Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ride on

When I left the farm astride Merlin, the sun was starting to yawn and the world was bathed in yellow light. October Light. It is already here and as my black horse's feathered feet trotted along my winding road I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. These are the last deep breathes of summer. Soon the smells of cut grass, sweat, bug spray, and grilling meats from neighbor's barbecues will be replaced by crisp inhalations of wood smoke and dead leaves. I turned Merlin up towards the dirt road that leads us on a 4-mile round trip through forest, field, and streamside. Back home there was a loaf of wheat bread on it's first rise in a pyrex bowl and a stainless steel saucepan of raw goats milk turning into chevre. I am only getting a half gallon every 36-hours now but it is enough to keep me in cold cereal and cheese. I think Bonita will be bred in September and so will Francis. I think about the logistics of this as the trail gets steeper. Without thinking my body leans forward with my horse's upward climb. The steep road levels out and I lean back. These motions are now as normal and thoughtless as putting on pants.

Merlin doesn't want to go up the steepest part of the dirt road and I know him, and me, well enough to handle his fit. He stops and turns around to trot home and I tsk tsk and smile. In a split second I loosen my right rein, pull in my left gently and spin him in three circles until he stops on his own. I turn him uphill and offer my heal and loosen the reins. He doesn't budge, just turns back around to go to the farm. I spin him again and this time loosen the reins when we're facing uphill and kick the same moment. I use the over/under rope on his horn after he bawks again. It has a piece of rawhide on the end and its a light flick back to his rump and he canters up the steep dirt slope. He has learned, finally, I am more stubborn than he is.

We burst out of the forested road to a bald of grass open and flecked with does. Merlin doesn't care about the deer, he canters past them. Up and up the mountain until we can spin around and take in the last of the green around us. I can see Cambridge, the mountains, Vermont. I try to remember the girl in the dressage show in May, so scared in a small arena. So intimidated by fear. I sat tall in the stock saddle, wind in my hair, my straw hat tight on my head and neck-reined Merlin up the trail. We have come so far in a single endless summer. I no longer fear this horse. We have become a team.

Fall is coming.
Crows are flying.
Black horses are running uphill.
Things are healing.

modest plans

I don't know about where you live, but here Fall is just around the corner. It's the end of August and trees are starting to turn colors, the nights are down into the mid-fifties, and the next things on my to-do list include calling in the chimney sweep and getting some firewood ordered and stacked. Right now I just finished paying off all the August bills, some a little late, but at least they are all up to date. Someone asked me in the hardware store how business was and I told them the honest truth, that I am breaking even. I make enough money writing, selling ads, and running workshops to cover my bills and that's about it. There's some extra money, sometimes, and like last week's trip to Goodwill it went into new clothes. (Well, new to me) I spent 18.50 at Goodwill and got a brand-new pair of nice jeans, two dress shirts, a sweater and a wool skirt. All of it brand names, gently used. New clothes, even new outlet clothes, aren't part of the budget. It's okay by me. I'd rather wear someone else's wranglers on my own horse. Life is all about priorities.

I am spending the afternoon editing another chapter of Days of Grace, and then starting dinner for Ajay and I. He is living just down the road at Jon Katz's place, he got a care taking job there and is currently working like a dog stacking wood and tearing down an old barn on Jon's property. He has a bedroom, a bike, and a strong back. Here in Farm country you don't need much more to make an honest living. Since he is only a mile away I invite him up here to join me for dinner a few times a week. It's nice for both of us. He gets a nice home-cooked meal in exchange for some help with evening chores. I get the chore help, and some company. After dinner I'm brewing some beer in anticipation of fall and Ajay might help. He never brewed before and I think he'll like it.

It's funny how much just a few weeks after leaving my corporate job my life has changed. I have never been this busy, or frantic, or scared about basic things like making all my bills. And yet, I have never slept so well, or had such time to focus on health and well being. I might be stressed out about things, but I am taking care of myself in a way that physically allows me to handle it. I might be jumping into the unknown but there's time to stretch before and meditate after, and that's a sort of insurance all of its own.

I also have time to actually do the things I have been working towards for so many years. Time to saddle a horse and ride up a mountain when I need a mental health break. Time to weed and turn over a garden I haven't given up on yet. And most importantly, there's time to really sit down and edit and write. Really pay attention to sentences, and do the work I am happiest doing. I think my next book is my best ever. I am excited to share it with all of you.

Okay, time to stop putting off the editing and get into the hard work of it all. When my chapter is where I approve it should be, I'll start getting dinner ready. A modest plan, but one worth keeping up the good fight for.

gibson and me

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fiddle Camp: Day 2

Fiddle Camp was so much better than I ever anticipated. The point of Fiddle Camp was to introduce the fiddle as a fun and easy instrument, and teach the basics of the animal so that the campers could go home and teach themselves without lessons. I really think we accomplished that. People came knowing nothing, and left playing a song. There were certainly squeaks and squawks and beginner's nerves, but I will tell you what I told them. Every single person at camp sounded better and knew more in 48-hours than I did my first three-months of learning alone. It was an encouraging thing to witness. It was music to our ears.

In two days we went over a crash course, building confidence and sharing in our musical journey. Saturday was all about introductions and handing out fiddles and tee shirts. Dawn and Peter, two readers who own a screen printing business made us our organic cotton dark brown shirts with the camp logo (crow with antlers) sitting on a fiddler's bow. Everyone loved them and I proudly wore mine too. After tents were pitched and fiddles were by every hay bale or camp chair, we did introductions and started into the concentrated 6-hours of lessons and lectures. We learned the parts of the fiddle, tuning, bowing, the D scale. After that we started the beginnings of their first song. By the end of Saturday some of the students that couldn't tell you a tailpiece from a frog were playing Ida Red (our first song) by themselves. Sunday was about more advanced techniques like shuffling, sliding, more focus on learning songs, droning and such. We took a lunch break at the Cambridge Farmer's Market and a live band featured a fiddler and more than one camper in their crow shirt stopped to watch. It meant something different now, as they were one of them.

The two-day event ended with an optional recital. Folks who had learned their first tune could play in a judged contest for a pile of homesteading books. The winner, a woman from Virginia named Linda who sported beautifully curled white hair and a happy blue t-shirt. She sounded amazing, matching the songs tempo and perfect notes. Just listening to her play under my maple made me so darn proud of her. Listening to everyone did. Watching them grow from a dreamer to a fiddler in two days, one campfire, and one farmer's market worth of time.

Well, done. All of you. If you attended and can put a link in the comments to any photos or stories, please do!

I was happy to teach and found it so rewarding. My style is friendly, goofy, and fun. The whole method is to not take it too seriously, not make the violin into a monster in your closet. We made small goals, learned in little steps, listened to Wayne's recordings and promised to dedicate ourselves to a few minutes of practice a day/ This is the gardening that grows an Old Time Fiddler. And it really is all anyone needs to learn the instrument. Set aside any ideas that it is hard. A lot of things are hard, that doesn't mean you can't do it. When you see a set of stairs you don't need to jump to the top of them, you just need to make one step. Go from there.

So you want to learn? Well, there's a second Fiddle event in February. It's called the Fiddler's Rendezvous and it is limited to ten people. Two spots are taken, eight remain. It works the same as Fiddle Camp in that it is 2 intensive days of learning and you get a fiddle and tee shirt but it won't include camping. You'll need to book a room Saturday Night in a local B&B or Inn but you can enjoy the farmhouse and the woodstove and will have time after the daily intensive to shop the snowy streets of Cambridge, take in an event at Hubbard Hall, or drive over to Manchester or Saratoga for a nice dinner. And if traveling here to learn with us isn't an option, teach yourself. We used Wayne Erbsen's Fiddle Book and CD combo called Old Time FIddle For the Complete Ignoramus. That, and an in-tune fiddle and bow is all you need. We used a Cremona Student model. It is an import, but does sound darn nice and can be grown into and enhanced with better strings and rosin and grow with the student.

Nothing is stopping you from learning to play the fiddle. If you don't have the money for a new student package and book, borrow one from a friend or relative and get the book from the library or inter-library exchange. You can find a way, long as you start asking folks who can help lead you in the right direction. Always ask. Always, always ask. Because you might find a music teacher who can trade lessons for your goat's milk or homemade soaps or canned jams. Perhaps you can work out some sort of skill barter. It just takes some snooping around, but I am certain anyone reading this who wants to learn can email me, search through eBay or Craigslist, order or wrangle what you need and start watching some of Wayne's Free videos at Nativeground.com.

You want into our club, well, pick up a fiddle and join us!

As for this farm: It is time to get back in the saddle, back into winter prep, and back into figuring out the next month. I have just two weeks to finish editing the manuscript for my next book, and then I need to prepare for the Mother Earth News Fair. When I get back from that there is Antlerstock to plan for and then WINTER, the biggest event of the year. So stay tuned, in all aspects, and I will keep this dog and pony showing going as long as I can.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Graduating Class 2012

practice session video!

We're down to the last few hours of fiddle camp. Folks are learning songs, shuffling bows, and droning notes. Here at a practice session I walk around the farm to check in with people learning a new technique. Welcome some new fiddlers to the Cold Antler Family!

sock knitting machine!

fiddle camp hooligans

Fiddle Camp: Day 1

The coffee is brewing and the campers are outside behind the barn, a happy tent city. There are people at this event from North Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, Mass, New York, PA, and Ohio. Last night the ones who were staying here in tents, sat around a roaring campfire with guitars, banjos, and our stories. It was a happyy scene if there ever was one. Ajay sang ballads of the Burger Den and Evil Thor (one of my aggressive roosters) and folks sipped cider and Guinness in lawn chairs under the stars. Everyone seemed happy, and everyone seemed tired.

Our first day of Fiddle Camp turned out to be, in actuality, Fiddle Boot Camp. And I mean that in the way that the day was long and hot, and we did not stop lessons and practice sessions for six hours straight. But I can say this: people came here not sure how to rosin a bow and ended the day learning their first scale, song, and performing in front of other campers. When a quiet camper named Sarah stood up at the end of the day and perfectly played her first tune, Ida Red. Her husband Clay (driver and moral support) told me later he never thought people could pick it up in one day. He was happy to see his girl so very happy, and I was proud of her and everyone who arrived.

People do learn at their own paces, but I've learned from this event that even the person who struggled the most was keeping up. One woman came to me, confused, and pointed to a pile of tabulator in the book asking a frantic question. She talked about her confusion while showing me the finger positions on the fretboard and talking about the string and notes and I wanted to hug her. She didn't get my happy look because she was trying to solve a puzzle, but all I could think of was that 5 hours ago she had no idea what a scale, fretboard, or finger positions was and now she was tuning her own fiddle and learning a song. Even in their fray of frustration and determination there is so much already learned!

I'm heading out to help with coffee, but I will update with more later! So far this camp has been an amazing success and everyone is eager and doing well. Music is in the air and spirits are high!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

wish you were here!

Friday, August 24, 2012

patches for merlin's saddle pad

24 hours to camp!

Fiddle Camp starts in a little over 24 hours. Between then and now is a mess of work to do in preparation. There's 15 fiddles to tune and inspect, a porta-potty to install, campsites to clear, and classes to plan. Parking lots were made with the thanks of Holden Daughton and his brush hoggin' DR mower. People who arrive can park by the pond and walk up the road to the house and a series of places to set up tents and chairs and tables is waiting for them behind the barn.

Folks who are camping, Washington County is in a drought so you can not have open fires. You need to bring camp stoves if you want to cook here. Remember, since I do not have a USDA kitchen I can not legally feed you so you need to bring along any meals you do not want to buy. The Burger Den is just up the road for lunch and dinner and Cambridge has several places and a small IGA to get provisioned up. If you have a camp chair, bring it!

Also, the Washington County Fair is going on so if anyone wants to hit up one of the best Fairs in the state after camp is over for the day on Saturday, I can give you easy directions. It is only 20 minutes from CAF. We can take a group field trip if you like!

So I will see you all with posts from the weekend by and by. It may be too busy to post but I will post videos and pictures. Wish us all luck and happy sawing!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

haying with dire wolves

I asked some friends how to describe an afternoon of haying to folks who never did it before. I was given this perfect reply:

Tell them to dress and prepare for four hours of moving 400, 50-pound, Brill-o pads around in 87 degree weather.

But, you know, the fun version.

That sums it up. Haying is a several step process, and around here it is all done by big machines that cut, row, turn, and bale the long stems of grass. But most people still need help bringing in the loads off the field and stacked in the barn for safe keeping. And that is what Ajay and I were called to do Tuesday. Bob Ackland of Maple Lane Farm has been letting me ride and drive Merlin all over his vast farmland for months, so when he asked for one afternoon to help put up hay I was happy to say yes. Ajay was thrilled. Both of us are farm-work junkies and haying is the marathon of all the events. You are certain to end it ten pounds thinner and drunk from the tiredness, but like any long run you feel reborn after a good shower (or a night at the fair, in our case).

We got to Bob's dressed for the work. When you hay you wear long pants, boots, gloves and (optional) long-sleeved shirts. Yes, it's hot but when you are dealing with the razor sharp chaff and constant scraping of bales against your skin it is a lot less painful having some carhartts between you and the grating. We had on straw hats for the sun, bodies full of water, and then we jumped into the wagon behind Mark Wesner (driving tractor) and our job was to lift and stack the bales in the wagon. We did this for three hours.

You find your role fast when you join a work team like this. I was poor at stacking in the wagon, too much like math for me. So I opted to be the one who picks up the bales from the piles in the fields and puts them in the wagon for others to load. I adored this work.

Mark Wesner watched from the tractor in (I think) surprise at the brute force and constant speed of the work. I am not one to brag but when it comes to bucking hay bales I am gold-medal material, son. It felt like something my body was meant to do. As the day grew longer and we hit over 300 bales I kept at it. There's a stride to hit in haying just as there is in a run or a long trail ride on horseback. You feel a point of poetry of the body, when everything is oiled and practiced enough to pump at peak efficiency. This is the kind of feeling you savor in an afternoon of haying and when you reach it you feel like you will live forever, long as there is decent work to do.

When all was done, we hopped off the last wagon and enjoyed pink lemonade and cookies, brought out by Bob's wife, Caroline. It was heavenly. And Mark said he thought watching me buck up hay bales was like watching someone who had the perfect body for the task, it just worked. He then said, smiling and happy, "You're built like a stone mason!" and Ajay cracked up, laughing. He ragged on Mark, "So THAT'S how you talk to women!" and I laughed. I am what I am. I'm built like a dire wolf, not a deer and so far this stout little frame has taken me some amazing places and done some serious work. I'm grateful for it, not ashamed of it.

But Ajay hasn't stopped calling me "Hay-Mason" since.

oxen and the fair

Ajay and I were at the Washington County Fairgrounds in plenty of time for the Oxen Judging on Tuesday morning. Out of all the events at the Fair, this might be the most intriguing and its because of a geographical oddity. You see, Washington County is dairy country. Line up ten farmers and seven of them deal with the white stuff. Cows, Holsteins in particular, are not dotted across the landscape but splattered across it, Jackson Pollock style. Dairy is so big that our local gas station won the best vanilla ice cream in America award in 2009. I am not making that up. We know cows around here.

So when a rogue clan of dairyfolk decide to do the unthinkable (keep male calves) and raise them up to do work the tractor long replaced I am in awe. It is either hopeless romanticism or die-hard practicality, but either way the fact that people are raising non-milking/non-eating cows and feeding them to be entered in a fair is fascinating. We watched not a pull, but a show. The oxen were walked around the arena and judged on how well they were paired as a team. there were young kids with light whips and aging, cagey looking old timers who's butt you knew fit perfectly into their tractor seats.

Ajay was unhappy with the commentator, who he thought should have more verve to be MCing a huge work-cow event. I shrugged. I thought the judge sounded just like an ox, slow and certain. IN general, I thought the whole thing was great. Just great. Seeing these folks shuck and jive with a pair of oxen they knew as week-old calves now towering over them at 1600+ pounds. Compared to the draft horses they were calm and slow, but what a thing to see them amble about along the fair lanes. You can't call your fair a fair if you don't have to watch your step for cow flops while eating your fried dough.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

heading out to hay at maple lane farm


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

a bowl of apple oatmeal

The apples this year are nothing to crow about. A last spring frost killed many of the buds and only a few red ones shine from the green and tired branches. I can see them up high on the hill where the sheep shed's get the earliest of the morning light the few that remain lay in wait. I walk up there with a shepherd's crook and the sheep a pasture away see me, the crook, and the tree and know exactly what is about to happen. Sal, the oldest and most savvy of the flock, comes leading the flock, baaing as his old legs canter him towards me. Crooks and late summer near the apple trees mean one thing to these critters: falling apples. Soon I am surrounded by my flock and as I get a few winners to plop into my large button-down shirt I am using as a net, the rest fall around me and only know earth for a few seconds before they are gobbled up. The ovines crunch their merry way into bliss and I can see bits of steam leave their maw on the cool morning. Two crows perched on a dead tree look down on us and I wave and smile. All of this is a psalm to me.

Fall is on his way.

The apples were collected because oatmeal made on the stove with fresh apples, cinnamon, Brett's maple syrup and brown sugar is a powerful way to fortify a woman for a day like today. In the next few hours I will meet up with Ajay from the farm down the road, do all the morning chores and feeding, share my breakfast pot, and load up in the truck for the oxen competition at the Washington County Fair. Neither Ajay or I have ever watched oxen in action and we aren't missing the weight pull. Lunch will be served, fair style, and then we're coming home to dress in long pants and shirt sleeves (regardless of the heat) to help a neighbor bring in his hay. Haying is the marathon chore of the summer and the older farmers could use two 30-year-olds to buck and jive in the wagons and help load into the lofts. By dusk both of us will be too tired to eat and will return to the Fair for the pro-rodeo to watch the broncos and bull riders. We'll watch the glory and guts of the rodeo, tired and sore under the lights of the ferris wheel, baptized in hard work from a day of hay and sweat.

But it all starts with a bowl of apple oatmeal.

Monday, August 20, 2012


What you see here is my ranking medal as an Archer in the SCA. It means that I have competed in at least three Royal Round Tournaments on three separate days and am listed on the East Kingdom's roll call of archers. This medal was hand-cast in a friend's forge right in his own backyard. The crossed arrows mean I'm part of a very small group inside and even smaller group and it makes me grin like an idiot even golding it. Even though it's the lowest ranking medal there is in the Society, it stands for so much more. This is my first summer on the team and the practices, friends, events, and experience has been wonderful in making me a better archer. I hope to use those skills from the practices to become a proper bow hunter. I might be the only person in Washington County hunting in a blaze orange kilt with a long bow, but I'll be out there. To a select group of men, that's got to be hot.

In other Archery/Society news I was nominated to become a Marshall in Training (MIT) in our Shire. This means I'll be learning how to safely check equipment, run practices, and lead the team in range commands. Not bad for a girl who picked up her first long bow just a few months earlier.

bookstore dog

Sunday, August 19, 2012

virtual swap meet!

So here's an idea. Let's have a virtual swap meet. It works like this. You post something you need. Then, post what you are looking for. Then offer your email address. When you've done this and we've collected a fair number of comments, we can start scanning what other people have to offer and contact the person who you can make a decent trade with. Email each other, and figure out shipping and addresses, and trade online. I'll start:

NEED: I need a western style saddle pad with good padding and in decent condition. Fleece would be preferred. Color doesn't matter.

OFFER: I have to trade: 4 bars of homemade goats milk mint soap and a 12oz bear of honey from the hive. Email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com if you have said pad!

Okay, Who else needs something?

Antlerstock 2012 Itinerary is Up!

Antlerstock is just a few weeks away and I'd like to gather all the presenters through email to talk. So far I have experts in their field talking about homebrewing beer, Nigerian Dwarf Dairying, Handmade home herbal salves, Sourdough Bread Start making and baking, Backyard lumberjacking and axe work, farm animals in small spaces, soapmaking, draft horses, chickens, and more. It is Columbus Day weekend and so far there are less then 6 remaining spots open. Parking will be a hard thing to pull off so I am hoping folks coming from the campground or Cambridge can carpool. Here is the itinerary so far

Friday NIght: Arrive at 6PM for a casual meet and greet and campfire. Not an official part of antlerstock, but a private party for folks who want to come a night early and just relax, find the farm, and get their bearings. We'll have a cookout, potluck style, so bring a dish and BYOB. It'll be a nice time.

Saturday: Antlerstock begins!

9:30 AM - sign in, morning mingling, and tour
10:15 AM - Backyard Forestry
10:15 AM - Soapmaking
11:00 AM - Sourdough Starter and Baking
11:00 AM - Harnessing up and moving logs with Merlin/Jasper
12:00 Noon - Safe Axe work, chopping and stacking 101

1PM - Lunch Break, bring a packed lunch or drive into town for a meal!
Stay for a homesteading talk under the King Maple

2:30PM - Backyard Rabbits and Chickens for eggs and meat
3:00 PM - Getting Started with Dairy Goats
4:00 PM - Timber Sports talk and demo
4:00 PM - Conversations Under the King Maple: Wrap up
5:00 PM - End of day, enjoy a drive around the WC, welcomed back for a campfire and music at 7PM lit by jack-o-lanterns. Story time and music.

Ongoing daily activities: cider pressing and pumpkin carving.

Sunday: Day 2~

9:00 AM - Horses for the homestead, riding and work
9:00 AM - Salves and herbal remedies
10:00 AM - Hombrewing 101!
10:30 AM - Fiddles and Dulcimer Overview
11: 00 AM - Pruning fruit trees and forestry

Noon - Break for Lunch!

Ongoing daily activities: Optional Tour of Common Sense Farm, Soap Shop and Poultry barn

1:30 PM - Cheesemaking 101
2:00 PM - Pigs 101
3:00 PM - Sheep and Wool for the homestead
3:30 PM - Energy and the future, conversation
4:00 PM - HIghlanders and backyard Beef
4:30 PM - Wrap Up under the maple tree

a day of horsing around

Friday morning Brett and I loaded our horses into the back of his red two-horse trailer and we headed up route 22 to Livingston Brook Farm. It was early, around 8AM and we had an appointment for a lesson at 10AM with trainer Dave. The reason for the early start was a catered breakfast by Mark and Patty. We had a spread of fried heirloom tomatoes, eggs, new potatoes, and bacon: almost every bite right out of their own backyard. We sat around the round kitchen table talking about our farms and horses, stories and work while the horses got to know each other in a pasture just outside the front door.

That video above is Brett and Patty introducing Steele and Ellis to our ponies. It's not easy to see but there's a beautiful moment of equine communion going on when all four animals meet down in the meadow. I was grateful to catch it on camera!

I wanted to thank Brett for all he does for Cold Antler so I was treating him to a lesson with the magical man who brought Merlin back to me. Trainer Dave was going to address some of Dolly's nervous habits during tacking up. Dolly is amazing and responsive once she is in a harness or saddle, but it's the getting her tacked up that is the problem. She moves around, doesn't like the bit, and pretty much runs the show. Dave listened to this story and went to work right away, focusing on ground work and respect. I trust Trainer Dave with all my heart, and knew Dolly would do great. (I already asked him to be the expert speaker at the Farmer's Horse Workshop at Halloween, and he accepted!) While Brett was game for the lesson, I don't know if he expected a huge change in his horse. But by the end of one hour with trainer dave he seemed to have an entirely different animal.

Dave worked Dolly with a lunge line and plastic bag on a stick, his weapons of reason against the herbivore's fussy brain. Dolly had not been pushed around for a while so she required a little bit of extra time, but fifteen minutes into working her Dave was barely touching the line in his hands and Dolly was following him around like a dog. Dave was able to place a saddle pad and saddle on her without much fuss, and less fuss every time he tried it. I couldn't stop smiling at Brett's face, which was constantly beaming in awe at the change as well as taking in every word of Dave's instruction. By the time the lesson was wrapping up Brett was able to tack up his horse without even using cross ties. She stood like a Civil War statue. Patty and I just shook our head's smiling. These animals, and the people around them, are a blessing every day.

When school was over, we tacked up Merlin and Ellis (Ellis is Steele's paddock mate, an 18-hand Warmblood) and joined Brett and Dolly for an adventure. We rode through the woods by the famouse Livingston Brook and then up into the hayfields that span out to a beautiful private lake. We walked our horses right into the water and they splashed and drank as we laughed. We really laughed when Dolly decided to lay down with Brett on her back! It happened like slow quicksand, until she was on her belly. Brett remained calm and just slid off, got her to stand and got back on. (I would have had a fit of panic, most likely). Both got very wet, but no one was hurt. I personally think it was a revenge of sorts for her lesson. (Never mess with a chestnut Mare, folks.) But whatever she had in spite she made up for in how great she was on the trail. That little horse of Brett's was an angel. She put up with a 2.5 hour trailer ride to Washington County, was put up with strange horses, two trail rides, a lesson, and never once gave us a hard time. I think all of our trail horses had a shining moment when a big Farmall Tractor at Maple Lane Farm turned right next to us and went down the road and all of the horses were calm as monks in a monastery. I don't know if that is common, to have such calm animals in such a land of distraction and elements, but we did, and we were darn happy.

And so we rode on, along the paths and tractor dirt roads of Maple Lane Farm across the street and we ended at their barns where four Haflingers were watching us in a starting contest. Merlin and Dolly went right up to the old stone wall to say hello and Brett thought it was a riot, introducing Dolly to some of her clan.

It was an amazing day, full of learning and trotting across roads and farms. By lunchtime we were all tired as dogs and parted with hugs and handshakes. I can't wait to do it all again. And if there was any doubt I was becoming a horse person, well, it was crushed under that mud Dolly laid down in.

Yee Haw!

who changed who?

It is hard to believe that less than six months ago Merlin was a picture in a Craigslist Ad. Now he's right outside the kitchen window. That horse is changing me, or has come into my life at a time of intense personal change—either way he's more significant than a saddle holder. He's this massive, mythical creature that is the symbol of a mythical time in my own life. Merlin met me when I was a struggling office employee scared to so much as canter, dealing with a great amount of personal pain and confusion. Now we are literally galloping into autumn together. Both of us are different animals. I'm a self-employed, full-time creative homesteader and he's a hundred pounds thinner and more trained and utilized than he has been in years. Just a few nights ago I was riding him up into the forested paths and open hayfields on my mountain, Brett and his Haflinger Dolly at my flank. We'd move the horses up and around the mountain, taking turns at the lead and exploring all the paths and outcrops. It was sublime, something that belonged in a movie. And yet, it was just a Thursday afternoon. And when I look back on this blog, just to April or May I see another person all together and I wonder how much a black horse had to do with it?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

monday meets george

black out!

Just as I was deep into editing the final parts of my newest book I was overcome with exhaustion and took a nap on the daybed in the living room. When I woke up 20 minutes later to the sound of distant thunder I could sense the lack of electricity instantly. Computer fans and electric hums were off and I realized I didn't hit save. I groaned and rolled over on the day bed, and let a limp arm hang off the edge towards the floor. Gibson licked it from some nest he made in the netherworld and I smiled. I may have a few hours of work to redo, but at least I have a border collie.

The last few days have been so rich in activity and friends I don't think you have the patience to read a post as long as it should be. So I'm writing about the blackout now, and will update you on Brett, Patty, and my day of horsing around later. I also have a goose story about Ryan's great escape and news about the Washington County Fair, Fiddle Camp, and a Kerrits giveaway for all you riders out there so stay tuned! Anyway, back to the blackout:

Power outages are not rare nor do they effect me much. It was still light out so I had enough sense to set out all the oil lamps (only one needed a new wick which I keep in a mason jar in my pantry) and some candles for when I came back. I decided to go down to Common Sense and enjoy their Friday night dinner and meet up with Ajay. He's been down there a while and is leaving this weekend. He's not leaving Washington County though. He's fallen in love with the place and the people and decided he's sticking around and has already lined up a work-for-board job down the road from me. He's excited to start out on his own but bittersweet about leaving the community who he enjoyed living around so much. No one said decisions were easy, and certainly none that have to do with following a dream like owning his own farm. He could stay at Common Sense but it would be a trade of living in a utopian commune for personal freedom. He's too much like me to make the trade so he's setting out to save and work for his own land. I admire his grit.

So I got down to Common Sense and the place was lit up with candles and the last of the natural sunlight. Friday night starts their Sabbath and so everyone was in their best clothes and the cloth tables were set with candles and fresh flowers for the fish and sweet corn dinner. Their gas stove, collected rainwater for toilet flushing, and lack of AC in general made the night seem no different than it did any other Friday. If it was any different, it was just in beauty because the five-alarm post storm sunset mixed with guitars and candlelight and laughing children made it even more dear. I sat out with Ajay on the porch of the mansion and asked him how he felt about all this change? (A proper question in a blackout) He seemed torn.

Today is all about writing and chores and then dinner over at Jon and Maria's place. I'm bringing the salad.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

trail ride with brett and dolly!

fall workshop drive!

Winter is coming, and you don't have to be from the House of Stark to know how serious that is, you just need to be a farmer. So far my preparations include a barn with 50 bales of hay stacked inside and a cord of firewood, plus another cord ordered to be delivered in September. I still need about 150 more bales of hay and another 2-3 cords of wood. I am finding ways to make it work, but the sooner I can prepare before October the more I will be able to enjoy the fall and feel safe in this little white farmhouse. To be perfectly honest, I am starting to worry. So this is my attempt to try and remedy that.

I decided to run a workshop drive today, with the goal of selling ten workshops before the weekend! If you have any interest in the following, consider signing up for a day or weekend at the farm: learn to play the fiddle, spin and knit wool, promote your own writing and blog, intro to working horses with guest speaker and natural horsemanship guru Trainer Dave, and of course, the nonstop festivities of Antlerstock.

It is how I support myself now, entirely, so your participation is so very appreciated! If you live around the area and find yourself wanting to go to more than one or two workshops a year, you can also buy a Season Pass, which is a huge confidence booster and blessing for this farm when they are purchases. They cost the same as Antlerstock and another workshop for a couple and I do sell Season Passes at a discounted couples rate.

So, click this link here, to see all the classes, passes, and workshops being offered. I hope I can motivate some of you to head over here for the fellowship and fun. The farm and I truly appreciate it and all you do as readers and fellow story tellers on your own farms. I thank you again, and hope to see you in my living room soon!

Monday is back on the Market!

The folks who were going to buy Monday had to decline after changing their minds, so the little ram lamb is back on the market. He is almost totally weaned and friendly as all get out. If anyone is looking for a ram out of a proven line, for breeding or for a flock member, please let me know. He is $175 or a barter of equal value. I am looking for more young laying hens and draft horse gear. That or ten dollars in US silver coin (1964 (and earlier) quarters, half dollars, dollars, and dimes.) It's not practical to keep him here on the payroll. It is for a ewe lamb giving birth to a pair of twins each year, but not to a ram lamb. So in the spirit of farming, if he stay's he'll be a delicious Yuletide feast.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

OMG, there are TURKEYS in this thing!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

you have nothing to lose

I think there are few things as powerful as the written word. Words can be curses and prayers, sonnets and swears, lyrics and prose. Our language is a gift, and something that stirs things inside us. Words are everything to me, and the reason I am writing you today. Folks, strap into your seat belts because we're going to make magic happen starting now.

When I wanted a farm of my own and had a few months to figure out how to pull it off—I wrote it down. I sat down in a little dirty cabin in Vermont and sketched out in letters exactly what I wanted. I wrote about the sheep and the hillside, the farmhouse and the barn. I wrote about Gibson, and horses, and the commuting distance to work. I did it because I saw it on a movie and I was desperate. Some friends leant me their copy of The Secret and writing down plans was a part of the DVD. Today I can look back at the past few years and attribute most of my manifested life to believing it is possible, thanks to that random video.

I want you to do something right now, right here. I want you to leave a comment stating what you want. And I'm not talking about a new truck or to pass your final exams. I mean the BIG PICTURE. Write down the thing that keeps you up at night, the dream that is stalking you, waiting to pounce. If you are shy do it anonymously. I don't need to know who you are and no one else does either. What matters is that you actually put words down. And when you are done, copy and paste it into a word doc and print it out and put it in your wallet or purse. Carry it with you, not like a burden but like a letter you are going to mail. Have it on your person the same way pockets are on your pants. Do it and see what happens.

You may not realize it, but taking the time to write down a dream is actually the first step in making it happen. You are doing so much more than writing. You are physically turning your thoughts into reality, and if you don't believe me check your back pocket. A real, tangible thing will be there. And while yes, it is a piece of paper it is also so much more. That paper is an action you did to work towards a goal. You build from there, little by little and suddenly the words on your paper are just your life.

When things get scary, or you feel you are losing your destination point, take out that scrap of paper like a compass and point yourself back home. If you can read it, close your eyes and picture it, you are the most powerful force on earth. If I can do this, you can do it. It worked for me and I spent the day with friends in Washington County riding horses on a weekday. I think this blog is the reason why, and not because of the workshops and books, but because every single day I am sharing my hopes and dreams with the world. That is a powerful thing, an ancient practice, and the Need Fire it creates only brings more good into my life. I am so grateful for it, and I want you to have the same. So please, write it down.

You have nothing to lose by sharing your dream. Nothing. Do it and you will be taking the first step towards making it happen. And when you are sitting on your own farm's front porch in a few years, your boss having let you telecommute and your first ever backyard broiler is roasting in the oven filling your house with a scent you thought was only reserved for heaven— you can take a sip of cold beer, reach back into your wallet, take out that faded, stained, and thin scrap of paper and know what it feels like to not only behold a dark horse, but ride it.

truth seekers, lovers and warriors

"Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors."
-Hunter S Thompson

I was so touched by the photos Jon took here yesterday morning. It was a barter for a new chicken for his farm. He took over 400 photos, a rapid fire of split seconds caught between Merlin and me. This photo of my reaching down to stroke his neck is my favorite portrait ever taken of me. I almost can't believe it is me, and I think back to that day in my corporate office last winter when I came across his ad online and posted it on my facebook page as a joke. I never thought I could actually own a Fell Pony, or any riding horse of this level because I had been trained through a culture of negativity to not believe it was possible. I was a chump that confused negativity with "realistic" a word so often used to crush people. Reality is a verb, not a precept. It's what you do.

I am reading the dreams of people below and am crying over them, because they make me so damn happy. All these folks just wanting simple things: homes, safety, the ability to love and walk and smile for one authentic moment. No one wants a million dollars or a private jet, they just want their basic needs met and some are struggling to do so.

Holly from Illinois has a great idea and I want to make it happen. We're going to figure out a way to connect local readers to other local readers, wherever you are in the country for a day of Farm Support. We'll pick a day in early September to get everyone who wants to spend a day helping another farmer out and meet new friends. If this is something you would be interested in, either hosting or helping, keep following the blog for more details. I have time to help local farms if you need me, just ask. And I will need help building Merlin's Barn. Maybe some can help with that or loan me and Brett a ladder? Anyway, stay tuned. Inspiration in action is on the way.

fiddle camp update!

So this is who I have listed as attendees for Fiddle Camp. The (f) after your name means you have reserved a student fiddle for yourself as well. Please let me know soon as possible if you should be on the list and aren't, or if I have something else wrong let me know. I have 13 fiddles here waiting for people, based on my paperwork. This is your last chance to order one before camp, so if you need one let me know. I am getting and setting up Cremona Student sets.

Also, if you are attending, make sure you bring along these Four things: your copy of Old Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus, an electric guitar tuner, and bagged lunches. There will be bottled water and access to a bathroom, of course, and we can all go out to lunch if we prefer. PLEASE ALSO BRING A SPARE SET OF 4/4 VIOLIN STRINGS!!! Because chances are when learning to tune they may break and you'll need a reload. So pick up a set at your local music shop or order a set online and stash it with your gear. They cost around twenty dollars, sometimes less.

Campers List!
Diane R and her husband (f)
Sam! (f)
Kate M. (f)
Dawn and Peter
Linda W (f)
Kate N (f)
Brian B (f)
Hwa Su K (f)
Roberta M
Sarah C (f)
Jamie E (f)
Leshem C
Trish K (f)
Ellen (f)
Stacey F (f)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Merlin and Me

photo by jon katz

drought on an urban farm

A long-time reader of this blog has been hit hard by the drought in the American Midwest. She wrote, asking if I would be willing to post about her project to save her urban farm. It got lost in my emails and was recovered tonight. She's raising money to rebuild a food source for her community and perhaps some of us can help?

Click here for more information and to help

upward over the mountain!

One of the best feelings in the world is being on the back of a horse you love as he canters up a hill. Here's a bit of a far shot, taken by Jon Katz when he stopped by earlier this morning. I'll post more later from the shoot, but I just wanted to share this bit of joy before I head out to do my evening chores. A girl and her horse, what a thing to behold!

potato patch!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

three mile soundtrack

1. Carry On. Fun
2. Soul Meets Body. Death Cab for Cutie
3. Some Nights. Fun.
4. Walking Far From Home. Iron & Wine
5. Happier. Guster
6. Folk Bloodbath. Josh Ritter
7. Sound of Setting. Death Cab for Cutie
8. Empty Northern Hemisphere: Gregory Alan Isakov
9. Carry On. Fun.
10. Passing Afternoon: Iron & wine

x marks the shock

I have an X on my right upper arm, just below the shoulder. You know the place, where comic sailors have mother tattooed on their biceps. My X isn't a tattoo though, but it sure is a brand. I got it today when I was stupid enough to go work along the sheep fence without turning off the 30-mile cattle charger I use to keep the woollies in. I was dumping out the dirty sheep's water tank and stand in a pool of muddy water when my shoulder touched the bare wire. I screamed, and I mean I screamed, more out of shock than pain. It was not something I would recommend to any of you nice people. Shucks, I wouldn't recommend it to any of you mean people. It was rough. Lesson learned.

I now have a perfect little red X on my arm though. I kinda hope it sticks.

rabbit for dinner

Yesterday's Meat Rabbit Workshop was small, but packed with information and experiences. In one day we went from the foundation stock and what to look for in your breeding animals, to housing, breeding, kit rearing, and breed types. The day was split into two halves: the morning at my farm where we went over the land of the living—and the afternoon at Livingston Brook Farm where we learned about the land of the dead (more on that later). The entire morning was spent in lecture, either in the farmhouse or out in the barn. The stars of the day were Gotcha the Silver Fox and my chunky Palomino doe who doesn't have a name, but does have eyelashes that would shame a fawn. Everyone got to see a normal mating (Gibson, the little pervert stared wide eyed at this)and we discussed the safest and best ways to bring the little ones up in the world. I tried to cover every aspect of the backyard meat rabbit herd, and what to expect in the experience. We broke for a casual lunch and then packed up into Karen and Joe's Urban Assault Vehicle and drove to Patty's!

Patty taught us all about harvesting the animals. She showed us a simple, quick, and silent way to quickly kill the rabbits using a metal rod like a broom handle behind the animals head, lifting the back legs until its neck is broken in one gentle motion. This isn't easy to explain, but if you youtube search for "broomstick rabbit method" you'll see what I mean. From there she went through her expert method of butchering the humanely killed animals. We went through the system with three rabbits and then stepped inside her beautiful farmhouse to learn about cooking methods and freezer packing. She explained her fool-proof brown and simmer method and showed us how to quarter, butterfly, and best pack the rabbit meat for storage. Patty and Mark were certainly having rabbit for dinner that night, hosting some neighbors from across the road. I bet it was amazing. In fact, I'm certain, as I've eaten rabbit at her place enough times to make the claim!

The day of rabbits covered it all, and I think the brave folks who came out to see the entire enterprise were happy they did. Everyone learned something. Some learned rabbit butchering was NOT for them, and other's got tips and ideas for their future buck and does. I know I came home to a house smelling of Drunk Rabbit Stew, a Cold Antler Farm staple crock pot dinner eaten over buttered egg noodles and it was legendary in taste and scent. My friends Ajay and Geoff came over and each had a serving along with me, both new rabbit conisuers, and both enjoyed it. (I think it is impossible not to enjoy anything with both butter and Guinness in the recipe.) Heck, even the dogs got to enjoy a taste!

I'm a fan of meat rabbits, have been for a while now. It's one of the topics I'll be talking about at the Mother Earth News Fair and will continue to teach and lecture about here at the farm. I think their the perfect backyard protein, maybe even better than chickens. They are quieter, easier to dress and cook, and more people like it than dislike it once they get the gumption to try it out. I think rabbit and venison have become my top shelf meats, my new palate's favorite flavors. I'll keep breeding and enjoying the former, and pray I get an arrow in the later. The good news is even a bad shot can come inside on a cold November night to a bowl of Drunk Rabbit, regardless of the gifts of the hunt. I don't think that's a bad consolation prize at all. In fact, with a side of crusty bread and a wedge of cheese and home brew in a stein, that might be this woman's version of heaven.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

muddy buddies

Friday, August 10, 2012

Gle Mvah!

Well, I'm teaching myself Scottish Gaelic. Don't get too excited because it's what I do for five minutes before falling asleep at night in bed, my bedtime reading. And I'm doing it for no reason other than to better read the old tales and music from that land I love so much, that I'm drawn so strongly to. I have piles of Celtic folklore and tales and don't even know how to pronounce the places and names. I decided to remedy that and its been fun. I'm no expert, heck I am barely capable, but between books and Youtube on my iphone in bed it's not so hard to get into a thing these days. I thought I'd share a basic greeting conversation through my two Scottish critters here: Gibson and Monday, both from ol' Alba (that's Scotland in, well, Scottish). I have the proper spelling first and how to pronounce it in the parenthesis. And if you want to hear it all spoken and explained, click this link here.

Gibson: Ciamar a tha sibh? ( Kimeer a har shiff)
Monday: Tha gu math. Ciamar a tha sibh, fein? (Ha goo mah. Kimeer a har shiff, fee-in)
Gibson: Gle Mvah!! Tapadh leigbh!
(Glay Vah! Tapa lef!)


Gibson: How are you?
Monday: I am well. How are you?
Gibson: Very well! Thank you!

Bonus phrase! m' math cu! (mmm mah coo)
Translation: my good dog (male dog, female would be m' math chu)

Yes, I'm a nerd.

a note about emails


I am very very overwhelmed right now and can't keep up with emails. Sometimes (twice this week) folks emailed me to follow up on older emails and said they were hurt I did not respond. All my lack of response means is I didn't get to the email yet. I try to respond to as many as possible but often I have to prioritize emails for workshops and sponsors above conversational, advice, and barter request emails. I don't mean it as disrespectful, I appreciate all letters sent or shared. It is simply a matter of not enough time. It's only 4:40PM and I have received 324 emails today. About 30 are folks saying hello or asking advice (thank you, by the way)and the rest are blog comments to approve, emails from sponsors and workshop attendees, friends and family, and things like bills and company mailing lists. Between the farm, the book hitting the deadline, and planning for winter and expenses I am just behind, more so then ever before. I just ask for understanding and patience. If I don't respond, please send it again. If I don't respond to the resend, send it again! I am doing my level best.


feeling better, figuring out fall

Daylight did come, and I met the day with a better attitude. I really believe if you're scared and negative all you do is draw more fear and negative things to you. If I'm positive and act in accordance to my own will, things happen for the better. You can call it faith, magic, prayer, or the Mayan 2012 prophecy, I don't care. But I do know that you get what you think about. I chose to think about getting where I need to be.

Here's the situation. My mortgage and car payment are up to date. Merlin's payment is up to date. My student loans and trash pickup are up to date as of today. My electric bill and internet bill is up to date. My home, health, dental, and car insurance is up to date. There is a start to my hay stash in the barn and Patty and I worked out a deal that if I can't buy it all now I can buy hay from her second cutting she stores in her barn, paying as I go through the winter. So I have a backup plan for hay if I can't get it all in before snowfly, but I do want at least a 2-month supply on hand. I'll feel better knowing that its there. So will the animals. I can get a hundred bales, I am almost halfway there already.

Firewood news! I got a week-long farm sitting job($!) for a neighbor down near Cambridge's famous Content Farm and they took down thirty old trees last summer that seasoned all year and they need help clearing it out. They said if I am willing to help with my truck hauling and moving logs and cut and splitting their stove wood I can take home some as well, probably a full cord! Thats a fine exchange of time and labor for heat so I am thrilled. It will cut my boughten wood costs in half.

I need to order a large order of lumber from the mill to finish up the siding on the horse's pole barn, but Brett told me I could ask for all rough-cut, seconds, or scraps and might get a discount. I certainly know it can't hurt to ask the guys at the mill. Anything I can save is money that stays in the bank, to pay off debts and work towards my own freedom. I might be dog paddling while I do it, but my head is above water and that's success in its own right.

All these things are slow progress, but progress. All figure out already, and I knew them in my logical mind but like a comment said in the daylight post earlier, anything after midnight is just pure emotion. It's not about sense, just anxiety.

I feel better, more in control. I know I'll get the mortgage paid on time, and the truck payment on time, and soon everything will be ready and ordered for the barn. I have Brett and Ajay to help with the hard stuff and big plans to make for the Fair and Antlerstock and all of it will come together. I was feeling scared last night, but I don't think I'll go there tonight. A little valerian and chamomile tea and some rest will pull me through to dawn without a fuss.

You can't let despair get a hold of you, if you do you're going down. Negativity hunts in packs like a pride of lionesses. You slow down enough to let one jump on your back and slow you down and in no time a hundred other things weigh you down until you can't even try to swing. You are helpless, punching under water. I am not going there. I have a plan. I made my choice. I'm farming right here, dammit and nothing is going to slow me down.

Lionesses, eat my dust.

Attn: Tomorrow's Rabbit Workshop Attendees

So things are looking good for tomorrow's workshop! We'll meet here tomorrow at 10AM and do morning introductions and a farm tour, have an indoor lecture and then go out to the barn to talk about what to look for in stock and such. After our lunch break (please remember to bring a sack lunch!) we'll field trip over to Livingston Brook Farm (just 10 minutes away) for the slaughter demonstration and tour of Patty's larger rabbit operation. She'll have animals for sale so if you want to leave with your own livestock, bring a cage. She charges 40.00 per Flemish Giant and has other breeds available as well. If the folks attending could email me to go over directions and such, I'd appreciate it!

So bring along your meal, cages if you need them, and rain gear just in case. We'll have cover and a garage for the demo at Patty's but there will be some time outside that your raincoat might help with. And if anyone out there wants to join in there are still some spaces left. Just email me, and we can work out the details. Looking forward to it!

Five Year Anniversary!

So this week marks the 5-year anniversary of Cold Antler Farm. Five years of one person's story, covering three different farms in three different states. I thank you all for reading. You've helped turn a renter's dream into her full time job. It took a few years, sure, but we did it. In celebration of the last five years and many more to come, I thought I'd share the first ever post from back in August of 2007.

Welcome to the blog for Cold Antler Farm. Cold Antler isn’t a place - It’s an idea. Named for my love of cervine symbols in ancient cultures and the poems of Han San, Cold Antler seemed like the perfect name for home. Right now Cold Antler is a retired cattle farm in Sandpoint Idaho. Here I raise chickens (heavy laying hens and some black silkie bantams), angora rabbits and a hive of honeybees. I also tend a few hearty gardens. I live with my two working housedogs, Siberian huskies named Jazz and Annie. They are working pack and sled dogs, and like everyone here at the farm, they do their part. My goal is greater sustainability and self-sufficiency in a world where those two things seem to have gone out of fashion. Being a renter, this takes a little more ingenuity and adaptability than the permanence of a regular farm...

This will be a place that hosts all farm-related posts from my personal blog and specific updates on my upcoming book. Idaho rural living, and local farm events (Like the upcoming county fair later this month!). Readers of Dogcoffin, will see a lot of double posts between the two blogs as this one becomes my main online contact and the coffin goes into a protected or offline mode. So thank you for taking time to check up on the barn at the end of the world and check in often.

small gift, big smile

Yesterday was my lesson with Trainer Dave and Merlin. Some of the Daughton Clan was there including Jacey, their oldest daughter and her new baby girl, Jane. Jacey loves horses, has ridden all her life and was looking forward to some time at the farm to be around horses and trainers again. I was honored to have her along. We learned new things, tricks and steps. Dave said I'm looking better, more comfortable. I told him for me it was time in the saddle. The more I do a thing the more comfortable I am. Every day I ride Merlin I feel I am growing as a person, getting braver and more patient at the same time. Not a bad gift from a black pony on a hill.

When we were done with the lesson, I told Jacey to hop up. She was happy to ride him and I got to see what a lifetime of riding looks like. Merlin was perfect for her and Jacey looked like a pro. When we were done she asked if she could brush him (of course!) and she braided blooms of Queen Anne's Lace into his long mane. There was a real connection there, that woman knows horses. I can only hope to get there some day myself. As a thank you she offered me a little gift, a small hand-painted watercolor.It gave this tired gal quite the big smile. Thank you, Jacey.

daylight on the way

Well, it's three in the morning and I can't sleep. I'm up because I am worried about this fall. I feel like I won't be ready for it, there's so much to prepare and plan for. It's mid August and I have only 42 bales of hay put up and one cord of firewood. I have plans and sources for the hay and wood but the gathering of it all is slow and nail-biting.

I do not regret my decision to leave Orvis, I needed to leave for many reasons and each of those many reasons was justification enough to move on. There are so many exciting things ahead for me: The Mother Earth News Fair and my keynote address there (I'll be talking about you guys, hint hint), Fiddle Camp, Antlerstock, and October herself. I am grateful and I feel blessed. I have supportive and loving friends, and every day is filled with so much beauty it can bring me to my knees, and often does.

But the truth is that 8-5 job was a grounding point, not real security by any means, but it was easier to fool myself into thinking it was because that's what all of our peers and family think it is. Every two weeks money came in no matter what, long as I stayed on the payroll and the truth is, I miss it. Here, every day is open and free but the past month has been dedicated entirely to figuring out how to get my feet on the ground and prepare for winter. It gets scary, especially alone at 3 in the morning when everything seems impossible and daylight is hours away. I don't want to be rich, I just want to know I'm breaking even and the bills are getting paid, wood is stashed, hay is in the barn, and then winter won't be as ominous. I can focus on the firelight instead of the cold. It's a choice to focus on what's good instead of what's bad. I try to be positive but it is hard sometimes.

Having a website like this is hard. If you write about fears concerning money, people think you are asking for it. I'm not asking for anything, and I'd like to make that clear. But I do want to share the part of the story that involves it. Because I think a lot of readers out there want to transition into full-time farming or self-employment and while I would never go back I think there are ways to prepare that make the transition easier. I thought I did those things, but not enough of them. I am learning from my mistakes one 3AM at a time...

Daylight is coming soon. I'm not giving up the good fight.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I gasped when I saw it!

a boot story

These boots were purchased at Whitman's Feed and Tack down in North Bennington, Vermont years ago. Before I ever took a riding lesson at Riding Right Farm I went to the store and asked if they had riding boots on sale. They did, but only western style. These Ariat men's paddock boots were on sale for sixty dollars. I wore them under a pair of jeans to my first English Riding Lesson and realized pretty quickly they weren't the right gear for the scene. People had on tall boots and shiny black paddocks with half chaps. I was told I didn't have to buy any gear for the lessons, but most people realized that knee-padded breeches and boots or half chaps made a big difference after an hour in an English saddle. My instructors were right, and so I set aside my cowboy boots in my mud room, to be worn another day when I felt I could pull them off.

So the western boots sat. I forgot about them. They stayed out of the way in the mudroom and my summer of riding lessons turned into fall, then winter, and then spring came and my mudroom was full of chickens. Well, if any of you keep or raise chickens indoors as chicks you learn about the dust that builds up everywhere around them. My barely-worn boots turned into chicken dust-piles.

Somewhere around last winter I stopped caring about what people at the office thought about my outfits and wanted to wear my cowboy boots. They were disgusting and neglected, crusty with fecal dust. I decided to throw them in the washing machine and let them dry in the cold sunlight and what was left was a patina of faded, softer leather. I started wearing them because I liked them. Just to the office, or out on weekend work chores. They broke into a perfect form of foot and ankle. I didn't wear them to ride, I stuck with my English garb, but I sure wore them and proudly.

Today after my lesson with Trainer Dave I realized how perfect they are for riding now. They soft ankles and pointed toes, the support and flexibility at the same time. I adore my old boots and I'm happy they grace the sides of a sunburned brown pony on a mountain rode. They might have been bought by inexperience as a mistake but they are now worn true to the cause. They make me feel authentic, and free, and just the sight of them makes my spirit lift. Those boots mean time on a horse, my horse, and the rest is

history. P.S. Unrelated, but true. Boots and Dutch are the best nicknames ever. Aint that right, boots?


vindaloo and headaches

It's been a wild couple of days. In the last 36 hours I ate lamb vindaloo with Brett, rode in a horse cart, rode Merlin, shot clays with my .12 gauge, swam around the ruins of an old grist mill, helped dig fence posts, did chores, worked on my new book, got ice cream, and it all wrapped up last night with me driving down to Common Sense Farm fast as I could after hearing he fell off a 15-foot hay wagon. Amazingly, he was okay. He was checked out and was a little sore, but himself. We
went out for ice cream after at Stewart's.

Before I called it a night I spoke with Ajay over the phone, seeing if he wanted to go to the hospital and how he felt. He said he felt fine, never better, but he had never been this busy in his life before. Technically, he doesn't have a job. He left his old horrible (his words, not mine) insurance gig in the city and is trading labor for room and board in the Commune. He laughed as he explained it. He said he's never had less personal responsibility and more Societal responsibility. He has to get up at 6, work all day outdoors, then also help with meals and moving people and repairing trucks and going on errands. He loves it, can't imagine doing anything but farming, but he's never known how much a person can do in a day until he moved to Washington County.

Boy, did I ever understand that.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

And the winner is...

Sonya Chisenhall! Email me Sonya and I'll mail it out!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

i like this artist. a lot.