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?!