Sunday, March 18, 2012

hit the target from 40 yards!

Not the bulls eye mind you, but I hit that round target from the 40 yard line. Not bad for a first time out with a longbow in the afternoon sun. I missed many more times than that, but I learned to string, tighten, adjust, aim, shoot, and work with arrows today. Two hours of target practice here in Washington County. T'mas the Marshal, was a great teacher and so was Eric (host and other archery Marshal). Made some new friends, and Gibson got to help "find" arrows after we were done shooting. A nice day in the sun.

another 14th century day...

Things have slowed down back to a normal pace. I'm just in from morning feeding and chores. Everyone is chomping away at their breakfast and I just put a pot of coffee on the stove. I'll be whipping up some eggs for a quick chomp and then off to train with Merlin for an hour or so. We'll lunge first, then ride, and then cool down with a walk side-by-side around the arena. While he was a bit miserable Friday, he was fine yesterday. I rode him for half an hour and without a single flinch on his part. His walk and trot as steady as a 30-year-old schoolhorse. Part of me was a little scared, after he reared yesterday. But I refuse to let that get in the way of this partnership. I trust him.

Most of this is trust.

After a lazy morning of eggs, coffee, and a Fell Pony I'll be gearing up 14th-century style for my first archery practice with my shire of the SCA! I have a 6-foot long hickory long bow, three wooden arrows, and a leather quiver lined with sheepskin and decorated with two Celtic wolf heads. Items I slowly collected to take up this new sport, which I've always wanted to get better at. Besides summer archery camp as a girl scout, and looking at complicated compound bows in sporting good store: I'm a novice in this martial art. I'm interested in the target practice, contests, medals and games...but honestly, as a small land-owner I would feel far more comfortable taking a scrub doe in my garden with a bow than out hunting with a high-powered rifle. I like the idea of low-tech hunting, and a summer being trained as an archer with wooden traditional gear—it's all leading up to dinner... On the next few months I'll collect more arrows, set up a practice range at the farm, and shot at fake deer in my woods. I feel like a Daughton Boy.

I have always been drawn to the bow, but it took reading the Dies the Fire books, by S.M. Stirling, to really push me to the point to order a hickory longbow from a traditional bowyer. (Not as expensive as you think, it's a stick with a string). I got mine from, and it has "The Lord is my Shepherd" burned onto it near a leather hand grip. Juniper Mackenzie would appreciate that.

What's the SCA? It's a modern club for historical reenactors. In the SCA you pick a period (pre 1600) and a country to base your studies on. Not surprisingly: mine is 1300's Scotland. In the Society I have a Scottish peasant name, and my persona is pretty much the exact same thing I am in my mundane life: a shepherd on a hill. Only in the SCA I'm just like everyone else with a bow and a Border Collie and a pony. Just another geek not afraid to to divulge in a little fantasy to make this life a little more interesting.

(And in the case of learning to bow hunt: more delicious.)

So that is my day: livestock care, cooking, riding practice, archery, and then more cooking and livestock care, then bed. Not too different than a shepherd in 1300, no? Well, with antibiotics and a Dodge Dakota, but I'll take those.

Yup, I'm a dork. Proud to be.

psssst....and guess what's next...

photo from

Saturday, March 17, 2012

the long day: part 3

Gibson and I drove to Saratoga under the order of the vet. We needed a lot more Pro Pen G, Anti-Toxin, and I needed some other bits for the farm as well. I popped in and out of Tractor Supply, loaded up with new syringes, needles, and Penicillin but sadly they were out of Anti-toxin for Tetanus. I shrugged and decided I would call Shelly when I got home. It would cost more to get it from her clinic, but it would be worth it if Tetanus was the culprit like I thought it was.

I stopped at Starbucks next, buying the most caffeinated vanilla latte they could muster on a splurge. It's rare to get coffee that doesn't come out of a percolator or the office's machines, and never a decadent item such as that. I savored it.

Once home I felt the tiredness hit me. Always around 2pm it hits me. I drove home feeling that hollow kind of tired, too much in one day, even for me. Cripes, even the good people at the coffee joint couldn't lull me out of my torpor... But maybe a horse could?

After dropping off the supplies and the birthday hound in the house I packed up my horse gear into the truck and was about to leave when I looked up the hill again at the ewe in the sick pen. I could see her head, it was up. A good sign. I wasn't sure if she would make it or not but the fact she was looking around and no longer on her side heaving was positive to me. When I got back she'd need the second shot of Anti-toxin and another hit of antibiotics, but for now she seemed solid as could be.

I groomed, lunged, and patted Merlin. He seemed calmer after his morning freak out. I wondered (silently to myself and then allowed to other folks in the arena) if horses just have off days? Andrea, who was riding a Warmblood named Kanan laughed and said ponies certainly did. I laughed too. Merlin was starting to shine a little more in spirit and energy. I guess I'd have to be ready for him when he was feeling his oats. I patted his big black butt. Challenge accepted.

It amazes me that no matter how tired I am, or sick, or stressed out: around horses it fades into the background. You can't focus on yourself in those selfish ways around these animals. They demand the best of you, in kindness and in discipline. From the moment I take that lead rope from the pasture to the cross ties and start the gentle work of brushing out mud, combing locks, and picking hooves I am transported away from my own problems. I have tactical and practical tasks at hand and all of it a meditation in preparation for this sacred act of riding. And once you are connected to this beast through straps of leather and metal, you can't get lost in your own thoughts, you NEED to focus and connect. Maybe better riders can drift, but my novice legs and hands need to be entirely there. By the time I have dismounted and we are walking back to the cross ties I feel the way I used to feel at the monastery after an hour of meditation. Clean. New.

Take that, Starbucks.

When I returned to the farm I had the usual chores, and I have to admit I slogged through them. My horse high was memory, and I still had a sick ewe to reload with medicine, grain, sweet water and attention. I called Shelly for the medication and she left it in her mailbox for me to pick up. I did, leaving some money in its place.

When I tended to her, I realized she had moved. She was in another corner of the small shed, head up and alert but far from her water. I carried the bucket to her and she drank a lot, thirsty as Job. I snuck the needles into her, and she flinched a little. I took her fighting the needle, even that little bit as a good sign. I poured her grain in a container and asked her to walk to it. She tried to stand and collapsed. I sighed and brought it to her, feeling deep in my heart she was a goner. I loathed the idea of putting a bullet in another sheep. I handed her the grain and she ate. I said a prayer and left her to her sleep.

By the time the farm was ready for bed I was starving and in need of respite. I made a quick dinner, fed the dogs, and poured a stiff drink before lighting up the wood stove. It wasn't cold out, but cold enough to like some heat going while you sleep with the windows open. I hoped for a bit of rain, maybe a thunderstorm. It seems like ages since I heard thunder and I missed him. Very, very much.

The day was done. My dog was two. My sheep was under the grace of prayer and time. I turned on Braveheart for the pure therapy of it and I was asleep before I even took a sip of my rum.

P.S. When I walked outside the front door this morning that cotswold ewe was standing at the gate bleating for grain! She totally recovered!!!

storm in washington county, ny: grandma moses

Last Chance to Sign up for Plan B. May 19th

Last chance to sign up for this very special workshop about energy, peak oil, preparedness, and change is today. Only a few slots left. For more information on this amazing workshop held at the farm with James Howard Kunstler and Kathy Harrison Please Click Here.

3 miles, now

the long day: part 2

On the way home I stopped at the hardware store in Cambridge for some feed. They don't carry a lot, but they carry enough and will order in anything I need special. I had called in for Feed n Finish meatbird feed and wanted to pick it and some grain up for the sheep. I also needed my brooder supplies. I had to get fresh pine shavings, a new clamp light (my old one was the meat birds winter heating system) a new bulb, chick feed, and other somesuches of raising baby birds in your home.

Gibson love stopping at Hardware Stores. He gets to move to the drivers seat and stare at the dogs in trucks next to his. He never barks at a dog from inside the truck. He just stares like a ghost at them. Barking inside the truck is only for dire situations like new stuffed dolls or animals in Wayside's windows. Like I said, he has his priorities.

A few minutes after arriving back at the farm I saw Shelly's green Tacoma pull up into my muddy, puddly driveway. She drives a vet's rig, with refrigerated boxes and a large assortment of medical adventures inside. I was glad her nice truck was already mud-stained. It had been raining since last night. Everything at my place was wet, muddy, and all piles of chicken poo appear diuretic in their copper and white streams into lower places. It's gross folks. This place is heave on earth June into Fall, and passes for a winter wonderland when it snows...the rest of the time it's a war zone.

Shelly unloaded some gear and checked on the ewe. She found her looking weak as ever, unable to stand, breathing hard. Her head seemed to swivel, a sign of rabies. She adorned gloves and had a test for Ketosis done by making the ewe pee on strip of carbon paper. (To make a sheep pee you hold her nostrils shut). The test came up negative, ruling out Ketosis.

She said it looked like listeria, tetanus, or possibly rabies. I wasn't worried about rabies, but was cautious. I wear gloves to give shots, always wash my hands, and will have the animal's brain tested for rabies if it dies. But if she does have rabies, that complicates things.. I'd need shots and people who came in close contact with me would need them as well. It struck me that owning sheep could kill me, simply as shoving a tube into her mouth and getting her saliva into a cut in my hand could kill me?! If rabies is the culprit (and I pray it isn't) I'll know because there will be no uphill from here. She'll decline into a mess of neurological symptoms until she would be banging her head against the wall. I learned my lesson with this sheep, as the commentor said last post, never trust the seller's claims the animals have had their shots. I thought about how grateful I was to be alive and farming in 2012 with health insurance...

I don't think it is Rabies though. My gut says tetanus. I am making sure antitoxin is administered as directed, and in case it is listeria: lots of penicillin. I used to be scared, just last spring, of giving sheep shots. Now I am a maverick of the syringe. I know what goes where, when, and how. I hope a friend or neighbor needs to learn this someday, because I am foaming at the mouth to teach others what I learned. Keeping sheep isn't hard, but it requires moments of fortitude.

By the time Shelly left I realized I had twenty minutes to get to my riding lesson on time. Friday is my weekly lesson with Merlin, and I had not seen him since Monday night. If you think it crass to leave a sick sheep to ride a pony, keep in mind that when you make an appointment with a riding stable you best keep it. Cancelling for a non-emergency (we had done all we could for the morning - just time would tell) means the Riding business loses money, and not enough time to fill your spot. As a boarded and a student, I didn't want to start my relationship off on a bad note. I already got in trouble for trying on a driving harness in the cross ties (and rightly so. Non-driving horses were terrified as I slowly turned my horse into a robot before their eyes!) and didn't want another black stain by my name. I also was overdue. I had not been to groom or work with Merlin in three days. A shame, that. A mix of time, the office, and weather. So when I finally got changed into my breeches, paddock shoes, half chaps and a sweater and made it to the barn I had twenty minutes to groom and tack him. Whew...

When I pulled up to Riding Right Farm I saw Merlin in the front pasture as always. He was out grazing on the new shoots of grass poking through the mud. I called his name and he ignored me. Then I made some smoochy/kissing sounds and the warmblood in the paddock next to him started sprinting towards me and taking a queue, he did too. Watching him run beside a stretch of electric tape next to a warmblood is like watching Seth Rogen rush at you next to Brad Pitt. He came to me at a full run and I stood firm. I respect this 1100 pound pony, but I am not afraid of him. He stopped, nosed my palm, and let me slip his halter over his head. We walked towards the cross ties inside the riding barn as always. He acted totally normal.

Inside the barn he was fine. But I left him on the cross ties to shift in his hooves as I slipped into the tack room to get his dressage saddle (on loan from Patty), and my helmet. I grabbed his grooming bucket and went about the business of brushing off mud and such. He was fine. Fine until I started cinching down his saddle while a truck backed up outside....

The BEEP BEEP BEEEP of a backing up truck sent his head in the air, snorts out of his nose. I didn't know if I cinched his saddle too tight or if the truck scared him, but he acted wild compared to his normal zen self. I quickly got his bridle on and we headed into the arena. Both of us a little flustered.

Andrea, our current trainer, was just finishing up a lesson with an owner/rider just as fine a match as Merlin and I. This woman was tall, elegant, graceful and lean. Her horse was a dressage beauty, just as finely built and disciplined. I stood there, chunky and stout next to an animal just as chunky and stout and laughed. A Hobbit and her cart horse staring at an Elf and her war horse. I thought about all the things I wasn't. I thought about the ewe in her pen. I thought about the amount of day ahead of me yet (it was 9:54 AM) and felt very tired. I love this life, but sometimes it wears you so thin you worry you will disappear.

I tried to mount Merlin in this state of anxiety and distraction but he fussed, backed up, threw his head in the air and stomped. He never acted like this before and Andrea told me to get off. I did. And as I grabbed the reins he reared up in the air. I remember Andrea's face, and I remember that I should be scared, but I wasn't. I didn't want to ride him but I wasn't scared to grab those reins and calm him. Something was wrong. This was not his normal behavior.

Instead of riding him we checked his girth, saddle, bridle, teeth, bit, everything. We lunged him instead of a riding lesson and he seemed to start out scared and nervous and the calm into his normal self. Maybe it was the truck, or maybe it was the fact that 3 days had gone by without real work? Maybe it was me and my frantic mind...whatever the case, he was NOT interested in being ridden and I didn't feel like testing out my helmet. I decided to try again tomorrow after a good lunge warm up if there was any free time at the barn. Saturday is a lesson-heavy day. We will see. Might require getting up with the crows...

I told Andrea I would be back later that afternoon to work him again. I think it was mostly the lack of consistency in our training. A week and a half of effort and a three day break in his world was enough to get too much energy in him for a walk/trot lesson. I thought about what lay ahead on this long day. I needed to be heading over to Saratoga to buy the medical supplies I needed for the ewe (more anti-toxin and Pro Pen G), some early lambing purchases (just in case I get lucky), and feed the hardware store didn't carry. I needed to get the brooder ready, rework Merlin, and make time to buy silly things like food and laundry detergent. The TSC in Bennington was the same distance away, but the Saratoga one was parked next to a Starbucks...

I already told you I needed a bigger boat. Off to the big City...

photo by 468photography

Friday, March 16, 2012

hello, dolly!

Got an email from Brett: He said I'm a bad influence... he went ahead and got his first riding horse as well. A 14 hand Haflinger Mare named Dolly. Dolly is a 13-year old ex-carriage horse from Burlington Vermont. She rides, drives, does it all. Brett said he'd been putting off getting a horse for a while, because folks told him he should. But he saw Merlin and I, me taking the dive, and felt foolish enough to grab the reins as well. Now his Highlanders have some company, and a fine horse has a good home. They'll be riding into the sunset in no time...

the long day: part 1

I woke up, without aid of any alarm at 5:36AM. That's my internal morning, the time by body is ready to work. It amazes me every Friday, Saturday and Sunday that I don't want to sleep in. That I want to get up and stoke the fire, start the coffee, and watch the sunrise with Gibson or Jasper. Yet on the office days I curl my body around Gibson and ask him for "just ten more minutes..." I know the crazed rush ahead of us. The work of the farm, dressing presentably, packing for the day, and leaving Cold Antler for ten whole hours. It's not the office I dislike. I love that place and the people in it. But it is the having to rush to go someplace so soon after waking without the option to return till nearly dark. Hard on me, that.

I was up with a lantern and the ailing cotswold ewe moments later. I found her breathing heavy on her side, kicking her legs with a sad effort every few moments. I did as Shelly told me, propped her up on her tummy so her head was up. She let me, and raised her head to look at me. She was still there. I have seen sheep beyond "there" and she was with me. I checked her eyelids. I checked her feces (normal pellets) and I brought the white tub of honey and electrolyte water over to her and she drank, greedily. I handed her a cup of grain and she ate. I gave her more anti-toxin, penicillin and tried to remember a time in my life before syringes and viles of antibiotics filled my fridge.

When she was in an okay place, I fed the rest of the flock. I fed Jasper, the meat birds, and the laying flock. The two male geese (Cyrus and Ryan) were out and about but Saro was on her new nest. They drank the water out of Jasper's bucket and Jasper eyed them through a mouthful of hay. The rabbits were seen to last. They are always last, luck of being indoors when everyone else is out. I checked on by does and found a new fluffy nest of white hair. My Palomino doe had a healthy litter! What a nice surprise on the morning with so much ailment on my mind! I fed my two breeding does, and my buck and Megan's herd in their cages. All the rabbits were doing well. After some fresh hay, pellets, and water refills they seemed to be doing great. Even the new mama.

I called the post office. It wasn't light out yet, but Jeff answered. I asked if any chickens had arrived under the name Woginrich, and they had. I could pick them up at any time. I texted Cathy Daughton, whom I was splitting this first shipment of Freedom Rangers with. I asked her, if at all possible, if she could do me the favor of babysitting all 50 until Saturday morning? I had been up with the ewe and the vet until late, and didn't have time to prep my brooder or a bag of chick starter handy yet. She said of course, but she could come pick them up. I had enough going on with the sick ewe. I told her I wanted to drive them down. Not only did she deserve it for the babysitting, but I needed something to do until the vet arrived around 8:45. I wanted to fill up my time so I didn't pace around worrying. She obliged. and I zoomed out the door with Gibson to the Dodge.

We headed out the door and turned south onto route 22. The sun was just starting to rise. It streaked blue across the horizon and I scruffed his ears. "Welcome to Level 2, son." I said. It was his birthday. It still amazes me that the day he was born I was living in a cabin in Vermont. My life has changed so much since then.

3 miles later we were pulling into the Post Office's empty lot. As soon as I walked into the glass-fronted building I could hear the little red birds. The Freedom Rangers from Pennsylvania were all in their little box, waiting for feed and water. I thanked Jeff, and loaded them into the back of the truck. Gibson eyed the box and then returned his eyes to the road. 50 chickens in the back seat no longer bear much acknowledgment. He is after all, a proper adult farm dog as of the today. Guess he wanted to act like it.

We headed south to White Creek, but first I stopped at Stewart's for Coffee. I almost bought a sloppy breakfast sandwich, but avoided the temptation. I had lost 5 pounds and two inches around my middle since Merlin came into my life. I could run 2.5 miles and wore out a pair of running shoes...I wasn't about to show up to our riding lesson smelling like cheese and bacon when he wasn't even allowed to eat grain. I bought an energy bar instead. I won't give up coffee, though. Not for anyone. I don't care if Merlin was a friggin' unicorn. Coffee's a deal-breaker.

The 52 of us headed south again on route 22. The sun was up now. The truck warm ever since my friend James Daley kicked the right part under the dash by accident that got the fans working again. I turned on the radio and Keith Urban was singing. I sang along. Like many radio songs, you don't realize you know the lyrics. I sang to the poppy country song and sipped by coffee. Gibson hung his front paws out the window and smelled cows, mud, and morning light. I remember thinking how trucks, country music, and dogs hanging outside of windows used to all be considered foreign and other. The trucks and country music were shunned in a faux-class assumption of ass-hattery on my part. Now I can tell a Toyota Tacoma from a Ford F150 at 200 yards. The dog hanging outside the window would be considered irresponsible. Gibson has been rolled by sheep, ran full speed into fences, busted through briars, bled, muddied, and gnashed teeth. He doesn't wear a leash. He doesn't mind the risks. I let him be himself. I smile (but I still hold onto his tail).

We arrived at Firecracker Farm shortly after. The coffee was gone and Gibson leaped out to pee on some nice unsuspecting bush. I handed the box of chicks to Ian (farm manager) and soon Cathy's youngest, Seth came out. He looked like he just woke up (He had) but was game for some poultry farming.

Within a few moments the fifty birds were under a warm light in a new wooden brooder. We chatted, talked about our animals and Tim's trip to Cambodia. Papa Daugton and her eldest son, Holden, were away. It was Cathy and the boys and fifty chicks for the now.

I only stayed long enough to see her pig (beautiful yorkshire gal), and wake up her own farm for the day. Her flock of Wyandotte and Swedish Flower hands colored the lawn like ornaments. They were all fat and happy, twice the size of my birds. If anyone has a way with poultry, it's Cathy Daughton. I beamed looking at her farm. So blessed to know these people, folks I only got to know because of this love of food, animals, land, seeds, and life.

I headed back home with the birthday boy, calling Dr. Shelly on the cell phone as I pulled out of the farm's steep drive. I'd be at the house to meet her before 9AM. I still had a full list of errands, lessons, chores, plans, vets, training sessions and more ahead of me... I looked longingly at my empty coffee cup. Then at Gibson.

"We're gonna need a bigger boat."

happy cakeday, gibson!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

the vet just left...

My neighbor Shelly (farm veterinarian of immeasurable compassion) just left. We had spent the past hour out in the rain, tending to a Cotswold ewe I discovered cast on her back after my evening jog. She was fine when I headed down the mountain, but when I returned to my driveway, panting and chest heaving from the mile run uphill, I saw a pile of wool and four hooves in the air by the lower gate.

Not good.

I thought she was just stuck, so I went to her and tried to turn her upright. She just shook a bit and leaned back over. Something was wrong, but she wasn't dying. She seemed to be in great pain and I saw her swollen belly and thought it was bloat. I called the vet then, and Shelly came up the road in her vet truck in moments.

In the rain we checked her pulse, eyes, temperature and I held her while Shelly felt for broken bones. She said nothing was broken, nothing was bloated. She had okay color under her eyelids (white eyelids are signs of ketosis) and she seemed t want to eat at the hay she was presented. Shelly thought it might be tetanus or a hard blow from another sheep that sent her flailing and bruised, cast her over and shook her up. She was given anti-toxin and antibiotics (just in case) and together we carried her up to a private sheep shed on the hill. Our feet digging into the mud (me still in my running shoes!) and set her on her own dry bed of hay.

It was dark. We sat with her in the lantern light and talked in the little sheep shed. The cotswold was looking for food, alert enough to want to eat and chewing on her hay bed. My gut tells me she will be okay. She was nothing like the sick sheep I put down, or the lamb with pneumonia from the early summer. She seemed okay, just hurt or drunk. Like as if we caught her the day after a party where she twisted her ankle but was still wicked hungry.

She wasn't due until May if she was pregnant, and so Ketosis was nearly ruled out by Shelly. She thought it was a systemic kind of tetanus, or possibly a really bad blow from another sheep that knocked the wind out of her and left her ragged. Whatever it is, I will be checking on her through the night. If she doesn't make it, she'll be tested for rabies and buried out where the ones who left before her went.I am soaked. I am tired. I am proud I did all I could.

Wish this little girl luck. Wish this shepherd good luck, too.

I am heading up the hill with a bucket of honey water right now.

photo by

A Twilight Knitter's Farm Potluck! Raise a Barn!

I am officially inviting you to....A Twilight Knitter's Picnic and Potluck Farm Fundraiser! Here's what I have planned! Come to Cold Antler this June 23rd to enjoy a day dedicated to wool, sheep, wool craft, food, and the farm. There will not be a workshop involved, just an open-house day to set up your own camp in the pasture or lawn and enjoy an all day feast board of shared food, knitting projects, and animals. Bring a campsite and conversation. Talk about your farm, or farm dreams and knit until the torches are lit at dusk and the fireflies come out and dance. Everyone who comes along that afternoon can plan on bringing chairs and a blanket and a covered dish and I'll have the bbq fired up for brats and dogs and burgers, and the whole day will just be about conversation, knitting projects, farms, vitamin D, and a day spent with friends to catch some sun and enjoy good food. Wh
I'll have the drum carder and drop spindles ready to use and teach, to anyone interested in learning on the fly. There will be a bucket of soaking wool, and some yarn and books to buy from CAF sheep. Merlin may be back at the farm by this point, or not, but Jasper will be there to accept all the apples and carrots you can offer and we could do a harness demo with him.
Note that it will be an outdoor event in summer. While there will be shade, cold water, and a running stream there will not be indoor events or air conditioning. Good children are welcome, as this is a private party, but know that they can never be unattended due to large animals with hooves and electric fences.

As the day wraps up there will be a campfire and a movie. Bring your blankets to the area in front of the red barn and we'll project a movie from a projector up onto a sheet on the barn wall after dark, and let the fireflies glow. We'll watch Babe while eating pie and ice cream. Instruments and homebrew welcome for the late night revelry after the little ones are home.
This will be a fundraiser to help build the new horse paddock for Merlin and Jasper, so there will be a donation requested. This is for people who want to enjoy a day out with like minds, support CAF, and help put two horses in their new home. Email me to sign up!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Congrats Winners!

Congrats to our winners for the Ignoramus books from I saw so many comments and will be sponsoring two winners myself on top of the winners from Wayne's giveaway. The random selected winners are:

Angie @ Crazy Country Momma

contact me with your selection and address, we'll ship them out right quick!

2 miles, now

Yesterday I ran two miles. The day before I rode. Today a hay delivery is coming to the farm and between the office, farm chores, storing and loading the 20 bales, jogging, and cooking dinner I don't think an hour and a half will open up to ride Merlin. But tomorrow it will, and all through the long weekend. We have our lessons with an instructor on Friday mornings, and I am learning a lot. Not just about riding better, but about Merlin and my relationship with him. While neither of us look very different, changes are happening. Everyday excersise and a healthier diet (80% fruits and veg) has lightened my step. Last night's run wasn't anything to write home about, and was very tired and had to slow down to a walk a few times, but as a reader here has said in the comments. "You're still lapping the people on the couch" and that phrase always helps.

This weekend is the first archery practice for my local shire of the SCA. I'm a new archer, and me and my 6 foot hickory long bow, quiver, and three arrows have our first lessons and target practice today at a member's farm a few miles north. The guys who run the team will be coming to see if my place would work for a practice as well and I'd be thrilled to host them.

photo by

Monday, March 12, 2012

never feel poor

There are hundreds of tiny seeds outside in the little greenhouse, peas and lettuce, kale and spinach. I grow heirlooms because I feel like I am growing secrets. Plants only for those willing to seek them, you can't find them in stores. My Amish snaps, my Rocky Top lettuce, my Russian Kales purple as Puff the dragon. They are sleeping babes now, under warm comforters of soil and sunlight. But in a few days their will be a sea of green life. It never gets old. You never feel poor.

Warmest night in months tonight. This shoulder season has the windows open so I can hear the rain and a fire still burning. The kind of weather and circumstances that make it feel like you are camping on a weeknight. Between the pot of tea on the stove and the sore inner thighs I'm nursing with a shot of whiskey, I feel good.

I had a great ride with Merlin today. Probably because when I finally got to the barn he was warm and wet from either a day in the sunshine or a training ride with Andrea (our instructor). Either way, we groomed and tacked up and headed out for a nice couple rounds of the arena. His trot was the smoothest and most comfortable it has ever been. These past few days since he has arrived I have spent more time on horseback than ever before in my life. Having just one mount to focus on, and one rider, you learn so much. You get as comfortable with the motions and movements as you do a favorite bike or car.

Ordering chicks tomorrow for the Breakfast in your Backyard workshop, a great introduction to chickens here at the farm. We eat yummy egg-centric foods and talk brooding coops, and chicken care in general. If you are coming, please drop and email to remind me of your plans to either take home chickens or not?

As for all you cats coming to the Urban Homesteading class? Well, I hope you like Pizza because we'll be making cheese, brewing beer, and talking container vegetables and chickens for certain. Buckle up.

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.