Saturday, January 12, 2013

Shovels & Rope

Their new album just came out, O' Be Joyful. You Civil War buffs already know what that means, don't you? It doesn't matter. It's not a folk band, not a rock band, not a rockabilly duo. It's two people with two old guitars, a snare drum, and a rattle. Sometimes they have a harmonica. Powerful and amazing music coming out of a few sets of lungs. Buy their new CD, it comes with a donkey poster, which you rarely get these days. You won't regret it. Listen to the tracks above, I dare you not to love it.

Singing & Driving

Sunday Saturday Drive

Beautiful day here today. The sun was out (nearly fifty degrees!) and I couldn't help but hitch up Merlin and hit the road. We went down the mountain to my friend/neighbor/livestock Vet's house and I parked the horse outside her front door. Shelly and her husband came out with their new son. She just got back from the hospital Thursday and the newborn came out to meet the horse while her toddler Aidan ran around. Merlin was a saint. Stood strong and quiet while we talked, and we talked for a while. I drove home singing, and when we got close to the house Merlin went into a canter and I screamed a Wooooohhhooooooo! A grand day!

Meet Sunny & Nataya!

A pair of mares, now home on their new farm with Ejay and Kim! I love it when horse dreams come true! And all my congrats to everyone at R'Eisen Shine Farm, members of the readership here at Cold Antler, people making it happen! Join me in welcoming their new family members!

The Plow, The Horse, The Pumpkin Patch

Danvers 126 Half Long Carrots, Dwarf Siberian Kale, Parisienee Round Carrots, Deer Tongue and Speckled Trout Lettuce: Those are the five crops I have planted in my kitchen right now. My first little yogurt container of Kale is sprouting and looking healthy. The rest are under a little plastic greenhouse with a heated mat below it. The seeds, the mini house, and the heating mat all cost less than fifty dollars and I will use that greenhouse all spring long to start early seeds. After this bunch of plants are ready to transplant outside they will be under plastic tunnels (tents really) in the earliest outdoor mini-greenhouses. Kale, lettuce, and carrots are hardy creatures. They can handle an early season with a little babying. Soon as they are outside I will start broccoli, parsnips, and peas inside and then move them to the second series of covered houses. By the time the real outdoor planting season starts I will have food already in a position to be eaten and harvested and instead of spending that time sowing peas and lettuce outdoors I can use that time to build the new raised beds, poly tunnels, and put up a series critter fence. I have big plans for the garden this year. Last year was the summer of the horse. This will be the summer of the salad.

And speaking of horses! I got an email from Ejay and Kim. A young farming couple south of me in the Hudson Valley. They have a small CSA and raise mostly vegetables but also some chickens, I believe, for eggs and meat. They were growing and wanting to expand and the time had come to either invest in a team of horses or a tractor. They came to the Farmer's Horse workshop here around Halloween and less then three months later they did it. Their team of Haflingers are being delivered today! I am so happy for them! Haflingers are smaller drafts, the same size as Merlin. They are around 13.2 to 15 hands, but are powerhouses in the saddle or behind a plow. That photo above I found online is very much what Ejay and Kim will be doing this summer.

I also heard from some of the folks who came to this past Summer's Fiddle Camp, and they were still playing. One woman, Trish, has already mastered some Molly Mason and Jay Unger tunes! She didn't know how to hold the darn thing a few months ago and now is polishing up her Ashokan Farewell, Amazing!

Fiddles and horses, both inspired by a day here at Cold Antler. But see folks, it wasn't me or my farm that did any of that. The reason Ejay and Kim will be riding off into the sunset and Trish will be fiddling by a campfire has nothing to do with this blog. (Though I wish I could take credit for it!) It was those three peoples' desire to take active steps toward their goal. Both signed up for beginner's classes. They happened to be my class, but this applies to anyone who is signing up for their local community college's beekeeping class, or master gardening workshop, or deciding this year's vacation will be a dude ranch instead of Disney to see if the husband and kids could wrap their head around horses? You see what I am getting at? You're head only takes you so far without action, and sometimes it is the simple act of doing something small that inspires a bigger thing.

Sometimes it's buying that book about Dairy Goats and having the balls to set it out on your coffee table in your city apartment. That may give you the nerve to look on Craigslist or LocalHarvest for a dairy near you with goats, and email them for a tour. Suddenly, the animals you just read about a few days earlier are in your hands, their smell is in your nose. That just empowers the idea even more and soon when your lease is up you decide to stay with your job, and stay in the city, but move to a neighborhood with a little backyard. The next year you have gardens, a hive of bees, and a large dog run with a pair of Nigerian Goats you named Rufus and Bowser. Your town doesn't allow livestock, but these guys are your pets with collars and name tags. It's the same thinking that allows pot-belly pigs in high rises. That, and asking for permission is never a good idea in my book. Do what you need to do and if the city takes away your chickens and goats then all the more reason to call the local paper and have the idea brought up so those laws can be changed. If people in downtown Portland, Milwaukee, or Brooklyn can have a chicken and a goat. So can you. If the laws say no, then change them. Being meek about your dreams is the same as giving up on them.

Just thinking about Ejay and Kim, this moment, has inspired me. I have plans to brush hog out a flat area at the edge of my property along the road near the pond. I want to plant a serious pumpkin patch, like a quarter-acre. I have a draft horse, a harness, and I bet I could find a plow used on craigslist or an auction. Who wouldn't want a Black Horse plowed heirloom field pumpkin at their doorstep or in a pie this coming Samhain?

You start living with gardens and horses and you can't stop the plans and dreams from popping up in your head. This idea of the CAF Pumpkin patch wasn't even there when I started typing. But while writing about Ejay and Kim, and looking at that picture, I decided it would happen. And it will. Or at least the effort to make it happen will. It could all go terribly wrong, but so what? If the ground is too wet or the deer eat all the pumpkins then perhaps I have the perfect spot to attract deer to hunt or practice archery (or both!). I'm just excited to work hard and try, the real dream is to be out there working with Merlin and hoping for the seeds to sprout. If I get a pumpkin? Shucks. That's just gravy.

This post started talking about carrots in a hot box in my kitchen and ended with a field of pumpkins.

I love this blog. I friggin' love it.

Photo by Cindy C-H, from Flickr

Want a Farm? Get Radical.

I found this video online, it speaks perfectly to my recent post about the five whys. If you are struggling with a job you don't like? Feel stuck wishing for something that isn't happening. Listen to Lisa.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Gibson has been by my side since he was an eight-week old puppy. We have never been apart more than a few hours, never spent a night away from each other. And so Gibson shares my entire life. When I worked at an office, he was there nearly every day. He's in the truck with me on every trip into town. Everyone at the bank, bookstore, and hardware store knows him by name. And when he isn't by my side through the day's activities he is doing the work of a true farm dog. He helps wrangle sheep, chickens, and boss pigs into corners. He runs like hell. I never knew any animal that could move so fast! He knows the lay of the land, and has taught me shortcuts. He taught me a lot, actually. How to just enjoy rolling in a sunbeam. How to sleep like you mean it. And how to run as fast as possible and fall in love with the pain in your lungs, because that pain means you are still alive.

He's as much a farmer as I am. He knows no life but this one. I have rarely seen an animal as happy, as fit, and as thrilled just to be alive and by my side. He doesn't even wear a collar, never has a leash. He hangs out the truck window with both arms clutching and scratching the side door and lets the wind hit his lagging tongue. This is not great parenting, I know. But I am not my dog's parent. I'm his boss and he is his own dog. He gets his shots, shares my bed, and is offered a proper diet but I like his feral ways. He looks, listens, understands conversational tones and probably has a vocabulary of a fifty English words or more. He's always there with me. Just look down at my knees, and he's at their side.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Smile Before

I was twelve years old when this movie came out. It will always be important to me. This scene is my favorite moment in cinematic history. Well, a part of it is. That walk up the hill is it. From the hug to the last steps, it still gives me goosebumps. Every time I watch it I still feel like that little girl in the big theatre, wanting that feeling.

It all comes down to the smile before the roar, for me. Those few seconds, those are the best. There is nothing more powerful that the feeling of decision. This isn't related to a farm, but that moment is how I got mine.

I Just Walked In On This

Archery Porn

Guess What I'm Doing Today?

Brawlers & Brothels

When I opened the barn door yesterday morning, I wasn't expecting a welcome committee. But right there inside the latched door was Lunchbox and Thermos, looking up at me and snorting. Gibson was at my side, and if you could have seen the look on his face you would have thought someone just filled the barn with a hundred white plastic buckets and flashlight beams (he's really into buckets and flashlight beams).

I slammed the door.


These were not the cute little piglets I picked up squealing at Antlerstock. Lunchbox and Thermos were both around a hundred sixty pounds now. I could hear the chickens inside squawking and flapping around. It sounded like two drunk bar brawlers got into a lingerie shop. Behind the red door was a parade of squeaks and grunts and feathers flying. Gibson looked up at me and then back at the door with his tail wagging. I knew I had to get the porkers back into their pen. In my quick glance I saw their escape hatch. I would have to get inside, round them up, shut the gate they busted through, reinforce it, and then check for damage. I had to do all this while a Border Collie was begging to get into the fray, a horse was heckling me for breakfast, the goats were nagging, the chickens were screaming, and without so much as a pocket knife in my arsenal.


What transpired was nothing short of amazing. I didn't have a pocket knife But I did have a bag of cracked corn. I told Gibson to back up and lie down, then set him into a stay. I asked him to stay the way people say the last phrase of a commencement speech. I really, really, meant it. He looked deflated, but obliged. I then cracked the door open and slid inside, closing it behind me. The pigs were running amok, but turned to look at me as dramatically and quick as a pair of cartoon characters. I could almost hear their thoughts out loud.

"Hey, Hey.... It's Food Lady! She's got the food bag! We already ate all the chicken feed, and a chicken, this place is a beat scene! You think she brought takeout again? Dibs! Dibs! Diiibbbbs DIIBBBBSSS!!"

And they both came barreling towards me. As they ran at me, and the door to freedom behind me, I took the entire bag of cracked corn and dumped it inside their pen. Instead of knocking me over and running away they made a quick corner turn and ran back into their home. I had a few seconds to scramble to re-shut the door behind them and soon as I closed it Lunchbox whirled around to get back out. Suddenly, the cracked corn wasn't as interesting as the Chicken Ranch. This is true for most American males.

I had to hold the gate shut by hand. They had escaped by breaking down the wood board that created the doorstop. It was a simple design, a basic latch, and worked up to the point of over 300-collective pounds of porcine force wailing on it. I needed to get something else to hold them while I went and boarded up their pen door. But the second I left the gate they were on it. Gibson was watching with pure agony of a lie down. A lie down during livestock chaos is border collie water boarding. I called him to me.

The pigs stared at Gibson. They stopped eating, stopped pushing against the door. Whatever was going on between those two species was some deep mojo. Gibson went into his crouch and blinkless stare and the pigs softly grunted, but held back their protest. This gave me exactly 30 seconds to scramble around the barn for a piece of green baling twine and frantically tie it around the posts. The gate was momentarily secure. I told Gibson, "That'll Do!" and he looked up at me like he was rolling on crystal mushrooms. Pigs get him wonky like that.

I got some boards, I got some nails, and I hammered a few planks of scrap wood over the brawlers gate. They ate the corn and promptly took a nap. I am missing one rooster and an entire 20-pound bag of chicken feed. It was a wild party.

I called the butcher and moved the slaughter date up a week.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Last Resort!

What you are looking at is the Last resort. A quickly tied piece of baling twine that was used to hold the escaped pigs back inside their pen while I scoured the snow-covered barnyard for lumber so I could nail their escape hatch shut. Never a dull moment. More tomorrow!

Feeling Trapped & The Five Whys

I get so many emails and letters from folks who wish they could quit their job, change their life, and move to the country but feel they can't. Sometimes these emails are incredibly sad. Some folks say they are too old to start over. Some are dealing with a disease or death in the family that ties them to unexpected care for children or elders. Some people are stuck in prison, literally trapped. These are hard to read.

And yet, these people are never really suffering with desire. Most are at peace with where their lives are. Since they can't do anything to change things at the moment, they let go of their dream a while. The release is a kind of peace, one woman said. I have a lot of faith in these folks, because if they can get through whatever is holding them back now they will be even more resilient and dedicated when they do stick their shovels in the dirt. You don't get discouraged at a bad day at the Farmer's Market when three years ago you spent an entire summer in ICU. They are cultivating a perspective that lasts. It is worth acres of black earth.

Some of the emails I get are in the same sad tone but very, very, different. They come from people who want to farm as well, but aren't because the changes that farm requires seem too hard or complicated. People who have put emotional and social discomfort between them and their dreams, and they feel it is just as much a barrier as a prison wall. These are the hardest emails for me to read, much harder than the former. They always start out with "I love your life and wish it was mine! But!..." and then go through the lists of excuses why it isn't.

I have learned this much: No one can save people in this mindset but themselves. I mean, if a person writes me from an actual prison his limitations can be overcome soon as he is free. But when some one has already decided they can't leave the one they built around themselves - they can not be helped.

If you are unhappy about something you have two choices. Just two. You either can work to make it better, or walk away from it. Fight or let go, that is it. This applies to everything in our lives, from our relationships with our spouses to our jobs. It is true for our health, our weight, and how we let people treat us. You only get different results if you change your actions.

Some of them already own (or have access to) land and want to be full-time farmers. Others are in apartments and cities, but have no idea how to make next month's rent much less move to some brand new rural area. They feel they can't have what I have here at Cold Antler. Everyone tells them they can't. Their whole lives are angry balls of baling twine called Can't.

Yes you can. Of course you can. I promise you can.

The Five Whys

I recently heard about the Five Whys on the radio. The idea is simple: If there is something you want to change about your life and feel you can't, ask yourself why five times. It'll tell you a lot more than you realize. For example:

I don't like my job but I can't leave it.
Because I need the money.
What do you mean, why? Because of bills and the mortgage!
Because if I don't pay them, I could lose my house and fall into debt!
Because that's how this system works. I get money from this company, and then they get my daylight five days a week. And then every two weeks I get money that I use to enjoy myself in the evenings when I am tired and frustrated or on the weekends when I buy things with the money left over from paying for the things the job is required for.
Because that's where I am, and that's the system I am in.

It's been said if the Five Whys always either end with the person feeling validated or trapped. It's never one or the other. They either keep insisting that they are in a situation that makes them unhappy because they have to be—or they have none of those limitations but feel they are so invested in a lifestyle that leaving it would be more trouble and heartache than it is worth. So what does that leave us with? Victims of discontentment and Volunteers for discontentment.

I left my job to be self employed because my job did not fulfill me and I did not like giving up that amount of my life working for someone else's dream. I worked for a nice company, and it was filled with nice people and I can not say a bad thing about that organization. It just wasn't mine. No matter how high I climbed the corporate ladder, even if I somehow became the CEO, it was still someone elses. It was the dream of someone else, the work of someone else. Taking over the steering wheel is not the same as building the car. It took me eight years. It was worth it.

So what's the point of this long post? To realize that if you are willing to be scared, and take risks, and do something bold you can work towards the life you want. It may not be supported by the people who you have been told are the approvers of life's changes. If that is too much to bear, then you will remain stuck. But if you are willing to put yourself out there, make some sacrifices, and do the work you can have anything you damn well please in this beautiful world. Sometimes it takes money, sometimes it takes a different attitude, and sometimes it just takes guts. But money, attitude, and guts abound if you're willing to go after them. If that sounds corny, or eye-rollingly idealistic, I'm not sure what to say to you? Because it is true. I live it everyday and get emails every day from others who are doing the same. Meaningful lives are happening all around us. Better health, better relationships, better's all around us. So go get it.

Jasper the Firecracker!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Merlin, Sit.

Fiddlers' Rendezvous Updates!

I have some great news for those of you coming to Fiddlers' Rendezvous this February. Since there was such an interest, and my house is really only comfortable for a handful of students, I will be moving the camp from my home to our local Opera House here in Cambridge, Hubbard Hall. I moved it because a dozen folks learning how to bow a fiddle the first time needs space. Hubbard Hall means we can spread out, have personal practice room, and be right downtown in the thick of places to grab lunch. You can also enjoy my quirky home's stores and wares. You can run over to the Co-op if you want some seriously good soup and fresh fire-baked breads. You can run next door to Battenkill Books to grab some reading material, or the Hubbard Hall shop for Common Sense soaps and gifts. It is a better place for a musical workshop, but that doesn't mean you can't come up to CAF, too. We can still have a meet up and tour of the farm Saturday, for those who are interested, but as far as having the environment best for learning in: the bigger space is better. There is ample parking, a warm building, and a music store literally across the street. I should warn that guy to stock more tuners, rosin, and strings…We will be starting at 9:00AM Saturday Feb 9th at Hubbard Hall.

If you are coming, please send me an email to confirm again. I need an updated tally for who is getting a fiddle and who is bringing one. Sometimes this information changes over the course of months. Some folks signed up on Facebook, and others through email, and I just need to get my information all in one spot so I can order instruments and get my ducks in a row. So I thank you in advance for catching up with me.

If you are coming you will ABSOLUTELY need to bring:

An electric clamp-on guitar tuner (I suggest Snark tuners)
The book: Old Time Fiddle For the Complete Ignoramus
A spare set of Strings for a 4/4 fiddle
A packed lunch for each day or cash to eat out
A sense of humor!!!! Get ready to smile and have FUN!

If you want to slide in last minute, I think we have a few spots left if you are willing to bring your own fiddle. I can suggest good beginner kits that are around $100-$300 dollars.



Monday, January 7, 2013

Name That Book!

My publisher and I are trying to come up with a title for my next book. We were going to call it Days of Grace, but it turns out that is already taken. So we need a new title. I would love your ideas! Here's what the book is about: a month-by-month tour of seasonal life here at Cold Antler. It starts in October and goes through the agricultural year. It is part memoir, part illustrations, part song and folkways. It'll be a beautiful book, a chunky and personal story of a year with nothing you read here first (unless I posted an excerpt) - You'll read about learning to drive horses and see charts and illustrations and then perhaps find the sheet music to God Speed the Plough all in the same month. So what we need is the name for this CAF-specific journal of the seasons. What you got, Antlers?

The Lamb Plan: 2013

Atlas the ram—who was raised here last year and then bartered to Brett in exchange for help building a pole barn—is outside right now with the flock. He'll stay here two months and in that time he should have performed all the duties a ram should. This means lambs on the ground in late May or early June. The reason for the later lambing is two fold:

1. To make sure there is plenty of grass available for the flock.
2. To make it easier on me, the shepherd.

A later lambing date means the sheep I currently have can be rotationally grazed on the current pasture that exists, as well as help clear land for new pasture in the woods. Since I do not have any specific market dates to meet, I can raise the sheep when I please. It'll be a lot easier on me and the mothers when the days are longer and the weather is comfortable. I know I'd rather give birth on green grass in a light wool sweater than in an ice storm in a full parka. So late spring lambing it is for 2013!

The downside is that means by the time the lambs are eating a diet of mostly grass we'll be well into fall. So it will cost more to feed and fatten them through the winter on hay, minerals, and grain. It's a trade off. I do hope by autumn to just have a handful of sturdy lambs, and to have sold or traded most of the others just after weaning. I find sheep to be worth many times their weight in firewood, lumber, farm services, chimney sweeping, etc. It's a prime currency in these parts. So I want to raise more than my seven ewes can offer...

So here's where it gets interesting! My lambs here are not the only sheep in the plan. In a few weeks I will drive Atlas a mile a half down the road to Bedlam Farm. He'll breed that flock, too. I approached Jon and Maria with the idea a week ago. I asked him if I could bring a ram to his flock and buy back the lambs from him when he wanted them off the grass. I would take care of the lambing work, giving the new babes their shots and take care of tail docking, and then I could buy them back them to sell, barter, or put in the freezer. His wife Maria has five ewes, all beautiful wool sheep. They'll throw a nice group of lambs. I think we have a few things to work out as far as responsibilities go on each our parts but I am fairly sure this will happen. I hope it does.

So the sheep plan this year expands! I will be lambing on two farms and raising a serious crop of meat futures. I may offer lambs and half-lambs as barter. Right now I need to see how the breeding/transport goes and get ready for one intense year of sheep. And before Lamb 1 even hits the grass I have two pregnant goats to get through kidding and back into a milking routine. This sheep stuff is easy, but being a goat midwife and lactation coach has be a bit rattled. More on them tomorrow!

This is going to be quite the summer...

CSA members (years 2 and 3):There were complications with the wool this year, a disaster really. It never got to the mill due to a mistake on my behalf. It meant a long, long wait for CSA members. So I have decided to shear the sheep this spring as usual and then mail the last two years of wool in one lump sum to be processed into yarn and felt. I will then mail out all of the shareholders their wool this summer and that will end the wool CSA experiment at Cold Antler. It costs too much to keep going, and while it is great to offer shares and make a few hundred dollars in one day, it ends up costing me around $250 a share to create and mail the wool, well over the cost I sell it for. It's just not sustainable on this scale. I will keep making and selling wool yarn at workshops, but not in this CSA fashion, simply because the wait for return is so long and folks get upset about that. It's poor customer service at this juncture and if the farm expands perhaps it will come back again some day. If you are a year 2 CSA member and you do not want to wait for the wool and want your money back, please email me. All members will either get wool or a refund if they do not want to wait.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

This Place

A life can change so much in one year. This picture you see, you're looking at my favorite place in the world. That saddle—which I bought at a yard sale years before I ever owned a horse to put it on—is where I go to think, to breathe, to challenge myself, to unwind. It is where I feel adventure, and speed, and real wind, and fear. It is where I learned what human and horse sweat smells like together above a field of crushed lavender and mint. It is where I realized I was stronger and more capable than any degree, or book publication, or horrid breakup ever showed me. It's a cheap, used, saddle on a dark horse. It's the place a new version of me started. I refuse to live without it any longer.

A Gentle Moratorium

I get a lot of advice. It's almost impossible to post anything without getting some sort of comment about how to do it better, how to change it, how to improve. These are certainly appreciated, but not necessary. My friend Jon has a saying, "Advice is never needed, Smart people don't need it and stupid people won't use it." And that's how I am starting to feel about it, as it is becoming overwhelming. I can no longer write or share anything without hearing a hundred ways the internet can do it better. I am certain it can. I'm just getting by with a smile.

So no more advice please! I may be too smart for it, or too stupid for it, but you can bet I won't use it either way.

Winter Quarters

The rescued chicks (two of them) and their mama have been brought inside the farmhouse and are in a wooden chick brooder in my back mudroom, behind the kitchen. It gets southern exposure, and they are a few feet away from a Vermont Castings wood stove, so in winter chicken life, this is the Ritz. The mama hen is a Pumpkin Husley, an import from GReenfire Farms. She is hands down the best mom on the farm. I don't know a breed better to get broody and raise young birds up out in the free range world. SHe's so protective I need to wear gloves around her, and when a cat or dog shows up near the brooder she turns into something out of Jurassic Park. She's doing great, and has two eggs under her that may still hatch. One cracked under her weight and heat and was just yoke, and another was a dud. So two more chances. Time will tell!