So Fiddler's Rendezvous is on for March now, and I am just awaiting confirmation from Hubbard Hall about available weekends but I am shooting for the 9th and 10th. How is that? Dulcimer Day Camp has to be moved or possibly canceled due to lack of interest. If you are signed up for it (I think only two of you are, so far?) can you please email me so we can work out another date or private lesson?
Bogh is with me most mornings in the office. He perches behind my desk on the saddle stand, making himself comfortable amongst the tack and balls of yarn. Every once in a while I turn around to pet him, check in on him. Sometimes Yetti comes up and takes the same spot. I think it is prime feline real estate. This saddle rack is against a sunny window and above dog level. I think it's the place Boghadair turns to when everyone is making a fuss. I understand. I come here and write for the same reasons.
One of the gritty realities of running any homestead is money. These days you need it just as much as you need chicken feed and a good set of sheep shears. I quit my steady paying job as a corporate web designer back in June and have been riding the wave of self employment ever since. To be perfectly honest, it is has been rough out there. I quickly ran out of the small nest egg of savings I had and had to come up with new ways to pay the bills and keep the dream alive and the farm (generally) in the black with the banks. Things grew scrappier and I realized I needed a little more security. I bit the bullet. Tomorrow is the first day of my new job.
So Monday morning I will be pouring a mug of coffee, getting dressed, and joining the throngs of others heading into the work week. I have a new solid gig, the first real breath of relief I felt in months. But here's the kicker. I won't be starting up the truck or even leaving Cold Antler…. Darlings, I will be making the commute up the stairs to my office where I will be starting in earnest on MY FIFTH BOOK!!!!!
Yes friends! I landed a new book deal, my first deal since 2009! It's with a new publisher but I'm still writing about what I love most: raising food at home. The folks at Roost Books are as excited I am about this new adventure we're taking together. And this new manuscript I am starting tomorrow falls into place just as I am wrapping up the last edits of the book coming out this fall. This is going to be a very busy spring in this little office surrounded by horse tack and taxidermy. One book is being written while another one is getting ready for bookstores come October. And folks, that book coming out in October is going to be a doozy...I just saw a sample of the pages from the guys at Storey and it may be the most beautiful thing with my name on it so far. Every page is designed with illustrations, photographs, song lyrics and quotes. It's a romantic and realistic journal of the Wheel of the Year here at CAF. A book worthy of anyone needing an injection of Barnheart remedy.
Guys, it is so incredibly encouraging, all this. To be so busy creating books, to still have the honor to write them and know that people want to keep reading and publishing my work, even in these sketchy times of fiscal cliffs and what not. To me it says I made the right choice. I left a job that did not fulfill me and I am making it (just!) doing what I love.
So I can't say I've made the big time, that's for sure. The book deal comes to me in three modest payments over the course of the next 18 months and the first one is already spent. I paid the mortgage for one month and paid off three scary little debts that banks were calling me about night and day. The check was enough to get that monkey off my back while keeping the lights on, and I consider that combination a blessing. So when it comes to cash I'm in the same place I always have been of *just* making it, but at least I'm on more solid ground. I think if you can climb out of a little debt while keeping a roof over your head - all the while doing what you love… Well folks, that is success to me. And I feel like the most successful person in the world tonight. I have no idea how next month's mortgage will be paid, but I know it will. I am as certain of that as I am about setting up my tax appointment and taking my vitamins after brushing my teeth. You can bet on some things, you sure can.
And you know how many angry creditors called me this week?
I called a woman from a local Falconer (Falconing?) couple this morning. I know her through a friend. I told her how I knew her, and that we had actually met in 2008 at the British School of Falconry when I first moved to Vermont. I was interviewing for the job at Orvis and not sure if I would get it. But when I saw the Equinox Hotel offered its guests lessons in beginner falconry I jumped at what felt like a once-in-a-lifetime chance. That's a photo the woman I called today took of me with a Harris Hawk. And here I am, five years later, asking her to take some more.
It was a great experience in their large barns learning to call and send away the bird. After we were wrapped up I explained how much it was something I wanted to do and she said to look her up if I ever moved out here. She gave me the copy of the Northwoods Catalog and her number. I never got in touch with her. Being a new farmer, new shepherd, new border collie and horse trainer on rented land made falconry as realistic as joining a roller derby team. Awesome, but too time consuming and too busy a life for it. But now that I'm a full time writer farming at home with a slower pace, I'm ready to at least try. And it turns out one of the guys I used to work with at Orvis who is in my WoW Guild is one of this couple's best friends. I had an in, without even trying! So I called to say "Hello, I'm new and eager, let's be friends" and I am hoping they call me back. There are a few weeks left in this hawking season and I would love to join them on a hunt as a spectator with a camera.
So far all I have done in this new pursuit is got a hold of some books I am reading and taking notes on, called a local Falconer for a blind date, and joined our state's club online. I also applied for the study packet for the Apprentice Test in April, and once I pass that and show a sponsor that I have my hunter's safety and small game license I can start doing things to get my own farm turned into a place a hawk could thrive. This means building a Mews, getting it inspected by a DEC wildlife official, planning a place to hunt, and putting enough hawk food in the freezer. I wouldn't dare have a hawk in the back seat of my truck fresh from a trap unless all these things were in order and all the federal laws were approved and in place. This will all most likely happen over the summer, in stages and steps. But by fall I may very well have a Red Tail on my gauntleted hand. I can see it in my mind's eye anyway, and that's well over half the effort of making it happen. At least for me.
If you want something, anything really, you need to believe it is possible before you dare imagine yourself doing it. That's just the way of things. And when you can imagine it, phone calls and books are the natural next step. People laugh and call you crazy and bother you about it, but ignore them. You do not need approval from anyone to follow harmless bliss. And Before you know it you're in a field with a hawk and a possible new friend, talking about where you'll put your own mews and hearing war stories of amazing chases. All this, of course, applies to all crazy dreams. Half the battle is knowing you want it and climbing the ladder to reach it. And let folks heckle all they want, its probably good for their red blood cell counts. It means nothing. You know you are doing something good for the soul when other people tell you you're nuts.
P.S. I have heard from so many people equally interested in falconry as I am! So I urge you to at least look up your local club and contact them, take that first step. All that can happen is you end up making a contact for later, and you may end up with a packet in the mail like I am... Life's funny guys, roll with it.
There's a new camera here, my first Canon. It's the EOS Rebel. It costs half a mortgage payment and it took me three days and the manual to learn how to take a picture. It was paid for by the folks who read this blog through contributions, and for that I thank you and will repay you with many, many, images in the years to come! The a long time I have been taking photographs with point and shoots or cell phones, but now I have this advanced tool I am learning to use. I confess I know very little about photography, and even less about how to use this thing—but I am excited to learn enough to maintain fighting weight. I hope the pictures show a clearer and more open view of my life and the farm. I hope you get a better sense for this place and the animals in it (myself included). My friend Tara said she would swap photography lessons for fiddling lessons and I think that is brilliant! Wish me luck, Antlers!
The storm passed us, for the most part. About five inches of snow are out there, and most of that was blown around by harsh winds. I know it is a rough morning when I can hear the howling against trees and no owls start my day with their hooting home from highly rounds. I thought to myself, "If it's this wild here, how bad is it on the flats?" and thought of Jon and Maria and Patty and Mark, both with fairly exposed farms compared to my little mountain homestead. But I heard from both farms and all is well.
Chores this morning were extra bitter, but everyone from the lowest chicken and rat to the mighty horses ate their fill of breakfast and well water. The water defrosters made it fine, and the lows only sunk around ten degrees. Tonight will be colder, but the roads will be clear. I plan on spending the day around the house tending to things like pipes and stove wood. There's a crock pot of chili on and leftovers from yesterday's pork barbecue. This place never starves, I'll tell you that much.
Here there is no Fiddle Campers this weekend, and while it is a bummer I feel I made the right call. While conditions here are pretty mundane just a few hours southeast there are reports of over two feet of snow. Parts of Massachusetts put out a driving ban earlier while the road crews worked. Not the best travel conditions to Veryork for folks coming this-a-way. So I have a house full of fiddles and soon as Hubbard Hall gets back to me with weekends in March I'll post the new date. Some local folks may come by tomorrow to pick up their instruments just because they have their hearts set. Today I asked to keep the farm guest free, the driveway isn't even plowed yet.... I'll catch up.
This morning I joined the New York State Falconer's Association as an associate member, and applied to the DEC for the study packet to become an apprentice. What does that mean? It means I will be learning to train, trap, hunt, and live with hawks, something I have wanted to do for a very long time. Falconry has been on my mind a lot lately and the clincher that made me join the club and request the packet was a ride home from Livingston Brook Farm last week. The same folks I see time and time again were off in a field, gauntlets on their arms, working with their hawks. I have no idea who these people are, but I nearly pulled over to talk to them. Point is, they aren't storybook characters or Olympians, these are everyday people just doing something they love. I think my days of driving past things I want are over. If I want something, I fight like hell to make it part of my life.
...And perhaps not surprisingly, falconry is all around Cold Antler. There is an actual British School of Falconry in Manchester, Vermont (about 30 minutes away). I have friends who have friends who do this, know neighbors with Mews and birds they take out. I'm single, I have land, time and space. It costs a total of $40 to take the test and then, well, there isn't much of a cost to it. A licensed falconer traps you a juvenile red tail or kestrel and that is what you learn with. You don't buy giant cages or special gear outside of a leather glove. It's more of a lifestyle commitment than a monetary one. And if anyone can make room for falconry in their life it's the girl training horses and shooting arrows on Tuesday afternoons when she isn't in her office writing.
I think it's time this girl got a hawk. Or, at least try. Anyone surprised in the least?
Folks, after several travelers told me they weren't coming and the weather reports have upgraded to a 100% chance of at least 9 inches of snow, it feels like postponing the weekend is the only responsible thing to do. Yes, I understand that some of you will be upset but I can't chance having people out on the roads in this weather, specially for a weekend of fiddling. We will plan the event for early March instead. Is that possible for everyone?
If you are still coming out no matter what and want to hang at CAF and learn to fiddle, I will be here. You can help batten down the farm hatches and learn in more casual and personalized environment. It'll be us and the wood stove and Am and PM chores. I will happily host and hand out instruments to those who want to come and are already on their way. But for those of you who are fretting travel, fret no more. The event will be rescheduled and we can all set our crock pots, get batteries in our flashlights, and get ready for some serious snow.
I see another summer of arrows and saddles ahead, and the tell tale sign is a black mare named Ebony. She's a draft pony for sale on Craigslist, and while she sounds like a dream (and a perfect match for Merlin) she's not destined for Cold Antler Farm. She's a possible horse for my good friend and neighboring farmer, Joanna.
Joanna is in her mid thirties and neighbor to Patty and Mark. She and her husband Greg are new farmers, and just moved to their land a few years ago. She's got a green thumb and already works on a big farm here in the W.C. She knows the ropes. I got to know her this summer though helping with haying and general dinner parties and hanging out with the Livingston Brook crew. She caught horse fever, and wants a sturdy horse to ride, plow and drive with. Her heart is set on a small draft like a Haflinger or Fjord. She is, however, a little nervous about taking the big step. I understand that, but I also know that the best way to get over hesitation is to blindly dive into the thick of experience. I think Patty and her will check out the mare this weekend and she just might be the third member of our little private riding association.
That sounded dirty. You know what I mean.
As for my mount, Merlin and I are a perfect pair. We're both deeply stubborn and convinced the other one is being a jerk. These last few days I have been working with him, trying to get back into the habit of regular training sessions and riding, but it's tricky. I left the world of arena's and instructors who demand proper alignment and now I am finding myself in the equine version of home schooling. I use the occasional trainer when I get in over my head, but my new coach is my farrier and he shows up in a pickup with a cowboy hat.
I know with Merlin's training sessions I need a plan. If I don't have the entire event set into systematic activities with small goals it is a waste and I get frustrated. Working with Merlin is like climbing a ladder. I can move up, but one rung at a time. When I am patient and methodical, amazing things happen. But if I get frustrated or over my head, I just end up with my butt on the ground.
Today's goal was simple. Do groundwork as long as it takes to have a responsive and calm horse, then mount up. Once mounted, perform a pre-set routine of tasks on the road and then end the session with a big smile. Today we managed to do just that. I had him groomed, tacked up, ground-worked, and we rode much better than the day before. It wasn't perfect, it rarely is, but even when Merlin wanted to argue and do his own thing, I managed to remain calm and patient and get my way. We use a simple snaffle bit, a lot of circling, and my big fat stubborn streak and eventually I win out. I think back to last March when just sitting on Merlin's back and walking around the arena was scary. It took a lot of miles together, but through amazing instruction from many people I have a horse I understand. We are a team now.
I don't know if Joanna will get the mare or not. I do know that she, like many of you, has a big dream and is just apprehensive about the commitment and the trials ahead. I think a lot of folks make decisions based on such fears. I know I do. Everything you read about on this blog, every trail ride and every move cross country. All of it is done out of anxiety. But it's not done with a fear of failure or mistakes, but a fear of regret. I worry a lot more about missing out on experiences than I do about bruises and permission. Sometimes that has worked in my favor, sometimes not. But when it comes to horses I am proud of my giant, crazy, leaps towards the team Merlin and I have built. This time last year he was a pipe dream. Now he's just my pipe.
Snow is coming, possibly a lot. While Fiddlers' Rendezvous is still on, I am curious if anyone will not be attending due to the snowfall? It looks like most will hit Friday night, and our plow teams here are great. Even my farm road is on a school bus route, and stays well kept. But if a large number cannot make it then I will reschedule the event. What say you fiddlers?
Update 9:30AM So I will hosting this camp. Over half the attendees said they are still coming. Brave souls! So if you feel you can't because of weather (I totally understand) let me know through email and if there are enough of you folks then we will host another weekend event, so everyone still learns the devil box.
Playing Gloom by lantern light on the farmhouse floor. We had a game night a few days ago with some friends from goingslowly.com, Tara and Tyler. They are a young couple who are moving to Veryork from Minnesota, bought some land in Vermont close by CAF. Great adventurous friends who appreciate some dark humor in their gameplay. Tara caught this photo of Tom and Gibson in the lantern light. I love it!
Folks who are coming this weekend for Fiddler's Rendezvous, here is the plan. PLease arrive at Hubbard Hall Freight Depot at 9:30 AM in downtown Cambridge. Parking for the Depot is behind Main Street, just turn at the brick building with Bean Head's written on it and you'll see the lot and Freight Depot behind it. If you are in a grassy park-like area that looks like an old train station, you found us.
We are starting at 10AM on the dot, and you are expected to bring the book, your tuner, and spare strings and fiddle if you are not getting one here at the camp. It's a fun time and a great and easy introduction to this instrument but it is a long morning of getting acquainted and learning some basics. We'll break for lunch for an hour, and pick it up again at 1PM. Class usually goes until 3PM after that, and we officially break around 3:30.
Lunch can be bought all over town, with a few options or you can pack lunch. There is no camping at the farm in the winter so you will need to find a local hotel. Suggestions can be found here!
I'll host a short farm tour at CAF for anyone interested Saturday after class. Come and meet the animals and get taunted by geese while Merlin hollers for hay!
Class starts Sunday morning at 9AM-Noon, another break for lunch, and then we finish up again around 3PM.
9:30-12 Noon at Hubbard Hall, Cambridge NY
Meet Your Fiddle!
First notes and scale, first song
Shuffling and droning, thickening the soup
Things here at the farm are sauntering into a plateau of amicable stability. It is such a relief. Yesterday a horse trailer full of hay was delivered and stacked in the barn. The excess was stacked by the house under the shelter of the porch, tucked aside a cord of wood stacked the week before. Outside my kitchen window, it is so highly stacked with grass and timber I can't even see the sunlight. That's a consolation I'll gladly make, because few things lift this shepherd's spirit like looking out a window and seeing proof that summer not only exists, but is still there for me.
It's Tuesday morning. My plans include a trip to my bank before noon and an afternoon of freelance design work with a writing chaser. I try to make time every day to shoot some arrows into the haypile and work out, too. Currently I am on a cleaning tear and this house is being wiped and dusted from top to bottom. It feels wonderful to be shedding pounds and removing (literal) dirt and garbage from my life at the same time. I've taken a pretty serious view of my martial arts education and decided to get as much as I can out of it. In less than a month I have relearned five of the traditional Taekwondo forms, and can now easily do a hundred pushups and hundred sit ups in under twenty minutes. When I start adding more cardio, through twice weekly sparring...well, I can already see the last of the extra weight falling off. It feels wonderful, and I feel renewed. Last night I was fighting with a black belt at the dojang and I could not stop smiling, I just couldn't. Like holding a bow, or sitting in the saddle, sparring feels so comfortable to me, so correct. There's a big AAU tournament this summer in Albany, and I will be entering it. I'm going for the gold, folks. It's good to want things.
It did not take long for the Maine Coon sized hole in my heart to be filled back up. Boghadair, came here this past Samhain. And now Yeti has come to see if Cold Antler will suit him as a new home. He's a three-year-old Maine Coon, and easily twice the size of little Bogh. He's not exactly, um, calendar material. He's a hard luck cat, scraggly as a Disney villain's sidekick. But he is sweet, and has a lot of character. Right now the animals are all a bit suspicious of him, but neither the dogs or Bogh has bothered with him much since he arrived and set up Camp Bathroom. He has a towel to sleep on, a litter box, and food and water and will come out in his own good time.
Meet Darla, the 9-week-old Old English Sheepdog puppy. She might be the cutest little Ewok I have ever seen. She isn't my little girl (I like my dogs a little more crazy), but she came to visit this weekend and her proud new mama (Patty) took her over to the sheep gate. This little dog, who's from a long line of shepherds, stood tall and looked those sheep right in the eyes. Darla (who I call Moneypenny) will be a great addition to Livingston Brook Farm. There she'll be a true farm dog! She'll weave around hay bales and battle with barn cats. She'll run in big hay fields, walk alongside horses and tractors, and learn woods and streams from Harley, their big hunting dog. She has a great life ahead, this little pup.
Having a puppy around has been a real treat. I have had lambs, kittens, chicks, and goat kids around but having a pup squirm and smile in my arms is something different. It's a whole new vibe, and entirely pleasant. I think music explains it best. Having a kitten around is kind of like having a new saxophone, violin, or flute on the table you're learning to play. It's something that will become smooth, sleek, and explosive. But a puppy? A puppy is all Banjo. Banjo, banjo, banjo. All plucks and smiles and clumsy happy sounds. And as you play more and the pup grows up you get something mighty bright and powerful too, just incapable of a cat's level of jazz. And that's fine by me. There's not a lot of room for jazz in my life, some, but not much. I'd rather dance with dogs. I think dog's sleep better at night.
A long wild weekend here. While I recover and get back into my annual Feb 2nd clean-a-thon, enjoying watching Gibson deal with taxidermy. Sorry about the static jitter sounds in the beginning, it goes away fairly soon into the playing.
The temperatures dropped over night, well below freezing, but after the last few weeks anything above twenty degrees feels downright balmy. This morning the house was around fifty five degrees and it felt as comfortable as seventy. I think my body is just adapted to the new temperatures I have given it. My truck doesn't have working heat right now, at least not the vents that push it towards you in any efficient way, and I simply dress warmer inside it and weary toe warmers on my socks for longer trips. I have been wearing kilts so long with tall insulated boots that I am never cold in them, certainly not when temperatures are this balmy! Yet some folks see me with bare knees and think I am nuts.
I'm not nuts, I'm comfortable. It's a lot easier to get on a horse, jump over a gate, and move all around the farm quickly in a kilt than it is in confining jeans or overalls. I wear good riding skivvies below them (full-seat breeches I chop off above the knees) and heavy wool hose under my boots. The kilt guards the soft thighs from the saddle and the breeches keep my rump in place. And I can not tell you how nice it is to see the pleats flowing over the cantle at a canter. I know, technically, that kilts are men's clothing but sometimes even the toughest canvas utility kilt feels like a flowing skirt and I get this spicy dash of feminine happy time. I'm proud to be a tough chick, but I'd rather be a tough chick in a tough skirt. I'm not the overall type.
I think it is fascinating how adaptable us human animals are. Given enough time to grow comfortable, we get there. It's how we happen to be the same species and yet live in so many varied climates and conditions. But someone from the Congo in Lapland and you be there will be some discomfort, but given time and a few generations their grand children will just think of sweaters as boots thick as seal blubber as normal. Put a Lap in the Congo and the sweaters come off, with joy. We're an adjustable lot, us.
I'm excited about tonight! Some blog readers from Minnesota who are moving to Veryork (building a haybale-insulated thatched cabin in my old Vermont stomping grounds!) are coming over for dinner and so is my friend Tom who farms in Massachusetts. I met all of these folks through Cold Antler. Tom met me at the Mother Earth News Fair and Tara and Tyler emailed me months before and said they were coming this way. I met them through coincidence when they happened to already know one of the pig share owners who stopped by the farm on a pickup night last week. We got to talking about games and apparently they are huge Settlers of Catan fans and on their trip cross country they even brought their own copy of the game. They seemed thrilled to find folks to play with in a new town. I have never played before, but I have heard a lot of great things and went over the rules online. Tom hasn't played either but we are giving it a go. Fun!
I have grown to really love spending time with others in games and stories. It seems more in tune with the homesteading lifestyle to enjoy a round of storytelling or card swapping by candlelight than everyone sitting around a screen or spending over a hundred dollars as a party to eat food out we could cook better in our own kitchens. Tonight will be a good meal, with good people, and a proper snowfall outside that suits these winter months instead of that recent scourge we all just wiped off our boots. I'm grateful for all those things.
P.S. For those who ask, I wear kilts from UTkilts.com, if you order one check the sizing chart! They do not work the same as jean waist sizes, so be warned!
P.S.S. Thank you for the contributions! I ordered a low-end Canon Rebel! Hay and wood is also on the way! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Talk about an appropriate gift! A friend sent me a gift certificate to a very geeky online store where I scored this pair of Hobbit slippers on sale. They are so warm and comfy, I don't even mind the busted toenails. Cold floors in the morning? THEY SHALL NOT PASS!
The last two days have been so incredibly strange. The weirdness is the weather. It went from a week so cold that the trap below my shower froze solid, to the last two days of wind and rain and temperatures near sixty degrees. When I woke up this morning there was a literal howling through the downpour. Gibson was at the window, watching the world swirl around his little haven. He looked concerned.
I wasn't worried as much as I was unsettled. It felt like April, not January. April is a creepy month to me, my least favorite month of the year. I have no idea how beautiful October got all the cultural associations with death and fear. October is the opposite. It's teeming with the harvest, with glowing firestorms of colored leaves and ornaments of apples and pears in the trees. No month makes me feel more alive, more grateful, more content. October to me is exactly like the feeling of finally coming home to your lover, leaning back in his seat, and how it feels to find that place curled up against him, your head on his chest. It is bliss and safety, what we all pray to feel. That's October.
But April? April to me is rotting and rumbling earth going through the worst of ugly puberty. It's a necessary ugly period for future blessings. I understand it's role but I can't stand the entire feel of the month. Trees are usually barren and those horrible Easter flowers like lilies come out in people's living rooms; things that smell so putrid only their vulgarity can hide the wafts of embalming fluid and pancake makeup in funeral homes. I hate April. It's too dark for me. A season of zombie-like resurrection, and now my backyard feels like it when it should feel like something out of a Courier and Ives winter scene over a mantle. Take a fistful of wet mud, spit on it, pour some cheap perfume and a rotting egg on top and then set it in a warm place to fester where cat hair and dust give it a smoldering crust…. and you have April.
So, as you can imagine, this feels wrong. But there is some good news, most importantly, that this horror is over soon. Temperatures should drop back into the teens and snow is in the forecast for the next few days. And with the blessings of winter, comes a healthier flock. My sheep are looking wonderful! Even little Grace, the Cotswold with the poor constitution, has made a full recovery and is getting harder and harder to trap and give injections of ProPen to. The goats are fat, and kids are just 5-6 weeks away. And that means fresh goats milk is only 5-6 weeks away! The fiddle weekend in early Feb is packed and I am working on getting last minute preparations in order. The wool weekend is also jammed with folks and I am thrilled to spend two days with fiber, wheels, carders, and my knitting needles here at the farmhouse. Merlin is soaking wet. But he looks like something out of the LOTR set with his locks whipping in the wind and his dark eyes scanning the ground for hay flakes. He had grown so chubby this winter I can't help but giggle at his belly, but it's mostly water weight. After a good ride or cart trip he slims down and the cart shafts don't touch his sides and his girth is too loose for comfort. So it goes!
So, in summary: The weather is gross but the farm is thriving! And I can not thank those of you who contributed enough. It looks like I will be able to purchase a new camera shortly, but I am very interested in your suggestions. Some people mentioned the Rebel, correct? Any others you like that non-professionals like myself can get better-than-average results with? I can't wait to snap more photos and take more videos!
I have decided to announce a pledge drive! This blog is a free site, and will remain so. But it takes a considerable amount of time to write, video tape, and photograph things here. I have dedicated my entire life to the farm and to its documentation. It is now my fulltime job, and I am so grateful to have it. With that said, I depend on your readership and support though workshops, book sales, ad clicks, and contributions to keep the dream alive. I would like to invest in a professional-level camera and update the entire website to look more modern and easier to navigate and search. Pledges will also go to simply running this place. The money will cover things as simple as hay costs and chicken feed - as well as website redesigns and design programs. So today I am running a pledge drive from the readership. You can donate a dollar, ten dollars, or whatever you feel is correct. This is of course, totally optional. If you do not wish to contribute, that is totally fine. I'll still be here regardless, writing to you.
I have had the donate button on the blog for years, it hides down there below the barnheart graphic. But - as other authors have already stated - this sounds like a charity option. That is not the point. I see these pledges as a way to offer the blogger compensation for a website you enjoy and follow, a contribution toward the effort and expense of the farm.
Thank you, so much for reading. And happy pledging!
I am proud to share that I was featured in the new online magazine for homesteaders, From Scratch Magazine. It is delightful, and one of the best publications I've seen about modern homesteaders and downshifters. It deals with our issues, understands our style, and is filled with interviews and stories. It celebrates our life in a beautiful and engaging way. You can sign up to get it delivered every month (I believe it is free!) and enjoy some farm porn with your morning coffee.
We had a bit of snow yesterday, just enough to remind everyone here in Veryork that this winter is not like last winter. Last winter was so mild you wanted to build a bunker, but this year a week in the deep freeze has us all feeling a little scrappier, a little thinner.
Today I drive down to the butcher's shop to pick up the pork. I have backseat full of boxes and a freezer to fill. It's the main adventure of the day, but there are others things going on as well. A ewe named Grace has fallen down with the shakes, a bacterial infection. She was the ewe who experienced this before and I think the week of nights well-below zero gave her mild constitution the ol' what-for. Yesterday I made her a hospital unit in the small shelter on the hill and she was doing well this morning when I checked on her. She was trying to stand on her own and eating the hay and grain she was offered. She's looking much better, and in a few days of medicine and rest she should be right back to her old self.
Between the pipes, the temperatures, the tired ewe and the amount of firewood I am blasting through— I will admit to feeling a bit shrammed. But today should break the spell and they want highs in the thirties and (gasp!) forties, so it seems like fine weather to turn the truck into a delicious porcine hearse. Here's to warmth and puppies, both of which are in my immediate future.
(No, the puppy is not mine. It's Patty's new OES pup she is bringing home Saturday! She already named it Darla, but I insist on calling her Moneypenny)
Went to the Co-op in town yesterday with a wooden box instead of a grocery bag. I was going for things like eggs (my birds are on winter break), milk, cheese, oats, and other things that do better in a sturdy container. Here is my loot from the little store. Battenkill Creamery milk in glass bottles, cuts of good cheese wrapped to order, Murray Hollow bread (fired in a huge outdoor oven, the BEST I ever had), some peanut butter, oats, and whatnot. It's a nice haul. And a different looking trip to the grocer than just a few years ago when everything came in plastic packaging and could be put into a microwave. Not anymore, no sir. This is a home where food is cooked. The microwave is now in my tack room being used as a western saddle stand and doesn't come out unless I am using it to heat up curds for mozzarella stretching.
Things change if you let them change. Sometimes they change on their own accord. I didn't plan on changing my grocery orders this much, but it happens one change at a time. Bar codes are showing up less and less around here. It's starting to seem odd, when I do see them. I was at a friend's house the other day and she could use her phone to scan her cereal box for a coupon. I get it, but it still made me squirm a little. I wonder if as I get older, technology in the name of labor saving or convenience will turn me spiteful? It already is starting to. I feel that labor and time are mine to choose to spend. I do not want the opportunity stolen from me, as it takes away any change of feeling gratitude for the work. I care a lot more for satisfaction and gratitude than coffee heated up in 30 seconds. I am glad Battenkill milk bottles do not have scan codes on them. I hope they never do.
Right now, outside the farmhouse is a humble pile of firewood and hay. In the last two days I was able to work out a barter for a cord for a workshop, and my friend Patty sold me a truckload of hay out of her barn. It's not winter stores, but it is a few good days of feed and a solid month of heat and it is right outside my front door. If a Nor'Easter blew in and covered us with 10 inches we would be okay, no one would go hungry. It's a good feeling, however humble. And I ordered more hay, too. A whole trailer load thanks to the kindness of the readership and the goodness of this blessed place. You know, it's a full moon tonight? Light a candle for your hope. It goes a long way.
Meg and Neil will be here soon, the pair who run Seven Arrows Farm on the Jersey Coast. I adore New Jersey and I adore Meg and Neil. I promised them a warm(isn) farmhouse and coffee and they are bringing breakfast! We are planning on hooking up Merlin for a cart ride and enjoying this last day of truly biting weather outdoors. In the next few days a warmer wind will come through and by Monday night they want snow and temperatures up in the thirties (at night!!!!). I can't wait!
It's cold here. What makes us warmer isn't just firewood and cats in our laps, but each other. I would like to ask that anyone willing share a special sort of story. Have any of you had something bad happen to you that you turned into something positive? Tell us.
So yesterday was a rough one. I went to bed the night before cold, right down to the bone. It wasn't so much a matter of temperature, as morale. I was really tired, and really frustrated by some personal issues I have been going through. I decided (like a fool) that I was going to be miserable and no one was going to talk me out of it. It's when you get into this mindset that you start chipping away at yourself, and you've just created a monster out of thin air. So I fell asleep cold, lonely, and scared and when I woke up the next morning a lot of bad things happened. It was as if my crappy mood had summoned them into being. Pipes froze, fuses blew, bill collectors kept calling, the oil ran out, and I just started sinking into that emotional and useless place called victimhood.
I sat on the cement floor of my mudroom (somewhere around 37 degrees) and just started crying. You can't help these things, sometimes. I was second guessing every choice I had made over the past year. If I had not left Orvis I would have more money. I would have health insurance. I'd still have my 401k. And besides all those financial things I would be in a warm that I wasn't paying to heat, place surrounded by people who made me laugh. Instead I was broke and cold, crying on cement. I was nearly out of firewood, almost out of hay for the animals, and probably out of oil. I was a mess, trying to figure out how to thaw pipes when I couldn't even thaw out my own head.
I started thinking about all the things I was supposed to be doing instead of crying on the floor and felt instantly guilty. I had design work, writing, and work outs planned. I had errands in town, chores outside, and people to call. The NOFA conference was this weekend in Saratoga and so was the Draft Horse CLub's winter sleigh ride - both of which I wanted to attend but both required time and cash I didn't have. So I was just feeling stuck.
It's at these moments when you either keep crying or start working.
So I started working. I had problems to fix. I either could call a plumber and start trying to fix them myself or I could keep crying on my cold butt. I stood up, and I got to work. And I think it was becoming a farmer who switched that ability inside me. When you take care of something or someone else, you can not dissolve into any sort of negativity long. It is not only pointless, it is negligent. My goats and dogs could care less about my relationship history or arguments with my family. All they know is that hay should be here by now and the water heater is on the fritz. So I threw myself into work, into repairs, into chores and started calling plumbers. If I couldn't fix it, I'd find someone who could.
That became the theme of the day. I went out and fixed all the water heaters, and changed their power sources to avoid any more blown fuses and shorting out. I wrote a list with each animal's species and then what I would want if I was a sheep, chicken, horse, etc. I gave the sheep extra hay, extra bedding, and some sweet feed and corn for the calories to burn in this cold weather. I double checked the coop for drafts, made it more comfortable, and refilled water fonts and feeders. I brought rabbit bottles inside to defrost and hugged Bonita. I did the same things I do everyday, really, but I did them with this higher purpose of love for the critters. Some people see therapists their whole lives hoping for someone to pull them out of a funk. I wish I could hand everyone of them a dairy goat.
I posted on Facebook about the pipes and someone mentioned a hairdryer. I read it and scoffed, but then reread it, soaking up that wisdom. knew I couldn't get into the crawlspace with a hairdryer because I could not fit. So I devised a ridiculous plan to build a "heat arm" which meant duct-taping a hairdryer with an extension cord to a broom handle and laying on my stomach in the crawlspace's maw until I heard the water run. It was in those ten-fifteen minutes on my belly in the dirt that I got a lot of thinking done.
Folks, I am fine and the farm and the house is fine. No one should ever read this blog and pity or worry about me. Everything I go through is my choice, as is my life here on the farm and all the hassles and hardships that go with it. I don't write about these things because I want to be saved. I write about them because I want what I realize to leave this head and go out into the world where *maybe* it can help someone else and make it something bigger. I had a few shitty days, but I am fine. I really am. In a few hours a new wood delivery will be here and I'll be laughing with Tom, stacking it outside the farmhouse. In a few days I'll have enough cash set aside to order a 50-bale truckload of hay from Nelson. I'll catch up on my bills, I always do. And no part of me wants to be spending weekdays in someone else's office living my life on hold. But every now and then doing all this alone eats me up inside, and when a stretch of cold days get to you you can't help but suffer a little breakdown. But I always snap out of it, and such sad days are grower fewer and farther between. This is growth, and healing, and while it may mean reaching deep conclusions crying on your belly in a dirt-floor crawlspace — at least I reached them. And the difference between the person I became and the person I used to be is that the girl five years ago would know the same things, but not act on them. The girl in the dirt yesterday realized some heavy shit, and will be fighting to resolve them with all she's got left to give.
Frozen pipes, frozen water, frozen Jenna. Trying to solve the problems here and trying to get a hold of a plumber but without luck. I have the heat turned on in the house, but I may be out of oil and I don't know if it is working? As for the pipes, heaters are aimed at them and the faucets are open. Getting wood delivered this afternoon and hoping Tom Brazie can help me. If anyone knows a local plumber who is available close to cambridge NY with one of those heat tube things for crawl spaces, please let me know.
It certainly is cold, but it is spring inside this farmhouse. Temperatures are in the fifties (up from forties this AM) and there are chicks and seedlings mucking about. If the cold has you down, run to the nearest garden center and get yourself a bag of soil and some seeds and plant a pot of snap peas on your windowsill. They'll climb up it just fine and in a few weeks blossom into white flowers. By the time all your neighbors are just digging into their lettuce gardens you'll be crunching into the first veggies of spring! Now, throw in a banjo tune and you might just cause a little thawing out there in bluster. You want spring? Go make your own!
A few weeks ago a friend introduced me to the online game, World of Warcraft. I thought (because of the title) that this was some sort of battle game where all I did was run around shooting things with guns. It didn't sound very appealing so I never tried it. I grew up watching my brother play intense single-shooter style games and grew bored quick. I'm not a gamer and no respectable gamer would count me among those ranks. But I have fallen in love with WoW. It's just so much fun!
What I like about it is the stories. I am a lover of stories. WoW is mostly a sequence of stories, and it is your job to explore this mythical universe online finding what happens next. You decide what kind of character you are, and what your role in the game will be. And then you enter this super easy beginner level where you get your feet wet. As you progress (and trust me, it's easy) you start to collect more of the story, and interact with other players. WoW is not just you and a game, it is you and thousands of other people playing together. I've chatted with accountants from Ohio, dog trainers in Missouri, and a teacher from Ireland all while trading cheese for wine or waiting to take on a group game of capture the flag.
I created a werewolf character and put her into the world of Gilneas. As a lover of dark fairytales it was like being transported to the keep of the Brother's Grimm. I run around as a wolf gal amongst old German townhouses and riding horse carts through the night to get to the next chapter of the story. I am amazed at how rich, involved, and fun it has become. If anyone of you are just curious, I totally suggest making a worsen character like I did and stepping into Gilneas. Then sit back and enjoy the ride!
I know what you are thinking. It's too addictive or time consuming. Well, it could be I guess. But for me it's gotten me inspired to do even more in my real life. It was creating that character you see above, an archer, that got me outside practicing archery every day in real life. It was my chubby little Panda character that I watched kicking and punching on screen that gave me the gumption to enroll back into TKD classes. Watching these imaginary characters train, ride horses, be in stories…well, it just inspires and excites my real life adventures. It has me writing Birchthorn again, and I dropped five pounds and rediscovered my spinning hook kick. 14 seasons of the Biggest Loser couldn't do that. A month of being a werewolf in a make believe world could.
And while the game itself is fun, I was able to join a small group of players (called a guild), thanks to the friend who introduced me to the game. It's a group of real-life friends from the northeast. At night when the chores are done here and the house quiet,instead of watching a movie I can log onto a voice chat room and the game, and spend the night talking with new friends from all over the US. Not chatting, not texting, but actually talking! I have a little microphone and me and these six other people are talking like we're all in the same room. (Think conference call, but less horrid.) My guild gets together a lot in real life as well, and since a few of us live in the Veryork area, I look forward to meeting them if I can.
So I suggest, and I mean this whole-heartedly, downloading the free trial and giving it a whirl. You use your mouse and keyboard and it doesn't take long to figure out how it all works. It's free to try, so if you don't like it, you have nothing to lose. If you do like it then you have to pay a monthly fee of 15 bucks, but for me it's worth it. Hell, just the other night a member of my guild saved me about $600 in tax advice and I got amazing new music suggestions from another. It's a way to connect, to be creative, to feel a little thrill of accomplishment, and unwind. You can call it geeky, it is, but it's also a damn hoot.
I woke up in the farmhouse this morning and the temperatures were in the forties. That's the temperature inside, folks. Outside was around two degrees. Whenever I think my home is cold I think about how it is usually fifty degrees warmer than the farm outside and suddenly wearing a sweater and socks in your living room doesn't seem like such a hardship.
Up here the week has been bitter. Not horrible, we haven't gotten below zero yet but it doesn't zoom high above the teens and tonight is supposed to drop well below aught. For someone who lives with a farm full of animals and heats with wood stoves, that means you don't stray farm from the home place. Even a few hours cut into the middle of the day isn't a good idea, because it doesn't take long for my fires to stop pumping heat. And if I leave mid-morning to have lunch or run errands and the house isn't above sixty degrees, it will drop back to the high forties by the time I return and it takes hours to get back to that level. So I stay home, and that's okay because home is my job. You couldn't ask someone to leave their office for five hours, could you?
But this is the kind of cold that stops you. Stops you from doing things most people don't think twice about doing. Things like visiting folks for a few hours, or running into town for feed and coffee at Stewarts. I am not doing those things this week. I went to my TKD class last night and paid for it with having to stay up till 2AM to warm up the house enough to feel comfortable with the pipes and slumber. When you wake up fitfully at 6AM to start all over again you suddenly realize you could have avoided that four-hour adventure and did pushups in the kitchen…
How cold is it where you are? Does it hamper your plans? And are a lot of people around you getting sick? So far I have been lucky, but I also am not around a lot of high-density people places. From the online news it sounds like a flu pandemic out there in the hinterlands?!
So here I am with my luddite heating system I adore. I'm staying put and I'm sticking to it, baby. If you want to see me in this weather you'll have to stop by for a bowl of chili or a cuppa. Admission for drop ins is one bale of second cut hay and a good sense of humor about frozen goose poo.
Mother, don't worry. I've got a coat and some friends on the corner.
Mother, don't worry. He'll have a garden we'll plant it together
Mother, remember the night the dog had her pups in the pantry?
Blood on the floor and the fleas on their paws
And you cried 'til the morning?
So may the sunrise bring hope
Where it once was forgotten
We are like birds Flying upward over the mountain
Mark snapped this picture of me talking to the butcher after the pig slaughter. We are going over the cut sheets, slice by slice. Since I am sharing the pork with the people who helped pay for the piglets and feed you need to explain everything from how thick you want chops sliced to how many pieces of bacon per package. It took a good while and Mark caught me perched on a hand-me-down bench from Bedlam Farm.
I live a life I am proud to say sounds like something out of a novel. I spend my days shooting arrows, riding horse carts, and walking through the woods with a dog or ram lamb by my side. I go on small adventures with friends, usually in the saddle, and bigger adventures in my heart and mind. I spend long summer days fishing in a river and then working in the garden or making hay at neighboring farms. I'll do this until I am so hot and tired I need to return to the river for its blessing. I love how it grants tired skin and bones revival. Fall now is a time of holy reverence and thick gratitude, surrounded with cider making parties, farm festivals, and the fireworks of Autumn foliage. Winters are spent wrapped in wool by warm fires, dogs curled up with me on sheepskin as we read the Mabinogion by candlelight with a tankard of stout beer. I can do a spinning hook kick, shoot a bullseye, and holler behind a galloping horse in a red cart up a mountain road. This sounds like fiction, but it is very real. It's possible because I believe in magic and I believe in love. And I have just enough wisdom to realize they are the same thing. No one will ever tell me otherwise.
I'm all heart and music. I'm all dreams and firecracker. I am hope and force, manifest. I know what I am capable of and what I can help others achieve. I know where I am weak and where I need to ask for help. Most of all, I remove myself from negativity and anger. I think surrounding yourself with support and love is the only way to grow happier and to achieve the fictional life of your dreams. For me it is this earthy, Robinhoody, Celtic, farm life. That's me. For you it may be sitting in a cafe in New York City typing your novel, sailing out to the cape in your own boat, or winning the game with that amazing Hail Mary pass. The point is, whatever your fantasy life is, in some way it is already real because it is inside you. It's the wanting that sparks life into our desires. It is the work and positivity that manifests them. Our fictional lives are real because they are avatars of our emotional ones. Few things are as powerful as our feelings. What you put out into the world always finds its way back to you. Always.
And that is why this will never be a place where others are criticized or torn down. I refuse to put any of my energy or heart into such dangerous acts. This will never be a place where anger howls. This blog, like my farm, is a work in progress and always positive. I have learned that anger is a disease, as much as any illness in the body. You need to acknowledge it, heal it, and find a way to remove it or it becomes cancer and your life is taken over. I know so many angry people, and my heart goes out to them. I do not engage with them, it's pointless, but they have my prayers for healing and happiness. You can not keep those prayers for yourself alone. They grow weaker if only self-inflicted.
I think the more positive and good-hearted you are the healthier and happier you and the people around you become. Listen, I know I'm not pretty. Far from it. I'm short, and stout, and thick limbed. I swear my body has the density of a dying sun. But dying suns pack a hell of a punch, folks. I may not ever been a damsel or a princess, wrapped up in someone's arms but thats okay. That's not my story. I am not pretty, but I dare you to tell me I'm not beautiful. A stag leaping across a field is pretty. The dire wolf chasing after it is fucking gorgeous.
So dear friends, live your life like it's fiction. Love like a romance novel, seek like a good mystery, hope like an underdog story and fight like a fantasy warrior.
There are a lot of sighs on a harvest day like today. You sigh when you hear the first shot of the .22 rifle and watch the animals you knew as piglets drop to the floor and spasm. You sigh when their throat is slit open, and the blood hits the hay like a child spilled a bucket of paint. It's intense, not enjoyable at all. You sigh those sighs and accept them. They are decision exhaled. You own them, and you move on. Better sighs are just around the corner.
Like I said, the sighs that follow are not sad. What happens next isn't delicate, but it is wonderful. You get to see the entire process from dead animal to hanging sides of perfectly split hogs. And when the work is done and the pigs are on their way to the butcher shop you let out the best sigh of all, happy gratitude and relief you pulled it off. Today was a dark day in the story of these pigs, but a bright one for this farmer. It could not have gone better and I'm very glad with the results.
This is my third year with pigs at Cold Antler. I'm proud to say it was my best ever. These pigs had the largest pen, the most sunlight, and well-rounded diet. They grew fast, fat, and true. The guys who were doing the bulk of the work said they were the cleanest, best-looking pigs they had seen in a while. They applauded the clean pen and the fact that the only grime and mud on my pair was on their trotters. They said my place was scrappy, but it was clean as all get out, and that counted for a lot more than sagging fences and visible garbage bins.
I did what I could to help but there wasn't much for me to do besides pile up the heads, skins, and offal I wasn't saving and remove it from the scene. I have lost any squeamishness around this sort of task, not thinking twice about picking up an intestine or lung and setting it aside. Blood is no longer horrific or confusing, but the living form of so many buckets of water I carried. I now know what the smell of a body cavity is like, and it has grown less obnoxious. Today it wasn't bad at all, since not a single piece of offal was pierced or torn. No unpleasant scents of digestion-in-progress wafted around and since the pigs were off feed 12 hours previous they didn't have any last spoils either.
I spent the afternoon puttering around collecting trotters, livers, tongues and hearts. The trotters went into a bucket of cold water and the organs I was saving piled up in a clean heap inside a baking dish. Most of the time we just chatted, and I asked a lot of questions about the knives they were using, skinning techniques, and recipe ideas. It was a lively bunch out there, and anyone who drove by saw not a sordid crime scene but a laughing foursome of friendly people doing some honest work. (Well, one woman drove by slow shaking her head in disgust, but just the one.) I was beaming though. I am really getting the hang of this. It was the cleanest, quickest, slaughter ever at this farm. I can't wait to split up the shares!
When all was done and the fellows were packed up with my porkers I waved them off, and brought the baking dish of saved organs inside. They were wrapped and frozen. I have plans to slow cook the hearts and tongues for Valentines Day as a special treat. (Seems fitting, no? It's inspired by a recipe from Beyond River Cottage!) The livers were sliced open by myself and inspected in detail. They were perfect, that brown/maroon of health. I sighed a long sigh of relief there, and then smiles. I did it. I saw them through.
Feel free to ask any questions about the process, or the deaths. I will answer them openly and honestly. If anyone was upset by the images or story, know that wasn't my intention. The point of this blog is to bring people into what my life is like here and all the goings-on that transpire. Today was about the death of some fine pigs. Soon you'll see baby goats and the first chèvre of spring and lambs running past the thistles on the mountain. But today was about death, and good deaths they were. I'm proud and grateful and very tired. It's one hell of a happy combination.
P.S. And a warm thank you to Mark Wesner, who not only helped me with the pig pen and wrapping up organs for the freezer, but cut me some firewood with his trusty chain saw and shared a Bunbaker pizza with me in the farmhouse! Good friends, good pigs, good help, and good spirits all around today.
Today is the day the pigs will be harvested. It's unusually warm, or was this morning anyway. As the day goes on the temperatures will drop and the wind will pick up and by the darkness before dawn, we should be well into the single digits. Today I'll be preparing for the cold, stacking firewood and preparing the house. But before any of that (or pig slaughtering) could start I had an errand to run. I needed hay, bad. Down to two bales the horses, sheep, and goats were counting on me.
I was with Gibson, driving north with the windows were down. Daydream Believer came on the radio, and I sang along with it. Gibson wagged his tail. I was in a great mood. Heading up route 22 to fill up a truck with bales, my right-hand man riding blunderbust. The sun was out and the thermometer read 45 degrees. If you are going to kill pigs, this would be the day to do it. No frozen hands today. No sir.
A trio of experienced traveling butchers will be arriving and taking care of everything from the hog's death to their disembowelment, their skinning and halving. I feel blessed to have folks like this a phone call away. Most of the stress of slaughter for these animals isn't the moments of agony in death, but in the transferring to the abattoir. Animals get confused and scared from such change, and may spend a day or two waiting in concrete stalls, cramped or stressed while they wait their ending. My pigs will die in the same place they have spent the last three months sleeping and eating. It will surprise the hell out of them. There are worst ways to go.
It will happen so fast, and be just a sliver of their time here at Cold Antler. I won't pretend slaughter day death isn't horrific, it is. But done right it is quick as possible and from the moment the gun is fired to the animals are bleeding out and gone from this life, is literally two minutes. I don't like watching it, but I always do. I feel it is my responsibility to be a part of the whole process, from piglet in a dog crate squealing in my arms to the day their heads are on a snowbank.
It's a day I look forward to, and I mean that without any harshness or disrespect. Today is the day the work of raising the animals is done and they will serve their purpose. I started the day singing, and I will end it a bit more somber, but not without joy. The death of the pigs is a cause for celebration, feasts, and the promise of more piglets soon. Pork shares help keep this farm going strong.
The blog of author Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. Here she writes about her adventures following her crazy dream life as a self-employed writer, homesteader, archer, falconer, equestrian, martial artist, hunter, spinner, brewer, geek, and real-life Game of Thrones Extra. She loves movies, pop culture, running far, and eating animals. On twitter @coldantlerfarm
And when the children are safe in bed, at one of the great holidays like the Fourth of July, New Years, or Halloween, we can bring out some spirits and turn on the music, and the men and the women who are still among the living can get loose and really wild. So that's the final meaning of "wild"- the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated. -gs