Friday, May 18, 2012

Announcing Cold Antler Farm Fiddle Camp!

Come to Cold Antler for a weekend-long event, August 25th and 26th. You are welcome to join me for two days of the farm, campfire, and fiddles. This is a camp for people with absolutely no experience with the fiddle at all—never held one, can't read music, think they are hopeless case—but really want to learn. All you need to do is sign up and I'll take it from there. The fee for the weekend will also include an entire beginner fiddle package. Everyone who signs up will get a quality student fiddle, case, and bow with rosin to boot. The only requirements for supplies on your end is to purchase the book "Old Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus" by Wayne Erbsen and a standard electric guitar tuner. We'll be learning by feel, by ear, and by a system of music notation called tablature. This means you won't need how to read notes to play, just be able to read and count to 4.

The weekend will start off with an early morning introduction, how to string, tune, and hold your fiddle and bow. We'll then go into the basic bowing motion and finger positioning on the D-scale. We'll brake for lunch and then spend the afternoon learning your first tune, Ida Red. There will be plenty of time for practice, too. Find a place in the pasture with Sal to work out your D-scale. See if you can balance a chicken on your bow while you drone? (I'm kidding about that last part). Saturday night will include a campfire with live music. I'll have local musicians and friends come and you are welcome to bring your own guitar, banjo, or whatever else you'd like to play.

Sunday is a day dedicated to learning more songs, droning and shuffling techniques, and plenty of practice time between one-on-one sessions. Enjoy the farm in its late-summer splendor, taking in the sounds and sights of the animals and gardens. I personally guarantee that anyone who signs up and WANTS to play will leave my farm a fiddler. This is not a hard instrument, and the building blocks you'll find here will be all you need to go home and learn every single song in Wayne's book. This would be a great gift, couples weekend, or graduation present.

Fiddle Camp is a full Saturday and Sunday, 9AM - 5PM
Each workshopper gets a student fiddle package
Each student gets a CAF fiddle Camp T-shirt!
Camping on the farm is an option (it will be August)
Cost will be $350 or $200 (sans fiddle) a person.
Limited to 15 people or 8 couples.
12 Spots Left!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

June 8th 2012

I can finally share my Big News, since now all the pieces have fallen into place. I do apologize for being a blatant tease but the pay off is worth it. This is the big one folks, everything I have been working for on paper, books, workshops, and sweat and tears:

I have resigned from my position at the office and will be a full-time author and farmer from here on out. I'll be making a living through my own words, choices, and actions as a self-employed business owner here in Washington County. I'll be writing and hosting workshops and events to cover the mortgage and growing my own food and livestock to cover the groceries. For eight years I have been working towards this one thing, and my last day at work is June 7th. Time to jump.

I have made all the preparations. There's a humble, but survivable, nest of savings set aside and I am arranging alternative health insurance through my local chamber of commerce. I have projects lined up and much work and writing ahead of me, not to mention the workshops and events here at the farm. I am not asking for any help from the readers, and won't. This is my choice and my life and I can't spend any more time of it behind a desk working for somebody else. I have to make this step or I'll never be able to respect myself. I am thrilled and somber about it. Making this decision is a step I have been hesitating over out of nothing but fear. Fear isn't welcome here anymore. Ever.

I am so happy about this, so terrified about this, and so very ready for this.

June 8th is the first day of the rest of my life.

Plan B!

2 spots left for Plan B on May 19th, 2012!
Any last-minute takers! Workshop is tomorrow at 10AM!

can't wait!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

before a storm

I sat outside under the big, leafy, maple tree as the wind picked up and the sky went from gray to angry. I had shoved off of work an hour early, after explaining plainly to my boss that I was not going to milk a dairy goat in a thunderstorm. My timing was impeccable. I had just finished the milk chores, grained the pony and sheep, checked the fences, fed the rabbits, and chickens for the evening when the first rumbles whispered in from the west. Inside the house dinner was already in the oven. I could smell it if I got too close to the kitchen windows while filling up buckets at the rain barrel. I made me salivate like a dog. It's one of this winter's meat birds now crisping in the keep, bathed in olive oil and spices. That bird and a pot of wild rice, gravy, and a spring salad from the garden would be my evening meal. It's consort, a hard cider. I look forward to this the way a person who has walked a great distance and can finally see her campsite looks forward to a fire and rest.

So I sit outside under the big sugar maple and feel the wind. I'm wearing a canvas kilt, one of those snazzy tank tops with the bra built in, and a wool hat my mother gave me for Christmas two years ago. It's a big brimmed, floppy, brown wool hat. Not a cowboy hat, but something like a lady's sun hat if it was left to sheep to build. I used to dislike it and now I love it. I only disliked it because I was a chump who cared more about what people thought of the hat than its direct purpose. I now know this is happiness (and comfort's) suicide. It is the perfect shield from rain, snow, and sun. I put it on and let it plop about like a character from before. Like one of those people who garden in black and white photos from Appalachia. It is shapeless and thrifty. I feel timeless.

The thunder starts to speed up and rain hits the brim. I take off my rubber chore boots and let my bare feet feel new grass just kissed by rain. The coolness of it is a blessing. The comfort in knowing every animal in my keep has been made comfortable and full in the belly before I would retire to a house of fiddles and roasting bird makes me feel so wealthy I want to write checks to strangers. All I did was cut out of work early, feed livestock, and sit in the grass unshod but these things change seretonin levels in my body. A perfect combination of respite and toil, hope and force, and the knowledge that I too will tuck in with smacking lips and cool cider, it over takes me. The rain is starting to fall but I don't want to go inside. I want to just sit out here and hope, and pray, and thank everyone and everything that got me to this small piece of land on a mountainside. It has become my whole world.

For better or for worse, it is.

the photo is tim's


In the weeks since I announced I would be moderating comments I have only had to delete one angry, anonymous (of course) jab about Merlin. I am amazed at how just sharing that I would read things before they were posted has changed the entire tone of the audience. And another neat thing is happening, people use the comments section as a quick way to send me a note. I'll get a comment announcement and when I open it it'll say "Hey, don't post this but I just wanted to tell you about..." and share some advice, or an email address to sign up for a workshop, or just a message for me. It's all wonderful. I'm so grateful for the kinder tones and secret messages and just wanted to thank you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

it's show time, baby

The morning of the show started earlier than usual. I was up at 4AM, so that chores, feeding, and milking could be done in enough time to shower and preen for the ring. I had a borrowed blue jacket, a crisp white shirt, a fancy tucked-in collar. I had washed my half-chaps and paddock boots with a scrubber brush and everything was looking as good as it possibly could. I had to be at the barn around 7:00. That would give me enough time to get Merlin out of his stall (all horses in the show were kept in stalls for morning grooming instead of being turned out into the muddy paddocks) and have him brushed, washed up, and braided if I saw fit. I would slip on my jacket, place his number on his bridle's brow band, and start warming up for the ring by 9:00. Everything was planned out.

expecting a new, pudgy, Fell Pony to be suiting up for the dressage ring. Even at a schooling show in a rural part of upstate New York there are some fancy horses in that show. Warmbloods, high-stepping agile beasts who cost more than what I owe on my Dodge Dakota. Who would think the new girl who showed up with a bossy pony 13 weeks ago would be entered in the Dressage Show? I walked out into the pasture and placed his halter over his head. Both his feathered feet and my previously scrubbed paddock boots and half-chaps were covered in mud. That'll teach me not to pack my muck boots...

The morning was a frenzy. It started out slow, washing feet and combing out dry mud. I picked out pieces of pine shavings from his stall piece by piece from his long mane and tail. When he was suitably groomed, passing for clean, I decided not to braid his mane. Who was I kidding, really? He's a Fell and will remain one in his truest form for the judge. She could take us or leave us. With Merlin in his stall I walked over to where the trailers were parked and Patty and Steele were working to braid his long mane. Patty was on a stepladder as Steele munched from a bag of hay. He looked beautiful, cleaner than I have ever seen him. I was almost in shock at the site of him. I adore my Merlin, would not want any other riding horse in the world, but by Epona herself Steele looked like a giant marble statue of a horse. A life-sized Breyer in perfectly molded contours. Makes a woman weep, that kind of beauty on the hoof.

Percherons and Fell Ponies are not the usual dressage breeds, but we weren't the only outcasts. Haflingers, Spotted Drafts, Paints—all sorts of horse flesh was about. We fit in just as much as anyone else trying their hands at the USDF tests. It works like this: You enter the ring with your horse and trot around the outside of the arena. Then, when a bell rings you have 45 seconds to start your test. The "test" is really a memorized routine. I would be expected to trot into the ring with Merlin, a straight line at the judge. Then I'd hustle and jive through walks, circles, crossing the arena on diagonals, free walks, and so on. Whatever the test pattern is, you do it, and you do it the best you can. When it is done you halt your horse and bow your head in salute to the sport, the judge, the whole damn event. Then you exit the arena and wait to see how you did on your score sheet. The only person you are competing against is yourself, you create your score. The placement is simply high to low scores. Amazing how simple something so gut-wrenchingly nerve racking can be, huh? Merlin, Steele, Patty and I were warming up by 9 in the indoor arena. We walked, trotted, and circled in practice. By the time my name was called I walked down to the area where we were supposed to enter. A young boy, around 6, saw me on my mount and whispered to his mother "Mom, what is THAT? Identity issues from children aside, I thought everything was going well. I mean, the horse was clean, right? I was dressed properly, right? We had our number on his brow band, the right time....So what could go wrong?

Lots, actually.

Merlin remembered the outdoor arena. He remembered how fun it was to be in there and have the girth spin the saddle under him. He remembered the panic and the stress of it, and started backing up. Hollie, my guardian angel, saw this and told me to "get that pony in there!" and as if she could read horses the way pilots land a plane explained exactly what to do to get him inside the arena. "Pressure from your outside leg, loosen the reins, crop!" and so on. I just did what she said, gave some heel, and he entered at a fast walk. Okay, so we were in the dressage ring. We walked around the outside of the arena (we were not allowed inside until the judge rang the bell) and then I realized how much Merlin hates being trailered. The judge was sitting inside a trailer, a house from sun and rain. Merlin trotted by it and bucked a little kick, right in front of the judge... "He's got some spirit, huh?" I heard in a murmur.

He kept acting up, trotting in place, not wanting to go forward. The judge could see it all but until we started our test she couldn't start marking that score sheet. I got him down to where the official arena started and waited for the bell. The bell rang and the test started. here we go... Merlin and I entered the arena at a trot, right at the judges. We spent the next five minutes going through the routine I had lasered into my brain. We slowed to walks, made tight corners, picked up trots again at specific points. We did fairly-round 20-meter circles. And when it was all over we stopped on a dime and I saluted to the judge. People clapped and I finally let out the breath I was holding the whole time. The judge left me with some kind remarks and I exited the arena.

We did it. Merlin and I passed, if not placed. We didn't get one objection or correction announcement. It means that even if it wasn't pretty, it was competent. And to even enter a dressage show with a horse I had once only dreamed of, had only known a few months...was magical to me. If I got a big fat green ribbon that said 'Participant' I would frame it. It wasn't about winning, it was about showing up and trying. An event and day that marked a right of passage. I trained, I signed up, I tested, and I survived. Turns out I got third place. A ten-year-old on a white welsh pony beat us. Steele and Patty were right behind us in fourth place, by LESS THAN a point! Amazing when you know she entered her first dressage show with her cart horse after THREE LESSONS! Amazing, those two.

When you walk in my home the ribbon is hanging right on a mounted photo of Merlin. There is nothing humble about it and in this case, that is fine by me. That horse is a blessing, a lesson, and a teacher. He's coming home to the farm in a few weeks and I can't wait to wake up to that shaggy face every day, ride him around the farm and across neighbors' fields. We have plenty of adventures ahead and by Antlerstock I hope those of you coming out will get to meet him, feed him a carrot, and tussle those locks. Just don't mention anything about girths or trailers, he doesn't like to talk about them.


Monday, May 14, 2012

back tomorrow

These last three days have been so unbelievably busy, and I have not been home much beyond basic farm chores and errands. Just 5 hours ago I was walking back to Brett's truck 2 miles from the Canadian Border at an Amish Harness shop as locals ran by in buggies and waved. Just minutes ago I lured and re-caught 13 escaped sheep who I first found out had escaped while eating a burger in Lake Placid. And just seconds ago I realized how tired I am and yet how much I want to write.

All of it tomorrow, and big news as soon as I can share it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

photos from the big day

Today started milking a goat at 4:30 AM and ended with a slice of rhubarb pie and red wine in a hot tub. A big, long, post coming up soon about my first show, but to hold you over I thought I'd share photos from the day. I have a bunch Mark Wesner took to post tomorrow, but for the now, check out what Mike McNeil took of the show. Merlin and I on here and Patty and Steele are right after us!

And a Happy Mother's Day to you all!

Photos Here!

out of seven!