Tuesday, August 7, 2012

i like this artist. a lot.


Monday, August 6, 2012

riding on my mountain

Merlin and I have grown as a team more in the past three weeks than ever before. Under the gentle and empathetic teachings of Trainer Dave and his western methods of loose rein riding we have been unstoppable on this mountain. Yesterday we went on a two-mile ride. It was a combination of walking, trotting, and cantering the whole journey and I never felt more alive as a rider. We left the farm and headed down the road, weaving along the shaded, tree-lined switch backs on the grassy berms until we hit the junction for route 22. We then turned around, not interested in testing our highway skills yet, and headed back home.

Today we went up the mountain instead of down, up the road until we hit a stretch of fields already cut for hay. They belonged to my neighbor Tucker, who had given us permission to ride on his land, so we stole ourselves. We turned off the paved road and hiked through the forest till a break in the trees opened us up and showed us there are still sights to explore just a mile from our front door. A beautiful vista of mountaintop fields and sunshine lay before us. It reminded me of the balds I used to hike to in the smoky mountains. Such a strange and wonderful thing to climb a mountain and find open land at its top! I could see the famous fire tower, a mile or so up a trail I do not know yet (adventure for another day). I could see mount Equinox in Vermont. I took a deep sign and leaned back in the saddle as we walked slowly through the clipped grass. There was no fear, anxiety, or worry about cars or wildlife. I trusted Merlin and he trusts me and it felt like peddling a bike around, we were sharing his four legs and nothing could stop us.

We did so much exploring. We trotted and cantered through the fields, finding ancient stone walls, shady paths, and droppings from stag and coyotes. We stepped down into steep sections so lush with raspberries I could smell them as the horse crunched some under feet. Merlin, surefooted as the highland-born pony he is, stepped over an old stone wall and out into the second clearing. A great blue heron soared overhead, looking for pools in the mountain stream teaming with brook trout. Bliss, is your wild home land seen from horseback.

This is exactly why I wanted a horse. I didn't care about bloodlines, ribbons, or top hats. I wanted a partner in adventure, a way to move across the landscape. I wanted to go outside my own home, tack up, and head out into the unknown to take on the whole world. I wanted to shown what there was still to explore, to feel him pump up a hill at a gallop. I wanted to be able to ride to neighbors and visit, get to know my local topography, and wave to people I know by first name and talk about the weather. I wanted to use my horse the way people used horses every day 100 years ago. ATVs and cars be damned, I have a celtic pony and I know how to use it.

Merlin and I have explored over three miles of my mountain. There are other people with horses and barns on our journey but we don't ever see them out on the roads? I suppose they are either uncomfortable riding their mounts or don't have the time, but it is something special to trot past the homes of people on the back of your horse while the blue glow of their televisions light up their living rooms. You feel like your out at recess and their still in class. I wasn't even sure why people were inside? It wasn't even eighty degrees today, perfect weather and with a nice wind to boot! I know I shouldn't assume. For all I know folks are ill, or have melanoma. Maybe they just need a day shut in with a movie (I certainly understand that desire to shut off). I honestly don't know, but I can't help but be grateful for my horse and how he makes me want to be outside and living in the green world. He is such a blessing, connecting me with others and teaching me to appreciate a canter up through a wooded field.

I tell you these summer days passed by with saddle, foot, and bow are becoming legend in my own life. I adore every hoof mark, stride, and knocked arrow.

And the very best part?

It's Monday.

you know you're a CAF reader if...

This is how your kid is dressed for the Montreal Highland Games! Thanks, Grays!

checking in with maude

Sunday, August 5, 2012

See You Tomorrow at 6PM!

This is Connie Brooks, owner of Battenkill Books, my town's wonderful bookstore. The Border Collie is Red, Jon's new pooch from Ireland. I love that my downtown district has the following in a two block radius: an organic food co-op, art galleries, a train station converted into a community arts center, yoga classes, a farmer's market, a concert hall, hardware/feed store, and a place like Battenkill books where I can get the newest issue of Mother Earth News, The Believer, and The Coffin Factory in a town of 1,800 people. It is extremely cool for a certain type of person (like me). This is the same town two blocks behind the bookstore Common Sense farm is using hand-powered wheel hoes and neighbors are riding horses down North Union street.

Tommorrow night a good friend is doing a talk at Battenkill Books about his new e-Book, The Story of Rose. If you don't already read it, you should keep up with Bedlam Farm, and tap into Jon's stories and musings on country living with his wife, dogs, donkeys, and chickens. That blog taught me a lot about overcoming fear, negativity, and embracing support and love. Jon is also my new neighbor, as he bought a new farm just down the road. Anyway, He and Connie will be talking about e-books in general, how they effect writers and book stores. I'll be going to support them both, and I hope some of you show up as well. Always a big time in Cambridge.

photo by jon katz

wild rides

24-Hour Kite Stores

I used to do this little social test with new acquaintances to feel out their outlook on life. After I'd known someone a while, or been on a few dates with a guy, I'd tell them I always wanted to open an inner city 24-hour kite store. So that no matter what the time of day, or whatever the income level, people could get a kite and fly it if the wind picked up. Didn't matter if it was in a city park, a ghetto rooftop, or behind kids' bikes as they raced under the streetlights making their own wind. To me, kites mean joy. They are time outside, attention to nature, and simple bliss. I think the world needs more 24-hour kite stores.

So I told this to people and their reaction told me more about them than any match.com profile or conversation. Some people laughed, others raised their eyebrows, some changed the subject and some told me of their fear of heights. But most people had one of two reactions: a positive and supportive one or an instantly negative one. They either thought it was a beautiful and whimsical idea and asked me questions about how I would run it or they would instantly dismiss it as a horrible business decision and a stupid idea. Some people went out of their way to be nice about being negative, "Oh how adorable, but who in the inner city is going to pay for a kite? How could you afford rent? What about the crime rates, etc etc." and they would say this in honey tones just short of patting me on the head with their patronizing voice. Others acted tough and aloof, would cross their arms and then start asking, "So you'd get a big non-profit to sponsor it right? Public outreach and community events and all?" And even in their tough-guy stance they were actually interested and talking about possibilities. Just because someone is acting nice doesn't mean they are, same goes for acting tough.

There are people who live their life as a series of opportunities. They hear new things, new ideas, and they find a way to support and encourage the things they see as good and valuable. If they find something negative or a waste of energy they avoid it and forget about it. Other people choose to live in fear, or on the defensive side of those who they disagree with. They put less energy into encouraging the things they support and more energy into tearing down the things that threaten them. I choose to be the positive type of person. It's why you will never see me write something negative about another person on this blog. I might rail against factory farms or an industry, but you won't see me tear apart a person. I think the only reason I have been successful at this farm (a measured success but I'm still here) is because I do not let negative ideas or people into my life. It's a protection of my spirit and a recipe for happiness. And anyone, at anytime, can decide to be a more positive and encouraging person. Every minute is another chance to turn it all around.

Spend your time with people who fly kites, either metaphorically or literally. You're better off.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

an observation

I've been riding Merlin on my road the last two weeks and I've noticed something interesting. People in cars and trucks seem to see Merlin and me as either an obstacle they drive around (usually at no reduced speed) or something that comes out of nowhere and surprises them around a turn. Both are understandable. But people on motorcycles seem to have a whole different appreciation for another non-car driver and go out of their way to cut a huge berth and make as little noise as possible. They always wave too. Some people in cars never even look at us. Why do you think that is?

what heals you?

I no longer carry conventional health insurance. I gave up the coverage for prescriptions and office visits when I gave up my corporate job, it's part of the trade off for working at home on the farm. Instead I pay $163 a month to Empire Health and that covers hospital care I may or may not need in case of an emergency. So when I feel a little under the weather, I don't call the doc. I go out to the garden. Now it is traditional herbal medicine I turn to and as of last week's upset stomach that meant blackberry root tincture. You see, I had a common stomach problem, one we are all familiar with (the one that involves fast expulsions of food from non-mouth orifices) that lasted too long. I did some research with my homegirl Rosemary Gladstar and found that Blackberry roots tinctures are the remedy. I didn't have blackberries handy, so I ordered some online. A company in the Ozarks mailed me a combination of pressed roots and grain alcohol and after a few doses s in tea three times a day and I was back to normal.

This was not my first adventure in healing myself. Do you remember me writing about the serious carpal tunnel I had? When I still had that health insurance I went to an orthopedic center to get an electronic test through wires and electric shock to monitor the seriousness of my wrists. I was told I needed surgery. Then I mentioned it to one of the elders at Common Sense and he kindly and patiently shook his head at me. He told me his carpal tunnel was so bad he couldn't hold a pencil. Then he started taking 100-mg of B6 and 50-mg of B2 a day and within three months he was back to normal. I've been taking the same and no longer sleep with wrist braces and unless I am typing for a long amount of time I do not even feel pain anymore.

I'm not saying there are supplements or natural cures for everything. I'm not against doctors either. You better believe I am keeping up with tetanus shots and doxy after deer tick bites...but I know a lot of people who heal many things with herbs and vitamins. I know someone who overcame depression with Niacin. And folks who flush Vitamin C through their systems and cure the flu. Many of us calm ourselves down from stress with a cup of chamomile tea or drink mint tea when we get an upset stomach. There are endless and ongoing things to learn in this field. And I have an idea...

I'd like to collect a pile of reader herbal remedies or folk medicines here in the comments. If you have or know of any herb lore or healing arts, share your homemade teas and tinctures here and all of us as a community can take notes. While some of you may be advanced herbalists, some of you may be more like me. So I shared my blackberry root tincture and carpel tunnel cure. What heals you? Share your own remedies and out of all the comments I will send one random winner a copy of Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes. A wonderful beginner's guide to backyard herbalism and healing! P.S. Hey folks! Today is the last day to share your herbal remedies and stories. I had no idea there was this much interest out there! I'll keep you updated on my own herbal stories but for the now, you have till dusk EST to get in your ideas to win the fancy book. So keep the responses coming! I am taking notes like crazy!

some people get guard dogs...

Friday, August 3, 2012

uphill crawling

The first few weeks of a running program are hell, but somewhere between 4-6 weeks of jogging, five days a week, your body surrenders and finally exhales. It learns to work well under the strain and even enjoy itself in the process. Today was hot and balmy, but I still craved my afternoon soaking. It was around 90 degrees and humid enough to ring out your shirt after walking to the mailbox, but I was only going to the bottom of the mountain and back. The distance down to route 22 was only a mile, two till I got back to my door (the second half all uphill of course). It takes me twenty five minutes or so, but it isn't a race. I only know the time because that's how many songs I need to program on my play list for the pavement. I headed out today and within the first few steps I knew it was going to be a good run. The kind of run that makes people write about them. Thus.

Anyway, I was heading home, climbing up the mountain at a respectable clip when I got lost in the music. I ran with the song, a soundtrack in my pumping heart and I felt the extra air get pulled deep into my lungs as each little hobbit ham pumped and pulled me forward. I think of Merlin when I run. Both of us are not the versions of our species you see on calendars. We're both older, chubbier, shorter, and eccentric for modeling in the horse and human world. Okay, so we're not aesthetic superstars, so what? Just two days ago I was on his back and we were running up this same road together, as a team. We may not be centerfolds, but by Dagda we move like we are alive.

I was half a mile from home when a Subaru passed me, then stopped in the middle of the road about 20 yards ahead of me. I cocked my head to the side, worried they broke down since there was nowhere to go but my driveway and it wasn't the car of anyone who lives on my road. They made a K turn and started driving back towards me and then rolled down the window. I halted my jog and pulled out my ear buds. A kind looking man in his fifties with his wife peered at me with mild concern. He asked, "Are you running because of some emergency? Do you need help?"

I smiled and huffed out that I was fine and I was just running to lose weight, get in shape. This was not a satisfactory answer to the Subaru owners. He returned with, "Oh. Well it's the hottest day of the year, don't hurt yourself" And he drove off. I headed back the last couple of strides home, convinced that I have spent my whole life running uphill with people shaking their heads at me, confused and convinced at the same time I am a nut job.

Maybe I am, but I'm beating my best time at it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

drought of sanity?

Because I spent 90% of my life within 30 square miles these days, I have not been following the news well. But recently I have been researching and following the conversations going on about the Midwest's corn drought and it is making gears turn. If you are not familiar with the issue here it is in a nutshell.

The USDA has declared that 50% of the corn crop is basically destroyed from the drought. Their exact words are "poor and very poor condition." This is bad news. It effects everyone since corn has gone from on-the-cob to in-everything-in-the-supermarket. Droughts happen, but this one might skyrocket the price of many foods that buy corn to make their product. Things like meat and milk, processed foods and packaged things. More American kids know what a Pop Tart is than a buckwheat pancake so I assume this will ruffle some feathers.

And here's the rub: it is law in this country that 13% of our fuel contain ethanol. So if there are ethanol factories that legally have to obtain this short supply of corn, the supply gets even more dear. So farmers are asking Congress to rethink this 13% mandate because it can only make things worse, and it opens a whole other can of worms, so I ask you:

Should food be turned into fuel?

EDIT: Tomorrow's issue of The Guardian will feature my editorial/comment on this subject. If you aren't following the comments, read them and join in the conversation. This is important!
photo: esquire.com

merlin likes sprinklers

photo from afellpony.com

down in the willow gardens

MEAT RABBIT 101 Next Saturday!

I'll be hosting an introduction to meat rabbits later this summer here at the farm! It will be held on Saturday, August 11th. The 4-hour workshop will explain the basics of setting up a small rabitry for personal use. Patty of Livingston Brook Farm will be doing a detailed butchering demo and will have her beautiful flemish giants and flemish giant crosses for sale. Come learn about the other, other white meat. A friendly and compassionate introduction to backyard meat. Only 4 spots still available!

Here's a great article about raising rabbits for food from the NY Times, lots of great photos!

photo from nytimes.com

Get Your Axe On!

Hey gang! Alex from Old Fed Ax Co. wanted me to tell you guys that you can save $10 off his homestead skills DVD with free shipping to the US and Canada. Offer good till August 6th. Thanks Alex! Click here to go to the offer site. And if you don't want to buy anything, if you sign up for their emails you get a free e-booklet on axes, skills, and homestead safety and its certainly worth the 30-seconds of your time. I love free resources like that.

onion wisdom

I remember an old joke about the 80-year-old man with the amazing garden in his backyard. His young neighbor keeps trying to grow food and he asked his elder, in exasperation, "How do you manage to keep that garden so healthy!?" and the old man explained he stopped putting things he couldn't grow in his garden. This is wisdom.

I am a struggling gardener at the Jackson Farm. I was far better in Vermont where my the garden was fenced, and I only had a handful of animals so most of my time could be dedicated to it. If you go back and look at posts from 2008 and 2009 in July the garden is stupidly bountiful.

Here, I am good (read good to mean, groundhogs and deer do not eat) onions, tomatoes, basil, and garlic. Yes, Italian food. My groundhogs are in no way affiliated with the mafia.

Bonus Tip: do not rub your eyes after picking onions.

winter prep update

Yesterday I made the decision that the 30 bales delivered by Common Sense Farm would remain in the barn, untouched. They are needed for winter and if I want to start stockpiling I need to start now. The hay was delivered as a barter. I have a friend who raises hair sheep in Hebron and I asked Othniel (head honcho on CSF) if he would be interested in trading feeder lambs for hay? Since his farm grows hay, and I could pay cash for the sheep, I would deliver the lambs and he could pay me in more hay than I could buy with the same amount of money I used for the sheep. So if I spent 200 bucks on lambs, he would deliver 300 bucks worth of hay. Everyone wins because I get more hay for my money, the farmer sells sheep, and Othniel gets livestock without spending a dime. So yesterday we talked with the sheep farmer, and put some deposit hay in my barn, and soon two yummy lambs will be delivered to Common Sense.

This is the kind of thing I have been working with to prepare for winter. Ways to save money and still have what I need. I have decided I will need four cords of firewood (I have one now), 200 bales of hay (I have 30), two chimneys professionally cleaned (I know people do this themselves but I am scared of heights, don't own a ladder, and would feel better having someone qualified do it) and some money set aside, just a bit, in case of truck repairs or snow-related complications. That is my goal. Yesterday I chipped away at it and bought 6 extra bales from Nelson Green on the way home from Hebron to use now so I don't have to touch the larger stash. I asked Nelson when his second cutting would be in and he said next week. It was good to see him, and catch up. I had not seen him all summer and last time he was dealing with lung and breathing issues. Yesterday he was on the riding mower in his classic navy blue dickies and work shirt, strong as an ox.

I have some bills to take care of first, but soon as I can wrangle it I will order and stack that first cord of firewood (well, second) and when I have 100 bales of hay put up and 2 cords of wood I'll feel a lot better. I know it was just July but before you know it I'll be driving home from the Mother Earth News Fair in PA and calling Port-a-potty vendors about Antlerstock. A girl has got to act when her gut says act. Right now, my gut is only thinking about dead grass and trees.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

winter is coming

Fall is coming, faster than ever before. That's how it feels to me anyway. Now that I'm self employed and the company money stopped coming in, getting hay and firewood squared away requires a little more resourcefulness. I have two months to get in my 250 bales of hay, 4 cords of firewood, and some money set aside to cover any winter emergencies like truck repairs or snow removal. It's a little scary, actually. Not in a debilitating way, just the amount that has to be done before snowfly.

Today 30 bales of hay are being delivered, which due to limited pasture will be eaten before winter. I'll get one big delivery in the fall and load whatever I can in the barn and then rest under tarps behind the barn. It'll do. Firewood will be delivered a cord at a time as I can swing the wood fee. If anyone out there in interested in workshop barters for hay or firewood, send an email.

What are you doing to prepare your homes for winter?

rip those loaves!

August is the beginning of autumn to me, usually more in hint and spirit than in actual weather. Nothing is shouting FALL! into your ear, instead you notice it like whispers vibrating off the squash vines like a string on a child’s tin can telephone. Walk outside for morning chores and take in the heat, but even the novice to country living and feel the change. There’s less humidity, the first leaves are starting to fade and hang differently. The garden and the forest itself are heavy with the peak of its growth, like a bowl of milk about to tip over and spoil. Senescence is just around the corner and the break-neck pace of growth seems to only apply to weeds, which by this point I have allowed to devour parts of the garden without fuss.

They used to call the first few days of August Lammas, which translates from the old Anglo-Saxon into “Loaf Mass”. Since the summer wheat was harvested before other fall crops, it was the official start of fall to people in European agricultural societies. Which is understandable on many levels, since people are not only bringing in the first big crop, but are bringing in a crop that will be ground, stored, and set aside in casks and sacks to feed their community through the dark months ahead. This made the wheat harvest the first of several insurance policies for winter, and when you are out there cutting sheaves and grinding flour for winter bread I assume its pretty hard to feel like you’re still on summer vacation....

It was a day of work, but also a holy day. People brought loaves made of the first grains of the year into their churches to be blessed and then that sacred Lammas bread was not eaten, but ripped into four equal-sized pieces and placed in the four corners of their barns. There it sat as a happy little sacrificial offering. A tangible symbol of hope for a safe winter and good luck.

And If you think I am one to buck a couple hundred years of tradition, you have another thing coming. On this Lammas full moon, I am baking bread and you better believe the four pieces will be in my barn by evening. One in each corner, which will certainly end up being eaten by for the goats, chickens, and rats but who dines tonight in the red barn, well, that's not up to me. It's up to Lammas.

Next year, I'll be harvesting wheat. Mark my words!

August Johnson is the winner!

Of the FREE instructional DVD from Old Fed Ax Co.

email me, August, and I'll get you in contact with Alex!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

the celtic cow pony?

Yesterday trainer Dave wanted our lesson to be about western riding. It's what he rides, what he teaches, but that wasn't his real motivation with going across the pond, tack wise. Dave always tells me "riding is riding. tack means nothing to a horse" and I believe him. I ride English because it was how I was taught, and because its the culture of riding I come from. It's also the tack I have and what makes me comfortable. I like less saddle and more horse below me. I like the good experiences we have had together, in dressage and at the lesson barn. So I am biased and unapologetic about my love for the English Ride.

Tough shit, said the Universe yesterday. Time to leave that comfort zone behind and try something new and feral. I got a magical trainer and he says its time to git along little doggies. Git, I shall.

Dave had me get my barrel racing saddle I bought at the poultry swap last spring. I have only used it once with Merlin and that didn't go well. It was my second trail ride out ever and Merlin was fussy. I got up on that couch and felt like I had no communication or control, like someone had piled up a leather couch between me and my horse and we were unable to communicate. This is, of course, hogwash but how I felt at the time. It was too new to me, and Merlin was backing up and acting up and I was scared. Patty got me through it, even though my weird English Saddle fetish confused her, and we never went back.

Dave wanted to try a different method of communication and ease with Merlin. So far, Merlin and I have used a tight rein, a D-ring dressage bit, a hovering English seat and a crop. Dave wanted to put on my Easy Rider saddle, and use a minimalist type of bridle called a mecata, with rope reins held loose. His whole method of riding is through feel and mutual respect, using my intention and "feel" and using aids like legs and heels and reins as a last resort. I was a little worried about holding reins loose in one hand and sitting up on that couch again. I didn't understand his "feel" either. But let me tell you something about that first lesson

It was amazing.

A 100% turnaround from last week. I needed a lesson in western saddles and the best way to actually tack him up, but from there on it felt as natural as can be. Merlin was so willing, so good, so happy having his head back and listening to my body. I did not need to use a crop once. I did not need to be rough, or scold or use spurs. Hell, I didn't need to use my heels. In under one hour with Dave at the neighbor's field I could get Merlin up into a working trot from a lazy walk and stop him on a dime using Dave's techniques.

So am I a convert? I think I'm still more comfortable in my English tack, but I think what will work for me and Merlin is going to end up being a combination that suits us both and my goals. I didn't buy that horse to trot in an arena, I bought him to ride out in public, across roads and landscapes. To do that comfortably I think we'll end up combining everything I learned. Don't be surprised if this fall you see a photo of me and Merlin in a mecate headstall with black rope reins over an english endurance saddle with my saddle pad sporting a patch with a celtic circle with two crows in it. We're travelers, us. On the road to a better ride, a better relationship, a better feel.

cowgirl, up!

cat and the fiddle

meredith's socks

Meredith Green is a reader who knits the greatest socks in the world. Actually, a few of you have mailed me knit socks and as far as I am concerned, they are ALL the greatest socks in the world. When a package comes to the farm of a certain bulk and weight, I squeeze it and silently pray "socks socks socks" because a pair of hand knit, 100% wool socks are my homesteader crack. You have any idea how great a new pair of wool socks feel under your rubber boots on a November morning? It's like putting armor on against anything the farm can throw at me. Between their warmth and insulation and the Wellie's waterproofing rubber I feel better outfitted than someone in Gore-tex liner and Vibram soles. I am farm ready. I can step in a 6" puddle of almost-frozen water and poo and come out dry and toasty. And when you come inside from all that and

I'm thinking about this because I have two unworn pairs of Meredith's socks here and I am saving them for the first frost. They sit wrapped in my kitchen just as she mailed them, waiting to be called by name in a little pyrex bowl under the bookshelf. (My kitchen doesn't have a microwave anymore, I moved it to the tack room and turned it vertical to hold my western saddle, but I do have bookshelves!) It's almost August 1st and that means first harvest to me. It means it is time to start buying or trading for cords of wood. It means getting chimney's cleaned and the pony barn walls up. It means getting hay, A LOT of hay, put aside and fences mended. It means getting ready for the big Mother Earth News Fair and then Antlerstock on Columbus Day Weekend. Antlerstock is always a huge party but I am hoping to celebrate that weekend knowing that hay is in, wood is stacked, and I am ready.

I want this to be the winter I learn to make socks. I really, really, do. I can knit, purl, cast on and cast off. I can make hats in the round, and scarves of course. I think I have all the tools I need to learn socks and the darn truth is all I need to do is sit down, start knitting, and pay attention to some books, videos, and knitters. If anyone has any favorite beginner sock resources, the no-fail type, please let me know!

*Random Updates*

I have an update about the Against the Grain Workshop. I am ordering books and printed cloth sacks for the seed distribution, but they have not arrived yet. I will mail out the packages for those taking part in the online or in-person workshop soon as I get them in. I wrote by August 1 but I didn't realize how soon that was, so expect them shortly after, before September. 

Webinar subscribers, you are not forgotten. You will get nine more videos, and your subscription lasts until they are delivered even if it spills over into 2013. Next up is Wool: sheep to spindle and is 20 minutes long or so. Your link will be emailed soon as I have the 5+ hours to finish it up, but since I am working on them every night they are coming along. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

I loved my first western lesson!

Interview with a woodsman + FREE DVD giveaway!

I recently contacted Alex from the Old Federal Ax Co. His life is dedicated to the survival and homesteading skills associated with the forest, and teaches about these things for a living. I asked him if he's be willing to do an interview here and get people who may be interested in being better with their own ax and woodpile. He is a kind supported of CAF and is a sponsor of this site, but he also offers a free e-booklet on his website, Old Federal Ax Co. That all of you can have for no cost to learn some safety and techniques. Go to Oldfedco.com to check out the resources. You won't be sorry!

Also, I will be giving away a copy of his 2 hour long instructional DVD titled, "Ax Skills for the Homestead & Wilderness Survival." I own a copy myself and think its a wonderful asset to anyone out there on the land or anyone who hopes to be someday. To enter to win it, leave a comment here after this post. Ask a question, tell a story, or share your own tips and techniques. Winner will be picked Wednesday! Now, on with the interview!

Alex, welcome to the farm. Could you introduce yourself to the readers, tell us about your work?
Thanks for having me! I'm a survival instructor in Portland, Oregon and I focus on practical survival, primitive skills and tracking. I also teach nature awareness, what I call Intuition in Nature. Ax Skills are also a big part of what I do and teach - axe history, fixing handles, making handles, sharpening axes, technique and safety classes, felling trees, the ax as a survival tool or a homestead tool, you name it.

How did you get started in Survival and Axemanship?
My dad is a carpenter and woodsman so I grew up with axes and tools and ever since I can remember there's nothing I liked to do more than swing an ax. He taught me how to use axes safely, how to sharpen them, and how to replace the handles - then he set me loose.

I actually had some intensive survival training in the Boy Scouts when I was 11 and 14, which turned out to be some strange life-foreshadowing. I got started pretty young in the Forest Service on a trail crew, then the Park Service as a volunteer backcountry ranger then as a firefighter. At age 19 I went to the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) in Southern Utah. I got seriously hooked on survival and taught there throughout my twenties.

Why do you think a basic understanding of wood—as fuel and a resource for the homestead—is important?
Oh yes! Understanding wood on all levels is so important, as a side note, I recommend Eric Sloane's book, A Reverence for Wood, for those to want to get to know wood a little more intimately. But yes, first knowing the trees and what they mean ecologically from the soil to the squirrels is essential, then the best uses of each type of wood, like what's the best wood for a bow or an ax helve, and that you want heartwood for a bow, but sapwood for an ax handle. Then knowing not just how different woods behave but different parts of the same tree behave, such as boards with portions of heartwood will bend or "cup" over time.

When it comes to fuel, knowing the BTUs and how each wood burns differently will make life a lot easier, such as how pine is a good fire starter but if it's your main fuel source, the resins in the wood will over time cause a dangerous buildup in your chimney. There's a lot to know and it's all important.

Can anyone get good at this skill set, or are some people just better at it?
I do think that some people just have a talent for physical things but practice and technique are the great equalizers. If I had a motto it would be "Let the ax do the work." Lack of upper body strength can be a limitation when using an ax, but at the same time I mostly see people using too much strength - too much tension in the shoulders. Folks need to get a little more Michael Jackson down in the hips - you raise the ax, relax your arms, then drop the hips and all the parts move together fluidly and easily.

An old firefighter joke was that we all had strong backs and weak minds but I would say that the ax is a thinking tool and that there's a smart way to chop or split wood. A person with less strength can be more efficient than a stronger person by going slowly, being systematic, reading the wood, and using good technique.

It is dangerous to work with splitting wood without proper instruction? are injuries common?
I've used sharp tools my whole life, yet the worst cuts I've had are from opening cans of soup. Axes are dangerous if used without experience or education but if people use good technique and learn a short list of dos and don'ts then it's pretty safe. A quick example, the most common injuries are to the feet and legs so boots and long pants are the most important safety items.

Aside from getting a cut from an ax there are many more safety considerations like, hurting your back, cutting your hands on sharp pieces of wood, exhaustion and frustration that can lead to an accident, tripping while carrying an ax, or injuring the tool and creating a few hours more work of sharpening or handle repair. Done correctly, using an ax is a pleasurable experience that can be very safe. For me it's a deeply contemplative activity.

Do you think mastering hand tools is a lost art or something people are finding their way back to in the DIY movement?I think all this stuff is making a comeback in a big way. Portland is sort of a mecca for DIY so I have a front row seat to a huge artisan movement that includes sewing, blacksmithing, urban homesteading, permaculture, craft brewing, bikes, etc. Incidentally, this movement isn't just a subculture. It's been studied in depth and functions as it's own economy in this city.

The technology we have today is such a gift but I think we're also seeing that on a personal level it's only so satisfying and more and more people are getting back to simpler technologies. We're kind of feeling our way back in time with our hands and creating beautiful lives for ourselves.

How important is the quality of your axes? Is it worth the investment to spend a lot as a new backyard lumberjack?
Quality is important but the best axes aren't necessarily the most expensive. Older American-made brands like Collins, Sager, Mann Edge Tool Co., or Plumb that you score at a garage sale, or flea market have the best steel and are the cheapest and best long term solution. And because replacing and repairing handles is a lot easier than you might think, that's what I recommend.

Council Tool is a company I trust to buy an axe from the web, sight unseen. They're one of the last American made brands and are relatively affordable.

An ax is also a surprisingly specialized tool so just having the right ax for the right job is key. A serious budgeteer could get away with a splitting maul and a 3/4 ax. Most ax work these days is splitting rounds with a maul, then the 3/4 ax is easy to carry and can perform any needed field work and also be used like a hatchet for making kindling.

Any last thoughts or advice?
Maybe just that understanding that the ax helve or handle itself is a huge part of the equation and there is a lot of subtlety in picking out an ax with the right handle. Color, straightness, direction of grain, and just the feel of the handle are all things to consider. I guess we're running out of space but I could do an entire interview just on handles.

Thanks so much, Jenna, and happy chopping!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Beekeeping Workshop Raffle!

John Cullam!

His kind response!

"My wife and I were thrilled to attend the bee workshop and this is the topper to a wonderful time! Thank you for the 'day' and for this prize! We will now focus on our BEES and will have all we need to grow our colony thanks to Cold Antler Farm and Jenna for making it all possible!"

Thank you!

beekeeping 101 recap!

Meg Paska knows bees. Listening to her talk about about the ins and outs of beekeeping is like listening to Julia Child talk about braised lamb shank. She is someone who talks with enthusiasm, and it is infectious as all get out. Yesterday she gave a crash course in beekeeping here at the farm and folks from all over the northeast came to hear her spread the gospel of the hive. I mostly sat back and listened (when I wasn't running around doing chores or checking on the dogs) and took in the questions and anecdotes like adding ingredients to the stew pot. Her tales of urban and rural beekeepers were hilarious and educational (i.e some urban beekeepers paint their rooftop hives to look like brick chimneys so no nosy neighbors are any the wiser!) She was amazing, and so where the attendees. All of them excited and new to the world of bees, and you can bet some of them are breaking out in hives next spring...

Here she is talking with us in a general Q&A moment. You might need to turn up your audio, but you can hear some basic rapid-fire question and answers and see some of us sittin' lazy in the side yard. You can't see Gibson because right before I took this video he sprinted through the group of people to check on the rabbit hutch situation. Part of his regular rounds. No one even blinked when he thundered through, but a few laughed. I love that crazy pup.

She went into my hive and I have to admit, I was a little embarrassed at the state of it. I am a hands-off beekeeper who only checks in a few times a year and the last time was over a month ago. My hive had a build up of burr comb, and an unnecessary queen excluder which caused a big problem. apparently the original queen skipped down or died and the bottom of the hive had some queen cells of newly born queens but no new brood. Only a few laying workers existed in the hive and they aren't getting the job done. So what I need is a few frames from a healthy hive with young bees, some brood, and a new queen. I don't know if I can pull it off but I will email and drop off notes in some mailboxes. If I can save the hive, I will.

I only know this because of Meg, who looks at frames the way I look at paragraphs. She can read a hive like a page in the book. She knew within minutes the whole story of my hive, where it was going and how it could be helped. If you want to learn more about Meg, her workshops and her life, check out her site Brooklynhomsteader.com

And now for a whole day of Soap and candles!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

today's frame of mind

anyone in illinois want to farm?

I got this email from a reader in Illinois, and if any of you are local to that area and want to help a fellow greenhorn, why don't you leave a comment or contact her? I'm sure they would appreciate it!


I just bought a small farmstead (5 acres) unused for about 40 years and am reclaiming it over the next year so we can move in and sell products at farmer's market. I know you are very busy...but I was wondering if you ever thought of using a blog entry to promote community for other farmers. This is my problem, too much to do and too few hands! Just me and my 2 sons, age 15 and 4. I was I hoping that some people might be in my same situation and need help while there might be others who are not yet on a farm who might be willing to offer help. You could write of this and perhaps state by state people could support each other.

Probably a crazy thought, but I know no one where my farm is located: Donovan, IL. And thought maybe some of your readers would want to help out me on a designated "Clear the Farm day" And if I am in this "boat" others must be too. Even if it is needed help picking produce/clear land/clean a garage etc...

So boils down to I need help from some Illinois readers/ west Indiana readers and I can return the favor to them in the "Future".

What do you think?
Thanks for reading:)

Holly Young

PS. Green beans, broccoli rabe, swiss chard, peaches, potatoes, chives, rosemary, oregano, cherry tomatoes, purple beans, corn, and eggs are all happening on my city garden, Have 11 chickens and 2 rabbits!

Friday, July 27, 2012

don't burn your face off!

Storms were supposed to ravage the farm last night but they never came. The system passed south and north of us and I was both grateful and disappointed. You know what I mean, happy to avoid the hail and damage but so looking forward to the world twirling around for me a bit. I like seeing the winds pick up, and the trees shiver, and how a dry farm smells when the rain first really hits it. Not too different then water hitting a hot-plate, but smokier.

Rain today. A few possible storms, but mostly rain. The kind of day I stay inside and write and watch Braveheart. I already have a pot of coffee brewing on the stove and another saucepan of water heating up to throw in oats, diced apple, and brown sugar and cinnamon to make a filling (and cheap) breakfast of champions. It also is getting me into the flavors of fall, which for a homesteader means anxiety. I have hay, firewood, and savings to rake in before snow falls and so far I'm working on the August mortgage, but it'll all get done. It always does. Worrying about it gets in the way of accomplishing it. At least for me.

Today is also about getting ready for the weekend of workshops. Tomorrow is beekeeping with Meg Paska and Sunday is the big soap and candle workshop with Kathy Harrison coming to teach the candle part. Kathy you may recognize from National Geographic's Doomsday Preppers. (She was the most normal person on the show, homesteading in the Berkshires.) I met Kathy at the Mother Earth News Fair last year and we hit it off. It's her birthday Sunday, too. I may have to visit the new cupcake shop in Greenwich for her!

I'll be putting together everyone's soapmaking kits this afternoon. They include olive oil and coconut oil in jars as well as gloves and a booklet called "How to Make Soap without Burning Your Face Off." which I think gets to the point pretty darn well. It's out of Microcosm Publishing of Kansas, which makes a bunch of inexpensive and artistic indie booklets on everything from making your own herbal first aid kit to parenting for punks. Like all their titles, it's written in a friendly, and easy to understand tone with all the proper safety steps without filling the soapmaker-to-be with fear. I mean, I get it. Lye is a pretty dangerous thing. But as readers have pointed out before, so is getting into your car in the morning. Might as well make soap.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I found this lightly used endurance saddle on eBay, darn cheap too. I had been eyeing up this type of comfortable, light, trail saddle for a while and was thrilled when this one was up for grabs for under fifty bucks. It is loaded with rings and straps to use for the trail, for attaching saddle bags and strapping down blankets or jackets. The kind of saddle for me: English, but with a little less class and a little more excited about the trail. I already gave it a name too: Firefly. The black synthetic cover and the yellow stitching reminded me of my glowing friends. The seat looks kind of like a thorax on an insect. I will transfer over my irons and leathers from the saddle I currently use (well loved, but on the small side for me) and give it a try next week. It's the first saddle I ever bought for Merlin and I'm excited to try it out when it arrives!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

monday, gibson, and me in the side yard

tater patch

bags-on-sticks and other miracles

Using the skill set I acquired from the trainer on Monday, I decided to give Merlin a try again today (after a well-earned day of rest to let it sink in for both of us). I decided to follow Dave's method to the letter, and started by tying a plastic bag to the end of a carriage whip and setting it by the farmhouse front door.

With my trusty Bag-On-a-Stick I went upstairs to my office/tack room and brought down my english tack, changed into a pair of favorite Kerrits tights, and set up everything I would need to work with Merlin, from fly spray to helmet, on the grass where I tack him up. Once the setting was locked and loaded with gear and space, I went to get my stubborn pony.

With just a lead rope and halter I did the same ground work Dave showed me, to best of my ability. I made sure that when I moved in a direction, Merlin was moving out of my way and then squaring up to show me both eyes and relaxing before we moved forward with any more motion. If he rested a rear hoof or sighed, I walked up and pet him. If he acted up I waited until he slowed down and relaxed again. Twenty minutes of this and he wasn't blowing or sweating, but watching me. Just learning that when I step around to the right, he best step to the left and keep his front facing me, those big hindquarters safely tucked away.

Happy with our ground training, I started grooming. I am not a fast groom, nor a fast tacker-upper. I check feet and clear the frog of any mud or stones. I brush legs, belly, back, rump, neck and mane. I rubbed his forehead Amy Flemming Style. I then saddled him up, tightened the girth, put on his bridle and walked him to the mounting block (AKA Lehigh Valley Farms milk crate) and hopped on him.

I instantly thought of my riding instructors Hollie and Andrea from Riding Right. In Hollie's book, the very first lesson is "Have a plan before you get on." My plan was this: to have a short, pleasant, ride with Merlin on a quiet country road. To go up the hill a short distance, just to the neighbors driveway (about 100 yards), and then stop him, turn him around, get him past my own driveway and down the mountain a quarter mile or so. Just enough to communicate and enjoy the summer sun and the feeling of being with him. Then stop, turn home, and before I get home turn him back towards the road and have him walk a bit before dismounting a good ways from my driveway (so he doesn't assume driveway = done work). If you can follow that, then you either have horses or aren't giving yourself enough credit for critical thinking skills.

So that was my plan. A short ride where we do all the things we have been struggling with and then end facing away from the farm and dismounting when I please, not him. But first I had to get him out of the driveway. Soon as I got on he started heading towards Jasper, so I did what Dave told me to do, Take his feet out from under him and turned him in a tight circle and gave him a piece of heel when we were facing the road.

He fussed for about 45 seconds and we were out of the driveway! I think I actually Yee Hawed!

We followed the ride plan perfectly. We rode uphill, turned around and then went past the farm a quarter mile or so. I bet we could have gone farther but I wanted this lesson to be all about him getting rewarded for doing as I ask. He did everything I asked, and was a perfect gentleman. I walked him the short way home, took off his tack, and sent him back into the paddock with Jasper and a cookie.

This is such great progress folks. A horse I couldn't even get to leave my yard took me out on a pleasant stroll. And I did it all without needing a trainer or a friend around for support, so I feel brave. Time to celebrate with some lemonade and then some archery in a kilt!

The Farmer's Horse:
A Hallow's Workshop

I am quivering with excitement as I write about this! This October 27th the Saturday of Hallow's, Cold Antler Farm and Livingston Brook Farm are co-hosting an all day workshop on the Farmer's Horse. A whole day dedicated entirely to equine draft power for field, road, and pasture!

The point of the workshop is to learn the basics of taking on a horse, pony, or mule as a beginner farmer. Whether it is a farm pony like Jasper or a bigger draft like Steele, this is a day for you to gain some hands-on experience and get your questions answered, farmer to farmer, about the realities of working and living with horses.

This is not a horse-training demo, professional clinic, nor is it driving lessons. It is a friendly first step towards working with horses in your own life. It's an introduction to the broad-backed basics of working horses. The breeds of horses and work, the equipment and harnesses, and will end with a lecture by a seasoned Natural Horsemanship trainer's advice on choosing a horse of your own some day.

The day will start out at Cold Antler Farm where you'll get to meet Jasper and Merlin and learn the basics of housing, fencing, and keeping a horse on small acreage. We'll talk about riding your horse, and the kinds of saddles and styles of bridles, bits, reins, and tack. We'll talk about what to realistically expect cost wise and how I manage to do it here at Cold Antler. We'll harness a horse together, going over all the pieces and parts of that complicated beast. Learn what those strange words and straps mean, and how it all fits together and what they do. Lead Jasper along with a stack of firewood on the back of a stone boat. Learn about curb chains and blinders with Steele. There will be discussions on how to proceed in your own area, too: mentors, local draft clubs and such.

Lunch will be brought, bagged. Please bring a picnic style spread for your own enjoyment. We'll most likely break sometime in the early afternoon.

After lunch we'll drive a few miles over to Livingston Brook Farm where we'll meet Steele, the Percheron with power, and see the same stuff on a larger scale and enjoy some time in the back of a cart. Patty will talk about her own experience with her horse, how they learned together. She'll give you rides and show us her different vehicles (cart, sleigh, and forecart) and talk about the uses and advantages of all.

After all that a Driving Specialist/ Natural Horsemanship trainer will be there to give an afternoon lecture on selecting the right horse for you, and what to look for when you are ready to grab the reins. This will be a chance to really ask the hard questions. A nice wrap-up to our day of Draft School 101.

When the workshop part is over we'll dismiss and those who want to stick around can stay for a cookout/campfire are welcome! And get this, we'll end things right. With the light of lanterns and jack-o-lanterns we'll enjoy a campfire reading of excerpts from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and sip hot cider and warm stews under wool blankets around the flickering light. And if you never heard the tale of our own New York State's Headless Horseman after a day with horses around a campfire...well, you best come and find out!

If interested, please email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com to sign up. Half of the workshop fee will be needed upfront ($75) and the second half paid the day of the class. Discounts for couples and groups, as always. Mark your calendars and get out your deerskin gloves, we're going grab those reins!

night in the 'toga

Spent last night doing something out of the ordinary. I went out to Saratoga with a friend for dinner, and after my amazing meal at Hattie's, walked the city streets. The racing season just started and the historic track just a few blocks from the heart of the city was humming. The energy from the days races spilled over into the town. Tourists and race fans from all over were in milling about, filling up restaurants and swaggering down the street. I loved it, the whole scene. (I rarely get to wait for pedestrian walking signs anymore.) The whole night in the city was a bit of a fairy tale. A tale that started with southern cooking and ended with three shooting stars seen from the view of a hot tub. What a way to end a Tuesday.

As for this sunny Wednesday, I'm about to get back in the saddle for the first time since Dave was here to work with Merlin and I. I'm nervous about it, because going out alone is always harder, at least mentally. With out another person there I lose a lot of confidence, and second guess myself. But I keep remembering that Merlin is my horse, and this is our partnership and all the friends watching or taking videos do not alter the communication between us. I'll get on his back, and do my best, and hopefully report back with progress, even if was hard won.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Humidity: Life in The Shire

When I stepped outside my front door this morning with Gibson to do the morning chores I was stepping into a brand new world from the one I left the night before. It has been so dry, for so long, and this morning the blessed humidity was back and I was bubbling with energy. My body instantly burst into a light sheen of sweat. I took in a deep breathe of the wet air and let it fill my lungs, smiling. In half an hour my body would be dripping, and then I'll change into running gear and really learn what humidity is. Water and life, everywhere. I love humidity.

People complain about this weather because they feel it is uncomfortable. Yup, sure is. So why is being uncomfortable bad if you are a healthy, young, human animal? Why do we think constant comfort is normal? Or good? I know a lot of people who are never sweating, never heaving, never working their bodies and they are killing themselves doing it. I may be a sweaty mess of gasping effort, but you can see the white of my eyes and I am getting into the best shape of my life.

To me, humidity is the reason I am comfortable. Sweat and heat, those are not things to avoid. Those are the things that make my body hum. They're also the things that make my farm, hell, my region of the country, hum. Last night I sat outside in a hammock in the dark, watching thousands of fireflies light up my farm while thunder rumbled in the distance and lightning danced. The storm was far off. If I was in danger, I didn't care and wasn't moving from under the giant broad-leafed king Sugar Maple. I was barefoot, and below my swinging feet was a lawn of soft grass and clover. My arms were feeling long and strong. They were deep brown in their summer tan, and wet with sweat (the default condition this summer). Bits of hay and chaff covered them like sparkles, sticking to my skin like so many set jewels. I felt beautiful. I felt lush, and heaving and alive out there swaying above the world. I felt young, full of possibilities, and I could not stop smiling. I was drunk on this free summer, where a Monday night means nothing different than a Friday night.

All around me the fireflies waltzed, the thunder purred, and the sky shot full of light. I was so tired from a day of shooting, riding, writing, and running and this resting pose felt decadent. Even though the world was hot, I knew what it felt like to be dripping sweat and gasping for breath earlier, running up my mountain to drop pounds and remove toxins from my body. In comparison this humid night was a cool breeze blowing through a sauna. It was heavenly.

Humidity is my best friend. It means I live in a place where water is so abundant that it thrives in the very air, in the mud under my feet, in the flashing sky. My friend Othniel says we live in a deciduous rain forest and he is right. The Northeast is so lush, so alive, that you can put a rock out on your front lawn in the shade and it will grow moss. Life is always finding a way here. And the best part of course, Autumn. When all this life explodes into one last party of color before sleep. When nights wrap you up in heavy hooded sweatshirts and your favorite pair of jeans at bonfires and Halloween cornfields. It's the payoff in relief and respite a summer of life offers. Celebration an entire season that ends with that first pristine snowfall. A howl and a prayer.

I lived out west for a while and while I appreciated its particular kind of beauty, but it wasn't correct to me. I didn't realize that until I moved back to New England and saw a spring explode the forests and hillsides in non-stop green. It was shocking, almost a fantasy. I remember just staring at a May forest totally shocked. It was the most life I had seen in a year. Holy cow, it was a festival of lushness, almost pornographic. Not just trees, but thousands of leafy, bustling story tops where pines were the rarity. Growth below in vines, mosses, bushes, flowers, ferns. Everywhere sunlight touched there was clover or grass. Here was the Shire, not the Misty Mountains.

I belong in the Shire.

this looks wonderful...

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 rooftopfarms.org

Attention, Workshop Folks!

If you are coming to the Soap and Candle Making Workshop this Sunday, please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com. 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.