Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The days are getting warmer and all of us are spending a lot more time outside. Regardless if you're enjoying an outdoor concert or toiling in the vegetable garden--it's high time for some good old fashioned refreshments.

I'm a big fan of fresh, natural, lemonade and brewed ice tea. But since I'm usually the only one drinking it, it's silly to make a giant pitcher for one. I found a way to make my own single-serving sized version in portable containers. Which is great when you're running into town and want a cold drink for the road, or have been outside raking and need something instantly cold and sweet to boost up your blood sugar. Enter Masonades:

Masonades are soda-can sized servings of hand-squeezed lemonade or iced tea. You can make enough for a whole weekend in about five minutes, which makes me wonder how powdered mix ever even made it in the public market?

Box of pint mason jars (with lids)
Fresh organic lemons
Ice cubes
Natural sugar
Natural lemon juice
Organic black tea bags
Fresh mint or lemon verbena from the garden

Take your jars and fill them up halfway with cold water. Cut half a lemon and squeeze its juice into the jar, and then plop the whole half into the jar as well, making the water tart and filled with little bits of pulp and flavor. If you really want to kick the tartness up - add some fresh lemon juice (about a teaspoon) to the mix. Then add as much sugar as you feel appropriate (depending on mood and heat it could be as little as a teaspoon or as much as 2 tablespoons) and then top it off with ice till it's nearly overflowing. Seal the lid and shake the hell out of it untill it's one big, frothy, delight. There you have it. Farm fresh, all natural, and ready for travel.

I make a few of these and stash them in the fridge for later. Instead of grabbing a can of soda, I grab a cold jar of real lemonade in a reusable container. Which not only tastes amazing, but feels a little more authentic than most beverages. Masonades can also be made into iced tea - which is a healthier alternative. I just pour hot water from a kettle into room-temperature jars with an organic black tea-bag and let it cool on the kitchen counter. Then I add in a little lemon slice and a pinch of sugar, some ice, and a sprig of lemon verbena or mint and let it sit in the fridge alongside the jars of lemonade. When it's cold enough to condense water off the sides, it's manna from the still.

I posted this last summer, but felt it deserved the spotlight again.

Monday, March 30, 2009

maude is watching...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

baking and records

Sundays are when I bake my weekly bread. It's a ritual I started in Idaho, and here in Vermont the faith survives. It's cold and rainy out there, a striking difference from yesterday's gardening-inducing sun. I'm inside enjoying music, and the feeling of a wooden spoon moving batter. Right now Sodom, South Georgia is playing on the record player, and it is indeed a grand way to pass an afternoon. Heat up the morning coffee, take off your shoes, scratch a dog behind the ears and breathe a little slower. Everyone has their own definition church. Mine is here. A place where time can slow down for songs and softer voices and good food and strong coffee puts the soul on the mend. Have a beautiful day, all.

coveralls and seeds sown

A few weeks ago I came home from work and found a package on my mailbox. It was from a company called Rosies, who make coveralls specifically for woman. Inside the package was a teal pair of overalls, which fit me perfectly. Sliding them on was the clothing equivalent of sitting in a tractor. We're talking gardener super-hero garb: padded knees, cargo pockets, hidden zippers inside (so the ipod doesn't get destroyed), and a big chest pocket perfect for seed packets and utility knives. I had no idea the fine people over at Rosie's were going to send this to me, they even put a note in saying they were going to carry my book on their site. Shucks, thanks guys. I wanted to wait till I had a day outside to try them out before I reported on them here, but they are top shelf. If any of you farm girls out there pick up a pair, you will not be disappointed.

So I'm telling you about these overalls because this weekend, my dear friends, I beat the crap out of them. They are now a dirty pile of crumpled-workhorse on the cabin floor (as overalls damn well should be). I was outside all day Saturday. I worked till my hands blistered and my back ached. It was amazing. It was 60 degrees outside, and my day was one of those perfect farm afternoons of work and love. Get some coffee, get comfortable, and I'll tell you all about it.

It stared with the sheep. I went outside with hay and knife in hand. I set down their pile of fresh greens and then walked to their back gate to let them out into their pasture for the whole day. They came tearing out, and they raced to their buffet. With their wool on thick (and in need of shearing). It has a half-second delay bounce to their gait. So when a sheep runs all full of fleece their hair has to catch up with them. These silly little observations make my morning. While the sheep dined on their breakfast, my eyes glanced over just a few yards to where my real work lay...

The garden.

I spent most of my afternoon with a hoe. I turned, tilled, and cleaned-up three of my raised beds—a small dent in the big picture, but it felt so good to get my fingernails dirty again. I was listening to a live concert of Bon Iver, which was amazing. As the chorus of Skinny Love broke out I'd sing along, slamming my hoe to the punctuation of each line.

And I told you to be patient!
And I told you to be fine!
I told you to be balanced!
I told you to be kind!

...Musical hoeing: it's the only way to go. Everyone go buy For Emma, Forever Ago.

When my arms and back hurt from the sod, I'd switch over to the pitchfork. The plan was to move out some of the chickens' old winter straw bedding and use it as mulch in-between the beds. It would help the soil, and stop the weeds. So my whole day was dedicated to dirt and punctuated by the occasional chicken/goose garden break in. Every once in a while the geese or a rooster would step past the garden fence when my back was turned and start scratching up the mounds and rows I'd been working on. Then I'd try to chase them out, which was just feathers, squawking, and confusion - but hilarious. You haven't lived till you cursed out a French goose.

And so my effort ended with three food-ready beds, a few hundred pounds of mulch down, and phone numbers of shearers lined up. I even (and I'm almost scared to admit this to you...) but I even planted some seeds. I put peas and lettuce varieties in the ground in one bed. So what if it's too early? Then I'll plant more. It just felt like the right thing to do. To crouch down and place those peas in the dark earth, and look up from my garden fence to see the sheep all fat and happy, laying there in the pastures, chewing their cud in the sun. Beautiful, that.

The birds however, were not as passive. They all lined up against the garden fence, wondering why they couldn't come inside and eat all the earthworms writhing about the beds' edges. You can't please everyone.

The epic day ended with a potluck and campfire over in Cambridge, NY. My friend Dave hosted the shindig, and it was lovely. To end a long day of hard work with your feet propped up on a fire pit, and a slight buzz from a cold beer, well that's just perfection. Perfection in a very tangible source for us all.

I'm back guys. No more proposal to push through, no more long, cold, winter nights with nothing to report. I'll be updating every day on the farm, my big plans, and all the up-and-coming adventures here at Cold Antler. In the coming weeks I think there will be shearing, sheep-swapping, new chicks, the annual chicken swap, and bees bees bees... So much... so much of it back in my life again. You know, I'm not a fan of spring, but this year gratitude may bring me to my knees.

Stay tuned. Right now, I am off to buy hay. Welcome to my world.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

burning daylight

There is a cold spring rain outside cabin as I type. Compared to just a few short weeks ago, the days seem long. Tonight after work today I took Jazz and Annie out for a muddy-road jog and by the time we came home, did the farm chores, plucked the banjo on the porch, and then came in to finally cook dinner...there was still a hunt of daylight. Summer is not far off, my friends. Not far off at all.

Sometimes, for kicks, I look back at the July archives of this blog and I am amazed I live in the same place. Cold Antler right now is a hideous mudpit of chicken poo, melting snow, dirty baling wire and old hay. But to think, in just a few months the garden, chicks, bees, and I will all be living under lush green leaves, and treading barefoot over soft grass... seems impossible. But every year the impossible happens, and I spend it sweating in the garden and swaying in the hammock. It's a fair trade.

My snap peas are growing just fine, about two feet tall. I have an office team and a cabin team, and the cabin team seems to be winning the race. But both plants are doing well. It's really great to look over from my design work and see those two seedlings become what they'll become. In a few weeks my desk will be awash in white blossoms. I can not wait. I get excited about such things.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

fall farm tour

I want to welcome all the folks who have stumbled here thanks to the fancy article in Mother Earth News. If you're new to this blog, you'll find a few years worth of blog entries (from three different states) and one gal's ongoing story about becoming a modern homesteader and future farmer. Now, welcomes aside, I have some photos for you.

This past fall two friends of mine, Sara Mack and Sara Stell, came up north from their suburban Philly home to visit Cold Antler. Stell is a hell of a photographer and in this link below you can see an intense slideshow of the farm, animals, cabin, and our trip to the Cooperstown NY sheepdog trials. Enjoy the photos, and your own personal farm tour!

See the slideshow here!

Since these photos were taken, Sara and I have lost a total of over 50 pounds!
I'm proud of us!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

this is what i wake up to

free roosters!

A spring snow is falling outside, and the usual crew of birds is avoiding the weather by making a jungle gym out of the hay stacked on the porch. The roosters and some of their lady friends are perched in a Jenga-like fashion on the tottering bales. The poultry here is in rare form. Now that the snow is nearly gone they are back to ganging around the neighborhood, crashing crow and dove parties in the neighbors' yards and hootin' and hollering around the hollow like they own it.

But there are just too many roosters... I lost two more biddies yesterday. Two fat red hens closed their eyes for the last time and having lost three layers (over 600 eggs between them in a year) It'll be time to replace them soon. Since I don't want to add to the flock (14-16 is a good number of chickens for me) I would like to also add more layers and replace all these boys running around. With only ten hens left, and four roosters between them, the girls are flushed. They need less sexual congress in their lives, and more time on their nest boxes. I think the neighborhood could use a quieter morning too.

So if you want a beautiful, hand raised, friendly, muscial rooster. Come pick one up. I'm keeping just one.

P.S. Saro's egg is a bust. I removed it today. However, she is sitting on one of Sam's eggs right now instead, which the hen ever so slyly laid while Saro was out getting feed. Kind of a deadbeat mom thing to do, but hell, it's a chicken. So maybe Saro will hatch a chick instead of a gosling?! Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

refugin, if you will

My weekends are my refuge. I spent the morning lazy as hell. I slept in, rolled over the the stove to make coffee, and then spent the whole damn time playing guitar, baking bread, and doing my farm chores. One task melded into the other, and the only armor I needed to be outside in the sunshine was a trusty beat sweater. I used to wear polar fleece all the time, but now that I have sheep in my life (and always will) it seems hypocritical. I'm back to wool, indefinitely.

The proposal is coming along. Soon my writing time will be all back to the blog. I have a meeting with my editor Wednesday night, so after that you can expect big ol' updates about all things Cold Antler. But right now your patience and dedication is appreciated, very much so. And while you politely wait for me to get over myself, I'll post some old stories from Idaho.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

cold morning dogs

It's a cold, rainy morning here at Cold Antler. In a few minutes I'll be outside in the morning dark feeding the chickens and sheep by lantern light, but right now I'm trying to prep the percolator and wake up the dogs. Jazz and Annie are still curled up on the bed, watching me with mild interest and raised eyebrows. They know it''s cold, dark, and rainy outside. No part of them feels the need to rush out into the wet just yet. But dogs don't feed sheep, so they can revel in that luxury. I throw on my jacket, pull my hat over my eyes, grab the lantern and go.

This week has been dedicated (writing wise anyway) to preparing the proposal for another book, so I apologize for the thin attention to the blog. But don't fret. Soon that will be in the mail (with my fingers crossed) and I'll be so deep in spring farm work you'll quickly grow tired of all the updates. That's for certain.

I did post a small update to the Happy Homesteader blog at Mother Earth News, so if you're interested in that just click the link on the right hand side of the blog here. Enjoy your day folks, hope yours is dryer.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

hay addict

following the flock

Daylight savings gave the sheep a special gift. The extra hours of sunlight allow just enough time to let the sheep out into their pasture every evening. For a few hours they can play in the yard. Then before I turn in for the night, I brine them back inside the safety of their wire pen for the night. Most of the winter they've been stuck in their enclosure since the heavy snow took down most of the electric netting. But now the snow is nearly gone, and the flock can run in the field again. You should see them go.

So after work I walk across the field to the back gate and with my trusty Gerber blade slice my shoddy baling-wire knots that held them in. Then they happily trot to their hay I dumped at the far end of the field. When I first open that gate Sal comes bounding out, followed by Marvin, and then Maude scuttles past in an angry shuffle. Then comes the best part. I turn and walk behind them into the sun. A shepherd and her small flock at sunset. If you knew how long I wanted this, you'd understand how beautiful those three minutes are to me.

This weekend brought days in the 40's and is slowly melting what's left of the ice crusting over the garden. In a few weeks I'll be able to start turning soil, and getting my early season veggies in. Lettuces, peas, broccoli, onions... (you get the idea.) But there is so much to do outside right now, the garden is mostly haunting the back of my mind.

Yesterday was a hard core farm day. I spent most of the afternoon working outside. I had to clean out old straw in the sheep pen and chicken coop and replace it with fresh. I hauled 50lb bags of livestock grains over my shoulders. I carried bales of hay and buckets of water. I also moved a pile of firewood my amazing neighbors cut down for me. And when I wasn't doing intense physical labor I was tending to the bees, who are running on fumes right now and need my help to make it till first pollen. I also collecting eggs and checking on the birds general health. I looked over the sheeps' hooves, and cleaned out rabbit hutches. Needless to say, I came in at the end of the day and was hurting. Sore, tired, and happy. A long hot shower and some fiddle tunes did the trick to remedy the situation, but this morning my back still feels like Maude did Shiatsu ala hoof.

It's all worth it.

I'm brewing a pot of coffee now, and listening to the roosters outside greeting me to this day. In a few moments I'll go out to feed them and the sheep and then drive over at Nelson's farm in Hebron for more hay. But right now I think the dogs and I are going to enjoy some morning radio and Vermont Coffee Company Dark roast. We'll let the birds holler for a few more minutes. It's not like the town of Sandgate isn't used to their song. You folks enjoy your sunday.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

this place is a musical flophouse...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

mud season

And so it's Mud Season. That wonderful time in Vermont where the top layers of our dirt roads thaw and the base remains frozen. This creates a foot of waterlogged garbage with ruts deep enough to lose a Jack Russell terrier in. Driving to work is like trying to find the right set of tracks to hook your tires into and hope you don't bottom out. But crappy roads mean temperatures are rising, that things are changing, and I'll put up with them because of what happened after work last night.

I came home to a relatively warm, and sunlight porch. It was 52 degrees, the stream down the hill was roaring. I grabbed a bottle of hard cider, put on a heavy sweater, grabbed my guitar and banjo, and went out on the porch to play a few songs outside. Since the porch is screened, I can leave the door to the cabin open and the dogs can pad in and out from the fireplace to me. So we had this weird twilight time of open front doors, a fire inside, a bubbling creek, a waltz on the banjo, and dogs milling about at the same time. With the chickens strutting about, and the sheep finally back in their spring pasture the whole farm seems to be stretching its arms into daylight savings. That deserves a few songs.

I hate how far away from October we are, and how long ago fall was. But to know the seeds of summer and a lot of change are getting planted, well that feels good. Really good. Mud be damned.

P.S. My peas are a foot tall and climbing up my desk at work and my kitchen window. So front porch dog concerts aren't the only signs of spring.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

annie always rides shotgun

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the backyard homestead

So there's a new book out for us front-lawn farmers and I highly suggest it. It's called The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan. I actually know Carleen fairly well since she was my editor for Made From Scratch. She's visited the farm in Idaho, and I've met her a few times down at Storey's HQ. (She has a paint-by-number of Monticello over her desk, which is awesome.) So if you liked my book, and after reading it considered gardening, baking, chickens or any homestead skills I wrote about, this book is the next step. It's a chunky info-packed volume going into the details you'll need to take on this farm life one step at a time. And the great thing about it is it isn't meant for people with acreage and rural mail boxes—it's a book written for people working with a quarter acre or less. I have my copy on my coffee table at the farm, and it's been the first book to make me seriously consider pork in the backyard. Not this season, but in the future for sure.

So I think it's a dandy, and here's a little more off the Storey website:
With just a quarter acre of land, you can feed a family of four with fresh, organic food year-round. This comprehensive guide to self-sufficiency gives you all the information you need to grow and preserve a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, and grains; raise chickens for eggs and meat; raise cows, sheep, and goats for meat or milk; raise pigs and rabbits; and keep honey bees. Simple instructions make it easy to enjoy canned, frozen, dried, and pickled produce all winter; use your own grains to make bread, pasta, and beer; turn fresh milk into delicious homemade yogurt, butter, and cheese; make your own wine, cordials, and herbal teas; and much, much more. It truly is possible to eat entirely from your backyard.

Monday, March 9, 2009

farm update

A lot of people have been asking about different aspects of the farm. I've received emails about the sheep, comments about Saro, and questions about the chickens. Seems like it's high time for a status report. Here's an update on all things Cold Antler. Make sure you're in a comfortable chair. This may take a while.

The Sheep
So my trio of Romney crosses seem to be ready for sheering and some possible de-worming. With days hitting the balmy 50's now, and all three of them still wearing their winter coats, it's high time for a trim. I'm quietly thrilled about this. CAF's first ever sheering day is hopefully going to be attended by friends and musicians. I want the day to start with hard work and end with a campfire and friends with instruments. This may not be a possibility, the whole post-fleece shindig, but if it isn't this year for certain it will be in the years to come. My life as a shepherd-in-training has some very specific goals and the annual fleece and fiddle night is one of them.

The Hive
They made it. My first ever fully-wintered hive of bees survived. I'm proud to say that the whole backyard colony of Italian bees is now flying around the hive and drinking their spring sugar water I already have on tap for them. Come May I'll throw on another super and by late summer I hope to get my first ever backyard honey harvest. This is also a big deal. As you can see, my bar for "big deal" is pretty low. Bee vomit, fiddles and sheep hair and I'm over the friggin' moon.

The Flock
All the birds made it through this brutal winter save for one. The old Dominique hen died last night. When I walked into the coop yesterday morning she was there on the straw as if asleep. I gently removed her and thanked her for all her hard work. One chicken isn't a big deal, and I certainly wasn't brought to tears over it, but if I lined up the breakfast platters of omelets, quiche and baked goods just one hen contributed too I'd have a buffet. I want every animal here to know they did good.

The goose is still sitting, but I think Saro's egg is a lost cause. It seems like it should hatch any day, but she has left it for hours at a time (I recently found out) and I've already touched it when it was cold. If nothing comes of it in the next few days I'll remove it. Even if her laying was in vain it doesn't mean she won't try again this spring. I hope she does.

I'll be ordering a few chicks from the feed store again, just some Silkies because I miss them. I switched to bigger homesteader breeds when I moved to Vermont to be more serious about production animals. But I miss those quirky little birds. Plus they were amazing at eating garden slugs and I have big plans for that garden in the next few weeks. I can use all the help I can raise.

The Rabbits
My breeding pair of Angora rabbits have been mated and Bean Blossom is expecting her kits in mid March. Six weeks after that, early May, they'll be ready for the open arms of you fine people. It's been a long winter for those two troopers. They've been stuck in their hutches for months, riding out the snow and storms. When the weather got really cold I brought them into the furnace room to ward off the bitter—but mostly they've lived their wooly lives outside. Soon the snow will melt in the fenced in garden and they'll be able to hop in there and stretch those long legs. I look forward to that as much as they do.

The Writer
I've been okay. I think this winter wore me down a lot. I found myself feeling stretched thin between the book, the blogs, the office and the farm. In a way it made me run into the arms of my music, and for that I am beyond grateful. Because of music I have grown closer to neighbors and coworkers, and our little band (By the way, we named ourselves Swearing Hill, after the steep, miserable, Sandgate Road we all know and love) We played at an Open Mic Night, we practice regularly, and this fiddler sleeps happy with that thought. We cover songs right now, mostly things you guys have heard on this blog like Iron and Wine and Old Crow Medicine Show, but we also mix it up with some stuff like Dinosaur Jr and the Cure. It's fun.

I might be heading to Brooklyn for the BUST Craftacular in Williamsburg. I need to figure out if that's something I can pull off, but I hope it is. I have some friends from design school living in that town and I would love to get a drink with them and catch up. Plus, I think Williamsburg could use some old-time fiddling and banjo frailing. I'll tear the place up with a fiddle on my back and a banjo on my knee.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

we're so fancy

This week my Books for a Better Life Award came in the mail. It is by far the fanciest thing I now own. I brought it out to the sheep and chickens to show it off, but no one seemed to care. Well, Marvin was possibly interested in eating it, and gave it a lick, but that was the closest thing to an ovine accolade I got. Maude hates anything that has to do with me, including acrylic book-shaped objects, and so she just gave me her trademark glare. Oh 'ol reliable Maude. Surely you will live forever.

I showed the chickens and Sam perched on it without defecating on it, so I guess that's a thumbs up. Besides that little pat on the back, none of the other birds seemed to notice and/or care. Aren't I a classy broad? I get a fancy award and walk around my muddy farm shoving it in livestock's' personal space. I bet Michael Pollan just put his on his mantel like a reasonable person. But Pollan doesn't live with vindictive sheep and codependent poultry, so really comparison has no merit. I tell myself things.

P.S. Big farm update to follow later tonight.

the best company has 3-inch incisors

Saturday, March 7, 2009

little sam

While I love raising and living with chickens, it wasn't until this winter that I allowed myself grow attached to one. It's not like I have any reservations about making friends with poultry, it's just that those beady little eyes never gave me much to work with. The sheep and dogs have a little more depth to their personalities, so I've been able to meet them as individuals. The birds however seem to live in my mind as a lump sum of eggs and feathers. The birds and the bees were always...the birds and the bees. That was until Sam came along.

Sam, this scrappy little Ameraucana has won me over. She's proven to me that a chicken can not only hang with her farmer, but become a sidekick. Sam's probably become my favorite because she runs to me for solidarity. As the lowest ranking bird in the coop, my presence means safety. No one can peck on her if she's in my arms, so my arms is where she likes to be. It is a splendid thing to hold a laying chicken you raised from a 72-hour old hatchling, that actually likes being held. You can't help but think, "Hey, I pulled this chicken thing off. She trusts me." A homesteader right of passage.

Her place at the bottom of the chicken social scene is proven by her back, which is nearly naked of feathers. Chickens peck at each other, and if you're the outcast of the clan, you get picked on a lot. So maybe it's her underdog status, and maybe I'm making to much out of a pathetic little bird. But I can't help it. She's such a sweetheart.

When I go into the coop for morning feeding or post-office egg collecing—Sam is right there at my feet. She looks right up at me, and jumps onto my hand or shoulder when I pet her head, and she stomps around the yoke of my shirt looking for the correct placement of her little dinosaur feet. When I carry out hay to the sheep she follows behind. When I come into the coop she flies right to me, literally. Tonight she launched perfectly from the roost to my left shoulder. I was so pleased with her I grabbed a fistful of layer mash and fed her right from my hand. What a gal.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

maggot from scratch

So a Dutch newspaper reviewed the book and sadly, I don't speak Dutch. So I took the link into an online translator and this is what was fed back to me. It is fantastic. Enjoy this with your coffee, and if someone out there speaks Dutch, you can read the correct review here.

I weet or it by the recession do not come, or by approaching spring, or by my current shortage to hobby (I have stopped with gitaarles and now threaten a serious hobby lacuna), but I have been all of a sudden interested touched in everything itself make. As in: everything. Itself makes. That came by Article concerning Jenna Woginrich in an American illustrated magazine.

Jenna Woginrich are one woman of a year or twenty-five which make everything itself. In the illustrated magazine empty them how you had determine deodorant. There also a recipe assisted. That recipe I have not succeeded, because I find that you must take no risk with deodorant. But I found Jenna intriguing, therefore read to the end I in one evening its book maggot from Scratch, Discovering the Pleasures or a hand maggot life. Jenna do in that book what I always, but where I to be stopped 1. work. intense idleness have wanted do 2. circumstances and 3: they is on a farm will live and make everything itself. She cultivates vegetables, sapwood wool, keeps chickens and bakes bread. Sometimes she conducts it something too far by: thus she plays in the book approximately in each chapter a tune on its banjo whereas them on the loading platform of its pick-uptruck sit and to the sun perdition looks at. She does also inept things, such as its dogs learn how they must draw a luge, what is according to me simply an excuse for always `Gee! (`Rechtsaf! in dog wear eel) and `Haw! (`Linksaf! ) to call. But well, that her has been granted.

In maggot from Scratch lay Jenna from how its sluice-gate truss has started them, and goes fortunately thereby much wrong. Especially the animals must pay for it. Its chickens opgegeten become firstly by its dogs, then the twenty thousand bees in its itself-built hive are driven off by a bear, and then must them its angora rabbit with a gun from its suffering release after that rabbit has been scared this way of the barking of Jenna dog, which it has pootje have been sprained and the wounded pootje themselves have aangevreten and has paralysed has touched. Yes, said nobody that always nice it was, an own farm have. But after I book from had, seemed it me still nice. What this way well is: Jenna have there simply negen-tot-vijf a job beside, on an office. She makes Internet sites. Furthermore of kitchen garden and banjo you cannot touch almost. There is therefore hope, also for me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

love is hell pt 1

I should have died in Tennessee. Back when I lived in Knoxville I jumped off a 35-foot-tall waterfall in the Smoky Mountains and missed the rocks below by six inches. It wasn't a suicide attempt, I want to make that clear. I was down at the base of the falls and saw a handful of college-age guys jumping off and having a big time, and I wanted in. By dumb luck I grazed them and crashed into the water, my body akimbo. When my head burst out of the freezing cold skin, the other hikers standing at the water's edge all said they were certain they would have to go in after me. No one watching thought I would make it. I shook as I hiked back to the car that day. Sometimes I wake up cold and sweaty from a nightmare of that memory. No sound or distance exists in the dream. Just the vertigo-induced rush of boulders slamming up towards me.

I see those rocks every once in a while. Try as I might - I can't shake them. In a way they've become a saving grace. When things get heavy for me—I see those stones and realize just being able to recall their memory is a goddamn blessing. We all know well - dead people don't remember. Anxiety is a luxury for those lucky enough to still be among the living.

I'm telling you this to explain what's going on with me. This month marks a year in Vermont, and while it had a rough and fairly anti-social start—I am now falling in love with this place. I'm making friends, finding my niche, making music and getting invitedinto living rooms. Sandgate is becoming home. I just attended my first town meeting Monday night and sat there like a proud parent watching her kids at a recital. I don't really recall the particulars but the whole messy night of politics was laced with a whimsical feeling of happy placement.

Here I am.

I'm writing this from a quilt in front of my fireplace, which is spitting and hissing as I type. Annie is here with me, Jazz is in the bedroom. I was just outside doing the nightly farm work in the dark and something happened that made me think of that waterfall again. I was listening to my ipod and carrying out feed to the animals. I had a 50-pound bag of layer mash over my left shoulder and an armload of hay under my right arm. It was about 15 degrees outside but my body is hardened up to cold now, and all I had on was my blue hoodie and a scarf. My head was wrapped up in a simple hat I knit this past fall. The sky was clear, the stars out, and I was walking towards the coop and sheep shed. Then as if on some celestial cue, the instrumental section of Ryan Adam's song Shadowlands off the album Love is Hell Pt. 1 keyed up.

The song is beautiful, and it stopped me mid-stride. I was standing there in the dark alone with this music. My tired body weighed down by hay and grain, and I was nearly moved to tears. I had to just stand there and breathe and take in the stars, and the snow, and sounds of cooing hens and shuffling sheep voices. I should've died in Tennessee. was all that came into my mind. So there I stood with Ryan Adams and my bag of chicken feed and if the president needed me to move, I could not. Sometimes the world just turns around three times and lays down at your feet. I'm falling in love with a world I don't get to keep. none of us do. Love is hell, pt 1.

I don't know how I got here. I can't draw a line in my memory from Kutztown to Knoxville to Sandpoint to Sandgate and have it make sense to me in any logical way. All I know is that somehow I made this farm out of naked willpower and anxiety and a paycheck-to-paycheck budget. When I moved in a year ago it was an empty cabin covered in ice and now there are outbuildings and fences, gardens and rabbit hutches, coops and a dogsled parked on the front porch. Right now as I am wrtiing to you there are hooves resting on straw, eggs incubating under breasts, and seedlings growing in the windowsill. The transition floors me. A year ago I was 2,000 miles away....this place got a second chance a life to.

That horrible leap changed the timing of my life mid-song. It stopped me just like Ryan did tonight in the Vermont woods. It's why I read Neruda's love poems on lunch breaks. It's why I get excited about things like snap peas and chickens. It's why I started this farm life. Folks, I'm simply excited to be here. Farming seems to be the closest you and I can get to directly participating in our short lives. I want to grow, raise, and know the things that keep my heart beating. This makes sense to me.

I think someday I'll go home to Tennessee. It's a place that haunts me, that wrote it's name across my lungs. I think about that state like people think about first loves. It isn't right for me to go back now, I know that. It seems like it should have me. After all, everything you know about me, this whole farm, this whole struggle to become a shepherd is on borrowed time from a temperamental waterfall in a southern state. I owe it.

On another note, I started a proposal to write a second book. Wish me luck. So far luck's all I've got.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

hey! snap pea planters!

Isn't that necklace fancy? I dig it. I found it on etsy while looking for antler necklaces (don't judge). You can click on the picture to go to the sellers page if you're so inclined. Jewlry aside, I just wanted to remind all you container gardeners that it's probably time to transfer those peat pots and seedlings into larger containers. That is if you haven't already. Once those suckers hit about 4 inches they need new cribs.

You'll also start to see these guys grasping for something to climb onto. I suggest placing them near a window that won't freeze them so they can climb up the wall. But you can also plant them in a large floor planter a few inches away from one another and buy one of those tomato baskets you see in garden stores. Or you could be like me and just rig something out of chopsticks and dowel rods. Whatever works guys. Burn the Buddha if you're cold.

Oh, and a short PSA. If you are using the peat pots with the panty-hose type webbing around them, make sure you remove that mesh before you plant it. I've known too many seedlings to get choked by that stuff, regardless of what the instructions say.

somewhere in kansas

Since I started writing about homesteading I've been lucky to meet a lot of great folks I may have otherwise never ran into. Readers, bloggers, authors, farmers and a slew of random people I never thought I'd know on a first-name basis. The fine people down in Topeka who staff Mother Earth News are said people. Since I started blogging for them, and writing the occasional web or print article for the magazine—I've come to know some of the gang there through emails and conversations. Yesterday, when I came home from work there was a congratulations card signed by the whole staff for the Books for a Better Life Award, how amazing is that?! You kids...

Aubrey sent me this photo from the office. The fact that somewhere in Kansas there is a magazine staffer rolling her mouse over an image of my angry sheep, well that's a fantastic little nexus. I just wanted to thank you guys here, and let you know how excited I am to be considered a twice-removed part of your family.

Also, the next issue of M.E.N. will have an excerpt from Scratch in it, with over a dozen color photos of the the farms in Idaho and Vermont, including...Maude, the champagne of sordid herbivores.

jazz in the smokies

Monday, March 2, 2009

beautiful, him

Sunday, March 1, 2009

garden gate

livin' on a prayer

Vermont is still freezing cold with nights back near the single digits. They are calling for snow all week, making me roll my eyes everytime I look out the window. Listen I love winter, I do, but enough is enough. All relationships need some space and I think winter and I need a solid six-month separation to keep things healthy. The silver lining to all this ice-coated misery are my peas. My flower pot here on the kitchen table has seven four-inch sprouts and seeing them every morning with my coffee has been an answered prayer in a very very cold winter. (Which goes to show you can create small miracles with the winning combination of patience and seed catalogs). Oh, and before I forget, someone emailed me this photo of their peas from their phone, and I have no idea who's they are, so somebody better fess up. That's a fine set of sprouts you have there. Be proud.

You know you're a blog person when you're annoyed you can't update. Maybe "annoyed" isn't the right word, because I wasn't upset or anxious, I just missed my daily sit down with the laptop to unload the farm news. It's just that the last few days have been really busy. I actually had some company up here at Cold Antler. My friend Kevin took a train from Philly and together we lived it up like the old days, junkin' around antique malls and catching up. Not to brag but Kevin found me a hideous porcelain decanter in the shape of the state of Tennessee (which I of course bought). It now sits on my mantle. Oh, Tennessee.

The real focus of the trip was going to see Sarah Vowell in Massachusetts Friday night, which was fantastic. If you're not familiar with her, Sarah's a regular on my favorite radio show, This American Life, and she's the author of a pile of books talking about history, pop culture, and us. For a good time, pick up her travel bit Assassination Vacation. It's a hilarious book about visiting the history and locations of the assassinations of Garfield, McKinley, and Lincoln. Sounds dark, but I promse it's hilarious. And if you dig history half as much as I do you'll lap it up like the tall sarcastic drink of water that it is. I also gave her a copy of Scratch, and never felt lamer in my life doing so. But hey, how often do you meet Sarah Vowell?

I have some big personal news...I played the fiddle at an open mic night last night! My bandmates Steve and Phil and I played at a small comfy bar called Kevin's in North Bennington (no association to the previous Kevin, for there are many), and I even had friends show up to support me, which in all honesty, made the night. There is profound comfort in knowing I'm starting to make friends with people who'll sit through a guy in a bathrobe playing a flute behind a pair of congas long after their meal was spent to wait for me to play. Dedication from saints like that is proof positive I'm getting somewhere socially.) As for the playing, I wasn't nervous, but mostly because three bow strokes in I realized there was no way anyone (including me) could hear my fiddle over the noise of the bar and electric instruments. So my performance was really just me pathetically miming with two guitarists... Regardless, I still got up there and I'm proud of myself for taking that step as a homegrown musician. I've been hoping to do this for a long time, and just like planting peas - sometimes you need to be a little proactive about your big plans. It's amazing what we call make ourselves do with some potting soil and a few Guinesses in or bloodstream.

Okay, coffee is done on the stove. You know me.