Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rake The Roof!

Get In On A Pig!

I'm raising a pair of pigs this summer and if you would like to get in on a share or a half, email me. The pork will be ready in the early fall. I'll explain the barter when you email, but the jist is this. If you live close enough to pick up your fresh pork and smoked meats, you can get a share now and watch the story of your bacon from piglet pick up right through the summer into slaughter. You are also welcome to come to the farm and be there when it happens. Contact me at if you want in!

Walking With Annie

Every day Annie and I go on a walk together. It is usually a mile or two, and we try to keep a pace that has both of us panting. I like it. And I like that it's just us girls. Gibson doesn't go on our walks since he spends at least two hours a day running as fast as possible around the farm while I do chores. He herds poultry and sheep, stares at goats, and taunts the pigs. He gets his jaunt in without trying, but Annie is ten years older, and she doesn't farm. She's a retired sled dog. And since she isn't allowed off leash around here(she sees our backyard as a whimsical, clucking, buffet) - she needs a good long walk everyday. So we walk in all weathers. Annie and I are kinda like the postal service that way.

We used to walk with Jazz. I miss him. But walking with Jazz in his state of sickness meant limiting our adventures to a half mile at best, a slow half mile. Annie might be older, but she can still clip up that hill. Together in the snow we move across the landscape like the happy packmates we are. We jog here and there. I tell her stories. I often sing. I once read that all the medication in the world for melancholy is useless compared to a daily walk and several glasses of water. I think that is true. And the longer the walk, and the more glasses, the better.

More snow today. They are predicting three inches. It's Saturday and I plan on spending it updating the blog with workshops, a yard sale, livestock announcements and stories. But I will also be out there in the wind and snow, walking an old Siberian, and watching her muddy prints appear in the snow as my own prints cover them, step by step. I love that old girl.

Friday, December 28, 2012

I Love A Good Waltz

Escape to NY

I have been accused more than once of escapism. That my life here is a place to hide from the world, hide from my problems. I wonder if anyone else out there with a farm has been accused of the same? Do you think the homesteading movement is an escapist reaction to society? I have my own thoughts and will share them later, but I am curious what you folks think. Please post your thoughts.

Support The Farm!

Dear Readers,

I'm offering, until the end of 2012 (So a few days), three last Season Pass Slots for the sale price of $250. That's every workshop for a full year. If you live close by and want to join the farm in events and activities, it's a heck of a deal. If you live far away and want to support the farm, you can donate the Season Pass and we'll give it away here on the blog! I am hoping to sell these soon as possible, so holler if you are interested and understand my intense gratitude for even considering it.

With Great Appreciation,

Thursday, December 27, 2012

You're Not A Good Shot, But I'm Worse

I was watching some videos of a favorite singer songwriter of mine. His name is Josh Ritter, who I'm sure many of you are familiar with. One of my favorite albums of his is The Animal Years, and the song, Good Man, is a gem. That video above this paragraph is the studio version of that song. It's wonderful.

The video below this paragraph is the same song, but it's a live recording. There's no band, no recording studio, and it was filmed with a cheap camera. It's just Josh and his black Gibson, and the performance isn't even complete. It's interrupted with a conversation, lyrics are misplaced, words and sounds muffled by less-than perfect equipment. It's also wonderful.

I don't think anyone who reads this blog would be surprised to hear I like the second version much, much more. I love it. I love seeing his smile, hearing the honest laughter, the mistakes and the quirky questions about how to pronounce a volcano's name. It's not a professional presentation, and folks with an more discerning audio-palate might find it humorous and genuine, but not as good as the studio version. They are right. It's not as good, but that doesn't mean it isn't better.

Some folks take great pride in having an order to things. They thrive on organization, presentation, and appearance. They keep things nice, take care of their possessions, and take pride in what they have earned in this world. They get great satisfaction from peer approval, family approval, and equate this approval to their own level of happiness. There is nothing wrong with this, at all. It's a system that works. It creates peace and law, faithfulness and pride.

And then there are folks who don't share that desire for order, presentation, and appearance. They get little satisfaction from peer approval, family approval, and can not equate it to happiness. They are driven by other ghosts, and hungry for other means of sustenance. There is nothing wrong with this, at all. It's a system that works. It creates art and impulse, temptation and passion.

I have found that the more time I spend living this life, the less patience I have for studio versions. I appreciate their attention to detail, their polish, but I find the order inorganic. A contrivance I can't abide.

I once knew a guy who wouldn't let my dog into his car, because the car was new. That's fine. It's his car. But it was a red flag that he wasn't one of my tribe, and I always acted differently around him. Again, I can't stress enough that there is nothing wrong with keeping a car nice. But that way of living seems less rewarding to me so I do not live it. I love my messy, dented, truck and I'll never care more about a machine than something with a blood stream, not put its presentation needs above things with a pulse. And, honestly, I don't feel as comfortable around folks who "like things nice". Not because of any fault of their own, because I really do think there's validity and goodness to that kind of order in the world. But I will never achieve it past a tidy house and clean sheets, and have no desire to do so. Perfection makes me itchy.

I guess my point is this. There are a lot of versions of songs, and a lot of versions of people. We all find our own way to make sense of the world, and as long as you can love your own version without disdain for the others - you're on the road to making some beautiful music. We don't have to like each other's style, but harmony needs melody. Always.

If you don't care much for music at all, you're beyond my meager help. That's okay too. I am incredibly overrated. But I am happy. And that's something.

You're not a good shot, but I'm worse
And there's so much where we aint been yet
So swing up on this little horse
The only thing we'll hit is sunset

Come To My Woolly Winter Weekend!

This February the 23rd and 24th will be a winter wool retreat here at the farm. It'll be snowy and cold outside, but even if the weather is frightful there will be a warm pair of woodstoves and fluffy dogs to keep you warm inside the farmhouse. So please, join me in a weekend dedicated to fiber arts. We'll have Saturday entirely focused on sheep and wool. The morning will be about the costs, preparations, and basics of taking on a small spinning flock of sheep in as small a space as a suburban backyard. A pair of Icelandics or Jacobs with a simple wind-proof shed and some field fence can turn any 1/4 acre into a wool production zone. I'll talk about my own sheep, their stories, and how I went from 3 in a rented backyard pen to the snowy hillside breeding flock you'll meet, pet, and see outside the warm windows. Then after lunch we we'll go into washing raw wool by hand, drying it, carding, and spinning with drop spindles and wheels. I'll have a wonderful instructor on hand, Kathryn of NYC to come and teach you the skill with her own wheel and mine. Feel free to bring your own wheels as well and get some hands-on instruction.

So Saturday will be about sheep and wool, and Sunday will be all about knitting. Come and learn even if you don't know which end of your new needles point up. It'll be a day of knitting by the woodstove and enjoying homemade treats. Not as structured as Saturday, but I'll have some skilled teachers on hand to get you started and making fabric out of sheep even if you never did it before. The small goal will be for all of us to learn to wash, card, spin, and knit at some level by the end of the weekend. Come for one day, or both, and enjoy a wintery day at the farm. I'll be working on socks, I can promise you that much!

If you want to sign up, it is $100 for one day, or $160 for the whole weekend. IF you are coming from the city or need a place to stay, here is a list of local Inns and Hotels around Cambridge NY. Email me at to sign up, or give the workshop as a gift. If you are giving a workshop, season pass, or some combination as a gift let me know and I will mail you a signed copy of one of my books with a written invitation to the person who gets the workshop or season pass as a gift. I thank you again for supporting CAF, all of these workshops are helping prepare me and the farm for winter!

Maude and the Flock


The Storm

The storm is here. It arrived last night on the coattails of high winds and black skies. The foot of fluffy snow the weathermen prejudiced did not arrive on this mountain. Instead sharp grains of ice water are piling up like glass filings. The wind is strong and pulling down trees. I have power for now, but I suspect I will lose it as the weight of the ice brings weak limbs down on the power lines—or as we call them around here—comfort on a shoestring.

I did chores this morning in smaller stages, breaking down the outdoor work into three smaller trips. Trip one was before light came, feeding horses in the dark wind. The second trip happened after a fire was lit and the sun rose. After I had a cup of hot tea. I went out and fed the barn crew, who were comfortable out of the fray in the old structure. The pigs, goats, rabbits, and Monday the ram lamb were happy to greet me. The pigs squealed and banged their pen walls as I dumped their chow into their pan. Bonita stood up on the wooden railing to watch, hoping the grain was for her. Francis happily chewed her hay in the stall, out of the weather. Monday was happy to eat his share out in the storm. He was the only animal from the barn who chose to eat outside. Scottish Blackface sheep are the toughest animal on earth, I sometimes think. I have no guilt feeding the sheep last. They are out in the storm walking around like nothing is happening. Atlas is mounting ewes and Sal is glaring at him from his stance of livid impotence. I'd be jealous, too. You need to be a certain kind of man to have a sex life out in an ice storm.

I'm heading out now to bring a bale to the flock. When they are all set I'll have a few more chores here and there: water buckets to the horses and bringing in the rabbits bottles to defrost by the stove, but mostly the day will be spent indoors. I have writing to do. I also want to take time to stretch and savor the need for the simple comforts a storm grants. There's pork in the crock pot, and a loaf of fresh bread will be baked. If the power leaves me I'll still be warm and well fed. There's a stream if mountain water running through the farm, fifty feet from my front door. I feel blessed. I am so grateful to be home, and not worried about a commute or office drama as the snow falls.

Stay warm. Stay Safe.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So It Starts...

First flakes are coming down now. Here we go.

Born For It

It's only three in the afternoon but it feels much later. The past few days of revelry and fuss were wonderful, and I'm grateful for the blessing of the company, but I am tuckered. The last event of the holiday was this morning. Brett and I headed back over to Livingston Brook Farm to meet up with folks from last night for a farm breakfast and wagon ride with Steele. We ate fresh eggs, toast, and bacon from Dick Cheney (the pig was named such) cut farmer style, a quarter-inch thick. After waking up in the forty-degree farmhouse at Cold Antler, eating a meal like this next to a fire was pure joy. There is no happiness like the happiness fostered from voluntary depravity. Or so I tell myself at 3AM when the fires go out!

After the warm meal and copious amounts of hot coffee we bundled up and headed out into the sharp morning. Both the light and weather were harsh. We stuck close together, the four of us who were going on the wagon ride. Four of us helped harnessed the horse. Joanna, a new and dear friend of mine, was learning how to drive in anticipation of getting her first horse this coming summer. She already takes a weekly riding lesson, but is also interested in working with her horse and her up-and-coming farm. So everything was done step-by-step and I listened as Brett and Patty explained things to her. I was quiet, listening and hoping to learn a thing or two. (I learned quite a bit!) It was around 14 degrees and the wind had a bite to it, but all of us were in high spirits. We were well-fueled and well rested and smiling under the winter sun. We were on the road in a matter of minutes, Brett and I in the read of the wagon watching the sky and listening for traffic.

At one point a cardinal flew by the wagon and both Joanna and Patty, who were up on the buckboard, exclaimed in happy praises of it. Patty remarked how beautiful it was and Joanna said she thought such bright colors in a cold, gray, time of year were a true blessing. THey said this with such genuine gratitude and wonder I was instantly touched folks who shine at a passing bird are in my life.

Joanna drove the wagon, learning from the two experienced horse folk in the cart and I sunk into myself a bit. In tights, kilt, heavy wool sweater and knit hat I was a little ball of introspective wool. I watched the world from the back of the horse cart, thinking about much and uncertain of all of it. As good as my holiday season has been a lot of it is hard on me. I have been thinking about a few people who aren't a part of my life anymore. Friend you lose through entropy, people you tell to go away, and the people you wish would call your name. I watched the trees sharpened to comic-like points from the beavers that live by the roadside wetlands and decided I wasn't listening to enough new music. Music heals, and new music that touches or excites you is a quest worth undertaking equal to searching for love or meaning.

Music is love and meaning.

After the breakfast and cart ride I spent the afternoon prepping for the coming snow storm. I ran errands to the bank and feed store, stocking up on provision for myself and over fifty animals. I had big tasks ahead like making sure all the stock was comfortable. But also little tasks. Things like tightening the screws on the roof rake and setting it up near the woodpile for the several dates we'll have with it during the blizzard. I am ready. I have hay stacked, wood stacked, feed in the truck and a crock pot loaded up with a pork shoulder that can be transferred to a dutch oven on the Bun Baker when the power goes out. It's already starting to flicker… We're supposed to get around ten wet and icy inches. This means I'll be outside a few times during the night to pull snow off the kitchen and barn roofs. And it means more night rounds than usual on the flocks and horses. I'm looking forward to facing this storm. It is weekday snowstorms like this that drove me to follow a creative life in the first place. You want motivation to quit your day job? Raise lambs on a mountainside during a blizzard on a Tuesday morning and just try to leave it for an office. You can't. At least I couldn't.

I'll check in during the storm best I can. If you don't hear from me here or on Facebook, it means I'm reading by the fire with a Border Collie trying to crawl inside me to fall asleep. Don't worry about us. We were born for it.

Brett & Steele

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry and Bright!

In a half hour or so Brett will arrive with Atlas the ram. He said he wasn't bringing the calf, or the new Mare he named Sadie, but he did have a big smoked ham from one of his pigs and the suitor for my flock of sheep. This is not a bad present, folks. Atlas is a ram I gave him along with three young sheep this past summer in exchange for his help with the horse's pole barn (and by "help" I mean building it). Atlas is his ram now, but to bring it down for a few months to service my flock is a wonderful gift. Another summer of blackface lambs running around the pasture!

Yesterday was a wonderful Christmas Eve here. I tacked up Merlin and adorned in kilt, scarf, and cowboy hat. We walked down the mountain and up the dirt road where my farm's veterinarian lives with her husband and little boy Aidan. They weren't home, but it was still a gift to show up to their barn-cum-house on horseback. Merlin and I headed home and I sang to my Fell, changing lyrics to old carols to suit our Cold Antler Christmas. Merlin knows the way home by heart and was tired from cantering up the driveway and was happy to just amble as I sang to him. It made it truly a "ride." I loosened the reins and just sort of enjoyed the sunshine and the snow lining the mountain road. Being on the east side of the mountain we get less sun but we also keep the snow. Life is about trade off, I suppose. I'm happy with this one.

After our ride I took Annie for her big walk and got ready for the big meal over at Livingston Brook. The farmhouse smelled of crackling' herb-rubbed chicken in the oven and the fire had the place toasty as a Hobbit Hole.

Last night's meal was amazing and today there will be another. Tonight is a sort of Orphan Christmas. All the people there will be good friends, but for various reasons none of us were able to travel to family for the Holidays. It's one of the realities of first-generation new farmers out here. If you leave the area where your family lives and works and start a farm, specially one with animals and a staff of one, travel is impossible. At least it is here for me. Brett's parents live in Mexico, they retired to the little village in the mountains his father proposed to his mother after a west-coast motorcycle tour. His sister lives in Sweden. Patty and Mark have parents down south of New York but also were not traveling. Same for our friends Joanna and Greg, and Bo and Bill. All of us will share in a feast and drinks tonight.

This afternoon friends and visiting and sheep will be having much sex. I'm happy to report I'm excited about both these things. Jon and Maria will be over to enjoy a visit and Brett and I can exchange gifts. I got him lumberjack basics: pancake mix and booze, but other things too. I'll post a picture of the hat later, I promise.

Alright. I'm off to Wassail and Hail. Hope your day is Merry and Bright!

Merry Christmas From CAF!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas, Present

I don't know if or when Brett and Nick are coming. And I also don't know if or when the new horse, Atlas the ram, and cart will be with him either. You can only fit so much into a truck and trailer. He called to check in while I was over at Livingston Brook Farm, enjoying their fireplace and anticipating a grand meal. We were having some of my farm's chicken, Mark's beans and potatoes, roasted carrots, and homemade cranberry sauce. It was a meal to be reckoned with and I had not reckoned since breakfast. So I was ready to eat, drink, and be merry when the phone rang.

Brett sounded happy but exhausted. He wasn't sure what to do with the calf as he had not got it to take to the bottle and he seemed to be nursing from his mother (if he was there to supervise and assist). Or, at least that's what I think he said? Between the new calf, traveling south to Cold Antler, the new horse, PHD work, a storm in the works, finding farm care for the holiday, cooking a ham on time, and everything else–he seemed a bit out of sorts. I told him to do whatever made his holiday more enjoyable for him. If that meant bringing the calf so he could keep an eye on it, do that. If it meant getting a farm sitter and leaving him there, then do that. And If it meant staying home and not worrying about anything but dinner on the table, then do that.

So I have no idea what is in store for Christmas. Brett could show up with Sadie the mare and Atlas the ram in a horse trailer, or a newborn calf. He may not show up at all too. I have a feeling he will. Over the years of knowing him I have learned one solid truth: once he decides to do something, it's getting done. My guess is he'll show up with a ram, a six-pack of stout beer, and a defrosted ham. That's Brett's story. And here is mine. I am thirty years old and feeling like the kid waiting for surprises under the tree on Christmas morning. Will I get to see a pony? A baby cow? A red shiny new horse cart? Will I get to see the ram I raised last summer? The possibilities are out there and no matter the outcome (pun ahead, sorry)— it's a Wonderful Life.

Sometimes this farm, and all it is to me, seems to be a bridge between adulthood and childhood. I mean that in the best ways possible. A place that connects me to experiences and emotions I lost long ago. We all lose them, never on purpose. You grow too thick a skin while your teens and twenties mess with you. It's self preservation. But as I get older I am learning to appreciate a little wonder and naiveté. It may be dangerous at times, even reckless, but it keeps me feeling alive.

Excited for Christmas morning at thirty? You better believe it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nick (In Brett's Cabin)

Winter Clothesline

Nicolas & Mum

So McLeod named this little fellow Nick. He's a day-old Highlander bull calf and doing well. He pulled through this morning and Brett got the new mother to let him nurse a bit. If she keeps up the good work he may not have to bottle feed Nick at all. It's still a bit dodgy. A bull calf under the wood stove may still be a possibility. Between the negative temperatures in the Adirondacks and the new mother's flaky caregiving, Brett may feel a lot better having the little guy warm and on a feeding schedule.

To be perfectly honest, I have my heart set on it. I would love to turn the living room into a bovine nursery and bottle feed a red-haired fuzzball while watching old Christmas movies. Between that, horseback riding, hitching up Merlin to a harness, and snow in the forecast this is turning out to be a Christmas for the books!

The Christmas Calf

I got a call from Brett this morning. He was out doing chores, checking on the horses, when he found a brand new Highlander Bull Calf laying wet in the snow. The heifer he recently bought was pregnant, he knew that, but he was told she was due in the spring…

He saw that the calf needed help. The mother wasn't being very attentive and he didn't want to lose him. He brought the little guy inside, cleaned him up, and jumped in the truck to get some emergency calf nutrition at Tractor Supply. If the bull calf pulls through, he will be a bottle calf. A bottle calf can not be left alone while the farmer goes off to have fun kicking his heals up with horses and friends...

So here's where the story gets interesting. Brett is still coming for Christmas. He's just going to bring the calf with him if the little guy pulls through. Being a newborn and on a strict bottle schedule we'll just set up a spot for him in the house. I have gates and a tarp. My floors are linoleum and I have a shovel. So this year there will most likely be a highlander calf in the house with us, drinking from a 2-liter bottle and mooing right under the lit up tree…

Choir of the Bells!