Tuesday, September 25, 2012

stacking wood and books

My mornings back home from the fair have a new pace to them. I feel now that I am home and there is nothing to do but prep for winter and keep the farm humming. I am free to really dig in. I have plans to fix the horse cart, get a piglet, and start really focusing on my next moves in my writing career. Change is on the way, and not just the weather, people.

Fall is in full swing and nights are into the 30's now. I wake up to a bowl of oatmeal with a chopped apple cooked in it while it boils. I do it over the stove and it is ready in five minutes. People think it is crazy I don't have a microwave, but I find them intrusive. I like my stove, electric and wood, and cook with them. (And I still technically have a microwave, I'm just using turned on it's side as saddle stand in the tack room.) Anyway, OATMEAL! You add a little cinnamon and maple syrup and you have an amazing breakfast with enough sugar and carbs to stack a full cord of wood, which is exactly what I plan on doing today before it rains tomorrow. Wood as nice as this, delivered yesterday by Bob Ackland of Maple Lane Farm, should not get rained on.

Tonight at 7PM I plan on heading into town to listen to good friend Jon Katz talk about his newest book (his 22nd!) a collection of short stories called Dancing Dogs. He is doing a reading and a signing and I'm sure the place will be packed. His dogs Red and Lenore will be there, and I'm certain Red will perch right next to him and Lenore will fall asleep on the hardwood floor around 100 people. Lenore lets rest stop for no man.

Monday, September 24, 2012

what a beautiful sight...

Season Passes & Antlered Dulcimers

Winter Prep is coming along, and the work to prepare for what is ahead is down to firewood and lumber. I have secured some hay, had the chimneys inspected and cleaned, and got snow tires to replace my balding previous ones on the Dodge. The two big jobs left to do are get more firewood (at least 2 more cords) and order the lumber to finish the horses' barn for the cold ahead. Right now the horses only have four poles and a slanted roof and it suits them fine three seasons of the year, but for harsh snowfall and bitter winds they need some walled protection. I know it'll get done. It just requires figuring out how.

I have only two spots left for Antlerstock this Columbus Day Weekend. You could either pay for the two day event, or buy a Season Pass for just a bit more and not only come to THIS antlerstock, but NEXT YEARS. Antlerstock is always 2 full days with many experts on hand. This year will include professors, authors, homesteaders, farmers, and teachers of all sorts. We're cutting down trees, logging with horses, throwing axes, brewing beer, having campfires, carving pumpkins, and pressing cider (and that's just SOME of what's hapening!). Please come on down and support the farm!

I thought up this idea recently: put the Season Pass on sale, and offer an incentive for folks to take me up on the offer. I am going to offer a discounted Season Pass rate of $350. That means you can come to ANY and ALL workshops for an entire year including Antlerstock ( my two day homesteading extravaganza). If you sign up you will be entered for a drawing to win a TK O'Brien Leaping Deer Dulcimer. They are a $275+ value, made in North Carolina. And if you are already a Season Pass member, your name will be in the drawing as well. A Season Pass is a great gift for a friend with Barnheart, and if you are a part of a pro-CAF couple, then we can work out a two-person discount as well. Please email me to sign up!

Right now you will see a lot of yard sales, workshops, new ads, promotions and things like this on the blog as it's a tight time and this is how I make my living now. I do not expect things to stay like this much longer. I have some bigger things in the works like future book deals and speaking events but while I am getting myself and the animals ready and facing the reality of looming obligations I am going to try every way I can to keep this ship afloat. So I guess what I am saying is please be patient if the pitches and workshop announcements annoy you, they won't always be there! I am hoping by November you'll see a sharp decline and a lot more contented winter writing and webinar updates instead. Until then, I have fires that need to burn, walls to raise for a pair of ponies, and a few banks to make happy.

Tuatha na dá bPréacháin Eitilt, (Of the two flying crows)

-j

Joel & Some Chicks


The Mother Earth News Fair: Day 1

We left for the Fair early, right after chores on Friday morning. This meant getting up at 5:00, going over the whole farm, and then loading up a diesel station wagon for the long drive. My truck was in dodgy shape (sorry for the pun)—and Brett's is so big is requires melted stegosaurus to get 400 miles—so we borrowed his sister's wagon. 50 miles to the gallon can not be beat. We left the farm at sunrise.

It's hard to leave a place that is your whole life. The farm is my home, my business, my livestock, my every energy. It's a place people go on vacation. I can't just head out with a little extra hay and water and feel okay about it. A small army was involved in leaving for the Fair. The Daughtons took on the huskies, saving me the costs of boarding. Patty and Mark Wesner and Jon Katz and Maria Wulf all came by to check on the animals, do chores, and generally keep the place under their safe watch. Brett was driving, a huge kindness. And everything had to be ready for me to return by Sunday afternoon. It was going to be an exciting and exhausting weekend, I was as excited about the little vacation as I was anxious to leave.

The happy travelers were Brett, Gibson, and myself and the road ahead was a minimum of eight hours long (meaning if we kept on without stops). Washington County to the town of Somerset Pennsylvania is quite the haul. Brett had a headache and Gibson refused to stay in the back cargo area on his bed. After a while we just let him perch on the vintage wooden suitcase I had packed my clothes in. He sat like a little sphinx, watching out the window while we passed farms, cities, developments and roadside attractions.

By the time we pulled into the Seven Springs resort it was close to 5;30PM. That's a long day, no matter how much you enjoyed your company. Brett was ready to park and relax, his head was still hurting. But he was right as rain by the time he got a short nap in.

I headed to the resort's bar and met up with fellow Storey folks. Pam Art, Ann Larkin Hansen, Carol Ekarius, and some others I didn't recognize at first were there and invited me to join them for some drinks. It was nice to just finally be there, at the destination, and Guinness was on tap. Brett joined us, and soon a pile of writers, and Storey Staff had collected for dinner. It was welcomed, as Brett and I both subscribe to the anti-road food idea of travel. We had a salad at lunch because we were on the move, not wanting to feel heavy and carb-loaded with five or more hours ahead of us in transit. But by dinner at the Fair we were ready to regret.

The food was amazing. That place really put on the dog! I enjoyed way too much, had a few glasses of wine, and looked around the table. These were people I have known for years now, people with farms and books, with databases and PR charts. These are the folks who also help keep Cold Antler running strong. They are a part of my extended community.

We ended up crashing before 9PM. Gibson was the first to fall, exhausted from the long car ride and rest stop potty breaks. He ate some food and crawled into bed with me. Tomorrow we'd all have to be up around the same time as the day before but for meetings and breakfast talks and then off to the fair to explore and take in the big show. The first thing I was going to hit was the live chicken slaughter/plucking demonstration with Joel Salatin. I could not believe the fair pulled that off. My hats off to whoever greenlit such a real and helpful topic at a convention center.

More to come through the day. I need to meet Bob, who is delivering a cord of firewood here in about ten minutes! People, there will BE HEAT!

pointing fingers at grief

Thank you for the warm wishes about George. It means a lot of get the comments and emails. It's such a simple thing, to send a letter or note saying you are sorry and understand, but it can buoy a person towards a better day. I woke up to a big list of comments to approve and all of them were kind. It was so appreciated, please know that. I wish I could say the same about the emails and facebook messages...

I have no idea what killed George, I found him long gone when I returned from my short weekend away. Plenty of cat owners leave on a Friday and get back on a Sunday and all it requires is a clean litter box and plenty of food and fresh water. George had those things in a house he had been living in for nearly a year. It was a complete surprise to find him gone. You just don't worry about cats, they are their own vessels, self contained units that only need the ingredients of ownership around to be ridiculously content. I think that's why folks love cats so much. You put out a box of sand, a bowl of krunchies, and offer a sunny window and they take those few things and become a part of a life. I worried about the horses, Jazz and Annie, the fences and the sheep but I never thought to worry about George.

Sometimes as a blogger you get worried about sharing things like this. I never used to worry about sharing everything, but I do find myself hesitating now. I worry if I write about losing an animal people will assume I did something to that animal. That loss is failure, as a farmer and as a caregiver. There are people out there who care a lot more about animals in general than their fellow humans writing about them and instantly assume the animal was a victim and the human incompetent. I know this because as soon as last night I got emails telling me what I did wrong and how I should not have animals at all. They are harsh, mean-spirited things to read and I wonder what kind of person take anothers grief and turns it into a pointed finger? I'm an animal, too. Why do "animal lovers" not realize that? They wouldn't kick a dog when it was down, so why me? To readers who read this blog looking for something to criticize, I ask that you back down on this. George was a loving, sweet, and sassy animal and fairly old and overweight. It was his time.

Truth is on a farm with this amount of life there has to be some death. It's a numbers game, the odds dangle in some critters favor and not others. I don't know if it is actually possible to kill a goose, honestly? Some chickens beat the clock and seem to have been here forever. And then some animals that share your bed and start every morning purring into your lap just leave. The only thing we really have after an pet dies is our integrity and gratitude. We do our best, so did George.

I'm going to go back to writing about the farm and the fair. If the transition from grief to excitement seems harsh, that is not my intention. Blog posts are postcards from a person's life. And just like the real thing, everything changes fast.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

george

I will update everyone on the fair soon, but I feel like I should share some recent news. I came home to find that George had passed away. I do not know what from. I'm very sad he is not here now and I wasn't there for him then.

I took this photo Thurday morning, he was in my lap. His sister Lilly is mostly outside now. There are no cats in the house.

I have never been a cat person. I never will be.
But I was a George person.

I'm back!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Follow Us At the Fair!

If you can make it to the Mother Earth News Fair this weekend, I'll see you there! But if you can't take heart. Storey Publishing has launched a website for people attending and who just want to follow the big show with live twitter feeds, author info, videos, contests, schedules and more. Workshops start Friday afternoon and end Sunday evening, it's three days of amazing speakers, shops, books, authors, and lessons on all things homesteading and sustainable living. If you live anywhere around the Seven Springs, PA area (Pittsburgh) make the trip, it's well worth it and I think the whole weekend is something like thirty bucks?!

Now, I may not be updating the blog again until I return to Cold Antler, and for that I apologize. It's just a crazy three days of travel, speaking, events, book signings and dinner meetings. But I promise to return with a full report. And, get this, I'm getting a cord of wood delivered Monday when I get back! Progress all around! So I'll see you guys Sunday evening and all of you enjoy your weekends!

Click Here for The Whole Storey!

blacksmiths and fairs

Forgive me if this sounds like forced colloquialism, but I need to take my horse cart to a black smith today. It's true. One of the wheel's frames bent when I was taking Merlin out on a (possibly) over ambitious trail cart ride through the woods. I was driving and Ajay was my fellow passenger and as we headed up a wooded path by the creek too much weight shifted and part of the frame just bent in on itself. I guess 400 pounds was a bit over the weight limit.

The event was pretty anti climatic, it just kinda flopped sideways, like a flat tire. I got us out and tried to bend it back but at a forced move it just snapped through a rusty bit. So today I will load it up in my truck and take it to a blacksmith I know in Greenwich. I met him before when Patty introduced me to him back when she needed her trailer hitch welded. I think he can repair it by just reinforcing it. I can keep it from happening again by understanding the carts limits. Live and learn.

The blacksmith is one of several stops I am making before the House Sitter arrives and I leave for the weekend in Pennsylvania. I'm looking forward to the Mother Earth News Fair, very much so. I am doing two talks: a workshop about blogs and a keynote about community. Gibson is, of course, coming along and so is Brett. We're sharing the driving and he's going to get a kick out of the Big Show.

I'm only leaving for one full day but it is a circus here getting everything, and everyone ready before I head out. Goats need to be milked, supplies readied, farm sitter's shown around, keys and lists handed out, etc and so on.

Soon as I get back it is full steam ahead on Antlerstock plans and preparations. If you are coming to teach a workshop and have not spoken to my yet about your plans, please please do. Send me an email! And for those attending, remember it is Columbus Day Weekend, and that is fairly soon!

I'll be back Sunday Night!

P.S. Some folks sent emails upset about the new text ads. I am keeping them up for now since they are an asset to the farm already. If the content offends anyone, understand that it is generated by predetermined code and I do not pick the links personally. They should be generated by subject in tandem with the current posts.

it's cold enough to start mornings like this now...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

just, wow...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

happy, happy dog

kismet, crows, and other forces of good!

So I told you about the day with the Washington County Draft Animal Association, but another adventure happened after the parade and it might be an even better story. After the event was over and the horses were back in in their home pastures, Patty and I headed out for a second road trip of an entirely different nature. We were driving west of Saratoga, about an hour from our farms pulling her empty 18-foot long trailer behind her big Toyota SUV. Why the trailer you might ask? Well folks, we were on our way to pick up a new 6 person passenger wagon she bought on Craigslist for Steele. It was a happy drive, both of us talking about the day's events and the club. I started telling her how excited I was about the Mother Earth News Fair this coming weekend when suddenly the car just cried out, lurched forward, and died.

Uh oh.

So there we were next to a busy country highway with a dead SUV and the dead weight of the 3,600 pound trailer. Patty was calm, but worried. It was getting dark and neither of us had much of a charge left on our phones (thanks to using them all day to take videos and pictures of our horses).

But what followed after that inconvenience was nearly magical. We decided to walk over to one of the houses along the road, to ask for a towing referral and possibly a bathroom. Not 50 yards away from our break down was a comfortable looking house in proud condition, neatly kept lawn, that had a wooden sheep sign on the door and the sound of foraging animals clinking their bells around their collars. Could we have actually broken down next to a fellow shepherd?!

We walked up to the small farm's porch and took in the beautiful sight. We were greeted by two handsome, sleek border collies panting at us behind a statue of Buddha just outside the screened porch. Behind the house was a flock of those belled sheep we heard, Border Leicester like Maude! We could see from our new vantage point an older Border Collie watching them outside a wire fence. The house was bright, happy, and comfortable looking. If you had to break down along a stretch of strange road an hour from home, this was the place to do it. Brigit be blessed!

A tall, strawberry blond woman in her late thirties arrived at the door looking confident, if not concerned. I was happy both Patty and I were in our farm digs, her in an embroidered canvas vest that said Livingston Brook Farm and me in a NEBCA tee shirt with a Border Collie on it under the logo. We introduced ourselves as travelers on the road and told her what happened to our rig. She smiled and invited us in and got us a phone book. Soon as I walked inside, my jaw nearly hit the floor...

Her kitchen was decorated with sheep, border collies, and crows. On her kitchen counter a dozen large quarts of just canned tomatoes were drying from their water bath and she had a copy of The Backyard Homestead out on display. We found out her daughter's name was Raven, and she loved the black birds as well. Inside her home (a total stranger!) I felt as comfortable as if I knew this woman my whole life. Whoever she was, she was my people.

We got to talking. Turns out her name was Ann and she was in the same Border Collie Club, NEBCA, that I belonged to! We knew the same dogs, and trainers, and we talked about our dogs and sheep. She had something in common with Patty as well, since she even owned a Percheron once. A horse she loved, rode, and drove. Patty lit up as she saw the horse photos on the fridge. As they talked about old horses and harnesses I just looked around at the magical house. It was full of black crows, horse photographs, taxidermy, collies, sheep, and homesteading paraphernalia. We had been rescued by a card carrying member of my tribe. If someone tells you crows aren't lucky, never believe another word they say. They're angels, them.

We called a tow truck and got a ride back to Saratoga with the Matt's Towing Agency. Then Tim Daughton of the Amazing Rescuing Daughton Family came with his big Suburban to carry us home from our adventure. I love that family and their generous spirit. I knew as soon as we were stranded that a phone call to them was all that was needed. When things go wrong, you call a Daughton. When I called Tim and Cathy, Tim was out digging potatoes in their lower field and within 40 minutes of getting our call he was on the road to pick us up. I don't know how the Daughtons feel about crows or angels but they all have a lot in common far as I'm concerned.

We made it through the mini crisis. The SUV was at the repair shop and the weary travelers had a ride home and so did their ridiculous trailer. The only hiccup was having to stop at a Walmart around 9PM to get the right electric converter gadget for the trailer's lights. I had not been in a Walmart in years and it kinda shocked me, the amount of stuff, harsh lights, and prices. Towels were two dollars? Shirts were Five? I remembered a study Brett Told me about that 90% od items purchased at Walmart find themselves in a dump six months later. I belive it. You don't carefully mend a five dollar dress shirt when you spill wine on it. You mop it up with a two dollar towle and throw them both away...I guess.

Anyway, we bought the electric converter and it will not be in a landfill in six months because it worked and got us legally home. I was back at Cold Antler around 10PM and happy to see my dogs and warm bed.

In all that fuss something pretty neat occurred to me. When bad things happen I am a hundred times calmer than when they aren't. I find this odd. I mean, I can wake up at 3Am like clockwork worried about things that have not happened and may NEVER happen... but put me in an actual crisis and I am relaxed, calm, action-oriented and positive. No part of me worries at all. There isn't space for panic, and I never do. I just work towards the goal which is safety and home. I felt the most normal I have felt in months standing on the side of the road calling tow trucks. It reminded me of when I was working summers at my college as a camp counselor and there was a fire in one of the dorms. My friend, Raven, came to my room knocking and worried. I just grabbed my illegal pet ferret, stuck her in my hoodie, and pulled the fire alarm. I told her we were going to be fine and I didn't see any smoke. Maybe I should volunteer to be a firefighter or EMT? Isn't that exactly the kind of people they need?

So my day started with one kind of adventure and ended with another. The reason I am sharing this story is because it only illustrates how important community truly is. Patty and I are both tough chicks and homesteaders in our own right. We can shoot a shotgun, ride a horse, and grow gardens of food but it still takes love, support, care, and kindness of others to keep the self-reliant going strong.

I am grateful to all who got us home safe, from the stranger with a house full of crows, to the towing man, to Tim Daughton and his tough '99 Suburban. Thank you. May the crows always fly over you in pairs!

the good and bad part

This morning during morning chores I was feeding the sheep near their shed and spreading straw inside for clean bedding (rain all day today so I wanted them comfortable inside) when I backed into a paper wasps' nest sneakily built in the interior walls.

The bad part: I am riddled with stings

The good part: There is no good part. They are wasps.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Sunday Drive

Yesterday's WCDAA ride along the Battenkill River was sublime. An 8-mile round trip along dirt roads raised a story above the clear running water. It was my first time driving Merlin that far, and my first time driving him alone. For once I don't have a story of hardship or rough lessons learned. Instead I have a story to tell about a day out in the early Autumn sunshine driving my pony cart along sun-dappled dirt roads. I had an amazing time with good friends in a new club that embraced me as if I was always their own.

That picture of me and Merlin was taken right before we hitched up. When I look at it, its hard to remember the girl from March who was basically terrified of that beautiful horse. I never felt threatened by his character, he's never even tried to hurt me (and trust me, he could if he wanted to). I was scared of the whole idea of him. Getting on a horse is an act of trust very different than getting in your car or walking across an intersection. They aren't machines, and even the most pleasant animal can have an off day. When I started with Merlin taking lessons in an arena I was constantly worried about that variable, about the possibility of being hurt, thrown, or hurting him. Now if you come over to the farm for a trail or cart ride you see a woman comfortable and confident, but quietly respectful. I know Merlin the way I know my dogs now. I understand his needs, his emotions, his attitude. We went from being a student rider on an out of shape horse to being a team. It took months, a riding stable, outside trainers, friends like Patty and Brett, and an entire club. This is what I talk about when I write about the Tein-Eigan, the Need Fire. A community is what creates an individual and the individual is just a spark of that community. Yesterday I rode bright as a candle. It took a village.

We met at the Arlington Grange at 9:30 Am for the pancake breakfast before the ride. For six dollars a heaping plate of blueberry pancakes, sausage, potatoes, and biscuits and gravy were served up. We drank strong coffee and poured Vermont Maple syrup over our flapjacks. I was sharing a seat next to my friends Melina and Robert who had come up from the weekend to camp along the river, and joined us on a whim. They never plan it, but both of them always make it to Cold Antler when the horses are out. Melina and Robert were with me the day I first met Merlin. They helped move locust logs out of my back pasture with Jasper. I was happy they were here to join for my first ride out with the team. It was fitting.

Robert seemed happy with his twist of fate, pouring syrup as he talked about horses and their plans to buy some land up here. Patty was seated a table over with the Vollkommer's and their extended family. The Vollkommers, Craig and Karen, drive a team of big Belgians in a beautiful wagon. Most members of the Washington County Draft Animal Association drive big teams, but there are a few of us with just a single horse rig. On this particular ride there would be a few solo equine acts. There was Merlin and me, Patty and Steele, and a woman from Warrensburg with a huge Suffolk Punch stallion in a heart-embellished harness. They looked like something out of a fairy tale. I did a lot of gawking.

It didn't take long to get the little red cart out of the back of my pickup. Patty helped me carry it over to where Merlin and Steele were tied to her 18-foot long trailer. Since I don't own a trailer yet, I depend on Patty for any transportation of the horse sort. Today she carried Steele, Merlin, and her beautiful wooden Meadowbrook cart in the trailer, tugged by her trusty Toyota Sequoia. Patty was like a mother hen with me, she seemed nervous enough for both of us. I wasn't worried at all but that was only because I was so comfortable with Merlin and with the road. Patty and her young Percheron started out learning driving together, and it was a lot harder and greater an accomplishment then buying a horse trained to hitch up and go like I did. She and Steele worked for years to get to this point and sometimes it was downright scary when Steele spooked when they started out. I adored her for this kind of care and concern she had, even if it was subconscious. But I knew I was in good hands. Driving Merlin in a light cart was like asking Peyton Manning to pass you a Nerf ball. Patty tied a sunflower and ribbons in Steele's white tail and then shrugged and smiled at me. "Now I have something to look at on the road."

I smiled too. Everyone was smiles. All around us horses were being groomed and fawned over, harness hames raised over heads and set on strong backs. People who came for the breakfast walked around and asked questions and pet our horses. I felt so proud to be a member of the club, so grateful for the blue skies and happy faces.

Steele looked magical and grand, something to behold. His 1800 pounds of muscle and energy tipped with a sunflower was ready for an oil painting. Merlin had a single goose feather tied in his mane, long and gray against the black mane with white stands poking through. When our horses were groomed, we got them tacked up and did some light ground work before attaching the lines and cart. Before I knew it I was sitting there amongst the big horses and wagons, waiting for our turn to join the parade. Herb, one of the older and more experienced teamsters in the club who had a pair of Percheron/Belgian crosses in blue-accented show harnesses came by to do a final check on my harness and rig. He nodded approval and slapped me on the shoulder. He wished me luck with a smile.

"This is it, M," I said to him, quietly so no one else could hear, "Do your best, be safe, know how much I love you, you big lug." and I asked him to walk. He did as I asked, like I knew he would. I kissed and flicked the reins and he trotted. If there was any fear to be had it wasn't mine. Merlin was as smooth and calm as could be. He didn't care about cars passing him, or dogs running out under his feet, or the team of big greys behind us. He just kept up the trot and rolled along the river road. I felt like Gandalf in his pony cart, or some character from the Emberverse books. How did I get here? How the hell was I lucky enough to be out with a beautiful Celtic pony on a sunny autumn day in a smart looking cart? I am not that heavy of a load for a Fell Pony, but I have no idea how he was able to haul that much gratitude for eight miles. It must have weighed 20 stone, at least. We rode along River Road for four miles. I was alone for that first part, just Merlin and I. I fell in line a few carts behind Patty and Steele, with Jan and her team of Haflingers between us. Ray, Jan's husband stood up in their big wagon and shouted back at my cart. He me if I wanted a club member to ride with me? I said we were doing fine. We were. I felt as comfortable as could be behind that big black ass. His crinkled tail swished and his ears flicked back and front listening to the bells and trotting hooves all around us. Merlin didn't even break a sweat the whole ride out. This was a different pony from the one I met who couldn't canter without needing to gag. He stood tall in our gear, used as it was. As he walked and made his way east I kept looking past the river over to Route 313. It was the road I took to work every single weekday not too long ago. It was busy, and cars rushed on towards their weekend plans at a clip our horses could never match. And to watch that from a pony cart on a dirt road was pretty darn neat, and sobering. It was like reading an obituary of a past life I once had. I don't miss those commutes to 313, but I do miss aspects of that life, the people and the memories. Without looking again I asked Merlin to step up and tapped his rump with the whip when he was slow to respond. He picked up his pace and I just looked forward from then on.

We took a break in a small field near the West Mountain Inn, near the town proper of Arlington. I watched Mike's team of Haflingers (we have two teams of these great working ponies) come around a bend and I saw a familiar face! Phil Monahan and his daughter Claire were in a wagon! I waved, thrilled to see them. They had seen my post on Facebook and came down to the Grange, not expecting a ride but happily joining in. I asked Claire if she wanted to ride back with Merlin and I and she literally jumped up and down. I had my first passenger, a second grader. She hopped up and off we went.

We joined the faster moving group for the ride back. Jan's Haflingers lead the way at a near canter and Patty followed with proud Steele holding his head high in a trot. Not to be outdone, we trotted right behind and made the four-mile trip back in about thirty minutes! Merlin was sweating now, but just. He was in the best shape of his life this summer and it showed. Claire talked the whole time about her friends, and horses, and her brother and life in Sandgate. She was great company and mighty brave. She helped me with Merlin's tack afterward and get water for his bucket.

With the teams back, the sun warm, and appetites awake we headed into the Grange to do what we do best as members of the WCDAA: eat. We filled plates once again, this time with chowders and buttered bread, mac-n-cheese and meatballs, and all sorts of cakes and desserts. Everyone, passenger to teamster, seemed thrilled with the event. Nothing went wrong, the weather was perfect, and the food as plentiful as heaven's own rain. I sat back in my folding wooden chair and looked around the room, at these people I didn't even know existed just a few months before. Here I was, a part of something and an accomplished driver. Outside on a trailer a black horse was eating hay next to a big white Percheron and no matter how many times I pinched myself I would not wake up from the dream. He was real. The day was real. I took a sip of my cold drink and joined back into the race of conversation.

Yeah. I felt full.

New Text On the Sidebar

I have added Google's AdSense to the blog, a way to help bring in a little extra income. The text links are on the right side and will update to suit the content on the blog automatically. You are welcome to ignore them, click them, or block them, whatever you prefer. ::Now back to your regularly scheduled programming::

Driving Merlin!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

what a day!

YES!

My manuscript is finished! 61,000+ words about a year of living at Cold Antler Farm and the days that create my year. It's rough, but the most intense work I have ever done. Today I celebrate with Merlin, Patty, Steele, and everyone else in the WCDAA! I'm off to ride my pony cart in a parade and I consider that a well earned respite!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Merlin and Me: First Drive in Our Gear!

Last night Brett pulled Merlin's refurbished harness out of the back of the college's green van. It looked like a totally different beast. When Brett suggested he take the dirty, cracked, and rusty Haflinger Harness I bought off eBay up to his Amish friend, William Beachy I was skeptical. I could not imagine what could be done to clean up the old box of leather and brass. But before me was a beautiful, black, sleek harness and William had replaced any of the parts that had been beyond repair. There was also some new items to behold: a used bridle, new biothane lines, and some other odds and ends. I now had the horse, the cart, and finally the harness ready to go. Tomorrow when Patty arrived we would put it all together for the first time.

Brett was here because himself and 17 of his Forestry college seniors camped here at the farm last night. Cold Antler was a comfortable place to crash between their two day field trip of famous New England forest management sites. It was the perfect opportunity to deliver the harness and his timing could not have been better. He arrived two days before the Washington County Draft Animal Association's ride in Arlington Vermont. On Sunday Merlin and I would be stepping out with the team for our first event as members of the club. Before that happened though, we'd need a harness fitting and crash course. That's where Patty fit in.

By 2PM with the college vans long gone you would think the place would be quiet. But when I stepped outside to check on Merlin I was shocked into a dead halt mid-stride by the sound of bagpipes! The home across the street was hosting a Scottish wedding. When Patty arrived shortly after she laughed out loud, and asked "Did you set this up?!" I shook my head happily. Those pipes were the perfect soundtrack for the day's work. Music of celebration. Above is the video of Merlin listening to the pipes before we tacked up. He seems interested!

Everything we had in cart, harness, and tack (save for the driving lines, whip, and cart tires) was used. The harness came from eBay and the collar used to be Steele's. The cart was bought cheap at auction and painted and restored by Mark and Patty as a birthday present. All together it came to a grand total of $285 dollars and a summer worth of friends and associates scrounging estate sales, soaking old leather in oil, painting old metal and wood, and making personal connections. None of it, NONE OF IT, was even remotely possible alone. Patty and Brett made this rig possible. Brett helped with the leather and Patty with the vehicle. With these two people I feel as grateful as I do unstoppable.

Melina and Robert had sent me a text a few hours earlier saying they were camping and wanted to know if they could stop by to say hi? They were also with me the first time I ever met Merlin and so I had to invite them over for our first drive at the farm. They would adore it. Robert and Melina are both drawn to horses and since meeting Merlin have even taken lessons. Anyway, they were happy to arrive and by the time they pulled into the farm's driveway Merlin, Patty and I were already up the road at a light trot. The wedding was in full swing, the pipes hollering, the sun had come out and all seemed perfect.

Driving Merlin felt as natural as walking. I though there would be fear, or beginner's stumbling, but there wasn't. The cart, the harness, the friends all around me: everything fit perfectly. Little touches like a back name plate with Cold Antler Farm on it made me beam. Below the cart I strapped a vintage roller skate case that held our extra halter, lead, fly spray and rain gear. None of this was up to Show Driving standards but I'll be damned if I didn't feel twenty feet tall.

Tomorrow is the club event at the Arlington Grange. Anyone can come to the pancake breakfast (6 dollars a plate) from 8AM till 10AM and then at 11AM you can see a dozen horse rigs take off in a parade down along the Battenkill River towards Vermont. If there are enough spaces open on team wagons, chances are good you can even ride along and join us! Stop by to meet the club, the horses, take photos and just enjoy a fall day in pure Farm Country. If you do show up, say hello to me and my boy. If you're not sure which team is Merlin and me, just look for the light. I'll be the one glowing.

look at my boy MOVE!

bagpipes on the mountain

My neighbors across the street are hosting a wedding at their grand farm and the hired a piper! From my front door I can hear them clear as bells on my own roof and it is beauiful! What makes it even better is in a few moments Patty, Melina, and Robert will be here to help harness and prepare Merlin for his first ever trial ride on our new cart. So we'll be trotting down the road to the sound of bagpipes, how about that?

Merlin is an old pro, but I'm a new driver. So the practice isn't really for him as much as it is for Patty and I to adjust his new (just out of the shop!) refurbished harness and get him ready for tomorrow's WCDAA ride along the Battenkill River!

Such a great day, photos and video to come!

stubborn love

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Kerrits Winner IS....

LADYRIDER! Age 47, new rider!

please email me so I can mail these out!

update on jazz

Jazz has been well and ill these past few months. Lately, his energy and spirit has been high but his body has been failing him. He has fatty tumors all over his skin, drippy eyes, and irritated ears. He has a lot of accidents indoors. He can't help that; he is afterall, 14 years old. He also had hair disappear all over in red patches with pus-filled pools at his skin. It wasn't mange or fleas, said the vet, but an inhalant allergic reaction. He is on antibiotics and needs a bath twice a week with a special shampoo. All that said, he is doing much better. He smells, feels, and looks better. His skin is now growing white hair back and his eyes are no longer foggy. The vets at Cambridge Valley Vet are amazing.

Annie is exactly the same as the day I met her. Nuts.

then morning comes

I have been dealing with a lot of stress lately. I think the deadline for the manuscript, the Mother Earth News Fair, Winter Prep, and personal ghosts all converged at the same time. I wake up worrying about mistakes I made that are too late to fix, money in my bank account, and arguments that won't heal. I get up at 3AM, like clockwork, and can't stop worrying. I usually have to read or watch something funny to take my mind off things until I fall back asleep. Then morning comes.

I think conviction comes from how you feel when the daylight returns. I may wake up at three and not be able to fall back asleep at all, but when the sunlight hits the farm and the coffee pot starts to bubble on the stove, something changes gears inside me. There is work to be done and not on paper, but physical work to keep the place going. No matter what has haunted me the night before at first light the dogs need to go outside for a walk and relieve themselves. The horses are already whinnying for their morning hay. The sheep see me stir and run down to the gate, joining their baas and bleats into the heckling of the horses. The roosters crow, the chickens strut and coo, and the dairy goats start to stand up on their metal fence rolling their heads around in cries for grain. The pig in the barn snorts and while I can’ see or hear them, I know the rabbits in their cages have empty water bottles and are waiting like monks in meditation for more pellets. It is a circus and a symphony and it does not allow self-pity or concern about anything that isn’t happening right now to make 50 animals content.

With a mug of coffee in my hand and Gibson at my side the day is new and work is my new mantra. I carry hay and feed bags. I dump buckets of clean well water into troughs. Within fifteen minutes the cacophony of desire is quenched and you do not hear a sound outside of chewing cud and the occasional chicken’s cluck. Peace is restored through focus and action. It’s the same recipe my fear needs. If I let my head will with the cries of panicked animals I will go insane, collapse into the farm’s wontedness. But if I act, one task at a time everything falls into place. The electric bill is paid; trash is picked up on time, and the bank who share my truck and house get appeased for another four weeks. All of it can be done; it just requires a head down with ears back, facing into the wind like a fox having to cross a windy hillside. You feel exposed, scared, but you do it because you have to. The alternative isn’t an alternative at all. Because not making those bills means I cannot stay here. I’ve already made up my mind that I will stay here, and my faith in the entire wheel of the year, the holiness, the work and this farm are what keep it possible.

It takes a stroke of luck, faith, and magic to keep this place running. I subscribe to all three and believe none exist without the other. It is my faith that lets me truly believe that magic can happen, and that magic stirs the luck that keeps horses running uphill and lambs appearing on cold nights. It isn’t for everyone, but it is available to anyone, and I hope my life here—if it does nothing else—shares that possibility with people.

Possibility is all we need. It saves people.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

riding in a kilt

Fiddler Check In

Hey there Fiddle Campers! I'm checking in to see how you're doing? Anyone getting stuck or need help, please email me. And remember, it just takes five memorized songs to come back for the potluck in October. I hope some of you can make it. And just to be clear, the songs you learn do not have to be from the Erbsen book. Some folks were really interested in Celtic fiddling, others in French Canadian or old English ballads. Whatever inspires you, get to it. I just wanted to hear how it is going?

I'm thinking of you all because yesterday a camper named Trish sent me a CD of music and a note about her practice. She said she loves playing and I lit up reading her note. It made me think about all of you. I so adored that weekend and hope you are keeping the faith!

Here's a suggested fiddle workout if you want some practice ideas:

10 slow D scales, low D to high D
10 slow D scales, high D to low D
10 D scales, with shuffles thrown in (either order)

5 Ida Reds
5 Ida Reds with shuffling (listen to your CD)

5 Times practicing New song with CD
5 times playing First staff of New Song
5 Times playing Second staff
5 Times playing song whole, try to sound like CD

Inspiration: listen to a fiddle song you love or aspire to play
i.e. Ashokan Farewell, Celtic Aires, or Christmas Carols.

the feel of a place

When I picked up a friend Ajay from the train station in Albany, back in early summer, he didn’t have much to comment on in the city. Albany is like many other northeastern cities and there wasn’t anything of extreme consequence to take note of as we dealt with traffic and on ramps. But as soon as we entered the small towns and winding back roads of Washington County he started paying attention. There is a really specific vibe to my area of the country and I think you can only pick it up if you were born in this eastern region of the States. Ajay quietly looked at the sights outside the truck’s window, leaning out to see them almost as much as Gibson was a row behind him in the quad cab. I didn’t want to say anything because I wanted to hear it from him first and I knew a few examples up ahead who either make him blurt it out or start singing a song from elementary school. As we approached a turn around a high round hillside flecked with dairy cattle and a rail fence we kept driving around the bend till a perfectly nestled white clapboard farmhouse under a big King Oak tree that shaded its already small, covered porch. On the steps were some potted geraniums and a pair of boots. It was (or should have been) a vision of summer. But as soon as I heard the words pass Ajay’s lips, I smiled.

“This whole place feels like Halloween.”

I could not hold in that smile. “I know, I know!” I said, and we started talking about it. The towns around Cold Antler Farm such as Cambridge, Greenwich, Salem and Hebron all have that October vibe. It’s their stately, rolling fields of brown corn stocks and white houses tucked in hidden turns in the road. It’s the wide porches, the horses and cattle, and the big leafy trees that fill their front lawns. If you grew up where Ajay and I did, the landscape looks exactly like a more idealized version of rural Pennsylvania, We knew that the trees would erupt into oranges and reds, the front lawn would be covered in the confetti leaves. We could picture pumpkins and cats on the porch steps, see the Trick –or-Treaters walking by. Every house on every block in these towns looks like the random, indiscriminate “small town” for every Halloween or fall movie ever made. And its not as if the towns here tried to project the brand: it’s just who they always were. I felt it the first time I left my cabin in Vermont to drive into Cambridge, NY and out along route 372 in Greenwich (Which the locals pronounce Green Witch!) and felt that same combination of postcard October mixed with our favorite Holiday. This place hums with the spirit of Halloween. It doesn’t even have to try.

Photo is from National Geographic Traveler, which did a story about Washington County a few years ago. It's charming as all get out, and you can read that article here through a scanned pdf.Sorry, it's not online on their other sites!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

sanctuary

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

payment for morning chores

In exchange for my morning chores the farm gave me a dozen free-range eggs and a shirt-full of red potatoes planted in June! I'm going to wash off one of these taters, chop up one of the smaller garden onions, crack some eggs and have a fry up! Not a bad trade for half an hour of carrying hay, tussling manes, and pouring water into metal bins.

There's a fire in the farmhouse this morning. Yesterday morning Patty brought Steele over for a ride and as we explored the mountain we could feel the crisp morning air in our conversation, feel the first leaves crunching under our horses feet. The leaves are just starting to change, barely. I hope this Autumn takes his time and lasts a while. I welcome him with all I've got. His wildness, color, warmth, and the oranges and reds that cover his dirty brown skin. He's the love of my life.

gathering words

This is going to be a slower week on the blog, I am finishing up the last six days of edits before the manuscript is due and it has swallowed up most of my time. I will be checking in everyday, either posting an excerpt from the book or photos. It's just going to take a little longer to write about the Merck Trial, trail rides, 3AM fears, concerns, and general news.

Wish me luck and you'll hear a lot more out of me soon!

Oh, and I didn't forget Kerrits winner, I'll announce that today!

2 spots left, and ONLY 2 for Antlerstock in October! Please get them!

Monday, September 10, 2012

3AM

I woke up scared and restless at 3AM. Without saying a word of request Gibson knew, and jumped into bed with me from his spot on the floor. He sprawled in the hollow place against my chest, curling his spine into it and I held onto him. I fell asleep to his long sigh and was grateful for the dog. When I woke up I was still holding on and he was still fast asleep.

I live with cats, have been raised with them, but never once has one came to me in comfort and then sighed into me as I held on for dear life.

The omission is noted.

you know you're a homesteader if...

...you run out of coffee creamer so you go outside to milk your goat and before you do anything else you strain it directly into your mug. Hmm, maybe this isn't how you know you're a homesteader as much as it is you know you're a coffee addict?

Whatever. I'm going with it.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Gibson at Merck Forest: then and now

away to me!

It is chilly this morning, and the green grass on the hillside is tipped with cold dew. It's not a frost, not by twenty degrees, but the 50 degree morning was a wake up call. It's September now, and October will bring many mornings that start with a warm stove and nights that end with it, but during the day the black boxes will remain cold and unnecessary. Before you know it those stoves become my real full time job. My life will revolve around words and fire. A primitive and happy combination. Just as I like it.

I am also happy to report both chimneys were inspected and cleaned where needed. The experts at Black Magic came and worked here Friday afternoon and gave me a detailed report. All is ready to light up both wood stoves when the mornings get a bit colder. It's a good feeling, and another checked-off item of import from the list of winter preparation. It was paid for by the yard sale I posted online here, which was a great help and I thank you! With the chimneys ready, hay in the barn, and only firewood left to store and consider I am feeling good about the timeline. As long as three cords are stacked by Antlerstock all will be well. I sometimes feel like Winter Prep updates here a broken record, but it really is the most important song I have to sing right now.

Today I'm off to spend the day at the Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials and catch up with some old faces I have missed. I will be watching, helping keep score if asked. It's something I have missed dearly, the lessons and the excitement of the trials. The outdoor chores are done and coffee is on the stove so all I need to do is get on a kilt and some rubber boots and hit the road with Gibson. This weekend really has been a classic dog and pony show. Monday means back to the computer and hard effort finishing Days of Grace so I can wrap up that project, finally, and get ready for books ahead. If I can land a small book contract by snowfly I will be set for winter and in much better financial shape. It'll happen, somehow. I'll worry about the how's of it later. Those are the kind of details that bury a woman.

Time to go see a sheepdog trial! Away to me!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

the brass ring

I remember riding a grand carousel as a child at the Jersey Shore. It was one of those old fashioned ones, with wooden horses, three rows deep, and (at least in my memory) it was fast. If you chose to ride one of the horses on the outer most edge of the carousel you could try and grab a brass ring, which lowered out of the top of the canopy and it took a perfect combination of reach, effort, and the bobbing of your horse to actually grab it. I was maybe ten years old when I grabbed that brass ring on the back of a white horse. I was one of the lucky ones. When I had it in my sweaty palm I held onto it like it was destined for Mordor, so precious. If memory serves me right I slipped it into my pocket to keep.

I think I stole that brass ring because it was the token of a fantasy, something I knew I could never relive back in Palmerton, my home town. There were no horses on Columbia Avenue. So If I wanted to carry around a tangible memory of time spent on horseback I would need to break the law. I loved that experience, even if the horse was made of wood and leather. I may not have been real but it was the closest I could get, or ever imagine getting. I loved the feeling of moving fast on top of a horse. I felt like something I was supposed to do, that my mind—even as a child—felt was correct. So I held that ring tight and instead of throwing it back into the collection bucket.

What can I say? I'm pretty ruthless when it comes to love.

Today I spent an afternoon sitting with friends new and old in a series of horse-drawn vehicles. It was my first event as a new member of the Washington County Draft Animal Association, and it was wonderful. I arrived with Mark and Patty Wesner and their Percheron gelding, Steele. They were the only people I knew, but I quickly learned people interested in horse power were a friendly and like-minded ilk. It didn't take long to feel comfortable.

If the word "horse people" in your mind brings up images of snotty, upperclass, over achievers: this is not that stereotype. The Draft Association is regular folks, just folks who happen to love traditional modes of transportation and horses, and not everyone has a 401k or even a full set of teeth. These are people who love working horses, mules, ponies, and donks. There were 11-hand Hackneys pulling small metal carts and 19-hand Shires moving surreys with three rows of passengers. and besides that: everyone was different. I loved this about the club. I loved watching museum curators and architects bullshit and laugh with secretaries and truckers. I loved the happy camaraderie, and this unspoken love everyone had for their horses. This was not a scene to probe yourself in. It was one to enjoy yourself in.

We rode a 7-mile trail through paved and dirt roads. We passed farms and other horses, homes and busy intersections. People who weren't driving just road along, as there was plenty of room for passengers and fun. I rode the 3.5 miles out with Patty and Steele and road back with Jan and a wagon full of my county-men. Strangers, mostly, but happy travelers all the same. It is pretty hard to not be amicable on a horse cart on a Saturday.

I remember when I was taking riding lessons one of my instructors said, "There was no such thing as a pet horse. All horses are for sale at a price" and she was of course talking about her world of dressage and hunter jumpers. She couldn't make a living keeping every (or any!) good horse she trained. But at the WCDAA that idea was blown out of the water. Beloved old Shires, Clydesdales, Percheron and Haflingers lined the county roads. These animals would live, work, and die on their owner's farms and become things of Legend. One man wearing a "Lou-King-Good Certified Contractor" t-shirt just returned from a 200-mile road trip with his 6 and 7-year old Percheron geldings. He took his family in a gypsy wagon down to camp in Massachusetts and back home to Washington County. I actually saw them in Cambridge a few weeks ago, ambling up route 22. I was driving back to Cold Antler with Ajay after some errands in town and I remember saying how I loved that horse-drawn vehicles were common here. Not just for parades and Amish folks, it was just another way to get around. I thought of Mary Cricket and her corn cart outside the Salem Agway, and Patty and Steele and I driving for ice cream. This is normal here, and I love the whole damn County for it.

I joined the WCDAA today. I didn't bring Merlin, since I am getting his $99 eBay harness repaired by an Amish man upstate and my little red cart still needs tires, but I still wrote my thirty-dollar check and signed the paperwork. I left the party that day proud as a peacock. I'm a member in good standing. I have a draft pony, and a cart, and friends who know a hame from a singletree. This is certainly not a common hobby, but it is a welcoming one. And next weekend I will be driving my own Fell amongst the big horses in Arlington, Vermont. We have a pancake breakfast at the grange by the covered bridge and then a 7-mile river trot followed by another enormous potluck. It'll be a whole new experience driving Merlin out there. I can't wait.

I'll leave you for the night with this story. Since I was now a member, I was legally able to drive another member's team and so I took the lines from an experienced member named Jan, who let me lead her team of Haflinger Mares down busy roads. I can't begin to describe what it feels like to be controlling two beautiful blonde horses in a pre-thunderstorm wind, carrying a wagon of six people to a feast. It is a sensation that does not belong in this modernity. Something magical, special, and only available to those willing to reach out and take it.

For the first time since I was a little girl, I grabbed a brass ring.

draft power parade

Earlier start than usual today, as I am getting ready to head out on an adventure. Today I'll be taking part in my first Washington Country Draft Animal Association event! I'll be riding in a cart with Patty and her Percheron, Steele. We'll be up in Fort Ann. And if I join the club today, I can ride with Merlin next weekend at the Arlington Vermont Pancake Breakfast and Parade! Photos and tales to come!

P.S. As of last night, I am an AUNT! Welcome to the world Bryce! The little boy is named after the famed canyon, a favorite place of my sister and her husband.

Friday, September 7, 2012

tell your story

I often get emails from people who share their dreams of owning a bit of land and raising their own food. They are magical, hopeful, and always appreciated. What amazes me though, if I get just as many emails from people who had dreams of owning a farm and no longer dream about it. They don't have to. They did it. They closed on their land, got their first backyard chickens, and broke ground on their first garden. I love these emails, and I read them all even if I can't find time to respond. They encourage me, and I need encouragement more than you might realize.


I wanted to just check in with you all. Where are you in your journey? Are you a dreamer at a desk in some city or are you about to head out on your horse to check cattle in the back pasture? Write in the comments about where you are at, both your location in the world and how far you have come in your dreams. Also share where you were 5 years ago. If you never commented before, introduce yourself. You might find that another dreamer is literally in the town next to you, and together your combined Barnheart could fuel each other into action! I know that happened when I befriended Patty Wesner. When I met her last January at a book reading I didn't know her from Adam. She invited me for a horse cart ride/lesson and now less than a year later we are putting together Merlin's red cart to join her in a Sunday drive!

I think your stories of dreaming of a farm will inspire others to let themselves dream, and for those of you who are taking steps to turn your dreams into reality - your stories are ignition sparks. When people read about other couples, families, single folks and such taking the leap, they see they can do it too.

So tell me who you are, where you are from, and where you are at in your own story? I'd really appreciate it.

photo by jk

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Merck Forest Sheepdog Trials This Weekend!!

It's a Cold Antler Farm tradition. I go every year. This year I can only go one day, but I will be there and thrilled to see the dogs and people I have only seen on Facebook this season. This was the summer of Gibson being a farm dog, no herding lessons at all. Mostly because of the work of learning to ride and get Merlin here. But he is young, just 2, and has a lifetime ahead of him (and so do I) to get to that post one day and enter a trial. It's a step I can't wait to take, ribbons be damned.

six miles and a toddler

Went for my longest trip ever on Merlin today. We did our usual 4-mile trail ride at Sheriff Tuckers' property and then instead of going back to the farm like usual, we headed the opposite direction: the half mile down the mountain road to my Dr Shelly's house. As we headed down the wide country road one of the big dump trucks from the construction site up the hill came barreling down the road. Merlin doesn't care about cars or trucks going past him. (I don't think he'd care about an Oliphaunt going past him). The dump ruck crawled past us out of goodwill and safety (bless him) and gawked at the sight. He wasn't staring at me, that's for sure. He was looking at the pony decked out in western tack with the mane down to his elbows. It's not often you see a unicorn around these parts.

We waved by to the truck and turned right up the dirt road that lead to Shelly's house. When we hit the long winding driveway to her property I picked Merlin up into a canter so we could arrive in style. Merlin exploded up the dirt road in a joyful and smooth run and I could not believe this was the same pony who could only trot for 15 minute sat a time when I got him. He's lost over a hundred pounds this summer and our 6 miles left him sweating, but just fine. Most of the ride is just a happy walk, but it sure was awesome to make that kind of entrance!

Shelly was in the driveway and smiled to see us. She said when she heard the running hoof prints she knew it had to be me. "Who else would arrive for a social call on horseback", she said? She was getting her toddler Aidan into his car seat, they were about to head out on an errand. I said I was just stopping by to say hi and we chatted for a while. She thought Merlin was a peach, and Aidan gawked more than the dump truck guy.

I hopped off when I arrived and Shelly gave Merlin some water from a cooler. He drank a bit and cooled down and then Aidan, her son, asked if he could get up on the horse? Sure! I said, and the lad held onto the horn and walked around his mama's front lawn. Shelly said it was his first time on a horse that didn't just stand still under him and I beamed at her. Aidan was glowing, so was his mother. I think we got a future rider up there!

yard sale for winter prep!

The following items are for sale and most can be shipped to the farm. I'm trying by darndest to pull through the month and prepare for fall. Besides usual bills and expenses there are a lot of extras and I am doing everything I can to pull together what I need to prepare me, the farmhouse, the horses, and the animals. I have saddles, sheep, and classes for the yard sale. If you are interested in any of them please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com

SOLD! Bareback Trail Saddle: Bought new, never used (just tried on). It is brown and has built in saddle bags and black fleece lining. It has a soft padded back and plastic stirrups. $50 plus shipping.

SOLD! English LongbowIt is 72" long, comes with current string and a spare. Hickory, leather hand grip. Handmade. It is $100 plus shipping.

SOLD! 300ft of Red Brand Field Fence: Still in roll. Never used. $100, farm pickup only.

SOLD! 5 pack of homemade goat milk soap: $25 plus shipping

Scottish Blackface ram Lamb $175, Farm pick up only.

LAST AVAILABLE PAIR (2) of tickets to Antlerstock Weekend 2012 Discounted, email me, please!

Three Workshop Pass: For the price of one! Email me, please!

SOLD! Beginner's Fiddle Package:Fiddle, bow, case, and rosin, never used Cremona Student Model $125.00 plus shipping

Four Private 1.5 hour-long fiddle lessons at the farm! $100.00 Email me, please!


cowgirl tip #267

If you keep losing your hat in the wind while riding a galloping horse, simply take two ribbons or pieces of thin saddle strap leather and attach them to your hat right above where you're ears rest. Then braid those long strings into your pigtails and there you have it, a windproof hat!

Feel 100% better

So here's what I want you to do. I want you to click this link, turn up your speakers, and then minimize the screen so you can only hear it. If you are reading this on your phone, then get out your ear plugs or prop this up where you can listen. The song is what matters and what I want to share, so just plain ignore the photo slideshow of someone's trip to Europe. This isn't about a trip to Europe. Well, it could be, but that's not what I'm talking about presently.

Now, with the music up and the screen hidden. I want you to get up and away from your computer, and think about the one thing you want. Whoever, whatever, wherever it is. Listen and think and smile. Picture it and you together. PIcture yourself riding that horse, walking through your own farm's fields, sitting under the stars with someone you love. Keep that picture in your mind this entire song. Play a movie in your head about your perfect day, your perfect activities. Feel the feelings of happiness, and safety, and goodness. Listen and Believe it is yours.

Smile.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Come for the Rendezvous, stay all year!

Anyone who is signing up for the Fiddler's Rendezvous in February and is ordering a fiddle from me is invited to purchase a season pass for the entire year for another $100. This means you can sign up for a weekend at the farm and learn to play the fiddle, leave with your very own violin in your own case, and come back for any workshop you want in the coming year for the cost of one extra class. It's a promotion of sorts and I am just offering for a short time.

Okay, Bonita says stop the farm hustle and get back to my regularly scheduled blog posts.

P.S. Never trust a winking goat.

Kerrits Giveaway!

The fine people over at Kerrits are hosting a giveaway here at Cold Antler Farm! Kerrits is a favorite brand of mine when it comes to horsing around. They make riding apparel that looks good in the dressage barn or out in the backcountry. You can get suited up for a schooling show or a canter through the powder after a fresh snowfall. Their show clothes aren't too showy and their trail clothes are showier than drab barn coats and canvas jackets.

They have offered a pair of Medium-sized bootleg black breeches. They are made of a fabric called Microcord and that's what they look like- bootleg corduroy pants with knee padding so you can slip some paddock shoes under them and ride western or english and look good doing it.

To enter just leave a comment! To enter twice leave a comment and then share it on Facebook, and return with a second comment here stating you shared it! You don't need to own a horse to enter, as these make a great gift for horsey friends and also might motivate you to take those first lessons. Winner picked Saturday!

p.s. Every pair of Kerrits comes with actual carrot seeds! What a nice treat for homesteading horsefolks!

thinking about december mornings

It's a December morning and the world is still dark. The wood that was seasoned, split, and stacked over the summer and fall lies in wait under an overhang roof on the side of my house. Knowing it is there is comforting. When I wake up on any given day it is the first thing I think of. Nothing else happens on this farm until that first match strikes in the cold morning air and lights the fire that welcomes the day. I hunch down in front of the stove in the corner of my living room. My feet flat on the wooden floor, my knees bent in such a way my rump almost touches the ground as well. I feel like a hobgoblin, or some benevolent grungy house fairy, working the magic that in a few hours will be taken for granted as the normalcy of warmth fills the farmhouse.

There in my crouch, the match lit in my hand, I open the heavy iron and glass doors of the wood stove and light the tinder above last night’s still-warm coals. If I was wise, there is a pile of small twigs, birch and locust bark, and small hatchet-sliced stove wood ready to feed my ignition. If I wasn’t, then it is with a heavy sigh I light a pile of wadded up paper and coat it with some splinters and bark shards from the bottom of the metal wood caddy and hurry over to the cod mudroom behind the kitchen. There lies a dry, indoor stash of wood and so does a little Fiskar’s hatchet. I chop into a piece of cord wood fast, grateful for how sharp the blade it. I am thinking of how short the life of that starter is and so I work fast. I need this new fuel ready to add to the stove before the fire dies out. In no time I have a handful of slim, dry, slices of a pine or birch ready to kindle into a proper blaze.

It doesn’t take long. When the sticks are burning well I slowly add larger pieces, egged on with some more paper or quick-burning bark. I haul in a pile of dry logs small enough to start a proper fire, all softer woods that burn quick and hot so I can add maple, oak, or locust later on after morning chores. The farmhouse is still dark but with a fire started the house is lighter, both in mood and visibility. Since there is no overhead lighting in the farmhouse (save for the kitchen) I like welcoming a winter’s day like this.

I like knowing that the first light that enters my morning I know personally and worked to achieve. I sit there, and like the opening sequence of a favorite television show watch the fire roll through the credits of the endeavor. Kindling: brought to you by foresight! Early flames: staring birch bark and locust hulls! Also staring: Pine shards and stove wood from special guest Finnish Hatchet! Gibson has been by my side this whole time and he’ll lay down with me as I watch the firelight shine off his black coat. He’s so soft, softer than a working dog should ever be. I run my hands over his back and thump his ribs and his tail hits the old floor and we both know it is time to face the work outdoors.

Before I get dressed I walk over to the kitchen and fill the percolator with coffee from the crock and set it on the now churning stove. As a brace team we’ll take on the frozen water, feed bags, hay, and wind chill, but this is easier to do when you know you’ll return to a warm house, hot coffee, and the promise of comfort after deprivation.

This is the oldest song our people know.

Excerpt from Days of Grace, the book I am currently writing
Painting of winter by Grandma Moses, who's farm is 20 minutes south of CAF

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

george and ajay, caught cuddlin'

closer than last week

Yesterday was dedicated to hay. I spent the day preparing for it, talking about it, or moving it around. Nelson Greene came with a crew down to Jon Katz's new place and mine, delivering 250 bales on the back of two large trucks. 200 were going into Katz's barn and Ajay and I would be helping, and 50 were going into my small barn. It was a day of fast and hard work, big checks, and good people. But at the end of it all I have a barn stocked to the gills with beautiful second cut hay, the nicest I have ever seen. Nelson knows his trade, at 80 he's been cutting hay his whole life.

I'm content with what I have right now as far as hay goes. it isn't enough but it is more than I ever had before and I'm comfortable with it enough to move onto firewood and stove work. I ordered one cord I need to pay for, and have had some offers of wood I can take to cut but time and lack of supply is an issue. I hope to have at least one cord stacked here by the 15th, another stacked by Antlerstock. I'll feel mighty good going into that first snowfall with 80 bales of hay and three cords of words lying in wait.

The chimney sweep is supposed to come tonight, probably only doing one of the stoves as that is what the budget allows, but they want serious rainfall and my chimneys' need to be swept outside on the rooftops. It doesn't seem like a safe gig in a torrent so as I spend my morning editing and organizing my book and contacting some business friends I'll be waiting to hear from the folks at Black Magic to see if the gig is still on?

I am writing about the work of a winter morning on the farm for this book and it is both exciting and scary to think about. The effort to be ready for my first full-time winter on the farm is an effort I never experienced before. I just want it all good to go by the time October hits so I can truly appreciate that Holy month. He's coming soon, sooner than I realize and right now I'm not quite ready. But hey (hay!), I am closer than I was this time last week.

P.S. Andrea? I'm talking to the woman interested in signing up for the Fiddle Weekend in Feb? I emailed you and never heard back, please email me at jenna@Itsafarwalk.com or check your spam folder?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

happy feet

Trainer Dave will speak at the Horse Workshop!

I have great news to share! It's about this Halloween and the Farmer's horse workshop! Trainer Dave has agreed to come and be the main speaker, sharing stories and giving helpful horse training, farrier, riding, and horse-purchasing advice to anyone who is coming along. This is truly wonderful, and really rounds out the experience for people coming to learn the basics of living with horses on your farm.

The workshop might be my favorite of this year. It's a gathering of people totally new to equines. These are dreamers, some with farms and some without, who can't shake the idea of plowing a field behind their own team. People who watch documentaries on the Amish the way children watch superheros. People who are trying to understand how to get behind their own set of lines, or in the saddle. I encourage you to come along for this Halloween festival of horsing around! It's an easy, safe, and non-threatening way to introduce yourself to working equines. You can see how they are housed, fed, and what goes into their keeping and training. It's not lessons in driving or logging, but instead a whole day of conversations and demonstrations. Horse Farming 101.

The day will include two farms, mine and Patty's and you'll get to meet several horses and see many hands-on demonstrations about saddles, riding, harnessing and harness types, and working animals! You can hear my story in detail, and hear Patty's (she decided at 39 to buy a horse, and just started driving her percheron 4 years ago! She is cantering into her fifties so don't think this is just for people in their twenties). We've got all sizes covered: Jasper, Merlin, and Steele are on hand to see in their collars, working to pull logs from the forest (jasper!), saddled up for a ride (Merlin), and harnessed up for a cart (Steele).

Dave will end the day giving a talk and doing a Q&A. He's spend his life around horses and rides still. He's the guy in the hat talking to Ajay about Merlin in that photo. He's the natural horsemanship trainer that healed me and Merlin, got me galloping across mountain fields! I love this sweet man, and can't wait for you to meet him.

When the day's workshop is over we'll have a cookout and story-telling around a campfire. I'm going to read parts of The legend of Sleepy Hollow (a tale of hallows, horses, and ghosts! from New York!) and we'll share cider and goodies, wrapped up in hoodies as we share our own horse-powered dreams.

For more information on The Farmer's Horse Workshop, Click Here! Only 5 spots left!

visit from polyface interns!

I Just had a wonderful visit with three folks from the Polyface Farm! Michael, Brie, and Heather. I know what you're thinking, what the heck are people from VIrginia doing up in Veryork? Good question and here is my good answer: MIchael Kilpatrick, the driver of the trio is none other than Michael Kilpatrick of Kilpatrick Family Farm, a popular CSA just north of Cold Antler. He and I have been in touch over the years. I met him when I bought laying hens from him one chilly Thanksgiving Morning, and since then we had bartered graphic design work for firewood and such. He decided at 25 to head south to intern under Joel and the gang and I'm proud of him for taking the leap of faith. He's learning such great stuff, and he'll bring it to his own farm and watch it thrive around him.

Anyway, he was driving up for the weekend, showing Heather and Brie his home farm, and he emailed me to ask if on the way back to Swoope they could stop by CAF? I said sure, I had no plans but chores and editing all day so a nice chat and coffee with fellow agrarians would be a treat.

We had a great time. I gave them the nickel tour and we chatted about both farms (drastically different, but both ran with passion), trying not to step on Monday underfoot or trip over tomato cages in the woods. Heather and Brie were funny and patient with me, listening to me blab on about the goats or Mother Earth News Fair. I asked if they were going and they weren't sure. They'd need a place to crash I think and most hotels are booked up. I think they'll figure it out if they want to go, Seven Springs isn't far from Swoope compared to most places. I hope to see them in September.

When they left, Brie and Heather said it was a dream come true to see my homestead. I couldn't help laughing, since they are pilgrims from my my own Promise Land, Polyface Farms. I look up to that place the way kids in the grandstands looked up to Babe Ruth. I think I was more nervous to meet them than they realized. But soon as they pulled away I went upstairs to make sure I knew where my Polyface hoodie was so I could wear it at the campfire tonight. They'll be in Virginia back at their keep by the time the campfire here is hot enough to roast potatoes in, but I'll be thinking of them. I like that farms have their own little fan bases now. It's a wholesome kind of sport.