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.