dead animals? Covered in the stains of memories? The mold of nostalgia good and bad?Saster lifted his nose and smelled the dead toddler, the broken wedding vows, the Irish Setter who left one night and never came home. Ghosts circled the wainscoting, turned up the corners of the linoleum. Each past life was an apparition and unless you cut down a tree in the woods that no man or dog had ever pissed on, they were all haunted. Every damn one.

His people were young and new to farming. They brought him here from their last home, smaller and belonging to someone he never saw called Lord. He worked sheep with them and after many conversations and lifting of heavy things they left Lord's house and came here. It was the only farm they could afford, the price low and lonely because the rumors of slamming doors, knocking walls, and footsteps in the halls when no one was in those places. These are things dogs see all the time. They are as normal as rain.

Saster scratched his right ear with his right back foot and shifted back into a proper sit. He watched his people lift the heavy things inside, sign papers, rattle keys, and shake hands. They seemed a quiet happy, but so preoccupied with the ghosts they might see it made every crooked smile a measured success. He worried about them all the time. He couldn’t work sheep with people who thought ghosts were as dangerous as coyotes. He wanted people who understood the world. He had not met them yet.

When the only people left were his, the heavy things put down, and their truck the only car in the farm’s driveway they called him inside as they walked through the old hallways, touching the wallpaper gently as they said his name without looking back. Saster stood up and shook out his hide and trotting towards the door. Before crossing the threshold he lifted his leg and marked the frame with a long stream. He heard the growls of long dead dogs and ignored them as he stepped inside. The living add to every haunting, create them in truth. Urine slid off the red frame. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

a glorious empire

So many of the roads around here are closed, bridges washed away. My commute to Vermont every Monday through Thursday for work just got a little more complicated. I drove south twenty miles and crossed the state line where it was safe before driving all the way back north to the office. Usually it's a straight shot, about twenty minutes in the truck. Today took longer, and afforded me the chance to explore.

I drove across random county roads, 68 took me through Grandma Moses territory. Rolling, dramatic, cow-splattered hillsides dappled in sunshine. Had a Tropical Storm really come through here less than 24 hours ago? It seemed a lie. Storms are not possible things on movie sets, are they? Between Gillian singing Scarlet Town on the speakers and Gibson hanging his thin frame out the passenger-side window, it was something out of a make-believe world. A fantasy I once read about in Borders (when Borders was around) during college, sipping coffee and paging through Hobby Farm magazine between studios. I love this county. I love this state. I love how it heals, and teaches, and puts on a show after a horrible mood. Truly, it is a glorious Empire, this.

I came home a new way too, and it was like driving through some Hobbit village. I found a road called Mylers off 7A and it weaved and ducked through a series of random dirt roads back home. I passed a man driving a draft horse in a John Deere themed forecart. He waved and I smiled. Mark my words readers: We will all live to see John Deere selling green and yellow collars and hames. This world is changing right in front of us, everyday.

I kept going, behind old forests, small dairy and sheep farms. New places, untouched places. Past the Monks and Nuns of New Skete, over small bridges and quiet water. I popped out near 372 at the base of Cambridge. By the time I got home I felt like I learned a few secrets. Like I saw something only yetis and unicorns new about, and it was there all along.

Imagine that?

I had a few chores to do at home. Soon as I got in the door and walked and fed the dogs I grabbed my crook and let the whole flock (minus Atlas, who was in his ram pen) out into the greener pasture. I had to walk the fence line and look for downed trees (though the only downed trees were over my garbage cans). All the rain littered a carpet of green with apples and waving grasses. I let them each eat a few before I went to get Jasper, who had been cooped up in his stall for two days and was so thrilled to run and chomp he flew across the grass. I let go of the lead snap and released him into the gate and felt like I just through a lightening bolt into the world.

I watched him. My whole body felt ten pounds lighter. Maybe it's the yoga practice, or the meditation, or just the fact we all made it through the storm in so much devastation just minutes away, but the happiness was thick. And I felt a little more certain about myself, and things I did not approve of, and how much the attention I was paying to my own body and heart was making me feel better. The other morning during that yoga retreat the teacher said during meditation. "Be at peace. You have support. You are cared for." and all I could think about was this community, both in actuality and online. I glowed on that mat. I was so grateful, for the readers, and the friends, and the animals. This is what I thought about after the storm, out in my pasture, and in that growing strength of my little, battered up, fiddle-strung heart I watched a spotted pony cry out a happy whinny and smiled. Time to make some changes. Time to learn to move and learn to shout like a pent-up pony.

Sun. Stretching. Grass. Survival. Animal. Smiles. Healing.

This woman is learning how to live in the world.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I am so grateful for this house.

That is all.

irene rips apart veryork

I wanted to update everyone on the state of things, Veryork is not in good shape. While Cold Antler is lucky to be built on a mountain side, up high, but my friends near the Battenkill, Hoosick, and Hudson Rivers are in deep trouble. This video was taken just a few towns over, near Bennington Vermont. Facebook is booming right now with images of my area, a lot of it under water. I am posting much of it on my page, so check it for more images and video. But yes, Manchester, Londonderry, Pawlet and other towns around here are being surged. Flood waters are 7+ feet above the flood stage. Covered bridges are being washed away, and cars are floating down the river. The Home Depot I was at two times Friday is now under a few feet of water. I am worried about friends and theirs around here. Two of my friends have been evacuated. I feel both lucky and worried sick. I haven't heard from a few and really hope they are okay.

I am expecting power to eventually go out with winds coming our way, and trees coming down. I have the generator and extension cord ready to go. I will have to be on top of this, because if I let that sump pump alone and it goes off for just ten minutes the water pouring in from the base and the walls will overtake the furnace and more.

I don' think I'll be going into work tomorrow.

strings in the storm

geese love hurricanes

Irene came late last night and this morning I took out the dogs for a constitutional on the front lawn. The wind was light, moving the rooster wind chimes outside the kitchen window, but getting stronger. The sheep are all in their sheds, still eating the big bale I put in late last night. Jasper was given extra as well, and is in the barn. The chickens all took cover, but there are two residents of Cold Antler walking around without a care in the world: the geese Cyrus and Saro, love this constant rain and wind. They have no idea why everyone is hunkered down? It's just a little rain, right?

Still power, no damage here. Hoping that this was a media frenzy that just scared people. Over at Jon's blog he talked about that, the real storm being not the weather, but the hype and fear it caused, and how we fell into it. I agree. I certainly did. Yesterday I ran into him at the Co-op and he said his daughter called him from Brooklyn. "It's a catastrophe, dad. Everyone is out of multigrain bread." That pretty much sums it up.

I'm going to spend the day working on some writing here on the kitchen eMac, and later, going through a large printout of Barnheart and make my last minute changes and edits with a pen, old school. Probably by candlelight if the winds knock down a few trees, which it is wont to do around these parts.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

calm before the storm

This video taken around 6PM, and by the time I was done with my chores the sky was dark and the wind was picking up. Looks like this all starts out with a bang here, the pregame is a series of heavy thunderstorms and the real show starts early in the morning. Prayers and thoughts out there for all in the path, may it be swift and understated.

here she comes

Irene will hit Washington County later tonight and stick around till Sunday evening. I feel as prepared as possible, and will even board up the glass French Doors with plywood if makes me feel safer inside. I have plenty of water, food, flashlights, lamps, and crank radio waiting with me. The dogs seem just fine, to them it is nothing more than Saturday.

Off to a three-hour yoga retreat to breathe and stretch. The perfect storm prep for me at this point. I'll update with photos and news long as I can, but am certain we'll lose power sometime around midnight or sooner. There's no way storm crews will be out in the hurricane repairing either, so check back on Monday for more coverage!

Friday, August 26, 2011

no back up

Everyone is out of generators and the builders from Common Sense Farm canceled the sheep shed. They said they ran into an issue with their hay and a broken mower, and could not install the new barn. I am worried now. Worried about the flock out in 80+ MPH winds in a shabby shelter that barely stands on its own anymore, but with nowhere to put them. There is no space in the barn with Jasper, and I think it would only irritate the horse a dangerous amount to have the sheep trapped in a small space with him where his food is = kicked lambs or worse. And while I don't care about the lights or even the freezer, I am worried we'll lose power and torrential rains will flood the basement, and without electricity the sump pump will not bail me out like it did in the spring during the snow melt episodes. Suddenly, I went from feeling prepared to feeling terrified and vulnerable. I'm worried about the flock, who I was certain just yesterday would be safe under a solid roof...

Update: 3:30PM
I found a small generator! Karen, over at the Salem Agway, had a 1000watt small generator at the store, they held it for me till I came to pick it up, and then the staff showed me what fuel to buy and how to mix the gas/oil. They were amazing, and now even if the power goes off, I'll have a dry basement. I have 10 gallon of oil in the back of the pickup in addition to a full tank of gas. Also, I got a call from the Daughtons and Diane Kennedy: all of them are coming over with scrap lumber and power tools to help shore up the sheep shed and get it secured for the storm. Prayers answered and friends to the rescue! And thank you for all your emails and support! People offered to lend me battery sump pumps, drop off supplies, it is amazing what this internet can do.

I feel ready now! we're going to tough it out!

P.S. IF it gets really bad, Sal and Maude are going into the pig pen, and if you think that's playing favorites...well, you're damn right it is.

Update: 8:30PM
Sheep shed is reinforced, amazingly so. Diane, the Daughton's, and luck got me and the flock in the safe zone. We fixed the walls, reinforced the posts, stuck t-posts on the outsides (thank you, commentators!) and I fed everyone pizza and wings. Tim showed me how to start and shut down the generator, if I need to use it, and I am letting out a sigh now that hits 5.9 on The Richter Scale. Thank you, everyone. From the folks who came here tonight, to the emails, the comments, and the phone calls. All will be well, and if it isn't, I'll be ready.

listen to gillian, darling

Thursday, August 25, 2011

storm dogs

As I write you, I am barely able to see the computer screen. My glasses are fogged up from the heat of my own face, stopped moving, indoors. I just dug a 25 ft long, shallow ditch in a U-shape from my muddiest spot hillside pasture. The ditch is to help move and torrential waters away from the house and well areas, and out into the street and grassier sides. It took a little over an hour. I already popped some ibuprofen. I look and smell like an extra from a Civil War movie (one towards the end) and I am looking forward to that mint shower with a sinful amount of glee.

I will sleep well tonight.

I feel as prepared as I can be for this storm. The news keeps getting scarier, and I am starting to feel it seep in. But I do have four hurricane lamps, plenty of lamp oil, candles, matches, gallons of water, food, flashlights, first aid gear, hard cider and a truck with a full tank. I have a weather radio, cell phone charged, and a non-electric land line in the house. I have neighbors within walking distance, a stream and a gravity fed artesian well (the animals will have fresh well water regardless of power), water tablets and an electric lantern. I have ice packs and a cooler ready to keep meat and food if the power leaves over 24 hours. I have a wood stove if I need to cook. I have a pony in a sturdy stall, and a flock of sheep about to get a brand new shed built by professionals. I do expect us to lose power a few days, so I am loading up with books and knitting projects for the evenings.

I don't know what else I can do but pray it's something less scary than the news is telling me, or winds take it out to sea. A lot can happen in a few days time. Perhaps all this preparedness is foolish or trite. I stopped at the bookstore and the girl behind the counter looked confused when I asked her if she was worried about the storm. "What storm?" she asked. And I felt like Chicken Little.

Well, Chicken Little or not, here's one thing I KNOW I am not doing that would help a lot: breathing. Long, deep, breaths that clear the mind and calm the soul. I have started to meditate more and practice some yoga everyday. It is helping heal my farm-worn body and back, and helping me sleep better at night. I am starting to depend on it, feel new muscles in my arms and legs. I don't look like the woman on the cover of Yoga Journal, but I do feel healthier, and that's a gift. Saturday there's a three-hour morning retreat at Hubbard Hall here in town and I signed up. The first hour is meditation, the second two are restorative yoga. I think it was a wise investment.

I am as prepared as I can be. Keep us Storm Dogs in your thoughts and prayers, if you have any to spare.

red sky at morning...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

freedom fart

Jasper is getting rowdy. He can't help himself. Ever since the new stall and paddock was built he has been moved from pen to pasture regularly. This haltering up, leaving the gate, and walking him to and from a location isn't always easy. When he spends a day or two in the barn he comes out snorting and whinnying in my hands. He's just 11 hands, but strong as all get out. After a summer on grass with all the space and exercise he could crave, he is strong, solid, and if I had the nerve to put a saddle on him there is no doubt in my mind he could carry me across these few acres. He's thick with muscles and alive with curiosity. But even as a pony, he is easily 550 pounds, and that's not always easy for a 5'3" tall gal to carry, even one of swarthy slovak stock.

On grass he is skittish and wants to bolt. He hooves dance, and I am as careful as an electrician in a swimming pool. Soon as he hits pavement or a road, he is calm as a kitten though. A testemant to his days as a working amish cart horse. Pavement means business to him. Grass means college kegger. I can walk him like a swaybacked ol' trail horse on the road, but going across the lawn is like rolling a fat kid over twinkies and asking him to keep his mouth shut.

I refuse to back down or give up though. I move him around, and he knows who is in charge. I hold my ground and work with him every chance I get. Last night at the rodeo I saw these women barrel racing on their quarter horses like champions in a western flick. That is not me and Jasper. If I am lucky, Jasper and I will be able to someday hitch up the little buckboard cart and head the three miles into town.

Tonight I we up to the pasture together, him all excited and fussy, and I focused and determined. I held his hatler in my hand, guiding him tough. When I finally let him out to those acres of green grass and apple he exploded! He leaped into the air, kicked out both back feet to the left, and while both back legs were airborn sideways in glee, he let out a merry fart. I laughed so hard I nearly peed. He then pounded around, blowing off steam, leaping and running like a colt on crystal mushrooms. The sheep watched from behind a fence, happy to be away from that mad man farting amongst the apples. Jasper ran to the top of the hill and rolled around on his back like Gibson does on the living room floor. He then started down at me, resting on his legs like an equine sphinx. If I knew what he was thinking I could conquer the world.

He is a goofball, a free spirit, a jackass, and a piece of work. But I love that pony. And on those occasional calm walks down the mountain road I feel like the luckiest girl in New York. Learning to work as one will be a huge lesson in this life. Stay tuned.

c'mon irene

A storm is coming, a bad one. Irene is set to slam the northeast with high winds, constant rain, and serious possible damage to the coast. I don't know if it's all churched-up scare tactics to sell ad space for the weather channel or a real threat, but I do know this: my sheep need a safe place before the storm hits. Right now, they don't have one.

The shed build here last fall was a beautiful thing, inexpensive and a true team effort. It held up through the entire winter, one of the worst in decades, and it is still standing as I type. Well, kinda. It only has 4 of 6 posts touching the ground, two walls missing, and a lot of chew marks in it. There was no way it would make it through winter, and I didn't have the time or skill to build a new shed. So I hired the guys down the road to build me a true blue outbuilding at an honest rate. I gave them a couple hundred bucks and they cut down pine trees on their land and took them to a sawmill up the road. They build the four walls, and will be using the old roofing material from the last shed to finish it up. It should be an outstanding, solid, home for this year's flock.

But they weren't set to build it on site till two weeks from now....
So, I called the guy down at Common Sense Farm who is building the new sheep shed. I asked if they could possibly install the newer, safer, shed this Friday? I already paid half up front, and I could offer another half of the half I owe that day of set up (leaving me with just a quarter of the price in debt, which I can scrounge soon enough). I'm happy to announce that the sheep here will have a safe home. Let's hope it's not too rough a storm.

bulldoggin' and broncs!

I loved the rodeo, ate it up. The horses, the cowboys, the cows...I loved the clothing and the smells and the happy crowd. I adored the drama, and the anticipation, and the chances taken. Here's a video of steer wrestling (bulldoggin' they called it) and a bronco ride. I sat by myself in the stands, wearing my straw cowboy hat, watching these men and women compete with such fierce love for their sport, care for their horses, energy and excitement ruled the night. I drove home thinking about cowboys, the country station cranked.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

well, that settles it

I want to marry a cowboy.

Monday, August 22, 2011

a whole lot of random news

My turkey poult, the last one left, was killed by a weasel. Found him in the coop with two bite marks in his neck, taken in broad daylight. What a shame. There's still some hope for a trio of adult Bourbon Reds from a breeder here in town, but waiting to see if the flock gets over a bout of the sniffles.

This farmhouse is the cleanest it has been all year. I was on a tear this weekend, ripping out wet carpets, mopping floors, washing linens and appliances. It feels like a new space. Hell, even the shower feels new. Makes me feel a little more solid going into this fall. My house is generally clean, as clean as it can be working 32-hours a week and running a farm. I keep up with the dog hair and lawn, at least. But I'll never forget when my friend Wendy walked into my bathroom the first time and was shocked at how clean it was. "No farm bathroom is that clean...never ever" I swelled. It's clean because the dogs don't go in it, and only one person uses it, but still. I was proud as a mama hen 22 days into her nest.

Besides the dead turkey, things are quiet. It's a weird calm. In the next few weeks there will be so much going on, it is daunting to think about. A new sheep shed will be erected where the old one stood. The chimney will be installed for the Bun Baker in the living room. I'll be heading south to be a keynote speaker at the Mother Earth News festival outside Pittsburgh (anyone here going?), and it'll be my first off-farm trip since last Christmas! I can't wait to hear Joel Salatin speak....Then the Fall Festival (I'm calling it Antlerstock) will be here before you know it with folks from all over the country in attendance! Today I decided we'll all carve a pumpkin to light up the Saturday night campfire. Folks coming from the south or west, bring warm clothing! It might be in the thirties that night!

Tomorrow I head to the Washington Country Fair to watch the professional Rodeo. Cowboys strike something in me, that's for sure. A man who knows how to handle a horse is seriously worth paying the 10 dollar admission fee to watch. I am being shameless right now. I'm okay with it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

agri culture?

The weather report was calling for rain. A lot of rain. Reports from various sources varied but all seemed to have a window of sun and haze before the deluge set in. I decided to head up to Nelson's farm in Hebron to pay for some hay I took earlier in the month and bring home another load. The humidity and sunlight fighting through the liquid air was breathtaking. I love the world before a storm. I especially love it when its a morning occurrence, a rarity around here, and you start the day feeling like summer vacation and you're 7 years old.

This isn't related to hay, but the other night I headed over to Firecracker farm for dinner, and something strange happened. It was around 9PM on a Wednesday, and I was driving home in the dark from White Creek, 20 minutes south of home. They say smell is the sense that brings back memories, but it was motion that delivered back to the summer of 2004 that night. Driving under the stars, singing along with the music, just having left the laughter of friends...I felt like it was a weeknight in college. Still a school night, but free. Like my day would start at 3:30PM if I called someone for their Art History notes. The lawless, self-governed weeknight is what I felt, even though I still had to be at my desk by 8AM. I don't know what brought this feeling of youth and freedom, but it was thick. I was happy as as 1960's beach movie dancer about to pick up MoonDoggy for the clam bake.

I did get my hay, 17 bales. Nelson and I piled them onto the back of the Dodge with the help of two local guys. I got to listen in on a stellar conversation about hay and deer hunting. I told them I was going deer hunting but they just kinda smiled and nodded. This was a conversation among serious men, newbies and womenfolk, step aside. I smiled. I don't take offense when 80-year-olds in feed caps don't take me too seriously. Who knows, maybe I'll get the only 8-pointer on the mountain. It was good to fill up the barn with some more bales though. And stacking them in the barn right before the clouds broke felt like I won something. It is still raining out there but that hay is dry in the barn.

Tomorrow is the first day of the Washington County Fair and I might make it over that way for dinner. I'm excited! It's a great big Ag Fair, one of the largest in the state. And after living here a full round of the seasons I even know some of the farmers in the cow and sheep barns. It'll be a big time, and that ferris wheel at night is magical.

I was talking with a friend about the fair tonight and he raised a good point: why is it that in a farming region, there is nowhere at the county fair to buy local foods? Everything is shipped in and deep fried? I'm not saying there shouldn't be funnel cakes and pastry-covered Snickers, but why not a grass-fed burger stand or cheese tent? For a festival of local agriculture, where's the Agri Culture?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

the september issue

The September Issue arrived today. Yes, That September Issue. All 758 pages of it. Thicker than 5 Washington County phonebooks, the new plastic-wrapped issue of Vogue was delivered to a 6.5 acre farm on the side of a mountain. Sheep watched it slide inside the snowplow-dented mailbox. The person who pulled it out has holes in her cheap, black, t-shirt covered in hay flakes and sweat. I couldn't wait to open it.

Vogue arrives at the farm every month because my mother loves fashion, and loves me, and therefore she subscribes to it for me. She's certainly the one who practices what this book preaches, but I still read the gospel.

She doesn't know how I pour through every issue, that I love that magazine. I love the clothes, the people, the articles, the history of Anna Wintour and her empire. It is as foreign and exotic to me as Atlantis. Absolutely nothing I own could even be used to wash the windows at that Times Square office, but I am enthralled. I own eight pairs of shoes and one handbag. Two of those shoes are work boots and the handbag was made by a friend. I am not their target audience, but I still page through the tome. It is enchanting.

I love Vogue. I didn't always, but I do now. The people who put this magazine together do it with such diligence and careful thought I can't avoid respecting it. It is living sculpture, social comment, and moving art. We can knock fashion all we want as homesteaders and small farmers, but we can not deny these people are living their dream. Well, living their fantasy, really. To push so hard for a creative life like that is rare. I have no doubt that the people who run Vogue, if they had to, could run an amazing farm. Might be a steep learning curve, but no one that organized and on top of their game couldn't adapt. That farm would sing.

I'm still Jenna though, even when I'm sitting there on the daybed paging through the glossies. Ralph Lauren placed an ad right on the inside cover and it shows a pair of beautiful people kissing on horses in shoulder-high hay. I have ridden a horse through shoulder-high hay alongside my riding instructor at one of the best hunter schools in the country and it took both of us intense effort to keep our mounts from stopping mid-stride to snack. I moved up and down at a fast posting trot, reins ready, body tense as we moved across the field. These models were making out. Their horses placid. I try to tell if they are moving? Is the hay fake? How the hell is it fair a person can look that good and control a horse that well? Are they on cat tranqs? Inquiring minds want to know.

I sometimes wonder if there are people in those tall buildings in big cities reading this blog. Is there someone at Vogue who wishes he or she was on a farm? Does anyone at that Ralph Lauren cover shoot wish they could ride off on that fake horse? Probably not, they wouldn't be there if they weren't as in love with that scene as I am with mine. I read The September Issue, but I have no desire to wear the clothes or go to Paris. It doesn't mean we can't appreciate the other side of things. And it certainly doesn't mean a girl in Muck Boots can't wish she had somewhere to take a handbag and heels every once in a while.

And Mom, I might not own any new party dresses, but I don't even mow the lawn without mascara on.

You did good.

and the winner is....

Wendy from Wyoming is our winner!
She got the lucky straw!

Wendy, email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com to get in touch with the Folk School! Congrats! You were the random winner out of over 560 entrants! Thank you to all who entered, and I promise we will do more as sponsors and gifts come forth! I chose a random runner up for a free pass to this Fall Festival here in Veryork. Kevin from Spokane was that lucky straw. Wendy and Kevin, get in touch. If either back down or change their minds, I'll draw again.

sweet august

Ah, sweet August. That time of year when a girl's fancy turns to green zebras, heavy books, and warm hats.

beasts and bookstores

When I stepped outside the farmhouse yesterday morning I was face to face with a larger, horned, animal. Knox, the once adorable little lamb, the first lamb ever on Cold Antler's soil, had somehow escaped. He was watching me from the wrong side of the fence. He is no longer little (he is however, still adorable), so this isn't as easy as it used to be. I had to get this horned beastie back into the fence, figure out how he escaped, repair the hole, and reset that holy electric wire that keeps all things civilized around here.

It took a handful of grain, a dramatic horn grab, and some dragging to get him back through Jasper's Gate, but all was success in the end. An entire hour went into repairing and replacing the broken wire. Between the sheep wrangling and fence repair I was coated in a sheen of new sweat. It wasn't even 8AM. The humidity was sucking down the day already. It felt wrong though, out of place. Technically, it's still summer but we're in Transition Time for sure. The weather and air still sings like river-drunk cedar waxwings but the crows are already talking about them behind their backs. Leaves are starting to fall down green. Nights are in the low 50's. I already saw my breath once in daylight a few days prior. Change is in the air.

Weather Report aside, the Wether Report data was updated. Knox was back with his family inside the fence. All was well again. This fence business was exactly the kind of time suck that would ruin a Friday morning a few weeks earlier. If I had to call into the office late, work longer to make up the time, and stress out the entire time I was at home with the animals doing whatever farm task could not be put off...I was miserable and emotionally torn by the time I got to my desk. Instead of all that, I was just grateful to have this issue happen on a Free Friday, the beginning of my new weekend.

"Weekend" is not really an appropriate a term anymore. Friday is just the start of three days of farm work and writing instead of the commute to Vermont to work at the office. I still work like nuts, just at home. I do like the cadence of this arrangement. The first four days fly and then these three seem to last for eight. It amazes me how much longer, and fuller, the days are when you spend them at home, outdoors. When you don't run off to spend money or get lost in a string of errands, but just work, weed, mow, stack wood, stack hay, or maybe make one trip into town.

Yesterday I stopped in at Battenkill Books to talk with Connie and invite her up to the farm. Here's why I like Connie so much. The first time I walked in with my border collie pup (the place is dog friendly) Gibson peed on a shelf. Connie did not get upset. She did not ask me to pay for the book he peed on. She didn't even ask me to leave. She just wiped off the shelf with some cleaning supplies she kept behind the desk, removed the book, sanitized the area and smiled. She just kept on talking about our conversation even through I was a blubbering jerk of apology. I decided to patronize that bookstore ever since.

So yesterday, when Gibson came along with me to the store (no accident this time) I didn't feel the slightest bit uncomfortable walking up to the desk to chat. She told me she pre-sold 18 copies of Barnheart and some other books as well. I was so glad to hear it. It's good for me, for the farm, for her store, and to readers who want a personalized book mailed to their house for twenty bucks. And to hear that you sold 18 copies of your book in one day when you aren't Sarah Palin or a NY Times Bestselling author, was so comforting. Sometimes this writing life is scary as hell. To hear you moved 18 copies is damn good news—a nice Friday affirmation that I'm getting somewhere. Even if I am standing in a bookstore my dog peed on with sheep crap on my cuffs...

Another note: those of you who are CSA members, I have some news. I got word from the mill. They are hesitant to make wool with the Blackface's thick locks. I asked them some questions and they are getting back to me. They will still make the yarn but I had to clarify some issues. They wanted to make rugs and I wanted a 70/30 blend of Blackface and Longwool yarn: a tough outerwear wool that kilts, tartans, and fishermen sweaters were made of—just like the original Scottish shepherds would blend. The folks at the mill aren't used to being asked for non-traditional wool yarns, so it's a bit of back-and-forth. But the good news is the first year's CSA members should be getting their yarn before October. I appreciate your patience.

Oh, and a winner of the week at the Folk School will be picked tonight! Check back at the blog later to see if it's you, and if it is, email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com to set up your vacation.

happiness is a warm bone

Friday, August 19, 2011

Order Signed Copies of Barnheart!

I have some good news for anyone interested in a personalized and signed copy of Barnheart. Connie Brook—who owns Battenkill Books in downtown Cambridge—and I had a conversation. She is going to pre-sell copies of Barnheart and deliver them right to your door. You can also get signed copies of Chick Days or Made From Scratch right now. This is a way to support an independent book store and get the book signed by the author at the same time. Because of the farm, I don't do a lot of touring for my books, so this may be the only way to grab a scribbled-on copy. I am thrilled to do it.

If you are interested, call or email Connie at the number below and she'll take down your information and requests. Then, this early winter when Barnheart comes out, I'll head down to the bookstore and sign them for you. Gibson possibly will too (if you don't mind pawprints on your books Title Pages) and you'll receieve them shortly after they hit the press. I thank you in advance, and hope she gets a stack big enough to inspire her to get those chickens she was talking to me about. Cambridge might be allowing the chooks in town, a big deal in this one-stoplight burg.

Battenkill Books
15 East Main St.
Cambridge, NY 12816
(518) 677-2515

Thursday, August 18, 2011

days of grace

My friend Paul used to run a dairy of considerable size here in the upper Hudson Valley. He sold the farm years ago, and has since scaled down to a single-family home in a genteel corner of Vermont. He may have retired from the life of Jersey cows and milking machines, but he still carries himself like a man who has land—moves through the day like at any moment a heifer could calf or a bale could be bucked.

His day job, like mine, is in a sanitized office. We work for the same company. Despite his proximity to toner cartridges and shiny professional title, he’ll never look at home in a conference room to me. No one does that knows more about tensile fencing than Excel databases. His circumstances have changed but the honesty’s the same.

Paul told me something one autumn afternoon that made me believe he never turned in his canvas for tweed. On a wet, depressing, post-foliage day in early November we were in a conference room waiting for a meeting to start. It was gray outside, the wind moving wet leaves around the precisely manicured lawn. He looked past the bleak weather on the other side of the windows and said with a nostalgic smile that these were the Days of Grace. I asked him what he meant by that?

He said the Days of Grace was what the farmers in our area called the time of year between fall’s fireworks and the first snowfall; a window of reverent preparation. The Days were filled with tasks like stacking cordwood and repairing tractors. Grain and hay were loaded in barns. The snow blower was oiled and ready to growl. Farmers who had sold their corn, composted over their vegetable fields, or had meat hanging in the walk-in had most of their work behind them. In a life that forces constant vigilance and resourcefulness, this was the time of year to finally relax. Weeds were long dead. Cash crops were sold. Wallets were fatter and mornings started a little later.

The Days of Grace were a holiday season, though you won’t find any cards at your local Hallmark store sporting greased cultivators whilst wishing you A Wicked Muzzloader Season. No, instead of twinkle lights and gift registries; the Days were a series of quiet thrills. Work completed, homestead prepared, hunkering-down may commence. The region takes on the calm veil of the shoulder season. And the initiated sigh. That secret sigh of their people.

This brick and soil holiday Paul spoke about suited me. It didn’t require belief in any particular verse, instead it demanded virtues I desperately wanted in my adult life: presence, belief, and devotion. Farming lit up and fueled a dim and hungry part of me. I was part of something again, a necessary tradition of growing food. Food is more than sustenance and recipes. It’s the one faith all humans belong too. When you wrap your life around the production instead of consumption, worlds open.

I wanted to be a part of these secret celebrations. I clamored for them. Hearing about them stirred painful cravings for the things I grew up with but no longer held onto: organized religion, the company of animals, and spending whole days outdoors instead of my relatively useless career spent in a swivel chair. If there was any doubt that I wanted to become a farmer, it melted away at that moment of conversation.

When November comes now, I sigh.

sunflower farm in white creek

Hipster iPhone apps make for instantly-nostalgic photos. I took thi last night while over at Firecracker Farm for dinner. I felt like every photo was a little time machine, all the saturation and flares. You won't see a lot of them on this blog, but from time to time, we'll all go back in time. I love it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Folk School Giveaway!

I am thrilled to announce this giveaway! Cold Antler Farm partner, the John C. Campbell Folk School of Brasstown, North Carolina is giving away a full week-long class, including boarding and meals, to a winner of this very post. Over 800 classes from basket weaving to writing, woodcarving to spinning, gardening to soapmaking, metal work to music. All of this in the amazing mountains of Appalachia. So many opportunities to dive farther into your homesteading passion, whatever they may be. You get to choose the date, and the class, and all you need is a way to get there. So pack your bags and throw that dulcimer in the back seat of the truck baby, you're going back to school.

So here's how you enter. Click through to the Folk Schools website at www.folkschool.org, and check out their course catalog. Then come back here and post with your first name and location, which class you would like to take. Once you do that, you are entered! Check back on Saturday night to see if you are the lucky winner. And, if you want to double your chances, you can enter a second time if you share this blog's link on Facebook. Just come back and say, "Second Entry: 457 friends notified!" and you are another hat in the ring for the random generator that will pick this contest's winner.

This is such wonderful opportunity for one of you. I hope a lot of you enter twice. You might be stuck in a small apartment or dorm room tonight, but later this year you could be waking up to your first ever blacksmithing class, sliding on that leather apron, and looking up at a rolling vista so grand it could break your heart. Or you could finally learn the fiddle, or take up harp lessons, or maybe you can start that first carpentry class or learn to light a candle you made by hand. So many skills, such a beautiful piece of the world, and the people taking classes and teaching will certainly get your desire to grab a work horse's reins or plant your own loaf of bread. My only advice: go in June, and watch the mountain fireflies dance. They change you.

I wish you all luck!

photo from unctv.org and northcarolinaartists.blogspot.com

big ups

Rainy Monday mornings do not have the urgency they used to. After three days at the farm I am slow to get ready. This morning, in a downpour, I carried the sheep their hay to the dry cover of their shed and made sure they ate in a place that would leave their meal salvageable enough to be picked at all day. Walking up the hill I noticed how much soil wasn't sliding down in angry trains. The grass I had planted had come up in shoots in scattered patches, and while no golf courses will be hiring me to manage their putting greens, it held the dirt in place. What a grin that slapped on my face. Even in a downpour being heckled by a dozen hungry sheep, you take your ups where you can get them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

jasper's new digs

Jasper's new digs. Today I'm heading to the farm supply store to get t-post caps, some electric fence gear for a top line ran around that paddock, and some other odds and ends. Jasper will be living here in the winter, and I'm so happy it is finally done (well, almost). There's some adjustments and interior work to be done yet, but over all it is set up. If a snowstorm came tomorrow and the farm was coated in ice, Jasper would be safe and snug.

Folks have been emailing and posting comments with all sorts of advice and opinions. I read them all, and appreciate them, but they are starting to overwhelm me. Every time I build, acquire, or share anything on the blog I get a slew of emails, many with contradicting opinions on the "right" way to do something. I weigh them against my own experience, friends and local farmer's advice, and my own animals and situations. I won't always agree or follow your advice, but I do always appreciate it.

If you do have helpful advice or concerns, please email me about them. They are welcome on the blog comments section too, but it is hard to respond to them all. An email is something I can save in my inbox and easily refer to. I do my best to respond to them all, but again, sometimes they are overwhelming too.

P.S. Please don't stop commenting! I look forward to them, I just ask that folks who have detailed advice to email me so I can address it and write back!

potatoes and worms

I dug up those potatoes I planted, filled half a canning pot with them. Some were big as my fist and others were small as marbles. I probably only scored about 15 pounds, and for 85 seed potatoes, that isn't much. The reason for the slim pickings: their spot was too shady and they were planted to close together. (The deer and chickens getting in and eating most of the plants didn't help either.) In a lot of ways, this was a failure. But you know what? I have learned exactly what I need to do to easily double my spuds the same place next year. And a lesson like that is pretty useful. Right now I am not gardening to feed myself, I am learning how to garden here to feed myself in the future. This isn't the only place I get subsistence, but since my goal is to eventually pay the mortgage with words and work for all my own groceries, it was a hard lesson for future french fries.

Anyway, I won't be using that patch for anything but Garlic or onions from now on, I think. I have a new potato plot all picked out in the lowest pasture near the front of the house. That spot where hay and manure have been piling up for a year near the front gate. Instead of shoveling out that mulchy hay an straw to get the fence line higher, I am leaving it as is—fenced in with the electric and everything and simply putting the new fence 8 feet behind it— creating a fenced in garden! Another winter will make that a perfect pile of compost to plant potatoes in. It'll be fenced off from the sheep and the deer outside and involves pounding fences instead of breaking my back to dig out muck. Genius solution, and I can say that since it wasn't even my idea, it was Cathy Daughton's. That woman has vowed to never hoe up another garden bed again long as there's chickens or livestock around to make them for you. Smarter than I, her.

So, to figure out how to plant hundreds of pounds of potatoes in the future it took several people, a year of crap, and a bum crop in another location to ensure* results. But hey, 15 pounds of potatoes as a consolation prize....Not bad.

Another note altogether, I'm really excited about my worms. A few weeks ago I showed you guys the video of the worm farm in my kitchen, and they have kept at it. I'm kind of shocked at how efficient it is. It sits under the red table under the windows, quiet and odorless. The red wigglers inside have already started on their second level of food scraps, the bottom is so dark and fine I am worried it'll be too good to use, too strong on the garden! So I rewatched that video that came with the 360 Worm Factory and in it it pretty much said the same thing. Vermicompost is strong stuff. They only dug little holes in their garden boxes and filed them in with the worm's casting dirt kind of like filling up a tank with fuel. If you want to try one, and start making soil in your kitchen too, you can get one at UncommonGoods. They were the folks who sent me this box to test out. They have them in their Home and Garden section. If you grab one, tell them I said Hi.

Oh, and one last thing. Folks said they could not reach me at my aol email address? That makes sense, since I don't have an aol email address. But I realized on my profile my old AIM screename from 2004 was still listed, and perhaps it linked up to that old account. I'm sorry if you tried to contact me that way, but from now on just email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com - that is my current address.