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!