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.