Monday, December 5, 2011


look at this shirt i got!

P.S. Winner of the Plan B workshop announced tonight. I fell asleep early last night and had a rough morning. Need time to use the number generaotr and count it out.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

ghost of a station wagon

Saw my old Subaru today. It was parked next to me at Rite Aid. The mechanic I sold it too last winter had finally gotten around to fixing and reselling it. It had a local used-car lot sticker on it and had been freshly washed and detailed, but it was unmistakably my old 2002 Silver Forester. It had Annie's clawmarks, barely visible from being buffed off the passenger side panel where she hung her body out to catch the air. It had the same dings and cracks, things a used car place could paint over and spiffed up, but never put the trouble into molding back into a perfect body shape. I let out a sigh, like seeing your old flame with a new spouse.

I saw my Subaru and felt instantly nostalgic for it. For the days I spent exploring the Smoky Mountains in it, the two cross-country road trips, the scary mountains of British Columbia with mountain sheep on the corners of the railing-less curves. I looked at my old station wagon, and remembered the work it did. The animals it transported. The way I felt so capable and safe it it. I remembered the snow storms out west, the trips to Palmerton from Knoxville, and the day I brought home a baby goat curled up in the front seat. Then saw the girl I knew from the IGA open the door and step inside it. She's a soft-spoken teenager who worked after school as a checkout clerk there. She now owned it. I wondered what it would be for her? I wondered if she ever could fathom how much of the world it saw? If she knew how much the old owner would have loved to have kept it had she the funds to repair the transmission. The girl pulled out and drove away from me, and when I saw the green bumpersticker on the back hatch I wanted to run up to her window, tap the glass, and ask her to come out and give me a hug. I didn't care if I scared the scrap out of her. That sticker made me beam. In bright white letter it stated:

No Farms. No Food.



This morning when I stepped out my front door I came upon a glorious sight. Atlas was fervently mounting a blackface ewe. TRIUMPH! I was thrilled, never more happy then to see the ram lamb I bought as a babe, raised, cared for, and kept from the flock until these fine days and see him do his duty for the future of this flock. I punched the air and jumped. Here's why my life has lead me: NFL touchdown dances in the driveway while sheep hump in the distance. Makes you feel rich.

Sal watched from the hill like he the second gunman on the grassy knoll. But Atlas kept at it, and a few minutes later when I returned to the flock to freshen their water, I saw him and Sal butting heads through Sal's pen fence. Hormones are certainly in the air. If this keeps up, I may not need to bring in another ram after all. That would be a blessing since I just found out from my insurance that I can get a whole new truck door and other damage covered if I cough up the $500 deductible. So I am going to make that happen, because the door isnt safe, and the ten dollars more a month in premiums is something I can eat. The auto shop wants the truck delivered to be worked on the morning of the 19th.

I am keeping close to home today to keep an eye on the sheep drama and start getting all the CSA orders out. What has been keeping me from sending your humble shares is I have not had the time or resources to get to a professional printer to make the labels and such. Then I realized, who am I selling to?! My members don't want flimsy paper, they want their wool. So I will send out the raw products of felt and wool you so patiently waited for with holiday cards and the share's end thank you letter. I hope to have them all to you soon. So there's that.

This morning I do have one errand. Gibson and I will drive north to get a load of hay and then come back to drive it back to the barn. I will cut that well such a wide berth you'd think the motherpumper was on fire.

P.S. This is the last day to enter with a comment in the Winter Prep giveaway a few posts below. Joining in the conversation could get you a free ticket to hear Kathy Harrison and James Howard Kunstler here at the farm talk about everything from storm warnings to Peak oil and how to handle whatever comes your way.

Announcing Cold Antler Farm Webinars!

I have been getting suggestions through comments and emails to have some sort of online version of workshops for folks who can't travel, but want to support the farm. I have been mulling this over, trying to suss out the best way to meet such a request. I run most workshops in a casual and homey style, people are welcomed into this farmhouse like old friends and enjoy an afternoon at Cold Antler meeting the writer and animals they are used to spending internet time with everyday. They are friends to this farm they know well. So how do I turn that into a video? I don't have the ability to film myself, or hire a film crew, so how could I offer a webinar option? How could I price it? How would the subscriber even get the information?

Here's what I have come up with. I am offering a year-long pass to webinars based on the workshops the farm is hosting. You buy your pass like a CSA share, and then as each of the workshops happen here on the farm, you are emailed a link to a private video explaining (by me) how to do the things we are teaching, in detail. For example: the black sheep wool workshop coming up is a workshop in all things yarn. We'll turn raw wool into fleece, use a drum carder and drop spindle, and learn to knit. A webinar pass-owner would get video footage from the workshop, and step-by-step lesson exactly how they are explained to the people there in person. By the end of this year, you'll have videos on wool processing, chicken care and raising, backyard slaughter, mountain music 101, homebrewing and sausage making and more. Each instructional video will be between 10-20 minutes and non available to the public. And, if you do buy a webinar pass (which would be a huge help to the farm now) I'll offer you a half-price admission to the in-person workshop of your choice! So, there you have it. Learn to frail a banjo, butcher a chicken, and wash wool. See tours of the farm and meet other CAF community members through video and clips. I think it'll be a hit (and possibly a future DVD).

A year pass to these videos, a half-priced admission to a future workshop at the farm, and knowing you are helping a girl in New York work towards her dream. I hope some of you sign up. I think the price to cover a "season" pass of videos (probably rounding out to 8+) will be a $100 even. That is the number that seems accurate to me for time and energy put into them, plus the added value of future workshop savings.

I know you can probably scrounge up free videos all over the internet, get library books, and take free classes to learn many of these skills, but what you are getting for your money is a comfortable and clear series of lessons from someone who is trying to figure out a way to make this farm work, one mortgage payment at a time. More and more, this blog is becoming my business and life. It is what I want to do for a living, but first I need to find a way to make a living at it! Workshops, books, magazine articles, and CSA shares so far aren't enough to keep this place running and bills paid on time. While it is a bumpy road right now trying to figure out bills and day-to-day needs. This was an idea that struck me yesterday while feeding the pigs and seemed like its own form of CSA, and that is the spirit I offer it to you in.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, and I hope some of you will sign up. I'll happily throw in a signed copy of Barnheart to the first 5 people to get a season pass to CAF's workshop webinars.

Email me at if you're into it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

hot lunch

parades down main street

Last night was Christmas in Cambridge, a community event that included a parade, tree-lighting ceremony, livestock, and a public reading of The Night Before Christmas, and it was lovely. I spent most of it down at Battenkill Books, enjoying their coffee and the packed bookstore with community guests looking to start their gift-collecting and get out from the cold. Donkeys, children in oxen and alligator costumes, fire trucks, and floats drove down Main Street. I was outside the bookstore with Connie, Jon, Maria, Lenore, and a smattering of locals just getting a kick out of the small celebration.

The sheep at my farm got to celebrate with the installation of a new submersible stock tank deicer. As it turns out, sheep are much more excited about fresh, unfrozen, water than they are about parades. It was an easy thing to assemble and hook up. Jasper has a blue plug-in bucket of sorts. The rabbits and pigs get a hammer to decrack the ice or water bottles brought near the woodstove. We all get through the cold, by and by.

No snow here yet, well, save for that fluke in October. I can't wait for snow. The new chimney is now 100% ready for winter with a brand-new cricket installed Thursday to deal with heavy snow falling off the old slate roof. The woodpiles are covered (or covered with a brown tarp). The shovel is ready. The sheep have been wearing sweaters since August and Jasper has grown quite a wooly exterior. This farm wants some snow to cover up the ice, mud, and grime and turn this place into a gut-wrenchingly adorable Thomas Kincade Christmas Cottage. Hell yeah.

Earlier that day, I picked up a small tree and set it in my front window. I started decorating it with silver bulbs and an antler on top (my kind of star). I turned on a Celtic Christmas channel on Pandora and enjoyed the bodhrans, pipes, and fiddles to carols as I decorated, singing with Gibson (who stared at the tree, confused as to why a bathroom was brought indoors and crowned with a perfectly good chew toy?). This is only my second tree as an adult, as this is only my second Christmas spent away from my hometown. (The first was when I moved to Idaho in December and travel was too expensive.) It's bittersweet, spending the holidays here at the farm but I am really enjoying starting some traditions and decorating. This weekend feels like the Yuletide is upon us, and I am celebrating tonight with a dinner party I was invited to over in the next town. I guess it's the time of year for parties, bayberry candles, pines, wreaths, and the end of these short nights!

How do you celebrate the pre-season?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Only 2 spots left in 2nd wool workshop!

UPDATE! A second workshop just like this will be February 25th! Sign up, three spots already taken! We won't have Joesephs wool, but I will source some raw local wool to use. And I have a lot of alpaca we could work with as well! Come up for a comforting weekend in Washington County!I have an idea for a workshop I think some of you are going to love. If you're anything like me, you love the farm stories, and the pictures, but what you really crave, what you can't wait to the comfort. I would like to do a January workshop here at the farm. It is going to be a fundraiser for the chimney (which is 1/3 paid off but yet to be installed!), and here is my plan:

I am going to host a wool workshop. We'll all learn how to skirt, wash, dry, card, and spin wool with drop spindles. Then, after we have learned the basics of creating yarn out of sheep, we will sit down and learn to knit in the living room. With the wood stove blazing, baking us warm bread and apple fritters, we'll spend a winter afternoon talking about our farms, animals, farm dreams, and fears. It will be an interactive knitting circle, a catered affair of farm foods and three meals. The full day is about learning to make fabric, sure, but it is also about community, and new friends, and sitting by a wood stove in a warm farmhouse with a border collie in your lap. Learn a skill, see the farm, share in the conversation. It'll be the last weekend in January, and the farm will be covered in snow. Meet the sheep, help with chores, and wear a comfy sweater. It'll be great.

Everyone who comes will leave with a large bag of Joseph's raw dark wool. You will take it home and wash and spin it yourselves. You need nothing but a plastic storage bin and dish soap. You'll also leave with a drop spindle. Ideally, you will leave with the raw materials this farm can offer to help you create an extremely homemade wool hat from a sheep you will have fed hay that same day.

You need no experience whatsoever to come to this workshop with animals, or knitting. Come knowing nothing about wool and leave knitting your first scarf. No animals will be slaughtered and no sweats will be broken. This is a low-key, but highly inspirational day to hang at Cold Antler and smell that bread rising as you knit a row and the snow falls.

Email me if you're interested, Folks who have come to previous workshops and I know, are welcome to board here at the farm for an extra fee. Wake up to snow crows from Fancy the rooster!

Photo of Joseph (your future hat) by Tim Bronson

Jar Winners!

Overwhelming comments and emails pointed to our shroom mug cover as the winner, so email me, you Mason Maven, and I'll mail you your prize of books! And to the creator of the inside-out woolie jar with the're the runner up and will receive a book from the homesteading library at the farm as well! Congrats to all who got creative here, and I hope you use those jar warmers, too. Well done!

pimpin' aint easy

The farmhouse is a comfortable 65 degrees this cold morning. That is quite the feat, since last night after signing books it had fallen to 54 degrees and it took the two woodstoves (and my constant vigilance) 3 hours of roaring to raise the temperature ten degrees. Now, that might sound like a ridiculous amount of work to some, but to me, I felt like I was finally included in the process. Thermostats are great, but I fought for this heat. I moved once living tree parts inside my home armload by armload and fed the fire. I wrapped myself in a big buffalo plaid red work shirt and sprawled out with a book in front of the fire on a sheepskin. It was heavenly by that fire box, so much so I needed to move away from it. And when I woke up this morning to a warm house, knowing it was my own doing, I started the day with a sense of accomplishment instead of dreading my to-do list and places I was expected to be. Fridays are near sacred now, mornings I get up and re-light the stoves and ease into the day without the usual Monday through Thursday hustle. It hasn't been easy, even just giving up one day, but I am getting through. And it will only get easier as I get more resourceful, dedicate myself more and more to my goals, and learn about a new frugality for my lifestyle.

this morning the insurance guy is coming to check out the truck door, tell me what should happen with it. The well was repaired earlier this week. That was a hard lesson in awareness. Lesson learned.

I don't think Atlas is performing at all, or if he is, I haven't seen it. Sal however has been going beside himself with hormones and mounting, so I know the girls are in season. I talked with Julie (Shepherd, herding trainer, and all-around sheep guru) over Facebook and she has a 2.5 year old Cheviot ram that she is certain is raring to go. She'll drop him off next weekend, and Atlas will either be kept for next year, sold, castrated, or go to freezer camp. I need to check out all my options. But if I have two rams here I might as well just keep them together in a smaller pasture. I can use Atlas next year when he is more mature. Right now, a lot of this sheep pimping is touch and go for this shepherd. This is my first year overseeing the actual work of breeding, and so far I have failed. What can I say? Pimpin' aint easy.

P.S. Thank you for the webinar passes! A few more folks signed up and it has me already planning an early webinar on the basics of mountain dulcimer. I think I will make this first one public, so you can all see what is in store for those who dedicated to a year of learning with Cold Antler!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

the calm before...

Folks, this is the calm before the storm. These weeks before winter truly sets in and drops a bucket of trouble on us, is a time for planning. Soon this part of the world will plunge into below-freezing temperatures and hectic weather. Last winter was my first winter alone in the farmhouse, and I wish I had been more prepared for it. Bad stuff happened, and I wasn't ready. But this year, hoo doggy, I am plenty ready, and I would feel a whole lot better about it if you were too.

I strongly urge every reader of this blog to set up a winter storm emergency kit in their home and darn well expect to use it. It doesn't have to be expensive or grand, most of these items you already have around your home or apartment—but this weekend I want you to take note of where they are, and gather them all into the same duffle bag or closet bin so when the wolf is outside the door, you know exactly where the flashlight, candles, extra blankets, can opener and cell phone charger is. So I am offering this challenge tonight: Prepare for winter by assembling a basic kit for a winer week without electricity. Post about your plans and ideas, and help inspire others to take action. I will pick a random winner from those posts Sunday night and offer two FREE passes to the Plan B workshop here at the farm in May with James Howard Kunstler and Kathy Harrison.

The challenge is this: Prepare for a basic emergency situation due to power outages from winter storms. I want everyone on this blog to compile these supplies and comment that they have, pledge they will acquire, and share with is where they will store them. For every comment left, it is an entry towards the workshop. So engage, talk to others, give the girl with a studio apartment advice on where to stash this stuff without freaking out her roommate. Tell stories, share wisdom, and talk about your own emergency stories and how preparedness saved you.

Basic Emergency Supplies
Gather a flashlight and spare batteries, a book of matches, forty dollars cash (in case ATMs are down), a can opener, extra candles and a place to light them (mason jars work great!), a blanket, a radio (with batteries or hand cranking ability), first aid kit, plastic bags, screwdriver, wrench (for turning off utilities), a non-grid cell phone charger (there are cranking, battery, and solar versions. My radio has a USB plug to hand-crank power to my phone!). For more information on basic disaster kits click here

1 week (or more) of food
Purchase one week's worth of meals and water for your home for each person in your household (including pets) and set it aside. The basic rule is 2500 calories and one gallon of water per person, per day. This can be as simple as a single person picking up seven 99-cent gallons of water, seven cans of soup, a canister of quick oats and two bags of rice and beans. I bet you could get all that for under twenty dollars. If you don't have a camp stove, wood stove, or any way to cook without electricity forgo the oatmeal, rice, and beans and invest in meals you don't have to cook, like a box of energy bars, a jar of peanut butter, beef jerky, and wrapped non-refrigerated cheese. Plan what will work for you. Make sure these are items that can sit on a shelf for a few months without worrying about spoilage or rodents. If you don't have one, buy a metal or rubber bin and store it under a bed where mice and ants can't consider it.

If you don't have electricity, and can't leave your home, how will you stay warm? Wood stoves are great for those of us who may have them, but others can, and should, think about their fireplaces, kerosene heaters, and other off-grid forms of heat. Do you have some wood in the garage for your fireplace? Do you have 2 or three containers of kerosene if the power goes out? Do you even have a way to stay warm and shut off the water main? A 45-dollar kerosene heater, 5-gallon of fuel, and some wool blankets could be life savers some day. Be prepared to be warm. Plan B should always be ready.

When you have a week of food, water, and a set of supplies waiting and ready for you, you'll let go a sigh of relief you didn't realize you were holding in. Modern society is a great thing, but did you know that the average town only has enough food on supply to last three days (in grocery stores, I mean). If a true disaster hit, like a bad ice storm or 60+ MPH winds after heavy will be beyond grateful you set aside those shells and cheese boxes, water, and got that camp stove and propane on sale at the sporting goods store last April...

This is not a post about scaring you, or living in fear of disaster. This is not a contest to see who can win a workshop either. This is me, genuinely concerned that most people aren't ready for things when the worst occurs, and maybe if everyone who reads this blog is prepared, you can help keep the older lady in the apartment next door warm and calm by your heater and lamp light till the NYC grid kicks back in? Or maybe having a sleeping bag, flashlight, and a favorite toy on hand will help calm your children by the fireplace if an ice storm has you in the dark? I don't want any readers on this blog to be victims, I want us all to be the folks who are ready, calm, and able—ready to help others who may need it along the way.

P.S. Just out of curiosity, do any of you have land lines?

the area code is 518

Signing Books from 6:30-7:30 tonight at Battenkill Books. Call if you want to say hi, I'll be there with Gibson, taking care of business. Be nice to hear from you fine folks.

currently reading, and loving

A few weeks ago my copy of Folks, This Aint Normal arrived in the mail. It's the newest book by Joel Salatin, and the first (I think) that wasn't self published. However, it's the same Joel and I think this may be his quintessential work. I urge you to read it, listen to it, and pay attention to this man. This book will change people.

For those of you unfamiliar, Joel Salatin is the founder of Polyface Farms in Swoope Virginia, a bucolic and insanely productive 500 acre farm in the Shenandoah Valley. His farm is the model and inspiratoin behind Cold Antler, and his book YOU CAN FARM was integrel in giving me the gusto to start making a go of this life. I owe him a lot, and when I shook his hand at the Mother Earth News Fair this past September, it was an honor in the truest sense.

This new book is about how this blip in history, this time of cheap energy in the last hundred years is not normal, nor is all of it progress. Men between the ages of 25-35 playing 20+ hours of video games a week, is not normal. Getting a meal on an airplane that contains more packaging and trash then food, is not normal. High Schools being treated like prison yards, is not normal. Stocking your family's larder at the grocery store, isn't normal. And so on. The more I read it, the more I find myself nodding my head and wanting to hug this man. He sees a reality most people have become too comfortable with to step away from and shake their heads. The rise of physciatric medications, allergies, diabettes, heart disease, boredom, violence, and other social and phsyical ills can be attributed to losing the values, skills, and work that once defined this county and the human race in general. Read it.

Now, as much as I advocate buying the book and supporting that farm, I almost have to suggest the audiobook version over it. Because Joel himself reads the entire thing to you, in his own special style and humor. I got a free download from (I'm a subscriber since I listen to an insane amount of audiobooks in the kitchen, driving, and while doing chores) and was so happy he was the reader, I cranked it up and went back to baking my roast chicken. And I smiled the whole time I did dishes as it crackled in the oven...

photo from


I have rats. Mostly in the barn. I watched one crawl up the rafters this morning, behind the pig pen, followed by another. I am fighting back with snap traps, but I need something stronger and more effective that doesn't involve poison. I ordered an electrocution trap at the hardware store, and it has been waiting for me since October, but then I found out it cost 50 bucks, so it is still waiting for me there. I did recently invest in metal bins for all the grain, and have the dogs food in metal too here in the house, but either the cold or just the constant availability of feed, brought on some rats. So let's get 'em!

Note: I can not risk the dogs, pigs, or chickens eating a poisoned dead rat (which they all happily would) and getting sick or dying themselves. Some of you have got to have some ideas, old timer tricks, or know of a really large and mean cat with three heads I can stake out in the loft?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

wells, books, and 2-hour meetings

This morning I stayed home to meet the folks from Gould & Sons Well Drilling, who kindly arrived on time and repaired my cracked well cap in about half an hour. Watching the technician cut and separate wires, clamp, measure and fit the new blue cap made me feel glad I resisted the urge to buy my own and give it the ol' college try. When all was said and done the well was spray painted to match the pipe color and I was 95 dollars poorer, but if there is one thing worth treating right, it's your water. I can rest easy knowing that well wiring is safe and sound.

Since I had used half a day of vacation time, I spent the morning taking care of this place. I responded to emails, caught up on dishes and laundry, stacked wood and watched my sheep. Sal was getting really frisky with the ladies, and that meant they were back in heat. He is now in the pen (that was a muddy struggle) and Atlas has free range of the ladies, but I am worried he's not performing. I may have to bring in a ringer.

After chores and sheep voyeurism was behind me, I headed into Cambridge with Gibson. We signed those books with Connie you saw in the video and then ran across the street to Common Grounds to get some lunch to go.

By the time I got to the office, the day was half over and I was energized. I had spent the morning taking care of house, home, and signing a book I wrote to people I know all over the country. I recognized a lot of your names, and was surprised to see people like Patrick Shannahan, Gibson's breeder, among the list. He wanted it made out to Patrick and Riggs and I wrote him a note saying how amazing a dog Gibs turned out to be, and I would be getting a second pup (a girl) some day down the road when my older pups have passed on. I want to get a female and name her Friday. My girl Friday.

The office, of course, made 5 hours seem like an eternity. It's not always like that, usually not. My office is a lively place and between the dogs, company, coffee and conversation the day flies, but today I had that morning at home and the time between seemed to limp. A 2-hour meeting didn't exactly invigorate me either, but as I sat in that conference room with the big window's I looked over to the Taconics and thought about the weather report. Snow. Just a 20% chance but boy, would I take those odds. I want a little snow to coat this place in white, make it clean again, and make the wood stoves seem warmer and the home, a sanctuary.

I came home to the usual chores, but before I fed the pigs or checked on Sal in his pen, I put two chicken breasts in the over at 385, rubbed in olive oil and herbs on a bed of kale and carrots. This combination is not only veggie-correct for late fall, but the perfect combination. And to come inside from slopping, hay hauling, water filling, and horse a warm house of firelight and roasting bird heavenly. On a weeknight, scandalous. Roasts are for weekends, usually, but this meal was so easy it seemed silly to wait. So I enjoyed my meat and veggies and poured myself some oatmeal stout. Before I turn in there will be a fiddle tune to see too. This is a good week day.

This weekend: I think I might cut down a christmas tree. Time to get this place ready for the season. I got a box of ornaments and lights from my mother in a box, and a few sent by readers and friends, to put on the tree. I have a reindeer I cherish, from Alaska. And a hand-painted border collie from my friends Chrissy and Tyler. This weekend I'll also get some cards in the mail, and maybe get some lights for the wreath around the door. I'll crank up the Celtic Christmas channel on Pandora and bake something with cinnamon. I love the holidays, and Yuletide is one of the best. Here's to coming light, however you celebrate it, be it The Son or The Sun!

Hey, If you want to send a Christmas Card, try this address:

Jenna Woginrich
Cold Antler Farm
Jackson, NY 12816

you tell me

Well folks, who is our jar winner!?

signing books with connie and gibson

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Battenkill Books!

I stopped in Cambridge to do some errands, starting at Connie's book store to start signing the 175+ copies of Barnheart she had ordered that had just come in. Gibson and I walked into the store, feeling like old friends. Connie was in the back at the register, waving us to her labors: a HUGE stack, mostly pre-orders and my heart raced. My books were next to a stack of Jon Katz's Going Home and his recent children's book The Dogs of Bedlam Farm . Jon was in earlier that morning and I was here to help complete some of the combined orders. Connie said that some CAF readers bought some of his signed works (all of his signed books can be bought through Battenkill Books) and some of my books were sold to his readers. A nice bit of overlap. And it's an honor to be a part of Battenkill Books, a newer, but thriving bookstore in our small town. Connie seems to be glowing these days, thrilled with the success of two local authors. If you bought a book from Connie, you are really making a difference in this town and that bookkeeper's life. Today, as she was passing me copies to sign and reading the instructions, she noted how great it was to sell books this way. "I touch them, you touch them, Gibson touches them..." and explained how warmer and intimate this kind of commerce was. I agreed. As we talked her mother brought in the fabric OPEN sign and commented on the wind. It was really blowing out there....

photo by Jon Katz,

perfect gifts

Things are not normal here. Today the temperature shot to 64 degrees, an unsettling and unflattering anomaly. It might sound like a treat, all that warmth, but in these days of stickly trees, rotting wet ground, and grass that has been frozen and defrosted several times, it is simply fast-forward decomposition. Take a fistful of mud and rotting plants and bugs and stick them in the microwave for 45 seconds and you have what today felt like, all humid and dead. Everyone, from rat to rat-racer just waiting to be drenched in unforgiving rain.

The drive home offered quite a site. Just a few yards off the road on each side were two deer. The grand male on the left, a full 8 point rack held high in the passing car beams. Just beyond him on the other side of the 55-MPH highway was a doe, watching with alert ears and bright eyes. In the dark and wet this looked epic, almost something out of fable. The two star-crossed lovers divided by an angry torrent of destruction. The only way I could've been more proper in that instant was if Papa Capulet was riding shotgun giving his middle finger to the twitterpated buck.

Warm wind makes me excited, like change is on the way. Warm wind out of season makes me even more excited. I'm working on an essay about how farming has changed me, in ways I didn't expect and wasn't prepared for. How it changed my mind about so many things, from what I wear to the office to how I do my dishes... A life dedicated to seasons, animals, and constant change and occasional discomfort might sound unsavory to some, but to me, it is a constant waltz. I am always moving, always breathing heavy, always in love and grateful I just know the dance steps.

Tomorrow the people come to inspect and possibly repair the well. I called my insurance and they'll cover the bent door with a $500 deductible. Not money I have now, but my agent said they can do the paperwork and cut me the check and I can fix it on my own time.

So things are being taken care of here, one step at a time. I want to thank the few of you who contact me about Webinar passes and sent along a payment. You have no idea how much that is appreciated, and needed. And to all of you out there buying books, sharing links, telling stories, giving advice, and helping with morale when things are tight: I thank you. I can't thank you enough.

Storms coming tonight. Heavy rain. The horse is out of the pasture and in the dry barn. The pigs are nesting in fresh hay. The chicken coop is closed up, and the dogs are enjoying rawhide in the living room. Tonight's a special treat since I am enjoying both a fire in the woodstove, and open windows to hear the rain. And since I am taking the morning off from the office to see to the well, I can sleep in a little. Perfect gifts.

a whole new enemy....

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sheepdog Book Giveaway!

Outrun Press is a labor of love, a small publisher of books about working sheepdogs and the culture of modern shepherding. They publish all kinds of books. from training tips and manuals to essays, poems, reflections and even children's books in their catalog. Heather (co-owner and shepherd) has offered to give away any book you want to choose from that collection here on the blog. All you have to do is leave a comment saying which book you'd pick if given the free choice? Heather will send the winner's choice their way! I'll announce the lucky reader's win tomorrow night! Okay guys, Away to me!

Click here to go to

Email me at to get set up with your prize!

"Wow! I too would love to have "Top Trainers Talk About Starting a Sheepdog"

photo by

high in the hay

Found the morning's egg haul up in 4 bales up in a Jenga collection of hay bales in the barn. I collect them by the lantern light, to the sound of a horse blowing air, pigs rooting though morning feed, and chickens and rabbits having at their morning water and breakfast. When I close my eyes, the music is a sog I know by heart.

How could a woman as lucky as this feel bad about a dented truck and cracked well cap? Only a damned fool would mind such a thing.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

pure frustration

I was having a great day at home, in fact I just had a friend over to see the farm and meet the animals for the first time. And soon as he left, I did something I have done countless times on this farm. I drove the truck around the front of the house to the barn to unload the 18 bales of hay I had picked up earlier that morning. But I wasn't thinking, or paying attention, or both and drove too close to the well, and dragged the car door across the cap, contorting and destroying the outside of the door and breaking the cap in half.

The door still works. It locks, the windows work. I don't think it's as "waterproof" now. Damnit, I hate that I still owe thousands of dollars on this farm truck and it looks like something parked at the dump. Between the missing fender flares, scratches, and now a broken door it is a sad site, and not because of the physical appearance, but because it's such a debt hole. I have to either pay to own it, pay to fix it, or pay to make it look like I am trying to do both.

I started the day with such a big exciting feeling, and now a broken door and cracked well remind me that along the way there will be countless setbacks, delays, repairs, and things in the way of that dream. Does anyone know what new door panels cost?

a decision has been made

I think about the future of this farm often. What it's purpose is beyond feeding the farmer and supplying some of you with wool? What can a collection of words, hope, and force create beyond a chicken dinner and a knit hat? I have come to this decision:

Cold Antler Farm will remain a working homestead, and continue to feed myself and those who come to take part in the land. But it's also going to become more than that. I am dedicating my writing and labor to the continued inspiration and education of others. I don't want this to be a living history or vacation resort. I want this to be an empowering classroom where anyone, from the upper west side to rural Nebraska, can come and learn these skills, and leave with the confidence and information they need to dig into their own backyards or can their own market-fresh tomatoes. I'll do this through workshops, speaking events, webinars, books, blogs, anything and everything that gets this message out: this life is yours for the taking.

They say you should find something you love, and then find a way to make that your living. So I will. This is an indisputable fact. I am in love with this life, and nothing makes me happier than getting other people started on the same path. When a person picks up their fiddle for the first time, confused and excited, I love the look on their face when they learn the first four notes and can leave the farm playing a tune. I loved watching first-time chicken owners leave this place with a shoe box of chicks and a copy of one of my books. I think it will take a few years to really get the workshop model down, but it already seems to help and connect others to something they crave just as much as I do. So I will keep at it.

I'm not sure what it will take to make it happen, but I'll do it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

a white hat

This morning I was getting ready to do the morning rounds, and something was on my mind. As my head was gearing up, Gibson was circling me, making frantic lessgooutsideandherdnow noises. I looking for my rubber boots, and when I sat down to slide them on over my jeans, the sheepdog attacked my nostrils with licks and yelps. He is incorrigible. I love him more everyday.

this morning I went out in an oversized men's buffalo plaid work shirt. It's so big it looks like a lumberjack trench coat on me, but it is warm and bright, so I like it. On my head: a white knit hat from my sheep. My brown rubber boots are the cheap kind Tractor Supply sells in a row my size, without boxes or tags. This is my morning uniform: jeans, red plaid, rubber boots, pigtails and a homespun hat. If you look close at the footage, that black streak is actually Gibson, running ahead to all the morning stops before I get to them. It is in this circus, that my mind returns to the question that was consuming me all morning during my boot scramble.

Why did I choose to live this life? What was the original tipping point that had me leave behind the world I was brought up in, that I went to four years of college for, that lead me to corporate careers in, of all things, email marketing. I mean, c'mon, email marketing, what could be farther from working a pony in harness than a desk job on the lowest level of a corporation making coupons on the internet? The mind reels.

I think about being a child, taken every Halloween to a small hobby farm nearby for pumpkin field tractor rides and petting their Nigerian goats. I loved that place, because even as an 8-year-old it felt correct in my New-Kids-on-the-Block lovin' heart. And in college, at Borders bookstores in Allentown (when there was a Borders on McArthur road) I would sit and read copies of Hobby Farm magazine, with a line of sheep on the cover, and wonder who possibly lived like that? Who had found a way to a snowy Tuesday night where their most important task was carrying out a bale of hay to their flock and returning to a warm kitchen for a hot meal, hard cider, and a beloved fiddle. How does a suburban 22-year-old make that happen? Can it happen?

My life has changed so much. It's 5:30 on a Saturday night and I am almost ready for bed. In college I would have been just getting back from the studio, getting into the shower to plan an evening with friends and road trips around the town. Tonight I am full from a dinner of some roasted chicken breast over kale and carrots. Both fires are going, and I know tomorrow morning will include the same chores and errands as today, and I look forward to it.

I love my life here, because evrythig I do is working towards another step of living. All year I am working towards the next thing, the next beautiful thing, that either feeds, clothes, or warms me. I know this spring I will get an order of chicks, and they will turn into thousands of calories of meat and eggs, and I'll use those calories to stack and split the wood that summer, that will burn to keep me warm that winter. Do you see what I mean? Every tomato planted is a can of sauce. Every lamb born is a sweater or a chop. This place, this lifestyle is continusously active in the actual sport of living. And before I lived season to season, among animals and agriculture, I lived selfishly through constant material gain. It left me empty, and scared, and wondering how I fit into the world? You get a farm and you get a purpose. Your religion becomes the next six hours. I look at that article in the Washington Post, and think about all the women and men canning and stacking wood alongside me, states and countries away, and I am proud. This generation does not want push-button gratification. It wants the results of hard work, time, sweat and patience only genuine authenticity can cultivate.

I live this life because I found my passion, and my strength. I walk up to the sheep fields with my black dog and crook, and our biggest goal in moving sixteen sheep from one gate to another so a working pony can spend an afternoon in the sunlight running. I pulled into my muddy driveway to see a gray horse running along a hillside and had to remind myself it was mine. That me and that 650 pound animal had worked as a team through leather and confidence, and made things happen. I love that damn horse, as much as I love anything. He is a part of a story, and a reality, and future that will be scary but okay. No part of me ever thinks things will get worse, not on this farm. Things will get complicated from time to time, but never worse. I learned this much.

In this farmhouse fires burn, alcohol ferments, dogs stretch, and a woman wants. This is a good place. It has forest, pastures, barns, stoves, creeks, ponds, sun, rain and even when it is broken it is green and alive. There is a beloved goose on a nest of eggs and I pray for goslings. There are rabbits waiting to kindle, and I pray for more meat. There are a half-dozen eggs being laid each day, and I am so grateful it makes me shake. Because all my work here is nothing more than the hope that I too make it another season, another month. Farming is believing. It is doing today what will provide tomorrow. No one who does this can say they have no faith, as every seed is a silent prayer for a few more months. What more dare we ask for?

I farm because just writing about it makes my heart race, makes me want to howl. I love this small place, carved into a mountain, hidden from so many things. Tonight I am warm and filled with plans and projects for the morning. I might be asleep by 7PM on date night, but who needs a date when you're already in love.


warm jar flash mob (part 2)

The new domesticity: Fun, empowering or a step back for American women?

Emily Matchar for The Washington Post I’m planning on canning homemade jam this holiday season, swept up in the same do-it-yourself zeitgeist that seems to have carried off half my female friends. I picked and froze the berries this summer, and I’ve been squirreling away flats of Ball jars under my kitchen sink for months. For recipes, I’m poring over my favorite food and homemaking blogs — the ones with pictures of young women in handmade vintage-style aprons and charmingly overexposed photos of steamy pies on windowsills.

“That’s neat,” says my mother, as I babble to her about pectin and jar sterilization. She’s responding in the same tone of benign indifference she would have used had I informed her that I was learning Catalan or taking up emu husbandry.

My baby boomer mother does not can jam. Or bake bread. Or knit. Or sew. Nor did my grandmother, a 1960s housewife of the cigarette-in-one-hand-cocktail-in-the-other variety, who saw convenience food as a liberation from her immigrant mother’s domestic burdens. Her idea of a fancy holiday treat was imported lobster strudel from the gourmet market.

My, how things have changed....

Read the rest at

warm jar flash mob (part 1)

So many amazing ideas and entrants! I am posting them in two parts. If one of these creations is yours, write a comment explaining what it is made of and why, and say hello to the community. As for the rest of you, start looking and pick a favorite, and through your feedback a winner will be chosen based on the group's favorite design. Remember the main point though: a way to keep glass quart jars warm to carry hot coffee in.

Friday, November 25, 2011

a reader's email

Hello Jenna,

I've been an avid reader of your blog for about three years now. I just started raising small-scale livestock this summer. I was raising a few chickens, American Chinchilla rabbits, and I had a very large food garden. I don't know how frequently you do this, but I've seen it in the past and I thought I would give it a try. It never hurts, right?

I live in Reno, NV. This past Thursday night, Reno was overtaken by a 2000+ acre brush fire, which took my house at around 2:20 am Friday morning. I was only able to get my family (7 people, my parents, my 3 siblings, and my husband), my 2 dogs, and 2 of my rabbits out. I lost seven rabbits. Fortunately, we had given our chickens away to another family last week who was more in need than we. The house was burnt to the foundations, something which the firefighters had never seen before. We were renters and had not taken out a renters insurance policy, so we lost everything. At the link posted below, you can see pictures of what is left over of my house.

facebook link

I know that you've been through a lot of hard times yourself and that the most helpful thing sometimes is awareness. Could you help us raise awareness? Here's a link to a donation page my husband has set up to help recover some of the basics for our family ( If we weren't wearing it, we don't have it. This won't replace our house, but it will go a long way to helping us replace the necessities and take some strain off of finding temporary housing.

Here is a link to one of the articles written about us:

Austin Hardage is my husband, my parents are not listed, but are Sheryl and Michael Mundy. If you are interested in more information, please feel free to contact me. There's definitely a lot unsaid. I really hope that you can help us get the exposure that will make a difference. If there is anything that I've learnt from reading your blog, it's that you know a lot of really good people.

Best regards and happy Thanksgiving,


a bit lighter

I have a tiny bit of good news to share: I have dropped 8 pounds. Through a healthier diet, more fruits and vegetables, and 5 workouts a week I managed to easily shed eight pounds. I can't fit into certain jeans (too big!) and I have more energy than I can remember. I feel good, and plan to lose 35 total pounds. Wish me luck!

a fine holiday, that

Until yesterday I had never roasted a turkey, made gravy, cooked cranberry sauce, baked stuffing or a pumpkin pie, but all of it turned out fine. I won't say amazing, but certainly passable. I feel like I am truly coming into myself as a cook and here's why: my entire plan for preparing the dinner was based on searching the internet for recipes, getting the jist of them, and opting to work freelance instead. I found out what went into stuffing, the basics of broth, bread, butter, and herbs and made my own concoctions, always erring on more butter than asked (through the entire meal I went through two pounds!) But from the perfectly browned herb-roasted bird to my adaption of the family pie recipe: all went well. And the gifts of cheese, wine, sides, and desserts from the guests were far-beyond my wildest expectations. Diana brought homemade raw-milk hard cheese, Chrissy and Tyler walked in with beets, brussel sprouts, and yams and Ed and his wife (both chefs) brought a propane torch for their pumpkin creme brulee!

At dinner I said a short grace and we dove in. The whole meal eaten by candlelight, with conversation and laughs. New and old friends, happy dogs, and by 6PM when the world was dark and I was about to start thinking about a bonfire, I realized most of us were too full and warm to consider going out in the cold, wet (we just got an inch of rain the night before) to celebrate the old fashioned way. So I chalked it up as a loss and played a few banjo tunes at the dinner table

After Diane, Ed, and his family left Chrissy and Tyler and I headed to the living room to camp out in front of the woodstove and just talk. They work with me at Orvis, so we had a lot of common stuff to talk about. My night ended all of us enjoying the decadence of full stomachs and a warm fire. The stoves had the house up to 74 degrees by this point and I was almost uncomfortably warm, but too full and drugged on turkey meat to care. So I savored it, this comfort-debauchery, and said a silent prayer of thanks for the food and warmth and friends.

So that was my Thanksgiving, a wonderful new tradition at the farm. And today starts another new one: Plaid Friday. I'll be heading into the nearby town of Cambridge to stop in with Gibson at Battenkill books to sign copies of Barnheart and see the town decked out for holiday shopping. I'm lucky to live three miles from a small town with an arts center, yoga studio, organic food co-op, hardware, feed, and grocery stores. There are also several art and gift shops, and I plan on supporting a few in the coming weeks when the wallet gets a little fatter. But for today I can enjoy the big show and start making my lists of gifts for family and friends, and then later on put the Daughton's farm to sleep for the night. I'm watching their animals while they are away in Missouri to see their new granddaughter. I hope your own days were full of good thoughts, grattitude, and kindness.

P.S. Remember all those jar warmers you turned in? Well I am going to post the ten chosen finalists and let you vote for the winner tomorrow!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from Cold Antler Farm!

It is Thanksgiving morning and this farmhouse is alive with good smells, good work, and woodsmoke! I started my day off with a call to my family (they are very sad I can't be around for the holidays) to wish them well. Right after I placed my brined bird in the over with a butter-herb rub all over the 17 pounds of goodness. I stayed up till midnight baking three loaves of farmhouse white (two for dinner, one for stuffing), and my first-ever homemade pumpkin pie. I used my own butter crust recipe and a heirloom variety of pie pumpkin called a Long Pie. It turned out perfectly, thanks to a recipe that has been handed down in our family for several generations. When I took a bite of the mini "tester-pie" I was 7 years old again in my grandmother's dining room, all I needed to make it complete was a glass of gingerale with a maraschino cherry in it and I had myself a time machine.

I made the cranberry sauce and it is chilling in the fridge, kale and onion stuffing is in the crock pot pre-gaming till the oven is ready to brown it. I only have some mashed potatoes to cook up yet, but that's pretty much just peel, chop, boil, strain, and add all the butter and herbs you can handle. I have some celtic music playing on Pandora, and three dogs wondering when something will drop off the stove or oven so they can stop salivating around this joint.

I'm serving 6 today, and it is my first time ever taking on this sort of holiday meal. My friends Diane, Chrissy, and Tyler will be here, and so will Ed and his family from Ed and his family are moving from the DC area to Washington County to follow their dream of farming. When they said they would be up this way and eating Thanksgiving dinner in a hotel I instantly invited them here. They happily accepted and suggested some amazing side dishes they could bring. I didn't realize it off the bat, but hot dang, they are professional chefs! (HAHA No pressure!) But I'm not worried, I can cook, and it should be an amazing day dedicated to good food and good friends. I got a bonfire, wool blankets, and hard cider waiting for after dinner. It will be a grand day.

All the best wishes to you and yours on this special day. Be grateful and kind on this Thursday. Talk slower, love deeper, and open up your hearts to peace.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

a farm writer's dog

Gibson is a farm writer's dog. He understands when to be the bullet in the pasture, and when to be calm. Here he is on the floor near the register at Battenkill Books. We spent an hour or so there yesterday, and he behaved well. Shoppers came and went and with exception of a few hugs (Gibson actually wraps his paws and forearms around waists) he didn't accost anyone.

However, if I took this placid pup to the gates of my out.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I'm getting ready to feed six people and myself here at the farm. Friends from the office, other farms, and out of state are coming to Cold Antler for some maple/bourbon glazed turkey, homemade pumpkin pie, farm potatoes, stuffing from homemade bread and more. It will be a feast to remember! Tonight the bulk of the baking will be completed, and the turkey rubbed all over with salt and garlic to brine in a bag till the oven calls her home in the early morning. This is my first ever Thanksgiving as a host, and I'm excited.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Barnheart has arrived in Washington County!

Stopped at Battenkill Books today after I left the office. I just wanted to check in with Connie, and talk about stopping down on Friday for store support and signing. Talk about great timing! The first box of books had just arrived! Barnheart is in stock and ready for Plaid Friday shoppers! I signed 24 copies right then and there, and so did Gibson (pawprints in animal-safe ink). Those books are on the way to folks all over America. I took a bunch of photos, and a lot were better quality, but this moment of Gibson pawing Connie near the package of books was priceless. Why did he grab her? Because she whispered "Come Bye" and he was certain she had sheep in the office.

P.S. Ashford Spinning Wheel Giveaway coming up soon, thanks to Halcyon Yarn! Get Wound up!

Plaid Friday!

So I am just learning about this movement, but I am already in love with it. Celebrate Plaid Friday this year! In an all-out rejection of the over-commercialized, non-local mall shopping that sends wads of cash outside of local creative people in your community, spend this friday closer to home, patronzing local stores and artist for your holiday shopping. Wear your favorite plaid shirt and hit the neighborhood bookstore, favorite town restaurants, and businesses that offer gift cards and put tax dollars right back into your own community.

I'm not the only one out there who thinks the future of our economy is a more local-based system. So why not embrace that in style? And for those of you unable to get out and shop at all, or surrounded only by Big Boc Stores and malls, why not do what Jon Katz suggested on his blog? Support independebnt businesses online. Here is an exceprt from the Bedlam Farm Blog today! Check out to see what Jon and his wife are cooking up at that creative farm for the holidays. Two word: Awesome Potholders.

We support Plaid Friday, the hottest growing social movement in the country, and a celebration of independence, individuality, creativity and freedom, a growing effort to reclaim the spirit of holidays, and of community. On Friday, we are celebrating the holiday several ways:

- From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., I will be at Battenkill Books, Cambridge, N.Y., (518 677 2515) to help take orders and say hello to the good people who are buying “Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die”,”Meet The Dogs Of Bedlam Farm,” or any of my other books. Call to buy one of these books, get a free video and Bedlam Farm notecard and help support a wonderful independent bookstore, the kind that needs to survive if our communities offer diversity and connection and so we will not all live inside of a box store or mammoth online corporation. You can order books at anytime from the store – they take Paypal – or call the store anytime at 518 677-2515. We are heading for 1,000 books sold by New Year’s and are at the 700 mark. You can also buy Jenna Woginrich’s wonderful new book “Barnheart” from Connie Brooks at Battenkill as well. It will be out this week and is a wonderful story of a gifted and brave young writer’s passion for her own farm. If anyone is in the spirit of Plaid Friday, Jenna is. Call and say hello. I’d love to meet you

P.S. The Beekman Boys just posted a blog for Barnheart!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

hell yeah

four jobs

It is an unusual thing to wake up in this farmhouse warm. Not that this is an uncomfortable place by any means, but around 2AM the fires go out in the stoves and for three hours nothing heats this place but the air inside it and four wolves. But this morning the air outside was way above freezing, and the house temps never dropped below 63 degrees. Unusual, indeed.

Weird mornings like this aside, the first thing I am to this house is a charmaid. I go out with my boots and grab the black ash can and come inside to scoop out the stoves of their collections and then take it to the rain barrel to be covered in water. I don't take chances with this house. Then I re-light each fire, usually with some fatwood, and then when the fires are crackling at five-alarm blasts, I note the temperatures on the indoor thermometers (55-58 usually this time of year) and head outside to see to the dogs and farm.

My second job is dog waste valet. Use your imagination.

My third job is caretaker. I head out to the barn first and fill Jasper's hay bag and leave a tiny scoop of grain in his bucket. When his stall has been mucked, and fresh bedding laid down, I grab the lead rope and walk up the pasture gate where he is waiting. I walk uphill to him, and at that angle the salt-an-pepper pony looks like a stallion from a storybook. I get closer and we reenact the usual struggle to get him to calmly walk from pasture to stall. I used to think he was a bad horse for being so fussy, but then I realized the only time he gets like this is when I am leading a bored horse to freedom or a hungry horse to open pasture. You can't blame the man for knowing what he wants, and having the spirit to ask for it. He is calm as a lamb walking down the road, in harness, or in the stall or fields. It's the in-between that makes him nervous. We've all been there.

My next stops on the caretaker rounds is the chicken coop. I open the tricky-latch door and as soon as it swings open the honks of geese fill the world. This is jarring when people first hear it, but to be it is a welcomed ruckus. I pour fresh grain into their feeders and refill their water. I go inside the barn again to refill the pigs grain and water as well. The rabbit's get their pellet containers topped off with fresh feed and I check their water-bottle levels. They are at half-mast, which means they can wait till later. With the chickens free, horse chomping, pigs rooting, dogs relieved, and rabbits content...I am down to my last task.

I grab a bale of hay and dump it into a wheel barrow. I carry it uphill to the gate where Jasper once was and scatter the whole thing into four large sections on the ground. My sheep have little cliques and it is important that every caste gets to eat their fill. The sheep are doing well, better than ever. Sal is 100% healed from his foot issues that came this wet summer. Lisette has packed on the pounds due to more grain and mineral access than ever before. Between the minerals, vitamin supplements in their water, and plenty of hay they seem strong and content. Atlas is out and about but I haven't noticed any breeding going on. I think I released him into the flock at the end of one heat cycle and the next one is a few weeks away. That's all the better for me. I'd rather have lambs dropping on grass than snow.

Last ditch chores are seen too. Water carried in buckets from the well to the animal's tanks and buckets. Mineral licks are replaced if needed, eggs are collected, tack is hung up on the hooks in the barn. The farm is ready to meet the day doing it's own work of making wool, pork, horsepower, eggs, lamb, chicken, and rabbit. There are kits and goslings on the way soon, I can feel it. The notion of rabbit pot pie and roast goose this winter sounds amazing. (Don't worry, I will never eat Cyrus and Saro, but I will eat their kids). This whole thing takes about 40 minutes. I return inside thinking 58 degrees is ridiculously hot.

My fourth job is writer. I come inside and see to emails and open up a word document. I am starting a new book this week, my fourth, and I am thrilled to get it going. It's about a whole year on Cold Antler Farm, October-to-October and how the work of farming and living by the seasons has changed me forever, given me new awakenings, holidays, joy and purpose. I think I'll call it Days of Grace.

That is a Sunday for this particular farmer on this particular farm. My jobs change with the seasons and with the farm's needs. In June there are easily twelve jobs on a Sunday morning, most dealing with the garden and new chicks and lambs. But in theses Days of Grace between last leaves dropped and before real snow, I am a charmaid, valet, caretaker, and writer. That is the good work that fills my heart before dawn. I am grateful for it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

the angels laid them away

Josh Ritter, a favorite singer songwriter of mine, wrote this ballad for his latest album. The studio version is an amazing, powerful, and complicated piece. It has horns and strings and a lot of gritty nostalgia to it. But when I found him playing this solo piece in Notting Hill on a Gibson J-45 (my dream guitar, and the thing Gibson the Border Collie is named after), I just had to share it. Ballads seem to be a forgotten art now. Outside country music and the occasional pop accident, an entire moral story told through song is rare. But here we have a new song, with shout-outs to old songs like Barbara Allen in verse and spirit. Give it a listen, you won't regret it.

And for those of you waiting on pins and needles:
The Strumstick Winner is Pit Stop Farm!

More giveaways coming up from New England Illustrated, Outrun Press, Halycon Yarn and more!

deer season, book sales, and dead chickens

It's the first day of rifle season here in Washington County, and the parade of pickup trucks driving up and down the mountain started at 4AM. I have my tags, my father's 308, ammo, and hunting jacket, but I have never shot the gun before and feel I need some time getting comfortable with it before I head out into the woods with it. I'll probably avoid hunting until muzzleloader season, and hope I take a doe. I'm not interested in the bravado or camps, at least not right now, but it does feel a little left-behind to not join in on the first day of the season. All told, I haven't seen a single spike on this mountain, just scrubby does. So hopefully one snowy morning in December I'll take one down. I'd just like to have venison in the freezer.

I'm excited to announce some good stuff. Barnheart comes out in bookstores soon, a few weeks, and Connie at Battenkill Books has already sold 130+ and for that, I thank all of you readers. It is a huge deal.

Trying to make a living as a writer is hard (especially when you write about chickens and sheep, and not forensics or presidential biographies). When you buy a new book like Barnheart at its release it sends a message to the publisher (and the small book stores) that this book is something they should be paying attention to, my name is something worth noting. Events like Connie's, a small-town pre sale, is something new and adventurous for this relatively new bookstore. Between Jon's pre-sale of Going Home (almost a 1,000!) and my humble starts, this bookstore is going into the Holidays in high spirits and so am I.

If you are interested in getting a personalized and signed copy of Barnheart mailed right to your door from a small bookstore in my town, then click this link right here, son.

High spirits are good. I've been having a rough week, but have faith everything will work out for the better. I wrote a long, bitching, post last night (which some of you may have seen, and if so, I apologize) about my own troubles with keeping this place together. I took it down because complaining doesn't pay bills, hard work does. So I will be putting my head down these next few days working on projects and ideas, dealing with advertisers and workshop registrations, and so forth. I'll find a way. I always have.

In other news, I just finished planning an intense workshop with Brett about backyard meat chickens. I did one last year (which he attended) but this year we're presenting it together as a team. I'll cover the animal side (chicken care, raising meat birds, and the slaughtering/butchering demonstration) and he'll be showing everyone how to build a chicken tractor. (A chicken tractor is just a moveable pen that can constantly be dragged to fresh grass so your lawn gets fertilized and the birds always have clean pasture.) So it'll be a combination of husbandry and construction, ending with a farm dinner of chicken BBQ, sides and fixins. We're going to offer a full-day in late June (23rd), and there is no farming experience needed. This is for people thinking about getting started with meat birds, too. Maybe you just want to see how hard it is to go from chicken to drumstick? Or maybe you've raised layers and really want to see what goes into a dozen roasters? Everyone will go home with five meat bird chicks, plans on how to construct their own tractor, and enjoy a campfire in the evening if they wish to stick around. Bring a banjo and sharp knives. Fun!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

make music with us

This time of year brings out the mountain music in me. My hands are all over my fiddle, guitar, banjo, and anything else that makes music. I even have an old accordion in the kitchen now, a recent acquisition, and at night while I wait for my rice to cook or chicken to roast up, I sound like a backup person in the Decemberists. It is a gritty kind of whimsical.

With daylight waning I am indoors most evenings from 7PM till bedtime, so I have hours I didn't have when the sun set around 9PM in June. Back then, nightfall meant sleep. Now it means Dorian chords and instructional books and videos. I have been spending the bulk of these past few nights with my guitar, but every so often I pick up the banjo, and I can't stop my fiddle cravings. These instruments light me up. A few frails on a banjo totally change the house from a quiet, cold place to an alive thing. I can't imagine not being surrounded by instruments, my records, radio stations, and the Pandora channels I have come to love on the tele. Some people aren't into music, and they confuse me as much as people who are not into dogs and fireflies. I'm sure they are fine citizens, but they are not my people.

I think many of us put off buying or learning to play an instrument because we think we need to be amazing at them, as if everyone with a $200 guitar should be expected to play any song on command at a campfire or open mic night. I think owning an instrument is an invitation to creativity and company, and any expectations over that is a burden. It doesn't require your enslavement (another myth), but if you do dedicate a few minutes a day to it, you might be surprised at how much you pick up and what a joy and comfort it can be. I know 12 guitar chords and a few songs and it can make this farm shake when I need to belt out a song, home brewed or a cover. My fiddle (the most over-hyped instrument in the world that is actually simple to play) has been tattooed on my heart. I know some tunes by heart on the banjo, it makes this place swing back in time.

None of these things need an outlet, buttons, or are confined to a car stereo. These are portable sidekicks, best friends, therapists, and canvases. If you want to learn, I urge you to try. Just getting a guitar and propping it in the corner of your living room changes a place, changes you. Because once it is there, music is a possibility, and that makes every day a little better.

This winter I'm hosting an intro to mountain music workshop here at the farmhouse. Come join me and folks from all over the US for a full day on the farm to get acquainted with some of these instruments, try them out, learn how to hold and strum them, and make some new friends, just a few spots left and it really supports the farm, plus we're giving away a beginner fiddle outfit!

Mountain Music! February 4th 2012
This is going to be a fun one. A full snowy day at the farmhouse with an introduction to the mountain dulcimer, southern fiddle, and clawhammer banjo! The morning will start off around the wood stove with dogs and introductions, and then we'll go over the basics of stringed mountain instruments. You'll learn how to play a tune on the dulcimer, bow and hold a fiddle, and the clawhammer strum known as flailing. This beginner's class will be about getting acquainted with the instruments, as well as how to teach yourself. You'll learn my method of self-education that comes from using very beginner-friendly audio/visual aids like tab/cd sets as well as easy practice schedules and tips. I'll point you in the direction of good beginner instruments and anyone who already has a fiddle, dulcimer, or banjo laying around they want some re-upping of inspiration on: bring it along! We'll spend the entire day getting group and one-on-one instruction. and eat some amazing slow-cooked pork and potatoes with apple pie for dessert! We'll have drawing for a mountain dulcimer too, so some one will go home with music in their hands!

To sign up for one of the 8 remaining spots, email

Enter the Strumstick Giveaway!

Thanks to the folks at Mcnally Strumstick -,, I am giving away one of their beautiful instruments in the key of G (with a soft case)! Strumsticks are as simple as the dulcimer, but with the feeling and twang of a banjo. It is set up so that the entire instrument is in tune with itself, making wrong notes impossible. My Strumstick is always in my pickup truck, at the ready for lunchbreaks at the office, campfires, or any place that needs a little music. My favorite tune to play on it is Wild Mountain Thyme.

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment in this post sharing what instrument moves you, and you wish you could play. Or, tell the story of how you started playing the instrument you now consider a loyal friend. Inspire those who are toying with the idea of a mandolin or banjo to grab those beauties and start pickin!

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with these guys, check out the site and their videos, because their insrument is the perfect way for the non-musical homesteading-lovin' persons to pluck out some simple mountain tunes without any experience with stringed instruments.

Everyone can only enter once via comment, but if you are willing to share the link to this blog on Facebook, then you may enter a second time posting, "SHARED!" and you'll be in the running again, doubling your chances for one of these amazing little beasties. Winner will be picked Saturday night!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

the warmth of work

It was raining as I left the office, everything dark and wet. It's still a little unsettling, leaving my day job and discovering upon my emancipation, that the day has already passed. You try not to feel five pounds heavier, but its hard when you're getting pushed down by the time and space of it all. Gibson and I careened toward the farm, and when we arrived he loped off into the woods and I went inside to see to Jazz and Annie. I look forward to seeing those two more than I could ever express. They are my solid ground, through states and years, lives and change, they are my seraphim's with wolf hearts.

Inside the house seemed cold. At 57 degrees it wasn't cold at all, but I had done nothing more than sat in a desk chair all day. Isn't it funny that we call tedium "work" now, because that venerable word is now synonymous with offices and wages. But there is no actual work being done, not in the sense of labor. My office life has it's place and areas of import, but there is no actual work being done. Work is what people digging new sewer lines and planting winter rye are doing. I was indoors, with soft paws, moving things around on a computer screen. It makes you cold when you come home.

So I was craving animal comforts, the real basics: fire, soft things to lay on, warm food, and a big glass of red wine. I got the fires going, but it was the work outside that warmed me. In the rain I saw that every animal was fed, watered, comfortable and dry. It's dark out, but the yellow glow of the barn light's single 60-watt light bulb and the coop was as loud as lighthouses. I switched all the lights outdoors to traditional, old style bulbs. Not the greenest thing to do, but I was tired of the light in my barn feeling like the fluorescent lights above my desk at work. So I went old school, and now there's a warm yellow light in that land of hay, horse, pig and rabbit instead of the white fury of the twisties. I actually replace my standard bulbs less outdoors, the new kind doesn't seem to do well with rain and cold?

By the time the work of keeping this place running another night was done, I was soaking wet but warm all over. I came inside and the house was already up to 60, but felt like 80. I shed my layers and said a silent prayer of thanks that the worst of the rain was starting now that I was indoors. As temperatures drop into the 30's I know that there is dry wood inside to light and heat this farmhouse into the night.

Tonight, that is what I am grateful for. Now, warmed by a mason jar of red wine, I am thinking of the post I wrote about the place I go right before I fall asleep, that always calms me no matter what is weighing on my mind. It's a gray barn, and tonight as I sit here reading an old post, a post older than Jasper and Gibson, I realize how much consistent thoughts can change your life, and how things happen not so much out of work, but out of faith.

Here is what I wrote on December 22, 2009:

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

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

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