Sunday, January 31, 2010

this just in

Everything is going to work out. I know it will.

losing my footing

I have some sad news. I just got off the phone with the sellers of the cabin. They aren't interested in any option but buying the cabin outright, as is. They do not want a rent-to-own situation and they don't want to invest in winterizing it either. Honestly, I don't think they want the place to leave the family yet. It's understandable, but heartbreaking. Sadly, their decision makes it impossible for me to buy it since no bank will approve a mortgage on it since it's not a full-year home and therefore would not pass an USDA/FHA-required home inspection. So it's a catch-22. Neither the banks or the owners want to bend even though I'm willing to become a contortionist to make it work. I tried explaining to them options like they hold the mortgage and me buying within a five year bubble. That this meant I would be the owner, and pay the taxes and upkeep and they just get a deal in writing that I will get it up to code and buy it in a few years. I also explained that I could winterize it this summer, saving them the cost and they'd still be getting checks in the mail. They just aren't biting.

There's a slim chance that they'll consider a mortgage holding proposal if I come up with a lawyer and the contract for their consideration, but even then, who has 600 bucks to hire a lawyer for a shot in the dark? I think I lost my footing on the Foothold. Which is emotionally devastating since I'd been secretly banking on it working out. It was my parachute in this foggy mess of finding a home. For a while there I had myself fooled that everything was going to work out and that was going to be home. I was already sketching out garden plans and talking to neighbors about renting pasture next door....

Maybe it just wasn't meant to be. I don't know. But New York State just started looking a lot better. That house I looked into today would be a perfect place to turn into Jenna Woginrich: Small Farmer. Maybe the sellers of that place will come down to my price range if the checks in their hands? Like I said, I really don't know anymore.

I'm back to square one, again.

another possibility?

I have an appointment with a realtor at noon. I'm going to drive over to a 144-year-old farmhouse in Jackson, NY and look around. The house is in amazing shape and the current owners completely updated it. All the electric, floors, and windows have been redone. It has a new furnace, a new woodstove, new artisan well, and over 6 acres with an orchard, pond, and pasture. The septic is nine years old. It has the original dirt-basement root cellar. It comes with a small barn, out building, chicken coops and a water pump. Once it was a thriving sheep farm, and if I moved there, once again lambs would return to those fields, which is poetry. It's only half-an-hour away from here. It could be perfect.

However, even at the discounted price it's about forty thousand dollars out of my realistic price range. The bank may happily approve me for the house, but I may be living by the skin of my coffee-stained teeth. If the stars align and I can get some sort of deal and a bank actually gives me a mortgage - well, maybe I have a shot? But part of me worries the bigger house, longer commute, heavier mortgage and taxes, and larger grounds may be too much for a single girl... And part of me doesn't want to leave Vermont. I'm torn even at the possibility.

The plot thickens: I came home from my errands yesterday to a message from the cabin owners in Oregon. All it said was, "Thanks for the package, and I've made a decision." I'm on pins and needles over this. If the cabin could me mine, my heart would be lighter. The place feels right. It just needs some hard weekend and friends to help get it ready. I could have my gardens, bees, birds, and hooves back. I could rent the neighbor's barn and land. I could (and my heartbeat speeds up just at the thought) finally get my border collie puppy and get back into the sheepdog club. I could become a real resident of Sandgate. The taxes are a joke.

I could do all this and more in New York too, but as pristine as the place is (I drove up to it yesterday, and it is breathtaking) would it be too much? Would all that land, all that space force this barnheart-infected woman to fill it up with too much too fast? Would I be house poor and then stuck with a flock of sheep to winter over? Would I be living in my dream house and not even able to afford the garden seeds to compost? Would the forty minute drive from the office mean I could never go there on my lunch break? But dear lord....all that land. It's also closer to my hay dealer and there's a tractor shop down the road... The pro/con list is a dead heat. This farm I'm seeing today is a place I could grow into, make a living off of eventually. But unless some act of god or amazing grace blesses the probably won't happen.

Regardless, I have a date with destiny at high noon. I'll go there and either fall in unrequited house love or know it's not for me. On my side, I know the Jackson house has motivated sellers that want to move and soon. It may be perfect and I may be stubborn and scared. If I love this place, should I go for broke and just hope Nora Ephron calls me to make the Cold Antler Farm movie or Oprah suddenly gets into backyard chickens? Should I be simple and stick to that sweet little cabin with a hammer by the river?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

natural fibers

When I lived in Tennessee I spent a lot of my time rambling around the Smoky Mountains. She's the national park I know best, walked the most trails in, and the place that infected me with my love of homesteading. I was (still am) a hiker, and take great pleasure in five to fifteen mile walks in the woods. Back then, I was a bit of a gearhead. I liked going out into the wild with my technical daypack with its own hydration system built in. I'd have a multi tool, electric compass, and a water purifier to refill my Nagalene bottles with. I wore synthetic fabrics like polar fleece and abrasion-proof nylon with anti-insect chemicals soaked into them. I was in one of the most pristine, natural, simple places in all of creation and adorned in the modern hiker's equivalent of a space suit.

Now in my third year of homesteading I can see how much my attire has changed. Today I was standing about thirty feet above ground on a mountain of hay bales in Nelson's loft (My second-cut dealer) and noticed every single thing I was wearing was either made out of plants or ate them. Wool sweater, socks, hat, and gloves. Cotton flannel shirt and a heavy cotton canvas insulated vest. Denim jeans, leather boots, hell, even my undies were cotton. Wrapped around my neck was a scarf I knit from thick wool—another nod towards the ovine set. Everything I was wearing was a natural fiber, not because I woke up and made those conscious decisions, but because that's what felt right. And you know what? I was warm. It was 11 degrees in that barn and I was really, really warm. I find it odd and beautiful that being in the wilds of the southern mountain parks didn't open my eyes to simpler clothes—it was the domesticity of gardens and livestock that did that. My homelife made me feral. It was learning to live closer to my backyard that set me on a wilder course. Some people need to trek across Ireland to learn to appreciate a bowl of potatoes. I just needed to plant some.

Now when I need to carry water on a summer walk I fill up a quart mason jar and dump a lemon slice in it and screw on the lid. If I need to make it portable - I tie some baling twine around it and carry it that way. I don't want to be covered in plastic tubes and fabrics made by scientists. I'm not sure when, but that sort of stuff lost its appeal. I want to wear clothing that once lived in a seed, or on the back of a ram or steer. I don't see any fault in modern fabrics—it's just not who I am anymore. It's a wardrobe from a past life: one where a backpack needed hydration systems and fleece meant neon-space fluff.

With all that said: I still swear by Chacos. Which are nylon and rubber sandals made to handle rough terrain and slick creeks. There is nothing natural about them. That's okay. I'm mostly contrarian. It drives people close to me nuts.

Friday, January 29, 2010

high winds and new hives

We’re back in the sub arctic temperatures again. Bennington county had a high of 12 today, and last night 40-mile-per hour winds whipped at the cabin like something outta Oz. I knew those sunny days were all talk. I’m back to cracking ice off of chicken fonts and hauling buckets of warm water to the sheep. On my lunch break I picked up fresh bedding straw and some heartier feed for the birds. A mix of layer mash and cracked corn. Corn is like liquid heat for poultry. It’s not the healthiest of feeds, but it does help retain a warmer running temperature and throw on a little extra fat. Tonight after work I’ll be laying down straw, feeding the birds, and lighting a fire to write aside. Big plans for this girl.

But you know what? I love nights like this. A Friday night in with a set list of personal projects and a warm fire is grand. I can stay up as late as I want writing or playing music, and then know tomorrow is just a coffee pot and sleep-in away. This is my normal routine, actually. Most Thursday nights my little band gets together to play music. (You may know some of my band mates, such as Steve, killer of Chuck Klosterman.) So those nights in pubs are my big social adventures for the week. Friday is always a low key time to myself.

In farm news: I ordered my bees. They won’t be ready for pickup from the supplier over in Greenwich till May 15th so I’ll be living in my next home by then. Just ordering them felt audacious. Who do I think I am? Planning a colony without a place to even set up their hive? I’m just banking on this all working out somehow. And when it does work out, I want my gardens to have the help of those honeybees. Besides being a pleasure to share my life with; they really do make all the difference in a pumpkin patch.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

personal horizon lines

Thanks to the mild weather I'm back in my truck again. After weeks of hibernating in the driveway, she's returned to the now-iceless roads. I had forgotten the simple pleasures of a clean car (the Subaru is a science experiment of hay, dog hair, and random farm equipment/feed bags). I also forgot the way it feels to sit a little higher with that wide open bed behind you. Your own personal horizon line.

I never really understood truck love until I pieced together that it wasn't the trucks themselves most people adore: but the lifestyle it grants them. A truck is another draft animal. A horse you can ride by itself, or hitch to a cart. Sometimes the bed is empty, but usually it is loaded with feed bags, straw, hay, and livestock. Yes, I could do all this in several trips with the station wagon, or employ a hitched trailer, but I don't want to. I want to slam up the tailgate with a load of hay and climb into the front seat. I want to turn up the music and sip my coffee and sing. I want just enough room left in the cab for a black guitar case holding an old J-45, or a yellow-eyed jet-black border collie, or (god willing) a man with teeth as sharp as my own. (Feral men who still adore Wes Anderson movies are hard to come by these days, which is a shame.) Sometimes I look over at the empty seat and imagine those things. It's just not my time.

Anyway, just sitting in my pickup makes me feel more content and I don't mean that in any materialistic way, at all. It has nothing to do with owning a truck. I feel the same way leaning with my back against a tree with a banjo in my lap. I feel the same when Jazz curls up against me in bed and sighs before falling asleep. It is a sense of place and comfort granted by symbols that remind you of the person you strive to be. I want to be a farmer. Sitting in that used truck that carries hay and fencing reminds me of farming. That good work. Even on the busiest highway it retains its dignity as an elaborate gardening tool.

It is, quite literally, my vehicle of change.

Monday, January 25, 2010

rainy day

This seems to happen every January here. We get hit with a warm spell and all the snow melts and the rain comes pouring down and outside what used to be a winter wonderland looks like the spine of a dead rotting chicken. Everything is bare and ugly and black and brown. High winds and the roaring creek outside make it feel like a spring is coming. I know better. This is just a big gulp of selfish warm air before the next heavy snowfall. Still, it makes a girl wish she hadn't sold her banjo. Warm nights like this, with dripping rain, were meant for a dozen little candles and a banjo playing waltzes on the porch.

The warm weather also makes me a little nervous, mostly because while things are falling into place, I still have no home come May. I have some money saved and some offers to rent, but the goal of moving into my own place is still floating in the Battenkill down the road. I can tell you that I had an auspicious meeting with a local bank. After so many visits with firm handshakes and apologies for not being able to offer me a loan, this recent bank didn't tell me no. They told me, come back in one month. They said I should be in a position to lend if my credit score hops up thirty points. Since I recently paid off the Subaru and a few credit cards—I'm praying the debts repaid can hike it up. If they don't, well, then I just have to eat some crow and make other plans.

I am still hoping that I can make a home out of the Foothold (the small, rustic cabin I've been writing about). I just have to be realistic about it. It feels so perfect, and I want it so much, but I found out from all the lenders I've been talking to that no one will approve a loan for a house that isn't winterized. The cabin needs to be made ready for cold weather and I'm not sure I can afford the work. But I am also guessing. I haven't given up yet. I have a number of a local guy who can tell me exactly what the place needs, so who knows? I did find out from the owners they might consider a rent-to-own option on the property, which would be a godsend. I walked around the property this weekend (with the owner's permission) and stood between the fireplace and the small stream bubbling through the snow into the Green River. I could almost see the goat pen and the chicken coop if I squinted my eyes...

Trying to become a farmer, while still being a homesteader, while still working a day job I love = high stress. I'm blessed to have friends, music, and animals around me to alleviate some of it. Last night I went to Abi and Greg's for dinner and got to visit Finn. He's a little bigger and his coat's a little fluffier, but he still runs to me when I call his name. He's really growing attached to his alpaca friends though. I'm worried about moving him away. Will he go into some sort of caprine depression? All I know is he won't be alone ever again. When he comes home to me he'll have a friend waiting for him. Another kid or something. But that day seems eons from tonight. Tonight is just rain, uncertainty, and no banjo.

I have some exciting news to round off our night. A popular dog magazine called the Bark will be publishing the mushing excerpt from Made From Scratch in their next issue, which comes out in early February. If you find a copy you'll see our Jazz and Annie smiling inside. The magazine also inviting me to become a columnist for 2010. I'll be writing about rural living with dogs all year. So if you want to keep up with the canine side of things around here, pick up a subscription.

my jacob wool hat!

I did it! I learned to knit in the round and pulled off a scrappy knit hat. It has ribbing, a cinched top, and a basket-type pattern around the sides. I didn't use a pattern, just made it up as I went along. It certainly isn't perfect (actually, it's mostly imperfect) but it fits on my head and is a step above my usual knitting adventures. I'm wearing it right now and will stomp around the soggy farm tonight in my big boots with a toasty skull. Not a bad killing for a weekend in Vermont.

there's a facebook group for barnheart!?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

old guitars and black dogs

It was a very musical day yesterday. It started with a two-hour long conversation about vintage guitars and ended with a live concert where I watched one (a beautiful sunburst hollowbody. I'm pretty sure it was an early Gibson ES) blow me away in a jazz quartet. I'll start at the beginning.

I'm working on a magazine story about a guitar. In my research to track down experts and luthiers I found a proprietor down in Nashville known for his expertise on vintage acoustics. We ended up talking for hours. I felt like I was talking to an artist, historian, museum curator and musician all in one. Every question lead to more questions. Quotes lead to books, and photographs in those books lead to even more phone calls and interviews. I was inhaling sitka spruce yesterday, day dreaming about old jumbos and the people who picked them. I hope the story comes out as impassioned as the research gathering's been. It certainly had me stopping every so often to pick up my trusty Epiphone acoustic and pop in an instructional DVD to work on some fingerpicking or new chords. I'm not a great guitarist, but great guitars make me weak in the knees and inspire me to be better. Show me a pre war Southern Jumbo and watch me quiver like a fourteen year-old in a Twilight pre-screening. I don't want Edward. I want Dylan.

After a few pages of notes and a few hours with my guitar I got a phone call from a friend about a concert that was in town for one last night. Mads Tolling, a Danish Grammy award-winning jazz fiddler was doing a show at the elementary school with his guitarist, bassist, and drummer. It was fall-down-the-stairs good. He started with some spicy self composed numbers, the rolled into Monk and Miles Davis covers (though "cover" is hardly the right word when talking about improvisational jazz) and ended with a floor-shaking version of Zeppelin's Black Dog. His guitarist was amazing, working with that Gibson hollowbody (and if you click that link in the sentence before. You'll know what I mean). I watched this guy play one of the same guitars I had been talking about that very morning. It was like waking up and reading Black Beauty and then watching a black stallion show up in your backyard.

I was grateful Vermont has people bringing folks like this in to keep us bottom feeding musicians clamoring for our own evolution. A great performance makes me want to just go home and play. Not to sound like a fiddler like Mads, but to sound like a better version of Jenna. There is ample room for improvement. I'm never bored.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

joseph in the snow

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


There’s a condition that inflicts some of us and I can only describe as Barnheart. Barnheart is a sharp, targeted, depression that inflicts certain people (myself being one of them) as harsh and ugly as a steak knife being shoved into an uncooked turkey. It’s not recognized by professionals or psychoanalysts (yet), but it’s only a matter of time before it’s a household diagnose. Hear me out. It goes like this:

Barnheart is that sudden overcast feeling that hits you while at work or in the middle of the grocery store checkout line. It’s unequivocally knowing you want to be a farmer—and for whatever personal circumstances—cannot be one just yet. So there you are, heartsick and confused in the passing lane, wondering why you cannot stop thinking about heritage livestock and electric fences. Do not be afraid. You have what I have. You are not alone.

You are suffering from Barnheart.

It’s a dreamer’s disease: a mix of hope, determination, and grit. Specifically targeted at those of us who wish to god we were outside with our flocks, feed bags, or harnesses and instead are sitting in front of a computer screens. When a severe attack hits, it’s all you can do to sit still. The room gets smaller, your mind wanders, and you are overcome with the desire to be tagging cattle ears or feeding pigs instead of taking conference calls. People at the water cooler will stare if you say these things aloud. If this happens, just segue into sports and you’ll be fine.

The symptoms are mild at first. You start glancing around the internet at homesteading forums and cheese making supply shops on your lunch break. You go home after work and instead of turning on the television—you bake a pie and read about chicken coop plans. Then some how, somewhere, along the way – you realize you are happiest when in your garden or collecting eggs. When this happens, man oh man, it’s all down hill from there. When you accept the only way to a fulfilling life requires tractor attachments and a septic system, it’s too late. You’ve already been infected. If you even suspect this, you may have early-onset Barnheart.

But do not panic, my dear friends. Our rural ennui has a cure! It’s a self-medication that that can only be administered by direct, tangible, and intentional actions. If you find yourself overcome with the longings of Barnheart, simply step outside; get some fresh air, and breathe. Go back to your desk and finish your tasks knowing that tonight you’ll take notes on spring garden plans and start perusing those seed catalogs. Usually, simple, small actions in direction of your own farm can be the remedy. In worst-case scenarios you might find yourself resorting to extreme measures. These situations call for things like a day called in sick to do nothing but garden, muck out chicken coops, collect fresh eggs and bake fresh bread. While that may seem drastic, understand this is a disease of inaction, darling. It hits us the hardest when we are farthest from our dreams. So to fight it we must simply have faith that some day 3:47 PM will mean grabbing a saddle instead of a spreadsheet. Believing this is even possible is halfway to healthy. I am a high-functioning sufferer of Barnheart. I can keep a day job, long as I know my night job involves livestock.

Barnheart is a condition that needs smells and touch and crisp air to heal. If you find yourself suffering from such things, make plans to visit an orchard, dairy farm, or pick up that beat guitar. Busy hands will get you on the mend. Small measures, strong convictions, good coffee, and kind dogs will see you through. I am certain of these things.

So when you find yourself sitting in your office, school, or café chair and your mind wanders to a life of personal freedom, know that feeling is our collective disease. If you can almost taste the bitter smells of manure and hay in the air and feel the sun on your bare arms, even on the subway, you are one of us and have hope for recovery. Like us, you try and straighten up in your ergonomic desk chair but really you want to be reclining in the bed of a pickup truck. We get that.

And hey, do not lose the faith or fret about the current circumstances. Everything changes. And if you need to stand in the light of an old barn to lift your spirits, perhaps some day you will. Every day. For some, surely this is the only cure.

We’ll get there. In the meantime, let us just take comfort in knowing we’re not alone. And maybe take turns standing up and admitting we have a problem.

Hello. My name is Jenna. And I have Barnheart.

winthrop and his girls

These last three photos (my hat, bonfires, and chickens) were taken by Diana

Monday, January 18, 2010

fires and anxieties

This weekend was the annual Burning Christmas bonfire party in Sandgate. Locals bring their dead trees from the holidays and throw them on a blazing fire pit and watch them go up in sparks. It's a potluck, so everyone gets a plate of food and a beer and goes outside to be warmed by the flames and conversation. I brought an apple pie I whipped up before the party. Diana came along this year, and it was good to share the tradition with her. I liked showing her some of the quirky greatness of my mountain town.

I'll have a large update soon, so much is happening. There's a lot of potential in this cabin I'm hoping to buy...but it all seems too good to be true. I worry my heart is jumping the gun as I haven't even been inside yet and have no idea of its actual condition. Part of me is scared it's too expensive to winterize that summer home, and the project is more than I can handle. Any plumbers out there? Have a few minutes to talk to a confused woman in Vermont looking at a cabin?

Tonight I'm a little beat. The weekend was good, but exhausting. My emotions and anxieties seem to be constantly at a brisk canter. I miss those summer days where I swung in the hammock with the banjo, letting my imagination and music pull me into a nap. I look forward to those days again. Hammocks are exponentially more comfortable when you know where home is.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

my new hat!

jacob's ladder

Yesterday Diana and I spent hours in yarn stores, looking through skeins and talking about projects. When it comes to knitting, I know the basics and can whip up a basic scarf or hat without a problem—but Di is an artist and a professional. She knows tricks, terms, and yarn in ways I can not even fathom. She makes these beautiful and complicated projects that put my utilitarian work to shame. The night I picked her up at the airport she presented me with a beautiful ear-flapped winter hat. It was hand-knit from baby alpaca wool with delicate patterns of purple and blue on snow white wool. It was so comfortable I wore it to sleep.

Having a talented knitter was the inspiration I needed to expand my own knowledge. I wanted to learn to knit hats in the round (on circular needles) and for her to show me the right way to purl. Last night I got an all-out lesson but got horribly frustrated. I was trying to do too much at once, jumping into a project without even practicing on swatches to gain confidence. But this morning I started over with a deep breath and twenty stitches instead of sixty. I still messed it up, but I understood why. Practice is slowly making perfect. Every row gets a little easier and my fingers seem a bit more nimble. There's light at the end of this tunnel, folks. I'll get that hat made proper.

The real inspiration to get better at knitting comes from a line of yarn I found at Black Sheep Yarns in Dorset. Rowan Purelife has a series of skeins sold not by some whimsical name or combination of wools, but by the sheep it came from. The British Sheep Breeds series sells you beautiful 100% natural wool from heritage stock of Great Britain. I chose a coarse, brown Jacob. It was the same wool used for the sample hat—that just holding, made me want to jump on the back of a fell pony with a border collie pumping at our flanks as we'd ride up the hill to check on the lambs. Diana convinced me I could make that hat. I'm a sucker, so I believed her and bough the yarn to use to learn the new skill. My successes in knitting aside—as a shepherd in training I was thrilled to see yarn that actually talks about sheep. Hell, had their picture on the product itself with detailed information about the breed. Here's to keeping those old heritage boys alive. I'd wave a flag, but instead I'll attempt a fancy hat from Jake.

Friday, January 15, 2010

listen to this

Thursday, January 14, 2010

we'll rescue each other

First things first. A reader posted about the earthquake in Haiti, and how some of us may be able to help. While CAF isn't set up to take any sort of foreign aid donations like some other blogs are—I can direct you here. I'm not asking readers to donate, but I will say this. Many hands make work light. Even the worst work. I'll be making a donation tomorrow. If anyone understands the kindness of charity: it's me after this winter. If all of us with solid roofs over our head give something, even just a few dollars, it could turn this world around.

Now with that said, here is what's new in this small life. I'm feeling better. Tuesday night was a horrible argument with the flu and I spent most of it either in the bathroom heaving or in bed with Jazz. He'd lay his wold head on my chest and let me scratch his ears, telling him in a sickness-induced delirium that he's cooler than Han Solo ever was in Empire, even after the part when he told Leia "He Knows." Two days of rest and a gallon of orange juice later and I'm me again. I don't take back the Han Solo comment either. Jazz is cooler.

Tomorrow I will mail out a small package/fancy begging container to the family that owns the cabin. I've collected local references, will write a note explaining about me and my hopes for the property, and a copy of my book. I'm hoping my intentions and the positive things I want to do with their land will help them decide to give me a chance.

While in a perfect world they'd want to sell to me, and a bank would grant me the loan—I need to be prepared for kind denial, a poor home inspection, or a solemn head shake from the bank. So many things can fall through...But there are all sorts of plan Bs in the works, too. Perhaps the cabin owners will allow a rent-to-own deal if the bank says no? And if they don't, a local reader and his family offered to let me (possibly) rent a cottage on their land and bring the animals along too. Which means that even if I can't buy now (though I pray it will work out) I may have a meantime home waiting for me. Just knowing that these two options have the chance to happen, helps me sleep better.

I was writing tonight about taking that first sheep class two springs ago when I first moved to Vermont. While writing about it I remembered the friend who told me about the class in the first place. Her name is Trish, and ever since she stopped working with me, I fell out of touch. Inspired by the memory, I looked her up in the phone book and called her. We talked for a while, and eventually I told her about the cabin. I told her how perfect it was, and how close I felt to having a place of my own. That I could practiaclly see the clawmarks in the air around me. She stopped me mid-sentence and told me (serious as a heart attack) '"Jenna? Did you know my mother is a mortgage broker?" I told her I did not...but could I have her number?! "Of course! HA! There is a reason you called!" she said, citing the kismet, making us both laugh. It was so good to hear from her again. And the weird coincidence felt like a second bar of a song I started writing ealier tonight when I picked up my last reference letter from Nancy over at Wayside. Things are slowly starting to happen, people.

The last bit of news I have to share is very good. Tomorrow I am getting a visitor. If you read Made From Scratch you might remember my mentor, Diana. (She's also a common commenter and forum member over at the Locals.) She's flying in from Idaho and we're spending the weekend together! Just a short trip, mind you, but a good one. There will be lots to catch up on. We haven't seen each other in almost two years, but by this time tomorrow I'll be waiting for her at the airport. It'll be good to have her back in my life for a little. Two years is a long time. Trish may meet us for coffee and yarntalk at Northshire. So, hey, how great did that work out?

Tonight I feel invigorated with the small possibilities that are starting to unfold. I am realizing with the help of my readers, solid faith in the future, and some stupid luck—I will land on my feet. A week ago I felt like the world was pulled out from under me, and while I'm still a bit shaky, I am starting to find my Foothold. A little hope is all this girl needs to stand a little taller.

And just between you an me, sometimes I lose my balance from the gratitude. It's a drunk and lovely vertigo. I dance to it, even when I fall down.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

i do apologize

I'll be back soon, and updating you all on the story and the farm. But I'm currently dealing with a bad case of the flu. See you all tomorrow, perhaps. Today, sleep.

Monday, January 11, 2010

voice lessons

When I was outside tonight feeding the animals I heard a sound so bone chilling it took each piece of my spine and stuck frozen Jell-o in the orifices. I was out by the car and stopped dead in the snow path. I was certain I was a dozen yards from some murder scene. The sound was something like a banshee wail mixed with the death rattle of a mako shark. (I speculate. Don't judge.) After the initial spookiness was past I realized that, once again, the scary sound in my backyard was coming from the chicken coop. Why can't any of my roosters be like normal chickens? Why do they all have to audition for Spinal Tap?

When Winthrop (my reigning rooster) started to crow I was shocked by the sound he made. He didn't crow, he moaned, and then graduated to an all-out werewolf howl. I could not believe that noise came from a chicken and not a dog. (He literally howls people. When Winthrop hollers the neighbor's dogs holler back.) Now John (the new rooster I raised since I bought him as a chick in July) has followed in his footsteps. John howls too, but the difference is his voice it totally normal. It's the same rooster crow you've heard a million times in movies and on the Waltons, but stretched like taffy at a long, shrill, pitch. All I can gather is this little boy grew up listening to the man of the house bay at the moon, so he must think that's the way to do it? I'm possibly horridly wrong but unless there are some audio-linguists of the domestic avian practice out there to correct me, I'm going with my nurture over nature thesis.

I like this. We all howl around here at Cold Antler.

Even me, sometimes.

sal in the light

Sunday, January 10, 2010

brown baggin' it

Here's the messenger bag I made last night. (A few of you asked if I would post the pattern or instructions.) I didn't use a pattern though, just some basic outlines in a book called Sew What! Bags By Lexie Barnes. The book has instructions for everything from wine bottle covers to advanced carrying cases. (My favorite is the DJ bag - made for carrying your records.) I used a basic personal purse guideline and figured it out from there. The book is big on common sense and easy instructions, so it made it easy even for a beginner like me. I bought the fabric online: a thick corduroy for the outside and a pattern with birds and antlers for the inside. (I lifted the flap there so you could see the pattern better, but you get the idea that it just covers the front of the bag.) It also has little pockets on the side panels for my phone and a granola bar. I took it out on the town today for a test run and it carried my life around just fine. The bottom worked and no one asked me to remove it—so I think it passes!

fiddle workshop?

If you emailed me with interest about the beginner fiddle workshop in February, will you please email me so we can make arrangements? So far out of the original six interested only one has reserved her spot.


across the water

I picked up a magazine at Tractor Supply a few weeks ago because it looked interesting, but I had never seen it before. It was called Home Farmer, and was about small scale farming and homesteading, with a heavy focus on backyard livestock. I scooped it up, checked out, and then let it sit on my coffee table for a while before I really dug into it. Last night after sewing (and two episodes of HBO's John Adams - which is wonderful) I started paging through it. It was wonderful! Turns out I wasn't familiar with it because it's a British publication. But I was so thrilled reading it because it was like sitting in someone's backyard in England and being shown around their gardens and coops. (Let me tell you something, the British have perfected backyard bird homes. Check out and Framebow.) Anyway, my favorite take away from the magazine is how universal homesteading is. This was an English magazine, but could easily apply to someone in New York or Portland. Same animals, same desires, same understanding that freedom isn't in our bank accounts or the cars we drive—it's right past the garden gate.

This is one of my favorite things about backyard farming- everyone needs to eat, and we all want to eat a little better. To some that means a better restaurant and to others it means a hen house and a veggie garden. I'll always be on the second side of those options, but I'm just thrilled the later is so well understood 5,000 miles away.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

cars, goats, and phone calls

So I feel like I should share some good news after all this rough stuff. Starting with a little freedom. Today I made the final payment on the Subaru! As of today I own both of my vehicles. No longer is my chariot co-owned by Chase Bank. It is mine, and another step towards owning my own place. (Banks love a girl without car payments.)

Another bit of goodness: I got to visit Finn today over at Abi's. Soon as I parked the car in the driveway I ran to the fence and yelled for him. He came running and nickering! I was so happy to know the little guy had not forgotten his girl. I kissed him on the forehead and scratched his ears. My good goat.

It is so So good to visit him like this and be able to stay in his life. I feel blessed with how well he's doing with the alpaca's and the Connors. I stayed and had a cup of coffee with Greg and the kids. It is so great to talk to other people who dance between technology and homesteading. Greg's a novelist and computer guy, but has 60 chickens and a pair of alpacas. (Talk about my scene...) Abi's a blogger and an amazing knitter. I'm so happy they came into my life.

The last bit of good news: I talked to the family out west that owns the cabin. Turns out they're in Oregon, not California. It was like talking to old friends. They seem like wonderful people. I was on the phone for a long time, listening to the history of the place. Man, it was great to witness the stories. Hear the anecdotes about snakes and toads and the beautiful people who have owned it in the past. I heard about tulips and fishing, childhood friends and famers. It was almost surreal how perfect it all sounded. It seems like having me there may be a good thing for us both.

I have no idea if this place will work out for me, but after the conversations I have had with the people who love it—I want to make it mine so it stays a beautiful place. They call the cabin Foothold, as in the "Foothold to Heaven". It has raised summertime children, told stories, entertained girl scouts and made these people 3,000 miles away nearly cry on the phone. I might have fallen in love with it too. Which is scary because I don't even know if the place is something I can afford, or if the repairs would be prohibiting. But I do know what my heart tells me, and it is singing for this place. The last thing the daughter of the owner said to me before getting off the phone was, "I'm glad you called." So was I.

Paying off my car, scratching the kid I love behind the ears, hearing the owners of the cabin teach me the history of this town... This is all good news. To celebrate I'll be raising a bottle of hard cider and sewing a new messenger bag as a present for myself. I ordered some brown corduroy and this fabric of songbirds and deer with giant antlers as a lining. Working with my hands will be a good distraction from the stress and end in a fine result.

Friday, January 8, 2010

a day of panic followed by a day of rest

Yesterday I went out with my band to play some music at a bar and eat good food. We laughed and sang and it was just what I needed. I am still worried, but calmer. (Or maybe just tired from being out till 1AM) Regardless, I'm determined to figure out the next steps, however daunting. I tracked down some information on the cabin, and yesterday Steve and I went to see it in person on our lunch break. There it is in the photo! My instant reaction was great, just look at that place. Tucked into a hillside with a winding staircase. A neighbor with ample land to loan or possibly sell. A small, affordable, cabin almost waiting for me to bring it back to life. I could make this place everything. I could start new. I'm trying not too get too excited, but honestly, just the idea that this might be the perfect solution is what had me smiling as I sang last night at the bar. This could be home.

All I know right now is that it is in fact for sale and the woman with a connection to the owner will call me tomorrow. It's a long shot. Everything from getting approved for a mortgage to finding a new rental is a long shot. But I feel like I am finding my feet after being knocked down and starting this new part of my life.

Everything is up in the air right now. I'm running on fumes and gut feelings. It's been a raw week: both in good and bad ways. The hit of finding out I was losing my home, followed by a night of music and friends and forgetting, followed by the slightest hope I could buy this small house and start all over again—has left me emotionally exhausted. Tonight I am just staying in to write and enjoy the fire and maybe sew. It has been one good day of work in starting over, possibly mildly hung over. I am okay with that moral deficit in this situation.

I am constantly amazed at the kind words, emails, offers of help, moving buddies, and letters I have received since I announced the cabin vacating. Thank you so much. The longer I write this blog and read your comments the more I feel like I'm building my future community. I am lucky (even when I'm not) to have all of you. If it takes me a while to reply to your email, or if I forget, please know I read everything and am deeply grateful. You just can't know how much.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

the beginning of an end

I came home to find a note in the mailbox from my landlord. My stomach instantly went empty. That feeling you get when a plane just drops from turbulence or you miss the bottom step. I stood outside in front of the Subaru's headlights to read the notice in the dark. It said—in a polite and calm tone—that she would be moving back to Vermont this summer and doing renovations on the cabin. She would soon be mailing me a notice to Vacate on or before May 1st.

After I read it I just stood there. I stood there with that same hollowness you feel when you realize something you thought was real, wasn't. Like when you finally understand your love for someone is totally unrequited (I'm actually an expert on this) or Santa wasn't real. Tonight, reading that letter, I finally understood Cold Antler wasn't real either—it was always someone else's. You could have pushed me over with a feather.

I understand that four month's notice is generous and ample time to pack up and move. I understand that a kind note sent to alert me of a notice was courteous and friendly. (I have no ill will towards my landlord, at all. She is just doing what landlord do.) I get all that. I am not an irrational person. It doesn't make the feather-pushability go away.

I want to write something to you about the amazing affirmation the note was. How it was just validating my own plans and dreams, and that the universe is colliding to make my life happen as I visualize it. But honestly, I don't feel any of that. I'm terrified. I. Am. Absolutely. Terrified. I'm sitting in a ticking time bomb and have no idea how I'm going to pull this future farm off. I always thought I would be the one sending a notice to my landlord. I thought this place would be mine for years...That I could live here until I was ready to move onto the next big thing and plan my life around that. But things have changed so much since the holidays started. So much.

If it was just me and the dogs, this wouldn't even be cause to blink. I've done that time and time again within a month, no sweat. But this is no longer moving a girl and some huskies to an apartment in Bennington—this is trying to move an entire lifestyle. I have to find a place for me, a flock of sheep, a coop of birds, and two dogs in what is now just sixteen weeks. I need to either get myself into a position to buy, quick, or find another small plot of land that will let me rent for another year while I save. That second idea means finding a landlord somewhere in the area that welcomes a working small farm. It's not impossible, but unlikely. If I can't buy a small home with a bit of land in time, I will have to find new homes for the remaining animals (not Jazz and Annie - they will never leave my side) and abandon the farmlife for a while. The idea that this is a likely possibility feels like someone just knocked the wind out of me.

Like I said. Terrified.

Now, with all that said, there is a bit of gossip in town that gives me hope. A small house on an acre and a half on the other side of Sandgate might be for sale. It's nothing fancy, but the locals say it's in solid condition and the woman who inherited the cabin recently lives in California and doesn't want it. Which means it mightbe up for sale and in my modest price range. I called the contact that the owners of the Wayside gave me, but I haven't heard back from her yet. I am hoping the rumor is true. Crossing my fingers. Knocking on wood. If it is, it will give me the slightest bit of comfort on a night humming with anxiety.

I know I'll be okay. I know this will somehow work out, even if the situation isn't ideal and involves a lot of heartache. I knew this was all coming. I was just hoping it was coming in late summer, or maybe fall. I just wish I had a little more time to figure this all out. I'll keep you posted, and please, wish me luck on this mess.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

home from a run

Monday, January 4, 2010

maybe, then.

After three days of being housebound (save for the two trips to Wayside) I am back into the weekly grind. It's always a shock going from the farm to the office—but after three days of writing/cabin life it was like emerging from a monastery into a freeway. That sounds negative, but I don't mean for it to be. I love my job and am grateful for the people it brought into my life. Sometimes it just shocks you. Sometimes that's a good thing.

We had a going away lunch party for my boss and another coworker just announced their move to the midwest. (A pretty happening day for the small company I'm a part of.) A lot of people's lives are changing all around me. There are promotions and plane trips and moving companies involved in that office. Sitting at the lunch party felt a little sordid. I'm never the person eating soup and wishing someone else good luck. I'm the person the going-away parties are for. I've lived in four states in five years. That lunch was the first time I realized I was staying put. I have a lot to figure out first.

I know I don't want to move anymore.

I would like to stay right here in Vermont, thank you.

...except maybe when I am much much older and Tennessee asks me to come home.

maybe, then.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

fiddle workshop update

I've slotted the weekend of February 20th as the Saturday for the beginner fiddle workshop here at the farm. About four people contacted me and I have faith we'll find a fifth. If you have no idea what I'm talking about—last week I announced a four hour intro-to-fiddle workshop for people who want to learn old time mountain music but have no idea how. (Of course, musically experienced folks are welcome too!) But if you are free that weekend, and always wanted to learn, email me to make arrangements and such. I plan on hosting it from 11 AM - 3 PM, and if anyone comes from out of town (or wants to stick around) we can plan on going out to dinner that night as a group in Manchester. Maybe hit up Northshire books too. You know, make a day of it.

The point of the workshop of course is to help beginner fiddlers find their feet using the Native Ground method. I'll have beginner materials for all the people who come, you just need a fiddle (and no problems with large sleddogs who may demand you keep scratching them if you sit on my couch). The other point is to put some more coin in the farm fund, which is what will be the nest egg that gets me in the door of my own home this spring (god willing). So please, come over and learn to tune, bow, rosin up and play with us. It'll be a lot of fun and a way to meet folks who share your love of music, farming, and fresh eggs. Plus, you'll be helping your gal Jenna turn the key to the dream.

the locavore way

A great little book hit the presses recently, and I wanted to share it with you. It's called The Locavore Way by Amy Cotler. It's a beginner's guide to eating locally and understanding food economies. It's not what you think, which to some might be a scary anti-industrial food book with pictures of confined feeding operations and charts about cloned corn. Nope, this is a kind, light, read with beautiful illustrations and good advice. It covers all the options we have now from CSAs to farmers markets, small farms, and how to get local food at the grocery store too. There are recipes, dining out guides, and even beginner gardener advice. It's the kind of book every farmers market in America should have on a rack. Its best feature is the chapter on building community—a theme the book never stops singing. Amy knows the importance of putting farmer's names to our food and learning how to get involved. Also, people with similar food values have a lot in common, and learning to eat local may not only help our health and environment - it may make you some new friends. You'll find some mighty cool people at those weekend markets. (I think it's the new dog park for blind dates.) The book costs less than a large pizza, so pick up a copy and make your own at home instead!

sal beyond the garden gate

Saturday, January 2, 2010

the best view in town

soft wool. dry hay.

I spent a good part of the morning outside. It was pleasant. Even though it was twenty degrees outside my body was warm from shoveling my chore paths around the farm. I had made a small maze of cleared footpaths for delivering feed and water. The geese followed behind me as I labored, as if they were inspecting the job. The geese are the only poultry at CAF that travel around in the deep snow. They were honking outside the cabin door this morning and each got a piece of pancake for their bravery. The chickens stay in their coop. Egg production has all but stopped. Some birds are hibernating and others are going out to brunch.

After the plowing was done I was breathing heavy and stopped to rest on the handle of my shovel. I looked over to the sheep pacing in the pasture, baaing at me for more hay. They'd already eaten their morning meal so I went into the garage for some fresh straw instead. I carried it out to them and their eyes got wide and ears perked up. They always think straw might be hay, and thought I was carrying them a giant dinner. They followed me back towards the shed. A small parade of shepherd, a black lamb, an angry ewe, and an old softy. I lined the sheep shed with straw while Joseph and Sal joined me inside it. Instead of leaving them—I plopped down in the corner, sitting with my back to the wood and my legs stretched out into the straw. The shed was wonderful. It was windproof, clean, and dry. I sat on the new straw and watched the snow falling outside just like I imagine my flock does.

Sal walked over to me. A beast of nearly 170 pounds with a skull hard enough to kill me instantly if he wanted to. He was at my eye level now, and nuzzled his head against my shoulder. I reached up to scratch his ears while he stood, calm as a monk in his monastery. I scratched his chin and he closed his eyes. The fleece under his jaw was the softest, warmest, sensation I had ever felt. I nearly gasped, realizing the most comforting sensation I'd known so far was happening outside in the middle of a Vermont snow storm.

Maude watched from the entryway, suspicious but calm as well. She smelled my boots. Then Joseph came over, and I was surrounded by my flock. I was resting in the wooden shed built with the care and compassion of friends and neighbors. I was wearing my close friend James's old wool sweater he gave me since he outgrew it. I can not express the happiness and contentment that filled me just then. It coated my lungs and swirled in my head. I didn't laugh or smile, I just knew this was the greatest place in the world. That people travel for miles, live their whole lives, just hoping to find this place.

My three sheep. A barn raised by friends. A hand-me-down sweater. A lamb's breathe turning to smoke. Soft wool. Dry Hay.

I have come this far.

from a goose and a hen

snow and pancakes

We are in for a storm system here. Over the next few days we're to get anywhere from 6-12 inches, brought down by constant and calm snowfalls. It's storybook weather and during a holiday weekend to boot. I'm wrapped in wool and surrounded by two kind dogs and about to head into the kitchen. I'm making pancakes. If there was ever a morning for strong coffee and pancakes, this was it. I've posted this recipe before, but in case anyone else feels inspired to join me:

Cold Antler Pancakes
1 1/2 cups organic flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanila
1/2 cup sugar
1 farm egg
1 1/3 cups milk

Tun on the range and heat up the skillet at a medium high heat, make sure a good spoonful of butter is melting in the pan and coating it with a good layer. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the egg and milk. Mix fast and quick and then give it about 4 minutes to set and get fluffy (from the bakiing powder) in the bowl. When "risen" pour into skillet to the size you like your cakes. You know a pancakse is ready to flip over when the middle bubbles. Serve hot with real maple syrup (Grade B, son. Grade B is dark, rich, and get this tastes like maple.none of that flatlander grade A sugar water they sell in gift shops okay?)

Friday, January 1, 2010

i'm a homesteader with an iphone

Among modern homesteaders there seems to be a marriage of high tech and low-tech living. This is especially true of folks like me: people who are new to self-sufficiency and have to come to the lifestyle as adults. We've discovered this new/old way to live but still love some of the conveniences we grew up with. We want to weed our organic gardens with our MP3 players in our pockets, ripping out stray blades of grass as the fourth track from a record we just downloaded roars in our ears. We like the ideas of hybrid cars, WiFi in the barn, and popping our hand made mozzarella in the microwave before stretching it. We’ll knit our own clothes while watching a favorite movie on DVD. We’ll plug our sewing machines into the wall socket and spend three hours making a pair of canvas coveralls to help us attain the means to never want for a grid-pumping socket again. It’s a contrarian’s way to live, for sure. Perhaps some would say it’s downright hypocritical. If it is, I don’t care.

You can call me out as much as you want. You can say, “Hey, didn’t you write a whole chapter in your book about playing your own music? What’s with the iPod?” and I will continue to preach the magic and satisfaction of the fiddle and learning old tunes. That doesn’t mean I don’t think every car in America should have a copy of Ok Computer in the dash. I have no qualms with blaring Radiohead on the way to pick up canning jars. You can scoff at my iPhone, but I just found out I can download a program that helps me identify mushrooms and edible wild plants when foraging. This isn’t heresy - this is awesome. Shucks, I think the 21st century may be the greatest time in our collective history to pick up homesteading.

I feel like we’re balancing on an apex of good fortune and good advice, us modern homesteaders. We live in two worlds and have the sense to marry the best of both for a more fulfilling life. We’ve set aside any preferences for easy—allotting a little more time for the tasks that make a home run. If this was 1856 that would mean practically living with an ankle bracelet. In the past homesteaders were under house arrest. Leaving the farm meant something wasn’t being fed, cooked, skinned, weeded or sewn. But today, thanks to the advances in that same technology we can run a small farm, go to our jobs, and then come home and go see a movie. We can do this because have automatic timers on our coop lights and rototillers for our backyard gardens. We can shop online for fabric and fill our pickups with feed sacks. If you want to call this way of living hypocritical, be my guest, but I just call it lucky.

We have the tools to live in modern society and still work, eat, and breathe like the best portions of our past. Before everything got too easy, we may have worn ankle bracelets to our homes—but at least the prison food didn’t have E. Coli and we slept like draft animals because still knew how to lift a scythe or hammer. We don't need to stay within twenty acres of our houses anymore, but even if we chose to we now have high speed internet to build communities and share stories online. To me, my internet connection is as vital as the radio was when it first came out. A way to get news, hear music, share wisdom and learn. I wouldn't want to be so low tech I couldn't be without it, and I say that as someone who still breaks sod with a steel garden hoe.

good morning from a snowy cabin in the woods

Good morning from a snowy first day of 2010. It's a three day weekend for me, and for many people. I'm making the best of it by spending as much time holed up in this cabin as possible. I want to write, sew, and tend to the animals. I toyed with the idea of making an epic trip 45 minutes north to Rutland to buy yarn and fabric but decided to order some online instead and wait. The world will not be less if Jenna Woginrich sews up her corduroy messenger bag next weekend instead.

I'm at that point in a weekend morning where the farm chores are done and the rest of the day hasn't started yet. Outside the sheep are in the pasture chomping away at their pile of hay, and inside the dogs are sleeping to the record player. I have Fleet Foxes on the turn table now. The song White Winter Hymnal is playing and it is beyond perfect for a world covered in snow. (It's also the song that makes trudging through knee-high snow with forty-pound water buckets delightful.) Sub Pop put out a beautiful double LP for Fleet Foxes self titled album and the packaging itself makes me happy.

What I love about records is the size and biography. I love the detailed sleeves, lyric sheets, and liner notes. One time my friend Nisaa and I were in a record store and she pointed out the inside jabs and jokes on Paul McCartney's LP of Ram. There was one black beetle, um, how do I put this delicately, "enjoying the company" of another beetle on the back side of the old record case. A passive aggressive jab at his old band, based on the falling outs. I felt like she was teaching me secret code on an ancient text, but about my own pop culture instead of some canopic jar. I cracked up and instantly was glad Nisaa and I were friends. She knows music, and you don't get that kind of gold when you download songs.

Well darling, that's my soundtrack and my morning. Hope all of you are having an equally peaceful start to this new year.