Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Art of Asking



Friday, March 15, 2013

Starting From Scratch

It was last March, just around this time, that I was learning how to be a decent partner to this magical animal. Merlin spent the first few months of our relationship at Riding Right Farm in south Cambridge. I loved having him there and I loved the instruction and people I was lucky enough to encounter there. It was such a necessary step. Being fairly new to the world of horses (I still consider myself brand new) I was timid, actually, I was terrified of being hurt. To have a safe and encouraging environment with solid footing and rules was exactly what I needed.

Both of us were starting from scratch. My entire career as a riding student was only in English and only up to the most basic of beginner levels. I started in college, just one lesson a week and the occasional show in the novice class. I didn't jump fences or rails, I walked and trotted other people's horses in circles. Then after years out of the saddle I started again at Riding Right as a student, and still a beginner. I learned so much about seat, confidence, hands, bits, and fitting tack proper. The lessons were invaluable. And I will never forget the summer day Hollie told me our lesson would be a trail ride together through hay fields at sunset. I was on a 14 hand Haflinger, and I think it was that ride that had me falling in love with smaller drafts.

I left my corporate job at Orvis four months later, for a lot of reasons. If it wasn't for this horse and what he showed me I could be, I'm not sure I could believe it was possible. He was and is a dream come true. He has done so much for me, and asks for so little in return. The time I spend with him is without measure, somehow horse sweat and forest paths have the ability to freeze the world in place, making summers last decades. I want another summer of trail rides and visits to friends farm on horseback or in our little red cart, but we are starting from scratch again. We both need to work up our bodies, trust, and partnership after a winter mostly out of practice.

I look forward to every lesson, even if they now happen on my winding road or a neighbors' field. I'm out of the arena and the land of velvet helmets but not ungrateful for them. If it wasn't for Riding Right I would not be the rider I am learning to become.

The Woodpile Gang

Do you remember the chicks I found behind the woodpile in the depth of our deep freeze up here? I'm happy to say they both grew up strong and fast and are outside chickens now! They still hang around mama a bit, but they spend most of their time in the goat pen, roosting on the milking stand and talking to Bonita about how great wings are (I'm guessing?!). It is nice seeing their little selves running around the barn. Makes this place feel like spring.

Reflection!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Trustworthy?

The Goat Life

As soon as cats and dogs are sated from their own particular morning-time urgencies, I am heading to the goat pen with milk pails, gear, and grain. With two goats I have a system. I start milking Francis first, and since she is in training to be a proper milk goat I like giving her my attention first. I snap a leash to Bonita's collar and let her wait outside the barn with I lead Franny to her station. Fran's tail is wagging, she LOVES grain. She happily lets me slip a rope through her collar to secure her in place while I get to work washing udders and squeezing out milk.

Francis is a darling. She lets me milk her into a little saucepan (she is too short for the big 2-liter stainless steel milk pail I use with Bonita). She chomps into her sweetfeed and I milk out her little teats. After a while she starts to lift a back leg in protest and I say "Foot" with authority and place it back on the ground. After a few days she stopped all kicking. So far she's turning out to be a little rockstar of a goat. She gave birth to a beautiful boy all by herself, she lets me milk her from day one, and she doesn't kick or bite when the going gets tough. It makes me a little sad that I decided to sell her…

Yup. I'm going to sell Francis. She's a purebred Oberhasli, with papers and everything, and she is a proven mother and milker. The reason for the sale is simple: I just want larger goats around here. She is somewhere between the size of a large Nigerian Dwarf and a small Nubian, maybe 80 pounds? I like big goats that offer A LOT of milk, so she just doesn't match the size standards I have in my head. her quart-a-day is nice, but not enough to satisfy my milk needs. I think I will keep Ida, raise her up, and make her the next goat friend for Bonita. I'll sell Francis with her kid to a new homesteader looking for a good backyard goat for cheese and soap.

If interested email me, or message me on the Facebook thing. Asking $200.

When Francis has been milked out I wash her udder with the warm soapy water and cloth I bring outside with me, and then place some pink udder cream on her teats. I don't want her to crack or get sore from this new attention. The whole thing takes about ten to fifteen minutes, a lot of time but since she is new to this I cut her some slack. I walk her out of the barn by the collar and trade spots with Bonita. Now Francis is tied out watching the Big Show inside while Bonita gets to work.

Bonita has been a working dairy goat for over five years. She just turned six and has had four kidding seasons (this one included). She literally dances into the barn, a tango with herself (such a fine goat does not need a partner) and hops up into the stanchion without being asked. I clamp in her neck, fill her trough with grain and a mineral seasoning and she starts chomping while I wash the udders and check her bag for heat or lumps. She is, as always, perfect downtown.

I milk Bonita in five minutes flat. My pail is now heavy, and almost full. I guess that 3/4ths of a gallon is in that pail and when all is said and done I kiss her goat forehead and place the metal lid on the milk pail. (An aside, if there was one investment worth making it was this stainless steel, 2-liter milk canister from Lehman's. It has a tight lid and holds two goats worth of milk and it keeps it from spilling over or hay or dirt getting in. I adore it) I love Bonita, I really do. I think keeping her girl Ida is just an act of hope that I will get to have another girl of her line after she is gone. I am a total goat-romantic when it comes to legacy. I sing to my goats, a song in Gaelic I am learning about a dark-haired woman and her famous wedding. I collect my leash and towels, tubes of cream and the empty feeders and hop the fence to grab them some hay. I always feed hay after milking. It keeps the girls standing and off the ground while their valves close up in their teats. A just-milked goat who plops down in bedding straw could get Loki-knows-what up her tubes while they are still open. It takes twenty minutes for system shut off. My gals enjoy the salad bar while they whir to a halt.

I take the milk pail and such inside and set all washables in the sink and the big pail on the counter. Boghadair knows this canister and starts rubbing his head on it. I am grateful for the 30th time it has a tight lid. I run back outside with Gibson, literally run, because I did it! I got nearly a gallon of milk from half an hours work! I run around the yard with Gibson to celebrate. I open my arms and he jumps up into them and I feel like we have our own version of a touchdown, end zone dance. Merlin is watching this, totally unimpressed. He hollers at us in his deep, British, voice and Jasper just stares alert as a buck in a field. His little white splotched body all taunt with prick ears and wide eyes. I get to the work of morning feeding and soon every heckling sheep, chicken, rabbit, goose, horse, and pig has nothing to say to me but crunch, chomp, griiiiind, crunch, chooommmp, swallow, repeat. With everyone outside content I am finally free to see to the funnest job of the morning. KID TIME!

I let the kids out of the big dog crate and they pile out. Before they can even think about peeing on my floor I scoop them up and take all three outside with Nanny Gibson to keep an eye on them while I return for their bottles. When I come outside I can see all of them jumping and tumbling, Gibson frantic to restore some sort of order. I sit on the front step and feet the three little ones their 8 oz breakfast of warm goats milk. They swill and suck and finish the bottles in short order. I let them run it through their systems and relieve themselves again before coming back inside.

Inside the house there is a baby gate (technically a puppy gate) that keeps all the hoofed beasties out of the carpeted dining room. Annie and Gibson eat their breakfast on the carpet side while the little ones run around (and I mean run!) the living room and kitchen, jumping and carrying on like every motion requires the skill and verve of a Ringmaster. To a kid, every step is a circus and every day they are masters of their own ceremonies. They know I am the milk mama, the only one who has ever fed them, and so where I go they follow. I walk into the living room and they burst into a run behind me. I walk back to the kitchen and they trot right behind to the bright lights. It is endearing as all get out.

I have plenty of milk in reserve for feeding the babies in the fridge so I decide this morning to do something special. I am going to make my first Chèvre of the season! I set a big stainless brewing kettle on top of the oven and pour the strained milk into the low heated metal. I stir it with a metal spoon, letting the temperature of the low burner heat up everything to about 90 degrees. When I feel this warm milk to the touch, I add a packet of Chèvre culture from my fridge and mix it in as I turn off the heat. I set the lid on top and let it rest. The fact that the little ones who made this cheese making possible are trotting around my feet only makes the process feel even better. This cheese isn't just good food, it is a celebration of a successful kidding season! I might even go to the hardware store and get those fancy, squat, ball jars to store it in. Stuff this special deserves a presentation of note, right?

By the time I am ready for bed the cultures will have separated the curds from the weigh. before I call it a night I will pour it into cheesecloth, lightly salt it and add a few herbs, and then hang it to drip over the sink in cloth. By morning I will have a perfect cheese. It will slide across bagels, make crackers sing, and be the perfect topping for salads or pizza. To those of you not fans of "goaty" flavors, I get it. I'm not either. This cheese is mild and smooth. Think cream cheese but fluffier. It will win you over.

The day is just getting started. I feel like I have so much to offer it still. It's colder and cloudier than yesterday but I want to get on my horse and ride. We saddled up for the first time in weeks yesterday and it was bliss. Okay, it was a stubborn out-of-shape pony and a mental wrestling match but I am happier on his back than anywhere else in the world. To feel him under me, moving across the landscape of my mountain road with confidence. I now lack the fear I had off him last spring. Knowing that was a quiet thrill. He was bad, or rather out of practice. Merlin didn't want to trot away from home and he wanted to spring home to quit, but we worked through it. I now know what a crow hop is compared to a buck, and I know when he is being bitchy or dangerous. I have seen both. But today was just a barn sour brat who needed to be reminded that the girl on his back is a thousand times more hard headed and stubborn than he could ever dream to be. And by the end of the short ride he was starting to understand this wasn't my first rodeo anymore. We trotted down the road and turned around to walk back to his hitching post calmly.

Bring on bright spring. I got cheese, kids, a pony and a hoe waiting for my hungry hands. There are snap pea sprouts in the house and eggs in the fridge from the newly-laying hens. I have piglets growing strong, goats for sale, and big plans for a hawk and a garden. I'm excited as hell for this spring, darn near shaking from it. And it is mornings like this that keep me going.

Demons, Dog Shit, & Grace Before Coffee

Yeti woke me up. The once shy Maine Coon has found his place here at the farm, and this morning his place was rubbing his snuffly face in mine while he purred me awake. He had slept beside Gibson and I all night, helping keep me warm in the chilly upstairs bedroom. It's chilly by choice, mind you. Once these days get over forty degrees and the snow starts to melt I sleep with windows open and lots of covers. I love the heat of that blessed cocoon, skin against sheets. And I love the cold room, and the smells and sounds of a farm waking up just outside. Give me chicken wire over glass anyway. Humans are not meant to live in terrariums.

Soon Boghadair joined in, and two cats were crawling over the now rumbling Border Collie. I finally give in and get up and feed them. I like my cats but they fall somewhere in rank of favoritism between the best sheep and the rabbits. I share my home with them because they eat and catch rats and mice and because I have low self esteem. This is proven by the fact that I wake up and walk downstairs and before a regal dog is let outside to pee or I dare start my morning coffee, the cats are fed. What can I say? I'm a sucker for flattery, even when I know I'm being used. Cats are demonic, but I haven't seen a drop of mice turd or flash of rat tail in months.

With the yowlers fed I take the dogs out for a brisk walk. They putter and piss and I walk alongside them in my morning uniform. I have on milk-and-mud-stained canvas pants. An old, wool sweater, and a hand-knit hat. I look up at the hillside notice the thick clouds of fog rolling up and down past the sheep. It is magical enough to give me pause, and remind me to go through the things I am grateful for that morning.

I find that if I don't take a minute to be thankful before the work of the day starts, it is always a bad day. You can't expect anything from the day without a foundation of grace, however scrappy. So I say my morning prayers while the dogs scamp and growl. Anyone driving by would see a bundled up woman with uncombed hair staring at a hillside while dogs wrestle at her feet. They don't need to know my secrets. Inside I am on fire from the lack of want. As if all the things I stayed up the night before worrying about were doused with lighter fluid in a big copper kettle and set aflame. All that is left is a ringing sound, a singing bowl. This is what gratitude can offer before breakfast. Even if you're stepping in dog shit.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

KIDS!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Photos From Fiddlers' Rendezvous!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Truth About Dairy Goats

I have been getting a lot of comments and emails from folks asking why the little ones are away from their mother and bottle feeding. While Yeshiva was here with me, checking on Francis and helping me getting her used to being milked I asked her how she explained to people about this same quandary. How do you explain the necessity of what appears to be such a harsh act?

Yeshiva, who has more grace than I can ever wish to achieve, stated this perfectly. With a smile she answered that keeping the kids with their mother, while seemingly more natural, actually works against domestication. What we all want is a happy goat that runs to meet us in the barn, right? Well that only happens because from the moment they first met the world it was us humans that fed them, cared for them, and kept them warm. Unlike sheep or horses, a goat's job isn't to be ridden or make lamb chops. Her job (at least on this farm) is to be milked so I can drink it, make cheese, and cure bar after bar of soap.

A dairy animal of any specie gives birth to create that beautiful natural creation process we call lactation. I don't have Bonita and Francis to be pets, they are here for the milk! And their offspring is just a part of the process of getting to that milk. I could leave the little ones with their mothers, but the truth is that they would need to be separated from their mothers within a week. Why let them bond and them take them away from each other? It only causes added stress for both the offspring and the mother. I want blissfully ignorant dairy mama's on my stanchions. Goats that were raised by people, that trust people, and who associate me with grain and that sweet relief of milking to reduce those painful swollen udders...

Some farms let the babies with the mothers for a few days, I do not. It's a choice I made based on what I have studied, seen, and what mentors and memoirs have taught me. Remember that every single animal on this farm is here to do work, not to be a pet or a fantasy creature. I will sell the kids soon as possible to folks who want to raise up sweet kids of their own for the same purpose. Or perhaps someone who wants a little wether to back their backcountry gear or pull the milk cart? I have ponies for that job around here! So the kids are here as a blessing of a few days and then off to start their lives on other farms. The mother gets milked and the whole dance gets repeated next year.

Do other goat milkers out there do things the same way as me?

Francis Did It!!

I am writing with absolute pride right now in my little goat. Francis, the practically Nigerian Dwarf sized Oberhasli gave birth to a big, seven-pound, baby boy all by herself! I ran out on an appointment this morning and came home to a beautiful, clean, bleating boy in the hay. He needs a name, and the theme this year is fiddles so suggestions are welcome! Things like Rosin, Flameback, and Catgut come to mind! He's in the living room with Gibson, who has taken over as goat nanny. Annie is sleeping in the truck while I get everything figured out. She isn't aggressive, but plays rougher than Gibson who is gentle as can be with the little ones.

And just an aside, when the birth was over little Francis let me milk her without a single kick or fuss. Yeshiva was there and couldn't believe her eyes. She said she never saw a first-ever milking go so smooth. Way to go Francis!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is This What She Meant By Rendezvous?!

Fiddler's Rendezvous was going along just fine when my cell phone rang on the chair next to my fiddle case. We had just started a conversation about how to shuffle notes and were taking turns going around our circle of chairs when I lurched for the phone. It was Patty, in big letters, vibrating across the cheap upholstery. I put up my hand and smiled, everyone knew what the call was about….

"Bonita's in Labor! I see feet!"

Patty was on the second shift of drive-by goat monitors I had lined up for the day. The workshop was originality planned a good month before goat births were due, but the snowstorm that nailed the Northeast had us moving the date to whatever worked for the bulk of the students and the staff at Hubbard Hall. March 9th and 10th it was, and so I would be away for the bulk of two days with red circles drawn around them on the calendar. So I got friends to stop by and check on them. Yeshiva was there in the morning while I was teaching people the D scale. And I ran home at lunch. When I was there, just a few hours earlier Bonita was walking around, eating hay, and nickering like it was any day of the week. She showed no sign of being in early stages of actual pushing-hard labor. I knew if I didn't hear from them nothing was happening with the girls. But if a phone rang….

"I see feet! Front hooves and a nose! Here comes the head!!!"

My heart was racing. My head was pounding. I had seven fiddle students hanging on my every response and another hour of practice time left in the camp day. I wanted to be there but knew I couldn't. I was three miles away and the middle of a lesson. I called Yeshiva and told her about the birth and she said she wasn't worried about Bonita, just little Francis, and congratulations in her sweet, forever calm voice. Yeshiva was an Old Hat at this. I felt a lot more like Patty, all exclamation points and fuss and happy. So I hung up the phone, looked at my seven students, and asked point blank. "Who wants to go see a baby goat being born?"

We were at the farm in under ten minutes.

I ran inside to get the milk pail, towels, and baby bottle and then ran back towards the barn. Eight of us total stormed the joint, and Patty looked up smiling. At her feet was a beautiful little baby girl, still wet from birth but breathing and cleaned up from hay and Patty's attention. The farmer had delivered her, pulling her out gently while Bonita pushed. I hugged Patty and thanked her and wrapped the baby up in the towel to keep her warm. There were coos and pictures from the fiddlers and before long Bonita broke out into more cries and another water sack burst from her rear end....

This time Patty put up with my panic and excitement and terse words (I get bitchy when I get worried, sorry Patty, I love ya) but I pulled out the second little one and it was a big, healthy boy. It was a flurry of people and happy cries and little babies still warm from their mother, taking first wobbly steps and bleating for attention. Bonita licked and cooed, I hugged and smiled, and the Fiddlers didn't seem to mind having to start the next day an hour early...

When all was well and done I milked out a quart of Bonita's thick eggnog style colostrum and poured it into a little baby bottle I bought at Rite Aid. The little ones didn't know to suck yet, so instead of first meals we brought the babies inside the farm house. At this point and all Bedlam broke out. Nine people were in the house when Boghadair ran past everyone with a mouse in his jaws. Annie escaped and ran outside, people somehow caught her. Sheep were baaing at the ruckus. Merlin was yelling for hay. And in all this happy chaos the little babies got their cords cut and new belly buttons dipped in iodine. People patted backs and helped carry towels and milk pails and buckets. It was nuts. I was so happy.

It takes a village, it really does.

So now there are two healthy, perfect, amazing little baby goats asleep on an adult-diaper bed liner in a got crate in a living room with a wood stove. Every four hours they get a yummy meal. It's a pleasure having them here, and somehow it feels totally natural. Like they are end tables that always complimented the room. This is my life, and how I live it. Some folks search for the perfect coffee table book. I just accessorize with things that gnaw on coffee table books.

We named them Ida and Dorian, in honor of the fiddlers. I love that.

Ida & Dorian



Saturday, March 9, 2013

THEY ARE HERE!!!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Fiddler's Come Here!

All of you folks who are coming to Fiddler's Rendezvous tomorrow, this is where we will be camping out! The Freight Depot is a greenish building behind Hubbard Hall and Battenkill Books. It is easy to find, just park in the lot behind Main street. Doors officially open at 10 AM but feel free to come a little early and help set up! See you tomorrow!

Storm!

A storm came through last night, dropping 4-6 inches of snow on pony and hillside alike. I had gone to sleep sometime around 1 AM and woke up close to 5 and I don't think I was awakes more than few moments before I was dressed and outside with the goats. I thought for certain this storm would bring in at least one bout of labor, but it hasn't. Still no kids...

We are in that wild March dance right now. We tango with half a foot of snow one day, and by tomorrow evening it will be gone and nearly fifty degrees with the sun shining. I am, in all honesty, frantic right now and this weather isn't helping. With a big Two-Day workshop starting tomorrow morning downtown, two goats about to burst, Two manuscripts, and a farm to keep going on a shoestring....I am a little frazzled. There just isn't any time or room to stop and take a breath. And that isn't a complaint, it's just how things are!

I have a lot of errands and meetings today, things to coordinate and such. I have a Farm Family Insurance agent coming to evaluate the place. My current home insurance is being revoked in April. Their reason? "Farming on Insured Property" So some of you folks with a few sheep, horses, or chickens might want to check with your current insurance agents that you are still covered. Allstate has now dropped me in all forms of insurance. I got in two accidents last winter (slid on ice) so they told me they would no longer cover me, and now I have been caught Sheep-handed and my crook is the smoking gun. That's okay though. The folks at Farm Family are used to people like me, it's all they do. I just hope I can manage the new premium, hoping it is less that my current. Anyone have experience with these guys?

I just reread this and I sound like a crazy person. I promise more focus when my life exhales a bit!

International Tabletop Day!

If you read this blog you know about our weekly Game Night. And you know how much I love the people over at Geek & Sundry, who inspired this winter's cabin fever free lifestyle. Having friends come over for Gloom, Dixit, Tsuro and such has been a highlight in an otherwise super stressful spring. When I saw they were going to host an International Game Night I had to sign CAF up. Here from 3PM-6Pm there will be all agricultural based games going on like Glen More, Agricola, and Settlers of Catan! We'll sit inside and play with our board game farms in a totally thematic and awesome afternoon of pizza an meeples. All this with goat kids in a pen the next room over and ponies outside heckling us to come feed them carrots! Beat that!

If you can't make it to CAF, that's cool. How about you host a game night or go to one to see what this crazy lady keep talking about, go to this website, Tabletopday.com and sign up!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Live Like Fiction Book Club! Checking in!

So we'll wrap up Dies the Fire on March 21st, and have a big discussion then. But since we are halfway through the reading period I thought I'd check in. I'm curious to know how many of you are listening the audiobook (which I recommend!) and how many are enjoying some old fashioned library book time?

I chose this book to start out this Fantasy/Historical fiction book club because I think it is a genius approach to the genre. It's technically Science Fiction, since the event that happens is work of Nature (far as we know) and it is the people in the surviving groups like the Bearkillers, Mackenzies, and PPA that add any sense of fantasy to the story. Which is really the heart of this book, and why I like it. There aren't any dragons or balls of fire being shot out of witches hands. The "fantasy" elements of armor and witchcraft are mundane and practical. The monsters aren't dragons but cannibal bands and escaped zoo animals. This is a very different, but very much the same world as we live in right now.

Folks who know me well, or even been reading a while should understand why I loved this story. And really, to me its just that, a fun story. I am not interested in anything but a fun ride when I sit down with Juniper and Mike and Arminger. But even as a source of entertainment in a messed up fictional reality: it was this book that made me fall in love with archery and re-join the SCA after a ten-year hiatus. It was this book that inspired me to work harder with Merlin, be brave in the saddle, and stand out in the cold rain for target practice with my first bow.

Some folks are drawn to the post-apocalype theme and the prepping. Some are drawn to the farming, rebirth of myth, and religion (that's my favorite aspect of the book) and others just like a good old fashioned sword fight! I am curious of your thoughts (good and bad!) now that we are at the halfway point!

P.S. Elizabeth of the Berkshires was the one who told me Juniper Mackenzie was inspired by a real life singer, songwriter named Heather Alexander and much of her music is in the book. She is now James Alexander. Life's a ride.

I Love This Bookstore Shelf

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise



I love these guys. So much.
And I love this video. So Much.
This song was written in Knoxville Tennessee.

So was I.

When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in
and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die
and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

Storm on the Way

Another storm is coming, more snow the next few nights. I'm hoping its the force that brings the kids into the world. Right now is just a lot of waiting and checking, preparing and hoping. A few inches of snow is welcome, certainly before the weekend hits us around fifty degrees! I am feeling a little overwhelmed, mostly with all the goings on, but the days will come and go and before you know it there will be sunshine and hoes in the dirt. I hope to make this place shine this spring. I really do.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rye Whiskey

Meet Rye and Whiskey, the two new gilts here at Cold Antler! They came yesterday around noon, delivered by the men from Windy Hill Farm up in Fort Ann. I was happy to pay the ten dollar extra delivery charge, because the trip up to get the pigs, catch the pigs, and get them settled would have been a full morning's work. With kids coming any minute, the first chapters of my manuscript due, and a morning hay run over to Livingston Brook Farm it was a blessing to have these fine gentlemen deliver these two pretty girls. They made themselves at home right quick.

They are floppy-eared Yorkshire/Berkshire crosses and around twenty pounds each (and that is nothing to be ashamed of at twelve weeks old). They are in their cleaned out stall, with layers of pine shavings and fresh hay to root through and get into all sorts of trouble. This morning they were buried deep in their nest of hay, porcine spooning to stay warm. I poured a crock-pot reduction of barbecue sauce and honey over their piggy kibble and they sure did pop out of slumber fast! They practically ran over to their big bowl and did what pigs do best. EAT!

Here is the song the little gals have been named after. A favorite Old Time Banjo song about the need for fire water, but in all honesty I feel the same way about home-raised pork...

Monday, March 4, 2013

You're Kidding?

I have become a midwife in waiting. It is my main job now, and the thing I am thinking of between other jobs and writing assignments here on the farm. A lot happened today, and much of it things I could tell you about for hours on end, but all of it is shadowed by the tick-tocking of the Doe Clock.

Every few hours I am out with the goats - morning, noon, and night checking on them and their vaginal state. Friends have come and checked in, small off-farm visits have taken place, but mostly I am here. I am here with towels and bottles and a little playpen set up in my living room. I'm reading all my goat book's kidding chapters over and over. I know all the rules of the game, I'm just waiting to play and the wait is killing me. The goats, both of which look ready to explode, must be twice as anxious. We both want these kids out and the milk flowin'.

Friends like Tyler, Tara, and Yeshiva have been with me at Goat Camp. At night they help keep watch. The girls stretch and purr and ooze fluid out their business ends, but so far, no actual births have taken place. These past few days have been riddled with too much coffee and too little sleep. Showers are a rarity. I wake up worried and go to sleep guilty. I keep reading that warning over and over in my books: you should be there… you'll regret it if you aren't and something goes wrong… It feels like my first lambing season all over again...

Well, not entirely the same. Lambing was exhausting but not nearly as personal. This feels less like a job and more like an extended family member being brought into the farmhouse for a long visit. I think it's because dairy animals in general are more personal, more a part of your life than a sheep on the hillside. There are animals I will milk twice a day and know the way you know a college roommate. I have no secrets from these girls and they have none from me. I have stared at their back ends longer than I have stared at any text book and I think I am starting to see things that aren't there. Phantom contractions, mythical discharges, is that a hoof? Nope. It's a clump of poo. Great. Someone pass me the Red Bull… I am convinced both of them are holding out to the last possible second (because they are) and forcing me to feel slightly uncomfortable about my elevated state of caprine voyeurism.

I hope for news soon. In the meantime there's a Fiddle Camp this weekend, two new piglets in the barn, hay delivery, manuscript deliveries, game nights and hawk tests to study for… So much to update on and I will, but right now I am going back outside to check on the girls. More photos as I find the time to post them!

Photo by the gang at goingslowly.com

Loving This!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Waiting Game...

Still Waiting On Kids....

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.