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?