Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's Happening!

Francis in is labor. She is oozing signs of discharge, having contractions. I have two friends coming over, and hopefully (fingers crossed) Yeshiva driving up in her pickup from Common Sense. I am ready, but nervous. This is Francie's first pregnancy, things could go wrong. She is small, the buck was larger, the chances of it going well are 50/50. But I have friends on the way, an expert on hand, and I am lighting a candle now. Save a prayer if you got any. There are goatlings on the horizon!

The Many Uses of Whiskey

There are not many places more disgusting than a fresh pig pen. It's messy, and not the "fun kind" of messy. Inside my old barn the muck was flying. No matter how careful I was it got in my hair, on my glasses, under my fingernails and in the corners of my mouth. I smelled pig shit. I smelled like pig shit. And every article of clothing I was wearing might as well be burned and its ashes scattered over some unholy site to ward off evil spirits. Cthulhu himself would cower at the things I forked into that garden cart.

You wouldn't think this to look at the pig pen. Hell, the pigs that lived in there didn't even know about the truth below their layers of clean straw bedding. What looks like a benign coating of dry hay is just the surface. Stick a pitchfork in there and you'll uncover about a foot-deep layer of mud, urine-turned-ammonia soaked hay, and smoking wet manure. I filled six garden carts with a couple hundred pounds of the compact goo with a stiff upper lip. I tried to think about what it would look like in a few months, how it would mound around the potato hills and be a valuable asset to the farm. Compost is good. Pig compost is some of the best. Silver linings, etc.

It was still disgusting. But hey, beats a day at someone else's office. Hands down.

I have new piglets coming soon, being delivered in a few days if I can haggle a good deal. After the pen was cleaned out it would get a few layers of pine shavings to soak up anything nasty and then a proper layer of clean straw. Between that and some cleaned out buckets and feeding pans I was ready to take on some new chargers. I already named them Rye and Whiskey. The reason being that as soon as I came inside the farmhouse I stripped naked, washed my hands, and then poured myself a finger of bourbon and gurgled with it. I spit it out, along with whatever pig poo demons resided in it, into the sink. My mouth burned that blessed burning of dying bacteria and I felt a lot better.

A hot shower and I was good as new. New piglets are a good thing. Very, very good. And as if their arrival wasn't enough there are goat kids about to pop out any second! Kid Watch 2013 has begun. I have bottles on the ready, towels handy, and high hopes. This is going to be one busy week ahead...

Donated Auction Item!


A very kind reader, Mary, is offering up one of her handmade quilt, It is 20' x 26" and features a beautiful little crow. It works the same way as any other silent auction item. Email me a bid and if you are the highest bidder, it will be yours! Thank you Mary!!

A Lot of Goats in Here

When it snows outside, like it is now, the chickens tend to turn into goats. They leave the farmyard and join Bonita and Francis in their pen in the farm. I can't blame them. The barn is windproof and well ventilated and they can scratch around the dirt floor looking for hardy bugs or treats in the goat turds. Not my idea of a pleasant Saturday morning, but I'm also not a chicken.

It's Snowing in Jackson

Silent Auction, Support the Farm

I decided to host a silent auction this weekend as a much-needed fundraiser for the farm. The idea came to me last night, while trying to figure out ways to make things work. I am offering a few things, all of them important to me and hopefully speaking to who I am as an author, dreamer, luckless slinger and wild woman. They will be a part of a silent auction.

There's a hood for a female redtail hawk, one of my own hunting arrows (broadhead, traditionally wrapped), hand-spun and knit wool from Sal (bobbin not included), a stone frog that was found in my yard when I first moved here, a hand knit e-reader case with my initials in antlers, and the fiddle I moved to Vermont with, from Idaho. That last item is really special. It was played in Tennessee, Idaho, Vermont, New York and PA. It has no strings and a broken sound post, it isn't playable anymore. But it is the instrument I loved and became a fiddler on. It would look nice on someone's wall.

To bid you simply email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com with the name of the item you are interested in as the subject line, and in the body of the email the amount you would be willing to offer. On Noon, EST, Sunday I will respond via email to the highest bidder. I will not be responding to any emails save for the highest bidders, but I thank anyone who makes a bid. All items will be shipped this coming week.

And the auction items are......

Puppy Sitting

Meet Darla, my weekend charge. She's here for a few days while her proud owners Patty and Mark are in the big city for a birthday visit with her daughter. I was happy to host the little darling. She's an Old English Sheepdog pup, around three months old. So far she's been very well behaved but the day is young...

Friday, March 1, 2013

You Do Too Much

You do too much. I am told this all the time. I am told I have too many hobbies, too many obligations, too many animals holding me down on this farm. Sometimes I believe them. Sometimes I think about quitting TKD, selling animals, throwing in the falconry towel, and just keeping a few chickens and some raised beds with a couple or three sheep. Life would be easier. They are right.

And I would be miserable.

I do what I do because it is what fills my mind, body, and spirit. I live in this frenzy of activity not as a victim but as a celebrant. It's important not to compare your life to others, something all of us do (me too), but important to be mindful we shouldn't. What is too much to me may be not enough for someone else. What is too much for another person might make me run into walls just to hear my heart beat from sheer boredom. Comparing yourself to others is a trap. Don't do it.

Some days like today are overwhelming, and scary and those words "too much" become ghosts. They keep me up at night. But every morning I know what I am capable of, and what this farm stands for. What feels like fear today is inspiration tomorrow and nostalgia around the fireside in a season. I'll figure out the mortgage, the freelance, the bills, the manuscripts and the workshops. I'll deliver the kids and the lambs. I know bright spring is just around the corner....Yet it's this in-between time that makes me jumpy and makes me doubt myself. It's not what I have taken on that scares me, it's that I'm not doing enough. Not doing enough to make this farm work, to make myself healthy, to make mistakes disappear.

You know what I think? I think wasted potential is a lot scarier than feeling overwhelmed. There is no monster greater than regret. I wouldn't wish it on any one.

Yes, I do too much. It's what I do.

How March Starts


Door to My Office

Strumsticks & Snap Peas

Right now Cold Antler is a weird place. Outside it is cloudy, mild, and the wind keeps picking up. This allows little slivers of sunlight to hit the slush puddles just long enough to lift my spirits before the wind covers him up with clouds again. What results is a bi-polar weather pattern we call early spring. It is March. It feels like it.

I stared at Bonita and Francis for about half an hour this morning. I think we'll be seeing goat kids in T-minus two weeks. Bonita is HUGE and I am already collecting bottles and pails and towels for the new kids. They will be living in the house for a bit. Something I have not totally thought through, to be totally honest. But I'll figure it out. I'm never worried about figuring it out. On a farm things happen and you deal with them. If you can't deal with them you find a neighbor or friend that can and you deal together. This is how pig pens and milking stands are built. I'm just happy all my floors are linoleum.

To welcome March I started my day with music and seeds. I planted these little snap pea seeds in a cracked mug full of vermicompost. That black gold from my kitchen's Worm Factory was a sight for sore eyes. I spooned it into the clay mug, which says Farm Girl on it in big black letters. It got cracked after much love and use, and now it is being used to grow food and I think the person who gifted it to me would be proud of that evolution. When the seeds were planted I got out my new Strumstick, sent to me by the folks at McNally just this week. I had emailed them asking if they wanted to remain blog sponsors. They did, and we worked out a barter option where I got a new instrument from them to replace my last one, which I broke by accident. I always request this moon and stars pattern, which is fitting with the moon in its waning phase as we speak. In a few days it'll look just like that crescent.

Anyway, I sat down with my new D stick and started playing a favorite folk song, Wild Mountain Thyme. I love how simple, how sweet, it sounds on this little dulcimer on a stick. The three banjo strings are so bright, so alive in the midst of this March howling outside. I got lost in the simple thing, strumming chords and singing along and before I knew it half an hour had cantered along. I heated up my coffee on the wood stove and looked to the little grow lamp in the kitchen hovering over the cracked mug. This is how spring starts around here, this is correct. A few seedlings, a few songs, and a girl ready for all that lies ahead.

P.S. Click here if you want to see the Strumstick in action, and hear it!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

One Year Ago

It was a year ago that I walked this horse into my life. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I got scared, a lot. I got hurt, a lot. I nearly went broke, a lot! And now a year later I am part of one of the most meaningful and healthy relationships of my entire life. A horse that healed up a broken heart, showed me what bravery was, and lead me to friends I can not imagine living without.

Merlin, you are the best worst decision I ever made.

Stay on the Farm

My editor and a photographer were here earlier this week to talk about my new book coming out this October. The title will be One Woman Farm, and instead of a memoir like my past books, it'll be a fully illustrated journal. Think of it as a blog you can hold in your hands, only you haven't read any of it before. It goes into the story of one turn of the Wheel, October to Holy October. Every month is a story of friends, food, animals, and the journey this place has taken me since inviting dairy goats and horses and new friends into my life. I am really excited for it. It'll be a book you'll be proud to own, or give. I was proud to write it. And it'll be beautiful, illustrated and cleverly packaged. I can't wait!

Music is a big part of this book, just as it is a big part of my life. Deb (my editor) brought along a real treat for us, an old Grange hymnal! We flipped through it over a lunch of homemade potato and bacon soup (thank you Lunchbox or Thermos) and tried to find songs to add, songs most folks may have forgotten. We both want this book to be a love letter to homesteading, a keepsake. part of that means feeding the book with folks songs and stories as much as my own adventures milking goats or with Merlin in the forest. This one may be my favorite, Stay on the Farm.

Come boys, I have something to tell you,
Come near, I would whisper it low,
You're thinking of leaving the homestead,
Don't be in a hurry to go.
The city has many attractions,
But think of the vices and sins,
When once in the vortex of fashion,
How soon the course downward begins.

You talk of the mines of Australia,
They're wealthy in gold without doubt,
But sh! There is gold on the farm, boys,
If only you'd shovel it out.
The mercantile trade is a hazard,
The goods are first high and then low,
Best risk the old farm a while longer,
Don't be in a hurry to go.

The great busy west has inducements,
And so has the business mart,
But wealth is not made in a day, boys,
Don't be in a hurry to start.
The bankers and brokers are wealthy,
They take in their thousand or so,
And think of the frauds and deceptions,
Don't be in a hurry to go.

The farm is the safest and surest,
The orchards are loaded today,
You're free as the air of the mountains,
And monarch of all you survey.
Best stay on the farm a while longer,
Though profits come in rather slow,
Remember you've nothing to risk boy,
Don't be in a hurry to go.

Remembering

That video may still be my favorite, and I feel like it captures the purpose of this blog and farm: Hope. I think the wanting of something, anything, may be the most powerful force in the world. Be it a person you want to be with, a job you want so much it hurts, a farm to call your own, or even just that first morning sip of coffee. This is a blog about anticipations granted, long as you are willing to do the real work of believing they are possible. My life and my farm are far from perfect. It's messy and scary and there are many broken things. But I can honestly say that there isn't another person on this planet I would want to trade lives with, not one. And when you get to a point where a better version of yourself is all you desire, I think you're on to something.

I made this video the first summer of living at this farm in Jackson New York. I am still in shock that I was able to get a mortgage, move into my new home, and expand the farm as much as I have. When this video was made (summer of 2010, I think?) I had no idea what to do with a cart horse. Hell, I was still scared to ride anything that wasn't at a riding school or equestrian club, surrounded by experts. I had not milked a goat. I had not ever stalked a deer. I was a lot more naive, specially about my romantic partners. I was waking up and going to a job I didn't want to be at, every single day. I lived in fear 97% of the time. And you know what? It was that 3% of hope that got me out. Because someone once asked me on a front porch this amazing question, "Yeah, but if you quit your job you would be fine, right?" And my head split open. No one had EVER said that, certainly not as nonchalantly as if I had asked them how to spell cat?! But it just took that little bit of encouragement, and that 3% of hope, and my world changed.

It may be time to post a new video this summer.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pandemic!

Last night was Game Night, an institution here at Cold Antler. Only the core group of us showed up and to be perfectly honest we were all beat. Each of us had a long day, and we were all more ready to plop in front of a movie and shovel food than play some intense strategy game. But then, we set up Pandemic and that all changed....

Pandemic is cooperative game. All four of us were a team, fighting a series of disease outbreaks around the globe. If that sounds ominous it's because it is! But SO MUCH FUN! We cranked up some action movie soundtracks and crawled around the table. Our medics and scientists flew around the world, building research stations and treating infections. All the while more and more outbreaks occurred and we were groaning in terror. But before long we were laughing, clinking beers, and hopping up from the table for seconds of potato bacon soup I had on the stovetop simmering. It was a great time. All it took was the decision to have fun, and we did. Sometimes it comes in a board game box, other times it is outside your apartment on a dance floor. But last night it was in a farmhouse fighting Bird Flu in Essen. And even though we didn't save the world and it succumbed to horrible disease, we had fun trying to keep the human race going. Then we played again, on a harder level, and had our rumps handed to us yet again! But now we are all excited to play it again next game night and figure out how to beat the board. We left excited, inspired, and hungry for more.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

LLF Book Club: Thoughts so far?

So what are your thoughts so far, on the first introductory chapters of the book? What would you do if all of a sudden a painful flash appeared and the world changed? Did you find yourself leaning more towards interest in the Pilot or the Songwriter's story?

image from deviant art - by Briuhn

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Best Animated Film of 2013!

The Winter Wool Weekend

Sal's wool was drying by the fire. Only the cord-thick tips were still wet. In the middle of all the workshop chaos I couldn't help but stare at them. A few hours earlier they had been on the whether's back, coated with lanolin and wet from damp snow. Now it was clean and smelling slightly of lavender from the castile soap I had done the last few washings with. I reached over to turn them on the drying-basket, probably for the fifth time that hour. I wanted any excuse to touch it. I have been living with sheep for years, knitting even longer, but the magic of making fabric from a beloved animal has never been lost. What had me so entranced was how shiny and pearl like the locks were. Lustrous was what Kate had said, one of the workshoppers, and it really was the only word that would do. What I was gently touching was so precious. Not in the way that jewelry or babies or other delicate things are precious, but in the way of how very much it meant to me. I was holding the beginnings of real warmth in my hands. Raw wool is embers you can touch.

Throughout the two days that was the Winter Wool Weekend here at Cold Antler, a lot happened to that wool and the person fondling it. That wool was washed, dried, carded, and spun into single-ply yarn on a drop spindle. The I borrowed a pair of thin knitting needles and knit them into a small rectangle. Since my spinning is like my life, scrappy, the little project was not a poem as much as it was a folks song. Since the yarn was lumpy and I didn't relax it or ply it with another thing yarn the square was distorted, writhing like a little angry toddler throwing a temper tantrum. Any respectable knitter or spinner would have tossed it into the fire but I looked on it with enough pride to light up the room. What I was holding was cloth. It was made entirely by my own hand with nothing but a sheep, some soap and water, some hand carders and a few sticks. In a world where new sweaters cost 9.99 at Walmart I might as well have just waved my wand and worked a spell. I made cloth appear. I felt unstoppable

Between the story of Sal's Swatch there was much going on. This weekend's workshop had readers from across the country (one as far away as San Francisco!) and a living room full of fiber, critters, and stories. We spent two days living the wool life.

Saturday was all about the production of wool. We started with sheep in the field and ended the day with the drop spindle and the spinning wheel. I took all the folks outside and stood around a circling flock as I talked about homestead sheep and their many uses and blessings. I was holding a grain bag, so it wasn't hard to snip a fistful of Sal's top line off and bring it inside with us. No one slipped on the ice and everyone seemed excited to see what was ahead for the haircut's progeny.

I showed folks how to wash raw wool, step by step. We started by letting everyone touch and smell the raw wool, actually get lanolin in their hands and know what to expect from a raw fleece. Fiber expert, Kathryn, who was here to help with the workshop and has bought her fair share of fleeces, told us what to look for in raw wool. We talked about the healthy barnyard smell it should have, and what else to look out for such as diseased or matted wool and other signs of badness. With that done, we went to washing the bit of pilfered pre-yarn. In the living room it was gently placed in a basin of soapy water and then (without irritation) lifted out. The dirty water was replaced. It would take five total soaks for the water to pour out clean. With that done it was set in front of the fireside to dry.

With the wool having to dry, it would take a bit before I could start carding and spinning it so I sat back and listened to Kathryn yeah us about spinning. She brought along her wheel, a model called the Ladybug and my antique Ashford Traditional was also there beside her. She talked about wheels, tools of the spinner, and roving and then sat down with anyone who wanted to give it a try. People got a personal lesson, always starting with getting the body used to the motion of the treadle, the song of the spinning wheel. Just hearing its near-silent whirring was peaceful. Since spinning wool is a form of production, and we are so used to an industrial world, we were all a little shocked at how beautiful it was in its quiet way. Kathryn made sure none of us got frustrated with our lumpy beginnings. "It's not about making beautiful yarn, not now anyway, it's about training your body and mind to do the work." And so people got into training. People who weren't learning to spin were working with drop spindles, or sharing samples of things they had spun or knit at home. At these workshops everyone is a student and every is a teacher. Elizabeth was on the daybed showing people her spindle technique while Mari was helping me repair my Ashford so I could learn to spin on it. All these people made the day great. By the end of it I had a working wheel, and had spun some rough work onto it. Sal's wool was carded and on a handmade spindle, and everyone who wanted to know something had asked, touched, or figured it out. I call that a day well spent.

Sunday was a slower pace, but just as fun. It was a glorified knitting circle. Part show and tell, part story, and part lessons. Three people arrived having no idea how to knit and left with rows on their new needles (thanks to Liz and Kate!). I spent the day running around between the wheel (spinning may be a new form of meditation at this farm, for I was LOST in it) and making my Sal yarn into a little swatch. We shared our current projects, wore hand-made items, and did our best to encourage the beginners who all seemed to have a knack for the needles. Out of this whole weekend it was seeing the those people learn a craft, and be able to do it on their own, that I was most happy about. Workshops here are never polished and rarely organized but people do come not knowing a thing and leave with the skills and will to make things happen.

A man and two women now know the basics how to make fabric out of string because of a farm in the mountains and the amazing people drawn to it. I know that's not a big deal, but to me it is just like that handful of embers. A spark can start a bonfire. In a few months those people may be wearing hand-knit hats outside to greet the a cold morning. Warmth is worth a lot, and good people are worth even more. But when you get to combine them together on a snowy day you have something special. Thank you to all who took the time to come here. You're what makes this farm sing.

The Real Jenna

One of the workshop attendees confessed I was not what she was expecting. She didn't say she was disappointed or pleasantly surprised, that I was just different. She could not have been a more kind person, and in no way did I take offense. We blew over that bit of conversation fairly fast that day, but in truth I thought about this all night.

When you come to this farm, do not expect the voice from the blog. In person I am a very blunt, in every way. I am built like a war Hobbit, short and squat and stocky. I look exactly like a woman who hauls bales of hay, buckets of water, milks goats, and bosses around stubborn ponies. I'm also blunt in how I talk and interact. I am louder than I would like to be. When I get comfortable around folks (which takes me about 40 seconds) I have a mouth like a sailor (albeit and elegant one). You don't hear that tone on the blog, but in person you meet a swarthy dairy maid with a gutter mouth. I write pretty things, but that's really the only pretty thing about me.

I think the blog also gives folks the idea I have a sense of serenity I certainly do not have in person. I write how I feel when I am writing, which is calm. Sitting down to write means I am forcing myself into a type of meditation. I am still, breathing slow, my mind focused. When I write my heartbeat is down and I am not thinking about losing my home insurance or my grocery list. So what you read is a mental trot of considered things. But at a workshop I am talking fast, running around, and probably still red-faced and hay flecked from morning chores.

I guess you should expect a Tornado. Be ready for the occasional vulgarity accompanied by a body and a force of will ready to run into battle with a war axe. That's the best preparation I can give you for real-life Jenna.

Also, I am working really hard on being more like the Jenna who writes. Really, really, hard. This blog is my journey towards an authentic self I feel inside, know inside, and am fighting like mad to achieve. You read on here about my goals to work with this farm, make things happen on the soil. But most of the work is between the lines, a healthier person in every way. My real goals are to be physically healthier, emotionally healthier, and to find a man out there whose willing to put up with the journey and who I am so excited about I feel like a member of a two-person fan club. Perhaps this post is all about my anxiety over not being the person I am expecting? That's probably the heart of it. But like I said, I am working on it. I hope we all get to meet this Jenna soon. She's got a lot of work to do when she arrives!

Also, here's a photo of a dog in a hat in case you think I am being too broody.

Meet Phil

One of the workshop attendees, James Lawless, gave me a heck of a hostess gift. He handed me his beloved Impala mount, Phil. He said it was in need of a new home and he thought it would fit in here. I was THRILLED to accept it! Now Phil has a place of glory above the record player in the living room. He's on the opposite side of Clark, my favorite deer mount. Together Phil and Clark are helping Mona keep an eye on things. Now I can't walk into the living room without a grin on my face.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Spinning, Her Back to the Snow


I caught this quick picture of Kathryn, lost in her roving, her back to the snow outside. Boghadair is watching from the comfort of the fire and around this red-haired magical woman is a stack of board games, a horse's bridle, a bit of taxidermy and an iron sheep... A still from a collection of lives in the North Country. I adore this image.

Lovin' The Dark Clan

Gloom may be this farm's signature game. I have played it here at least twice a week with so many different people, but last night took the cake. Two friends who were staying the weekend wanted to play after hearing about it, and I said sure. What I didn't realize was one gal had a theatre background and worked in a goth nightclub in a former life, the other one is a writer working in the world of comic book publishing...

It was an AMAZING GAME! I should not have been surprised, I mean, women who can spin wool can probably spin a yarn (wah waaahh)... I was literally bent over the floor laughing. The stories were messed up and wild, with accents and accidents flying all over the place. Virginia and Kath were naturals, totally excited and into their character's clans and backstory. When you are with people who love improv and aren't scared to work a little blue, wooo!

I got hosed by the deck, horrible drawing, but I never had more fun losing a game. That's what's great about Gloom. It's a chance to tell stories and be creative with friends, and even if you are in last place you still spent an hour being competitive. It's a mental three-legged race in fishnet stockings. You gotta try it.

Game Night is Tuesday, who's coming?!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Winter Wool Weekend, In Progress Now!

It's been a very busy weekend here, getting ready and hosting two days of wool workshops. I don't have time to write much, but wanted to share a few images from the first day of the Winter Wool Weekend. Today was all about sheep to yarn, the pre-knitting part of the weekend. It's a heck of a crowd here, with some serious spinners and knitters among the ranks. Hold on to your orifice hooks, folks, it's a wooly time here at the farm! More photos and posts soon!

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Hero


Boghadair Ratcatcher!

photo by tyler of goingslowly.com

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Attention Fiddlers and Knitters!

The Rendezvous weekend is now officially March 9th and 10. Please leave a comment or an email confirming you will or will not be here at this date, even if you already did so. I need to figure out how many instruments need to be ready, chairs set out, t-shirts, and such all around preparation.

And as for you folks coming to the Winter Wool Weekend, be warned! This farm is icy as all get out, and we will be spending a bit of time walking around the farm and working with the sheep (I will be taking some wool from Sal!). Please bring "farm boots" and a big comfortable sweater, hat, scarf and gloves. You may need it for inside too because when the workshop starts at 10AM there's a good chance the house will only be warmed up to about 55 degrees. By lunch we'll be opening windows but just prepare to be comfortable if that is out of your temperature wheelhouse. Also, feel free to bring your spinning wheels, yarn stashes, or any projects you are proud of. I want to show new fiber people what is possible, what they can aspire to create! And one last reminder, bring a packed lunch or eating out cash, as lunch break will be from 12:30-1:30. Workshop starts at 10AM and will go to 4-5PM. See you all Saturday!

Announcing! The Live Like Fiction Book Club!

I decided it would be fun to host a book club as part of this blog! But instead of what you may be thinking, which is memoirs and farm books, I want to do something different. I want to share the works of fiction that inspire and created Cold Antler Farm. These will all be fantasy novels, and if you are new to the genre you won't be disappointed.

Here's how it'll work. I announce a book and then we all get a hold of it. All LLF book selections will be available in three formats for accessibility: paper book, e-book, and audiobook. If you are like me you love a good story but don't necessarily have the patience (or time) to sit and finish a novel in a month - listening is a fine option. Audiobooks are wonderful, and they sure as heck count in this club. You can listen at the gym, in your car, or through a speaker in your kitchen while doing the dishes.

Everyone has a month to finish the book, and then we discuss it here on the blog. It'll be a long string of comments or possibly something like a Google hangout if you want to tune in for a live streaming conversation.

The first pick will be a favorite I heard about through you, the readership of this blog: S.M. Stirling's Dies The Fire: A Novel of the Change. It's wonderful, and the reason I am both an archer and a Mackenzie in the SCA. The book is about modern America, roughly around the late 1990's. The story takes place in the Willamette Valley of the Pacific Northwest. If you live around Bend, Eugene, Corvallis, and such areas of Oregon you will really be able to devour this book, as that is where it takes place. One day around dinner time a huge bright light flashes and all electricity shuts off. But this isn't just an EMP or act of international war. All engines stop working, batteries stopped working, all gunpowder stops exploding, and the world's level of technology is thrown into the Bronze Age. Chaos ensues, but two scrappy groups emerge…

One is lead by a singer songwriter and single mother, in her early thirties. She's at a college bar the night this happens and has to escape a city in flames with her friends to her home in the mountains of Oregon. The other is a young pilot for hire, who is caught in the air in a small transporter plane when it starts to crash into the Idaho Mountains with some wealthy clients…

We follow these two people, along with their fellow church members and neighbors start new societies where agriculture, archery, hand-to-hand armored combat are the norm and horses are the only mustangs on the open road. It's post-apocalyptic fictional fantasy, emphasis on the fantasy and not the horror of a dying world

Why I think you guys would love this? Because in this fantasy novel it is the homesteaders who take over! The only folks who still know the skills to farm and create are folks who restart society. They, and the people who went out of their way to practice hobbies most "normal" people felt were archaic before "The Change" happened. It is folks in the SCA, fencing classes, martial arts, that know how to protect themselves without guns. It is the dairy farmers, leather workers, carpenters, weavers, knitters, chefs, ranchers and cowboys…these are the people who inherit the earth. And all the while trying to be whole again and peaceful while a man who decided to turn Portland into his very own kingdom becomes more and more maniacal. Drama!

This book has adult language and situations. Not a lot of intense sexual content, but a fair amount of violence and choice words. It's one of the books I really think thrives as an audiobook, too, since so many accents are involved. I think its worth starting that audible.com membership, folks. You can get a 30-day free trial and download Dies The Fire for FREE if you click this link here.

So whose in?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Flattery Got Me Nowhere

Ran over to Livingston Brook Farm to pick up a truckload of hay for the gang. While loading up, Ellis and Steele came over to eat mouthfuls out of the Dodge while us humans did all the heavy lifting. Patty always says (and I think she is right) that horses know that hay tastes better from a pickup truck. I wanted a photo with me and Steele but even my fistful of sweetgrass wasn't enough to get him to pose with me. (I think he was embarrassed he was in a purple blanket.) Whatever, horse.

This Made My Day

This illustration of me was made by a woman named Destiny, who wrote this open letter on her blog last night. I read it and was all smiles and tears. I wanted to share this little part of it. (I hope that's okay, Destiny?) I want to thank her as well. I wrote her back and told her how important encouragement is, and how important hearing that you matter to people is. Being a public person, and the internet being a fairly angry place, sometimes it feels overwhelmingly negative. But every once in a while you find out that someone was touched, and it makes this little website feel worthwhile, important even. I'm so grateful for kind letters, even if I don't get back to everyone who writes them. They make a difference.

Dear Jenna,

As of February 16th, it has been one year since I first visited your blog; I’m writing now to say ‘thank you’ because this past year has been the most productive of my life and I know it’s in large part due to the inspiration you impart on a near-daily basis.

My dad died in early 2011 and during his stay in the hospital, we talked about the homestead we’d build when he got better. His chance of recovery was slim and we owned no property on which to build a proper farm but the planning gave us something to hope for and entertained him; he was the only one of our family with actual farm experience and he loved to be in a position where he could teach us new things.

Unfortunately, he didn’t make it. Although owning a quaint little berry farm and orchard has been my dream since I was six, I pushed away all thoughts of homesteading that year; it didn’t seem possible without Dad and we had too many other things to worry about in the immediate future. But then a year later, in February 2012, a co-worker lent me her copy of “The Secret.” That film hit me so hard and made me question what I really wanted– and I was a little surprised to find ‘I Want A Farm’ at the top of the list. How I would get a farm (or even prepare for working on one), I had no idea, but at least now I knew what I wanted so I went to Google for research.

I don’t remember how I found your blog but I do remember that the very first post I read was Biting Your Tail (which I read over and over and cried through each time because it touched me so deeply and echoed so many things I was feeling right then).

In the twelve months since I read that post, I have changed so much. As you often point out, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t take that first step… so I have taken lots of first steps this past year, in lots of different directions, and it’s amazing how much easier the second step is, and then the third. My first step towards farming was planting a vegetable garden (something I’d never done) and this spring my mom and I have plans to more than double it. We also got in touch with our local beekeeping club and are learning about apiculture. We completed a handful of DIY projects and have immersed ourselves in homesteading books and magazines. We still have a long way to go but there’s a goal to work toward now.

But it’s not just farming I’ve learned about from reading your blog; the real core of your writing is about manifesting your dreams, whatever they are, and I believe that’s the thing that keeps your readers coming back for more. You encourage us to declare our plans and intentions, share them with whoever will listen, and open doors and create opportunities in the process. I have stopped believing that ridiculous superstition about keeping your wishes secret or they won’t come true; now I write them down, chat about them, incorporate them into my daily activities. I call for them. And they’re answering; this year, I’ll be quitting my office job to work full-time as a professional illustrator (number two on that ‘I Want’ list).

Beatrix Potter and Tasha Tudor have long been my idols; they lived the way I want to. But, in many ways you have become more inspirational than them; you have manifested your farm through creativity, cleverness, enthusiasm, and grit– not a substantial bank account. Thank you so much for sharing your ups-and-downs with the farm, your excitement, your advice, and your ‘magic’ with those who visit. Words cannot express the value of the gift you give.

~Dalliann

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Night Rounds


photo by tara alan of goingslowly.com

Game Night!

It's Tuesday at Here at Cold Antler Farm and that's means Game Night! It's a new tradition here, and it is a hit. Farmers, writers, musicians, or just the everyday variety of friends and readers—they come here for a potluck dinner and a game. But don't think you'll get just any sort of meal and any sort of board game, this is a very certain taxonomy of the species. We eat good, home cooked, farm-raised food and the games are not what you will find on most mall shelves. No darling, we play awesome games. The kind of games that win German awards for making you fall in love with meeples.... That's Game Night. We drink and laugh and talk seeds and piglets between sips of hard cider and spoonfuls of soup hand-crafted by a chef fit for a bistro menu. It is high class geek fantastico.

Tara and Tyler of goingslowly.com are regulars. Truthfully they are the co-founders of Game Night and helped make it what it is now. They are recent imports from the midwest, living here in Veryork in a trailer on their recently purchased land, while building straw bale and thatch-roofed house. (These are our people!) Besides being fans of the same games I am, Tara and Tyler are cookbook authors and have graced this farm's table with meals both charming and simple. We have trades wood for sheep over bits of crumbly lemon cakes and shouted over shutgunning Zombies with potato soup in our hearts. Tara has made meals that made me squirm around the spoon with joy, Tyler brought his knife sharpening kit once and made my chef's knife a force to be reckoned with. They make any game or any meal better. Come to Game Night and meet them!

For those of you already writing this off as lame. I get it. If you are (like I was) suspect about board games and convinced they are horrible time sucks and boring traps, I can not suggest Wil Wheaton's Youtube Show, Table Top enough. The games this show features are not your run-of-the-mill games. They are clever, super fun, usually European imports. Some are more about storytelling or role playing and others are really all about dice and chance, but all of them are awesome. I say this as someone who can not sit through a game of Monopoly and avoids any dinner party where Scattergories or Win Lose or Draw is mentioned. I refused to play board games for years because that was all I knew. But now I watch TableTop every Thursday and have bought several of the games featured it in. Each of these fancy games costs anywhere from ten to fifty dollars but I don't see that as anything but an investment. I can buy a game like Catan once and host endless dinner parties with great friends and never get tired of it. The most commonly played games here are Settlers of Catan, Zombie Dice, Tsuro and Gloom. But I just got my hands on that game Agricola, which is as daunting as it is exciting. I am upping my gamer ante with that one…

So tonight is Game Night. It's an institution. I have 4 pounds of pork shoulder in the crock pot and at least six people showing up, possibly eight. (I better sweep up the dog hair). I feel like I'm getting ready for the school dance, all wound up over the chance and laughs.

So folks, consider possibly setting up a homestead game night of your own, wherever you are. It's a great way to really connect with people, learn about them, and enjoy a night. I feel like we don't spend enough time with our friends away from screens and dinner tables. To eat a good meal and then retire for a night of high-stakes laughter, a few puffs of pipe smoke, and harmless ribbing at old inside jokes is a blast. It makes the winter warmer, the food taste better, the community stronger. It's here to stay at CAF.

P.S. Do you know what game is coming in the mail today!? Glen More! The game of living in ancient Scotland and running your farm and clan! Perfect!

photo by tara alan of goingslowly.com

Portrait of a Sheep

Wendy Rogers, the talented watercolorist and (lucky me!) reader of CAF surprised me with this image on my Facebook page yesterday! It is Sal! Holy Crow is this woman an artist. A few weeks ago I was just browsing through people's updates on Facebook and was lucky enough to see a painting she did of a forest in winter's sigh. I was so floored by it, by how it made me instantly feel like I was riding Merlin through the Days of Grace before the snow fell....that I had to tell her how she transported me. Some people write, some act, some build, some hunt and some paint. Wendy paints and we are all luckier for it. We get to see her world!

P.S. She takes commissions! Contact her through the link!

Monday, February 18, 2013

My Living Room



Monday Still For Sale

If anyone is interested in a purebred Ram Lamb, not quite a hogget (born near the summer solstice, I have one for sale. I would like to keep him but with Altas here it is tricky. I am moving him away from the expectant mothers in the goat pen tomorrow (if the gates unfreeze!) and letting him try life with the flock but I am fairly certain he won't be as happy playing second fiddle to Atlas as he would be in charge of his own girls. He is in tact, from solid stock of NEBCA member breeders, and was born here. If interested please contact me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com.

Inside the Carousel Carver's Workshop

Yesterday afternoon I drove through South Cambridge to the town of Buskirk. A hundred acre farm was my destination, home of Ed Hepp and his wife Patty. Ed's an amazing man, and a total character. He has been working with raptors since he was fifteen years old. He adores the birds and has been a member of the New York State Falconry Association since it started. I am guessing the gentleman is in his seventies, but it isn't slowing him down. He's a hawker, and an artist, a husband and a local legend. I was at his farm because I called him and asked if he could consider being my falconry sponsor. It's asking a lot.

To become an apprentice you need a mentor. The state demands an experienced falconer, at least five years into the sport, sign off on you. It's the first level of screening for newbies like me. If someone thinks you aren't right for the sport, don't have the time, resources, or gusto to make it as a hawker they don't sign you up. I was there to basically ask for faith and time, as a total stranger.

I arrived and Pat met me at the door. She and her home were beautiful, tidy and put together. A Brittany spaniel (I would learn was named Jake) wagged his cropped tail at me and loved me up as I entered the house. I told her who I was and why I was there and she pointed to the workshop-cum-mews outside where Ed was working. I gathered my books, early supplies I had gathered, and study guide the state had sent me, complete with the application Ed would have to sign off on. As I walked outside down the path to his workshop I saw him walking out towards me.

He was gray haired and tan, sturdy and of shorter stature. He walked like someone half his age would walk, confident without seeming arrogant. He walked like a man on his own land, and behind him in a dog run of chain link was a gorgeous Goshawk the likes of which I had never seen in books or online before. Unlike the dog, the hawk did not have a name.

I fell in love with Ed when we were walking from his workshop to the house so he could interview me for the sponsorship. As he smacked layers of sawdust and wood shavings from his worn jeans and jacket, he grumbled about being dirty. I asked him if he was working on his carousel horse carving and he said, without missing a beat, "I do too many things, and none of them well," and there was a smile in his words. If there is one personality trait I share with the man, it's that. I can ride a horse, shoot a bow and arrow, brew a batch of stout, and knit a hat and none of them are mastered crafts. Ed and I are Jacks of All Trades, and I love being a Jack. Ed does too.

After a few hours of talking, touring, and walking through his property Ed signed off on me and accepted me as a sponsor. I could not be happier about that. Ed has been doing this a long time, and has the wealth of experience and stories that I can only hope to learn a fraction of. Monday I mail off my application and officially sign up for the written exam and once I pass that (80& or higher!) Ed can help me pick out a place for my Mews and help me get started on the path to training my own bird. He's really leaning towards a Kestrel for me, I think. I have my heart set on a Red Tail. Truth is I'll be honored and thrilled with anything I am lucky enough to share a few hunting seasons with.

This is how adventures start.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Kids Are Alright

I was outside carrying buckets for the horses when the phone rang, three times in a row. It was Yesheva down at Common Sense Farm. She wanted to let me know their last doe of the season due to give birth, Iris, was in the throes. Did I want to come down and watch and/or help? She said if I rushed I could make it.

I dropped everything and headed the three miles down the road!

I spent an hour in their barn watching not one, not two, but triplets being brought into this fine world! It was a healthy and normal birth, all systems go. It was very much like the sheep, but a lot more vocal and a lot quicker! I got to towel them off, help get them on their feet, and feed them their first tastes of mama's milk. Iris was a trooper and all of her little ones (two does and a buckling) are healthy and already on the bottle. In a week the dairy will be up in full swing again. More photos to come!

Dirt Hawkin' Part 2

We continued this thrashing hike through the slush and ice for quite some time. Us humans covering ground in a fanning group, hitting piles of brush with our big sticks and keeping an eye on Enola. For a hawk she wasn't very focused. At least not this particular afternoon. Dawn seemed only slightly worried when the bird started to fly away from our hunting party. I was flat out worried. I didn't know if flying away was normal? Dawn sighed, and explained that birds have good days and bad. Enola was feeling the warm sun on her wings close to breeding season. She was also at a higher weight than usual. I gave dawn a look that asked for explanation and she kindly did so.

You hunt (falconers say "fly") a bird when it is at flying weight. A falconer with a bird they are hunting with has to be weighed and journaled about daily. The person flying it needs to know at what weight is the bird still active and healthy, fit and well, but hungry. That hunger is important since all falconry training is based on reward and associated humans with dinner. Enola wasn't hungry. A hungry bird will pay attention, do as told. Her performance was that simple. Raptors in this training program pay attention to their vending machines, but sated birds do not. So instead of risking the bird flying off for good (which happens all the time) Dawn pulled out a fake dead pigeon on a string and spun it around, calling Enola's name. The bird's head turned and she flew back across the fields and landed on Dawn's gauntleted hand.

Dawn knew from the hawk's attitude and actions that hunting with her be at best frustrating and at worst tragic. She could simply sly off in search of lust and a big swell of hot air. Dawn returned her to her wooden perch box in their Jeep. Mark and I were rounded up by then following behind her. Their little beagle mix (they call her the Bagel) came up from behind. It didn't take long for mark to get out his young male, Ulfberht out of his box and on his arm. Loaded with a new bird hungry for the hunt, we headed back to the high brush.

What followed was a lot of hiking, briars, cuts and scrapes and a few falls. I am talking about me here, not Dawn or Mark. I am used to my farm and roads but scrambling through the brush isn't something I have done since pheasant season. I caught up quickly though, and before I knew what was happening a rabbit was flushed by Mark and the Bagel! At this outburst of activity all the people yelled HO HO HOOOOO! And at that rally cry Ulf took flight after the bird, deep into the brush past where we could see. Dawn was close to me and I turned to her, excited as could be, "Do you think we got him?!" and she replied with a doubtful shrug.

"I didn't hear a scream…"

Oh right, I was so used to killing rabbits without any sound at all from the broomstick method I didn't realize how loud and wild their screams would be in a full-out ariel attack. Dawn's hunch was right. No rabbit was smote by Ulf's talons, not this flight anyway.

Even though that first hunting flight didn't produce any game it was a thrill to watch. I couldn't believe I was out doing this, talking with and hunting alongside falconers. It was less than a few weeks ago that I decided I was going to take this up. It was a gut reaction, the same one I felt for Merlin, or Archery, or leaving my job at Orvis. So far I have learned to really trust my passion, regardless of the outcome. I don't mean being reckless or taking on more than you can chew, but having the sense to understand bliss isn't a dirty word. I think a lot of folks hold back in life because they worry that exploring a subculture or hobby might make them seem foolish or be mocked. Others think doing something fun is borderline irresponsible. Those are decisions for us to make for ourselves, but this girl has found success living her ridiculous farm life. And here on this sunny winter day I just yelled HO HOO HOOOOOO to a diving hawk with the fervor of watching a fourth-quarter Hail Mary pass.

We kept up the hunt for another hour or so. Ulf had another flight, after another rabbit. That one also got away but at this point I don't think any of us really cared. The sun was shining, hawks were flying, the dog was smiling and we were good and winded from hours of sludge and brush. When we threw in the towel at dudk I asked if I could treat them to dinner at the Burger Den. They accepted and we headed back to Jackson for the best French fries in town.

At the Burgen Den (the local diner near Cold Antler)we sat in the booth, ordered our meals, and while we waited for our food I heard some amazing Falconry war stories. Mark and Dawn laughed and talked about meets in other states, stories of first rabbits, and gave tips on suppliers and gear. I could not have felt more included, more a part of this sport. That's amazing to me seeing as just last month it was something from image searches online and Discovery Channel specials. We talked about where I go from here, basically continuing to study for my written exam and follow along on more hunts. I explained I needed a sponsor and Dawn suggested a fellow in Washington County named Ed Hepp. He was retired now, but still hunting with birds and has been for over fifty years. I knew it would be a long shot, but I'd give Ed a try. The worst he could say is no.
I loved the day, loved the hunt. And I think it showed. Dawn and Mark saw a member of their tribe that day and I did the same.