Monday, July 23, 2012

Merlin and Trainer Dave

Dave came over today to accomplish two things: trim Merlin's feet (he's a farrier) and help me with my bossy pony (he's also a great horse trainer). He did both, and by the end of his two-hour visit I was on the back of Merlin, trotting up forest roads and around the mountain with a huge smile on my face and my boy sporting a brand new pedicure. It was such a joy to have my horse back, to be moving across the landscape as a team and not fighting in the road. I learned so much today, and I want to tell you all about it.

Dave started with ground work. Teaching Merlin to respect his space and get out of his way. His tool for this was nothing more than a piece of plastic on a carriage whip, but it did wonders. Fifteen minutes of following orders on the ground (with lots of helpful explanation from Dave) and Merlin was a calmer, quieter, pony. I was amazed at this and pieces of things I was watching on videos and reading in books were coming together right in front of my eyes. A good horse in the hands of a good trainer is a beautiful, beautiful, thing.

After we did the flag-based ground work in a circle, Dave took him up and down the road on his lead rope, driving him ahead of him and controlling his direction with his trusty plastic bag on the stick. Merlin behaved so much better around Dave, and for a lot of reasons. Mostly because Dave knew exactly what buttons to push and started him out on the ground establishing himself as herd leader. That groundwork, I am quickly learning, is the gold standard of horse training. Everything starts on the ground and leaping up on Merlin and expecting to be a cowgirl was a recipe for disappointment. He and I both need that communication time on solid footing. The learning curve here is straight up, folks.

After much success with him on terra firma, we gave Merlin a break from training for his hoof trimming. Dave worked right in the front lawn, checking and clipping his feet while talking shoes and tack. Merlin is barefoot and Dave thinks he is doing well without shoes and unless I start driving him to town every day he should do well unshod. I agreed. Merlin stood like a statue for him, calm as a monk in deep zazen. Dave stood back, crossed his strong farrier arms, and said "This is a NICE horse. He's better than you realize. He may need some work, and so do you, but he is a NICE horse." I lit up the front yard with my grin.

After that we both took turns riding him. Merlin really put Dave through his paces but through consistent work we got him out of the driveway, up and around local dirt roads, and I watched a pro put my pony through his paces. I picked up some hints and tips and by the end of the two hours Merlin was doing exactly as I asked of him, little to no fuss at all. We rode better today than ever before and I was grateful.

Here's the two problems with Merlin: lack of foundation work and me. He was given a long break from regular riding (about four years) and then handed a green rider to start with him again. A rider who knew how to trot around a dressage ring with trained school horses but had little experience and confidence around a greener horse out on wild trails. I went from 0-60 in my expectations and now I am learning what it takes to keep up with my goals. It's taking guts, sweat, patience, money and dedication. But today was a huge step in building a healthier partnership with Merlin and learning how to communicate, correct, and convince him to work with me. Dave was amazing, and we already planned to have him come back in a week. We're going to ride Western next Monday, a first for me.

So stay tuned for more horse tales here. The story is far from over! After all, Merlin and I might enter the Washington County Fair in a few months, or at least start driving regularly. His cart is almost ready and I am growing so much out of these experiences. No regrets, only excitement!

Beekeeping 101 Workshop with Meg!

Meg Paska, of Brooklyn Homestead , the beekeeping author and urban farmer of wonder, will be here July 28th for a beginner's beekeeping workshop! This is for all types of farmers, homesteaders, city-dwellers and rooftop adventurers. Bees can live anywhere an 8-framed box can go. Don't be discouraged if you live on a postage stamp lawn in the middle of Queens or a 1/2 acre plot in suburbia. Beekeeping is a great companion to chickens and gardens, a beautiful and natural addition to your food-producing backyard. Meg will cover all the basics, do a demonstration and talk with the Cold Antler Hive and hopefully (bees be willing) we'll do some extracting and everyone can go home with some of that sweet, beautiful, gold.

We'll do a raffle at the event for a complete beginner kit as well. Everyone who attends can enter for this grand prize: a hive body, frames, veil, gloves, smoker, hive tool, beekeeping book, etc. You just need to add the bees, and you can talk to Meg about that. She sells them and Patty over at Livingston Brook Farm is pleased as punch with her NYC bees at her Washington County Farm.

Pack a bagged lunch, there will be plenty of iced, bottled water available for the drinking. If you are coming from out of town and need a place to stay, check out Cambridge's Chamber of Commerce site her for lists of inns and hotels. As all workshops go, starts at 10AM and goes till 4PM. Will include a farm tour, lunch break, and regular joshing and mucking about that we have all come to adore.

Sign up by emailing me, Season Pass members simply let me know you'll be attending.

photo from

Attention, Workshop Folks!

If you are coming to the Soap and Candle Making Workshop this Sunday, please email me at I am gathering the supplies for soapmaking kits and need a final count of folks leaving with soap making supplies. Also, if you are coming to Beekeeping 101 with Meg Paska on Saturday, let me know as well. Looking for a final count as some folks changed dates or upgraded to Season Passes.

Everyone remember to bring a packed lunch! See you this weekend!

always by my side

Gibson and I are always together. We've never spent a night apart, and even when I worked in an office he came with me. He's been with me since he was 8 weeks old, the night I drove him home from the Albany Airport in my old orange Ford pickup. He knows no life but Cold Antler Farm, and spends his days being the kind of dog other dogs can only see in television commercials. He is barely ever on a leash, listens to me at conversation tones and speech, and never leaves my side at a party. He's welcome everywhere I go in my small town—Battenkill Books, the Alexander's hardware store, my bank, the Battenkill river for a swim—he is welcome too.

I should write more about Gibson. He's grown into an amazing dog and my closest friend. I don't know if we'll ever step into a herding trial field together, but he certainly works this farm. He helps me catch chickens, gather sheep, contain lambs, and keeps me warm on cold nights. He rides along in the truck, smiles all the time, and just a look at him and I beam.

Border Collies aren't for everyone, but they are mine.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I'll be the phonograph

deer on cat tranqs and other normal things

This image of "Highland archers" shows an unshod team of kilted hunters springing upon some apathetic deer in the woods. The one on the left is apparently tripping on cat tranqs, since it didn't think to run off until the archer was about to brain him. I saw this image and laughed at it, and then stopped laughing when I realized today was my archery practice. And I wear kilts. And I spend a lot of time barefoot....

And I can't wait for deer season.


Today on the way to our usual team practice, Elizabeth and I were talking. I was telling her about a friend who came to visit a few months ago and was very nervous about germs and ticks. I explained to Elizabeth about this woman's constant washing, body checking and bug sprays, her several shoe changes, refusal to swim in the river or eat food from the farm. I must have sounded totally shocked and Elizabeth said, very patiently, "I don't think you realize how different you are, and how your far from normal your lifestyle has become. And now that you aren't even going to the office, you're REALLY out there." I agreed with her, and thought about the HIghland Archers, and realized I had more in common with them than most people I graduated college with. What do you think it means if the people in woodcuts are more applicable to your Tuesdays than the ones in fashion magazines?

But I'm not that different. I root for the New Directions at Nationals EVERY YEAR (and I sing along). I never miss the Daily Show and Colbert Report. I have Mac-n-Cheese with powdered cheese stuffs in a box in my cubpoard. I get stupid crushes. I own every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and stand by it as the best television show of all time and anyone who disagreed has simply never watched it. I post on Reddit. The Postal Service's song Brand New Colony can still make me run uphill when my legs are shaking. I buy Chinese take out. I swoon over Jamie Fraser. I wanted a pony growing up. I have a degree from a state school I no longer use. I subscribe to Vogue. I love getting a dress on and going out to dinner. I fall in love every five years with such focus and ridiculous loyalty I can't cheat on those people I'm not even dating, because it feels wrong. I bite my nails. I drive horribly (but park awesomely). I've been on It's a Small World in Disneyworld. I think Neil Patrick Harris might very well be the next step in human evolution. I fight with my parents. I have a fridge plastered with stickers and photos. I love romantic comedies that feature Hugh Grant and/or Sandra Bullock and when they are together I feel 13 souped up on sugar and hope. I like concerts and burritos. I love dogs. I drive a used truck I owe more money on than I care to admit. I'm not perfect. I'mnot even that good at farming. I'm a million lightyears from Martha Stewart. I'm not everything you think I am.

But yeah. I don't care if I step in chicken poo barefoot in a kilt while shooting arrows. But if that's your bar for normalcy I was gone a long time ago.

So, woodcuts. A+

sunsets and twinkle lights

Yesterday was such a wonder. It was a day off, in every sense. A day off from fighting with Merlin, from jogging, from archery, and from writing. I called it off as a true Saturday, and with the exception of the usual morning and evening chores, I was a free woman.

My good friends, Patty and Mark were throwing a beautiful outdoor party for their Californian daughter, back for a visit on the east coast. It was a day in her honor, a sort of post-wedding reception for all the friends and family who didn't make it out to Mexico for her Destination Wedding the year before. And what a party it was. Catered with a 200+ chicken bbq, a gold-dusted cupcake tower, sunflowers and daisies as far as the eyes could see, and a live bluegrass band under a tent—what a feast and what a show!

I put on a sleeveless sundress, did my hair, makeup, grabbed a white casting shirt and felt like a Kennedy going to a garden party. Big events like this aren't really a part of my normal life anymore. Either due to distance from the farm (or everyone I know being busy with their own farms) grand levees like this are a scandalous rare treat and this one would be full of younger folks my age visiting from Boston, L.A. and New York City. I was excited to dress up, meet people, dance, and be merry in general.

I was bringing a Gin Bucket, and it was welcomed. For those of the uninitiated, a Gin Bucket is a 5-gallon container (usually a bucket or large cooler) holding the following: ice, lemon lime soda, 2 handles of gin, fresh-squeezed lemons and limes (toss in the halves after you squeeze them), and seltzer or tonic. It is pretty much a mini-keg of Gin and Tonics, and just as lethal. But it is a lot easier pouring giant ladles of the Gin Bucket potion into mason jars then it is serving and mixing 30 people the separate summer mixed drink. So The Gin Bucket came to the rescue in a giant plastic hardware store plastic bucket and Patty and Mark welcomed it behind the bar. No one complained, and all the folks from the West Coast had never had a Gin Bucket ladle before so I think I may have helped spread that disease.

The action was between 2-6PM, and that whole time Ajay was working hard tending barn inside the old threshing barn, making people whatever he could manage from his ten years of restaurant experience (which is anything they wanted). By the time I had my big dinner plate of chicken and pork, fresh rolls, and a cupcake I had to run home to do my chores. When I returned the bulk of the day-time guests had left leaving around fifty people mingling to the stereo, and I saw Ajay in a lawn chair taking in the sunset with a mixed drink. He looked tired and happy. I joined him, Gibson at my side, and we just sat in lawn chairs, (tired and now with a slight buzz) as the sun made its way down behind the valley. Better than television, and enhanced by the soundtrack of Josh Ritter playing over the stereo. The song Girl in the War triumphed into its last verse as the last rays of light hit the hay fields.

That is what contentment feels like.

By night fall the same farm was transformed into a beautiful wedding dance and table area. It lit up with hundreds of tiny white lights and it felt like a firefly after-party, twinkling above people dancing on the lawn barefoot or making their third Cosmo of the evening sing in their bellies. I got to meet new people, dance, sing with my sheepdog, drink, eat and laugh and it was exactly what I needed after a hard week of farming, writing, aiming arrows and training my pony. Patty and Mark put on the dog like no one I've yet to meet and I already told them I wanted my wedding reception there. "For you girl, okay."

Theoretical wedding, of course. No romance in my story right now, won't be for a while I'm sure. But someday, someday friends, I am going to waltz barefoot under those barn lights and hold on with fierce joy to him. He'll feel it too. And even if he never waltzed with a black pony riding dire wolf before, well, there's a first time for everything. Right?


last night, under the lights

Saturday, July 21, 2012


tonight is going to be a night to remember.

Friday, July 20, 2012

progress is slow...

Thursday, July 19, 2012


just breathe

Someone emailed me today, asking for advice about fear. She asked. "When you are afraid, I mean really afraid, what do you do?  Afraid of life. Afraid of how you going to make it. Make the next payment, buy food, the basic fact of taking care of yourself?"

I get scared a lot. I'm scared right now, actually. I quit my job a little over a month ago and things are getting tight, fast. It's up to me to find the revenue to keep this place afloat doing what I love. This is why you see workshops, new ads, or the occasional item for sale. Money is a reality, and I need to earn a living like everyone else. Sometimes I get really worried everyone who reads this blog will just stop reading it, stop coming to workshops, stop looking forward to Antlerstock, and so on. I wake up in the middle of the night, sweating and scared, worried that deciding to make CAF my career was a pipe dream and a mistake. Worried I won't get the book deal I desperately need, and soon. Worried the power company will turn out the lights and the bank will take away my house and truck. I am a positive person, always have been, but I am also human. Fear is real. But we have the power to choose to fight it.

When I get scared I sing the chorus of the same song. I have sang it curled up in my bed at 3AM, tears running down my face thinking about a monster. I sang it when I was too tired or sick to really do outdoor chores, but knew the animals needed me, and this song came out while water buckets sloshed down my pants. I sang it when I didn't know how the mortgage would get paid this past June (first ever late payment, but I made it). I am sure I will sing it again, and soon.

So what's this song? It's called the Chillout Song, from the website of Ze Frank. One of his readers emailed him, asking for an audio hug of sorts. She wanted him to make up a song she could sing to herself when she was scared. Not only did he make up a song for her, he put it on his website and asked other people to send in recordings of themselves singing it. What he mixed together was this, and sent it to the scared woman. An entire online community came together, and the results are beautiful. Try it, if you need it. It helps.

Psst. If you can't listen to the song, try listening on his website, here, or buy it on itunes for one American dollar.

power: ride with us

Power is such a loaded word, isn't it? You can't hear it and not instantly file it away as something fantastical or maniacal. It brings up thoughts of Super heros or Gandalf waving his staff at a dragon. That, or it makes you think of ominous figures like despots, evil bosses, and abusive figures. It seems like a mythical thing, a dangerous thing.

But power isn't any of those things. Magic and abuse are not power. "Power" is nothing more than the ability to turn a decision into an action through a force of will. You want a cookie right now? You have the power to bake a batch, or go to the store and buy some oreos. You also have the power to bite into a Granny Smith instead, if weight is an issue. You have the power to step away from your desk and get some fresh air, take a deep breath, and think about your after-work plans. No one else is in charge of you. If you bought that lie, time to let it go.

You have the power to start a novel, train for your first 5k, go to auditions for your town's play or try to have your first kid. You have the power to ask him to marry you, or to tell the person you love them that you do. You have the power to get out of harmful relationships, negative thoughts, and squalor. If you think this is coming from a person with a perfect life, think again. Darling, I have my own dragons to slay and I'm no Gandalf.

You right now have the power to lose ten pounds, learn the cello, apply for a new job, plant a raised bed garden of winter greens, or take up kung fu. There's no reason, at all, that you can't be doing kung fu in your new garden after your first day of work at your new job in a size smaller pair of Wranglers.

You have the power to change anything you want to change. You just have to make up your mind and decide to do it. Then do whatever it takes to make it happen. The road isn't easy, but the logic is. Now, I'm not saying that everyone who tries, succeeds. But everyone who has succeeded at anything, had to try. You picking up what I'm putting down?

This is all within your ability and do not listen to a single person who tells you otherwise. They are a joke, and the joke is on them. Because no one who forces their negativity down your throat is a happy person, and in the end, the only person their anger affects is themselves. And they can writhe and spit hell all they want. You and me, we can watch them roll in their own filth from the backs of our horses. Anyone who avoids negativity in the name of their dreams can ride with me. We're heading west to camp, following the light.

I think it's important to realize this. That anything you want to work towards you have the power to try, and as long as there is breath in your lungs it's not too late. So many people wish into the air, but they don't try. They never really tried and they are the ones who end up yelling at everyone else. They didn't write down the game plan, get involved in any tangible way with their goals, not matter how small. Do not let yourself become one of these people. If you are one of these people, I invite you to change right now. Hop in the river, clean up your act, and join us. The view is better up here.

So today, try. I know I will.

We have the power.

civil war metaphorical pop music? YES.

on the lam

George escaped from the house last night only to get stuck in the netting around the potato patch ten minutes into his Freedom Ride. Gibson discovered him (I think it made his year) and then he threw up a mayonnaise packet.

Fun never stops around here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I Don't Read This Blog
By Raven Pray Bishop

I've returned safely home from my visit with Jenna. In the time I was at CAF I milked a goat, shot a bow and arrow, made soap, swam in the Battenkill and fell in love with baby lamb Monday. These are memories I will keep forever of one of the rare, few and far between times I get to see my friend of ten years in person. I so appreciate her hospitality—and delicious homemade bread—over these past few days. With my new arrival on his or her way, who knows when we'll have this chance again?

At Antlerstock we farm-goers were sitting around the campfire and someone asked how I met Jenna. I think the story is very telling about our girl, so....once upon a time...

One day, all around our college dorm were fliers advertising Yoga Club. I'd been dabbling in yoga through high school and was excited to meet others who were interested, so I planned to be there at the place and time specified on the word-and-clip-art flier. Several days later, the fliers disappeared—vanished as though they never existed. Soon, however, new fliers took their place, this time for Knitting Club. Curiouser and curiouser, they had the same format and were scheduled for the exact same time and place as Yoga Club. So I changed my plans and arrived at that third floor dorm room, needles and yarn in hand. When I arrived, I found the room littered with cast-aside knitting paraphernalia and everybody was doing yoga. The girl leading the group (I think you know who this was) explained that she was told that she could not start yoga club because she was not a certified yoga teacher, so “Knitting Club” began in its stead.

It's this same “I'll find a way” attitude and perseverance that has led Jenna to follow her dream here to CAF. The knitting-yoga girl has grown into a woman whose vocabulary does not include the words “I can't” and this is why I believe people read this blog—to be inspired by her abominable spirit and to watch the amazing things that can happen with we give ourselves over to the “Of course I can” way of life.

But I don't read this blog.

When I tell people this, they can't believe it. But I don't read it because I get it “unplugged”. Since Tennessee (before Idaho), I've been one of Jenna's first-responders to the trials and tribulations of chasing and building this dream. I've been there for the elated, breathless phone calls when things went right and the late-night, tear streaked phone calls when they didn't. In her books and in her blog she writes with such a steadfast and humorous aplomb that it's easy to forget that this grounded perspective comes with a price paid in blood, sweat, tears and stress. Case in point—the instances of the dogs eating the chicks and the caged queen bee in Made From Scratch, when they happened live and unplugged, were downright traumatic. And when you know someone like I know Jenna, and you listen to a voicemail laced with tears and panic, you are reminded of that price she's paying each day to live this dream of hers.

I do have to say that these pained phone calls happen less and less these days. Lately, when I get the farm updates during our weekly phone calls, most mishaps, scares and tragedies are reported with the humor and perspective that happen when one comes into their craft and starts to get a rhythm. She's come a long way since the “ Raven, do you think it's crazy for me to write a book?” conversation. I think our girl's growing up, and I couldn't be more proud.

We have found ourselves living the lives that we giggled and whispered about over late night tea and candles in our dorm rooms. Both of our resumes tout achievements that are rare for women our age. Getting here, for both of us, is a story best told not through resumes, books and blogs, but through text messages, voicemail and three-hour phone calls. We've grown up and we've grown in separate directions, but through the years we've grown to trust we're always here at the end of the phone line to bear witness to each other's trials and joys. To give perspective—everybody needs that person who's going to say “cut the crap” as much as she says “way to go”.

Now we are entering the time in our lives where it's not about resumes and achievements anymore. We're playing for keeps here—she's full time on the farm now and I'm changing my name to Mommy—both labors of love that we've been pining for since we can remember; both requiring strength, perspective, dedication and spirit. It's a beautiful but scary threshold we are standing at now, and I'm thankful to know that we have each other—to know that I have a friend that is a voice of reason, an inspiration and a cheerleader.

It's sometimes easy for us to read a book or a blog and lose sight of the real person tapping away on the keyboard at the end of a day of real-life stuff. But aren't we lucky that there's someone who will share this life with us, inspiring us through that same yoga-knitter “I'll find a way” attitude that those old word-and-clip-art fliers foretold? I think we are.

But I'm still not going to read the blog, Jenna. I'll keep getting my CAF news unplugged.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

unrelated paragraphs

One of the biggest changes since leaving my office gig has been my attitude towards cleanliness. The house is cleaner than it has ever been, but my showering goes days between soap ups. before you cringe in your desk chair, here is why: rivers and rain. Last night a storm came through while practicing at a target in my backyard and I got soaked. I mean SOAKED. My motto: when you are falling, dive! So I took off my kilt and shirt, and sat down in the rain behind my house. I think it was my first ever time on green grass naked in the rain. Talk about a real shower... It was bliss. I got totally cleaned off from sweat and grime and went to bed content as a tired coyote. You could hear me purr from route 22.

The first crop of fiddles came to my door today. Five large boxes of Cremona Student models were waiting, each with their own case, bow, and rosin cake inside. I opened one up and felt as excited for its new owner as I was the first time I held my own fiddle. I got the bridge set up, the strings in tune, and rosined the bow and was thrilled at the quality of it. Compared to my first fiddle these were museum pieces. The long strokes of the bow were sweet after a day driving to Albany in a truck without air conditioning. 97 degrees and farm work I am okay with. 97 degrees and Albany I am not. I never was that into concrete and volume.

Hot days this week. I spend them all farming, writing, riding, shooting arrows and running. This place is a medieval boot camp, but I am feeling the healthiest I have felt in months. I got my highest score of the summer at the last team practice, double what I started with. It's amazing seeing what a few months of practice can teach the body and mind. Now when I aim an arrow, it matters.

Merlin and I train nearly every day. He and I made some progress today thanks to a garbage truck, but that's another story. We will ride on. If he think he can out-stubborn me he's got the wrong girl.

Storms on the way, followed by fireflies. I am ready for the barn.

Go Against the Grain with me!

Homemade bread is a staple at this farm. It is as naturalized in my environment as other native kitchen species like dark roast coffee, raw milk, and freezer chickens. My bread machine is pretty basic, just my two hands and the will to knead. My supplies are a bowl, a large spoon, and a few choice ingredients. Together this human animal and her learned skill has made this farmhouse smell like heaven and nourished my body and soul. I'm pro carbs around here. As the saying goes, happiness weighs more.

And yet, I recently decided I wanted to add another level to this love affair. I want to grow my own wheat right here in my own garden. Not a lot, not amber waves, maybe an amber raised bed? And not only do I want to grow it. I want to harvest it, mill my own flour, and make a broom from my own straw. I understand that we live in a time when bread is just a few dollars a loaf, waiting for us in plastic wrap at the grocery store. But I also understand how many preservatives, chemicals, diesel, and dangers go into something so wholesome produced so commercially. I want to go against the grain (pun intended, with gusto) and make this basic food from the ground up, something few people do. It'll be a lot more work, but a lot more rewarding. I'm certain of that

I want to do this, and I want to do it with you.
Keep reading, this is about to get real, people.

I want to make my first grain harvest OUR first grain harvest. I want to share in the journey from seed to bread together, as a community all over North America and beyond. I want to learn right along side you, with all of you there to get dirty, laugh, and support me along the way.

So here is the plan: We will plant in the spring, basic wheat, spelt, or whatever grain you prefer and follow our progress through next year's growing season. Then, at the very beginning of next August we will all gather with some of our dried wheat (stalks, head, and all) here at Cold Antler and learn the ancient skills associated with these humble grains together. We'll mill our own flour, of course, but we'll also learn to use the straw for crafts like broom making or hat weaving. It'll be a day of celebration and harvest, stories shared here in the farmhouse of our adventures "bringing in the sheaves."

So Join me in this! Anyone who wants to plant and read the story here, certainly can. But for those interested in another level of dedication and in supporting Cold Antler Farm can go against the grain right along side me in our own membered club. I am officially starting my Against The Grain Society right now. The Society is a combination of everything CAF has ever offered, online writing, a book, supplies and a workshop here at the farmhouse. Sign up for the price of an enhanced workshop ($160) and get the following:

• One pound of organic wheat seed in a cloth sack
• A copy of Storey's Homegrown Whole Grains by Sara Pitzer
• An invitation to The Society's Harvest Party here at the farm next Fall
• And a membership card with the special address for our own Society blog.

(CAF Season Pass members only need to pay for supplies and shipping)

That site will be a place to share recipes, post photos of our crops, support each other with advice for the garden or kitchen, and then harvest together as an online clan. This special site also means that you don't need to come to Cold Antler for the in-person workshop to be in the club. Instructions on buying a home grain mill, harvesting your seeds, making brooms... all of that will be available on the secret blog. We will plant in the spring in our "fields" (raised beds and gardens!) and follow the story together.

If you want to join the society, or give it as a gift, sign up by emailing me at - You can expect your membership kit of organic seeds, party invitation, book and instructions by August 1st of this year. Now, off to the fields with you!

Monday, July 16, 2012

pony chess

Merlin and I are going through a phase, and it is akin to a spoiled toddler getting everything he wants and just hearing the word "No." The first ride with Merlin was paradise, but ever since that incident with the bear (or whatever spooked him) he learned that balking and putting up a fight means getting his way. We have been playing pony chess ever since. He tries one move, then I try another. I call it "pony chess" because I remember reading about what Jon Katz called "border collie chess" with his dogs, who constantly test and outsmart him in a game of wits. Here's the horse version.

Example 1:
Yesterday he wouldn't go up a road because it involved a hill he didn't feel like going up. He stopped, that was his move.

My move: I turned him around the way he wanted to go (towards home, easy to do) and then backed his big rump up that hill! It took us 15 minutes with breaks and such, but I didn't give up.

Example 2:
He didn't even want to go down the road yesterday. Didn't even want to leave my driveway. That was his stupid move.

My move: I lunged him, walked him down the road, mounted him and rode him back home (which he wanted to do) but then stopped and got him to turn around and start walking away from home. That was a victory of patience, and I should have stopped there and called the day a small success. But I started feeling cocky and decided to ask him to go back off the main paved road to our usual dirt road trail.

Last Example:
His move: He would not go up that road.

My move: Ask with more force, use crop.

His move: Bucking and Kicking, No MEANS NO!

My last move: I stopped him hissy fit. Made him stand. Dismounted, and called Dave and Milt, local horse trainers, to come show me how to show him who's boss, safely.

So we will get through it. I'm not giving up, not stopping work with him, and I am not scared of that blowhard. I just need to be patient and learn how to make my point without causing his hissy fits. And maybe what he needs is a trainer to ride out those fits and STILL get what he wants. Merlin is testing me, probably for a mixture of reasons. But I did not get this horse to look out. We will ride again as a team soon, it'll just take some hard work, stubbornness, and magic and I got plenty of all three.

P.S. That image from yesterday was taken by Raven, a friend who is visiting the farm now. I do not have folks who document the blog for me, like someone asked, but I do hand friends cameras when they arrive! Raven will be posting a guest post later. She's known me ten years, pre and post farmer, and thought you guys would like some back story.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

merlin and i have some things to work out...

Drunk Rabbit (serves 5)

To make a satisfying rabbit dinner for up to five people, follow this easy recipe I created last night. It is an adaptation of a meal Patty Wesner cooked for Ajay and I a few weeks ago, but a little less refined. It still tastes great and makes a hearty meal for ladies and lumberjacks alike.

1 rabbit (2-3 pounds, fryer sized)
a bunch of garden carrots
1 tall can of Guinness
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup of olive oil
garlic salt
package of egg noodles
pepper to taste
flour (for thickening meat broth)

Place your rabbit in the crockpot, the whole thing (bones and all) and cover it with the can of draught and the 1/2 cup of oil. Place carrots all around it and sprinkled some garlic salt over it. Set it on low for a few hours (4 here) until the meat is falling off the bone. You are almost done!

Remove the meat from the bone and set bones aside for broth/compost/chicken treats. Place meat back in the juicy beer broth and add your 1/2 stick of butter and a bit of flour to create a creamy texture, like a gravy to your rabbit stew. When you've added enough flour to make your sauce more like said gravy, you did it. You just made some drunk rabbit stew.

You can scoop it into bowls and enjoy it with some crusty bread or, do like the Wesners do, and boil some egg noodles and serve it like a form of farm house stroganoff. If I serve it over egg noodles, I always add butter and garlic salt to the noodles before I serve rabbit over them.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Seed Winners Are!






Last Chance to Win Your Own Fall Garden!

Got word from Scott over at Annie's Heirloom Seeds today. He asked if I'd be interested in a Fall Garden Seed Giveaway? Of course! He's offering five winners a collection of over a thousand seeds to plant in mid-to-late July for harvesting up into snowfly, even in northern climates. The package of seven veggies includes carrots, beets, sugar snow peas, cabbage, spinach, lettuce and broc. What we think of as spring gardening can also be fall gardening, or as I call them "shoulder veg" since you grow them at the shoulder seasons.

If you'd like to be entered to win one of the FIVE SEED COLLECTIONS just leave a comment here. If you want to be entered twice, and double your chances at some free seeds, share it on Facebook and let other people know about the contest and come back here and comment SHARED! and you get two names in the hat!

Winners to be chosen TOMORROW! Let's get planting!

Friday, July 13, 2012

You know you're a CAF reader if:

You have watched every single episode of Victorian Farm on YouTube. Twice.

You know the only "fantasy" element of this picture is the stupid horn.

When you see crows in pairs make, you smile.

When you hear the name Maude, you shiver.

You know more about Merlin than your third cousin.

You have considered buying a kilt to weed in.

You have laughed at a dog who hates dolls in windows. A lot.

You know what a "masonade" is.

You have used the word Veryork in conversation.

Iron and Wine is on your play list.

You can name towns that surround Jackson NY, easily.

"Jenna did it and isn't dead yet" has been said in your household.

Can you think of any others?

the bear on the trail

My life is now one where campfire stories are becoming another word for Tuesday - to which I mean adventures are the new normal.

Today on my morning ride with Merlin we had quite the experience. It started out normal enough. We rode over to the neighbor's property, off the main road and up into the clearings and logging roads on that land. We walked over creeks, past brush and deer, and all was lovely. And then when I asked the horse to turn right into a denser bit of wooded trail, Merlin stone-cold refused. He stood all four feet on the ground, ears up and alert, and no crop, heel, or circling could get him past a certain point. I fought him for a while. Fought him in the saddle doing every trick I knew to get him to obey, but he started to buck and crow hop, rear a bit and snort. I finally decided to trust him and we headed back towards the main road. And as we descended down to the pavement I remembered the picture on my Facebook page my neighbor Manya had sent. Bears were on the move. Her photo was from 24 hours earlier and showed a large bear heading up towards my property. I can't say for certain Merlin saw a bear, but when I relayed the story to Patty she said that was exactly how Steele acted around a bear on a trail ride. Seemed legit.

The rest of the ride was pretty much a power struggle. I tried to get Merlin to focus and go where I wanted but after that incident he was not having it. After forty minutes of this we were both covered in sweat and huffing. I finally got him to turn and stand in the direction I wanted to go, dismounted, and then lunged him for a while on the front lawn to reinforce who was the one in charge.

It wasn't a good ride, but it wasn't a bad one either. Merlin did things that the Jenna from this past spring would have panicked, jumped off, and cried over. But I am growing as an equestrian, learning things I would never learn in a domesticated arena. Things like driving a cart, ignoring cars swiftly passing on switchback roads, and avoiding bears in the distance. My riding skills, however new and humble, have sent my confidence soaring. Because I am constantly faced with challenges and slowly overcoming them. It makes me feel strong and alive. I may very well be in for a life with horses. They fix things, like dogs do, but in ways so cavalier and timeless to our history and character that it is its own brand of healing.

Strength aside: being on the back of any horse, even a pony, that is acting scared and bucking is not a comfortable situation. But I stayed in the saddle, kept him under control, turned him around and got him back to my property. In a way it was a damned successful ride. He wasn't biddable but in an extremely stressful situation he didn't chuck me off his back and we stayed in communication the whole time. And we finished on my terms, not his.

This is growth. This is progress. On paper it was a horrible ride, possibly dangerous. But in my gut it was a test and we passed. We had a bad run and rode it out. And the best part was I never felt out of control. I was scared, sure, but I never once felt like that horse and I were going to part ways. It felt more like a jumbled phone conversation, a dropped call, then a recipe for disaster.

Just a few days ago our ride was a dream sequence. The last two days had their bumps and scares. Tomorrow, who knows? But I will be on that horse in the morning and I will do my level best to set us both up for success. We'll take a new direction up the mountain and keep it short and simple. It will go just fine, because I am setting it up to go fine. At least that is the plan...

In other news, Raven is coming to Cold Antler tomorrow! She's staying for a few days and I can't wait to see her and her little stranger. Raven Pray Bishop (yup, her real name) and I were college friends and now her big belly and her are staying at the farm to catch up and visit and such. For those of you who came to Antlerstock last fall, you may remember her? She won't make it this year (The littler stranger arrives around Hallowmas), but she is still making it up here and I am thrilled.

My life is now very open to hosting visitors, but impossible to be a visitor. Too many chores, animals, plants, udders and pets to leave for more than a few hours. It's hard for family and non-farming friends to understand and causes a lot of strife and conflict (I am sure many of you with homesteads, stables, or farms understand this, too) but for those willing to hop a plane or a train they can revel in the land with me. Raven and I will be doing a lot of reveling. I may not have much blogging time, catching up with her and all, but I will announce the seed winners in the evening

Hopefully, bear free.

dream horses and future mentors

A few recent comments from fellow riders here had me wondering about your mounts and stories? How many CAF readers out there have a horse they ride or drive with? Any of you wish you did? What is your horse's name, age, and breed? How about folks who used to ride, I bet you have a tale or two to tell?

Share your horse tales here. I'd like to learn more about you fellow equestrians, ropers and teamsters out there. Share your town and state, if you don't mind. And those of you brand new to horses, check and see if any fellow readers are in your area. Maybe you could set up a visit via email and ask questions and learn from other Antlers out there? The internet is how Patty and Steele found me!

Workshop FAQ

Folks have been asking me about how to sign up for a workshop and other questions. I thought I would address them here. If you are coming for a workshop soon, please read over this as well, as some things have changed for various reasons. But it is still pretty much just you coming to see me hold forth, share ideas, converse with other farmers and homesteaders, and enjoy learning a new skill with new friends! They are the backbone of this farm, specially while book contracts are scarce as Dodos around here, so your support and attendance is literally what keeps this blog and farm alive. I'm grateful to all of you for coming out to the farm. I love sharing it, so much.

Notes and Changes in Workshops:
Most workshops do not allow on site camping, so if you are coming from out of town you'll have to reserve a room at a local Inn or B&B. Find a list of local places to stay here. I suggest the Cambridge Inn or Rice Mansion! Sadly, our big hotel closed and is looking for new ownership. I miss it.

If you are flying in, the closest airport is Albany, and you'll need to rent a car or get a taxi to drive you the 50 minutes north into Washington County.

How do you sign up? It is pretty simple! You just email me at and tell me what workshop you want to register for. Then you pay via paypal and through email we work out details and somesuch.

Assume all fences and gates are electric! No touchy!

95% of workshops are outside, so dress for time outside. Bring raingear, sunscreen, boots, or anything else you aren't scared to get dirty, sweaty, ruined or chicken poo on. All are possibilities.

Children are not allowed at CAF workshops. With large animals, fences with voltage, and no childcare options on site there is too many dangerous things going on to keep a proper eye on curious hands. Also, my insurance people might throttle me.

Bring notebooks, business cards, "outdoor shoes," and musical instruments! Always better to have these things along even if you don't use them, then to not have them if you need them!

You need to pack a lunch now! Sadly, I can't legally feed you since I do not have a licensed USDA kitchen, I can not prepare food for sale. Always bring a cooler to stash and know there is iced bottled water always here if you don't want to bring a drink.

You can buy a Season Pass for the entire year and this allows you to come to EVERY SINGLE event on the farm for a full 12 months for the cost of about three workshops. If you know you'll make the trip for Antlerstock and maybe one or two others, you both save money, have an open dance card with me, and support this farm. And this farm can always use support!

There are no refunds for CAF workshops. They work like a CSA, you pay up front and then it is your responsibility to come and collect the share. Budget is too tight to refund folks, as workshops are paid for months in advance as far as supplies and planning go. (Like yesterday's order of 5 fiddles from a music shop!) If you can not make a workshop, your credit is good towards one in the future!

You use paypal to sign up, and you do not need a paypal account to use the donate button on the blog. It is on the right hand side under the barnheart graphic and regardless if people make a donation or pay for a workshop, both get reported to the IRS as income. They have me well trained, them.

There are only 2 spots left for Fiddle Camp, Soap making, and Beekeeping coming up. The rest of the slots are filled up. There are 7 spots open for the winter writing workshop and 5 for the Farmer's Horse Halloween Party (which I think I am looking forward to as much as Antlerstock!).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Can't win 'em all!

Today's morning ride wasn't as much of a success. We stuck mostly to the road and I forgot my crop, so when Merlin got fussy or stubborn I had little to enforce with save my feet and hands. Me slapping his rump has nowhere near the effectiveness of a quick crop slap on the rump. At one point we were trying to move forward down the road when a neighbor's car came (slowly) and while Merlin could care less about cars it took a few seconds to get him back in the driveway.

The good news is we got a lot of car experience. People coming at us, passing us at a walk. Vans going past as he stood still. There were no forested glens but we did get to do a wee bit of exploring on a new dirt road and had I had a crop I could have got him up into a clearing that looked mighty pretty.

Better luck tomorrow!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

my first trail ride on the mountain

Cold Antler Farm is not a riding stable. There are no stalls, no cross ties, arenas or mounting blocks. But there is the tailgate of a dented Dodge Dakota, a lamppost, and a milk crate. And that was all the infrastructure I needed to head out on my first mountain trail ride with Merlin this morning. It was sublime.

I was scared. I paced about it all morning - with excitement and nerves. Yes, I've been riding him for months, but always with instructors or other riders around. Having other people around made me feel safe, even if it was just emotional insurance. I liked knowing if I got hurt or the horse took off I had someone else to double mount with and ride home. Someone else to help me get my horse back, share in the trouble...

This morning there would just be me and Merlin. There would be no one there to double check his girth or hand me a crop. No one to help me get up if I broke an arm. No one to help me find my lost horse. But if I thought about everything that could go wrong out there I'd go crazy. Who gets into their truck in the morning expecting to get into a head-on collision? No one who functions as a normal person, at least. I didn't want to worry. I wanted to jump on my horse, turn the engine on, and drive.

And that was what I wanted Merlin for: a means of getting across the landscape. By saddle or cart, I wanted alternative, animal-powered locomotion. I wanted to explore with him. Feel leaves brushing against my shoulders on a forest trail. Look up and see birds, watch deer romp ahead of us, take in a deep breath and squeeze in my heels so I could see the world at the pace of a trot. Today was going to be that day, by god.

I loved my time in lessons and in the arena, but this was where my heart was. I wanted to be out where I could just do my own thing, sing to my horse, feel like it was just us out there. It's an escape as much as healing. A way to think things through and think of nothing at all. I feel strong on a horse, confident. He lifts me up, that old boy. I kiss him right on the salt-and-pepper mane and ask him if he is getting all the love he needs? It's the same thing I ask Gibson when he wakes up next to me in the morning. Gibson nuzzles, and so does Merlin. They mean the world to me, those two.

Part of me wanted to wait a few days to ride him, but it was all excuses and I knew it. I had put so much energy, time, and money into learning how to do all this, how to ride. I had been through lessons, trail rides with friends, horse shows even...and now there was just me and my boy. I slid a cell phone in my pocket, strapped on my helmet, and went to the gate to get the lug.

I put on his halter and left the paddock. Jasper was already in another fenced paddock and was not able to handcuff his front legs to the metal gate in protest. Which, based on his wails, was exactly what he wished he could have done. "He'll be back, you big baby!" I said, throwing a hand in the air in dismissal as I walked away towards the front of the house, the only level spot on my property.

I tied a lead rope to the lamppost, loose. He stood nicely while I groomed and checked his feet. Saddling up was a bit, shall we say, interesting? I bought a new girth to use with our old saddle and its new hardware made a jingling sound that, under his belly, made him dance and rear up a bit. It took a while to calm him, but I did, and finished tacking up a few moments later. I had flashbacks to the day I was chucked off his back into a fence due to a loose girth and how scared and freaked out he became at the monster saddle under his belly. I knew what he was thinking, and did my best to calm him. He did calm down.

Once we were saddled up I lead him to my driveway, facing the road. I set the milkcrate by his left side and slid the reins over his neck. I jumped up onto his back and found my irons. And there I was. On my own horse in my own driveway. I listened for cars and when I heard none, I gave him a little heel and we started off on our adventure. I let out a long sigh as we slowly walked into the road. I said a prayer of blessing for whatever was about to happen next, but my Epona charm gleamed in the sunlight around my neck and I had a feeling this first ride was going to be just fine.

The hardest part is getting on. Isn't that always the case?

We walked down the road a short distance, and then crossed at the dirt road that lead to Sheriff Tucker's property. A few weeks ago I walked over and asked permission to ride Merlin on his land, only in the mornings and never when I hear him out there cutting wood or enjoying his won land. He agreed, and I felt rich as a baroness. Not only did I have my horse right in my own backyard, I had a place to ride him that was wild and secret.

The Sheriff has (I think) 130 acres of field and forest and he loves his ATVs. He carved out trails all over his land for them and before 8AM on a weekday we aren't liable to meet anything motorized on a forest path. And we didn't. It was just Merlin and I, walking through the woods together. We crossed open pasture and stream, heard grouse in the woods, and walked and trotted as we explored our mountain together. It was as new to me as it was to him and on that quiet morning it felt like all of America was new and unexplored, and it was up to us to draw up a new, mental cartography. It was exhilarating out there. I felt the way I did when I snuck into the woods at Girl Scout camp as a little girl. I drove my leaders crazy, but I had a blast finding salamanders in creeks while they shouted my name...

Merlin was wonderful out there in the morning woods. He walked calmly and was relaxed enough for the both of us. After a mile or so of trails and exploration, we turned back the way we came and ended up back on my paved road. I decided to walk him down along that for a bit, just a bit. The road was wide and I had not so much as heard a slice of traffic. We walked along the grassy shoulder for about a quarter mile and then he smelled the strong whiff of a dead doe a bit farther down and I couldn't blame him for wanting to balk. For training's sake I made him go a bit more but then turned him around and we headed home, even picking up to a trot as we made the sharp curve that made Cold Antler appear from the trees and back into view.

When we got back to the driveway I had him halt, and dismounted. It takes a lot less time to take tack off a horse than put it on, so it wasn't long before he was brushed out and sent back to his boyfriend. Jasper was thrilled to see him come back. Merlin isn't that into him, but tolerates him.

Tomorrow, we'll ride again. I'm still a bit nervous, but it will get easier. It's worth it soon as you start moving forward in that saddle. Worth all of it.


One the best purchases I made all year was this gadget called Soulra. It is a solar-powered speaker for my iphone and I got it on sale. It's made by the Eton company, maker of high-end crank and emergency radios. But Soulra is not a radio, it's a phone charging station that sends out loud sound across this farm. I can put on the Celtic station on Pandora and the farm is alive with fiddles and pipes. Or, I can put on an audiobook (currently in love with the Emberverse Series. Juniper Mackenzie is my hero!). Since I don't have a television it's like having my own, personal, storyteller and radio stations. I download things from or turn on a Pandora station and suddenly this farmhouse is a campfire or a fiddle festival, all run on nothing more complicated than a small solar panel.*

So there I was in the kitchen, listening to some fine Irish tunes when I turned to look out the window. There was Merlin, standing at the gate of his paddock. I started to cry right there. My Black Beauty, my Anam Chara. So many stories in that one scene, so much hitting me at once. For one, it was a Wednesday morning and instead of sitting at the office, we had just got back from our first trail ride here on the mountain. He still had the shine of sweat on him and in the summer sun, he glistened. He was held back by a gate secured yesterday by Ajay and Patty, after Patty so kindly trailered him over from the boarding stable. That horse barn taught us so much. It trained me and Merlin to be a team, and we even won a ribbon at a horse show there. Patty taught me just as much, and the most important message of all "horsemanship comes from miles in the saddle and hours behind the lines in a cart" and I agree. You learn much in lessons, and you learn a lot in the woods on a mountain too.

And so I look at my horse, and the gate, and think of all those instructors and friends and I cry a little more. I think of Brett and the Daughton boys carrying timbers and building the frame of the pole barn. I think of us stretching fences, running to hardware stores, and sharing stories about our animals and farms over dinner last night.

That black horse outside my kitchen window is so much more than a possession or a pet. He's an entire community of support and encouragement alive in a black mane and steady feet. So many people have touched my life, and grow closer to me, because of that British-born colt who was a stranger when I barely knew myself. And here we are, against odds and reason, past judgment and scolding, sharing our lives at Cold Antler Farm. I adore that horse because of who he is, nothing could be truer. but I also need him because of what he is:


*That sounded like an advertisement, but neither Eton, Pandora, or Apple are sponsors of the blog. I just wanted to share how to have the same experience!

Words & Wool: Saturday December 1

Come to Cold Antler Farm this winter for a special workshop called Words & Wool. It is a knitter's circle and writing workshop dedicated to the small homestead or farmer's blog and the marketing and promotion of it. Come learn straight from the shepherd's mouth how I built, promoted, and expanded my blog. Ask me questions about publishing and writing professionally, learn how to sell or pitch ads and giveaways, bring a sample of writing to talk about and share with the group for a healthy and kind critique. Tell your story with eager ears listening, and a border collie in your lap....At the very least get some ideas for your personal, non commercial blog for your friends and family. It's a day dedicated to expanding your own brand and business, and getting the word out about your own website as another, vibrant, source of income for your farm and family.

And as for the wool? Bring a knitting project! If you are coming along to listen and talk, you might as well have something to work on near the woodstove. Other knitters will be on hand to help, give advice, share patterns and teach you the basics if you are new to the craft. Expect a comfortable day, indoors mostly, at the farm. The class starts at 10AM and goes till 3PM, and if you want to stay after the class for a private party of creamy potato soup and bread fresh from the Bun Baker wood stove you are welcome to it!

Email me if you are interested, cost will be $100.00 for the whole day, and include a farm tour. Please pack a lunch for a midday knitting break. CAF Season Pass members just let me know if you want to come along!

the mother of invention...

I have a headache this morning...

I was told to meet at Patty and Mark's farm by 5 o'clock sharp. I didn't know why, it was a surprise. They emphasized the sharp part, too. (I'm not known for my perfect timing.) But I managed to make it on time and even managed to gussy up into a dress, mascara, styled hair and lipstick. It had been a while since I'd had the occasion to do so and it felt great. Some times all a gal needs is a dress.

We ended up going up to Lake George to eat at a steakhouse and guess who the surprise was? Brett! He drove down from Lake Placid and had a gift bag in hand. So what does a lumberjack get a girl for her birthday? A tree of course. He handed me a fraser fir and explained he always planted a tree on his birthday, it was a tradition.

It was great to see him, and share a meal with everyone at that table. We all ate enough to make puma's envious and I learned how many cosmopolitans was too many. Such a great night. I am so lucky to have this happy pack of wolves around me, and today I get to ride my horse. I'm a little nervous, this is the first time riding him alone outside of the lesson barn, but I am going to do it. We've ridden together for months now and my instructors, friends, and Patty and Steele will be there in spirit. It's a big step for me, that first ride together here.

In other good news, my health insurance application through Empire Medical was approved! So I now have hospital and dental coverage. That was a choice I made when I left Orvis, to apply for state emergency medical care. What that means is if there is any sort of trauma, farm accident, riding accident, car accident, or any sort of reason I end up in the hospital, my bills are covered. It includes things like x-rays and hospital tests and some basic primary care like an annual physical. It's not perfect and it isn't as good as my corporate plan that included prescriptions and vision, but it sure beats nothing. I got both plans through (which was recommended to me from a blog reader, thank you!) which doesn't sell insurance itself, it just is a venue to get the self employed and uninsured in touch with local plans and programs in your state. Kind of like how isn't a bank, but it connects you to them. Anyway, I suggest it to anyone thinking about self employment. My health and dental plans are $175 a month, combined. Not bad.

And since my mother worries: Mom, I didn't go a single day without insurance. My corporate plan ended the last day of June and my current plan started retroactively July 1st! I'm on it, and don't worry.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

jasper meets merlin!

losing arrows

I haven't written much these past few days because I have been dog-paddling with this idea of turning thirty. It surprised me how much it is affecting me, and not in the ways I thought it would. I am not bothered by the number itself. I was always a 42-year-old with a library card in an antique center. It's not vain. What is bothering me is the milestone looking back. Over what has happened since I turned twenty, how much can change in just a decade. How much you can gain, and lose, in such a short time.

I accomplished a lot in my twenties, at least on paper. I wrote books, bought a farm, quit my day job and chased the American Dream into a corner until I smote it with my Stubbornness. I'm proud of this and of everything Cold Antler has become. But you need to realize that what I share here is such a small part of my story, and keep in mind the words of Stephen Levine: "Every person I meet with their shit together is usually standing in it."

Keep that in mind.

My twenties were the vehicle that brought me to where I currently stand, shit and all. I am grateful for them, grateful for all of this. But when I look back at where I was twenty, sitting in a dorm room with a Jetta parked outside in the student lot, reading issues of Comm Arts while trying to memorize serif fonts for a TYpography test to...well, my thirtieth Birthday? Today I'm going to bring a rare breed British dream pony to my own farm in upstate New York. The lines of connection between there and here involve five states, three jobs, and two broken hearts.

I woke up this morning, started a pot of coffee, and wrote a thousand words for my current manuscript between chores and dog walks. I spent time outside feeding baby turkeys, watching a chick follow her mother to the feeder, held a 6-week-old bunny in my hands, milked a happy goat, and then sank into my hammock with a bottle to feed Monday. I felt the chill morning wind on my bare legs and unshod feet. I was swaying in a plaid sun dress, a baby in my arms...

That is exactly what happened this morning and to many of us that sounds like paradise, but this farm is just one piece of the story. I fell asleep the night before crying. These past three years have been the hardest of my life, and not because of bucking hay bales. They've been hard because I spent most of my twenties, and all of my years writing this blog, dealing with anxiety, body issues, fear, and guilt. I lost people I thought I would never lose. I aimed too high, shot too far, and lost some arrows. It happens. I hope it happens less as I get older.

I think my story is no different than anyone else's. Our twenties are about becoming the adult we want to be. They are about finding your footing, getting established, taking risks and falling in love. We make mistakes, learn from them, and hopefully figure out the important distance between guilt and regret.

For my birthday I am giving myself the best gift I can, and it isn't a pony. I'm allowing myself to let go of that decade's ghosts and just be happy. I have all the ingredients, all the abilities to do this. I really believe it's a choice you have to make every single day. To wake up, accept yourself and your life, and choose to be a positive, grateful, useful, and kind part of the world instead of a detractor from others. I want to surround myself with encouragement instead of competition. I want to protect myself from anyone else's fear, guilt, or anger. I want to learn to heal up broken pieces of myself with the long, black, mane of a good horse and my arms around a good dog, and maybe, just maybe, if I let enough light in, a good man.

As for those things that keep me up at night? Well, I'm sure they still will, at least for a while. But as time and good things come to pass you forget middle names and dates of import and you focus on what is in your own hands instead. You focus on good work, and creativity, and make it your goal everyday to make someone else smile, make their life a little easier, and tell people you love them that you do. Tell them over and over because no one can hear that too many times. No one.

In my thirties I want aim true, shoot the proper distances, and lose less arrows in the tall grass. I want to love myself, and others, and find out what it is like to live in this world without looking over your shoulder at the things I can't change. It will take time, but I think the effort will be worth it. I hope you stick around to see it all happen, keep reading, keep encouraging, and I will do the same. Much to come folks, much.

Fireflies, thunderstorms, and crows in pairs,


Monday, July 9, 2012

run dogs, run!

There are few things as beautiful as watching Siberian Huskies, even old ones, run free and off leash through the woods. They become wolves within minutes, but happy ones. Tails high in the air they shuck and jive, dart and bark. I watched them with nothing short of bliss in my heart. I swear Jazz can smile, and as he trotted past his eyes caught mine with a huge grin on his face.

We were out in the pasture that was nearly ready for tomorrow's arrival of Merlin. I finished the fencing, cleaned out the rusty metal and old nails, and the three-mile charger had been collecting sunshine for three cloudless days. Since it was a big, wooded, area with a strong fence (the electric was off) I let the three dogs run around in it while I checked the poly rope lines and sang out loud.

better late than never

This is my last day of my twenties. Tomorrow I turn thirty and to celebrate, Merlin is moving home to the new paddock here at Cold Antler. It took three decades but I finally got a pony for my birthday.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

found this guy hiding in my garden...

new additions!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

last day for questions!

If you have a question about me, the farm, homesteading, livestock or the future of backyard farming in general, ask me a question and I will do my level best to reply right here in the comments!

Rabbit Q&A with Samantha Johnson!

I have been getting requests via email and blog comments for more information and advice on raising rabbits. I saw some comments in a fairly recent post about them from this author, Samantha Johnson, and asked her if she would agree to do an interview here on the blog. I hope this helps answer some of your rabbit questions, and please feel free to ask more questions in the comments section. Hopefully Samantha will take care of your concerns there, and if not, I'll do my best. There's a big rabbit workshop here at the farm in August, and if you are hankering for some hands on time with the buns, that will be the day to come! Enjoy this interview!

1. Why should people consider raising backyard rabbits along with their chickens and veggie gardens? 
 In my opinion, one of the most compelling things about raising rabbits is that they are suitable for rural and urban areas alike. Having raised rabbits since childhood, I can attest to the fact that rabbits are one of the easiest types of livestock to maintain; requiring minimal time and space. At the same time, raising rabbits is a rewarding endeavor, regardless of whether the rabbits are raised for meat, wool, or fancy (show) purposes.
2. For beginners, total beginners, what can they expect to spend to get started? How many rabbits should they buy?
It’s a lot less expensive to get started with rabbits than it is to get started with many other types of livestock! The actual investment will vary, depending on the type of equipment (will you create your own hutches or will you buy cage kits?) and the breed of rabbit that you choose. The small fancy breeds are often more expensive than some of the larger breeds, although this doesn’t always hold true. I always suggest starting with just a few rabbits. Get a trio (one buck and two does of the same breed), and introduce yourself to the world of rabbit keeping without overwhelming yourself with too many rabbits. It’s easy to increase your rabbit population, so it’s safe to start small. I would say that you could easily get started with a trio of rabbits for under $300 (including equipment), and possibly much less. Another option is to choose a few (three or four) rabbits of varying breeds and sizes; this way you can acquaint yourself with a variety of breeds and then evaluate which breed best suits your needs and preferences.
3. What breeds do you suggest?
That will vary depending on your situation and your plans for the rabbits. I have dabbled in a number of breeds over the years from Rex to Jersey Wooly, but I currently focus on Holland Lops and Mini Rex, mainly because I love their size, which is small and easy to handle. I’m also very fond of Dutch rabbits. For anyone with an interest in raising breeding stock or showing at ARBA shows, then a popular breed (Netherland Dwarf, Mini Rex, or Holland Lop) can be a great and rewarding choice. If you are looking to raise meat rabbits, then Californian, Florida White, and New Zealand Whites are commonly chosen and have proven themselves without question. For fiber endeavors, you will need one of the Angora breeds (check out my article on this topic here []). If you want a top-notch, family-friendly breed, the Dutch is a fantastic choice. And if you strictly want an endearing companion with personality plus, you can’t go wrong with a Holland Lop. They are incredibly entertaining.
4. Can you describe the time period from breeding your doe and buck to rabbit stew? How long does it take to raise meat rabbits?
It’s generally a pretty quick process in comparison to other types of livestock. The average gestation for a doe is 28 to 33 days, averaging at 31 days. The length of time from birth until “stew” will vary from breed to breed, but 8 to 12 weeks is common. (Admittedly, this isn’t my area of personal expertise; I keep fancy rabbits.J)
5. What are some of the advantages to rabbit meat or rabbit wool over a backyard egg business?
 A backyard rabbit business can be less labor-intensive than a backyard egg business, which can be a definite benefit.
The rabbit manure is undoubtedly another benefit—in terms of organic fertilizer for your garden, it’s hard to top the quality of rabbit manure. Some gardeners go so far as to say that it’s the best fertilizer you can find. Rabbit manure is extremely high in nitrogen and phosphorus, and while many other types of manure are also high in nitrogen, not all are good sources of phosphorus.
6. Why are Americans generally so squeamish about eating rabbits?
 I think a big part of it is simply that rabbit meat is just not as common. Chicken, beef, and pork abound, and they have achieved mainstream normalcy. Rabbit meat has just not achieved that same level. Or maybe it’s the popularity of characters like the Easter Bunny, Bugs Bunny, and Peter Rabbit. From an early age, we subconsciously learn that bunnies are sweet and fluffy and lovable, and it’s sometimes hard to reconcile that image with meat on a dinner plate.
7. Any last advice? Words of wisdom?
 Do your best to select healthy rabbits of high quality. This will ensure that you start your rabbitry off on the right foot and can save you a lot of trouble and anxiety down the road. Don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions before purchasing, and avoid making hasty decisions. Avoid any rabbits with runny noses or eyes, and look for rabbits that are in good body condition with alert expressions and healthy coats.
And most of all: enjoy your rabbits! Raising rabbits is a rewarding and enjoyable pursuit—they are pleasant to care for and never fail to bring smiles. There are thousands of rabbit enthusiasts across America, why not join the fun?
About Samantha
Samantha Johnson is an award-winning writer and the author of several non-fiction books, including How to Raise Rabbits, The Field Guide to Rabbits, and The Rabbit Book. Her articles also appear regularly in national magazines, including American Profile, Hobby Farms, Hobby Farm Home, Urban Farm, American Gardener, Grow-Cook-Eat, Homemade Bread, Illinois Farm Bureau Partners, Out Here, and Rabbits USA. Her work also appears regularly online, including,,,, and others. Samantha is a horse show judge and is certified with the Wisconsin State Horse Council and the Welsh Pony and Cob Society of America, and she has judged horse shows across the United States.

Samantha resides on a former dairy farm in northern Wisconsin, where she raises purebred Welsh Mountain Ponies and keeps Holland Lop, Dutch, and Mini Rex rabbits. Her hobbies include heirloom vegetable gardening, genealogy, animal color genetics and pedigrees, and politics. You can follow Samantha on Twitter:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

one of my many regrets

Spent the day shopping for and installing the electric element to the horse pasture. Since the horses will have an area that was once (twenty years ago) a tractor shed, there are parts I will need to dig out and clean up of metal and holes, but for now, will fence off with electric polyrope. I bought a 3-mile solar charger and 400 meters of the rope today, along with step-in posts and some other bits like t-post toppers for neither of the beasts cut or impale themselves on the metal jagged tops. It was a few hours out there, repairing, nailing, slamming in new t-posts, and running the poly rope. I'm still not done but the majority of the work is finished and I feel a lot better putting the horses in an area that is as safe as I can make it with some electricity to keep them inside it.

Got some sun, that's for sure. Sunburn and enough deer fly bites to start a moonscape across this working body. Part of being a range animal, I suppose. I have scars and bruises, cuts and bites, tan lines and sweat pimples. But at the end of the day I either jump in the River or get a cool shower and then come home and change into my Thai fishing pants in a clean cotton, and a muslim chemise top and between the castile herbal soap and the loose fitting natural clothes I feel like a field worker from another place and time, the same tired feelings, and the same relief at works end and a clean body. A bit of ale, a dinner to please, a hammock, a fiddle or banjo and a lamb asleep on my chest.

I can't believe I waited so long to quit that job.

groundhog hate reason #4,587

sky flowers

There was no chance I was going to be able to stay up for any fireworks display last night. Not if you bribed me with a pair of Percherons in harness. I was beat. The day had started around 4AM and sang on until just past dusk, when the fireflies danced around the barn and the crows stopped their conversations. Ajay told me earlier in the day that a movie he liked called fireworks Sky Flowers. I like that.

I think the main reason I was sacked was because my day started at 4AM, a bit earlier than usual. Othniel and Ajay, down at Common Sense Farm needed a truck to take to the Albany Wholesale Produce Market at 6AM. Othniel buys food from local farmers he doesn't grow at his farm stand like watermelons, and also gets wholesale orders of food for the 70+ member households at Common Sense's Commune. As you can imagine, we got a lot of food. 150 pounds of new potatoes, 2 large boxes of bananas, 50 pounds of onions, melons, berries and more. It was quite the haul.

By the time I got them home to their day jobs, it was time to get back to mine. Holidays aren't as important to dairy goats with full udders and chickens waiting for feed. I did the usual morning chores, fed Monday, and lead the hoofstock in pasture to the new horse paddock to concentrate their eating where I needed it. If the sheep eat down the high grasses in that confined spot I can see the ground and woodchuck holes even better so I can fill them all in before Merlin arrives in a few days.

Soon as the work was done, I fell into a short but beloved power-nap, about 30 minutes of hard sleep that I meant, really meant. I needed it. A three hour round-trip and a morning's work takes it out of you. Soon as I woke up I took out the dogs for a short walk, fed Monday again, and packed my swimsuit and towels for a Fourth of July celebration over at Livingston Brook Farm.

Mark and Patty are one of six landowners on a 25-acre lake a half mile behind their house. We paddled a canoe loaded with floaties and adult beverages and spent over an hour swimming in the clean, deep lake water by a floating dock. Neighbors joined us and it was a magical time out there on this private island of floating wood in the middle of a tiny wilderness. Great herons and red tailed hawks flew around us or fished on the sides of the water. We talked, laughed, and worked on our farmers tans. If my skin color was an ice cream flavor, I was going from a twist to Neapolitan that day. All my skin was bright white or dark brown. I was hoping for a little strawberry on my pasty legs that sunny day...

I left their farm around 5:30, and drove straight down route 22 into the town of Cambridge. Just past the single traffic light in my town is the Common Sense Farm stand and Ajay was out sitting in a chair hammock with Navid. I knew Navid from his help cleaning out the goat pen the day before with Ajay and decided to stop by. I ended up spending an hour on their wooden farm stand's porch, playing my banjo and lost in conversation. Ajay looked tired too, but already fitter, tanner and happier than I have ever seen him. He was all smiles. So was I.

I got home around 7, milked and chored, and came inside for a quick dinner and a cold drink. It was a holiday to remember, even without the sky flowers.

P.S. My new fiddle arrives today! Not as old or fancy as the one I gave away on the blog, but it is an acoustic/electric combo instrument from Silver Creek and I am excited to have a fiddle again!

learning this on the banjo today

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

independence day

I live in a country where a little girl can grow up to be anything she wants to be. I know this to be true.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

king george's reign

I have mad respect for George. From the first day King George waddled into my house along with his 25 pounds of fat cattitude he has acted like he owns the place. He is proof positive what confidence can grant you. And think about what that means? He lives in a house with three dogs, all over 50 pounds and three times his size. That would be like you and me living with dire wolves the size of an F-150 and sharp teeth the size of our hands...

George isn't intimidated. You want to mess with him, go ahead. He'll just smack you in the eye till you see red and tuck tail and run. He put all the dogs in their places the moment he moved in. I was told if I owned huskies I could never have a cat. They didn't know about George....

have a wonderful holiday, friends...

Homemade Pantry: Alana Chernila

I loved this book. It's perfect for those of us who have started raising an eye at those boxes of pop tarts in the grocery store and don't work on the weekend. We all know how many preservatives, chemicals, fillers, corn and soy by-products and other stuff not meant for consumption by the human animal is in our foods. But that doesn't mean we don't like pop tarts, butter in wrapped bars, cheese, graham crackers and juice in plastic containers? Well, this lady shows you how to make all those things you used to waste money and calories on. Things like salsa, crackers, tortillas, pasta, fruit roll ups, baking mixes, jams, the works. All of it step-by-step and pretty as a picture. You can't ask for more.

It is written in a clear and easy, conversational tone. The photography is stunning. the first chapter (called so cleverly aisles, in this book) is about dairy at home and shows a young girl leaving a gate with a glass bottle of milk while a herd of milk cows watch on and I melted. And the whole, beautiful, book is like that.

Alana is a semi-local, she lives an hour away or so in Western Mass and is going to be doing an event at Battenkill Books. If you want a signed copy of your own, you can email Connie Brooks and she will happily set you up. I bought my copy in the store today, and it has been a long time since I was that content leaving a bookstore with a cookbook!

Homemade Pantry costs something like 24 bucks and I that will buy you about 6 boxes of Poptarts. If that isn't enough to convince you to consider this book I don't know what is.