Monday, December 19, 2011

tough love

This has been a tough morning.

I started writing all that had been going on here in the last few days and (even) hours while waiting for the chimney sweep to get here. The paragraph was full of drama. A series of accidents and incidents, personal strife, fear, and anger at myself. I looked at my blog post, shook my head, and hit delete. Not because I wanted to hide it from you, dear readers, but because I am fairly certain that writing about strife, fear, and anger just creates more and more of it. It causes me to get sucked into feeling like a victim, or fills my head with notions of things that haven't even happened yet. I don't want to live that way, not anymore.

I'm not saying I won't share bad news about the farm on the blog, or turn this into the fluffy-bunny of homesteading network. But I don't think any of you need to hear about my problems that you already have yourselves... things like money issues, relationships pains, medical problems or any sort of negative talk about politics, farms, bloggers, or farmers.

So here's what I will share about today:

Today amazing things happened. Through a lot of luck, love, community and phone calls disaster was avoided, stress relieved, and problems dealt with in a timely fashion. This farm was full of animals that got attention, feed, water, room to move around in and explore. The dogs have full stomaches. The house is warm. The electricity is on. The truck is getting repaired in the shop. I have a 4x4 rental sitting outside waiting to take me to work. I am blessed. I am lucky. I am grateful.

Tonight I would love it if every reader posted to share something they are grateful for, too. It can be anything, just something that makes them happy and that they truly appreciate. Write it down. I can't imagine the positive energy a list of gratitudes can create, but it has to be stronger than a list of pity-filled comments or there there's. I want to be uplifted, not consoled. I want to be proud of the generosity, kindness, and good will of strangers who sit down to check in on this blog. I want to hear about your grandchild's first steps, your puppy's healing leg, your overcoming cancer, your husband's warmth, your sister's laugh. I want to hear what you are smiling about.

I'll start: I am grateful for all of you who support this farm, in every way. Your comments, donations, workshops, emails...your love is a reason to wake up and create words and pictures and keep this dream alive. Thank you.

whoever mailed me this, you made my week

appreciation and tidings

A few weeks ago I posted about a little girl from an urban homesteading family in my hometown that needed your support. Thanks to your generosity, kind words, emails and calls...this family pulled through. Shellee wrote this to me to post on the blog so that all of you who donated and offered prayers and assistance can get an update. I am amazed at this community. It heals.

My husband and I would like to thank all of you for the prayers and generous donations that came our way through this difficult time. I had been waiting to hear from the doctor and finally have an update. Madeline will go into surgery on December 27 at 7:30am. This will be her 4th surgery (She will have one more and hopefully that will be all). She had a KUB xray (kidney, urinary, bladder) in Nov and her Dr said that the stones have moved down right at the base of the ureter!! This is fantastic news because they may not have to make an incision. He had said he is really trying to avoid that because her condition is lifelong and will more than likely have stones in the future. If they go in and surgically remove through incision, it may make it difficult in the future if they ever have to put another stint in ( her last surgery will remove the one that's in right now). So he is going to try to break them down by laser as best as he can and hopefully pull them out which means less hospital time after.

This has been a lot for our family but through our faith and the smile on a little girl who has been through so much, makes you realize what really matters especially this time of year. She is an active, fun-loving, kindhearted child, and I never want to break that sprirt. She prays for the children in St. Chris's every night that they get to be free (I think she means from the hospital...I never asked because that is between her and God and he knows her heart). Christmas is her favorite time of year so I was worried about how she would react having to go down again. As much as she doesn't want to get another "nap" (as we call it), she is ready for this to be all over. I pray this will be the last time she has to deal with stones.

We teach our children to be humble and accept the things God gives you. You may not always understand why things happen, but she knows that God makes everyone special. She believes God gave her stones to help other children with something they may be going through. And in her prayers at night she always puts herself last.....she's 4. I'm so proud to have her as my daughter. She teaches me to see what life is really all about. God has good things in store for this one!!! From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for everything. You will always be a blessing to our family.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!

Love Shellee Snyder

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 degrees

It's 12 degrees outside, and that's a new kind of cold for this farm. So far the lowest temps have been in the high teens, but last night the mercury dipped to ten degrees and when the farmhouse stoves went out around 2AM the house dropped to the low fifties. This isn't horribly cold, but chilly enough that when I reached over to hug Gibson his black fur was cold to the touch. When I woke him he stretched out his lanky body so he was easily 5 feet long from front paws to back paws, and then curled his spine back into another ten minutes of sleep, tail covering his nose. He must have learned that trick from the huskies.

Today's work includes some everyday chores like repairing the sheep fence, turning out the pony, and loading up the truck with some hay from Nelson's farm for the barn's larder. I'll pick up some more feed in Bennington and stop by the home-brewing shop so I can pick up a valve I am missing for siphoning the hard cider. I'll call the farrier for Jasper (his feet need some trimming) and the butcher about the pigs. They have a date with destiny soon. It feels like just last weekend I picked them up with Tara. But by the time those two are in my freezer Tara will have a belly the size of a throw pillow under her shirt. Life rolls.

There's a Christmas Potluck tonight at my friends' house in Arlington, and I'm bringing a big pot of mac-n-cheese with veggies. It's a comfort food potluck, by the sounds of everyone's menu and for nights this biting, I welcome it. Right now however, I have hot coffee by my side and a list in my head of errands and supplies, chores and plans, recipes and outfit selections.

I hope you all have a wonderful and festive Sunday! The solstice is in just a few days, and that means starting the 23rd, the light returns! Days will get longer, and Christmas even more special. At least, to me.

parts of a cow

Yesterday I posted a photo of two steer feet, muddy and bloody, in the snow-sprinkled grass. I shared the photo because I wanted to convey the raw reality of harvesting livestock for the table without showing the whole steer half skinned, hoisted on a giant tripod, with a near decapitated head covered in blood. The feet seemed to get my point across without being sensational.

I was mistaken. Emails, comments, and complaints came streaming in. I removed the post because so many people were offended, and offending people is not something I wish to do before the Holidays, or any time of year. What shocked me about the upset parties was that only one of them was a vegetarian. The others were people who happily eat meat but felt showing the feet of the steer was gratuitous, and using the word harvest was dishonest or elitist. Some thought I sounded cold and naive. Others were just grossed out.

Here's the thing. If I posted a picture of a perfectly cut raw steak on a plate, I assure you I would not get a single complaint. That raw part of a dead animal, because we are used to seeing it, is acceptable. Yet it is carcass, a once-moving sinew, the insides of a beast, a far more gory and intimate display than anything I shared here yesterday. The feet were two black hooves on the grass of a small family farm, with mud and exposed bone, gently being covered with snow. I wrote how my life with animals had changed, and that the experience of seeing those feet was just like the experience of seeing a filing cabinet in my office. They are a part of the process, objects that should not effect how you go about the work of your day. And so people assumed I cared about the death of the animal as much as I care about filing cabinets. That was both insulting and the exact opposite of everything this blog is about. Why is seeing backyard livestock slaughter as a part of my everyday life offensive?

If you think my acceptance of livestock death means I don't care about animal welfare, conscious eating, and invoke deep gratitude for the lives lost to sustain my own than I have done a horrible job of sharing my heart.

P.S. I put it back up...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

firecracker farm steer harvest this morning

First thing this morning I was at Firecracker Farm with a plate of apple cake and a card for Ian Daughton. The card said "Happy Steer Day!" and had the first ten dollars inside it as a down payment on the beef I ordered months ago from his steer. Today was Tasty the cow's harvest date and I was there with a few other folks to see the process, take mental notes, and talk to the butcher about an appointment for my pigs later this winter.

How I see and live with animals has changed so much in the past few years, and I am very content in my current practice of living with, and being the reason for, the death of the animals that feed me. It feels correct. Those hooves are not grotesque to me at all, no more than a filing cabinet is at the office. The metal cabinet is simply a part of the job, an object that is a small part of a larger process. Steer hooves are just one small part of an end of one animal's story. A story so complicated and interconnected with man it is insulting to me now when people pretend their meat never had legs to stand on. I am grateful for this animal in every sense. I'm proud of Ian and happy to support him.

As a farmer I now know death is not an ending. It's a continuation.

a chariot of cats

A small wooden statue of the Goddess Freya watches over my kitchen. She sits on a throne with two giant cats by her side. In the old words, she was the patron of love, protection, and fertility and was pulled on a chariot by two large cats. She's a lover and a fighter, digs music and ale, and believes in animal-powered transportation. That's my kind of girl.

Freya is in my kitchen because two years ago when my world was falling apart she showed up at my door and then everything changed. I was broke, evicted from my rental farm, and scared but then a reader mailed me this simple statue in the mail and wrote words that boosted my spirit. He told me to be strong, to trust the process, and that he knew I would be okay. He wanted me to have a reminder about strong women that came before me, that have guided people since time out of mind. I love this statue. I love that it was a gift from a stranger that arrived at my door, given to inspire and invigorate my hope.

Freya pulled through, all right. I ended up at this farm a few months later, a miracle considering I had no savings, poor credit, and no idea how to buy a house. All I knew was how to want it. I trusted in the readers who supported and believed in me. I found a realtor and mortgage broker who were patient and explained exactly what I needed to do to make this place happen. I saved, planned, paid-off debts, and with the help and support of many loved people I was able to come home to Cold Antler. Everything magically fell into place for me. The sellers were motivated, the USDA's loan didn't require a down payment, the closing costs covered by the owners, and so on. The experience confirmed my beliefs in trusting a dream, putting your emotions and intentions out there, following through with hard work, and knowing it will happen. You practice those four things with all you've got and you can do anything. You'll find your home, your farm, your dream. You will make it happen. Hell, you might even arrive on a chariot of cats.

I was thinking about that statue, that story, because it is now two years since she showed up at my door and how different life has been. There have been some tough times, most not even written down on this blog, but I trust the farm and my heart to pull me through.

I'm spending Christmas here at the farm and it is causing serious repercussions with my parents. They aren't angry, but they are disappointed. They see the choice to stay up here to keep things running choosing the farm over them. I suppose I am, but not in the way they think. My farm is not as important as my family, but taking care of the farm is more important than visiting my family at Christmas. If that sounds horrible, you either never ran a winter farm alone in the Northeast or your a first-generation farmer's Catholic mother. Either way, it's tough. Even Freya doesn't have this covered.

To my family, I'm sorry. I love you so much. I wish I could send Jasper to pick you up with bells on and bring you here to spend it with me and everyone else at Cold Antler this holiday. The three dogs, 31 chicks, 28 chickens, 2 pigs, 16 sheep, 5 rabbits, 2 geese, wildlife, and wood stoves.

I'll fill you in later today about how the farm life is changing here—the projects and plans—and the decision I made to cull out Pidge from the flock. But first I need to bake an apple cake for a farm-business meeting and then go watch a cow die.

Friday, December 16, 2011

LAST DAY to order Barnheart for Christmas!

This is the last day, last chance, to order a signed and personalized copy of Barnheart from Battenkill Books for Christmas Delivery. this is an amazing way to support Cold Antler, indie book sellers, and my rural community here in Washington County. If you are looking to own a special edition (first, signed, editions are special!) as a a present for a friend or to add to your own collection, these books ordered through Connie at Battenkill Books will be signed by me (Gibson too, if you request his paw print) just three miles from the farm in my community's independent book shop.

Connie can take your order, call me to come sign it, and we will mail it to you or anyone you want to send it too. She's mailed books to Canada, Brazil, Europe, and the South Pacific so far, so she can get it where it needs to go! Today is your last chance to order a copy and have all the delivery taken care of for you for those people still on your life, so give Connie a call or drop her an email, it's more than a small business, it's showing the entire Big Box industry book buyers are looking to support smaller shops. Amen.

Now, while I think today's Christmas cut off might be for U.S. Delivery, it is good to know your friend serving overseas or in-laws in Mexico can still share in the story of Cold Antler, if you want to mail it their way, inked by the girl and her dog.

You can also order books by another local author, and good friend, Jon Katz. His new book "Going Home" is about dealing with the loss of a beloved animal in your life, and his first book about living full-time on Bedlam Farm, "The Dogs of Bedlam Farm" is still my favorite, because it talks about living here in this area, alone, and with a farm through a crazy winter (I can relate). You can get any of his (he has scads), and my signed books sent your way today and under your tree by Christmas Eve!

So that's my commercial, thank you to all who already ordered Barnheart, Made From Scratch and Chick Days. It is such a boost to see a stack of books you wrote being mailed all over the world to folks who are interested in these 6.5 acres on a mountain. I'm grateful, and hope those of yours who receive these as gifts are happy with them and find their way here to see where the story goes next!

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

Or just click here to order online:

the freedom rangers have arrived!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Local Service PSA

Holiday Hay Drive for Schoharie Farms

Date: Saturday, December 17th, 2011
Time: 9:00am-2:00pm
Drop off Location: 4-H Training Center,
556 Middleline Road, Ballston Spa, NY 12020

Farmers in Need of Hay!!Please participate in a holiday “hay drive” to help farms in Schoharie County affected by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. A volunteer with a large truck will pick up hay in Saratoga County at the 4-H Training Center on Saturday, December 17 and then deliver it to farms in need.* We need at least 20 farms to donate 20 bales of hay.

The recipients would be grateful for your donation. (Please no poor quality or mulch hay.) Email or call Jennifer Conte at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County if you are willing to donate. ( or 518-885-8995 ext. 232.) We also need volunteers to unload and load hay on the 17th. This would be a great gesture of generosity to those in need this Holiday Season!!

Thank you!
Jennifer L. Conte
Extension Community Educator
Cornell University Cooperative Ext. of Saratoga County

winter meat birds and radio blitz

Tomorrow morning I will be getting a call from the Cambridge Post Office letting me know that 30 Freedom Ranger chicks will be waiting for me inside the warm walls of their Head Quarters. This is a new enterprise, winter meat birds, and I'm trying it as an experiment with my friend and coworker Steve. Steve and his girl Molly approached me with the idea of them buying the birds, and I raise them. The deal being I get to keep half, so they get 15 naturally raised birds in winter with having to do anything but punch in a credit card over the internet, and so do I. The chicks will start indoors and move to a haybale, lamp-lit, corner of the barn for when they are older. We'll see how it goes, this is after all, an experiment.

So the post office will call here around 6AM, and soon as I return and have all of the birds happy and content in their brooder, taking the first steps in their lives as Cold Antler Poultry: my radio tour starts.

What the heck is a radio tour, Jenna? Well, you might ask! I am new to this, but I am fairly certain I sit by the phone all day and every ten minutes from 7:27Am till 4PM radio stations from all over the US call for live interviews with a crazy 29-year-old day-job slingin' farm girl and to talk about Barnheart. I'm excited, and a little daunted. These are all live broadcasts, from Minneapolis(KTOE) to Nashville(WRLT) to Denver (KFKA-AM) to Los Angeles (KKZZ). Talk about a day of promotion.... I think I'll need a glass of water and a shot of whiskey by dinner time. Whew...

Outside meat birds and the book tour, there is a lot happening here at the farm. My evening and morning chore times are the longest in this farm's history. I would gather 3 hours a week day are now dedicated to time outdoors just keeping the basics running, and 6-8 hours a weekend day. With the horse, pigs, and wood stove alone morning chore time is doubled, and without hoses or extra hands, just moving buckets and hay can be a workout that makes Jillian Michaels look like.... well okay, it's nothing compared to her workouts, but it still gets my heart racing.

While the winter-farm work is tough, don't read my words as complaints, they couldn't be farther from them. YEs, the work is all-consuming, and some weeknights I am so exhausted I get home, eat, and crash soon as everything with paws, claws, and hooves is satiated. But nights like tonight, before a radio tour and with a promise of a morning fire in the wood stove (not lit when I am leaving for the office for ten hours) fills me with that same ol' feeling of joy I started feeling back in IDaho when homesteading went from bookshelves and directly into my veins. Yes, the work is everything now, but it is wonderful, and it is bringing me a freedom and sense of worth so thick, authentic, and real I sometimes think if I fell to the ground my own energy would make me a magnet, hovering 6-inches over the muddy ground.

So no pity for this girl when she talks about buckets and chores. I am alive, in love, and singing out.

My focus on losing weight is holding steady, not losing much more, but not gaining any either. I am down ten pounds with 25 to go. I am not making stellar progress, but I consider starting a wellness program a week before Thanksgiving and losing ten pounds by Christmas success. I am drinking green juice, lean meats, and cutting out (but not avoiding totally) carbs. I dropped a jean size. I feel lighter, happier, stronger. It is good.

The webinars seem to slowly be gaining some footing, sold a few passes and am inspired to do even more. The next one will be shorter, and just about rabbit harvesting and storing (not raising rabbits, that will be in the spring), but I think it is going to be good to know. Someone suggested a DVD CSA, which I think is great. If you want to sign up for the whole year of web tutorials, email me at and you can get a DVD or Data Disc with all the webinars saved for your viewing pleasure whenever you want. You'll get the DVD after this season, but be able to watch them online as they are filmed. (The Dulcimer tape will be finished this weekend and emailed to subscribers!)

Hoo! That is plenty for tonight. I'll check in tomorrow with chick pics, radio stories, updates, news, and more. Right now I am going to head outside and feed the crew before I return to my stack of mail (so many cards, thank you!) and some down time.

photo from

One Fast Move Or I'm Gone

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

start in the shower

A lot of us are striving towards a simpler life, whatever that means to us. IF you read this blog you may have the notion a simpler life involves moving to the country, getting livestock, and cutting back on blatant consumerism as a lifestyle choice. For me, that's true, but I think for a lot of people The Simple Life doesn't have to start on a few acres in the sticks. It can start in your shower.

That might sound scandalous, but let me ask you to humor me for a second. I firmly believe that the window to a person's soul is not their eyes, but their shower. The amount of paraphernalia, bottles, mold, and laundry scattered around are a better instant-slice of your frame of mind than anything else. Bathrooms are raw. They are private, a place that prepares you for a public life, kinda like your head. How you set up your bathroom, its state of cleanliness and its amount of potions and products is a better judge of your state of mind than you might think.

So indulge me, dear friends. Close your eyes and picture your bathroom tub or shower. Picture the towels, mats, razors, soap dishes, bottles, shampoos, and shaving creams. Do you need all of those things? Really need them? Could you whittle down that pile to one shampoo bottle, one bar of soap, and a razor in a small glass on a shelf? Could you put the razor away in the cabinet? Could you wipe the tub clean and bleach it, make it feel new?

Where there is one shampoo choice, one bar of soap, and one clean towel on a rack with more hidden away.. there is simplicity. I think removing excess, clutter, and such from open spaces in your home is a first step. Fill a closed cabinet with all those shampoo bottles and extras, deal with them another day. But tonight, see if you can set out one nice bar of soap, one bottle of shampoo, and one fresh towel for tomorrow and just notice how walking into a more-basic environment calms you. How the work of cleaning yourself is without choices that hinder your mood or thoughts, and how before you even get dressed to go to work you have appreciated a small step and accomplishment.

A farm, sure, someday. But tonight, let's domesticate our showers.

P.S. In full disclosure, my bathroom could use a decent scrubbing and some organization, but I am down to basics. All excess if out of sight, out of mind.

the perfect pair

As a thank you for farm sitting last month, the Daughtons found me the perfect present. A two-cup vintage enamelware percolator, in teal! This small wonder fills my giant bee mug from the Pig Barn Art Show over at Bedlam Farm. Together they are an unstoppable morning team. I can percolate coffee so strong it could clog your truck's fuel injectors and fit the entire min-pot in half that mug. When life is right, it's right.

Monday, December 12, 2011

on the table

My morning started on the operating table, and that's no joke. I was in for minor surgery, to have some suspicious moles I earned these past few years out in the sun removed in case they were trouble. Before the surgery began I was on my back under the bright lights, sanitized and exposed. I was feeling pretty uncomfortable, and a little scared. The surgical staff hooked me up to a heart monitor and the nurse at my side made an odd comment, asking if I was a member of some type of team or sport? I asked why, and she said only athletes and pastors have that kind of heart rate before surgery, steady and slow. I laughed. I told her I had a farm.

She just nodded.

Webinar Sample: Mountain Dulcimer 101

Okay folks, here is a fairly long sample clip showing you an example of how the webinars will work here. It is about ten minutes. Mostly, it's video instructional blogging but with extra photos and stories of my own life and experiences thrown in. In this partial webinar, you'll see some vintage Tennessee Jenna, mountain smashing! (That's my bum climbing to the top of Chimney Tops in the Smokies, son) And videos from the old states not even mentioned on the blog. Consider it more than a way to learn country skills if you can't make a full-day, on-farm workshop—think of it as a video conversation in my home, with lots of yarns and laughs thrown in.

This webinar starts out like a bit of a scrapbook, and talks about the history and my story of coming to the dulcimer. After that we get a quick review of parts and simple strumming in my office. It's a fair preview of the conversational style of the whole process. And for those of you who are audio/video buffs, I do apologize. All I have is a 2005 eMac with iMovie, Garage Band, and iPhoto (also from '05!) . I used those programs to do everything from turn me into a one-woman band (I recorded dulcimer, Irish whistle, drums, and rattles on top of each other with sound effects) to film editor. This little sample you see took me about 6 hours total, and that's not counting the time to write and record the music (two songs are originals I wrote in Sandpoint, Idaho. Winters are long there.)

I loved making this teaser webinar, and already am planning my second one (wool washing, processing, and hand carding and drop spinning to match the January Workshops) as well as spring Webinars in less adorable arts like rabbit and chicken harvesting and freezer wrapping. I hope this sample inspires some of you to sign up for these, and gets the current members already signed up excited for what's ahead. More (and full-length) webinars will be emailed to subscribers as they become available starting in 2012 (Expect one a month 20-30 minutes long!) sent via a private link to download.

P.S. quality of videos for streaming on the web isn't as good as what you will get on DVD, know it is a crisper view at full-quality.

P.S.S. Sorry it didn't go up last night, I fell asleep while it was uploading to the farm's youtube channel!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

working on it!

I am working on this webinar like nuts, in all my free time today (had to go to the office for a few hours). I plan on posting a 5-8 minute clip at the very least tonight, and work on it an hour or so a night this week to get it right. So far the intro, parts of the dulcimer, and a tuning demo using an electric guitar tuner has been filmed. I think I'll redo the tuner section, but you can expect to see a decent demonstration tonight before I turned it. It was nuts to think I could make a 25 minute instruction video on one computer in a day, but I can get it done in a week, I am certain!

Check back before bed!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

saratoga streets

goslings and kits

I'm starting to doubt the chance of yuletide bunnies and goslings. The eggs Saro has been nesting on have yet to hatch, and none of the does took to their fall breeding in November. I had the does again, but there's nothing I can do at this point to bring geese into the world. I hope a few hatch, both this farm and Common Sense down the road, are interested in geese. They are great for bartering too. I could get some great bath and body supplies from them for a few goslings, and next year's goose dinner for me!

kale, booze, and books

Folks, you take some fresh kale, some carrots, and drizzle a little olive oil over them with a sprinkling of chicken rubbing spices, and then place an equally oiled/spiced rub natural bird on top of that and you got yourself a weekend dinner that took you about 7 minutes to prepare for the oven and will make your house smell like God's pocket. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, then turn down to 350 till chicken is done (meat thermometer reads 180 on the breasts and juices run clear). So good. So, so, soooo good. I regret every day I ate kale without roasting it with vegetables in an oven. Live and learn.

Today is a day all about literature and booze. I'm spending the morning working on a very important writing project, throwing every bit of myself into its success, and then this afternoon two of my girlfriends are coming over and we're heading over to the Big Horse City (AKA Saratoga) to get some home brewing supplies so we can syphon and ferment our home-pressed hard cider a second time to be bottled for gift giving. What I love about home brewing is most supplies can be used over and over and I think after this cider is bottled I'll try a new winter stout now that I have two fermenters, something hardy.

I know there are many different feelings out there about alcohol, but here is my ethic: all things pleasant enjoyed in moderation, that hurt neither yourself or others, can be a great comfort in this short life. A frothy pint of black beer at the end of a cold day of farm work outside, paired with a fiddle and a dog, makes my endorphins speed up. I am so happy to be in good company, with music and a light buzz, though you will never see me drink to the point of impaired thoughts or actions, mostly because there are 56 animals outside and 3 inside that depend on me to be their go-to in an emergency. IF I had three big glasses of beer and Annie swallowed a nail and I couldn't run her to the emergency room in Glens Falls because I thought it was okay to get hammered... I would never forgive myself. So my ethic remains the same, a bit of fun is good. It's a balance and revelry to hard work and weather. It doesn't work for everyone, but that's this farm's policy.

So home brewing field trip today over to the Zymurgist's shop after my morning of writing and some video production. Starting to film and edit the first webinar today, about teaching yourself mountain dulcimer. Some folks had emailed me asking if they could preview a video before committing to a season pass? I think that is reasonable, so I will post the whole first webinar here SUnday night and you can decide for yourself if it's worth supporting. You won't get Hollywood, but you will get authentic stories and tales, more personal anecdotes, photos and bits from my past, and learn to make some tunes out of wood and wire. I hope it inspires you to bring music into your home.

Oh, and some good news! Barnheart made the super hip IndieNext list! A monthly collection of books independent bookstores deem worthy of promotion and hand-selling. It's an honor, and my humble farm book is in some snazzy company on that list. So it's a win for the words of this mountainside farm. Thanks so much to the librarians, booksellers, and teachers out there promoting my work.

P.S. Connie at Battenkill Books will take Holiday Gift orders of Barnheart till Next Friday, Dec 16th! Call or email her by then to make sure it gets to you or yours for Christmas!

Friday, December 9, 2011

First Webinar this Sunday: Mountain Dulcimer!

I'm excited about the first Webinar I am planning. It's a complete beginner's guide to the mountain dulcimer. It'll be between 15-20 minutes long and contain everything you need to know to tune, play, and enjoy the simplest and sweetest of the ballad keepers. You'll hear some singing from me, the story of my history with the dulcimer and the Smoky mountains, and learn about the instrument's history, stories, and reasons for keeping a mountain (AKA lap) dulcimer at arms reach at any time. By the end of the video you'll be either scanning Craigslist for a dulcimer to barter for, promise.

The Webinars are important to me. It's both a way to share what I love doing, and helps sustain this farm., allowing me to take a stab at making a living doing what I love. I consider that, the real American Dream. I don't think the old idea of a cookie-cutter house, two kids, and a golden retriever with stock options really holds the weight it once did for the post-war scene. I think the American Dream of my generation is to pursue something you love, something that makes you sing deep inside, and try to find a way to create your life around it. It doesn't have to be your income, or the only thing you do, but to follow your passion in a way that is sustainably rewarding, to me, is the Big Dream. And it's not just for American's anymore, darling.

So for those of you who signed up for a season of Webinar's, you'll be emailed a link to your download/video hopefully by Sunday night! You don't need a dulcimer to watch it, but it might inspire some of you who aren't musical to give it a go. Dulcimers are beautiful, simple, and hauntingly poetic things.

If you are interested in signing up for a season pass of Webinars, private video lessons in homesteading skills and arts, click this link to learn more!

recess for snow birds

the meaning of the season: charity

The snow did come, but not nearly as much as predicted. I fell asleep around 10PM to the first giant soapbox flakes plopping down and by morning a calm inch had covered the entire farm. Enough to encase the place in a near-mystical sense of refuge, and yet not be enough to make me run outside at 4AM with the roof rake to save Jasper from the old slate roof a story above his head. Talk about a perfect combination. Snow, beautify, no chance of leaking roofs. Perfect.

Yesterday morning I went about the chores in this new clean world and within twenty minutes of my labor the farm was returned to the look of a working homestead. Wheel barrow lines and footprints pushing through to wet mud, hay and chimney ashes on the snow. Chicken poo and goose tracks, but still a half-dozen eggs in the nest. It wasn't Narnia for long, it felt like Cold Antler again. Also, perfect, even if it wasn't Christmas Card material.

Speaking of which, received two more cards yesterday and a package from British Columbia. The cards were from Pennsylvania and Texas, and the package from BC was filled with jams and preserves and a beautiful handmade broom perfect for small stove chores and clean up. The cards are on display, the jam is in the pantry, and the small broom is hanging on a hook by the stove. Beautiful gifts, all. I thank you, but I have an idea....

I decided to make these cards into something more than a girl on a farm getting a kind word. Send along a dollar in your card to Cold Antler and I will put it in a special wrapped box here at the farm. The money will all go towards getting a gift of livestock to an impoverished community through Heifer International. If you are not familiar with Heifer International, click here to see their site and mission statement. They are a world-wide charity that believes helping the needy is not about sending canned goods and old sweatshirts, but creating sustainable agricultural industries and food-growing practices. They come from the "teach a man to fish" school, handing a family in Africa 4 dairy goats and lessons in milking, husbandry, and breeding so they can have a continued source of meat and milk, of in which they are obligated to give the first female offspring away to another family. This is a beautiful charity giving animals as hope. Together, through this card campaign, we can possibly give the gift of such an animal from all of us on the blog. So be a part of this, send a long a card and a dollar to:

Jenna Woginrich
Cold Antler Farm
Jackson, NY 2816

...And if you are trying to figure out the perfect gift for people on your list who already have everything, I strongly suggest donating an animal in their name and giving them a card with the story, talk about the spirit of the season! And you know what, children especially love this. Getting a child a card and a small stuffed goat and explaining to them that while they are getting their own little goat, sheep, or toy chicken somewhere far away another child is getting one too, a REAL one, and because of their present, they have helped feed and care for their family. You can buy a stuffed rabbit and give a trio of rabbits, or a flock of chickens and a toy chicken. I find this combination gift makes children beam, makes their toy about more than a present, and teaches the meaning of the season. They child still gets a small toy, but it is more than that.

Heifer is a charity I believe in, and I would love to help spread their message and buy someone, somewhere, a chance at something better.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I can't wait to see this...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

i will go

Less than an hour ago I was outside in a driving, cold rain. I was dressed for the weather, but that didn't matter. The work of preparing the farm for the coming snow storm had me breathing deep in a combination of sweat, rain water, and tears. They were calling for 4-8 inches, starting around midnight. This is a big deal on this small farm, since snow in that volume can damage roofs, force the sheep into the shed for the night, and keep the pony in his stall in the barn. I had been outside for the better part of an hour, feeding pigs and checking on the rabbitry. I fed Jasper and closed the door Brett made for us, keeping him inside so raking the roof would be easier in the morning. He stuck his head out the open dutch door as I moved his water bucket to his indoor quarters. "You are a comfortable pony tonight, sir," I said as I fed him an apple-flavored cookie. "You've got hay, grain, cookies, and warm straw in here. Consider yourself the King of Antlers." Jasper just stared at me while I stroked his neck. I'm going to write a fiddle song about that horse some day. It'll be called The King of Apples.

In a few moments I was outside the dry barn and pushing a wheel barrow loaded with a bale of hay up to the sheep sheds from a gate near the gardens. A battery-powered lantern lit the way, and as I walked uphill my rubber boots sank ankle deep into the mud. It was odd, that mud. It was in a state of near freezing, so as I sank into the crunchy glop I could feel shattering through the thin rubber as eat foot was freed. I was crying because I had just raked the back of my right hand (healing from a wood stove burn) across a rabbit cage and at the time it didn't bother me, but ten minutes later the still throbbing hand mixed with the amount of work ahead of prepare the farm for the storm was overwhelming.

I get overwhelmed about twice a month. Something happens that seems small but it is the final straw in either a day of kindling emotions or physical exhaustion. It's not the work itself that is tiresome, my jobs here are basic and simple: Carry water, move feed, load hay, check fences, bring wood inside, clean the farm house, walk the dogs, etc. None of this is the sort of labor only lumberjacks or trapeze swingers can do, but what is exhausting in the presence. A farmer is never not present. I don't care if you have three raised beds, a rabbit hutch, and a chicken coop in Brooklyn or 80 acres of cattle in Alberta, your plants and livestock have turned you into an agrarian. Someone who has welcomed back into their lives the work of feeding ourselves. The lives and the time involved are constantly in need of food, water, shelter, weeding, and so on till their lives end. It doesn't matter if it's a lamb or a carrot, these living things call you home in a way few can understand who haven't committed themselves to the same good work.

So I was crying complicated tears, the kind of tears that express exhaustion and gratitude at the same time. And by the time I got to the sheep's shed I was over the drama and busy balancing the lantern on the inside wall's shelf as I opened the bale to the 15 sheep inside. I spread it out over the straw I set down earlier for insulation and clean bedding, and the lambs and ewes dove into it. I watched them eat, knowing they had all the water, feed, and minerals they could need and headed down the hill with the lantern in the empty barrow. I started to sing I Will Go, an old Scottish song, as I have done since I moved to Vermont years ago, when I get weary.

"I will go I will go, when the fighting is over to the land of Mcleod that I left to be a soldier, I will go..."

I sing and I feel better. I sing an old song, and I feel a million times better. It's so easy to make jokes and stereotypes about folk music, that it is something for hippies and greenies, but it is not. Old Songs, specially old ballads, are living history. I know with absolute certainty that other shepherds have sang the verses of I will go, to their flocks. I know that generations of Americans told the story of Shady Gtove, Wayfaring Stranger, and Barbara Allen (I am southern through marriage to Tennessee). When I sing or play these songs I feel like a woven string of cloth, a part of something large and warm. I dare you to learn an old tune and sing it with all your heart. It will change you.

By the time the animals were fed, in their respective shelters, and the dogs eating their kibble in their bowls, I came inside soaked through and nearly cried again at the site indoors. Outside was wind, rain, wet horse flesh and mud. And yet here, in this little house, was warm fires, kind dogs, candle light and soft music playing. I undressed instantly, threw everything into the washing machine, and grabbed a book and a beer and sat down in front of the fire to do something old and grand: read words by firelight.

In the morning I will wake extra early to snow, roof raking, stove stoking, and hay hauling. But for tonight, as the wind wails and those rain drops turn from water to ice, I will be calm and read by primal comforts. This dicotomy of harshness and softness is my peace. A book by a woodstove turns savory after wet chores. An early morning turns from exhaustion to duty after snow and ice. And a woman so full from the life she baked in a loaf pan all around her, will sleep in ways unknown to people with 5,000 couches.

Goodnight, my antlers are cold.

the exhasuted celebrity

a little music for your afternoon

Thanks for this, Alli

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


This farm is my sanctuary, a place I long to be when I'm away and a place I am so comfortable in while I'm here it is hard to leave. These are not the lyrics to the beginning of an agoraphobic's sonnet, nor is it the confessions of an ex-urbanite. This is nothing more than something I have come to know, and happily accept. My house and the outbuildings and land around it is my theme park, vacation destination, gym, therapist, and church. It is where I work hard, make music, raise animals, and fight to remain a part of. It repays me with food, experiences, comfort, safety, and an endless source of inspiration and creativity that wells out of the damn ground so much that sometimes I roll my eyes at my own writing.

This place is magic.

My house is, quite literally, a dream come true. It's not perfect by any means and please do us both a favor and remove any bucolic certainties you may have formed over the months and years. A lot of Cold Antler is rough, unpleasant, smelly, muddy, decaying and in need of repair. This is not a movie set, and I am fairly certain Martha Stewart would run from it, screaming. But it is paradise to me, and the scruffy parts are what make it so. Because tonight this place is a soup of mud, feces, scrub grass, and puddles in the driveway deep enough for the geese to swim in. But tomorrow....Oh darling, tomorrow there will be a few inches of snow and this place will transform. The tree through the front window, just past the lamppost in the front yard will make my farm feel more like Narnia than a few acres on a small mountain in Washington County. I look forward to it, so much ribs are pulsing back and forth in my chest, faster than breath.

Here's why. Walking outside on your own North Country farmstead on a perfect early-winter snow blessed morning is so crisp, so full of promise, and yet so perfect you are both thrilled to get to work and embarrassed your own chores will remove the veneer of purity covering the place. You know in a few moments dog piss, mud, footprints, hay straggles, and animal hooves will cover this place, rendering it perfectly scrappy. But there are these seconds of poetry while you stand just outside your doorway, covered in wool and red plaid, looking up at your sheep on the hill, their breath clouds of warm air rising from otherwise motionless mounds and you think even the livestock have chimneys. All of us secretly warm inside, powerful and young, ready to split firewood and feed ponies soon as we can gather the strength to fill the place with tiny sins. It's a thrill, this standing before the work in the snow, and I can already feel my ribs tingle.

P.S. The address works. Thank you for the dulcimer cd, Michael! I am actually stringing up my Tennessee Dulcimer tonight!

P.S.S. The winner of the Plan B workshop prize is alewyfe!

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?