Sunday, March 11, 2012

Win a Beginner's Guide to Mountain Music!

Let's talk about what really matters folks. Music. You'll read about horses a lot lately. And in a few days you can expect to see photos of pea shoots, lettuce sprouts, and my bucket of lambing supplies (fingers crossed) But right now I want to talk about music, or more importantly, finding music of your own.

I put off playing the fiddle for a long time. The reason? I thought it was too complicated to teach myself. This wasn't a harmonica or six-string in the attic, this was a violin. This was something taught to small Asian children at age 4 so they could finally present it at Carnegie Hall after a decade of 4-hours of practice a day. And if not concert/quartet classical—it was taught at the knee of secluded Appalachian cabins where Old Timer's who learned by ear and magic taught their progeny how to hoe down. Whatever the case, it wasn't for a clumsy 24-year-old with a station wagon who couldn't read sheet music. I didn't even try.

Then I found Wayne Erbsen's book, Old Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus. It was written for me, I felt. A person with absolutely no idea how to even hold the fiddle, with grand dreams of sawing through Shady Grove at a campfire, and no ability to read music. I had the dream and Wayne had the path. He's been teaching Old Time Mountain Fiddle in North Carolina for a few decades now. He knows exactly how to approach, calm, assure, and support the new player. His book, a $20.00 eBay fiddle, a guitar tuner, and his CD is how I learned to play. And since I learned to play through tabs and ear (listening to the music and matching it on my own cheap instrument) I soon cold pause scenes in Songcatcher and Cold Mountain and play them after a little trial and error.

I will never forget when I realized I could read, that it all made sense. It was a Berenstain Bears book and I was around 5. I felt that exact same way when I could pause Cold Mountain and play "Ruby With The Eyes That Sparkle!" through just listening to it. That's what Wayne's books do. They don't teach you to play the fiddle. They teach you how to teach YOURSELF to play.

I wrote him to thank him when writing Made From Scratch, and every so often on Facebook we swapped messages Recently he got in touch with me and offered to giveaway a copy of ANY of his Ignoramus series books to a new banjo, mandolin, fiddle, or guitar picker out there. If you were waiting for a sign, here it is friends. Borrow your uncle's banjo and leave a comment in this post saying what book you'd like to win. One of you will randomly be selected and Wayne will ship one of his books to you.

Thank you Wayne for this giveaway! And as for the rest of you?
What do YOU want to play?

Click to see all his books at

proud and lovely

This horse is changing me. Waking me up. I didn't realize how languid I had gotten in my own heart, how much stress had put on pounds, thinned my hair, and made sleeping through the night hard. Acquiring Merlin, and dedicating my time and money into conditioning, training, and grooming him has done the same for myself. I want to heal with him, lose the pounds, thicken my coat, feel sweat and sun. I made a promise to him that every day we worked him, I would work too. So today I rode him for a half hour and I came home and jogged two miles.

It's not easy to do for me, not yet. In about ten pounds and two weeks it'll be easier, but today was a dogged little jaunt of curses. But I see Merlin trot in the mirror, blowing and sweating under his brown saddle pad and just when I am about to quit I think about my boy with a metal bit in his mouth and 180 pounds on his back and he doesn't quit. I can do this if he can. Together we will keep jogging. He is in my heart up every single hill.

Junk food has lost its appeal. I want to eat food that makes me want to jump on his back and ride. This is what a bag of carrots and some yogurt makes you feel, not Chinese Take Out and Diet Coke. My fridge is healthier, my water intake (while no where near his) is up. Every day my heart races. Watch on this blog, and see the change take place.

And not just working out, either. I was told to buy a product called Cowboy Magic for his long mane and tail, a detangler and tamer for keeping him clean and burdocks less willing to cling. I thought to myself, "Well, if I am going to buy him hair product I am going to buy myself a cucumber face mask!" So I did! A little extra pampering for the Farm Girl. I'm proud of him when he is looking his best, and feeling proud of myself, too. Tim took photos today and I felt a little more together than when Jon took his. That has nothing to do with the photographer, I just mean I had a hot shower and combed my hair instead of showing up in a head scarf and lumpy sweater! I may not be a size 6, but I am down to a size ten instead of a twelve and I wasn't scared to wear breeches and a more formal riding top that didn't hide all my flaws like the fishing sweater does. I'm proud of what my body, however imperfect, can accomplish. I'm prouder still of what's ahead.

He makes me feel proud and lovely.
Something I have not truly felt in a long time.

photo by tim bronson,

driver's ed at livingston brook farm

photos by tim bronson of 468photography. Click that link to support a local artist and buy professional, inexpensive, prints of Cold Antler Farm! Bring Maude and Sal home!

wet reality

We live by the calendar. Regardless of who you are, how much money you make, or where you live your measurement of time is the year. Whether that means you’re cranking up towards the September Issue or corn shucking: your timeline is based on 12 months of constantly rotating 30-day cycles you will never escape, even in death. When you die people will mark it by the day and month as they did your birth. We are an animal that only understands time through numbers. The notion that dates aren’t related to time is nearly inconceivable, a system as undisputable as rain.

I was born on July 10th 1982.
There’s a thunderstorm in the distance.

If those two sentences both sound like factual statements, then you understand my point perfectly. But that first sentence? Darling, we made that up. Human beings decided how to measure cycles in the earth and this was the system proven over time. It is handy for record keeping, holy days, and rites of passage. It isn’t real like a thunderstorm though. Go back far enough, long before we spoke to each other, when the idea of agriculture was as far away in our primitive minds as Disneyland. Then you can understand. We invented time. Earth invented thunderstorms. Thunder and Lightening are beyond collective recognition. Walk outside in one and feel the world shake, light up, and your body get wet as if it was tossed overboard. Feel four old elements, earth, air, fire, and water slam into your life.

This is real. Time comes and goes for certain, but it isn't marked by numbers. It is marked by birth, love, sex, death, dirt, blood and rebirth. Become a farmer and time changes, your birthday loses meaning. There isn't youth, middle age, and retirement. There is just alive.

Go ahead. Tell a caveman your birthday. He’ll just stare and ask what’s for dinner.

I am starting to prefer wet realities.

-excerpt from my current manuscript: Days of Grace
photo from

Saturday, March 10, 2012

...aaand I'm hooked

Between this series and the Dies the Fire series I have a lot of McKenzies in my life. This book was on sale on audible for 4.99 so I downloaded it, and now it is every morning through chores, every morning driving to work, at work, through the drive home, more chores and then as I cook dinner. I now know why my coworker James says I talked with a Scottish accent sometimes. Oh, aye. 'Tween the sheep and audiobooks I ken I lifted a lilt from the ruttin' books.

If you're into post-oil societal change books, read Dies the Fire. And if you have seen Braveheart about 50,383 times, get Outlander. This post had nothing to do with homesteading whatsoever. But I want a Jamie Fraser now.

love is reckless

Love is reckless, not reason;
reason seeks a profit.
Love comes on strong,
consuming herself, unabashed.

Yet, in the midst of suffering,
Love proceeds like a millstone,
hard surfaced and straightforward.

Having died of self-interest,
she risks everything and asks for nothing.

Love gambles away every gift God bestows.

Without cause God gave us Being.
Without cause, give it back again.


taxes and topsoil

Today is all about taxes and topsoil. I'm driving up to Rutland to file my 2011 taxes with Hurley, my accountant. I learned the hard way that taxes for a small business, a full time job, and author require someone who actually can do math. I will take all my personal records, forms, paypal donations information, expenses and such and Hurley will work his magic. I never get a huge tax refund, but I usually get a little something. And as we all know, every little bit helps. It'll be a relief to have it over with, and I am glad this man and his business are in my life.

When I'm home I plan on heading down to the stables to ride Merlin and after that, come home to start about 150 seedlings for the garden. My early spring garden will include peas, spinach, arugula, kale, lettuces, kale, broc, kale, carrots, kale and kale. If I have 15 fat chickens going into my freezer I'll be damned if I aint roasting them over some kale! I think chicken, carrots, and kale are a trio of majesty. You get a nice chicken, rub it down with olive oil and chicken herbs (garlic, paprika, sage, whatever), and set it on a thick bed of kale sprinkled with olive oil (so it doesn't burn to a crisp) on a roasting rack (a cheap and important kitchen tool to keep the greens out of the fats and oils and turning into goo) and line the bottom of the pan with oiled and herb-rubbed roots like taters, turnips, and carrots and you have a sunday kitchen that smells so good you will cancel your matinee plans.

What do you have in store this weekend?

jasper profile by tim bronson

Support CAF, sign up for webinars!

In anticipation of the next webinar: Wool Processing sheep-to-Spindle—I thought I would share the last webinar, Dulcimer 101 in its entirety. For those unsure of what I am talking about, the CAF Webinar series is 10 15-half-hour long web lessons in homesteading skills. This first lesson was about the mountain dulcimer, some homemade music for your own farm or family. The one that will be released in the next few days is based on the Black Sheep Wool Workshops held here at the farm (summer picnic versions announced soon) and so you will learn to wash, dry, card, and prepare wool for spinning. What's different about these webinars is that you also learn more about me, the farm, and see into the life of Cold Antler a little more than the blog can offer. Sometimes I just plain talk to the camera, like coffee around old friends. I love filming them, and sharing them, and while they certainly aren't top of the line film creations (I use my 2005 iMac) they are worth the investment. You get to support the farm, keep this blog and dream alive, learn something, and when they are all done for the 2012 season.

Join anytime and you'll get links to the episodes you missed. Coming this spring and summer is homebrewing, rabbits, chickens, and raised beds. To sign up you donate $100 for the ten 2012 episodes to the farm, using the donate button on the blog under the heart graphic, and leave a message with the email address you want your webinars sent too. I use private Youtube links, which you can download and save to your computer (I have been told!). Thank you, if you have already signed up. I know the wait for episode two has been longer than anticipated, but I promise you those ten episodes by 2013. You may get three in one month without weekend workshops, but they will all get to your inbox covering a variety of topics taught here in person throughout the year.

P.S. When watching these longer videos, start them playing and then hit pause until they are at least halfway loaded. It will stop it from pausing to buffer and make it more enjoyable.

a quick psa

I am really, really behind on emails. If you wrote about a workshop, antlerstock, or just to say hello, please send it again if I didn't respond. Please forgive any double-responses, and check your spam folders for my address too. My IP gets stuck there often.

Friday, March 9, 2012

birds of a lesser paradise

I spent today in this new community of mine, Washington County New York. I woke up on a farm, saw to my animals, and had Jon over for tea. We talked, about our lives and farms and books and then drove to see Merlin. Jon watched the lesson, the barn, the people, and me. He saw something in Merlin and I, a bond and some magic.

As I was walking Merlin to his pasture (at Riding Right the horses are turned out and don't return to the barn until late afternoon for dinner) I got a call from my new farrier, Jeff Myrick. He would be at my farm in a few minutes, and so I rushed home to meet him. He drove up the driveway in his silver Tacoma, his border collie Ryan in the front seat (half brother to Jon Katz's Izzy) and we met Jasper in his stall. Jeff worked on the pony's feet and Jasper stood well for him. That pony, while not as calm or trained as Merlin, has his moments. I was proud of him and happy to see his two feet trimmed and ready for a romp through the pasture. Tonight they want up to three inches of snow, but it was 40 degrees the night before the full moon and I left him out in the field to enjoy it. He spent the night running, a roan blur through outside my window. He comes when called like a flash and is calm for strangers playing with his feet. He isn't so bad, that boy. And he looks like a ghost and a story on the full moon.

After the farrier was through, I headed over to Patty's for a driving lesson. We hitched up Steele to his forecart in record time. I understand the harness now, how it all works. I know the reins better. I still make mistakes but I took our cart from the road to up a long dirt driveway of a neighboring farm. I asked Steele to trot and he did, and as we zoomed past sap lines and sugaring tanks, inch-thick pieces of leather in my hands I felt my heartbeat in my hands. I met Patty just a few week's ago and I feel so at home around her and Mark. They are just up the road from me in Greenwich, not far from Wendy and Jim. They are some of my people, and I'm grateful for them all.

I rushed home from Patty's too (but not before I got a cup of coffee) and made it home in time to change for Megan's reading at Battenkill Books down. Her new book, Birds of a Lesser Paradise, is amazing. She's amazing. I watched her present it beautifully, and I watched her husband glow with pride. Jon was in the audience, Connie was behind the counter, and all these people "My Tribe" as Megan said, was all around us. I live in this tiny town of 2,000 people in upstate New York and I'm amazed at the crowds a little indie bookstore and community theatre can pull in on a Friday Night. The Cambridge Hotel down the street handed out dollar-off drink coupons. Hubbard Hall was showing a community theatre performance of Tennessee William's Night of the Iguana. You can come to this town and listen to one of the best short story writers in America talk about her southern roots, get a discounted beer, and then go see a live play. Not bad for a county with a dairy cow to human ration of about 30 to 1.

I'm just so happy to be here, to have found this place. I'm so happy everything (and I mean everything) I am wearing tonight I bought in a feed or tack store. Grateful as all get out to spend a day living like this (on what used to be an office work day!) I'm proud of this town. Proud of Jon, Patty, Connie and Megan and I raise my glass of hard cider to the Iguana's taking curtain calls as my sheep find soft dry places to spend this snowy night. I think I'm falling in love with rural life all over again...

This is my home.
People with words and animals.
This is where I belong.

I am so glad I missed those rocks.

and her horse

Jon Katz came along with his camera and tripod to Riding Right, the place I board and train with Merlin. He took some amazing photos and wrote about it at his blog. He writes "We joked about Merlin’s controversial arrival. What about your life, I said (or mine) could possibly be described as rational? I worry about Jenna sometimes – she takes on many things – but I do not worry about her decisions." For that, I thank him.

See the photo gallery of Merlin and I, tacking up and taking our first lesson together in the barn light at his Facebook page.

the two inches that made everything happen

A few years ago, not many, I was living in Knoxville Tennessee. I adored (still adore) East Tennessee and I hope to return to it some day, perhaps permanently. Something about that place changed me forever. It is the reason for Cold Antler Farm.

I'll never forget the day my roommate Heather and I were hiking up to Abram;s Falls in Cade's Cove. It was a hot day and we had our swimming suits on under our hiking gear. The plan was to hike to the falls and then enjoy a dip in the crystal clear trout pool at the base of the 35-foot drop. The swimming hole was wide and calm away from the rocky edge of the falls and on that particular day the sun was shining and I was thrilled to be hot and sweaty in those blessed mountain trails, with a good friend, and then cooled off in a mountain pool.

As Heather and I were swimming and trying to catch the Brook Trout that swam past our legs with our hands (no luck) we saw a few college guys hike up to the top of the falls, stand on the edge, and jump off! It didn't seem that high, 3 stories. And they all seemed safe when they got out of the water. I was full of piss and vinegar so I looked at Heather and said "Let's jump" and she shook her head no. (Heather is smarter than I).

I climbed up the falls from around the back (brushy, but a well worn path was there). And watched as another frat boy made the leap, now from the top. Suddenly, 35 feet was a A LOT taller. I'm scared of heights, but it was too late now. I was standing on the edge of the falls. I looked right below me and there was harsh and mean looking jagged rocks. A hiker told me "You need to jump out at least 5 feet or you're plasma" and I nodded, because at the time that seemed easy. But when you are shaking, 5'3" and scared of heights...pushing yourself 5 feet seems damned near impossible. Something went off in my brain and I pushed out best I could. I jumped. I didn't make the 5 feet.

I can still remember, clear as a frame from a movie, seeing those rocks coming at me. I remember closing my eyes, the regret of the weak jump, and then the slap of my body hitting water and I was under. I remember the relief and the joy, and opening my eyes to see myself whole. I think that time under the falls was years, but in truth seconds. When I swam to the surface and I remember how it felt like a baptism. A second life. I was Ebenezer alive on Christmas Morning. I was a phoneix. I was an idiot...

A few of those boys were standing on the edge of the rocks, all of them pale and stuttering... "We thought for certain we'd have to go in after you... you missed the rocks by this much" and he showed me an inch or two of distance between his fingers. I started shaking at that realization, and pulled myself out of the water to the safety of the giant river rocks where I curled up in my towel. No one else seemed to want to jump much more that day. Heather and I packed our bags and hiked back. I shook the whole hike back to the car. I had never been so happy to be alive. Never felt more awake. Never been so scared. Never felt true gratitude before it was all nearly gone in blood and rocks.

I got a lesson from those mountains from that jump, and it is the reason I am here writing you today. I jumped, and while it was stupid, I was proud of surviving it. And the next day a few kids on holiday from their University went for a swim in the pool and a grown man drowned under those falls. He didn't jump. He just swam to close them and the force of water pushing 30 feet into the pool sucked him below the deep and he couldn't swim out. He remained there until a rescue team pulled him out with ropes.

Life can be taken from us at any time. It can be our own doing or someone else's. We all worry about Cancer, Health care, aging and such but the truth is a person with one too many drinks on a curvy road can change the world. Life is a lot less certain and fragile than we could possibly fathom in our everyday comforts. It took two inches to teach me that. But I tell you what friends, five months later I was out of Knoxville and on a rented farm in Idaho. In hindsight an erratic and crazy change in my life, but I am certain the only reason I could pack up from the city and move cross country alone was surviving that jump. If I made it that time, I could make it again.

And had I not left for Idaho I would have never started backyard farming nor met Diana, my mentor in all things chicken, farm, and bees. I would not have asked Storey to write Made From Scratch. I would not have gone to Vermont after, or found Washington County outside books and blogs. There would be none of this. I'd be another person. Probably in a brick loft on Gay Street over the Tennessee theatre. A hipster with a wall of musical instruments and a useless stack of farming books by her bed, the pile for "someday." I think I am getting allergic to the word "someday."

I ended up missing Tennessee very much after I left it. I think it was that strong romance I felt for the experiences there. The people, the music, the back roads to Asheville and the thriving scene of creative and scrappy people. That same winter I left the South I bought a cheap fiddle off eBay and Wayne Erbsen's book and taught myself the fiddle. It was something I always wanted to try, but was scared to take on the hobby. After the Falls, it seemed as simple as walking up stairs. Not that the music learning came that easy, it was hard work!, but simple in my calmed mind. If you can jump off a waterfall you can learn to drag horse hair across metal strings.

The Smoky Mountains remain home to me in many ways, no matter where I live. It is the place that made me face fear, accept my own death, and choose to keep living until it came, whenever that was. Those mountains made it clear that waiting to live the life you want is a ridiculous and dangerously comfortable luxury. Waiting to make a change is just taunting fate. You could be 9.7 years into your ten year plan and get thrown under a bus my a teen texting her boyfriend in the 4 seconds she wasn't looking. Life is short. It can end tomorrow. Sometimes it takes really feeling this to get over the clutter in our souls to make a change. Don't waste your life not living it the best way you can. It's pissing on your most valuable gift: Your short time here.

So just jump. If you can do it. If you can gather the strentgh to clear the rocks...jump. You won't regret it. You won't regret trying even if you get banged up along the way. If you fail, well, you're going to die anyway right? Might as well make these few years you have left a poem instead of prose. And yes, I know everyone has different situations and stories. I'm not telling you to be careless, just a little foolish. Govern your own life, but whatever you do, do not let fear or other people's excuses hold you back from feeling air between your fingers and toes. Get the blood running again today. Make the choice to look at the falls, smile, and jump. It'll be scary and it's stupid to try, but you might find your real life on the surface of that mountain pool.

I did.

(By the way, Heather did jump after me and did it far better.)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

a girl in the war

yes, chacos.

I am writing this in a pair of Chacos. You know why? Because it is over 60 degrees out there and once I hit the big 6-0 I go unshod as much as possible. In the house, under my desk at work, in the yard. There was a time in my life when stepping in chicken poo barefoot might have bothered me a little. Now I just rinse it off in the artesian well and keep walking.

Farmers and gardeners across America are thrilled about Saturday night. We all get one more hour of light in our workweek, well worth the hour put in at waking. To come home from the office on a sunny April day and know I have an hour and a half of daylight is a gift. Time to work on the garden turning, screw together a new raised bed, or even just walk my two old dogs down our country mountain road at sunset.

Tomorrow Merlin and I have our first lesson as a team, a riding instructor will watch us, comment, help, and jump on to show me what's up if I don't get it. I've been riding him all by my lonesome (meaning, without a professional there) and I can not express here how mildly terrifying/exhilarating it was mounting up that first time on my on Friday afternoon. I had always, even back in college on the Equestrian Team (I was in the Walk/Trot class), an instructor was there to double check the tack, saddle, girth, and watch me mount. Friday I tacked Merlin up myself, walked him into the arena myself, and stepped up on that mounting block myself while he shuffled his feet. And after 3 or 4 courage-less attempts just got on him. When I was seated and my hands were on the reins he walked gently forward. And that, my dear friends, was the real start of our relationship as horse and rider.

No riding today, however. I have an appointment after work and between the offices I won't have time. But Jon Katz said he'd tag along with me tomorrow to meet Merlin the Magic Pony and I look forward to introducing them to each other.

This warm weather has me thinking about thunderstorms, banjos, seedlings, and lambs...I will be prepared for lambs, supply wise. But I don't think I will have any. I don't think Atlas did the job, but I hope I am wrong. Even a few lambs would be great. They are worth their weight in barter like nothing else on this farm. You can trade a ram lamb for all sorts of stuff! (i.e. custom barn doors, 3 months of hay, and pony shed construction!).

Tonight looks like rain. I welcome it. I'll open the windows, tune up the 5-string, and play Down in the Willow Gardens. That's a fine night.

merlin and me

Every single day since I signed that contract I have made time to work with Merlin. Throughout the weekend and the work week, I have headed to Riding Right to lunge, ride, groom, and just spend with him. I bring apples, carrots. I curry the dry dirt out of his mane and coat. We are working out together. If he gets a half hour workout, I go home and run 2 miles. If he ground drives in harness, I lift weights. My dedication to him is also a dedication to me and better self care. Together we will heal, shine, and smile. His patience astounds me. His spunk under saddle, surprises me. And yesterday when we practiced a wee bit of driving, he took to it like a gosling in a creek. Jumped right in.

Tomorrow is our first lesson together. He's had to training sessions with instructors riding, but tomorrow morning I will be the one being put through my paces. A good friend with a great camera might come along, too. If so I'll ask him to send me the photos to share here. For now, you can see the short video Patty took last night of us trotting by.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Now I like Guinness even more...

thank you cj!

a good idea...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

peas and banjos

I can not wait for that blessed in-between of spring and summer, where I fall asleep under three quilts to the sound of rain under open windows. To mornings where I see my breath in the house, but wear sandals to work, and the heat of morning jog is all you need to wake up the body. I can't wait for snap pea vines to curl and flower and the spring equinox twang of my banjo, where I play slow and clumsy waltzed buzzed on homebrew. Makes you want to buy a hammock and put a sleeping bag in it under a drop cloth. Sway and sing, impervious to the change around you.

Monday, March 5, 2012

ALBC and its fine work

I got my American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) newsletter in the mail today, an organization worth joining if you aren't already a member. You don't need to own a single chicken to sign up for their directory (a GOLD-MINE of information, printed once a year), and quarterly newsletters. I think a year's membership is 30 dollars, and it supports the fine people trying to keep the old breeds of horses, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys, swine, asses, rabbits, goats and more alive and well in a very factory farm world. Most people don't realize when they bite into their Thanksgiving Butterball they are eating one breed of mass-produced turkey, the Broad Breasted White. An animal so insipid and fat it has lost the desire to have sex, and the only way we can eat more butterballs is to employ sad low-wage earning people to "inseminate" via god knows what means, female turkeys to produce more eggs. This is why I try and raise a few Bourbon Reds every year, and also because it wasn't that long ago I first read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and enjoyed her Bourbon Red Turkey trials so much I wanted to honor the book and her family's work by raising them as well. I still listen to her on audiobook when I plant my garden.

So what conservation breeds do I own? Well, there are the Silver Fox meat rabbits, the Bourbon Red Flock (in progress), and the Fell Pony. None of these animals are commercially bred. They are rare enough to be on some level of their watch list. I'm proud to be breeding these turkeys and rabbits, and proud of my pony too. (Both of them, even scrappy Jasper, who is much more like me than Merlin's Zen nature).

Do any of you belong to the ABCLA? What animals on their list do you keep, own, breed, or are on your "wish list?"

highlander image from squidoo

apartment 3A farm!

The most discouraging email I read is when a person wants to start a far—claims to want it with every part of their soul—and then gives a list of reasons why they can't do it just yet. Usually it has to do with not living on a farm yet, or still looking for land, or rules in their HOA against chickens (does it say anything about vegetables and rabbits?!), a new baby, an ailing parent and so on and on....

If you want to be a farmer. Farm.

I understand the hesitation, but I don't understand the brakes? You can start farming today if a farmer is what you want to be. Nothing can stop you. Space, location, money, family, 9-5 job, none of that can truly stop a determined soul to do a little bit* of farming- nothing can hold back a dreamer into a doer. Nothing. If you bristle at that and get angry, ready to comment about what makes your life different and is stopping you from starting a farm, stop. Think about how that attitude has stopped you before? Whatever your situation, everyone who wants to farm can do something and it doesn't matter if it is a window box of lettuce they grew they bartered from the next cubicle over for a dozen eggs. You can start your farm today if you allow yourself to do it.

A person with a large walk-in closet or spare bedroom in the middle of downtown Chicago can order some grow lights, borrow some tables, and start a bunch of plants from seeds. He can sign up for a local farmer's market under a name he just made up "Apartment 3A Farms!" and sell vegetable starts and recycled containers he got at tag sales and thrift stores. He can sign up for Tax ID online, get all the forms, find out the rules from the extension agency on his lunch break. On 5 weeks a man with nothing but a spare bedroom can invest a few hundred bucks (or less), a few hours time, and have a table at a farmer's market by May. This is not a crazy idea by any means. And while yes, there are a million reasons and excuses not to do it, it is the people that NEED it to happen that find a way. You'd be amazed how much money frees up when you aren't paying for internet, cable, a cell phone, or sell that old guitar in the closet.

Some people surround themselves with good friends who allow them to make excuses to put off a dream. "Well, Sally is just getting into preschool next year and things are crazy with Phil graduation's plans" and so on. Life is always busy. It never slows down, and waiting for this leisurely block of time to start a farm is a crazier dream than wanting one in the first place!

So start today, my dreaming friends. Stop being just dreamers, and take one step towards that farm. Go to the library and print out the forms. Plan a logo and contact that local farmers market about what you need to sign up for a table. Borrow a dairy book guide from a friend or your college's library. Start a farm book club, where you and other inflicted readers can talk openly, encourage each other in your goals and small plans. Do something. Do anything. You will never regret it.

If you don't want a farm, then disregard this post as my yapping. But if you do want one, crave one, cry at night hoping for one....Understand darling that NOTHING can stop your farm from happening but you. And every single day you put it off is happiness suicide. As my good friend Jon would say: Choose Life, and make that choice

every. single. day.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

we have our winners!

Winner of the large print signed by the artist goes to Greentwinsmummy! And the two big sets of notecards go to Mama Forestdweller and J 'n E. Congrats to all the random winners and please email me at to get in touch with the artist about your addresses and such. Thank you all who entered and if you didn't win, don't lose heart because Wayne Erbsen of contacted me about a giveaway and we'll be giving away one of his amazing introduction books to the mountain instrument of your choice soon!

And sorry for the lack of updates! Merlin and I are on our "honeymoon" I'm spending all my dear spare time at the barn with him, watching his training sessions with the instructors, grooming, walking, riding, and working out together. But soon as the weekend ends I'll be back into the swing of things.

Friday, March 2, 2012

magic happens

I am not above internet thrift-store shopping. It's the only way to go, really. I have bought a lot of good clothing off eBay used, perfectly serviceable, for a few dollars. Today after I returned from dropping off Merlin at the riding stable a package was at my front door. It was the gently-used black Irish Fisherman's Wool sweater I had won in some last minute bid for a few bucks. I had forgotten about it. I pulled it out of the box and smiled like a playwright smiles. Was this supposed to happen too? Was today just a series of good luck and random chance, or was it all the magic of Merlin? I decided it was the later, and threw it on over my henley to wear out the door. What could be more appropriate for the inaugural solo ride on my own saddle horse than a wool sweater from the same continent as him? Surely shepherds have been wearing heavy wool sweaters on the back of Fells since time out of mind. And while I wouldn't look as sleek as the sport horses and their riders in fancy synthetic jackets and fleeces fit to their lean bodies, I had no qualms.

Merlin and I were a pair. Both of us a little old fashioned, doughy, and out of shape. We dressed and looked like shepherds, not Olympians. I was going to be tacking him up with a borrowed saddle and girth, an array of tag-sale horse grooming supplies I bought for a dollar a piece, and it would not look very professional in its little red bucket with a bumpersticker slapped on it that says "Ride a Draft, your butt looks smaller..." But a spring of teamwork will find us both in a better place, a transformed one. I know this because I have no doubt in my mind this pony is magic. Not white rabbits and top hats magic, but that old magic still running through the dreamer's heart and out past the forests in clear streams. You find a way to tap into it and anything is possible and this horse, this Merlin, might be a magician of that old sort after all...

When I talk about the magic of Merlin, this is what I am talking about: When I saw the ad in the Albany Craigslist, I posted it on Facebook. I posted it more as a joke than anything else. There was a picture of Merlin and then the huge sticker price and I said something along the lines of "Anyone have 8 grand I could borrow?!" and left it at that. And then a reader told me, "It's a long shot but email them with a lower counter offer. The horse market isn't what it used to be..." And when I saw that comment some sprocket in my heart clicked into place...

So I emailed this impossible horse's owner and told her about me, my Fell Pony dreams, my farm, my plans to ride and drive him. I told her everything and asked if we could work something out? A lower price maybe? A payment plan? A free lease? And she wrote back with charm and grace, introducing herself that the right home was more important than anything. That she loved that pony too, he was her dream pony... And I think she saw a little of her starry-eyed self in me and told me to come see him and we could talk terms. This is when I told you all about him, and when people started the whole conversation that caused such a ruckus.

I saw him. I fell in love with him like I always do, hard and fast and certain - but only when it is dead right. Then as I drove home with Patty, I told her it could maybe happen and after hearing my Big Plans she smiled like a fox and said. "Hell. You only live once..." and if there was a way to sew up my certainty, that was it.

So up to this point all I did was look for the horse, ask for the horse, then went and saw the horse. That night I prayed and thought, and prayed more, and then I decided in my heart and out loud that if I was the right woman for him, and he the right horse for me, then we'd become a team. The next morning I sent his owner a heartfelt and honest letter. I told her what I could afford. I told her I wanted to try a three-month free lease. And I told her if the vet, farrier, trainers, and myself felt he was right I would buy him with a down payment June first and then make small payments for two years till he was legally mine.

And she agreed to all of my terms. Now that's magic...

So we wrote up a contract and set a pickup date and today was it. Patty and I had hitched up her trailer the night before and her Highlander (how appropriate) was ready to haul him to the stables. Two new friends, Elizabeth and Weez, drove up from the Berkshires to meet him and enjoy the frenzy.

He needed some shots first, though. We were already running late for our appointment, but the vet said it was okay when I called (more magic) and So the vet let us pull right up for drive through service and drew blood, gave him his rabies, five-way, and West Nile shots. He didn't even charge for a visit, just the cheap rate of the syringes. I was shocked at the low price (more magic). Then we unloaded him at Hollie McNeil's Riding Right Farm and Andrea, second in command of the grand dressage barn met us at the door. We unloaded him and took him right to his stall (number two, like my lucky crows!) and went through the paperwork. It was like dropping off your kid at his first day of school, the questions and forms. Any allergies? What should we not feed him? How does he get along with others? Any vices? etc. And I wrote the check with a grin because (and here is some more magic) it was unexpected income covering his first month of training and boarding. We got a small surprise bonus at work and it was enough to cover his first month. Which means up to this point I had not spent any of my own planned money but the small vet bill. Earlier this week I found out my royalty check for my three books would cover the second month of boarding! It was all falling into place, almost to the point where none of us thought anything could possibly go wrong. I think Patty was certain if she pushed him off a cliff he's sprout wings and shit rainbows by this point.

When all the paperwork and conversations about training, boarding rules (I can ride him whenever I want in their indoor arena!), and such we turned him out into his own little pasture by the main road. I drove off talking to him through a rolled down window. I told him I would be back soon. I was on his back a few hours later, as promised...

It was magic, this whole thing has literally brought me to my knees crying with awe, luck and grattitude. A few weeks ago he was an ad online, a pipe dream. Now his name is below mine on a stall 2. I just spent an hour brushing, hoof picking, and petting his head. I will hang two wooden crows by his name. No one will know they mean magic, his magic, but I will.

And why is a homesteading blog about a small farmer going into all this pony dream business? Well, because the point I want to get across is this magic is not just mine and Merlin's. It is all of ours. It lives in our prayers, in our churches, in our hopes and secret dreams. You find a way to let it out through hard work and positive thoughts and it doesn't matter if you're a Baptist or a Buddhist, it will manifest for you. Magic isn't about religion at all. It is about hope. It's alive in my grandmother's rosary, a Tibetan Sand Mandala and the Amish benches being unloaded for Sunday Service. It is real. For the taking. Blessed as the day.

Magic is kind desire, without any baneful intentions, coming true. I want those of you reading about a girl and horse to know that whatever your Merlin is, be it a vintage tractor, a mortgage, a new baby, anything, it is possible when you believe it is possible. You follow what you love with all you have to offer it and the world makes a road for you.

I believe in Magic because it is good for my soul. It gave me a horse I only knew in storybooks. It gave me a farm. It gave me you. Someday it'll give me strong arms and a heartbeat to fall asleep against. I'm certain of that, as much as the black mane I brushed and kissed tonight. I'll keep the faith and I'll wait for the man—but I'm riding that pony tomorrow morning in the stall with two black crows and thank the ground we walk on for the gift. No one in that barn will savor it like I will.

Hot dang. Life's one beautiful ride, innit?

photos by pw


countdown to magic: today!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

a winter sleigh ride

The first time you hold a draft horses harness, it feels like such an impossible thing. It is an awkward weight, a rubik's of buckles and straps—pieces and snaps. For a draft like Steele, it easily weighs fifty pounds and there is no one way to hold it. But as you practice, as a mentor explains and guides your clumsy mistakes, it starts to make more sense to you. After a half dozen harnessings you start to realize how simple and to-the-point the design is. How there is nothing extravagant or complicated at all. A month into my driving lessons the harness has become an understandable new world, with a new vocabulary to go with it. It's like a puzzle that makes more sense as you hold the pieces longer, run them around your hands. Today as Patty and I harnessed Steele and got him outfitted to his 1880's sleigh with plush velvet seats I felt for the first time that everything was making sense to me. I knew where to clip the breaking pull-backs attached to the shafts. I remembered to unhook the girth before running my lines through the loops. And the whole time I felt like a friend, not just a student. Makes you feel lucky.

Riding in a light snowfall on the back of a horse drawn sleigh was magical beyond words. In the back Pasture of Livingston Brook Farm we drove through gates and over the snow-covered hay field and worked on turns and I listened as Patty explained the dangers and differences to a sleigh as opposed to a forecart or Meadowbrook. I listen, but I am also still in a bit of a daze. I have only seen horse-drawn sleighs in movies and Grandma Moses paintings. Now I was handed the reins and asked to drive one myself?! I thought about how I could have been at work instead, had I not taken the personal day. There was no reason for it, really. All taking today off did was make a 3-day weekend a 4-day weekend. But after a month of workshops and what very-well could be the last and only true snowfall of winter...I wasn't passing up the chance for a sleigh ride and the extra rest. As I watched Steele's big bum clump in front of me, calm as steady as a river steamboat, I thought about my task list in the office. Of the bad lighting, meetings, and working to make another person's dreams come true and felt emboldened at my choice to stay home and grab the reins. There is nothing wrong with working an office job, it is how I still pay some of my bills. But there is something to be said for knowing when to step away, jump in a sleigh, and head for the hills.

When we were done, the horse turned out, and the sleigh put away...we headed inside for lunch and coffee. Patty served some good pea soup and sandwiches and we talked for a long while. What a blessing, these new friends I have found in her and Mark. What a day. What a cup of coffee....

As we chatted we could look out and see Steele and his companion Ellis, a big black 18-hand dressage horse running through the oncoming snow flakes. They seemed thrilled to be out in the fresh air, blowing and jumping, digging in the snow like children building a fort. I have to laugh when I look at Patty's choice in equine companion and my own. Just like Steele, Patty is tall, fair haired, steady and strong. She's in no weigh hefty, but solid. You look at her and Steele and it makes sense. A lot of sense. And then I think of Merlin and I. Both of us shorter and stouter, dark haired and prone to be overly dramatic. I remember Merlin kicking up into the air just to show off and posture as we walked by his pasture mates on the walk back to his stall. He's a little anxious too. Also, both of us (Merlin and I, that is) need to drop a few pounds. You see the two of us and it makes sense, too. Perhaps the world pairs up women and horses? Or perhaps women just pick horses that suit our natures? Whatever the case, when it comes time to throw the hames over Merlin's back, we will both be better for it. I will tell him, as I move his long black bangs out from his deep brown eyes, of how the harness used to be nothing but an awkward weight—but thanks to two fine mentor's—it has become a labor of love.

how a cat spends a snowday

There he is in all his glory, fat George in front of the Bun Baker...Just a note. I post some videos here, but if you want to see even more you should subscribe to my youtube channel (just search for jwoginrich). I also posted some other videos, like of Jasper digging and rolling in the snow and the view from a warm living room out into the storm. I try not to overload the blog with video so sign up via that service or check my channel there occasionally to see even more videos of this circus.

Enjoy your snow days! I took the day off work and am going for a sleigh ride! And if there isn't enough snow...a scenic cart ride!

countdown to magic: 1 day!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

win this signed print!

Shawn Braley, the talented fellow behind New England Illustrated, is a Cold Antler sponsor and friend of the farm. He's given away original artwork before (and sets of his beautiful note cards) and he recently decided to offer this large dairy cow print! It's a signed 13x19" piece on professional artist-grade paper.

He will also give away two 25-card sets of note cards! (including a color version of the Deer riding a Deere he gave away as an original piece of art here this past fall!) That means there will be three winners of this giveaway and all you need to do to enter is leave a comment. One comment per reader please, unless you share the contest on Facebook, where you may leave a second comment saying SHARED! and you double your chances.

Good luck!

countdown to magic: 2 days

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

your winter goats?

When I hold a workshop here, it always starts with food, coffee, chatting and when everyone has been fed and decaffeinated, a circle in the living room to introduce ourselves. This past weekend women from Maryland, Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts had arrived and all of them seemed drawn to homespun the way I was. One woman named Susan from up near Burlington talked about how she wanted to get sheep, how a neighbor had Shetlands lambs she could practically have and she was telling me this at a Wool Workshop she had traveled nearly three hours to attend, and yet she was hesitating. Sheep were a big step.

To me this gal was a shepherd through and through. (We know our own.) Yet she doubted the preparations she had made in her heart? To me it looked like everything was lining up for her, but she was hesitating....and I knew exactly how she felt. Sheep ARE a big step. Heck, for me, chickens were a HUGE step. I'm not sharing her story to egg her into the woolly life, but to explain I was in her shoes not too long ago. I understand that hesitation. And I can best explain it in a memory.

When I lived in Idaho I rented a farmhouse on endless land near the Selkirk mountains. the back fields were used for haying (rented to another farmer), but the farmyard and front barn area I used for gardens, chickens, rabbits and such. Now, as much as I loved my tomatoes and corn in the front yard and waking up to a rooster's crow...what I wanted was a dairy goat. I mean, I really wanted a goat. I used to imagine going outside for walks in the snow with a leather lead and a goat walking alongside me, a bell around her neck. I used to dream of the hoof life, this near-Amish kind of simplicity and peace to caring for livestock that would feed me. It was all romance, all based on images from books and movies, but so what? I wanted that goat and I flirted with the idea, but it was never really possible to me. I might look at ads on Craigslist and visit goat farms but no part of me felt I was really ready and I trusted that. At the time a goat seemed such a big step, bigger than any chicken or garden had ever been. And my gut was right. I only lived in Idaho 13 months. That goat would have been re homed in short order, not moved to Vermont with me when I lost my job.

Big steps feel big for a reason. Maybe Susan is ready for sheep and maybe she isn't. I write about all my crazy goings-on here and it probably seems erratic to some, but I don't do a lot of things I want to do as well. I don't take the free dairy bulls offered for meat because I know I'm not ready for a 1000+ pound (non equine)mouth to feed. I know I won't buy a Meadowbrook cart off the internet because I haven't the funds, even if the perfect cart horse is appearing right under my nose. I don't go to conferences, or vacations, or ditch the office on a sunny day, or do many of my gut desires. And maybe something in Susan is saying "not yet" to her as well. A good reason to hold back on the fence and lambs.

But as I write this I can't help but ask? Have any of you felt that gut reaction to not do something with your farm? Have you felt it was the right or wrong choice? And did you feel the same way about a certainty something was right? Any regrets?

Tell me about your winter goats?

storm on the way

Snow is on the way, possibly a lot of it. For the first time this winter I may have to hunker down and go into farm-preservation mode. A heavy ice storm means raking roofs, preparing for a blackout, stacking wood indoors, and making sure there is plenty of feed on hand for the critters. At lunch I'll head out to the feed store to get some things (non storm related) and grab another sack of chicken feed for good measure. Never hurts to have a spare sack of Chicken feed about.

countdown to magic: 3 days (I hope!)

I'm working out the final details of obtaining Merlin.There are contracts, trainers, vets, tests, farriers, and friends with horse trailers involved. Waiting to hear from the boarding/riding stables to see if everything is ready to launch. If it is, this Friday four of us will head down to pick up Merlin and deliver him to Riding Right Farm here in Cambridge. It's an exciting community event, really! Elizabeth and Weez from the Berkshires are coming up and Patty offered to use her trailer. So the lot of us will all be there to load and unload the black beauty into his new digs and get him settled in. (I hope!) Some form of paperwork or medical test might delay the process, but my heart is still set on this Friday. Fingers crossed, crows in pairs, and heart wide open.

photo from

Monday, February 27, 2012

my old apartment

This photo is from summer of 2005, when it was just Jazz and I in a Victorian home in Knoxville. I was just out of college, new to the South, and my only other living things to worry about besides Jazz was a pair of ferrets and a houseplant. I had no idea, not the foggiest sense, that in five years I would close on a farm in upstate New York. This was before Idaho, Vermont, Orvis, or the words Cold Antler Farm ever crossed my lips. This place is so far away now, in so many ways, I can't return to it.

I was a vegetarian then. I was broken hearted. I was just learning what living alone would be like. Life happens so very fast, sometimes I can't hang on without shaking a bit.

countdown to magic: 4 days

Sunday, February 26, 2012

rabbit for lunch

I know I said I was planning on staying inside and relaxing after the workshop, but a surge of chorenergy shot through me and in the oddly quiet moment of the weekend I was all workboots, axes, pitchforks and wheel barrows. To hell with rest while your body sings. I'll sleep when I'm dead.

I was outside feeling the sun on my back and watching Jasper watching me from his stall. "Do you want some sweat on your shoulder?!" I yelled out, and his ears perked up at my call. I headed down to the barn and grabbed his halter and lead line. I struggled to control him, frantic with the pent-up anxiety of a stalled, barely trained pony. He shot out into the field and lifted his head and tail in a triumphant kind of trot you usually see those high-headed standard bred Amish horses doing as they rocket down the roads. I like seeing that kind of relief, in any animal. The joy of no confinement. He ran around in the melting snow and kicked and farted and had a fine time. I turned around and set to stacking wood into the empty spaces under the side porch.

I stacked and split wood until the side porch looked respectable enough, a pile of dry wood and locust rounds, and space on the far end for a couple or three bales of hay to save me the trip to the barn for the sheep. I hate to sound proud, but that work looked right pretty. All that warmth for cold nights, all that green hay waiting for the rumen, a summer stored up in a couple pieces of twine. I love baling twine, I really do. People look at it wrapped around fence posts and scattered around the beds of pickup trucks and forget that it is a time machine's containment unit. You release the last summer when you set it free.

I set to mucking his stall, hauling him fresh water and loading up his hay bag. I checked his electric fence (sound) and made sure his salt lick was holding up. I did right by the beast. As I moved out barrows of slop and set down some clean bedding I thought about how much I have been writing about Merlin, the magic of him. The excitement of a horse I can finally ride, drive, and learn from. Merlin will be an amazing animal and a sign of growth for me in this life, but as much as I look forward to owning that horse someday, Jasper is my horse right now. He doesn't care about romance or possible roommates, he cares about running up a sweat in the pasture, clean water, good hay and little trouble if he can find a way to cause it.

Rabbits got fed, bottles hauled inside to defrost. The barn got tidied up and the sheep fed. I walked Jasper back to his stall, removed his halter, and hung the black halter and orange lead rope on his pegs inside the barn. I smile and think of the work to get ready for him, the help of Brett and others. I watch him settle in and feel full of good things. His current comfort was a direct result of my previous discomfort. So goes the whole damn world. I smile even wider.

I was about to turn in when I saw my recent hay delivery coming up from Karen Whitman. I forgot she was coming! She drove her blue GMC and helped me unload 20 new green bales. It took a while to haul them all off the truck and then into the barn, but by this time I was beat. I was ready to come inside to a glass of hard cider and a documentary on the iMac and let the days work set in.

So I am inside now. The cider is poured and the stoves are lit and I have a pot of soup or chili waiting for me for dinner. I spent this day sharing coffee with a great new friend. I spent my morning harnessing a draft horse, spending some times on a country road with the lines in my hands as cars passed us and I felt like they were on mopeds and I was in a Rolls Royce. How rich I felt! I ate rabbit for lunch. Every home I went into was heated by wood stoves and surrounded my land and animals. My body aches a little from the work, and my mind is still thumping with ideas for stories and writing and tonight I am just so damn happy I turned around the corners and switchbacks that lead me here. Lead me to this farm on a mountainside with a naughty pony, friends who know what hames and eveners are, and cold cider in a glass pressed with friends a few months prior during that Holy time all the regular people call October and I call Everything.

I'm not sharing this to boast, but to remain a little incredulous that the gal writing you this used to sit in a city apartment a few years ago fresh out of a state college without a single idea what was ahead. I got a bad case of Barnheart (chronic) and now rabbit for lunch is as normal as soup in a can is for other folks. A few random choices like a move to Idaho, a chance meeting with a farming coworker, a book, a blog, and now I am so excited about next weekend I feel like a child before her birthday. I am going to pick up that amazing horse and come hell or high water find a way to make him mine, find a way to house him, find a way to make him work. A blog reader and fellow horse girl emailed me to say horses were all about passion, not logic. I loved her for it. I got passion out the yinyang. I can turn it into a horse because I am too damn stubborn not too.

Crows are flying today. I'm a happy woman.

fattening up the blog

Blog posts have fallen a little thin lately, mostly because of the amount going on in the past few days. I just wrapped up the last workshop in the month of February (4 workshops in the past 5 weeks!), and between the stresses of review week at the office, workshop preparation, and hosting some company—I didn't have the usual writing time set aside. So the blog suffered a bit. I am fattening it up as we speak though. I'm halfway into a new chapter of Birchthorn, working on the next webinar, and just finished sweeping the kitchen floor. That last one has nothing to do with the blog, but it did just happen.Talk about a play-by-play, eh?

Just wrapped up the weekend of wool and fellowship. My last guest left moments ago and I am about to walk the dogs and take in a calm afternoon at home. I have enough leftovers to feed a small militia and the beer we bottled last week should be primed and ready to enjoy proper. Not a bad way to welcome the next few days.

That photo is of some plans Mark Wesner pulled together for the new barn in the woods, he calls it "Merlin's Thatch" and I love that name. A combination sheep shed and horse barn with a run in, hay loft, and area for the sheep on one side of the fence and horses on the other. I think it is grand. A good architect's sketches are a piece of art in themselves, and this one will be framed and put on the wall.

It was a busy last couple of days, but good. I have four days of the office to get through and then Friday we go to pick up Merlin and take him to his new temporary home at Riding Right Farm here in Cambridge. By this time next weekend my new horse will be in his new stall. Just a few days to push through and before you know it I'll be holding a hot mason jar of coffee and riding shotgun with Patty and her blue trailer to pick up the horse of my dreams.

Now, how to figure out how to buy him! A technicality that I'm not worried about in the least.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Plan B PSA

The Plan B workshop moved from May 12th to May 19th. James will be speaking at the new urbanize conference in Florida the week before and this way both speakers will be able to make it.

i love that sound...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

lion's maw

Snow is coming and that means payment in advance. Payment in sweat and time, that is. I just got in from what I call "extra-dose" chores. The kind of animal care so over the top no part of you feels guilty sleeping in a little, knowing everyone had their dinner and enough leftovers for breakfast. They aren't calling for a lot of snow, 3 inches at the most, but this winter that is a damned Nor'easter. I plan on staying in to work on webinars, Birchthorn, and enjoy a farm morning at home. Heck, I might even get the coffee pot ready for morning right now.

The second Wool Workshop is Saturday. I had a cancelation if anyone wants to take the spot (email me please) and enjoy a snow-covered sheep farm on a mountain side. At least, I hope it remains snowy for Saturday's workshop, because everyone else who came this winter just got to see dead grass with sheep poo on it. Not exactly the kind of stuff on the cover of Mother Earth News. But the people and food will be great. The menu is pretty standard, but with a little more fatty comfort like a rich potato soup. Some day I will get it as good as Cathy Daughtons....someday.

As for me, I'm still in shock that I will be the future owner of a Fell Pony. Between Merlin and the garden plans, spring seems closer than ever. I have enough kale, greens, and arugula seeds hanging out here to start soon. I have little shoots of garlic already poking up out of the hay in their raised beds. Some neighbors said the snow drops were coming up and there are buds on the trees. Sap buckets are lining all the back roads and sugar bushes are running before March. Strange times, these. Am I the only one getting restless?

But if Nelson Green is right, our winter starts March 1st. He think the whole month will be the lion's maw. Part of me wants a shot of winter, and hopes he is right. But mostly I want to think about ordering spring chicks and green shoots. I'm a seasonal woman, moved by the wheel like a dervish, and this year Ol' Bitch Nature is toying with us all...

photo by tim bronson of

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

rabbit ginger soup

Rabbit Ginger Soup

By Patty Wesner:

(I use a big cast iron soup pot to brown the rabbit and veggies and then add everything else to the pot)

Sear/ brown Quartered rabbit pieces in olive oil
(don’t cook through)

Then add enough olive oil to cook veggies in:
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onion
2 stalks chopped celery
Till translucent

Add water -4-6 cups
1-2 tsp chicken bouillon
(Or just use chicken stock instead of the water and bouillon)
Add 4-5 cubed potatoes

Set to simmer on the stove – never boil rabbit –(makes it tough)

Add thumb sized piece of ginger – cut up and squashed

And two cloves of garlic chopped and crushed

I let it simmer on the woodstove or back burner for the afternoon or until the potatoes are done. Before eating I remove the rabbit pieces, bone them and cut meat to bite size and return to the soup.


let's set the world on fire

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

peace inside these walls

I never thought I would see the day when Jazz shared his bed with a cat. There my two boys are, George and Jazz, alpha males in their own right sharing a patch of padding and sun. When I adopted Jazz back in 2005 I was told he could never live with a cat. He had killed a cat once in his outdoor run in Knoxville. But all it took was a cat that lived like a dog, and he became a part of the pack. How about that?

the doris day of doom!

Friend and fellow author Kathy Harrison was recently filmed at her home for an episode of Doomsday Preppers! I haven't seen the show yet, but I wanted to share this clip of a positive and active group of folks ready for the worst and hoping for the best. She'll be here at Cold Antler Farm on May 12th for the much anticipated Plan B workshop with James Howard Kunstler, a whole day about emergency prep, energy, and our future. This might be the most important workshop at the farm and only has 5 spots left. Read more about it here

Monday, February 20, 2012

do you believe in magic?

My first sight of Merlin was out in the sun, laying in the pasture like a large cat would. Feet splayed, resting up on his elbows so his head was up. He was out with a few other Fells enjoying the warm winter sun. When Lisa (his owner) whistled and called him in there was a burst of powerful activity. He erupted up, all black muscles, girth, and hair— came bounding towards us in a way that made the earth shake. At nearly 1,000 pounds, Merlin was no meek creature. He was a pony, sure, but this was no Shetland. As he galloped towards us I realized he was larger than the pictures showed, not taller, but larger! He was stocky and strong and (I mean this in the best way possible) kind of like a rhino with a wig. If Jasper was a Labrador Merlin was a brawny Newfoundland. He slowed to a trot and joined some of his friends about ten yards away from us. I was so excited. I just walked right up to him.

I came over to him and reached for his forehead, and he didn't mind. We regarded each other in that way species that live close and depend on each other do and always have. Dogs, cats, people, livestock, all of us know down in our bones we make sense together, its the finding the right match ups that's the trick. So he eyed me and I eyed him. Both of us suspicious but game. I grabbed a hold of his halter and asked him to walk with me over to my friends and his owner. He did, calm as St. Peter at the Gates. I felt calm too. This horse was not going to run away on me. I guess when you are that massive you don't need to make a fuss.

Patty of Livingston Farm was there and so were Melina and Robert. They were on their way home from a night in Cambridge and were willing to come along and meet the horse, too. It was their last stop before heading home to their own Farm, their car loaded with beer, brats, and two young rabbits from CAF. I gave them two of the young bucks Meg had given me to eat. I thought they would do better helping other rabbit raisers get started (either as recipes or breeding bucks) than added to my freezer, already happy with hares. (I hope that is okay Meg?. Anyway, when your car is full of homebrew, case meats, and livestock the idea of checking out a rare draft pony isn't that crazy.

Melina snapped some pictures of Merlin and I while I overheard patty asking the 34,000 questions I should have had the wherewithal to ask, but I was not really present. I was a couple inches away from an animal I had only seen in photos and had only dared to day dream of. Now his giant nostrils and black nose were in my hair, his deep eyes considering me, and his dusty coat and beautiful mane under my lanolin coated fingers. This was the shepherd's pony. I was a shepherd. I walked around the farm's pasture with him, talking and taking videos. He seemed curious but not concerned, almost bored following this crazy lady around his backyard. All I felt in my gut was comfort

We got him saddled up in western tack and after Lisa demonstrated his walk, trot, canter and some basic dressage moves I was impressed and excited to jump up into the saddle too. I was helped up onto his back and amazed at how wide it was for a pony, and how right it felt. I didn't feel a bit of fear, just confidence. I asked him to walk and trot and realized I was as out of practice as he was. Both of us were winded, hot air coming from our noses. I jumped down and kissed his soft nose. I was falling, and falling hard.

Then both Robert and Melina were invited to ride him, neither of them having any experience with horses. They were to sit while being lead by Lisa, and I wanted to see how he reacted to a stranger without any use of leg, reins, or purpose would suit him. It was like a fair ride. Robert seemed very happy on a horse. I bet he's next...

We left shortly after, I was allowed to lead him back to the barn. I told her how excited I was and that I would contact her soon with my decision about him. Patty asked some more questions and I stumbled drunk around cloud nine.

All last night I wondered what I could do at this point to make a rare, highly trained, beautiful pony mine. I knew what I could and couldn't afford, but I also knew I had a lot to offer him. I would be able to board him a few months while I took lessons with him, each of us getting to know one another under the care of professionals, vets, farriers and riding lessons. I would have a pony wonderland built soon as the days got a little longer. Brett, Patty, and Mark were willing to help fell (ha) trees and plan out the new two-horse shed behind the barn. I had a plan, I had it all figured out. I just needed to convince the owner I was worth it, and worthy of her fine animal. I fell asleep going back to the barn I always go to.

The next morning I had a plan. I started the morning taking the usual farm chores in stride, but I did them extra well. I scrubbed out the sheep's water trough. I wiped off the crud on the defroster. I cleaned out the rabbit cages, gave extra feed in their little crocks and scritches on their heads. I gave Jasper a good curry combing and made sure he was properly outfitted for a day of piss and vinegar, a carrot in my pocket. I took my dogs out for a long walk and while they smelled the doggy news I thought about this horse, the ramifications, the possibilities. I felt the extra close attention to my chores was a prayer in itself, a ritual of rededication to my animals and this farm. I listened to my heart. How it felt to hold those reins, sit on his comfortable back, and how safe it felt up there. I am an anxious woman. To feel like a 1,000 pound animal was a Lazy Boy is not common for me. I prayed. I paced. I asked for guidance and for the best possible outcome.

Then I came inside and took a long shower, prayed some more, and opened up my email. I took a deep breath and then sent Lisa a long, heartfelt letter. I told her how I felt about the Fell, how much Merlin meant to me. I told her my honest financial limitations, my plans, and ran through some options to make that beautiful boy mine. I asked her to consider these things with an open heart. I told her I looked forward to her reply. Then I turned off the computers to let the magic happen. I jumped into the truck and headed over to Livingston Brook Farm. I had done everything I could do. I didn't want to stay at home constantly checking emails, worried about what would happen. I was thrilled when I was invited for an afternoon drive, and thought no matter what the outcome I would have the next few miles logged behind a working horse to dream and hope before any bad news landed on me. I would truly savor this afternoon.

Patty had invited me to go on one of her favorite drives. Her neighbors are good friends and have over 400 acres of farmland. It is a beautiful, hilly landscape that tumbles and rolls with old farm roads used to get from field to field. It was the perfect place to drive a horse cart. No cars or trucks to fuss with, just the smell of dead corn, fallow ground, deer scat and wood smoke. The hillside trail lead to what Patty called "The Top of the World", a high field that looked over all of our area's mountains and peaks. When we reached it we turned Steel around and from the metal tractor seat of a forecart I could see Colfax Mountain, Equinox in Vermont, Bunker Hill Farm, other peaks and the Adirondacks in the distance. It was breathtaking. And silently, as I listened to Patty share stories of the same hillside covered in mustard and butterflies, or a buck leaping out of the hedge in front of Steel, I prayed again. (You can never pray too much.) I asked, over and over, if Merlin and I were meant to be that a path would reveal itself. Some sort of option? Some sort of magic?

When we got back to her farm we took off the harness and fed her two horses for the night, then retired to her farmhouse for black bean soup (with workshop cheddar brats!) and good homemade bread. We talked about a lot of things, and I realized in just two weeks I had made some fairly serious friends. How lucky was I to find a pair of folks just as crazy about farming, working horses, working dogs, as I was? And the hilarious part? Us two women, practically Luddites in our past times, found each other because of an online publication of Barnheart at Mother Earth News. A woman with a draft horse 7 miles away and she found CAF through the net. It's magic all in itself, this friendship.

I left for home, heart in my throat. I knew soon as I got inside the door an email would be waiting. Lisa would have had plenty of time to make a decision. I fired up Ye Olde eMac and saw her reply, bold and black the way all unread messages are. Hope in bold san serif. I clicked it with my eyes closed. This is the first sentence I read as I slowly opened my eyes.

"Hi Jenna,

I loved your email, it is truly heartfelt and I can say I know just how you feel. Letting go of Merlin is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. He's been my dream pony too. I will definitely work with you to make sure he becomes yours. I can't imagine a better home for him..."

15 years ago, somewhere in North England on the wild hills Merlin trotted and breathed in that fine British air. 25 years ago I was a toddler in a small town in Pennsylvania with a sidewalk, streetlights, and the only farm I knew came from Fisher Price. Starting the first week of March we will ride together. I already have a stall waiting for him at Riding Right Farm and we start lessons together in a little over a week. Lisa said we'll work out a way to make it happen. He is mine!

I believe in magic.

photo by Pat Wesner

greenhorns book trailer!

the human side of industry

I don't know what it is about homebrewing, but I am hooked. Hooked in ways few other farm hobbies have captivated me. I like to bake okay. I enjoy sewing and embroidery when the mood strikes. I can knit for hours at a time...but homebrewing has a sort of subversive style to it I just can't shake. It makes you feel special, a member of a secret society or tree house club. When you have finished a batch and are priming and capping the brown bottles (adding sugar for carbonation and sealing the metal pry-off caps) it feels like you just did something you weren't supposed to do. Not a guilty feeling, not a naughty one either. Just a feeling of industry rarely felt in your home and you get the sense you just did something only places with smoke stacks and assembly lines were supposed to do. Kind of like a seamstress with a heavy duty sewing machine that can make jeans and has a rivet machine. She did at home something assembly lines, factories, and machine folk can do, not us civilians in apartments and homestead kitchens? And yet, when I go to the fridge there next to the bottles of Guinness or Saranac are my bottles, just as hoppy, carbonated, alcoholic and frothy. I was the recipe and the factory. Makes you feel rich.

It's kind of intimidating at first. You need special equipment, some minor discipline in regards to sanitation and measurements, but generally it is a potion and a promise. You mix up your cauldron of wort and add your herbs and spices and then through the bubbling toil and trouble of the yeast you will get a totally changed substance. A little buzz, a smile, and sigh in a bottle.Pair that bottle of homebrew with a banjo or fiddle and you have a woman so happy she might float off her fireside log.

After all that hop-homily, I just wanted to share here that the workshop went well. Even though I had four last-minute cancelations that left us with only 9 people to brew and grind sausages with, it was an educational and busy day. Possibly the most tiring workshop I ever held. I think because both brewing and sausage making requires such preparation, presence, (and then clean up) that you can't rest. It is the ADD adult's dream hobby.

As for the workshop scene, it was a good crowd. A combination of friends new and old. Patty and her husband Mark arrived, a thank you barter for her time teaching me about becoming a competent driver. Melina and Robert of Smyler Farm, a vegetable operation down in Hudson. There was also Stacey and her Husband, a recent vet back from a tour in the Middle East (many thanks were shared) and good friends Elizabeth and Weez, a married couple from the berkshires who always bring a fiddle and guitar and liven up any scene. Oh, and me.

We started out with homebrewing, spending time going over sanitization and setting up your kitchen to brew. Between video clips and short talks we started up a batch of sweet stout, beginning with soaking a bag of specialty grains in the big 5 gallon stainless steel kettle over the stove. As the hour went on we added malt, lactose sugar, and hops. Even when you are not "doing" anything with beer you need to let it putter along at an observed boil. While it did its thing we dine on a lunch of my standby, winter chili (thank you Tasty the steer) and cracked a few local brews as well.

We regrouped to talk meat. I showed the folks how to soak the pig intestines in warm water, how stretchy and tough the casings were. I passed around a piece and folks tore and pulled at it. The I got a combination of pork and beef and the spice mix for a beer and cheddar brat and we set to work putting on plastic gloves and sinking our hands into a big ol' pryrex bowl of meat stuff. Then when the two worlds of flesh and spice seemed to know each other fairly well, we loaded meat into the heavy grinder and hand cranked the meat into a long attached tube that the casings covered. Meat was fed through into pudgy little sausages and many off-color remarks were made. It was impossible not to giggle.

The afternoon slipped away into a combination of conversations, brewing bottling, and a small factory of shared work. At one point I was running around getting more bottles out of the cabinet to sanitize while Robert and Mark were grinding away with a heavy cast-iron Weston grinder/stuffer while Stacey was helping cap and Weez was running past with more to set up in the living room in pretty rows. It was a flurry and a frenzy. Everyone worked, everyone helped, and in the end we had brewed give gallons of sweet black beer, bottled another five of a coffee stout porter, and made a plate full of giant brats for folks to ziplock and take home to cook up for dinner. All around me was the human side of industry. People who used their kitchen, hands, stoves, cranks, and cappers to create a viking feast of meat and ale. It felt hardy. It felt primal. It felt good.

And I now raise my glass to you.

photos by melina smyers