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 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 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, 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 and

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 - that is my current address.