Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So It Goes

Defiance was caught last night, and set into a dog crate in the barn for his last night on the farm. He was easy to catch. I just walked up to the metal pasture gate he was roosting on and grabbed his legs. My hand slipped, and I held onto the tail for a second before both of his feet were in my tight grip. Twelves hours is the standard time a bird should go without food before slaughter. In the barn crate he would be safe from eating, have plenty of fresh water, and be easy to catch in the morning.

When I got back from hunting over at Patty's farm this morning (no luck, but I did get to shoot at a doe who leaped away unharmed) it was time to get the big job of the day over with. I was not looking forward to it, either. The turkey had grown on me, become a character here and a comfortable presence. Last night I actually lay awake thinking about it, dreading it. I don't care for killing animals, not at all. I do it because I feel this turkey lived a life here most turkeys can only dream of, and him and a large Freedom Ranger from my farm would feed nine to eleven people come Thursday. As much as I hate the death, blood, thrashing and dressing - it comes no where near to how wonderful it feels providing clean, healthy meat for friends and family. The horror of death is short, moments really. But the memories of this holiday will exhale a heavy nostalgia, and bring the kind of flavors and goodness few tables will be able to claim. That is what I was thinking as I brought the knife to his throat. I said a serious prayer of thanks, and slit it open.

He died quickly, faster than any chicken. He was hanging upside down in the barn doorway, the closest thing I have to an abattoir. He bled fast. I cut well and managed to hit an artery without removing the head. The heart pumped out all the blood into a bucket below. The pigs watched in awe. It must have been like porcine fireworks. When he was gone from the world I cut him down and carried him over to the wood chopping area for plucking.

Plucking was a mighty job. It took well over an hour. I did it game style, the body still warm and no dunking in hot water. I didn't have a container of water big enough to dunk him into. It was quiet work, my hands learning every inch of the bird. I guessed he was around 15 pounds. Not bad for a yard bird.

Soon his head, feet, and insides were removed. He had a healthy heart and liver and I managed to not break any intestines or the gall bladder in my work. (This was a skill that took some serious practice over the years.) An hour after his life was ended he was wrapped in plastic and in the fridge. Two days at rest in cool, non-freezing, cold space would be the perfect amount of time for the meat to rest.

I felt sad, proud, and quiet but not in any way regretful. Defiance was here to do a job, and today he did it. Many people will get to enjoy him for several days and I'm happy for that. Farm life is like this, complicated and messy, but in the end: beautiful. Here's to luck on the hunt, and may Venison share my freezer with leftover turkey legs soon!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tenderloin Shot!

Rescuing Birds & Stalking Luck

Gibson was behind the row of pine trees, slowly creeping towards the cowering Buff Orpington who was stuck and confused in the weeds. I saw her there while doing chores—my eyes and ears super sensitive now that three times a day I am out hunting deer—I doubt I would have noticed her otherwise. She was stuck in the mud and tight stalks of dead grasses. She seemed to have given up. I knew she was one of the new birds right away. She was supposed to be in the barn with her friends, still getting used to the new place, but she must have escaped. There are holes in the barn big enough for a bird to get through. She probably followed the yard birds to the watering area here, by the artesian well, and then realized she was alone in a weird place in cold weather.

I was on the opposite side of her, hoping that when the choice to run towards one of us she would pick me instead of the black and white teeth machine. I told Gibson to "walk up" and then after a step, "Lie down" and he did. The bird took a look at him and my open arms and did not run into them, but instead, tried to dodge past me. I caught her as she made the attempt and Gibson burst through the pine trees, tail wagging. "Good Boy!" I told the farm dog. Together we walked the nervous bird back to the wind-free, chicken chow buffet, safe zone that was my small barn. Bonita watched from her indoor stall as Gibson and I got her settled in with the other birds. "No more exploring for a bit, okay? You're a long way from an Eglu here, sister" I said to the blinking, black eyes. I don't know if the Buff cared to reply to her captor. I shrugged and called my dog as we headed out of the barn. I stopped needing the acceptance or approval of chickens a while ago.

I haven't been writing much this weekend due to it being a Rural Holiday of serious Import: Opening Weekend of Deer Hunting. I spent most of the two days outside in the woods far from my farmhouse and rode, scaring three deer away and cursing under my breath. I hope to get a deer, I really do. I adore venison and have the luck of having drawn a doe tag in my state's lottery. That means I can take a buck and a doe this season, and I'll take either. A buck with a beautiful set of antlers would be heroic, sure, but you can't eat antlers. It's been a beautiful and frustrating introduction to hunting large game this weekend. I usually hunt upland birds, a daylight affair with happy dogs and lots of chatter. You are trying to scare the game when shooting at pheasants or grouse. But hunting deer means silent walking, lots of hours sitting still, and involves about 50% luck. I have three weeks and two farms to hunt on. I think I'll get something, and I have asked and written it down, which to be is as good as factual reality. But Time and luck will tell.

It's cold out there.

The New Girls

These new girls arrived at the farm on Saturday morning, a quad of older layers from a friend who didn't want them any longer as laying hens. I happily took them, since even if they only offer another season of eggs they may be fantastic broody hens for bringing more chicks into the world, or offer enough eggs to be incubated into younger stock. More birds of good laying stock like this can never be a bad thing for my hearty, outdoor, free ranging flock. Safety comes in numbers in many ways, you see. If Darwinism wins out, they'll be the older, slower, and easier to catch birds when the fox comes around. Maybe not the best fate, but certainly an important one. Chickens are wiser than we give them credit for. They know you don't have to be fastest hen in the flock to survive. You just need to be faster than the slowest chicken...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

White Tails

Walk into any public space in America. Walk into a restaurant, or grocery store or market square. Take a look at the people all around you, from the youngest infant to the elders in wheelchairs. Take in that whole scene and know, with every fiber of your being, that every human you are looking at is a better deer hunter than me.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


photo by weez

Open Season

It's the first day of Rifle Season here and the mountain is alive with Gunfire. In the short hour I was out on the hunt (between chores and stoking the home fires) I counted twenty shots and none were mine. I saw the same large doe I heard so many times before, just thirty or so yards off but no clear shot and I was downwind. I watched the ravens mostly. So many are around the farm and so fewer crows? They fly higher than crows and have a guttural Gruk Gruk Gruk sound. I said a little prayer out there that I'd be given a deer, but who knows what the Gods have in mind. I may get lucky this season, I may not. But regardless if venison I shot myself gets into my freezer—I will be living differently these next two weeks. With trucks parked all over the edges of the woods just outside my property that means a lot of people who do not know these woods or neighborhood are out excited with firearms. No riding Merlin, even on the road. I will be wearing blaze orange during chores. If I do get out on a serious stalk it'll be a weekday. I'm not dealing with weekend warriors from out of town. I want a deer but I alsow really have grown fond of my own chest cavity...

It was sure cold out there. Coming inside to the fifty-five degree house was Shangri-La. In a few moments both fires were blazing in my home's humble wood stoves and by the time the sun was halfway through its work the heat would be unbearable for me, somewhere close to seventy degrees. I run hot, as a rule, and like my home around the low sixties so a sweater is always welcomed indoors. I find this is often not the case for guests and so when I am hosting people for dinner I crank those stoves and get the house to hit the big 7-0 and sleep with a window open. To each their own.

This weekend marks the beginning of the holiday party season for me. The Washington County Draft Animal Association has a business meeting/turkey dinner/holiday gift swap I'll be attending. I'm also going to be the turkey's vallet since Patty and Mark (who can't go due to company staying with them for the weekend) are the ones preparing the bird and I will be picking it up as my date. I tried finding myself a companion for the party but had no luck. I guess it's hard for a girl to find a fellow the first weekend of deer hunting season. They already have their eyes on another kind of rack. Their focus is mighty.

Like I said, to each their own.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Now Available For Home Viewing

To say that I enjoyed a movie about Scotland, heavy horses, archery, magic, folklore, wildlife and fighting to follow your heart would be an understatement. Brave was a joy. You can get it now in any way you desire, from DVD to digital downloads. Alba Gu Brath, Mac.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cider is bottled!

What you see here is the haul I bottled from my gallon and a half of hard cider. Not bad! For a few bucks in fresh-press and some basic home brewing supplies I was able to create all of this and just in time for Thanksgiving and holiday parties. All it really took was the cider, champagne yeast, some sanitizer, a fermenting bucket and airlock and some time. I think I did this around a month and a half ago? The bubbling took a whole week to start and then rumbled through Samhain and into November. When the bubbling stopped I let it sit a week to get to know itself better and today I bottled it into all sorts of bottles I had around the farmhouse. (I even put the extra in a little flask for the saddle bags!)

So what to do with the empty fermentor? Get another two gallons of cider and start brewing again! I also have a five gallon batch of sweet stout to get going as well if we want to enjoy it for Yuletide. It makes a great Christmas gift, a growler of homebrew in a cool container. Northern Brewer is selling these red plaid growlers for a few bucks and I hope to make that my main present for friends around here hosting parties and the like. Homemade, homebrewed, homeknit, or home baked is the way to go!

Can You Handle It?

Readers Made My Reader

What you are looking at is a combination of two readers I met at the Mother Earth News Fair and their lives and skills...and an e-reader. I used the alpaca wool from one reader to make the sleeve, and the left-over yarn from some hand-knit socks from another to do the monogramming. Together these two women, and the wonderful people at Battenkill Books, created a little case and machine (I call it the Book 'Gin) to bring a whole new world of reading and education to this farm. I can't thank them enough! I love that my readers are protecting my reader.

I knit up the case because yesterday I was reading it outside and noticed hay and flakes of wood ash on the nice, white, frame of the story. I'm not proud of material possessions, and don't care much about scrapes and scratches but this little thing was expensive and I wanted it to last a good long while. I was wearing a sweater and noticed all the hay and ash on myself, and realized the little gadget just needed a sweater, too. You know, a little homesteader's touch. I gave it my initials (with antlers, of course) and now as it follows me around my farm it is a little safer from horse drool, hay chaff, mud and rain.

happy little sparks

Last night as I was sitting in my living room, talking on the phone with a good friend, I noticed a few red sprinkles of ash outside the French glass doors. It was like I was sitting under a very unenthusiastic volcano. Every few seconds a little poof of red confetti fell down, and while it was pretty I didn't want it to be the preshow of a chimney fire. I went through that last year with the other, older, stove and wasn't interested in a repeat performance...

I walked outside and watched. There was no roar or crazy oxygen-induced whistle of a chimney fire. Just the normal smoke and the happy sparks. I figured it was a piece of the paper bag I used to start the fire earlier, trapped up there and burning off in little coughs. To be safe I closed the flue and stopped burning for the night. The sparks stopped and I fell asleep like a grateful brick. I had been up 21 hours straight and wanted that rest in a primal way.

This morning I woke up to a 20-degree, frost covered farm, and the house was down to 55. Not unbearable, but not comfortable either. I decided to do some inspecting so I went outside and opened the hatch on the cold pipe chimney to see what was going on. A little ash came out, and for good measure I stuck ten feet of chimney brush up there and a little residue fell into my bucket, but not the kind of creosote and gunk that causes fires. Feeling vindicated, I went about the good work of chopping kindling to get the place comfortable.

An hour later the animals were fed and I was outside waiting for a water bucket to fill at my well spout. Both chimneys seemed to be working fine. The two fires would raise the house about twenty degrees in four hours. I'd me sweating bullets before lunch. A small victory, but I felt like a 10th degree blackbelt in home ownership out there.

We learn as we go.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

And The Axe Goes To....

Stargazer 2!!!!!

Email me Ronnie and I'll get you in touch with Alex! Congrats. I am mighty jealous!

LAST CHANCE to Win a BEAUTIFUL Restored Ax from The Old Federal Ax Co!

Alex of Cold Antler Farm Sponsor, The Old Federal Ax C0, has an amazing giveaway for us. He has a hand-restored vintage ax. The vintage steel head has been sharpened and cleaned up and a brand new handle has been added. He also hand-makes canvas covers for the head, protecting it in storage and life of hard use. This ax looks to be a decent-wedged splitting ax, exactly what you need by the woodpile to turn rounds into cordwood. This is a combination of vintage and modern craftsmanship that makes a ax that would last you a lifetime. It's make a beautiful Holiday gift, or a great addition to your current (or someday) homestead. He's also throwing in a free DVD of proper ax usage and care along with this, so not only do you get the tool for the job: but the lessons and skill set. Alex is shipping to the US only, sorry Canada. But enter if you are coming to a workshop here at the farm and I can hold it for you till you arrive!

Also, even if you don't win you can go to his website and download a free ebook for your computer or to print out of safe ax technique, skills and handling.

To enter just leave a comment, and if you share the contest on Facebook with your friends, you can come back and enter again. Just say "Shared!" and I'll make you down as entered twice. Winner picked Weds Night!

P.S. Folks, some of you leave comments three or four times, that's because they don't appear live on the site till I read and review each one for public usage. So if you type something and it doesn't appear, you do not need to do it again.

Comments Online & Face Punching

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

He's Making It Hard To Dislike Cats....


We all know about Black Friday, that day of rampant consumerism and angry mobs running over their fellow men for a half priced Furbie. It's depressing to even think about, but did you know about the alternative, Plaid Friday? Plaid Friday is a movement to get people out of the malls and big box stores and into their local town's shopfronts. By dedicating a day of support to your local community, you can make a huge difference in the lives of your neighbors and neighborhood. I pledge to buy all my Yuletide gifts from downtown Cambridge, my local one-stop shopping center. With several gift shops and services (dance lessons, massage, restaurants, etc) I can get gifts for gift cards for everyone on my list.

In the honor of Plaid Friday, myself and a few other local authors have decided to join up and rally support with a Cash Mob for Battenkill Books! On Monday, November 26th (The famed Cyber Monday of online shopping) you can call or email Connie of Battenkill Books (my local indie store) and get a signed copy of Barnheart, Made From Scratch, or Chick Days with whatever personalized message you want in it from me. GIbson will also sign the books with his paw print, and no other store in America can offer you that!

I know a lot of you like to support your own local stores, as you should. But consider sending a little cash this way as well. Connie's store is fighting the good fight in a small down of 1800 people, using every inch of stubbornness and effort of will to keep her small Main Street shop afloat in an Amazon age. If you live in a fairly large city with an affluent and successful shop, maybe a little of your Holiday gift giving cash can come to Washington County, where you can get something really special, a personalized book from our community of local authors: Me, Jon Katz, James Howard Kunstler, Megan Mayhew Bergman. You already know me, but do you know Jon, Jimmy, and Meg?

Check them out and perhaps a copy of World Made By Hand or Birds of a Lesser Paradise could line your tree's plump and gifty bottom! All these authors will be signing books, from Jon's children's books to Jimmy's Peak Oil Preps!

You can also order Kobos, ebooks, gift cards, prints, and other items at Battenkill Books. And anyone who order's a signed copy of my books gets thrown into a drawing for $250 worth of homesteading books from Storey Publishing! Pretty rad, guys. So what do you say? Anyone willing to support BB this Monday? I'll be there between 12-2PM if you want to call and say hello. We can chat about how good we look in plaid.

P.S. Read Jon's Post on Plaid Friday Here!

A Little Snow, Just a Bit

Heavy, Wet, Snow!

So today was supposed to be a Braveheart Day, which is what I call days of cold rain where dayight chores are done in mud and wool. You can't help looking (and smelling) like an extra in that movie. You work with horses, hay, and sheep and end up covered in mud and sweat. I also happen watch Braveheart on days like this, mostly out of habit and nostalgia. However! The rain the weatherfolk wanted is just heavy, wet, snow here on the mountain. It felt cold enough for snow during morning chores (I spoiled the pigs this morning with extra feed and bedding) and just as I was inside watching Jon Stewart, I noticed snow outside instead of rain?! Its cold out there, too. If the video you can hear more about why ten inches of snow, instead of 1 inch of rain, isn't exactly good news...

But it sure is pretty....

Monday, November 12, 2012

Riding Home

I rode Merlin for a few hours today. We were conquistadors! We traveled past mountain road, trail, and stream. We crossed a highway, trotted through hay and corn fields, and stopped to walk with neighbors and friends. Several goals were met in the saddle today, several bad habits healed and overcome. It was an amazing day on horseback, and in that photo above you can see the traveling we did together. I live halfway up that mountain on the right-hand side we are looking at. Merlin took me there.

I decided to leave my job and felt like my world was falling apart right when Merlin walked into it. I think if I was in a better headspace I would not have bought him, would not have even entertained the idea. But I was fragile, and felt that I needed him. Half a year later I am a totally different rider, different person. Much more has been overcome (and is being overcome) besides a fear of horses.

I didn't realize until I looked back at my actions and attitude how terrified I was of Merlin before I knew him. I was. I was absolutely terrified. I was scared to move above a trot in an arena. I was scared when he acted up. I was scared to do much of anything. I often think back to our first trail ride and how I was shaking until I was on him and we were walking down the road. When it's too late to worry, when is a thing is actually happening, worry becomes useless as gills on a land mammal. It recedes from evolution.

I rode Merlin back in March or April, or whenever it was, scared of a stranger. Today we worked as a team. It took lessons, patience, miles, guts, stupidity, encouragement, stubbornness, and love to make us work. It will fuel us indefinitely.

What They Call For

It was a beautiful morning, out there doing chores, but weird. Unsettling in how warm it was. They want it 67+ degrees here today in the North Country. It'll be sunny and feel like August twilight all day and there's a 100% chance of being on horseback. Tonight they want rain through the day, possibly turning into snow Tuesday when they want it back in the teens.

My old boss used to laugh when I described forecasts as "they want it" instead of "they're calling for" I shrugged. That's how we talked about weather in my part of Pennsylvania. We assumed the weathermen wanted to be correct, I suppose.

That photo is from yesterday, of a mile walk taken with friends out to a lake and back. It felt sublime. A perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The dogs romped and swam in the lake and the us people talked about people things (mostly hunting). It was wonderful, but like I said, felt a little odd. I am more comfortable tucked into layers of sweaters and canvas in November than taking a walk in a t-shirt. These Days of Grace are really leaning in hard, teasing us. I have a hunch this winter is going to be a tough one. I think this is just the calm before the snowstorms. In four weeks there will be frozen water troughs in hand-deep mud and a snowblower puttering past the front drive. That's my fine guess, anyway.

Though I'm not sure basing weather predictions on Mother Nature's subterfuge is an accurate model for forecast—it is what I want. Good enough for the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania is good enough for me.

Farm Boy

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Farmer's Ebook?!

I never thought the day would come that I would own (and love) an e-reader. But a few days ago I was milling around Battenkill Books, chatting with Connie, and saw her new display of Kobo Readers. At first, I scowled. I adore books. I adore picking them up and dog-earing pages and writing notes and giving them away to friends. As someone who makes her own living with words, I buy a lot of books too. I feel it is an economy I want to keep robust, so if you ever visit this farmhouse you will see piles of books in every inch of spare space. They are in the larder, the bathroom, under the daybed, and on coffee tables. What I'm saying is, I love books. Real, paper and ink books.

So I'm scowling at this book gadget display (internally, if not externally at this point) and I'm surprised Connie is even selling them in the first place. I KNOW she shares my paper-book love. So I ask her what the deal is, and she explains something to me that blows my mind.

She explains that Kobo works with and encourages independent book stores. When someone buys a Kobo from her, either at the store or through the mail, it becomes a Battenkill Books Kobo. She gets a 10% cut of any book I download. That may not seem like a lot, but just like the Adsense links on this site, a few small clicks make a Big Difference. My purchases become not only additional reads for me, but supports a wonderful and spirited small town bookseller.

So I bought a Kobo Mini. It's the least expensive of the line, but a mighty tool. It took about ten minutes to link up to my iMac and get rolling. When I had my book account set up there were dozens of books I could download for free. I downloaded White Fang, Pride and Prejudice, and A Christmas Carol in about three minutes after turning it on. My first purchase: Barnheart. What a weird and delightful way to read your own stuff... A homesteader tapping through a digital copy of a book about chickens...

What I love about it is while it's still a gadget it looks and reads like a piece of paper. It isn't backlit, so you still need a reading lamp to see it at night). It works with Wifi, you can shop for new books in your living room on the Kobo, or download the newest NY Times and read the news over coffee. It also as silent as can be. No beeping or stupid pew pew pew sounds. I take it out in the woods when I'm stalking deer and will use it to read turning hunting season. College kids can download textbooks and read quietly in the library.

To those of you who are horrified, I understand. Take heart, as I am still a traditional book person. But I am also an author in the modern world. I think modern professional writers need to be open to changes in publishing, resourceful, and willing to change with the tides. There is a HUGE selection of books out there you can only buy and sell as digital reads. I myself want to publish some ebooks (Birchthorn, The Milk Pail Diaries, Etc), and I want to see what my traditional books like Made From Scratch and Barnheart look like on the digital page.

So you too can have it both ways. You can have a fancy Book Gin like me and still support your local stores. Ask your indie bookseller if they have a Kobo program and if you can affiliate with them. Or, call up Connie or email her at Battenkill for your own Kobo and if you do you, tell her you want to be entered in the CAF/STOREY GIVEAWAY.Anyone who buys a Kobo from Battenkill will get a personal thank you card from me and Gibson (signed by us both). If you order a signed copy of Made From Scratch or Barnheart or Chick Days you will also be entered to win. Storey has donated $250 bucks in Homesteading Gardening books (Seriously, this could be your Christmas Gift List!).

So consider this new and impressive way to support both authors and publishers. It will probably be the only place to read the full story of Birchthorn when it is done. (If you want to know what BT even is...) and if you prefer to support a store closer to home, let them know about this program and direct them to BK books website. Whatever helps indie bookstores I want to be a part of!

Coming Out of the Root Cellar

I have been thinking about the mindset of modern homesteading. Particularly, as it pertains to perception and peers. I think it goes without saying that folks who start producing their own food (urban or rural or anywhere in-between) are an independent lot. Many could care less what the neighbors think about their lawn-cum-garden or interest in wearing hand-knit sweaters and skirts over the latest brand styles...but there are plenty of people who do worry about what others think of them, and I don't think we should avoid talking about our brothers and sisters who are scared to "come out of the root cellar".

I am basing this on the emails I get most often from beginners, which fall into two types. Many come from people who see my life as a fantasy, and enjoy reading it but have no interest in farm life outside of literature. The other half is people who want to start but aren't sure how, and honestly, are apprehensive. They aren't weak-willed people, just dealing with a lack of finances and support. They came into homesteading later in life when they already had a husband or wife, kids, a suburban house, and a lifestyle they want to change but are dealing with rolling eyes and jokes from their social circle. And these are people who really, really, strive for a more sustainable life, but it's hard as all get out when everyone thinks you're acting odd, like a hippie, or idealistic. Some don't want to listen to complaints from their HOA, or hear their mothers in law tell them they are acting like those people on Doomsday Preppers. Others have spouses or parents or family in general who think it is daft to grow strawberries and make jam when it's on sale at your corner shop for a dollar. They feel they are fighting a battle they can't win due to poor location and circumstance. Many give up and go back to Wal-Mart and the mall.

I feel like it's been so long that I've been a part of this culture and lifestyle that I am losing sight of what it is like to get started under peer review. In a lot of ways, my moving around as a single person made it easier. I came into a new rental and town as "Jenna The Wannabe Farmer" and no one even blinked when I showed up to the office in wellies with a baby goat. But I was also working in rural Vermont at an Outdoor Sporting Retailer where people fly-fished and hunted grouse on their lunch breaks. The whole goat thing might not work for an accountant in New Jersey....

I wanted to ask you folks out there in the larger community some questions. And perhaps others who are "in the root cellar" can gain some confidence or ideas. Feel free to bring up any related ideas or stories or questions.

Do friends and family who don't share your lifestyle think less of you for your choices? Do they think this is a passing fad with you?

Do you think changes in our economy or lifestyle will demand a simpler lifestyle for Americans regardless of what they think?

Have you lost any friendships due to changing your life into one of agriculture?

How did you convince a spouse or children to get interested and involved?

Where do you see Homesteading in ten years?

Lastly, do you have any advice or a personal story that could help inspire or encourage a beginner?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

One Hour Ride, One Good Meal

I was sitting in the farmhouse watching Last American Cowboy (an Animal Planet reality series about ranchers in Montana) when I couldn't take it anymore. I was not going to watch people ride horses on my ancient iMac when I could be out riding my own horse. In happy frustration I changed into jeans and paddock boots and threw on a heavy flannel work shirt. I lead Merlin to the hitching post in front of the house, groomed him, and without any groundwork just saddled up and headed up the mountain road.

I just wanted go give him a workout and enjoy the fresh air. My workout would come later (thank you Ms. Jillian Michaels) but while the sun shone at nearly fifty degrees, I wanted to soak up the vitamin D. It was a pleasant ride. We walked, trotted, and cantered up the steep roads, talking to neighbors and waving to cars passing by. Merlin got to brush noses with some quarter horses behind an electric fence and then whinny to another a bit up the road in a paddock. We were met by stray dogs, passed by angry drivers in fast cars, and stopped to talk to folks along the road. It was absolutely delightful.

Of course, I wasn't out in a -10 degree day wrangling angry angus heifers so compared to the television show we just trotted through the daisies, but still. Nice.

I'm happy about the decision I made to buy and work with Merlin. It'll be another year and a half before he is paid off, but when I get the actual ownership papers I will be thrilled. He's had his moments of stubbornness and strife, but at the end of the day he's a nearly bombproof multi-use animal that makes my farm life (and emotional life!) a thousand times better. It's hard to believe he hasn't even been in my life a year...

I came home and untacked Merlin and put him and Jasper out into their pasture to run through the dead grass and kick up their heels. Jasper tour off after a doe, snorting. Merlin raised his head, but was not moved to follow. He worked up a good sweat on the hour-long ride and seemed happy to just stand, drink, and eat.

This cowgirl is going to enjoy a Saturday night at home. I'll be enjoying the barbecued lamb ribs that have been in the crockpot all day simmering over rice and homemade bread. I started this new and wonderful habit of really enjoying one home-cooked meal a day in the late afternoon. It's not so much a diet as it is eating when I am hungry. Eating something I worked hard to raise, source locally, bake or cook. I don't fast the rest of the day, but meals are super light, leaving anticipation and total joy for the star meal of the day: supper.

Enjoy your Evenings, Antlers! I will too!

Fireside Farm Cat

A November Fire!

We were in the new green wagon, sitting on the buckboard and taking turns driving Patty's big gray Percheron, Steele. We had bellies full of ice cream and were talking and laughing. It was a happy scene. If you think a 30 degree day is cold enough to keep Washington County residents away from Battenkill Creamery, well, you don't know us very well.

Both of us enjoyed the few mile trip in the wagon. It was a beauty, and as a new driver I was jealous. It had a nice front seat and a bed in the back that could fit too comfortable adults, a load of hay, or any other gear you wanted to take to friend or field. I had finished my writing work and when I got a call around noon to come over for a cart ride I happily accepted. It was a sunny day, and as we made our way fast farm and field we waved to deer hunters by their trucks going over their game plans and stopped to chat with locals.

We were just taking in the Days of Grace. That's what this time of year is called around here. That window between the last of fall's warm foliage but before the first snowfall. It's your last chance to oil the tractor and repair fences, get in hay and feed, sight in your rifle for deer season, and get snow tires on the truck. It's both a ticking time bomb and period of repose. If you're ready for winter you can just throw some more logs in the stove, sip your tea, and wait for the snow to fall. Some of us with less experience or resources...we're working on putting walls on our horse barns yet. But either way, each team is grateful for the Days of Grace.

So you can imagine our surprise when we crested the Lake road and came into view of Patty's historic farmhouse and saw billowing clouds of smoke. At first, Patty just thought her husband was home from work and burning trash, but from the half mile away we could see if was coming from behind the house and their dog, Harley, was pacing and yelping. This was bad.

Patty had Steele speed up from his Sunday Trot into a full out canter. I was hanging on to the buckboard as she leaned forward to give him a little more chase in his reach. If you have never been on the back of a speeding wagon towards a fire with a ton of horse thundering ahead of you then you haven't known the true meaning of haste. It was wild! It seemed like seconds before we were running up Livingston Brook Farm's driveway and as we got towards the horse tack barn Patty just threw the reins in my hands and sped off the cart towards the fire.

I knew what I had to do. I had to get the horse in the cross ties, remove the cart from the harness, remove his harness, and get him away from the house and into the pasture. I didn't know what was happening so I just went into action mode, and when the cart was removed and the horse secure I ran up to the direction I saw Patty speed towards.

To my great relief, she was on the phone behind the house with a garden hose. The fire was in the woods, not the farmhouse, but it was spreading out over a 30 yard semi-circle downhill. She said that ashes were dumped in the woods in the morning and must have caught on fire. She was calling the local fire department because she didn't want the cold wind moving the foot-tall flames and burning leaves towards the house (which was 2o feet away). She seemed to be doing all she could so I decided to go take care of Steele.

I move the cart out of the driveway so the fire trucks could get up towards the flames. I undid his belly band, but the tug chains up the hooks on his spider, and was unhooking the hame's latch and removing the fifty-pound harness when Patty made her way towards me to help. Steele is 17 hands, I can't see over him when I stand next to him. Patty is nearly six feet tall and could easily remove the harness. I carried it over to the hooks on the wall. She took off the collar and felt collar pad and I put them away in their proper places too. She then lead Steele out of the commotion where he wouldn't be scared of the sirens and lights about to arrive.

The trucks arrived ten minutes later, a man named Seabass in a yellow Uniform with a huge pressure hose was on it in seconds. His one small truck was able to contain the brush fire in moments. It was quit the thing to see. It didn't take long for the response teams to tame the possible danger. By this time Mark was home from duck hunting, feeling a little sheepish about the ashes, but glad to see the house safe. He and Patty chatted with the fire squad, explaining and listening to assessments and soon Patty went inside to cut everyone out there a slice of homemade apple pie with a gingerbread cookie crust. No one turned it down. Seeing a pack of men in uniform with eagles on their helmets eating slices of apple pie was so thick with Americana I expected Harley to run around with sparkers in his teeth.

Since it wasn't lethal, everyone was in good spirits. Which was comforting and beautiful to see. Lessons were learned and neighbors called to ask about the ruckus but within an hour of a speeding wagon ride we were all around the farmhouse kitchen table enjoying adult beverages and laughing. It could have been a disaster, but instead it was a story. A story that included ice cream, horses, farm, and booze so I was grateful as a fat tabby on milk truck day.

It's a different life up here. But no matter where you live, apple pie and doused fires make for a good night's sleep.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Back By Popular Demand: CAF Pancakes!

I love pancakes. I figured out this recipe from adapting a few and it creates the fluffiest, sweetest, pancakes ever. Feel free to add blueberries, chocolate chips, fresh fruit and powdered sugar to top it off. I only use cast iron greased with real butter when I make mine (If you're falling, dive) Enjoy!

Cold Antler Pancakes
1 1/2 cups organic flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanila
1/2 cup sugar
1 farm egg
1 1/3 cups milk

Tun on the range and heat up the skillet at a medium high heat, make sure a good spoonful of butter is melting in the pan and coating it with a good layer. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the egg and milk. Mix fast and quick and then give it about 4 minutes to set and get fluffy (from the baking powder) in the bowl. When "risen" pour into skillet to the size you like your cakes. You know a pancake is ready to flip over when the middle bubbles. Serve hot with real maple syrup (Grade B, son. Grade B is dark, rich, and get this tastes like maple.none of that flatlander grade A sugar water they sell in gift shops okay?)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Two Fires & A Lockout!

It's a Two Fire Night here at the homestead. For those of you who are new readers (Or confused, sorry!) This little 2-story white farmhouse is heated by two little wood stoves and that is my main source of winter heat. One is in my living room, a chunky rectangle of beauty called the Vermont Bun Baker. It's a stove with a built in bread oven and range. It heats up three downstairs rooms and the main house by itself. It's not a huge stove, only a 14-inch box, but because the living area of my house is 6 small rooms in 1,000 square feet of space it is more than enough to keep me comfortable. In the mud room there is a trusty Vermont Castings Dutch West stove and that was here when I bough the place. It lives within 10 feet of the houses plumbing, all of it. Since the only pipes in the house live here (at the convergence of bathroom, kitchen, and laundry all back-to-back by several walls) it is the real work horse stove. If I lost power, or didn't have any heating oil, it would keep pipes from freezing and the bathroom and kitchen comfortable.

Anyway, tonight is a Two Fire Night because both stoves are roaring as the temperatures drop into the teens. It's a comforting job, keeping them going, and especially comfortable after locking myself out of the house at sunset and needing to call a local tow-service to help me out....

See, I stupidly locked my car with the keys in it. The truck and house keys. I usually hide a spare set outside the house but it turns out I hid it so well I couldn't find them. I called the police, and the police told me to call John.

John's Automotive is a towing company just up route 22, eight miles north or so. John was the man who came and took away the Subaru when it died. I sold it to him as a dead animal and he took it away. He remembered me from two winters ago when I called and said he would be right over. I couldn't believe my luck.

He arrived in fifteen minutes. I kept myself warm by doing all the nightly farm chores and checking on the animals with the time I had to fill. Moving hay and buckets of water kept me warm, but I was happy to see him when he pulled into the drive. In five minutes he opened the door with some aparati-of-rescue and when I asked him how much I owed him, he shrugged, and said "I dunno...twenty bucks?" I just blinked at him. Then went inside to get the truck. I thanked him over and over, and as he slipped the check into his wallet he said, "Well, I made money on that Subaru I bought from you. It's the least I could do." I smiled, shook his hand, and waved goodbye as he pulled out to fix another problem in Jackson. This place, I tell you...

So I'm here inside, warm as a fat cat, and grinning. I had a good dinner of homemade bread and hot soup and am about to tuck into a book and some quilts by the fire. Tomorrow, I'll get some spare keys made and take on some new projects, but for the now, a full stomach and rest.

Stay warm, Antlers.

I'm Proud of Trish!

I got this email last week from a student of this past summer's Fiddle Camp. Trish and her friend Wendy drove up from across the state, no small feat, to attend the two days of instruction. Both always wanted to learn so when they arrived their fiddles were waiting for them. All they brought was their textbooks, tuners, and the will to learn and practice. Now, just a few months later she's blown through the book. She even sent a video (but my email couldn't handle the file size). I'm so very proud of her. Trish didn't win the "best performance" contest at the camp, she was an average beginner, but she had the determination and desire to learn. Now she's learned, literally, every song in the book! When I read these words my heart melted. Let the music flow!

Hi Jenna,

Hope this finds you well. I always enjoy your blog; keep up the good words! I just wanted to tell you that last night I learned the last and final song in the W. Erbsen Ignoramus book, and I've also almost mastered two other numbers from The Irish Fiddler. This is all due to your encouragement and I wanted to thank you for that! You're the best. Happy Halloween!

Trish Kleinfelder

William, War Owls, and The Good Fight.

A few months ago I was at a dinner party talking with friends. Maria, a neighbor, was explaining that she didn't want a Psycho inspired shower curtain in her bathroom. It featured an outline of a man about to stab the person inside with a knife. When I agreed with her, that I wouldn't want that particularly violent decoration up in my house, another person at the table slammed down her fork and laughed, calling me out. "Jenna, your favorite movie is Braveheart?! And you don't want a violent image in your home!" I had no reply to that. I mean, shucks, she was right. Braveheart is an extremely graphic movie, with a whole lot of violence starting with a shed full of dead kids 10 minutes into the reel...

But still, her joke caught me off guard because I never ever actually thought of Braveheart as a violent movie, and I mean that with genuine sincerity. To me it was three hours of romance, and courage, and underdogs fighting against tyranny. It was about one person changing history, a real man, who despite his awful death never gave in to his oppression, even as he was being murdered because of his beliefs...

Yes, it's an epic legend in which violence happens, but I never watched that violence with any shock or discomfort because it was part of the bigger story.

I mean, I raise pigs for food and most of the time with them is delightful. There's scratching ears, hope for delicious meals, and then a period of blood and violence followed by a happy year of shared dinners. I know comparing a pig's life to that of William Wallace is pretty crass, but the point remains the same. Violence is sometimes necessary in a story. It doesn't mean it's the point of it.

Braveheart will always be a story of loss love, hope, and the ability to continue the fight through small odds. The self-sacrifice, the Christ metaphors, all of that isn't part of its appeal to me. That movie is all about hope and unwavering faith. But this is coming from a gal who's mother told her from the time she was ten that she should join the Army...

My mom was right. I am a fighter, not a lover. I was always drawn to martial disciplines and activities. I spent my adolescence in a karate gi, competing through high school and then competing again in Tennessee as an adult. I love horses, hunting, archery, running, and took classes in Japanese swordsmanship for fun. It's who I am.

So you can see I have some bias here. I'm drawn to these stories, and tried to live them in my own humble mythology. In my own head I am, at this moment, fighting for a life of personal creative freedom and better health. And I like, hell I LOVE, stories and legends that make me feel like this healing and change is possible through the motivation of the individual. I recently watched an animated movie called Legends of the Guardians, and loved it. I was told to watch it by a friend, not because of the story, but because of the special effects and artwork. It delivered this in spades (I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful film) but once again I found myself rooting for the underdog. I fell into the story. There's not a big difference between the real person that was William Wallace and fictional war owls. Not in the context I'm writing about, anyway.

And yet, when I posted about it on Facebook a woman I know with children said she thought it glorified war and didn't like it. This, just like the violence comment about Braveheart, surprised me. Both of these stories include war, death, and intense violence but they aren't about them. The war is a character too, an avatar for change. Sometimes violence is the conduit for change and sometimes it isn't, but deploring such an inspiring message because it includes violence seems, childish. It seems like someone avoiding discomfort despite the bigger story. I hate this. It is the one thing I do not have any patience for. The most popular books in the world ends with the hero getting tortured and killed, that certainly wasn't what he spent thirty years teaching people to focus on....

So, I'm a gluten for punishment who likes shooting pointy things. Yeah. I still I don't want to join the army. Nor would I do well there. I barely made it being told what to do in the corporate world, much less in a society where obedience to orders means life and death.... But again, that's not the point I am trying to make.

I think in this world you're a fighter or you're not. You either decide to take control of your destiny or you hand it over to someone who will. And trust me, there's always someone happy to control you.

That is the real story of humanity. There are fighters and followers: and only you can decide which you're going be. I get emails and comments every day from people who say they want a life like mine. I want to shake the computer and say "Then Go GET IT!!!" I'm not rich, or born into a farming family. I didn't even know what a harrow was until two years ago. I'm on this farm, not because of luck, but because for years it was my single-minded goal I worked towards every friggin' day. And when I realized I couldn't have my farm the way I pictured it, owning a deed and working at home, I chose to live that life in my heart anyway. That's the secret. That's the trick. I stopped being a graphic designer, not in June of 2012, but the day I signed my first book contract in July of 2007. And even though I new it would be a long, rough, road to get to this point I never felt it wasn't possible. I made the decision to just do the work, make the changes, give up the things I needed to give up, and remove people from my life who told me it was impossible.

If you have a dream, you need to fight for it. You need to decide following it is worth the fall out. If you can't stir that effort of will you will, I promise, find yourself living under someone who can do it for you. Too many people out there are letting life happen to them and acting like that's their lot. I've seen these people who let life happen to them. I know some. They turn into monsters. They are dying from a totally curable disease but they let it fester through apathy. It kills faster than dehydration.

You can have a farm. You can fall in love. You can get that job on the 34th floor with the corner office. You can RUN for office. You can become a parent. I don't care what your dream is, it just requires your total dedication to it. That's all. And that means a lot of painful sacrifice, and discomfort, and losing people and all the other crap. But what you gain is a meaningful life, actual wealth. And how lucky are we to live in a time and country where any man or woman who wants it can make it happen. And neither age or income or sex or whatever excuse you want to offer is irrelevant. Because even if your dream has limitations, it still can thrive to the best of your ability. You think you're too old or poor to be a farmer? Whoever told you that, including yourself, was wrong. Buy, borrow, or steal a pack of seeds. Read everything you can (if you're blind or in a wheelchair, the have someone read it to you) and figure out what those seeds need to succeed. Grow it in your sunny window. Harvest it. Sell those tomatoes to some other person who wants them. I promise you, once they know your dream and story support will rally around you. It has to. And in the moment of money exchanging hands to feed another person from food you raised you became a farmer. You did it. Shit, when did a perfect life become the definition of a meaningful one?

Your limitations are in your head. Your possibilities are endless. If you want something, if you can't sleep dreaming about something, if you need something...then for the love of the gods, FIGHT for it. Even if you fail, or get hit by a bus, you spent your blessed time here living for something real. And in the end, that's even more important than the having of it. And when you let that become your reality, you change. Everything changes. And suddenly that life that was happening to you, is happening because of you.

Raise your bows and shine, not burn.

Look Everybody!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Living The Dream

Evening chores were done well, but done in haste. I wanted to get some time to warm up, stretch out, and shower before I met friends for dinner. As I walked around the farm, dolling out feed and checking on the stock I kept looking ump kept hoping for those first flakes…

You see, the first snowfall here on the farm is going to be a big deal, regardless of when it happens. Because for years I have raised animals and made Cold Antler my focus and it wasn't until this very season that I could wake up on a weekday and watch a storm come in from my own farm. If I had one complaint about my day job it was being expected to show up during a snowstorm. I was, of course, capable of getting up and driving to work but I didn't ever feel safe on those roads and I didn't like the idea of being away from a place that might need me. Of all the farm fantasies I had back then, it was being home for a snowstorm during a weekday that topped the scales. To be up on a Thursday morning checking the weather reports, watching the sky, not worried about being half an hour away in another state as the weather howled… If we get an inch or a dozen inches, I will be here. It means the world to me.

If you asked me what success means, to me it means being excited for a snowstorm on a weekday.

P.S. Flurries are coming down!

Best Seat In The House

Words For Mountains

There should be a word in the English language to describe the series of quick events I am about to describe. Some kind of fluent, beautiful, but intense word with connotation of risk and awe. That is what I was thinking as Merlin finished his loping gallop to the top of a mountain hillside, quickly stopped to a fast walk and with barely a flick of my wrist and turn of my head towards the vista before us, pivoted on his back feet to show me my world. It happens fast, the run, the thought, the motion and the turn and the end result is this surge of endorphins and wildness. You feel not like a rider, and not like a horse, but as if you somehow managed to become a part of the weather. You're a force as natural and strong as fast-moving air and thunder. This desire to shout with joy or hug his thick black neck overcame me. I was euphoric up there on the bald earth over looking the purple mountains yawning for snow on their arched backs. He stomped his front feet in place, wanting to continue on but I held him as I closed my eyes in a short prayer of thanks.

I sat there for some time under the cold sky. I tried to will some snowflakes down to the earth but my effort was in vain. You can't rush Mother Nature. She works on her own time. And after all, I'm just one of her many guests enjoying my extended stay. Merlin is too, and as partners we turned back towards the trail and into the woods.

We continued the mountain ride at an easy walk. He was blowing a little, a tad out of shape from the last few weeks of sparse riding since Antlerstock. I had less time in the saddle and decided yesterday and today that the cold was no reason to leave him in his paddock. So yesterday we rode along the mountain road, and today we hit the mountain trails at Tucker's place. Merlin was a gentlemen today, responsive and quick. I was min good spirits, too. I was singing in Gaelic to him, chorus and verse of a song I am learning, and this (along with a loud, orange scarf) was our notice to any deer hunters that we were not, in fact, cervine.

The day was getting colder, as if somehow the closer we got to noon the more it wanted to snow. I was warm on top of the black mountain pony, in layers of flannel and a sturdy, wool-lined, English waxed cotton jacket a reader mailed me from when she lived in England. It fits me as if it was made for me and I felt like an character from some myth on that horse in my wax jacket with shoulder cape for the rain. The rest of my clothes were pretty standard: knit gray hat, cowboy paddock boots, jeans. But that jacket on that pony made me feel like a character from the Gunslinger and The Hobbit combined into one Washington County cocktail...

We returned from the mountain sweaty and starting to feel the chill come back to us from the lack of motion and concentration. I curried his back and put away the tack and returned him to his boyfriend Jasper so I could check on the fire and get back to the writing I was doing between outdoor activity. I had a piece due to HandPicked Nation about Barnheart to finish and deliver. I had my day of snow posts to share (I love this, by the way), and some work on other literary adventures I can't really talk much about now, but folks, there is momentum back in this creative life! I don't have any contracts or new books yet but I am confident I'll be writing more than the four books I have. If Barnheart is my disease of the soul, then writing is my number one therapy treatment.

My afternoon from there on wasn't nearly as exciting as stalking deer and pony mountain stances. I mailed packages at the post office, did some light errands in town. Alli, from Saratoga stopped by to pick up a tent she leant me for Antlerstock, and she brought a pint of beer as a gift and I thanked her. (In hindsight, I feel bad I didn't invite her in for tea but I was out walking the dogs when she arrived and we talked outside the house. Sorry, hun.) But yes, I walked Jazz, Annie and Gibson a half mile and watched Jazz power through it, though I could tell the half-mile was a bit much for his hips. And now I have more writing, and some housework, and bread in the oven waiting to come out and cool. Tonight I have dinner with friends and more farm chores and I plan on popping in a few more times before the storm! So keep reading!

Jasper In a Saddle! Mongolian Superstar!

I have been working with both the horses these past few days. Merlin is getting back in shape from his hay-buffet break since Antlerstock and Jasper is just starting to leave the world of pasture pet into working animal again. Now, Jasper has always been used here and there for light farm work. He's pulled logs, (half this year's firewood) a turkey tractor Brett made, and kept Merlin in line as his companion. But after that talk with Trainer/Farrier Dave I decided to start doing more with this amazing litle horse.

I was told today by a friend about the riders in Mongolia, famously using smaller horses for packing, racing, and saddle. The images online are astounding of these grown men and women on small ponies, racing across the tundra desert! I won't be racing Jasper anywhere, but I did hop on his back yesterday to see how he felt about it. He just kinda stood there and then walked in a circle. He was confused and I didn't have a bridle on him, so there wasn't much direction to give but he seemed just fine. Perhaps Jasper is my Mongolian Superstar! I doubt it, but it sure would be great to have a second horse that children and small adults could ride or pony along with Merlin and I on the mountain.

In weather-related news. Still no snow, but I hear tale of a Nor'Easter? I think that means just a lot of freezing rain, squalls of snow, and *maybe* some accumulation. I hope so. I am dreaming of a white Friday...

photo from this article on the Nat Geo blog

Stalking Deer & Doing Chores

With a belly full of oatmeal, the dogs settled, and a kitten scampering around at full throttle—I decided to change into a blaze orange hoodie and go for a walk in the woods. See, I have this hunch that a few large doe scamper along the sheep and horse fence every day, early while I am in the farmyard. I see their droppings, the natural trail trodden along the fence lines. I don't have a lot of land, but it is enough for a doe to trot through and hunting season is just days away. I was walking out this morning at dawn to see if I could sneak up on one.

The air was cold, the ground covered in frost-tipped mint. I was trying to be silent but a frosty fall morning is not the easiest time to not crunch through the woods. I walked out past the campfire area, past the logging trails for the horses, past the ancient apple trees covered in shadow...And then I started walking along the stone wall that marks the edge of my property. I had not seen a single hair of a deer and so wasn't paying attention and was mildly shocked at the loud barking scoff from just thirty yards ahead of me. A deer! A BIG deer! It let out that whiffled blast of air deer holler as a warning and was gone fast as it heckled me. It leaped away, all white tail and high head and I couldn't tell if it was a buck or a doe, but it was certainly large.

And large means meat. A lot of meat.

I can't hunt until November 17th when rifle season opens up. I have a bow and broad heads, but I didn't take the NYS bowhunters's safety course and so I wasn't allowed to buy that early hunting permit. I was disappointed, but even though I wasn't stalking with a bow in hand it was fine and exciting walk in the woods.

I returned to the farmhouse with cold feet, but high spirits. Seeing the deer on my land in a place I could get a clean shot meant there was a chance my freezer would not be lonely before the pigs are butchered. I just need a little hope, the tiniest possibility of future pleasure, to feel like the whole world is my oyster. I danced through chores, Gibson at my side. Together we got the animals fed, watered, and their pens and nests re-bedded if needed. I knew the day, and the night, would be cold so I just tried to offer as much comfort as possible.

The pigs snorted and squealed for their pig kibble, Merlin hollered for more hay (tough luck), and the goats nickered and lolled their heads in that freaky-excoristy goaty way with wide eyes unblinking. I gave Bonita a kiss on the nose and told her she was glowing. She was. I mean, I can't be certain her and Francis are pregnant but they sure seem like it. The chickens seemed to be already celebrating with an early baby shower by scuttling around the goat pen hoping for fallen bits of grain. The ladies are on a lighter ration and will be switched to just hay soon. As advised by fellow dairy goat owners, too much grain = too much kid. I don't need vets here helping pull giant goatlings out of anxious moms.

When the farm was fed. When the ice was busted out of the water throughs and clean water replaced them. When the dog's tongue was hanging down to his knees in happy exhaustion. When the gray sky grew the lightest it would be this snowy day.....I went inside to warm up and write. Gibson, was so reluctant to come inside from the farm life outside he actually backed up into the house, begging eyes the whole time locked on mine. We came inside and I asked for a hug and he leaped up, paws around my hips and pressed his head against my chest. Some people can't stand dogs that jump. I friggin' love it, look forward to it even. He got down, slinked off into the living room where the cat was now asleep again. And I headed to the office to work.

Snow Update: 1-3 inches tonight into tomorrow, starting late afternoon! But none so far!

Before Dawn

The morning started early, around 4AM. I was having a rough time sleeping so I decided to give in to my 45 remaining minutes before the alarm chirped and start the day. It was dark as a yard up a hog's bum, and cold. The temperature indoors was in the low fifties upstairs and mid-fifties downstairs. Walking barefoot downstairs I pranced a bit, trying to avoid too much skin-to-cold-floor contact. The base of my wood stove is soapstone and there I rest heavy hand-knit wool socks to absorb the heat of the stone through the night. Even if the fire dies around 3AM I still get toasty feet. I slip them on and let out a happy sigh. Tiny luxuries skimmed off the surface of voluntary deprivation.

Before dogs are leashed and walked, farm chores seen too, or even a trip to the WC to pee: three things are done first. A fire is lit in the stove from last night's effort of kindling and firewood. The tea kettle is set on the stove to heat up for hot cocoa, steam, and oatmeal. And I get dressed in very, very warm clothes.

With these things done I am ready to face the outside. The lows weren't as bad as predicted, low twenties instead of the teens. I still appreciate my riding gloves and their leather grip, a wool scarf, wool knit cap, a polar fleece jacket and tall rubber boots. I'm still in my house pants—a loose-fitting, green, and comfortable—handmade by my friend Yesheva. Without meaning too I am wearing three items of clothing made by people I knew. Up until a few years ago, this would be horrific. I haven't bought a new item of clothing since last year. Everything I wear now is used, goodwill, or made by friends. A concession I am happy to make to live the way I do.

Jazz and Annie are on leads. Gibson is loose, running around trying to take in where every animal is he hasn't seen since last night. The sheep are silent, still resting on the hill. Merlin isn't. He hollers to me for hay, and expecting this, I have a few flakes waiting by the woodpile. I let the (now empty) elderly dogs back in the house to return to their naps. Gibson and I stay outside to feed the horses. I can't see Merlin charging towards me in the dark until he is practically on top of the gate. He dives into his breakfast and I head down to where I left the battery-lantern last night to chop new wood for the morning's fire. Gibson, who hates waiting for me to pile wood, slinks away to terrorize Defiance the turkey, asleep on Merlin's pony cart. I start chopping, smiling when I hear the explosion of gobbles and flapping wings. I can hear the kettle start to scoff gasping whistles indoors. I call my dog and head inside with arms loaded with more wood than any reasonable woman would carry.

Inside the first bit of morning light lifts the mood of the room. Boghadair is asleep in front of the stove fire on his red, wool, blanket. Jazz and Annie are on the daybed, already crashed. I have big plans of stalking deer, feeding a farm full of animals, carrying buckets of water and de-icing troughs...but before that, before ANY of that, there will be oatmeal and hot chocolate. Because, my dear friends, today is supposed to give us the gift of the farm's first snowfall. A big deal to me this year, and I'll explain why later. I check the weather on my phone, before I even see who is president, and tuck into my apple/cinnamon porridge. I sit on the bench by the stove and watch the sun rise. The sky is gray, wonting. I wont, too.

A Snow Day, Together.

Today we're supposed to get our first true snowfall, up to three inches. I'm beside myself! I know I left my day job back in June, but being able to be at my farm while the weather turns is going to feel like my first day of Freedom all over again. In honor of the snow(and my glee) I'll be telling the story of the whole day—from morning chores and firelight to the first few inches. Check back all day, and see what is going on at Cold Antler!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Voted Here Today. I Hope You'll Vote, Too.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Jasper in the Saddle?

The horses had their feet done today by local trainer/farrier Dave. (Sorry about the angle, Dave.) As he was trimming Jasper's feet we got to talking about using the little guy as a saddle horse. I haven't ever tacked up Jasper and rode him, but he was trained to ride and drive before I had him. I like the idea of getting him back in the habit of regular work.

Dave assures me his broad back, strong legs, and sound feet could handle a rider fine. I think it would be wonderful, even if he just ponies along and rides with Merlin and I carrying a friend or a guest on the mountain. Jasper is a 11.2 hands, a small horse for sure, and I have no plans to ride him across the country or even an extended trail ride, but a few outings would be nice. I think might just give it a go!

Yard Sale For The Horse Barn

I'm down to the wire with snow on the way soon. Hoping to pull together what I need through the next few weeks. If you'd like to help out I have a few items for sale. If you are interested in any please email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com. Thank you for even considering it, and thank all of you for you readership, kind words, encouragement, and support. All of these things can be mailed in the US. They have shipping costs too, but not much.

Bareback Trail Saddle Pad - $60
Brown. Never used, save for trying it on once. It has build in saddle bags and stirrups too. Just needs a girth and a horse!

Signed copy of Barnheart and Made From Scratch (hardcover) - $50 Both are first editions, signed, and I'll throw in a few bars of goats milk soap.

Endurance English Saddle: $85
I bought this synthetic saddle and never used it. It came right when I switched from English to Western and right now it is worth more in another home. No stirrups on it, just the saddle. Takes basic English leathers.

Wool Bundle: $50
1/2 pound Bag of RAW wool from Joseph to hand spin into yarn along with a homemade CAF drop spindle. I will also throw in one skein of Maude's wool from 2010. This is very precious since I only kept one! The rest went out to CSA shares.

Season Pass Sale
I have Three Season passes on sale, left for $250. This is a great deal even if you just make Antlerstock and another workshop. If you already have a season pass put it towards 2013! it's a HUGE help.

You can purchase any of these things, or regular workshops, by using Paypal. This link says "donate" but regardless if its a donation or a purchase taxes are paid on all paypal receipts.

P.S. 2012 shares (second year), your wool is still at the mill, it was shipped late and you will get it soon as it is returned to me. You are not forgotten. It's just a slow process.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Make Pot Pie For Friends

Chicken pot pie is just chicken stew in a pie and there's no reason to be fancier than that. Tonight I'm making some Thor Rooster Pie and it'll be done with two very humble kitchen appliances: a crock pot and a bowl. The stew will be made in the crock pot and the butter crust in a bowl. The recipe is simple: place whole, thawed, chicken in 7-quart crock pot and cover with two cups of organic chicken stock and a bottle of beer. I usually pour some olive oil on the bird and shake some poultry seasoning on it at this point sa well. Place on low and let cook for a few hours until meat is falling off the bone, turning the bird every two hours or so, so that the meat doesn't get dry on one side and soaked on the other. When the meat is falling off the bone, take out the bird on a big plate and take as much meat as possible off and cut into chunks no bigger than a quarter. Return the boneless meat to the beer/broth and add chopped potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, diced kale, and any other veggies you want to eat with your pie. Let cook for a while until potatoes and carrots are done, soft enough to cut with a fork in half. Then, to finish the stew, you will slowly add a bit of cream (maybe a half cup) and flour. You'll be mixing the flour in in a little at time to avoid clumps and you'll do his until your broth turns into a creamy stew. It has to be pie filling so go for thicker. At this point add your seasoning to taste. I add chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and some paprika and onion powder.

It can sit in your crockpot on warm, being stirred every so often to keep it fluid. Then you can make your crust. I take two sticks of room-temp butter and add flour (maybe 2-3 cups?) and a few tablespoons of VERY cold water, added very conservatively and work it with my clean hands until I have a good dough. That's all a butter crust is, butter and water and flour. Roll it out and line your pie plate. Fill it with stew and give it a nice thick crust. Make sure you use a fork to seal the edges all around, making sure it sticks together tight. Make some slices in the top for ventilation or shove a pie bird in there. If you like, brush some melted butter on the top and sprinkle it with a little sugar. The sweet and savory combination will make your dinner guests plotz.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Serve by the slice, sides great with mashed taters and something green. Don't fuss with cookbooks, just play jazz. Taste along the way, don't be scared of salt and butter, and make sure everyone's wine glass stay's full and you're golden.

Storm Barn Repairs

It looks worse than it is. It's mostly blown-off roofing and the main structure is fine. In the next few weeks we'll add sides and fix the roof but I am lucky this was the worst of the damage on the farm.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Howl If You Have To

The heating oil company called the other day and the man on the line sounded concerned. It was a voice I knew well, from my first winter at the farm. It was the blizzard season of 2010 when every week seemed to dump snow and below zero temperatures. Back then the farmhouse was going through a hundred gallons of heating oil a month (to keep the place at 55 degrees!) and if that monthly visit wasn't enough—there were repairs. The company replaced bad valves, installed a new ventilation system to stop a C02 leak, and knew my house so well they let themselves in the back door. That year was the first year I ever sent a Christmas card to an oil company. We were tight.

And that was why the voice on the line seemed worried. He told me he had a truck going up my mountain road to deliver oil to a neighbor and did I need oil, because the last hundred gallons I ordered was in June. The last order before that, October 2011. In the past year I had gone from a hundred gallons a month to less than 200. I told him to deliver the oil because I was down to a quarter tank and I needed it for my hot water boiler. He asked if I got a woodstove. I told him I had and it was working like gangbusters.

When I got off the phone with that man the first thing I felt was this smug pride, like I was cheating the Foreign Oil System by reverting to wood heat. But then I started to reconsider my hubris. While I d think wood heat is a more sustainable solution, it's not the greenwashing that sold me of wood. It was that return to a system I could manage. I own trees, an axe, a horse and a harness. I can go out onto my land and fell a tree, drag it in sections to my chopping area with Merlin, and season it to put into my stoves to heat my home. It's all here. It's comforting as hell and it's something else even better than that:

It's Primal.

I love, and I can't emphasize this enough, I love that homesteading has brought me back into more primal living. I love knowing if I'm not out there with an axe and a pile of wood I will not be warm. There isn't enough oil to keep this house at stove temperatures. Warmth means work, basic, hard work. It means splitting and making kindling and getting up in the black of the morning and making a fire. I love that when the fire is lit I can go out and feed livestock that feeds me. I love that even in a hurricane there was a pile of warm eggs in the highest hay bale in the barn. There's no wizard behind the curtain here, no switches or buttons. Instead of working for someone else for money so I can then go buy heat and food—I have found a way to barter and grow most of it. I am a long way from being 100% off the grid and out of debt but I am aiming for that, and working towards that, and like a fat girl in the gym sometimes just putting on the spandex is half the battle. It's the intention that gets you to the effort.

I'm a hunter now. I heat with wood. I can ride a horse to town. I own a horse cart. I have a bow and broadhead arrows. I have a stack of wood. I have stoves. I have a little bit of land on a mountain the bank hasn't kicked me off of yet. It's a start. And if it means bunching up the muscles in my collar bone and howling to keep it, I will. I like living a primal life here. I like knowing the lamb and the mutton blood. I like stalking, and singing, and chopping firewood and grabbing reins. I am where I belong and in this short gift of life I have learned some dance steps.

Watch out for the girl you'll meet in June. She's already got her hackles up.

This Was Our Morning: 2 Wagons Unloaded!

The Pember

Last night I attended the First Friday event at the Pember Museum in downtown Granville. Over twenty local artists had their work on display. There was wine and good food and live music by a fiddle/hammered dulcimer trio that sounded like my old haunts in Dixie. All of this was going on just a half hour north of Cold Antler. It's one of the things I adore about Washington County and the people drawn to it. It's the kind of place where you can spend the morning gutting and dressing the deer you shot and then talk about still-lifes over Pinot Noir the same night... in your camo jumpsuit.

The Pember is a gem. The downstairs is a big, media-rich library and the the second story is a bonafide Natural History Museum. All of it one man's 19th century collection of taxidermy, eggs, fossils, and random bits of historic miscellany. There are over 10,000 specimins. It's nuts.

There, above the town of Granville you can look a Brown Bear in the eye, count toenails on a crocadile, and see how big Emu eggs really are. You can see extinct animals, nearly endangered ones, and learn about animals you never even knew exited. Last night I discovered the Lyrebird and the Chuck-Will's-Widow. These guys and thousands of others are overflowing the space at the Pember. It is a Steampunk/Victorian fan's fieldtrip worth the bus fare...

Friday, November 2, 2012

So Much Better Acoustic

Pssst! The key is on the hook!

A Messy Farm

It's been a string of cold, rainy, and muddy days here at the farm. I'm not complaining, it's my favorite type of weather, but it sure isn't making the farm look very appealing. Sometimes this place seems to be little more than mud, bent over t-posts, and sagging field fences. With the fall leaves gone and the weather too warm for snow (though my fingers are crossed) the world outside my woodstove and music seems to be stuck in a very unattractive purgatory.

It's not a television farmstead, that's for certain. And I'm ashamed to admit this is something I worry about. When folks travel for hours and come to a place literally thrown together by hope and force, I worry the results do not live up to the blog. Everything was done piecemeal, everything in a state of repair. The entire operation is small, not a rolling landscape. Tools and animal droppings are everywhere, the pile of trash by the dump never looks great. The house needs power washing. The truck is dented and covered in turkey poop. Most things are reinforced with baling twine.

Well folks, it's not pretty, nor is it impressive—but it is mine.. I am contented that the animals are happy and well-tended, the food that comes out of this place is sensational, and the friendships I've made since moving here are nothing short of amazing. Oh well, this just goes to show that working farms are not movie sets. If you want a magazine spread, check out Hildene in Manchester. If you want some good home brew and a chicken dinner and season 5 of Buffy on Hulu: come here.

I can't wait for the first snowfall.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thank You, All

What Hallow's Means to Me

prodigal return

With the loss of October, so goes the warmth. The lazy days in the sixties seem to have ridden the coattails of Sandy and snow is on the radar for the weekend and nights dipping into the twenties. Just like that, Winter walked in.

I woke up in the dark house cold and unraveled myself from the quilts and coverlets to a 50-degree house, in need of coffee and some primal warmth. I got dressed in my usual farm clothes and headed outside. Gibson was with me, walking at my flanks in lantern light as we made our way to the side of the house with the wood pile, axes, and splitting stumps. I went to work, slicing some kindling and progressively larger pieces of wood up towards good sized burning logs. Gibson he watched from a lie down, eyeing Defiance as it stared at him from the back of the pickup truck. Defiance was still in bed. Not even Merlin yelled for his breakfast yet, and they would wait until a fire was lit and coffee was set on the stove. I have no problem feeding them before I have my oatmeal and coffee, but I'm heading into chores without the promise of warmth and caffeine upon my prodigal return.

Chores go by in a liquid series of motions. When you do the same thing every day you learn tricks, little time saving methods that make work flow like music. I hit the well first and grab a bucket of water, putting an empty bucket in its place to fill while I tended to the pigs. Arriving in the barn I set down the bucket to squeals and rioting as I grab their big black pan and fill it with morning ration. Gibson is locked on them, watching with pricked ears and wagging tail. Before I pour them clean water into their currently-dirty drinking bucket I fill the rabbit's water fonts and feed them as well. I look over the rabbits for any sort of sores or pain and give them a bit of clean bedding. I decide to mate a pair today for fresh winter farm meat. Bunnies in a few months will be welcomed.

With the pigs fed and the first light coming I can see the smoke coming from the chimney. It's one happy sight. There are still horses to water and hay, sheep to do the same to, too. I have the chickens to load with crumble layer feed and somehow I fight that desire to run inside for a sip of pumpkin coffee. Everyone is seen to right before I head inside. Gibson never wants to come indoors. Even food is a useless bribe. Food isn't as important as adventure to a young Border Collie.

Eventually I make my way here, and the coffee is poured. The fire warm and the music from the computer's radio station is nice. Acoustic guitars and male voices ring out as the weak sun tries to explain itself through the gray morning. Rain is the word of the day. Before then will be more firewood chopped, more chores, possibly a soggy ride on a black horse. Who knows... The day is just getting started and the coffee is hot...

Watching The World Go By

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Luceo non Uro

A lot of people are surprised when they find out about my love of Scottish history and language, since I'm not of Scottish descent. This always takes me aback. Does every devout Catholic have to be Roman born? Does every bull rider need to be raised on an Oklahoma ranch? Do you need to be from New Jersey to know how to navigate a shopping mall? Of course not. People are drawn to the lives they want to live, at least the stubborn ones are.

I identify with the old Highland Clans' history and people. Their stories are full of dramatic fighters and lovers. People who created an agrarian religion that celebrated life without fearing death. People who loved dogs and horses and hunting and music—who told stories, danced and sang, and understood the import of a hot meal on a cold, rainy day. I love these people. I love their lives, their livestock, and even their miserable weather. I may not be Scottish, but both by deed and elevation I am certainly a highlander. Alba Gu Brath, Mac.

When I joined the SCA I was told I was supposed to pick out a name from the country of origin I wished to study and participate as. This is what people would call me, know me as. (It's not often you are told to pick a new identity, an exciting idea.) Naturally I chose Scotland and I picked the name Corbie Mackenzie. Corbie is an old slang term for crow from traditional music of the period. Mackenzie was in honor of the modern clan in the serial novels I was reading that brought me to traditional archery in the first place. Since I joined the Society to learn to be an archer it was a nod to author S.M. Stirling, who's Clan Mackenzie were renowned archers in those books I came to love. Honestly, I didn't know much about the Clan outside of that whimsical fiction. But as I started to study their real history I couldn't help but fall in love with it. Here's why:

The Mackenzie's have two clan crests. An old one with a giant stag and war cry in Gaelic and another, newer, one with a torch-lit mountain and a romantic phrase in Latin. Yup, the Clan Mackenzie has two historic symbols: Antlers and a mountain in need of heat? They are the original, dramatic, identity-changin' Cold Antlers.

Knowing this, how could I not dive into their tales, battles, religion, history and everyday life? These people also knew what it felt like to ride a Highland Pony in a kilt, tend blackface sheep during lambing season, and work with wild sheepdogs that ran across the hillsides like loosed arrows. So I read on, and studied. And the more I learned the harder I fell. Let me share a story about why the Clan Mackenzie has two crests.

See, It started with the stag, and just the stag. That was the symbol of the clan. And the old motto was in Gaelic, Cuidich 'N Righ, which means "Help The King". It's a pretty standard motto for highlanders whose identity was based on war, country, and family. Their motto was a battle cry that was surely screamed out in those endless clan wars. But back in 1605 all that changed. A Mackenzie Chief fell in love with a McLeod and going against tradition and family pleading he changed the crest and motto for his love. He fell for a daughter of the Lewes family, of the McLeod's. The romantic Mackenzie took the Lewes' Family Crest of a bright sun and their motto "I shall Burn without being consumed" and rebranded the Clan Mackenzie with a mountain on fire and a new motto. Which means he literally took a piece of the heavens and represented it on earth with a torch and changed their martial slogan to this, single, amazing phrase:

Luceo non Uro — I Shine, Not burn.

I Shine, not burn! What a beautiful way to see the world! to choose to be a part of light instead of destruction. We live in a culture of victims and anger. We are surrounded by nonstop news foaming at the mouth with rage and fear. Pundits, disaster, crime and threats. All around us there is this fire, this burning. And if you let yourself fall into it you too will be consumed by it. You'll become angry, depressed, unhealthy, scared, and worried. You will stop living the life you were meant to live. Why would you not choose love? Who cares about the fallout?

Tomorrow is a big day. It's Samhain. A holiday those Highlanders knew well. It was the Celtic New Year, and the end of the Harvest and beginning of winter. Not a lot of people celebrate Samhain anymore, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you're a diehard Christian, Atheist, Pagan, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic or none of the above. If you are reading this with a heartbeat then you are a fellow celebrant because you're alive. You pulse makes you my brother or sister in a world on fire. We need to help each other shine. We do it through memory, and kindness, second chances, love and forgiveness. You don't have to believe in anything to be a part of those things. All of us can take a moment to think about what inside us needs to change, and who we loss that we don't want to let down, and to be grateful we're still alive to do those things.

Since last October my life has changed in ways I could have never anticipated. Things I didn't plan, not really. I didn't plan on quitting my job when I did. I certainly didn't plan on Merlin. I didn't plan the heartbreak, the arguments, the loss of loved ones, or the hundred things I can not write about here. But in just twelve months I am an entirely different person. I really am. I'm someone who decided to take her own life by the horns and follow a dream most people think is dead in America. To leave the desk and corporate world behind and become a full time writer, shepherd, and farmer. I did it because I was burning there. I was falling apart and fading fast. I just wanted to shine.

So many people are going to wake up tomorrow and go through their day with the absolute certainty that will fall asleep that night. Everyone who dies tomorrow will be wrong. There's no rule out there that says it isn't going to be me. I hope it isn't, because there are so many more stories I want to tell, and love I want to find. But I don't make the rules. I never expect to die, but I also never assume I'll live. Not since I almost died in Tennessee on sunny day. I think that's what really brought me to Cold Antler, a fear that life could be cut short and I was spending it doing something I didn't love. It went against everything I believed in, and everything I believed this life could be. I didn't understand what could be more important than following that goal of a meaningful life? What else is there to do with this gift of time than to spend it being happy? Not everyone can make their wildest dreams come true, but hell, everyone can try can't they? So why do so many people choose to put off happiness? Choose to not try? Why do they do things that make them sad? Why do they choose fear and anger and step into the fire that consumes them instead of lighting the path towards something better?

I can't answer that. But I know on this Samhain Eve that there's a flock of sheep, a black pony, a loyal sheepdog, and a beating heart of a Mackenzie on this mountain farm. All of it is here because that's what this short, blessed, life lead me towards. I chose to Shine, not Burn. And it is a choice, for all of us. And it can all change to be whatever you are willing to create. So will it.

Now go light your torches and enjoy the New Year.