Saturday, September 1, 2012

the bow and the pony

Spent the day at Hunter's Moon, an SCA event down in Albany. I achieved my highest score ever during Royal Rounds, and got a bullseye at 40 yards with my new bow! It's the one in the picture, a ffity-pound draw recurve that belonged to Joseph the Bold before me. He hand-sewed the leather grip and decorated it with braided sinew and leather. He seemed torn selling it, said it was a great hunting bow (which is what I plan on doing with it) and many a squirrel saw their demise from it. Joseph always wears a kilt with a sporan decorated with images of Epona and braided horse hair. What is it about archers and horses, I wonder?

Well, anyway. I like the company I keep these days.

I am a bit sore from all the shooting but pleased with the higher scores and having only 4 of 50 arrows I shot miss the foam targets. This is progress. And any day you spend out in the sunshine on green grass with friends is a gift. I certainly appreciated it, and the simple joy of hitting the yellow from nearly half a football field away in a kilt! Word is I may become a Marshal in the Society one day, and might be nominated to become an MIT (Marshall in Training). I hope I am. This is the summer of the bow and the pony.

Friday, August 31, 2012

winter prep continues

Wednesday morning felt like the first real kiss of Autumn. 45 degrees and me walking around in a hoodie. What a feeling to behold. I was outside milking Bonita, watching the first yellow leaves fall in the wind and listening to the chorusing of hens and geese in the woods behind the barn. Gibson, George, and Monday were all staring at the single remaining turkey poult in her little tractor. The other five did not make it. I couldn't help but chuckle as the milk rang into the steel pail. To see a dog, cat, and lamb stare at a little awkward bird from the stanchion was a sight indeed.

Winter prep is still going on. I still need a lot of hay, firewood, and things like oil delivered and the chimney swept. The highest priority item is having professional chimney sweeps come and scale the roof to clean out every bit of gunk in the two chimneys and inspect them for a winter of hard, hard use. I have Black Magic Sweepers of Vermont coming Tuesday and am thrilled to have that task crossed off the list. A lot of folks save money doing this themselves but I am both scared of heights and not comfortable with the task. My chimneys can't be swept bottom-up and so I let the professionals do it. I feel better and ready to burn a comfy fire if I wanted when they leave. I think we'll be smelling wood smoke around here by mid-september.

I ordered a cord of wood from Bob at Maple Lane Farm and am soon making payments towards it. I also have a neighbor who offered to get me wood if we can set up a work day to do it. I need to follow up and check for availability of help.

Good News! Jon and Maria are letting me salvage whatever old barn boards I want from the old barn they are going to tear down. If I can start making walls on the horse's pole barn out of free salvage I'll save a lot of money on lumber costs. That money can go into hay or bills. Every bit counts.

I am making it, just.
I will continue to make it.
I got a good feeling about this winter.

LAST CHANCE to win this fiddle package!
Your support helps!

We did this before as a fundraiser with the banjo and it was such a fun event. It's also a great way to help the farm. I am getting nervous about winter, and to help get things squared away I'm hosting a fundraiser with a prize for a random winner. In honor of this weekend's fiddle camp — you can comment here to win a beginner's package (violin, case, bow, rosin, etc). A lot of people wanted to come and couldn't, so here is a chance to win your own! All you do to enter to win is leave a comment or a small donation! The farm could really use the support, and this way everyone who helps has a chance to possibly take home a great prize.

So, everyone who wants a chance to win, just leave a comment in this post. You don't have to donate to be entered at all. But for those who want to support the farm, please use the yellow button below and mark it "Fiddle Giveaway". Your donation enters you just like a comment does. I won't set any dollar amount for the entry to win the fiddle package. If you want to donate a dollar, then donate a dollar. If you want to donate five dollars, donate five dollars. If you want to donate a quarter, then donate a quarter. Winner will be announced September 1st! Enter now, and THANK YOU!

no donation or purchase needed to win the fiddle. It is a fundraiser with a prize, not a lottery. Winner does not pay shipping costs.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fair Time!

In a few weeks Gibson and I will be at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. I can't wait! It's a weekend of homesteading lectures, workshops, classes, readings, and livestock shows all surrounded by mountains at a lodge-style resort. There are amazing local food vendors, DIY merchants, book stores, and demonstrations. I'll be giving a Keynote Saturday night, and teaching workshops on blogging and backyard chickens and rabbit. When I'm not doing that I'll be walking around to other events and speakers. I know some of you will be there? I would like to meet up with you guys if we can work it out. I'll be at Joel Salatin's talks and Temple's. And of course you can find me after or before any of my speaking events!

For more information: Click HERE!

mary cricket

Two days a week Mary Cricket (the quarterhorse) and her partner Mr. Thomas sell sweet corn from their cart outside the feed store in downtown Salem. I talked to him about a large order to pick up Friday morning, 4 dozen ears, so I can freeze them for winter. Corn out of a can is paste and water compared to August-picked sweet corn waiting to be called by name.

I have noticed a lot of horse traffic on these roads around the county. I saw a team of Haflingers on its way to the washington county fair on route 29 (not as entrants, but as a vehicle to park), Percherons in downtown cambridge pulling a gypsy wagon, Merlin and I on our mountain road, and Steele and Patty on theirs. And there's folks like Frank who harnesses up to sell corn from his farm. All of us are dodging traffic and trying to listen for engines or leading our horses down busy roads as they ignore the traffic. We're out there.

This Friday before I head into Manchester to meet some friends for sushi I need to head up to Salem to visit Frank and Mary Cricket and get my bounty of ears. Talk about the best of both worlds? We live in strange times.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

welcome, mr. katz!

Hey! Just got word from friend of the farm, author Jon Katz, that he will be speaking and doing an Q & A at the December 1st Wool & Writing Workshop! It's a day dedicated to creativity, marketing, and blogging. Learn more about it in the workshops section of the blog, on the right hand side with the crow and fiddle!

Win a Year of Pies!

Yup. You read that title right. You can win, A YEAR OF PIES. The catch is you need to supply the flour, fruit, and stove. English and me, we're supplying the recipes.

I first met Ashley English online. She emailed me back when her first homesteading books were coming out asking if I could review them, offer a comment? I did read them and was really impressed. Her four books (on chickens, canning, dairy and bees) were all amazing and I am darn proud to have my quote on the back of them. Over the years we have emailed, sent packages, and stayed in touch. I consider her a kindred spirit and friend. Her little one has a hand-knit Maude wool hat and if that doesn't make the English family special to me I don't know what does!

So when she asked if I wanted to offer a pie recipe for her new book, A Year of Pies, I was more than happy to do it. I shared a recipe for a quiche I made after raising my first pig. It has sausage, cheese, and bacon: a hearty meal for sure. It's in the book along with recipes by other bloggers and authors and the whole thing is beautifully photographed and the recipes are easy to follow and taste AMAZING!

I am giving away a copy on the blog today, so if you want to be entered to win, just leave a comment! Tell us your favorite type of pie. Mine is apple, warm with vanilla ice cream! I'll pick the winner Sept 1st along with the fiddle winner! Good Luck!

photo cred:

Fiddlers' Potluck!

I'm checking in to see how things are going since camp? Have you had time to practice daily? Is staying in tune hard? Have you broken any strings? What did your families think when you came home? I hope things are going well, and I wanted to share an idea that camper Sarah came up with, and I loved. If you attended Fiddle Camp this past weekend, you are invited to an advanced one-day fiddle workshop/potluck at the farm this October. There is no money needed to attend, something much more is required. If you want to come back for the next step in your lessons you need to learn and memorize five songs from your book. It can be any five, long as one of them ISN'T Ida Red! Learn five songs and you are welcome to join us for a catch up and inspirational day at the farm to just talk fiddles, play to together, and we'll learn the basics of playing with a guitar in a jam.

So if you keep practicing, and learn five more songs, then you can come here for the party! It will be October 20th! 10AM-3PM

Oh, and if any of you want to set up a private lesson to learn the fiddle, we can do that as well. You could buy a fiddle from me, have me set it up and readied for you and then spend a few hours going through a crash course to teach yourself. Great for local folks or people who just aren't comfortable in group settings.

george is one of us

Cats and I have a touchy past. I grew up with them, but they were never an animal that connected with me in any way. I always felt used around them, the vehicle for food and litter duty. Their work was vague, their roll even more murky. I like animals to have a distinct purpose: hunt, ride, cart, herd, or be eaten as food. Cats seem to want to be my equal and I'm not supposed to question their motives or work. Like the author S.M. Stirling says, "Cats are furry little republicans". I think they are more like furry little CIA agents. Don't bother them. Don't ask questions. They're on it.

Few cats I have met in my life have been dog-level affectionate with people, and if they were, it wasn't with me. I think that aloofness kept me from ever getting one. That, and I was always more drawn to canines. I still am. To be honest I am probably more canine than human at times. I live for my community, thrive on other pack members, hunt in daylight, love to run and play, need to know my place in life and adore a good steak.

But let me tell you something, this George character? He's growing on me.

George is one of the boys, as dog-like as a cat can be. He comes when called, eats dog biscuits, and roams the farm like a fat tiger on the lam. His sister, Lilly, moved into the barn a while ago and is rarely seen anymore. After 6 months of being too shy to leave the laundry room I left the backdoor open for her so she could enjoy the great outdoors instead of a dank room. She has remained a full-time barn cat ever since. She'll always be a stranger to me.

George is not a barn cat. Not at all. He's a loafer and a lover. There is nothing he enjoys more than eating, pooing, and then stretching out across the kitchen floor making dog and human walk around him. That's where you can find him most of the time. But that changes when the keyboard to my old computers start clacking. When I write he is always just at my feet, purring and opening his mouth in silent meows of inclusion. He makes no sound but I can hear loud as day, "Hey, Lady! Pet me!" and I do. I reach down and get him under the chin and his eyes shut in that way that makes us all think cats can smirk in pleasure.

I never thought I'd love a cat so much. George has proven to me that some cats have the gusto to live with a pack of wolves. I respect the hell out of him.

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

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!