Saturday, February 11, 2012

the last ten minutes

I must have began and ended a dozen posts for today. My head isn't in the right place to write. It's been a hectic week here, as you have read. My mind feels just as frantic. Some times the highs and lows are so great you get blindsided by them. You lose your footing, you forget the end game.

I mean, some things have been so amazing it makes you shake. Recently I had to grab the wooden seat of a Meadowbrook cart as the Percheron ahead of me took off at a controlled canter. It was the most exciting feeling I had felt in weeks. I know people who swear by the thrill of their cars and motorcycles but a machine is still a machine. It will do what you ask of it, what it was designed to perform and maybe some more. But at no point will a motorcycle decide to stop dead in its tracks, buck you off, and drive off without you just because it felt like it. Driving a cart horse sounds so placid, serene. It wasn't. It was wild, feral as transportation gets outside the sole and saddle. I got to spend time with Meg and Patty make new and closer connections. I took in some refugee rabbits. I got the signed paperwork back for my fourth book. On paper, things are amazing. They are amazing.

And yet...

And yet there was Pidge, Lisette, the bad pork, and Valentine's day. All of this has me reeling for fifty different reasons. Usually this is the kind of stuff I just accept, stiffen my upper lip and trot on. But right now, honestly, I'm feeling a that lack of focus that infects my better nature. I'm usually really good at shaking off the fringes and putting my head down and getting to work. Lately I have felt that uncomfortable lack of control, proven over and over again by events on this farm I could never control.

No one tells you when you decide to start a farm how much you need to take responsibilty for and let go of at the same time. Not just the agriculture, but everything. You sign up for this life and you are both the stewart and the monastic. You need to be make sure everyone eats, drinks, thrives and sings and then when it all gets taken away from you—either by your own mistakes or dumb luck—you're supposed to just accept your lot and move on, as calm as clergy. I understand both sides of this coin and have performed the mental trapeze swinging for quite some time without needing the net. But right now, I'm feeling a loss of grip. Nothing serious, but something to chalk up my hands and get me centered again. And that too is up to me, of course. I don't have a life coach. I have a pitchfork. Same damn thing.

I blame this weird winter. Apparently the season wasn't that into us. A few dates and we got stood up by the season like prom dates. Sure, it might get cold tonight or even snow an inch or two, but this winter has been downright weird. Maybe that's part of the loss of balance, too. Or maybe I just need to sit down and sink into meditation and work through it like a zen monk once told me he did. "When I get frustrated. I meditate. For the first ten minutes it is like being stuck in a phone booth with a crazy person. The next ten minutes, with a therapist. The last ten minutes: with me."

A reader recently wrote me to tell me she wasn't going to read the blog any more because it was getting too personal. She wanted recipes and farm updates and education, not a narrative of a stranger's life. I'm pretty sure it is posts just like this she was talking about. I don't know what to say to that other than the blog grows with me, changes with me, and I bet you could print out the whole thing and highlight when I was in the first ten minutes (now), the second ten minutes (when you felt inspired by something i wrote) or the last ten minutes (when you sensed I was at peace). My response to just wanting content, and not narrative: you're reading the wrong blog, darling. But if you stick around, we can work towards the last ten minutes together.

Ring the singing bowls, hands in prayer position, time to sit it out and shake the dirt off my hide.


Lisette is gone, I am sad to report. I found her away from the flock, on her side, unable to move. She was barely breathing, rail thin, and seemed to be either in great pain, or so weak she couldn't even stand. I got my rifle. I thanked her. I told her I was sorry about both her and her lamb. And now they are at rest in the same compost pile, returning to the earth they came from.

Friday, February 10, 2012

draft horse diaries

By Meg Paska,

meet steel, my new mentor

I just had such an amazing experience a few miles up the road at Livingston Farm. Patty gave me a driving 101 lesson with her Percheron, Steel. Steel is 8-years-old and 17 hands. He weighs 1800 pounds and yet (surprise surprise) was easier to control than my Jasper. She went over harnessing, ground driving, basic line direction and talked about the local Draft Club. She then hitched him up to a large Meadowbrook Harness (thus named because they are a sturdy two-wheeled cart that can handle either the meadow or the brook! think early ATV) and we drove right down the road. It was Patty, Meg, and I and when she handed me the lines I was more comfortable than I ever felt in a truck or car. I got to drive a draft horse at a trot down a country road on a Friday morning. Cars and vans and trailers passed us and Steel was a perfect gentleman. He has done parades, fairs, the works. Patty and his story is quite the inspirational one too, since just three years ago neither of them knew each other or how to drive. Now they wave as trucks pass them on route 29.

It was a thrill I can't compare with any recent events in my life. A type of exhilaration that feels so correct and genuine you aren't sure if you are really you, or a configuration of idealistic nostalgia from postcards, books, and movies. Regardless, I was alive. I was foaming for more. And she invited me over to train with her, learn from her, and work with her neighbors Haflinger, Waylon, as I learn towards getting my own Haflinger someday.

I met Patty because she came to my reading at Battenkill Books. What a great connection, I am so grateful to have met her and her husband Mark. The work they are doing to restore and bring life to their 1800's barn and farmstead is remarkable. This is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

ponies are pro coffee

photo by Meg Paska

a visitor from the big city

Meg Paska of Brooklyn Homesteader drove up from the city yesterday to spend a night up here at the farm. It wasn't just a social call either. In her borrowed Mini Van she had three breeding rabbits (two does and a buck named Ghost) and seven bunnies! She was recently told by an anti-backyard-slaughter landlord she had to have those critters removed. She looked all over the city for a place to keep them but she needed a farmer, not a babysitter, and I said they were welcome here. Honestly, what's ten more tiny mouths to feed? She had been here before (for the meat rabbit 101 workshop where she got her three critters that starter her herd) and knew I knew exactly what I was getting into. I don't mind caring for her rabbits, but the true reason I wanted to offer to foster care for her critters was because I myself had been in her shoes. I know what it is like to not own your farm and be told what has to stay and go. I was happy to take in the caravan of rabbits and urban homesteader that arrived yesterday evening.

And here's a bonus: she graciously offered me the kits for my own freezer and I will certainly enjoy them! The breeders however, are staying here on foster care. When she relocates in late summer to her new beachfront farm near the city, I will happily return them to her fat and happy and hopefully with their own litters of kits to raise back in Jersey.

Next, we are off to visit a neighbor's farm, Livingston Brook Farm, for a driving lesson with her dapple percheron mare! I am so looking forward to (quite literally) grabbing the reins! Hopefully I will have photos to share.

And on the note of anti-backyard animal slaughter... Did you guys see this article? Seems like Novella Carpenter and her scene in Oakland are dealing with quite the anti-farm crowd! Ridiculous complaints, I say.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

2012 workshops updated!

I added a button right over there on the right (with the crow and fiddle) of all the workshops, dates, and other events going on at the farm. Click it to see new summer events. To make the blog itself less commercial and pitchy, I'll just pop a notice when a new workshop is listed (two new ones, pizza garden and rabbit 101) are in there now along with all the others. Hope having it all in one place helps!

Maude, never change.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

not looking forward to tuesday

I'm not an anti-Valentine's Day person. I think the notion is sweet. But as a long-time single woman it can be frustrating, sometimes lonely, often just mentally awkward. A long time ago I posted this little essay, and it I got four emailed responses. Two were lesbians and the other two were parents trying to set me up with their adult sons. All of the inquiries were sweet and well intentioned, but not right for me. I forgot about it until today. I was picking up pantyhose at the drug store and as I turned towards where they were lying in wait, there was this tunnel of love candies. "Cartoon Hearts" was what it said, and I laughed. That was always my problem right there.

A farm doesn't need a farmer with a partner to run it. This farmer doesn't need a boyfriend, a husband, or children. She doesn't need candy in the shape of cartoon hearts or frilly laced underwear or bright red roses. But that doesn't mean she doesn't want them. The moon sees that, too.

cotswold smirk

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

full moon chores

I love doing my evening chores on the night of the Full Moon. She rises up over the mountain above me, sometimes popping out of nowhere, and then as I muck about with buckets and boots over frozen chicken poo, she watches the entire night unfold on this farm.

The moon sees me dump out Jasper's old water and fill it with a new fount, clear and cold. She sees me waddle about with my glowing lantern, from chicken coop to broiler pen, laying fresh bedding and turning stale loaves of bread from this weekend's workshop into eggs and meat. She'll see me toil and laugh out there as I move a barrow of hay to the flock, talking to the frail Lisette as I hand her a small flake all for herself.

I have learned that in a flock like this some sheep shine and others wither. You can offer them feed and shelter, medical care, attention, and everything else but some just have the better genes and braver hearts and they live like it. The now two-year old Blackface I called Brigit is a brick shit house, the finest ewe at this farm (don't you dare let Maude hear you say so though). She is sturdy and strong and easily 175 pounds of meat and bone. Lisette is 6 years old and never truly recovered from the wounds of a Ketosis-riddled pregnancy. Her ewe lamb is dead. I shot the same small girl I helped bring into the world. A farm is not a place of innocence, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool. The moon saw that too.

More sheep thrive here than not. I consider this my work and the goodness of the farm so far. Before I left the moonlight I looked around at the horse pen, the fields of dead grass, the places Brett and I talked about improving with new pasture and sheds and gates. I listened to the meat chicks rattle in their warm barn and the coos of resting hens on their roosts. The big white rooster remains in the same branch of the same tree he has slept in every night since October outside the coop. It has been so mild he has never spent a night in. I don't think the reining rooster, Lou, would let him.

I wish for spring like many others, but I know chores at moonrise are winter's gift. I am grateful for it while it lasts, and grateful for the firelight indoors when the lanterns are put out.

Monday, February 6, 2012

meet miss lilly

Spinning Wheel Winner is...

MIST! Congrats darling! I am as jealous as a green cow!

Random Winning Comment:

I've always wanted to take up weaving, so I think my dream project would currently be to use one of Halcyon Yarn's Kennebec rug kits to weave myself a rug.

I'd feel pretty damn accomplished after that feat. :)

Contact Me at to get the wheel!

Come to the Meet & Beer Party!

In two weeks a special event is happening here at the farm, a specific workshop for a specific kind of reveler: the Meat and Beer Party (Workshop). We're going to go through all the aspects of home brewing and sausage making for beginners, pork and beer in particular. We're starting out with the brewing. As a group we will go through supplies, sanitation, and together we'll brew a batch of Sweet Stout from Northern Brewer as a team. We'll learn to bag and soak the grains, add the malt, boil, and watch the brew kettle as the wort bubbles. Then quickly chill it before getting it ready for fermentation. yeast will be added, along with a special sealed lid and fermentation airlock and it will be set aside as a raffle item. Someone who attends the workshop will get to take it home to bottle in a few weeks and enjoy! Not a bad haul, a case of home-brewed stout, just for showing up to learn how to make it!

After we brew that new batch, we will learn to bottle as well. I have a Coffee Stout Porter (much like the stout we will have just brewed) and we'll go through sanitizing bottles, tubing, bottling and priming for carbonation. Folks will learn to use a capper, bottling wand, and prime a variety of vessels from 12oz brown bottles, to growlers. Everyone will be able to take a primed bottle of that home too. It will be ready to pour in a week!

After the homebrewing 101, we'll use an old fashioned cast-iron meat grinder to grind either pork, rabbit, turkey, beef, or lamb (or a combination). I am intentionally using non-electric tools for this. Same goes for the steel sausage stuffer, which we'll use with the meat, spices, and casings to create breakfast, Italian, brats, and sweet sausages. When they are made, we'll fry some up and try them out.

The workshop will end with a tasting party, of both different local beers and our meatasticos. It will be a super casual evening, with plenty of music (folks are bringing their fiddles and guitars) good food, and friends. It officially wraps up (cases up?) at 4PM, but folks can stay later if they wish for a dinner of Brats and beer. It's in two weeks, and still have some spots open. Email me at if you want to join us. Feb 18th, 10AM-4PM at the farm.

P.S. Anyone want more Birchthorn?

Atlas lives

Didn't have time to slaughter and butcher the ram with a hay delivery and a late start to it all yesterday, so Atlas lives to see a few more weeks. I am damn proud I got that ram into the pen in short order. Talk about grabbing life by the horns!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

border collies don't nap. they crash.

a future full of music for all

A few months ago I read a pretty horrible novel about post-collapse America. I'm not going to share the author or title—the last thing I need is that kind of karma on my shoulders after this past week—but let's just say if our future requires us all to become evangelical militia in paramilitary prisons...where do I opt out?

Honestly, it wasn't the extremist view of the future that bothered me. What made my stomach turn was the entire book, not once, did anyone stop to pick up a guitar or fiddle and get a music group going? Not only music, but any sort of natural craving for the arts or real agriculture was in the story. Art, writing, music, all forms of personal creativity was entirely out of these people's lives. They read the occasional book out loud, but no one was writing one. They didn't miss recorded music. They didn't sing. They didn't pick up a guitar and play it in the evenings. There was also no livestock, just rations of pre-bought food in cans. Agriculture was an afterthought, something to "get to" later. No livestock was a part of the story, not even horses until the book was nearly over. The only dogs they had lived outside and was only used as a form of perimeter security. A family with "useless" golden retrievers, ate them out of spite because they didn't attack unwanted visitors. I found this lack of music and working animals so unrealistic it ruined the story for me. I can not imagine a life without these things.

This was a group of people struggling to survive, so certainly they had higher priorities in mind than fiddle lessons. But look at our country's land and history? What group of Americans had a harder time scrapping together a living on poor, sloping soil in a wild place more so than Appalachia? And yet the African/Scots-Irish blend made it the melting pot of percussion and melody that gave birth to nearly every form of popular music today. I guess it is a matter of priority. You preserve and keep on with what matters to you. In this book about fighting UN troops you had sniper rifles and military uniforms in jeeps running on hoarded petroleum people killed each other over....

Yesterdays workshop was very much lessons in self-reliance, even though it was about music. To create music without the need of electricity, recordings, or depending on other voices is such a vital skill to me. It is a form of expression and Independence worth every lesson and minute spent learning your beloved choice of instrument. When you can walk into a field without a single outlet, play a few chords on the guitar slung over your back, you are a freer person than many. Don't like playing instruments, than sing or whistle a song. If something is stopping you, get that checked.

We learned how to teach ourselves an instrument, hear music by ear, and try out different musical adventures. Entertainment of the soul and body is just as important as the labor or planting crops, raising animals, and harvesting food. It is all well and good to weave your own fabric and build your own outdoor firepit for roasting pigs but if you aren't singing every once in a while while you hauled those sows their slop or as you work the loom you are a different breed of person altogether different than I. I love hard work, but I sing while I do it, and there is no better feeling than coming inside to a pint of dark stout homebrew and a fiddle tune or seven.

So this workshop yesterday was not lessons in music, but an introduction to several acoustic instruments anyone with the will and enthusiasm to learn, will learn. We talked about the dulcimer and its place in our musical history (and my own). Next we went through the basics of the fiddle, notes and tuning and how to place your fingers. Will, one of the attendees, had never touched a fiddle before and the first time his bow-hand touched the strings a perfect A note played and I smiled like a mother lion, all teeth and squinting eyes. Within a few moments he knew all the finger positions and I explained it was exactly the same on every string, then patted his shoulder, and congratulated him on learning the fiddle today. It was that simple. The fiddle is the most over-rated instrument in the world. It is cake to learn a tune or two. The hard part is getting good at it, but you have a whole lifetime to mess with that musical freehold. For right now, we'll just tackle the D scale.

Lunch was the usual potluck style, chili and soup, fresh bread and butter, cheese and snacks. Folks ate their fill and just as we were about to sit down in the living room Julie Dugan walked through the front door all smiles in her black beanie, banjo case at her side.

Julie is a natural teacher and instructor. Listening to her introduction to the world of banjo, festivals, history and her songs were a wonderful way to sit back and take in some bright and beautiful sounds. She talked and played for about an hour. Folks were asking questions, taking recordings, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Afterwards we just went at the instruments we were drawn too. I helped someone tune up their new fiddle (fresh from ebay!) while others got together to practice and try out a dulcimer or banjo. I think more than few will end up ordering some dulcimers, and the folks who brought their fiddles seemed happy to get them out of their cases and tuned up. At one point Elizabeth and I played Ashokan Farewell together and it was such a beautiful little moment of the day, afterward Weez, her, and I jammed out with some of Weez's songs she wrote and sang (quite beautifully) in the kitchen. I never lost that lions grin. It was a wonderful Saturday.

As for the end of the world in creepy fiction: not everything is as awful and boring as that first version of the future I mentioned. In the current book series (also a post-oil series) people are living in modern versions of the old Celtic or Nordic Clans alive with music, culture, horses, religion, folklore and ceremony. There's plenty of horror and killing too. Its not a Utopia, but a totally different view of it all, and to me, a better one. A future with music in it still exists. It is necessary, even. These are my people. If the world turns to shit I will be a woman with a fiddle, longbow, and horse with a pack of dogs. Call me Artemis over GI Jane any day.

I didn't realize it when I shared the workshop schedule, but I planned four workshops in February! Whew, two down and two more to go and then there's a short break in my weekend plans until the backyard laying hens class in April. I'm not complaining, I love these events and never regret a single one, but next weekend I plan on hibernating Hedi's-Grandfather style. Just me, my animals, and my mountain.

Oh, and my fiddle and banjo. And dogs.

Okay folks, I'm off to meet up with Brett, butcher Atlas, and then head out to a Superbowl party. This is a normal weekend in my life now.

P.S. Listen to Julie's Music for FREE at