Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Still a favorite. Makes me crow hop in the kitchen.

ian and the new lamb

talking with a farmer

I went outside after reading some blog comments, and found a farmer in the driveway waiting to talk to me. He wanted to discuss meat rabbits. He was lanky, but certain looking. No way a frail man at all. He had on camo pants, rubber boots, and a serious farmers tan peaking through his t-shirt sleeves.

He had noticed the little lamb up in the sheep paddock and we got to talking about raising meat animals and sheep. I knew this guy had serious experience with many critters, and his methods were much like mine: animals raised humanely and under grass farming principals. Both our homes knew Joel Salatin as a household name.

I told him how some readers were put off at the idea of naming a lamb and then eating him down the line. At this the farmer smiled, scoffed out a happy laugh and said. "What other way is there?!" and then added, "Just this last fall I sold beef from a steer I bought as a calf, bottle fed, named, and raised." I nodded. I knew that cow, had bought a hundred dollars of his beef and enjoyed every bite of it. He didn't see a problem or disconnection with caring lovingly for an animal he would himself slaughter or aid in the slaughter of. This was normal to him. It was how he had been raised, how he understood the world. He didn't seem too interested in the conversation beyond that point though. He was a busy man, with work to do. He was already fumbling with his pocket knife and ready to get going. We made plans to talk rabbits tomorrow afternoon at his farm.

The farmer was Ian Daughton. He is eleven.

cantering towards life!

Yesterday morning I met Patty at her farm early. We had carted with Steele the day before, and today was all about hitting the trail with our horses. The entire day was a magazine shoot of perfection, and I can't thank Patty enough for her encouragement, trailering, and time.

We picked up Merlin and getting him on the trailer was easier than ever before. The training with Milt, and on our own, has created a new experience for Merlin. He gets on with little fuss, sometimes ahead of me. It's so satisfying to see that money and time and effort spent fixing a problem, well, fixed. I am hoping to get a trailer soon, as I need it to take Merlin up to War Camp on the 30th. I'll find one in safe condition, certainly. I will barter or buy one used, whatever comes first!

Here's a video of the first part of our ride. Right before I hit record we had trotted up a steep climb out of a wooded path along a brook. The feeling of walking gently through the forest on a horse you love and trust, and then breaking into a bit of changed pace and bursting into open land and light felt like a movie script. Here we are on the half mile pasture walk to the lake. And yes, we got wet...

We walked out of the pasture and into the woods. Tree branches grazed my head. This is not something a woman of 5'3" feels often. I touched maple leaves and felt like a giraffe.

Steele headed down into the lake and here is where I got nervous. Merlin isn't a fan of water, and getting him to walk through puddles is sometimes hard. But when Steele started heading into the lake, Merlin did too! And suddenly the two of us were on top of splashing and stomping happy horses, drnking and dipping their snouts in lake water and using their front hoof to dig and splash. Merlin and Steele were having a ball. I was still a little nervous (Merlin slipped once getting out and I didn't fall in) but we did it. Woods to pasture, pasture to lake, and now were were off to walk hedgerows, dirt roads and other fields. We walked and trotted mostly. The sun was out, but not hot. the flies weren't bothering the boys much at all. Merlin was coated with fly spray and ear Swat, and Steele (who gets bothered by flies more) was in a mask.

What you see here is Merlin's road pack. It's a saddle bag that sets on his saddle's cantle. It has a pouch large enough to hold things like a poncho, pocket knife, snacks, first aid kit and your phone and straps to tie on a wool sweater. It also carries two quarts of water for the rider. I'm a fan of it. As trail riding takes up more of my summer, I am looking forward to packing snacks and gear.

Back to the ride: we moved across the farmscape, taking in the new corn shoots, and rolling hillsides. Merlin now felt as natural below me, as calm, as my own Dodge pickup. I was feeling a little cocky and would give him heel to trot alongside Steele's large walking stride. Patty and I talked. She and I are people who focus on gratitude and positive things. No talk of war, politics, ill-intended gossip, or fear on those trails. We took in the sunlight, the smell of cut hayfields and horse, and made statements about the beautiful weather, swapped horse tips, talked about the men in our lives and families. It was textbook delightful. There is enough anger, suffering, and fear in the world without us having to surrender to it. If you want to hear about it, "be informed" then turn on the news or pick up a paper. Invite a scared person over for dinner and listen to how horrible the world is. I am losing my tolerance of intentional negativity. Every day, every minute, you choose how to life your life and see the world. If you are kind, compassionate, and honest about your feelings those kind of people and experiences wrap themselves around you. To this I am a living testament, this blog certified proof. A happier life means choosing to be a happier person. It doesn't mean running away from reality. It means having the guts to create your own.

Whew. Anyway, I was so wrapped up in the conversation I didn't even think about it when Steele started to canter up a steep slope. I just gave Merlin a bit of leg and he loped up right after his big brother. I rode that canter as if I had been born to it. All those months of riding lessons, trotting in circles, had taught me enough of seat and leg to remain calm and communicate. It felt amazing, to be on a galloping horse, MY horse, out in a feral trail ride where only our whims told us where to go.

And all of this, the horses, the ride, the lake and that unexpected burst of cantering. All of it was happening on a Monday morning. To someone who spent the last 8 years of her life surrendering every single Monday to Paid Time Off or someone's company: it felt so much deeper, that freedom of the day. I WAS in my office, on the back of a running black gelding in the place I call home.

When we trotted back to her driveway I hugged that horse for a long time. He's worth every penny, every drop of sweat, and every board carried to make him a barn and pasture fence. He's magic to me.

And to those of you reading about this at home, those of you who wish with all your heart You had a horse to ride? You can ride too. I promise that if it is something you want it is yours to have. I don't care if you live in the middle of Boston and don't have a car or a spare twenty dollars to your name. You are online now, aren't you? Well, search for stables, trail rides, and lessons in your area. Look for places you can can get too (or close too) by foot, bus, or car. ASK through email and phone calls if you can exchange hard work (muck stalls all morning?) for a half hour lesson or a trail ride with a group already paying with horses set aside. Ask that cousin in the country you visit to show you how to put on a bridle and pick feet. Walk to your neigbors with horses and tell them you think they are wonderful, and would love to get a barn tour. Go to the county fair and ask the girl with he draft team about her local club. Do you see what I am getting at? If you want something, you need to start dialing numbers, asking friends and family, and putting time ad sweat into it. I have no doubt that anyone who wants to ride will.

I know a woman at the stables who gave up her cable and cell phone to take a lesson a week and is saving for a horse and fencing of her own on her small acre homestead. She'll make it happen.

I'm not lecturing, I am making that promise. You can have your farm, your horse, your goats, your chickens. You can have it as soon as this weekend (in some form) if you start making emails and phone calls now. Live around here? Call or email ME! You already have a resource! One couple new to farming is trading a bin of pumpkins and possibly a pig to come to the Farmer's Horse workshop here in the fall. Another couple who owns a t-shirt comapny is printig up the fiddle camp shirts in exhange for coming to camp. This farm is how I make my living, but it is also dedicated to you, the readers. I want anyone who wants what I have to have it, too. I will do whatever I can to get you there through words, encouragement, workshops, and stories.

Go get your own canter started right now, and don't let a single person tell you it isn't yours to have. You won't hear anything to the contrary here. I know it is yours, just go ask for it and receive it with gratitude. It is yours.

Brigit's Fire, it is.

general update

The new ram lamb is doing well! I was worried the ewe was going to reject him, but the little guy had a tight stomach when I picked him up and gave him some vitamin paste. Just in case the mother was slacking with the milk business, I offered him a bottle of warm goats milk and he sucked it down like a little piston. I think I'll keep him to raise for the Holidays. A tradition started last year, but certainly worth keeping up. Leg of Lamb served with cream sauce while the Yule log burns is a nice way to start the year, no? Any suggestions for names?

Updates to come for you about the Barn Raising (part 2!), the TWO new pony carts, my first canter with Merlin up a farm field hill, a new workshop for you fiber folk, entering the Washington County Fair, and (drumroll) a NEW INTERN is moving in tomorrow. All of this just happened and I have a book to write so blog updates will come in on breaks from writing.

So much is happening! All of it good!

Monday, June 18, 2012

sunflowers in the cabinet

I found a packet of Flash Blend sunflower seeds in my cabinet. I got them back in early spring, but forgot about them. Tomorrow I will plant them and see where they end up.

good morning from cold antler farm!

not even 7 AM....

...and I already have afterbirth all over my hands.

Hello Monday.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

join us for a sunday drive

the distant future, the year 2000

What's that a picture of? Why it's aerial firefighters with bat wings putting out a blaze in the year 2000 of course. Folks, you need to check out this link. It contains photos by a French illustrator in 1910 and what he felt the year 2000 would hold for society. I find ideas about our future and technology so fascinating as a modern homesteader? How progress meant lack of effort to people then, or versions of that ease. Life was hard, I know this. But sometimes their pipe dreams are laughable. Others are spot on. Which of these made you laugh or tilt your head at the screen? Do you think the future we have now is all 1910 cracked it up to be? (I personally love the flying water bat people, but click here to see more.)

P.S. Ten points if you started singing Flight of the Conchords when you saw this post title. Robots!

accidental juggler

Last night Brett and I were having dinner over at Jon and Maria's and Brett started a conversation about academic writing and said something like, "Well, the two of you are writers and you understand..." and Jon just nodded and kept a steady trot alongside Brett and Maria in conversation, and I am sure I did as well, but that moment kinda stopped me. I am a writer. I know this. I write here nearly every day. I have books with my name on the spine. I write articles for magazines and online news media blogs for two countries but when I hear or see someone point to me and say "writer" it still seems kind of odd. Like as if someone handed me three balls and I kept them in the air long enough they called me Juggler.

I understand if anyone out there desires to be a writer, I sound like a total dick right now. That is not my intention.

I am honestly being incredulous. I never meant to be a writer. I never took writing courses, or went to writing workshops or events. I never opened a single copy of Writer's Journal or anything like that. In high-school I was invited to go to the Pennsylvania "Governor's School" summer session for writing, but I turned it down because I was 16 and had a boyfriend and I wanted to hang out with him and watch Buffy and travel to South Dakota for a few weeks. I didn't want to sit in a college and write.

My first book was picked up by a publisher because one night on the phone with my friend Raven (an Idaho to Maryland conversation) she told me I should write a book about backyard homesteading as a renter. So that weekend I googled "How to publish a non-fiction book" and got the news I needed to submit a proposal with a writing sample. Okay. Check. I went to a book store and saw books about homesteading and farming and wrote down their names, went to those publisher's websites, and Storey happened to list exactly what they wanted in a book proposal. So I followed that, designed it pretty, and sent it in. I got an email back in five days from the woman who would become my future editor.

It happened because I asked. Things only happen if you ask.

So here I am, a few years down the pipe and I'm now a full-time writer. I love writing. I can't imagine going a day without it. I find I am always writing, or wanting to share stories and feelings and ideas. It's become such a focus in my life it constantly surprises me. I find myself taking notes for blog posts on my hands in black pen ink, or writing first sentences on my iPhone's notepad so I can remember it. It's a craft I feel stalked me from the bushes and jumped me. Writing has made me its bitch and I'm now branded as a steer's rump with my occupation. Happily so.

And so on Jon's porch I was a writer last night, and I think I finally believed it when I heard it. No one slammed their hand on the table and called me on it. Not even me, and that was the first time. How about that?

my new truck

Barn Raising Tales: Part 1

The last two days have seen so much activity. I woke up Friday morning at dawn to start preparing for the tasks ahead. A workshop was being hosted here on Saturday and between then and there was a large order of chickens to pick up and set up in the outdoor brooder, a large farm lawn to mow, regular chores to be accomplished, a house to clean, food to cook, and a barn and chicken tractor to build.

Brett arrived at 9:30AM towing a red two-horse trailer and his big Ford truck. The trailer didn't hold a horse, though. It was going to carry Atlas, Ashe, and two Cotswold ewes instead. The four sheep were part of a large livestock barter for the help and expertise building Jasper and Merlin's new home. Brett would also end up leaving with a cage of laying hens (adults), ten Freedom Ranger chicks, and the frozen body of the chicken he slaughtered at the demonstration. In exchange (with the help of the Daughton Boys) a pole barn frame would be hoisted up with rafters and a tin roof.

I remember looking at that pile of wood in the driveway, and wondering how we were going to move 16 ft beams and 12 foot rafters by hand? How could we possibly get it all done? I had forgot to specify that the posts be pressure treated, and that was not a slight omission. How would they not rot in the ground and send the structure toppling over in 4 years? Between the gravity of these concerns and the childlike understanding of the amount of work ahead, I didn't think too much. I decided just to go with the flow, sign the checks, and do as I was told. Brett knew what the barn and wood needed. He knew how to fix and mend mistakes. And I decided if I just trusted the guy there might be a four-posted barn without siding in my woods by sundown. So we got to work.

As we loaded up into my Dakota Brett mentioned, off hand as all get out, that there was something for me in the back of his truck. I didn't think anything of it really. I was grateful but surprises between us have been fairly common. I'd hand him a turkey, he'd hand me a bag of bacon and ham steaks next visit from his pigs. We don't keep score, it's as natural a system as tributaries.

 First up was a trip to the work site. I showed him the four post-holes the Daughton Boys had dug, and the stone wall behind the old foundation taken down with a sledge hammer to grade. Then There was the area brush hogged to put in fences. He seemed pretty okay with these best-laid plans and the next step was a trip to the hardware store in Cambridge to buy the nails, screws, hardware, and random supplies that would turn that previously mentioned stack of boards into a home for 1600 pounds of horse flesh. He bought a bucket of roofing tar, a big bucket, and decided that would be our weather-proofing method for the 3 feet of post going into the ground. After the hardware store and grocery store (gotta feed this work crew) I had sunk somewhere around $485 in the barn. (In the world of large outbuilding construction, that is quite a small amount.) And only possible because of the help of Brett and a very-brave 16-year-old boy in the rafters nailing down tin roof about twice his age. More on that bit later... When Brett and I got back from our errands it was already 11AM and the Daughton boys and their mother, Cathy, were already there finishing up last touches on their post holes and brush hogging the fence line. That mixture of boys talking, the mower's roar, and the engine turning off on the Dodge were music to my ears. I took the groceries inside and Brett started walking tools and the bucket-o-pitch to the work site. We were going to build a barn, folks. This was actually happening.

As I headed up the hillside to join everyone in the work of the day, I decided to take a peak in the back of Brett's pickup truck. I was curious. I couldn't help myself. Inside the F250's bed was a vintage pony cart, red as a cherry with a wooden seat and floor. No foolin.

This would be a day to remember, and it had barely started...

photo by jon katz

Saturday, June 16, 2012

barn raising 2012

photos by seth daughton!

Friday, June 15, 2012

going up...

Today: a barn starts

This here is a $288 pile of pine boards. It was delivered yesterday by the fine folks at Windy Hill Sawmill and it is resting in this whorey, Not-Brett-Approved pile in the grass. I'm waiting for the Lumberjack to get here and show me how to build a pony shed for the horses. I bartered three ewes and Atlas the ram for his help, and when he leaves Sunday he'll have a starter flock and I'll have a pony home for Merlin and Jasper (Future BFFs).

We might even get the fence and gates up today, too, if all goes as planned. Brett's coming down from the Lake Placid area to help teach and demonstrate his chicken tractor building skills for tomorrow's Meat Bird workshop. But today isn't about chickens, it is about horses, and we are going to turn this pile of wood into a frame and rafters and tin roof. I did buy the wood but we are salvaging roofing from around the farm, from old scrap piles. I already got the site prepped with the help of the Daughton Boys who dug the post holes and helped level the stone wall and brush hog the fenceline.

I have a feeling it is going to be a long day, and it starts now with running to the post office to pick up 50 Freedom Ranger chicks with Gibson.

I used to be leaving for the office right about now, just a year ago I worked every Friday. Now I am jumping in the truck again, but to spend the day working in the sun building a few horses a condo and transporting boxes of poultry. I am happy with how things are working out.

Here's to a weekend of friends, fowl, hammers, lumber, and the occasional flying arrow or two!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Help Jerri, Mission Small Business

Friend and blog supported, Jerri Bedell, is the owner of a small business called Homesteader Supply. It's a business of love and growth towards a more sustainable life. It's the kind of online store that covers everything from milking pails to solar powered lights and certainly my type of place to shop.

Jerri had a favor to ask. She just created a specialty cheese press, one she designed herself to fit the needs of a home cheesemaker. She had so many issues and changes required of commercial presses, she decided to just go ahead and create a press herself! You can read more about it or order it by clicking here, or clicking on the image above. Here is a quote from Jerri on why she went ahead and made this beautiful thing:

"Basically, I really didn't like the cheesepresses out there, difficult to use, and some actually fall apart from the exposure to water. So I found an experienced local woodworker with large professional shop to be able make them fast and perfect each time so we won't have backorders waiting for production... together we designed ours to overcome the problems with the others."

It is so easy to use, probably will last a lifetime with care (continued oiling through the years)."

So that new cheese press, I am happy to share the news about it. And I also wanted to ask you guys to consider helping a business such as Jerri's out. You don't have to spend a dime to support her own home-based business dreams. See, Jerri is working hard to get a grant from Mission Small Business to continue following her own dream of developing and promoting new homesteading goods like her hardwood cheese press and such. If you log onto this program, and search for Homesteader's Supply, you can click a button and vote for her company to get support. It will take a few seconds and cost you nothing at all, you simply log in with your Facebook account and hit vote when Homesteader's supply comes up in the search. (You need to put the apostrophe in Homesteader's for it to show up as a search return!) If she can get 250 votes she has a chance towards this grant to grow, save, and comfort this homesteading business and I hope some of you are willing to help out with your clicks! I voted!


annie hates summer

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Support CAF, Sign up!

Last chance to sign up for any of these workshops listed below. Some only have one or two spots left. I encourage anyone out there who is considering a workshop to come on over, reserve a spot! It would be a blessing and a gift at this time! More details on any of these workshops can be found by hitting the button to the right with the crow and fiddle! To snatch these spots up, please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Backyard Meat Chickens (this saturday!): 2 spots left!
Fiddle Camp: 3 spots left!
Antlerstock 2012: just two spots left!

Beekeeping 101: 8 spots
Candles & Soap: 5 spots
Farmer's Horse: 6 spots

Also, weekend farm stays, short internships, personal lessons, personal classes, and more available. Just ask and email.

my dogs jump

A lot of people teach their dogs not to jump up as a greeting. I do not. I adore it when I come home and Gibson leaps up on his back feet and wraps his front legs around my hips and holds on. It's a canine hug, and he means it. He lays his head against my chest and looks up into my eyes and his tail wags and I grab him around the ribs and hold tight. I am pro dog hugging. It makes me feel good.

I read today that dogs are the only animals, other than primates, that can read human emotions through faces and actions. Other domesticated animals will come to the people that feed and comfort them if they cry or seem despondent, but apparently the science says that only dogs and primates can look at your face and understand, make decisions about their interaction with you based on your eyes, face, laughter, tears.

I don't raise this point to argue, or to invalidate the compassion of your cat, parrot, horse or raccoons or whatever. I am sure your animals have comforted you as well. I raise it because I have spent my entire adult life in the company of dogs, always 2 or 3. Sometimes my living room has 200 pounds of dog and 25 pounds of feline all sharing the box fan and it is as serene a scene as waves hitting the shore. We all live together, and we know each other. We know our boundaries and quirks, voices and needs. We have our own routines and habits. And yesterday and this morning some anxiety and worry took over and I walked into a room, probably weighing an extra hundred pounds of radiating stress. I'm worried, folks. About a whole bunch of things. A lot of the pieces of leaving my desk job aren't falling into place. Loopholes in contracts, delays in payments, just everyday issues really. But enough to make you wake up at 3:30 AM and not fall back asleep.

Anyway, so I walked into a room, feeling all this. And Gibson simply lifted his head from his paws, stood up, and walked over to me with decision on his face. He didn't bark, or wine, or ask anything of me. He just lifted himself off the ground and wrapped his paws around me and held on. I held on to him, too. I kissed his little black head and told him he was a good boy.

I am very glad my dogs jump.


This first week has been strange. It's odd, and I'm not sure I'm doing it right yet. Honestly, it feels like a long weekend, or a vacation off. It doesn't feel like a business or a serious writer's home. I have open word docs, new chapter outlines, and design projects in progress. I am working with readers to set up workshops and fiddle camp barters. Yesterday a pack of eager college students arrived for a farm tour and talk (wasn't I just a college student?!) and today I have a web design meeting with a local artist. I am staying busy, keeping on task, the farm has never had such attention.

And yet I feel like I am pretending. Like it didn't really happen? It feels like in a few days I'll be back at my desk and back to the normal file folders and lunch breaks. But I KNOW that desk is swept clean, and I've been removed from the record sheets. There is no going back right now. I made a decision and I understand that, but I am waiting for it to sink in, or feel real.

Right now everything feels like limbo.

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.