Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Movie Night in Cambridge June 29th!

There's going to be a wonderful, free, event right here in Cambridge New York at the end of the Month. It's a combination event with Battenkill Books, Hubburd Hall, Bedlam Farm, and Cold Antler Farm (among others!) to do a screening of the powerhouse documentary The Greenhorns right here in farm country.

There will be food, essayists from the documentary's companion book (I am one of said essayists), and I believe remarks and a bit of speaking from the young farmers in question. Come on down to Cambridge, say hello, watch an inspiring movie about new farmers across the country starting out and leaving their desks and colleges behind to play in the dirt. It's a revolution, baby.

Get details here! Click Clicky Click

Also, you can pre order a copy of the beautiful book of over 50 essays, stories, and songs from Connie at Battenkill books. Email her at connie@battenkillbooks.com, and she'll get your copy ready for you. It will be waiting for you when you arrive, ready for me and Luke, Severine, or whoever else is there to sign it. Every book you purchase through Battenkill Books is supporting a grand new indie shop here in my town. You can also order signed, personalized copies of Made From Scratch, Chick Days, or Barnheart. If you're not that into me, you can order signed copies of Jon Katz's books, or James Howard Kunstler's, or Megan Mayhew Bergman's. We got as many writers around these parts as dairy cows, so don't be shy now.

Okay, so who's coming?!

the new kids!

Went out this morning expecting lambs and instead found a mama Swedish Flower Hen with a clutch of new hatchlings! Beautiful and healthy little chicks are strutting about with mama, and about to get a welcome from thunderstorms, fireflies, and a pack of college students from Bloomfield University of New Jersey in a short while. Doing a tour/talk on backyard sustainability and the importance of small diversified farms today. Hopefully, also putting these kids to work bringing in a barn-full of first cut hay for the flock and ponies. Welcome to Tuesday at Cold Antler Farm! Chicks, College kids, expectant mothers, and hay rushing because storms are ahead!

P.S. Expect more and better farm photos! Jess and Riley from the wild Northland of Canada have sent down a Nikon for me to use! Not to mention a mess of handmade soaps and a sweet letter, thank you guys, see you at Antlerstock!

How to Make Goats' Milk Soap

Making Milk Soap at home is easy, but it can be intimidating at first. Here is a recipe for a very basic, small batch to get you started. You need the following things to follow this recipe:

2 pounds Olive Oil
2 pounds Coconut Oil
9.5 oz lye
2 cups milk
2 stainless steel saucepans
thermometer for oils/milk
soap mold(s)
hand blender
rubber gloves
digital scale
Makes 12-20 bars

You start out by melting all four pounds of oils together, and keeping tabs with a candy, cheese, or soap thermometer. You want them melted from solid state (coconut oil is kind of like crisco in texture) and around 100-120 degrees. Set them aside once melted. The saucepan you use to melt these in should be stainless steel, but if it isn't that's not as big of a deal as the pot you use to activate your lye in the milk. You can heat up these oils in a plastic or glass container in your microwave as well.

Now, for the tricky part. ( I do this step outdoors, by the way.) Wear long sleeves, rubber gloves, and glasses if you have them. Take your 2 cups of cold milk and set it in a STAINLESS STEEL saucepan and slowly add you 6 oz of lye as you stir with a wooden or steel spoon. It will start to turn into a bright yellow, and that's okay! As it activates it heats up and fast. After a few moments of stirring I add my steel saucepan to an ice bath in a sink or washtub outside and get it to cool down to bathwater temps (around 100 degrees) before I add my melted oils to it.

Warning: Add lye to water/milk. Do NOT add milk to lye waiting in a steel pot. The reaction is more violent.

When both oil and milk are around 100 degrees add the oils to the milk and stir them together with your spoon if that's all you go, but I suggest using an immersion or some sort of hand blender. You need these two main ingredients well mixed until it starts "tracing" Tracing means that when there's some visible lines across the surface of the soap mixture, like if you ran your spoon through it you would see where it traveled. Kind of like how you know if your kids got into the pudding? Swiped a taste with their finger? That's tracing.

You want your soap the consistency of honey or pudding. Now it is ready to pour into molds! And you can use anything from a shoe box lined with wax paper, to handmade wooden molds, to pre-made soap molds. I bought my soap supplies here in Washington County from Betterbee in Greenwich. They sell gear online, but so does Caprine Supply and many others. Soapmakers out there? Can you leave comments of your favorite soap supply online shops? Some folks may need to order lye online if it is rare in their towns, but call your hardware stores first. They may have it! Hardware, feed stores, and other work-related businesses still carry lye.

Soap needs to set in molds for 24-48 hours and then popped out of the molds, or sliced into bars, and then set on cookie sheets or racks where they can cure for up to 3 weeks. Curing is a natural hardening/evaporating process.

Want to see a video? You can go to this page to see a demo by Brent Ridge, one of the Beekman Boys, and see it all go down, as well as get a detailed recipe. Click Here for that (requires flash)

Now, don't be discouraged if you don't have olive or coconut oils on hand. You can use all sorts of fats - from lard to palm oil to make soap at home. I found this amazing web site that lets you fill in all the parameters of your own supplies, volume, and such and it tells you how much lye to use and prints out a recipe for you. Amazing, this internet thing.

My last words of advice? If the idea of working with scary stuff like lye, or measuring out exact volumes isn't possible since you don't have a digital scale, then find a local soapmaker or mentor to watch and learn from. Or sign up for a class or workshop in your area. Soapmaking isn't violently dangerous but I have watched demonstrations melt pots at Greenhorn events and I myself once DESTROYED an aluminum pot at the farm in a sordid attempt. If you are just going for it, then have fun, but play safe. Use gloves and careful planning when using lye.

Monday, June 11, 2012

soap today!

Made goats' milk soap today, infused with mint essential oils. Right now a dozen bars are curing in the farmhouse. I bought some special molds to show off Bonita's goods. It amazes me how much one gets out of a single, 150lb animal. Milk, cheese, soap, coffee creamer, milkshakes, meat, leather, and more goats. That's just skimming the surface, too. The dairy life has become my own, and it fits.

Easy milk soap recipe to follow tomorrow, and there's a soap and candle making workshop at the farm the day after the beekeeping one later in July. Come on out and see it all in person, with tips and tricks. You can also see how milking, herb drying, homemade beeswax and using essential oils works in the process to make your homestead soaps even more special. You can't buy a raw milk soap like this in your grocery store. You can buy soap that isn't even really soap, since most commercial bars are actually detergents. They don't use actual fat/lye processes and instead use petrol chemicals and artificial fragrance. You are basically lathering up in chemical waste. So try out some real soap, and feel real clean, and the real difference from the old school methods of grime removal. Support your local Real SoapMaker or give it a try yourself. All you need for the CAF recipe is:

9.5 oz of lye
2 cups milk
2 pounds coconut oil
2 pounds olive oil
A few drops of essential oil (scent)
1 stainless steel* pot (4qt at least)
1 saucepan
soap molds

so you thought lambing season was over...

first week...

It's the first Monday morning of my new job. Officially, Friday was my first day on the job but since I haven't worked Friday's in a while it felt like any normal week. But now, a Monday morning and I am self employed. Incidentally, I'm still going into an office post-chores and before 9AM. Dentist appointment... Gotta use up this Cadillac Health Plan while I still have it through the end of June. Then my higher deductible individual plan kicks in. I am trying to get the check ups, cleanings, and trips about my carpal tunnel in soon as possible. My personal copay and rates will be higher. It'll be interesting seeing what it's like not having that same coverage, and I think it will be for the better. My healthcare is now turning into preventative and not reactive care. I'm losing weight, spending more time outside, eating better and yesterday I ran a mile up my mountain road without stopping and I felt invincible. That's how I ended up in my hammock taking that video, a post-running high suspended above the ground.

After the Dentist I am running to Betterbee in Greenwich to pick up soapmaking materials and then Yesheva and her girl Emmith from Common Sense is coming over to practice making soaps with goatsmilk. It's a R&D mission for the upcoming Cold Press Soapmaking Workshop in July.

Between all this is email catch ups, paying some bills, and talking with freelance design clients. I have logos to wrap up, homepages for some e-commerce sites, and a visit to a friend of a friend tomorrow to help a local artist start a blog. Tuesday is the visit of students from Bloomfield College in New Jersey. I'm excited to have them over and talk about backyard sustainability. Barnheart is part of their ciriculum for the class! How about that?!

The rest of the week involves fishing, horses, writing, design, and possibly even the rare and elusive nap...

Here I go.

Soap & Candle Workshop - July 29!

Happy to announce I just confirmed a candle and soapmaking workshop here at the farm! Come for a full day of fellowship, gardens, goatmilk, beeswax and craft. It is the day after the Beekeeping workshop, so if you are traveling from out of town you can make a weekend of it and learn how to use your future beeswax in salves and candles. Kathy Harrison, fellow Storey author and accomplished candlemaker will be here at the farm to teach the morning candle-making portion of the day. She keeps bees and makes light from her own hive using traditional techniques. She's an accomplished homesteader of the third degree, and I'm sure open to all sorts of questions!

After Kathy's discussion and demo, I'll be teaching Cold Press Milk soapmaking with dried and ground garden herbs and milk. The afternoon will include a farm tour and time to talk about the herb garden, goats milk (and backyard dairy goats) and what ingredients and alternatives can be used. And everyone who attends will go home with a soap making kit, so you are ready to take your new skill back home with you and start churning out all sorts of soaps for your homestead and family!

5 Spots Left!

on the fly

Woke up yesterday morning with a purpose. That purpose involved a 5wt fly rod and a river just over the state line. I was going to meet my good friend Chrissy Penn for a morning on the river. We were hitting the Battenkill, a well known New England Trout stream.

Fly fishing is different than spin casting. You aren't trying to trap a fish by luring it with delicious smelling bait and then hooking it. You are instead trying to mimic nature, making that little fake fly on the end of your line land on the water the same way a Caddis or Mayfly would and get the trout to react in an instinctual way and hunt it. You need to be able to read water, know insects and hatching times, cast in gentle ways that "present" your target to an animal in a way that convinces it you are a simulacrum of a wild moment. And if you do it right you get a fish to bite, and if you got the skill you can set a hook and pull it in.

I didn't catch any fish yesterday, but I did get a few bites and it was thrilling! I found a spot to cast near where an old log and calmer water seemed to mingle and could see the flashes of native Brook Trouts and decided to use a small streamer and see if I could catch their eyes underwater instead of on it. I cast the sinking "fly" and it shimmered as it was pulled through the water and that's when I got a nip and saw the flash of an almost hooked trout fly out of the water and my heart raced with the excitement of it all.

Chrissy didn't have much luck either but that isn't why we go out there. We go to try, and because holding a fly rod gives you an excuse to start your morning standing in the middle of a big clear river. I could hear the birds, and the sound of water over rocks, and wave to passing cyclists and kayakers. It felt nice being one of 'The Outsiders' on this beautiful summer day. Just enjoying our daylight as a community in our own ways.

Can't wait to get back out there. I see a lot more time on the fly this summer....

Sunday, June 10, 2012

i think hammocks are my spirit animal

the new wheel

Here's a picture of my wheel. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I know very little. It was in a farmhouse before mine, used to spin, and sold at an estate sale. I Iooked all over it for a signature, label, or mark but it seems to have no sign of craftsman or company on it. It's a little mystery. But she spins true, has a great treadle, and is currently residing near the woodstove in the living room.

When I woke up and went downstairs I saw a Turkey poking the glass doors from the deck trying to get inside to see the new "Turkey" inside. And he strutted and fluttered about, showing off for the new wheel. I didn't have the heart to tell him the chances of him getting laid from an antique spinning wheel weren't betting odds. He danced about and hit the glass with his chest repeatedly in sordid attempts at disarming its virtue. I raised a mug of coffee to him.

"I like it, too." I said. And took a long sip.

broccoli with morning dew

Saturday, June 9, 2012

wonderful, this.

A great moment in television. Filmed on one little camera in the dressing room before the show. I couldn't stop smiling the whole time.

hoof and wheel (and trout talk over beer)

This past Yuletide, a reader mailed me an amazing gift: two pairs of hand knit socks. One was a natural cream color, the other a forest green. I wear them all season long, as wool is warm in winter, and wicks away sweat from your feet in the summer (both seasons require boots around this farm). Anyway, I was putting on the cream pair, now well worn and well loved, and I realized there was a toe sticking on on my right foot. I was already running late to meet Patty over at Livingston Brook Farm, but I liked these socks and wanted to wear them on our trail ride through Maple Lane Farm (the 200+ acre farm across the street from LBF).

I grab a needle and thread in my kitchen windowsill. I use them to quickly stitch up the hole (while still wearing the socks) and slide into my well-worn paddock boots and half chaps over my navy blue breeches. I am about to go on a trail ride, but I am taking my English saddle and British horse and we just are more comfortable out there as a team in a dressage bridle and bit and black velvet helmet than a cowboy hat, horned saddle, and jeans. I am what I am.

I head to Patty and Mark's place and the trailer is loaded. We hop in to go to Riding Right to get the MerMan. He's only there another month and then back to Cold Antler. He'll be living here with Jasper full time by my birthday, July 10th.

Merlin did wonderfully. He loaded with little difficulty into the trailer. He tacked up like a gentleman. He rode off onto the paved roads, country lanes, up driveways and though corn and hay field paths without a single issue. I was riding on a saddle mailed to me by another reader, and I realized how many blog readers were a part of this trail ride. Socks to saddle, Patty too, all of them came to me from sharing my life right here. Patty introduced herself to me at a Barnheart event at Battenkill Books. I was on a Virginian saddle. The socks, came in the mail... I thought about all this and clicked my tongue and pressed my heels into Merlin;s side. HE stepped into a trot and I started posting with him. It felt as easy, and even, as riding a car and shifting gears. We are starting to really become a team, him and I.

As many good things come off the blog, so do the bad. I thought about a reader who left a series of negative comments explaining to me what she clearly knew and I did not: that I was not a real equestrian. I was a joke, and as soon as I got hurt or scared I would sell that horse and write something poetic about learning from mistakes. She/he was an angry person. Very angry.

I thought about those comments as I asked Merlin to step gently down a steep slope, leaning my body back into the saddle to help distribute my weight with each careful step. My hands guiding him as much as my legs with the same ribbon-placing reins from a dressage show a few weeks ago. Not to mention the same reins that I lost when I flew off Merlin's back into a fencepost and slammed to the ground after I forgot to cinch the girth tight enough. I have known the entire spectrum of becoming a rider from this Pony—bruises to ribbons, tears to cheers.

Well darling, you can bet my girth was cinched tight today. You can also bet I don't believe the words of angry strangers who tell me what I am and what I am not. I was out on sunny summer afternoon riding my own horse across an estate land in the company of a good friend. Merlin was biddable, gentle, and calm. I felt in control, content, and ready to go wherever Patty and Steele wanted to go. I may not be a cowgirl. I may not be some adapt of the Religion of Horses. But I am by no means NOT an equestrian. Merlin and I trotted to meet up with Patty and Steele and passed by all sorts of distractions without fuss. A small dog at Merlin's heels, horses in a nearby paddock, trucks passing us on the road pulling trailers with tractors...Merlin was fine. He loaded back into the trailer fine too.

When we finished our ride we sat out on her Adirondack chairs and she handed me an Otter Creek Stovepipe Stout. "That's right." I said, leaning back into my chair and raising my bottle, " I like my beer like I like my horses, black and stout, with a little kick..." We clinked bottles and enjoyed the celebration. Another successful ride.

When I got back to the farm there was a note on the door. Jack, from Jack's Outback Antique Shop in town stopped off to deliver my spinning wheel. It's an old one, but in great working order, that I had been paying off in installments at his shop. The last time I was there we had been picking out bits and pieces for a friend/s birthday present together and I saw the wheel in all its glory in the shop. It came with bobbins and pins and all sorts of woolly accouterments. I hadn't picked it up yet because it wasn't paid off but Jack apparently was in the neighborhood so he set it on the woodpile of locust rounds on the side porch. I went to fetch it and bring it inside. How about that? Five years of sheep and finally a proper wheel!

Tonight is something to look forward to. Meeting friends in Manchester and a Fly Fisher-woman named Molly who is coming in to do an Orvis School Class and is being treated to a proper night out at a favorite Tavern, the Perfect Wife. It'll be classes of hard cider and good food with fellow fly-fishing ladies tonight. A grand way to end a day of horses, wool, milking goats, and reading in the hammock.

Life is good. Even when it's not, it is. And when it gets dicey...well, I still have good socks. And that counts.

campfire girls

Last night's campfire was exactly what I needed. A lot of good friends, cold beer, a campfire, and pot-lucked plates brimming with amazing feasts such as Flying Pig Farm pulled pork and Goats Milk Mac & Cheese (thank you Bonita). We ate, laughed, toasted, and eventually gathered enough chairs and haybales to all sit around the campfire. It was a lovely time. And the congratulations and words of support were around, all day.

While blog comments are kind and amazing, when you make a decision like this is is wildly comforting to get support from people you know, right in the flesh. It's something you need to hear and see. At least I do. And compared to other people around the circle, I realized my choice wasn't the biggest event of the night either! One woman just closed on her first ever home, another was about to go under the knife for major surgery. Another just got approval for adopting a child and another just moved up from Tennessee. Everyone, every single other person out there has a life as challenging and complicated and wonderful as everyone else's. I think everyone appreciated the night of celebration and Support and CAF was simply the humble host . I was glad to be. And the rain even held off long enough to enjoy it all outdoors.

Today after morning chores I'm heading for a day trip with Merlin. A trail ride with Patty and Steele. Not a bad way to use a Saturday, and a day on horseback is exactly what I need to ferment away the last of my doubts. Horses can do that.

Friday, June 8, 2012

two points for honesty

use her claws

The last words anyone said to me before I headed down the office driveway for the last time were "Enjoy your first afternoon of Freedom." It was nowhere near that simple. My mind was buzzing, wild with panic. Holy shit. What had I done? What now?

I got into the truck with Gibson, made a K turn, and then started away and I could not stop crying. I wasn't sad, or scared, or happy. It was one of those cries when you're just using tears, gasps and sobs to expel excess energy you need out of your body as quickly as possible. As I left the office property, and heading onto the two-lane road I started to cry so hard I almost puled over and Gibson grew concerned. He stepped on my thighs and licked my face. I told him that'll do, and he was a sweet boy, and pulled myself together for the next 16 miles or so home to Cold Antler.

When I pulled into the farm's drive I was no longer in tears, but still humming with that confusing and excessive energy. Unsure of what to do next, I went for a three mile run. My thoughts were simple: release the tension. Go out and exhaust yourself so you can think, Jenna.

I did just that. By the time I made it a mile and a half away from the farm it started to rain. Not a hard or intimidating rain, a gentle one. Drops of water hit my forearms and scalp like rain does on hot cement that's been cooking too long. It felt good. It felt like small blessings of holy water. I wanted to be one of the dogs in Dave Egger's short story I cherished. I thought about how he wrote about their open hearts, their free bodies. How every pumping stride of their sprints their claws dug into the earth, were what made it turn. I wanted to feel like a Fast, Fast Dog. I ran until my heart pounded in my temples.

I tried to suss out what was going on with me. Why wasn't I tearing off at a laugh? Why wasn't I thrilled, free and released? I had just taken a step I have been egging myself on towards for nearly half a decade. I had worked three jobs, figured out a business, had a full dance card ahead of me of writing projects, workshops, speaking gigs and more... and yet.

And yet it was still too much in the actual execution. Too big a step for simple high fives and raised glasses. Maybe if I came home to someone else who could tell me, something like "Great News! Let's go celebrate" and could guide me through the motions of life change like a seeing eye dog, I'd be on better footing. But there wasn't any roommate with banners and streamers, no husband or boyfriend waiting. There were about 85 animals interested in dinner, water, and milking and a house desperately in need of some serious TLC. It wasn't "squaller" but it wasn't the clean I was comfortable in.

So I mopped the kitchen floor. That's what I did with my first night of Freedom. I mopped the floor, and then poured a cocktail of lemonade of Firefly (a sweet tea vodka) and went out into the new hammock chair I installed on the giant King Maple outside the farmhouse. I crawled into it and its soft ropes held me swaying over the ground, suspended and still haunted by that hollow feeling of change. My body was sore from the jog, and the housework, and the emotionalism of it all. So I just finally resigned myself into that hammock, and took a bitter sip of my sweet drink. It felt like a cradle from a lullaby, but with booze.

Everything is going to be okay. I know that. But big steps like this (for me anyway) are all long-time coming but short-term explosive. I knew this day was approaching, but I met it numb and shaky. It was too much to swallow in a gulp, no matter how long I was holding the glass at my lips. I wish I could tell you all that I left that office cheering and laughing, and came home to milk a goat singing and then went out for a round of drinks on the Cambridge Hotel. But none of that happened. It mostly involved a lot of heavy breathing, sweat, and swaying. And falling asleep at night was very hard to do.

But this morning, it is different. I woke up with my day's plans brimming over. There's a party to plan here tonight.: a potluck bonfire! It is that celebration with friends and coworkers I feel I need to support and guide my choice a little. I'm doing it right, too. I have 7 pounds of pork defrosting for the bbq and a few cases of beer ready for ice in galvanized tubs. Tonight as the fireflies come out for their big show we'll be around a campfire behind the barn in the forest, sipping cold drinks by torch light and talking about our summers ahead.

Everything is going to be okay. I know that. But I am a bit scared, and uncertain, and know Monday morning will be the real wake up call. My new schedule starts that day, with writing in the morning, meditation, chores, running and more writing before lunch. I am ready for it. I just wish my footing was more certain. I feel like a jungle cat trying to climb a tree in tennis shoes. Everyone told her they'd help with her traction, and all she wants to do is use her claws.

If this all sounds negative, that wasn't my intention. My intention was honesty. It wasn't all back slaps and bluster, like a Frat party graduation. But those kind of celebrations? That happy certainty? I know it is on the way. I just wanted to share what I actually felt, and what I actually did. And I hope you'll stay tuned for what's ahead.

I feel like this blog is just about to start.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

left on the night stand...

Dear Corporate America,

The last seven years have been truly wonderful. I'm grateful for the time we shared. But I think we need to start seeing other people.

You've been such a comfortable and accommodating partner, you really have. I'm not angry, and I still care about you very much, but I need to set out on my own now. It's complicated, but necessary. I know we saw most of this country together. From a University campus to Tennessee mountains, to Idaho dogsled rides and Vermont log cabins...but it's time. You know it, too. This has been a long time coming.

Right? It shouldn't come as any shock. You've noticed how I've been drifting, haven't you? Wasn't the whole "I need to get my Friday's back" the last nail in the coffin? That and calling in late to repair fences and meet up with farriers? You knew the excuses when you heard them. And you knew in your heart this other guy just took over, swept me off my feet. I fell in love and I can't pretend anymore.

See darling, people just change. I'm not the girl I was out of college, clutching to dog-eared copies of HOW magazine and driving to her first big design job in her red Jetta. I now have a pickup truck full of dog hair and sheep poo and it is dented as all get out. There is nothing left from Ikea in my home. I still design, sure. I do logos and websites every so often, but I dabble and you know that. I haven't gotten off on design in years. Even that ol' Helvetica lowercase a doesn't get me going anymore. Okay, maybe it still does a little... but nothing that sustains me. Nothing that can sustain us.

The truth is I fell for someone else. That rogue cowboy out there, the guy on horseback tipping his hat into the sunset. Yes, him, Self Employment. He's what I need right now. He gives me the space and independence I need. Let's be honest, you were pretty clingy. I mean, yeah there were great benefits, but....every day? 8 hours together without a break? I need room, dammit and he's an artist. No, he doesn't hold my hand in doctors offices but he the guy who was by my side when I got into the fix that landed me in the emergency room in the first place. It matters.

It's over. You just need to accept in I know it seems early, and I know you had other plans for me right through my thirties, but this is something I need to do now. I can't pretend anymore, and I can't keep going through the motions of this dead relationship. It isn't fair to either of us. You know that. You know this isn't right, baby. And if you're angry, or confused, take heart in this timeless truth:

It's not you. It's me.


brave enough?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

a good sign

Two days left at Orvis and I used my last-gasp chance at our 50% off discount to buy a rod, reel, line, and some flies. I finally have time to fish. Next week, If the weather and time grants it, I will be in a river casting for native trout and telling you all about it. I now have the tools.

I've missed fly fishing so much...

a boy with a quiver

That's Ian Daughton, who came over to help with Merlin and Jasper's pony shed pre-building work. These boys already helped move fallen trees out with the aid of Jasper, and then got to work preparing the sigh and planning the new home for my Pony Boys. After the day's work was done we had a little hot dog and brat cookout (they sure did enjoy chocolate goats' milk with their dogs!) and shot some arrows at the broad side of the barn at a deer target painted on burlap. It was a grand day. I miss these guys, haven't seen them as much as I like. But since they are a home-schooling family and I am now the owner of a cottage business...I think I will be seeing a lot more of them!

Monday, June 4, 2012

package at the front door

When I came home from work today there was a package by the door. It said 468photography on it, a familiar name and logo. I knew it was a print I ordered of Jasper and I. Inside the large, thin box was a photo of me holding Jasper's head. He has blinders on and I have my straw cowboy hat over my eyes. We are side by side. I wanted the photo because it marks this point in my life so perfectly, so sadly. In that photo you might see a woman holding a working horse, looking certain and confident. I see a terrified and anxious woman. A woman at her heaviest weight of all time. A woman who barely sleeps more than 4 hours a night. A woman who was about three weeks away from quitting her job because she there was no room for it anymore.

Honestly, I wasn't sure how much longer I could keep up with the three-job lifestyle. I was writing, farming, and a 4-day a week corporate employee. Between those things I felt spread so thin some mornings I would just lay in bed, dreading going into the office. Not because I disliked the work or people—it was and remains an amazing place to work—there was just too much of my life here. Too much to care for, plan, expand, and create. There were workshops and books and visits from out of town guests. I had family and personal issues to work through. I had a body to heal and start treating right, not as simply the brute force to do chores and dishes with. I had gotten a fairly serious case of carpel tunnel and went to the doctor to talk about it. When I told him I am a full-time web designer, farmer, and writer he seemed surprised I still had limbs...

If you read this blog you may think I seem fearless, or cavalier. I am neither of those things. I'm scared of this place and my decisions all the time. I am however, too stubborn to give up on a goal once I set my ears back and raised my hackles to face it. Everyone has a shining virtue and mine isn't grace, or beauty, or intelligence. My virtue, my driving force, is stubbornness. I will get where I am going, damnnit.

Back to that photograph of me and Jasper. In that picture I am feeling fat and tired. I remember it like it was half an hour ago. It was a beautiful day and I was surrounded by people I adored, but my mind was reeling. I was at war with the decision to leave work and worried it would mean losing everything. If this venture fails the animals, the land, the house, all of it could be lost. But I knew just staying at the office I was already losing. I was putting off the dream, waiting for a safe moment or a small windfall of cash to land in my lap. Well, guess what? There is no such thing as a safe moment, and I don't see any new book contracts coming in this summer. So I chose to jump. My plan is to waste no more time dreaming. To tell my fear to bother someone else for a while. And now that I am forced to make this place work with just a few months of savings and some ideas for new books....I will really see what I am made of.

This summer is also about slowing down, a lot. It's about taking time, not rushing through tasks. It's about jogs, and meditation, and wearing wrist braces and drinking more herbal tea and less coffee with cream and sugar. It's about healing. Not because I am broken, but because I feel I am in need of some maintenance as the train moves to a new set of tracks.

Changing directions always requires repairs.

So where am I going? Well, in a few days the entire tempo of my life is going to change. I keep thinking about it. It's been as exhausting as it has been exciting. I am about to embark on a whole new kind of life. Since pre-school I have not ever been in control of my time, certainly never my weekdays. All of it revolved around permissions and times granted from parents, school, work or paid vacation time. I went from elementary school to high school, high school to college, college right into 40-hour-work weeks and have done so for nearly a decade since graduation. But when I wake up Friday I will have left an entire lifestyle behind me. The only life I've known.

I'll be looking for crows in pairs. I will need them.

run and ride

I was on my way to ride Merlin by 7PM. Post-office chores had taken an hour and a half, the normal time, but the whole time through feeding sheep and chickens, straining evening milk, and sweeping the dog hair off the living room floor all I could think about was getting on that horse. I missed him.

Riding is a lot like running in the sense that once you get into the habit it your body misses it more than your mind. You may want to relax on the couch while it rains outside but your legs ache to be stretched and moved across the landscape. You put on your running shoes and you go out in the weather, thinking of the hot shower and tea on the couch after it is earned and the beast is at rest. I already went for a jog at the office gym (barefoot, since I forgot my running shoes but too stubborn to not get in a mile jaunt and some sit ups) and I wanted to feel a horse under me. The body demanded it. Muscle memory joining forces with the mind's need to relax. These two things mean saddling up.

When I run I think. I write stories and blog posts, novels and songs. I go through relationships, fights, and people like index cards. I sort through things, work them out. But on a ride my mind goes away. It's just me and that horse, and we focus on things like right diagonals and proper seat and I am so wrapped up in basic communication that I can't think of anything else but us. It is a wonderfully selfish time. The kind of insulating mental activity that is necessary for self preservation. Granted, yoga classes would be a hell of a lot cheaper, but I am a woman who wants to shoot arrows from horseback some day. So I ride.

oh aye

Sunday, June 3, 2012

the garden, post rainfall.

go team!

Today was my third team practice, and my third time handing in score sheets to be added to the East Kingdom's list. As of now I am an official archer in the Society. Not the best, certainly. I have a long way to go in skill and effort, but I earned my silver crossed arrows. They'll be awarded to me at a practice at a future date. I will wear that medal with pride during events and reenactments. It will hang on my quiver.

It's so rare as adults we find things to work towards that aren't part of our careers or possessions to add to our homes. We aren't usually still preparing for dance recitals or yellow belt tests. We tend to think tests of skill are for children. But this year I took a dressage test, and am working on my scores and awards in archery. I don't mean to sound crass, or like bragging. I'm not GOOD at these things, I'm just capable enough to pass. That said, I don't feel childish at all. I feel thrilled every time I nock an arrow or grab those reins. Just as excited as a child, but old enough to let myself fall in love with that nostalgia as it is happening. Makes you feel rich.

melons and more

I planted big ol' things this weekend. I planted pumpkins all over the farm, in feral patches of compost, hidden from chickens and goats but sunny enough to have a shot at Hallow's Lights. I also planted some butternut squash and watermelon yesterday, which is a true act of hope. I doubt I'll get melons but you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket. I planted 6 little mellon starts. Here's hoping.

Man, do I love watermelon...

Archery practice today with my SCA team. It may be canceled due to rain. The next whole week will be a long, wet, one. I am hoping it clears up by my campfire/cookout here Friday Night. I invited a small army of girlfriends here to enjoy a potluck/cookout in the woods behind the barn. Should be a hoot!

Tomorrow is the start of my last week at the office. I go into my first day of self employment Friday, June 8th, with big plans and that big party. I have a contracted book to finish about the agricultural/spiritual year, speaking engagements to plan and discuss, and workshops and camps here at the farm. Fiddle Camp is nearly full, and Beekeeping with Meg Paska and the Soap/Candle workshop is getting a healthy interest and sign ups as well. It is all encouraging news, like a pat on the back. I'm getting less and less worried about making this happen, and more and more excited about what is ahead.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

a house full of honey

No one ever tells you that when you extract honey from the frame, your entire house smells like warm honey. I walked in yesterday, and in that holy time between planting a new raised bed garden and a hot shower I walked through a house smelling like beeswax and dripping honey. It's not a strong scent, and it doesn't make you feel sticky, but instead makes your entire house smell the way clutching a warm cup of tea on a cold winter day feels. Like somehow you have captured future comfort and placed it in a vase on your dining room table to tease your senses.

I only have one hive and I just recently added a third-story addition to the healthy work commune outside my kitchen window. A few nights ago I built the wax frames on my living room floor, and today I went out to set the small hive body on top of the two already full of comb. Since I was already out there working the bees I decided to harvest a wee bit of honey to kick off the summer. I brought out my 5-gallon brewing kettle, a knife, and a handful of sheep's wool from the recent shearing. After a proper smoking, I used the knife to help pry open the inner lid to the hive (fused with comb to the top hive body) and get to those beautiful frames. The bees do not bother with you if you remain calm and the smoke keeps them a bit disoriented. I used the knife to pull out just two combs from the center of that 6" deep box and used the wool to gently brush them back into the hive and off my pilfered nectar. The wool worked wonders, and since all the honey was capped in wax nothing stuck. I set both of my frames, and feeling like a fat and happy bear, waddled off back into my house with my bounty.

Inside I use a very delicate method of extraction. I grab a large serving spoon and scrap the entire frame in 5 or six scrappy passes into a metal colander inside a stainless steel bowl. As the honey filters from the mashed-up wax it sinks into the bottom bowl. It takes about an hour to be totally drained and then I do a second straining with cheesecloth over another steel pan. It's crude, but it works. I got a full quart of honey from those two little frames. I poured it into 8-oz plastic bears and set them in my cupboard. They will wait in that perfect state until teas, fresh baked breads, ice creams, and batters call them home.

I had to post this picture of my kitchen sink. What a happy mess. Milking, canning, cheese molds, meat grinding, and honey extraction gear all laid out. It reminds me that my little kitchen is not just a place were ingredients are prepared but a place where ingredients are made. It's a place of production as much as consumption. It's where I spend most of my time, and where my eMac and iPhone stereo dock are housed as well. Audiobooks, blogging, stories, radio shows...it all happens in this heart's center of my homestead. My kitchen is my playground, office, and HQ. Right now empty combs are setting in a brew kettle on my stove while coffee heats up and the sight of those things makes me feel like this rainy day is going to pass by just fine.

Enjoy your Saturday. Make something!

Friday, June 1, 2012

it was once a lawn

I was mowing the lawn yesterday afternoon listening to the adventures of Claire and Jamie in Paris, and enjoying the work of it when I stopped to notice the grass. Or rather, noticed the lack of it. Don't be mistaken, there was plenty of green below my feet, but three summers of chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits, turkeys feeding and opposite-feeding on it have created a whole new world. There's a whole new type of lawn below my boots. Now where there was once just domesticated lawn grass there are clovers, timothy, fescues and legumes. There are dandelions and violets, sprays of nettle and burdock. What was once a chemically treated and seeded bit of living astroturf has changed into bonefide pasture. It is a result of the work of seed, manure, and natural lack of sprays and artificial inputs has created something very different than a lawn here.

When I was done outside, it was hard to tell. All mowed down it is uniform and even, it appears to be suburban curb appeal. But when it starts to grow from rain and sun things seed and flower and leaf out. It looks wild! I watch the poultry pick and choose what deserves eating, they look at that lawn with decision, not random plodding about. It's something else. I turned someone else's decoration into a buffet. Not bad work of three springs. It was once a lawn, and now it is a pasture.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

boy, has this ever become important lately...

Making The List!

GOOD Magazine is doing a series on Young Farmer's across America and I made the list! They used a collection from Farmplate's Young Farmers Series and I am proud of my good company. I've sat on panels with some of these folks, shared billing in essay collections, and a few are even fellow New Yorkers. You can see the list here, and check out GOOD Magazine online, this coming Monday, to see their slideshow and story!

See the Profiles Here!

do any of you use these/like them?

much ahead

I stopped using my alarm clock. I trust myself to get up on time and I always do, usually earlier than the alarm's jarring rattle and in a better mood. That alarm makes me feel like my sleep is being taken from me, but when your body stirs of its own volition it's easier to accept. This morning I was out moving the sheep to new pasture by 5AM. By 6AM the dogs were walked, fed, and the goat was milked. Chickens and rabbits were fed, hutches and tractors moved, and I was packed up for the gym by 6:30.

I've been running in the mornings and it suits me. Before breakast or coffee, I get a mile or so in just to start the day with a heavy sweat. As the summer goes on I'll add milage, and since there won't be an office to rush to I can spend my mornings as I please. My plan is to start my new weekdays in this order: chores, running, breakfast, writing. Then quit around noon for the rest of the day, dedicate that time to other endeavors like webinar production, errands, outdoor work, and so on.

It'll take some adjusting and some serious discipline, but I am ready for it. I have a contracted book to finish by September and am on the prowl for new offers and titles. I have goals of all sorts, really.

Here's to the first summer of the rest of my life. I am terrified and thrilled.

archery practice this sunday

This Sunday there will be archery practice at the farm from 1-3PM, my team is holding a practice here. Beginner's welcome and no need to be a member of the SCA to try it out or take part. Loaner bows and arrows available. Come over to the farm to give it a shot. Literally.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

storms and superstitions

Yesterday the storm came in like a wolf crashing through a glass door. Sudden, violent, and sprays of water and power everywhere. I was out behind the goat pen thinking about the particulars of a Midsummer Bonfire when I looked up at the clouds swirling low in circles. It was scary.

I live middle-elevation on the east side of a small mountain. I get to see beautiful sunrises, but sunsets belong to the west and in the winter darkness starts to fall around 3PM. Since most summer storms come from the west I don't feel or see them until they suddenly burst through the trees and down into the open pastures.

Yesterday I was caught off guard and nervous, since the weathermen were predicting random tornados. As clouds of pollen and leaves swirled, trees whipped, branches fell I ran inside. But don't think for a second I didn't take protective measures. Of course I had extra water, batteries, flashlights and candles for the power outage that would surely come (and did), I mean PROTECTION. I mean, something a little more encompassing than a flashlight.

I'm a superstitious person, always have been. I was raised in a home where ghosts, angels, saints, and saviors were very real things. Water turned to wine at a priest's spoken word and my slovak grandmother taught me to never kill a spider in a house. So in that tradition of cultural wisdom I did the old Three-Branched-Cross on the farmhouse door. I took a branch of Birch, Basil, and garlic prong and tied them to a cross on the front door. Any cross will do. You can tie these plants to a crucifix or tied two equal-armed branches together with twine. I took the braided and tied Brigid's Cross off my wall indoors and tied the herbs to that. It seemed proper. Brigid is both a Catholic Saint and a Celtic Goddess. She protects, blesses, and heals. I hung the cross and branches from the farmhouse door and said a prayer and let authorities higher than my own decide if it was Ancient Goddess, Saint, or Savior in charge of the tornado averting.

I will say this. I felt safe indoors and no damage came to this home. No animals were hurt or crops torn and bent, and just down the hill trees fell in yards and power-lines burst. I'm not saying it was divine intervention, but I am saying it never hurts to ask. And if you have birch, basil, and garlic nearby - a cross and some twine, it sure beats calling the insurance agent.

Bedlam Farm, make it YOURS

Bedlam Farm is for sale, the home of author Jon Katz and Maria Wulf. It includes a beautifully restored Greek revival farmhouse with wood stoves and a screened porch. Outside are 92 acres, perfectly restored and painted red barns and outbuilding, including an artist's studio with another wood stove. It all looks over the Black Creek valley, an AMAZING VIEW, and it just reduced below $400,000. This seems like a steal if you can make it happen. If I could swing it, I know I would.

Details Here

i'll miss you, Doc

last night's blackout...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Year of Workshops at Cold Antler Farm!

I have decided to offer a Season Pass for Cold Antler Farm events and workshops. For the price of Antlerstock and another workshop and a half you are welcome to come to any Cold Antler Farm event for a full Calendar Year. This includes Antlerstock, special speaker workshops like Plan B, and upcoming events such as Beekeeping, Soap and candle making, the Farmer's horse and Backyard Rabbit workshops. I host at least 10-14 events a year and even if you make half you will get more than your money's worth!

Cold Antler Farm workshops are how I make a living now. Your support gets you not only this continued blog and its posts, but an entire community of like minds from all over North America. Antlerstock alone is becoming a homesteader's Woodstock! Two nights and days of workshops and events here in Veryork about traditional skills, livestock, timber, and crafts.

I hope some of you decide to invest in a whole year of learning, community, and continued support of this little mountain freehold. Email me if you are interested, please. I promise to get back to you right quick.

And always, open to barter for labor, livestock, or good of equal value.

P.S. Workshop pass includes most things, but special events like fiddle camp or soapmaking that require entire kits or instruments and books would still require some supply costs.

they mean so very much to me

I got a call from Brett tonight from the Smokies. He's down there in East Tennessee producing a Timbersports Special for ESPN, but he had a break and heard about the poor weather and checked in. I think the southern heat and humidity is getting to him. He sounded absolutely worn out. I told him he's too Anglo for that kind of heat, and to use traditional Scottish methods of sun protection such as going into a pub. He laughed.

I was glad he called because he happens to be in those holy mountains at a very special time of year. There's a peculiar species of firefly down in those humid hollers, a variety that synchronizes their lights. You can view them best at this magical old summer camp called Elkmont, a kiss from North Carolina's border.

Elkmont's history is interesting. Before it was taken from the original vacation-homeowners to become part of the national parks, folks just lived there. Most of the residents were very wealthy people from Asheville an Knoxville. They built docks and fancy cabins in the Victorian style and now they are all abandoned. But if you are quiet, and still, you can almost see them out on the edge of the docks, watching the same show with a bottle of decent wine and some close friends in the candlelight. The place connects you, and it stays with you. I have only see this once but it has burned itself in memory as one of the best days of my life.

I know of no place or experience on earth as mystical, as affirming, and as transcending as standing in the middle of a lush eastern forest at night and every six seconds having the entire world glow from tens of thousands of tiny yellow lights. You stand there among them in darkness so black you can't see your hand in front of your face, and then, a flash of light as warm and inviting as a campfire fils the forest so bright around you that bark ridges appear on trees.

"Visit Elkmont", I told the man before hanging up. And I assured him if there was one reason he met me, this was it. He had to experience it, no excuses. You can't be that close to that level of beauty and stay in a hotel room.

He said he'll go Monday night. I wore him down.

photo from larry's photography blog

storm warnings

A series of storms are heading in. I left work early to get critters fed and milked before the hail and winds whip. I've been aching for a proper storm, as it clears my head and heals my farm. I can meditate to the sounds of thunder and rain as grass and vegetables grow, flowers bloom for the bees, and the horse shakes out the dust-come-mud from his mane and tail.

Every rainfall is a new beginning.

Backyard Barbeque Workshop!
2 Spots left!

So this is a workshop I'm really excited to share with you. I'm taking last years' backyard Barbeque Meat Bird Workshop and upping the ante. Come to the farm for a full day of summer fun and slaughter. On June 16, 2012 the farm is open for chicken school! It will kick off with a meet and greet, then from 10:30 to 11:30 we'll go over the basics of chick care and raising. This workshop will feature Freedom Rangers, meat birds an animal apart from the standard Cornish Cross, and everyone who signs up is welcome to take home 5 chicks to raise for the table. After we discuss everything from brooders to coop plans, we'll break for a light lunch and tour of the farm.

After lunch we'll go through backyard butchering, step-by-step, from killing a chicken to wrapping it correctly for the freezer. This is not a workshop for the faint of heart, but you will learn the steps and supplies needed to prepare meat birds at home. After this we'll talk about the importance of pasture-raised poultry, both for our own health, and the health of the animals and planet. We'll discuss the birds role here at Cold Antler and with the help of Axe Man Brett, build a portable chicken tractor for the pasture. he'll show us all how to construct our own chicken tractors for backyard-meat production on grass instead of stationary pens. Mine will be made to follow the sheep from pasture to pasture via pony power! Yup, Jasper will drag it for me!

Workshop ends, followed by a private party with a campfire and BBQ of Cold Antler Farm raised chickens, stay for music and stories into the night.

Email me to sign up, limited to 15 people, camping optional

2 spots left!

the hive needs a third story!

My bees are thriving and outgrowing their two-story home. You know what that means, friends? It's time for an addition! Tonight I'll be hammering together the eight frames and sheets of wax I bought from Betterbee in Greenwich for the shallow hive body I'll set on top of the lower two. It's a pretty straightforward project, something any mildly competent human being with a hammer and nails can accomplish. Mine will end up looking like a honey-laden piece of Jenga homage sculpture. When it comes to my carpentry skills, I am a pretty decent writer.

I'm not kidding folks, I am horrible at construction, of anything really. It is a skill and mindset I do not have or really wish to attain. The attention to details, the sharp pointy things, the saw blades in circles of whizzing death.... Hand me a leash, t-post pounder, baking sheet, or a saddle and I am in a comfortable place. But construction and the world of woodwork is as strange a place to me as Narnia. Actually, I take that back. Talking lions and swords and fauns? I can handle that. Construction is as strange a place to me as Home Depot.

So I'll figure it out. I'm not concerned. And as long as the frames fit inside the shallow the bees will have their way with them anyhow. In a few weeks they'll be thick with comb and hopefully, thick with honey too! I want to make candles this year from the wax. When Kathy Harrison was here she gifted me a pair of gorgeous beeswax candles and I am going to ask her to come teach this skill for a two part workshop in cold press milk soap making and candle making in the fall. I think folks will love seeing the process from milking Bonita and hand picking mints and lavender here on the farm to setting the molds. I can't wait for that workshop! Crafts from your farmstead not only keep you a little more independent, but make use of so many bounties you already have around. And homemade candle and soap baskets are never a tiresome gift. Certainly useful, certainly appreciated.

Homesteading isn't just about livestock and gardens, but these other skills such as hive management, candle making, and soap making. Carpentry too, of course, but I resign myself to the inevitable. Jenna with a saw is a dangerous combination! Perhaps someday I'll hone in the basics but for now I'm content to barter for that work instead. Plus, I like the work parties and employment/barter opportunities it brings to the farm. Brett will help build the new pony shed and go home with four sheep (Atlas and some gals). I get a professional building and he gets a starter flock. A snazzy bit of shared skills and critters. Not too shabby.

Monday, May 28, 2012

behind in emails

I am so behind in emails. I can't keep up with them all. Right now it is especially hard because of the combination of ending my office job and figuring out what is ahead. But if you just resend what you want me to reply to, or remind me (always remind me!), I would appreciate it and do my best to reply. If you don't hear from me always follow up.

Also, I rarely if ever check Facebook for emails, so please don't use that!

training day

Today was a full day dedicated to Merlin and his trailer-stubborness. I was warned when I first picked him up that he was a fussy loader, but that day we left his old farm he walked right into the trailer as if it was the land of grain and honey. A few weeks later we loaded him up again for our first ever trail ride and again, not a single problem. I quickly learned this was our honeymoon period.

March 1 was just three months ago. In those three months he's been professionally trained and so have I. He's been on trail rides, arena practices, and won a ribbon in a sanctioned dressage show. I'm proud of all those things but I am most proud of events like today. With the help of Milt, Horse Expert Fantastico, Merlin was broken of his trailer woes. It took some "tough love" but within twenty minutes he was walking up (sometimes jogging up) with me without so much as a tiny fuss.

How did we do it? This might sound primal, but it was damn necessary and not nearly as rough as it sounds. Horses are not Golden Retrievers. We weigh 175 pounds and they weigh a thousand. We needed more help, so Milt took a long rope with a snap at one end and ran it all the way through the trailer and out a window, then back around to him. His plan was to pull the horse forward using that pulley system while using the rope end near him as pressure and a block from behind. So Merlin was being both urged forward and pressured at the same time by this rope system. The rope on his halter was not meant to yank him, but keep him from turning around. Milt stressed that the HORSE had to decide to be on the trailer, not us. He fought for a while, feet planted firmly on the ground. We waited. Whenever we stopped the pressure he moved forward and got grain. Then Milt said to give his bum a few smacks with a crop, that it would be the last straw of annoyance and he'd load up. So there we were. Me in the trailer with the short lead rope, Milt pulling back with all his might(on the rump rope, not the horses face) and using the rope around his rear, and Patty with a crop smacking his great ass.

After he realized that he could resist and be smacked on the butt with a light crop with a rope pressing into his hindquarter or walk softly up into a bucket of grain he stopped being such a mule. All it took was two times with the rope method and then over and over we did it with nothing but a carriage whip if we needed some reinforcement from behind.

When the trailer portion of the lesson was over Milt rode him for an evaluation and to test him crossing over water. We walked down the driveway to a meadown across the road and Milt put him through his paces. He walked, trotted, cantered, and went through waist-high grass without eating.

Since Merlin isn't thrilled about streams, Milt basically made him stand it one. He started pawing the water, taking great spraying mouthfuls and loving it! Then without any issue he walked right up and down the rocky stream! What a sight, all that was!

We also got to try on a driving harness and hitch him up to a forecart. Sadly, no driving today as the rig wasn't pony-modified and too large for him. But we learned what he needed (24 inch hames, a 23 inch collar pad, and a haflinger-sized harness). It was still a treat to see him hitched up, calm as a saint, and waiting for a chance to drive down the road.

I think this pony will do it all. I really do.

P.S. This sounds rather violent. It wasn't. We were not causing Merlin emotional or physical pain. The "force" was the pressure of a rope behind his hindquarters and another on his halter holding his head so he couldn't turn around. The "whipping" of the crop was the same tap I give him in the dressage arena. I trust Milt, who trained Steele (who used to jump out of round pens and rear up in the cart harness!) and I trust Patty. No animals were harmed in the loading of this pony.

P.P.S. For more information on our exact technique used, check out pages 400-401 of Storey's Guide to Training Horses under the section "Loading the Spoiled Horse!" It explains the halter rope pull and rump rope method of loading in detail.


hoof and boom

today is about horses and thunderstorms. I have to finish up cleaning out and restocking the rabbit cages quick so I can be over at Patty and Mark's farm by 11Am. A natural horsemanship trainer (and experienced driving instructor), Milt, will be there. Milt has had a long and calm life with horses and he is going to evaluate and ride Merlin after he teaches us the best way to load him up into a trailer. It'll be....interesting, as the last time we took a field trip with Merlin it ended up with us standing for an hour in the hair begging the beast to step into the transport. Milt thinks he has his number, and can teach it to us. If we can beat the rain I'll spend this hot Memorial Day on the back of my black horse in some distant hayfield by a percheron and his lady, smelling thunder and fireflies just hours away.

More later. Happy Memorial Day, fellow travelers.

the dusty road

Dear readers, this is an audio-accompanied post. I want you to click this link, and turn your speakers on. As you read the story let the music be your soundtrack. Minimize the window and turn the volume down if it distracts you, as that distraction was not my intention.

There are so many travelers on the dusty roads tonight. We are all of us, the same. A kinfolk of shared hopes and dreams. We have all been so far away from our first homes for so long that we have started to see the road as all there is. We grow weary, and our horses make our bodies sore, and every day on this dusty road we feel ourselves moving forward but the destination has yet to arrive.

It is late and we are all exhausted. Yet in the distance, just over that rise of that gently sloping green hill, you can see the glow of campfires. Above the ruckus you see the white flag with the crossed shovel and hoe and you know it is your people. You can see the tops of tents and couples in lanterns glow, walking from the circles around the bale fires to their camps. This place is not our destination, but a respite along the way. A chance meeting of fates and faces. You don't know anyone personally, but every eye you meet you see yourself: another dusty-road traveler, making their own long journey to their farms.

You arrive under the flapping white banners, and a Camp Greeter walks out, smiling and hailing arms. "Welcome to this meeting place! You can set up your bedrolls and tarps over there. Set down your weapons, and find your pots and bowls." This is music to your ears. You heard rumors of this place, and finally you can rest and commune with your guard down. A gift to tired travelers on dangerous roads. A gift greater than any.

Some people have children, and others have dogs. Some are alone, save for their horses hobbled by their tents. Some move in clans of several families and some are lonely pairs. But tonight we are all sharing the same balefire and grab little metal pails to carry coals from it back to our camps. We are all thus nourished from the same fire. We bow our heads in a thousand different prayers in thanks for its burning.

Whatever your destination know that the day is passed, the fight has stopped, and there is nothing more you can do but rest and heal. Set aside the day's anger and fear. Whatever haunts you is not welcome here, and it is too late in the day to do anything else towards that fight. My dearest friend, you can relax.

Be mindful, that every stranger you meet here has their own story in their leather bound journal they clutch tight against their breasts. Assume that every single traveler you meet in camp is wearier than you, hungrier than you, and farther from first home than you. Only when you accept that everyone else has it harder can you open up your hearts to them and share a leg of lamb off the spit or ladle them a bowl of rabbit stew. Only when you understand we are all pilgrims, just passing through this road to our home farms, can we understand we are all the same.

I too am on this road. I too am walking home. Home to where our families, animals, and crops are bountiful and our minds are free from pain. Home to our dream farms! Home to our promised land, those places and hopes we clung to in our troubled sleep. Some nights on the roadsides, in tents battered by wind and rain, we nearly want to quit. We want to turn back. And yet every morning we roll up our wool blankets and pack our horses and ride along that dusty road. We are people of faith in the work. And all we want is to work more. It confuses others on different paths, and that is okay.

Because there are other paths out there, other tribes just like us. People who are setting sail for courses into the unknown realms, they are the hungry adventures. There are people waiting to board trains to the cities, guitars and portfolios under their arms, in search of successes and creative communities. There are packs of motor cars lined with men and women heading to the schools and universities of greater studies. Sometimes they put the tops down on their beeping engines and put goggles over their eyes, scarves blowing in the wind. You see them kick up their heels and shout in joy.

But we are the riders, the agrarians, the people all leaving those cities, towns, universities, and seashores to find a place where we can rest ourselves into peaceful labors of food and stock. Our hearts are out in the fields, behind a team of drafts or in gardens of black soil and healthy vegetables. We know of no better party than a barn dance, clink glasses of hard cider under the strings of lights in the rafters, and the fiddles make our hearts lighter. We are the riders of the dusty road. When it stops the earth will be so rich no dust can manage. Our horses hooves will step upon the furrowed rows of corn and wheat and we will weep from joy.

Gentle Traveler, friend on the path, you look as tired as I am. May I ask you this much? Set down your weapons, soften your hearts. Take long, deep, breaths and just look around. Everyone is like you, like me, hard traveling and desperately homesick. Look at you, you still don't get it? Soften your jaw, my dearheart. Let it move lose in your clenched face. Breath. Feel the softness of your cheeks, sun burnt and perfect. Feel that gentle skin between your eyes and nose rest and soften too. Breath. Now, smile. Smile and breath deep. You have reached a mighty camp this day. A tent city of hearts all beating for the same dream.

In a few days we will all pack up and move down that path again. But now just take time to realize you may rest, and be kind. Be especially kind to yourselves. Be proud of the dusty road. So many never left for this road, even if they wanted to. So many angry hearts watch behind dirty windows as your horses pass by. So give them some rabbit stew, as well. Leave it on their porches and kiss your palms before placing them on their doors with a blessing. Everyone is a tired traveler, even if they never leave their doorstops. Some of them are the most tired of all...

We will get there. We will all find home. But tonight let's eat, and water our horses, and share in some stories and songs. There are people dancing around the fires, hand in hand. Storytellers eyes light up around the packs of children. Couples rest heads on gently rising chests leaning against strong trees. No one is anything but grateful and that makes this place holy. Let's be gentle and warm, and find that place inside ourselves to understand the Dusty Road is home tonight. And there is no finer place to be than on the path towards a better home.

And someday, gentle traveler, we will share that cider under those barn lights. And when we do the road will be a memory, our hearts light, and there will be no regrets for the lambs we shared at camps like this. No regrets, just love and patience. Those two make the road a little easier to bear.

Always, those two.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

tomorrow, horses.

This is my farm, my story, my livestock, and my life. I share it the way people who tell stories always have. People have been sharing autobiographies and family tales since time out of mind. Blogs are a new thing, but the honesty's the same. Sitting around a cave wall pointing at hand-smudges of bison or typing into a Mac: we are sharing stories, our lives, the process.

I got a few phone calls today from a good friend. I told him about the sheep that died, and we talked about how upset it made me, and what that upset meant. It was a good, long, talk. The kind of which I have sorely been lacking. I'm so grateful he's a part of my life.

Spent most of the day at Common Sense Farm, enjoying their first ever Spring Farm Festival down at their beautiful 200-acre farm right in Cambridge's heart. So many people and animals, so many kids running unshod through the green grass. Gibson came along and took a swim in the pond and enjoyed the people and fruit-tree digging. I got to meet a lot of new people like local farmers and neighbors.

It was the kind of event you don't see anymore. A large outdoor gathering without cell phones or polo shirts. Just people and their kids running in wild packs playing games and smiling like foxes.

It was a good day here in Farm Country. And if the weather holds out tomorrow, and the thunderstorms hold their breath until dusk, Merlin and I will be out on a trail ride on the hillsides of Livingston Brook Farm. Tomorrow is horses. I can't wait to be back in the saddle as it has been a few days. I even emailed the SCA's equestrian folks to see how Merlin and I can start competing in events. If I borrow a friend's trailer I might be able to bring him to War Camp at the end of June up in the Adirondacks! We will see!

Also, I am looking into buying a digital camera, or bartering for a decent used one. Any suggestions? Please email me with trades (like a workshop day for a used, but serviceable, Cannon or Kodak of proper agency). I am feeling like these iphone shots aren't doing my experiences justice.

Common Sense Farm Festival Today!

I haven't seen this many beards in one place since the barnbuiding scene in Witness!

weekend warriors

and the day has just begun

I nocked my wooden arrow and raised the bow as I pulled back on the 35-pound bow. It's woven, waxed linen string amazes me. It is all it needs to send my arrow blasting 30 yards ahead of me. I hit the 4-point circle on the target and want to jump up and scream HEEEEEELLL YEAH, but I don't. I have four more arrows to go and this is a Royal Round, and another 2 rounds after that at other targets.

I'm happy out there. I'm wearing a long green Irish dress over a white chemise with a leather hip belt. On the belt is my tankard (igloo coolers of water everywhere, BYOT) a leather bag holding money, truck keys, and my phone, and the red favor of the house Lancaster. This event is based on The Wars of the Roses and everyone has to pick York of Lancaster when they sign in. I picked red, not because I'm a huge fan of the Tudor's, but because it looked damn good on my green dress. I shoot another arrow and it flies into the hayfield. By the end of the day I'll break one arrow and lose two more. It happens. Losing arrows is a great incentive to hit the target more.

It's 10AM and feels like 4PM. I got up early to do my chores and check on the ewe who was found caught up in the brambles after shearing. At sunrise I had walked out across the field with a walking stick in hand, Jasper at my side. The ewe was sitting up, eating grass and had enjoyed some of the water with maple syrup I offered her. I was so happy she made it through the night. Jasper nuzzled her, as he had since I cut her free the night before. An odd sign of friendship between two species. With the help of Bridget from Virginia (who had visited for shearing and spent the night in her bus in my driveway) we used the blue garden cart as an ambulance and carried the frail beast to a solitary pen near the other sheep. It was quite the haul but we got her inside safe with water, grain, clean bedding and I said a few prayers. Prayer never hurts.

With the goat milked, dogs walked, sheep in hospital, animals hayed, grained, and watered there was nothing to do but get dressed up and the truck kitted out with bows and arrows. I left the farm at 8:00AM and had already been working three hours. My breakfast was some green juice and a small bowl of granola with goats milk. I was fortified, armed, and in a dress for the first time in months. I felt a combination of excitement for the War of Roses down in Concordia (Albany) and worry about the ewe. But at this point she had nothing to do but fight. So I left her, cursing myself for not counting the sheep when they came in to be shorn. I just called the woolly mass in and penned them and in the chaos of preparing for company and the shearer arriving early I didn't realize one ewe was gone. A quarter mile away in a bramble, she was stuck. It was my own fault. One simple act: counting sheep, had made all the difference in her chances.

Bridget asked if I would write about it? Or if I ever held back events on the farm because I didn't want to share bad news? An honest question. I told her I would write about it. What happens on this farm is an open book. I make mistakes and I share them. When lambs die, dogs get sick, or gardens fail I write about it. When I fall off horses, am scared, or broke: I write about it. I don't think people who are serious about landing on their own farm someday just want the sweet side of farming. I think they want to know mistakes happen, animals get sick, die, and all I can do is learn from mistakes and not make them again. I know now I will never bring home one new lamb alone to this farm again (pneumonia). I will never eat a pig with a bright yellow-cyst-covered liver. I won't plant broccoli without a goose fence. I won't forget to keep mothering ewes well grained to avoid Ketosis (Lisette). But in two years here and 20+ sheep later I have only truly failed four in five years of living with sheep. May that number ever diminish.

I think about the ewe between arrows, but my mind goes blank each time I take aim. I'm not good at this, but I have learned so much. I learned how to string my bow and tighten the string too. I learned proper form and sighting and the types of bows and tools. When my second round was done and score sheets filled in to be sent off to our shire's head of archery, T'mas nodded and said I looked like an archer. He said that with the white rose of York hanging around his neck, too.

When I got home later that day I found the ewe dead. She didn't make it. She was frail, thin, weak. I carried her into the hearse that had been an ambulance hours before and moved her out of the pasture fencing. Too tired to bury her I covered her with some old wool. I had driven four hours, spent all day in the sun, came home in a rush to see to the dogs and goats and was just exhausted by the time that ewe was out of the pen.

This morning I buried the ewe in a grave under the compost pile behind the goat pens. She was set in the earth and covered with the well composted bedding and manure of the pigs from this past winter. By next summer the pile will just be black soil around the skeleton of a horned sheep. I'll fork it out, grateful for its wealth in the garden. I smiled a bit, thinking of those vegetables of the future. The amazing red tomatoes and brilliant pumpkins and almost laughed at the idea of death being an ending. This organic compost is as alive as any galloping horse or flying hawk. As alive as you and I. It's just the next form in the circle. Earth must be fed.

And when I have a beautiful vegetarian meal next summer of garden tomato sauce over roasted peppers and onions and how those vegetables were grown over the blood, bones, manure and corpses of a farm's livestock. There is no such thing as an organic "vegetarian" meal, of course. The vegetables just ate the meat first. It was their turn, simple as that.

I sighed when the work was done. The ewe under the piles of brown, wet, soil. The water yet to haul for the living. Hay deliveries to be arranged, a soapmaking workshop to plan, and in a few moments I'll be down at Common Sense for their Farm Festival and people will see the three lambs of this farm's crop and feed them bits of grain and stroke their fluffy heads and I will be so proud to be the person who introduced their parents, got them into the world, and found them this ideal home. I don't know of a more balanced life than starting your day with an ovine funeral and ending it with a lamb in your arms.

Whew....and the day has just begun....

Saturday, May 26, 2012

a day at war

I spent the day with 300 people who care more about what makes them happy than what other people think is silly. I shot a longbow next to marksmen so talented that people parted ways to let them through, reputation as strong as Moses's hands. I spent the day with men in kilts, women in long dresses (or armor), and watching craftsmen work with blacksmith's bellows and Damascus steel. I saw embroidery, and children without electronics listening to stories. I saw dogs running and playing around toddlers and barefoot companions by burning campfires where food roasted and turned. I was hot and I didn't care. I was sunburnt and it felt like blessing. And I tied for my best score ever out there on the archery range and shot enough deer targets to fill my imaginary meat freezer with enough venisons to feed a clan.

Life in the current middle ages is pretty great. And my next big event is War Camp in Warrensburg, NY. A day where equestrians will be out and I'll be damned if I won't be up there with Merlin and a jousting spear in my shaking hands one fine day.

Don't let anyone tell you not to do what makes you shine.

Friday, May 25, 2012

shearing snapshots