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!
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
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!).
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.
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 audible.com 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, Audible.com or Apple are sponsors of the blog. I just wanted to share how to have the same experience!
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!
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 eHealthinsurance.com (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 Lendingtree.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
Enjoy the story of a young writer living in Washington County with her fancy dogs, sheep, lots of chickens, fiber & meat rabbits, geese, ducks, turkeys, a hive and a garden. Expect to hear a lot about mountain music, the civil war, local food, and my friends along the way. It's a big time folks.
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs