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

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 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.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Night Rounds

photo by tara alan of

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 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

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

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.

Words & Wool

The cold is back. After a few days of sunshine and highs nearly into the forties we are back to nights in the single digits and midnight runs to the wood stoves to keep the home fires burning. I just finished up my first week of being back into my writer's schedule with the new book, and it is making me realize a few things about myself. The most prominent being that I have a seemingly endless well of energy when it comes to the farm and animals, but creative energy, the stuff of blog posts and books....that has a glass ceiling. I find that I can write in the mornings post-chores for the book and then I need to reload myself with inspiration. I can't go from book-to-blog unless I am copying and pasting content. (Which isn't fair to book or blog reader, honestly.) So I get my word count in every morning and then spend some time doing something outside or totally mindless. I do some groundwork with Merlin (by the by, I need the farrier back here soon...) or I make a cup of coffee and sit down to watch something on Hulu or Youtube to get me excited again. The first week of farm book writing was padded by The Walking Dead. I could watch a new episode every 500 words. If that sounds like bribing myself, it is. And it was somewhat hilarious to go from writing about the sunshine in a spring garden to little Sophia shambling out of the barn...

Point is, I got through my first week. And writing feels natural in this cold spell of winter weather. I find myself being torn between the blog and the book, and you'll know who won that day by how much I wrote to you here. I guess I'm trying to explain that some days content here will be light and others I will let out a landslide of falconry, farm, and garden-planning stories. Please be patient.

Next weekend is Words & Wool, a two-day workshop on all things fiber. It'll be a full house and I am excited about it. I have the spinning instructor coming up from NYC and plans to hop over the fence and sheer some wool right off a sheep for the wool-cleaning and preparing demonstration. I want folks to see wool go from sheep to being spun and knit, all in one weekend. I've been in a knitting slump so I think this weekend of women and wool will be a power punch right in the ol' yarn stash.