Sunday, February 28, 2010


high spirits. low bars.

What a difference a day makes. Friday night I was shivering in the dark under a blanket and today it's a balmy 40 degrees and sunny as hell. The power came back on yesterday afternoon while I was in town. Coming home to a warm cabin and an armload of clean laundry was downright decadent compared to the days prior.

I felt good this morning. Really good. I woke up and took care of the morning chores, and then hopped into the shower before a truck trip. Annie and I had a date with the feed store and some groceries. Two girls, the open road, an orange truck and the sun fighting off the wet flurries that the morning teased us with. What a fine feeling that was. I turned up the music and put my arm around my dog, kissing her on the forehead. Damn, I was happy. Contentment belongs to those of us with high spirits and low bars.

We loaded the truck with straw and feed at Whitman's down in North Bennington, and then stopped to pick up some groceries. I wanted to work on my cheese making in the afternoon so I was kinda pumped to see that organic whole milk was on sale. I grabbed a gallon and put it in my cart. I could nearly taste the salted warm curd, grinning as I strutted m cart past the eggs. I don't think the other shoppers in Bennington had any idea I was off to turn my kitchen into a dairy. I'm a little embaressed to say I strutted as I wheeled my cart down the dairy isle past the five-dollar-a-carton brown eggs. Not only did I remember to put on mascara and was having a crackerjack hair day—I don't buy eggs. I got my own supplier. Twelve hens in the backyard.

It's the little things.

I just came inside from checking on the chickens (egg production is through the roof!) and realized I was over dressed in my thermal shirt with a flannel over top. Standing there in the sun, I looked around at the melting snow and bleating sheep and for the first time really started thinking about watermelons.

Yes. This will be the year I slice into my own Moon and Stars heirloom watermelons. Every year I try and something goes bonkers. I planted them in the wrong spot, the chickens pecked them to pieces, or I finally got an orb started on the vine and killed it with a hoe by mistake turning over the dead snap pea vines... But this year I'm doing it. Mark my words: come August there will be melons.

I'm off to make cheese, play guitar, and write about some music. You folks behave yourselves. Don't let all this sunshine go to your heads.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

i'll be there saturday

dispatches from a blackout

That's the round table in the back of the Wayside Country Store in West Arlington. It's my home away from home here in Vermont. I stopped in this morning, barking for coffee, and ended up getting a home cooked breakfast from Nancy, the owner. Knowing I was without electricity, heat, and water—she made me a four star breakfast while I sipped my dark roast. We sat at the back table, talking about the storm and past storms. Telling stories about the 50 mile per hour winds that rushed though town, ripping out the power lines the night before. Folks came in the store, wiped the snow off their jackets, and stopped over and chatted with us—asking about older or otherwise susceptible neighbors. Everyone was watching out for everyone else. It made Nancy's scrambled eggs and cinnamon buns taste better.

I'm writing you from the office now: showered, warm, and with a full stomach. I came here to use the gym's shower and check my email/recharge my phone. I woke up a few hours ago in the cabin, a little cold but otherwise okay. Last night the candles and fireplace did their job keeping me and the dogs warm. I stayed up reading and playing guitar until my hands started to get clumsy and slow. The dogs eventually left my side around the fireplace and made a nest on the couch on a pile of sheepskins and quilts. I joined them. I have no qualms laying down beside wolves. We stayed warm, thanks to each other and the balmy 34 degree night.

I'm off to Manchester to do laundry and possibly buy a new pair of wool socks. I'm a very exciting young person.

Friday, February 26, 2010

out of power

There's no power in Sandgate thanks to the wicked wind storm from last night. I'll be home, but unable to update the blog till it comes back on, and I'm not sure when that will be. So, I just wanted to check in so no one thinks Maude finally did me in.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

pre-coffee mornings

Some mornings I can go outside and tend to the farm without coffee. Some mornings I can't. This was a morning I needed coffee before carhartts. Winter here requires so much less work than spring and summer, but it's so much harder. There are no 4:45 goat bottle feeding appointments, mulching, weeding, chick bedding or rabbit hutch cleaning before 7 AM. Instead there are angry 15-minute rounds of raw essentials: food, water, shelter. Just keeping everyone fed, watered, and on clean bedding in a deep snow seems to be so much more effort than the hours spent in sunshine in May. The cold and below freezing temperatures make time last longer. You wake up to the kind of howling wind and sunless mornings that make you wish you had a woodstove right near the bed with four extra blankets and you never even heard the word "sheep" before.

With all that bitching said, I love it here. Honest, I don't mind it, specially when I'm finally suited up and outside in all my armor. But it has turned more than one person away from northern farm life. It's something to think about if you are starting up your own homestead. You need to love the cut as much as the scar. Even a backyard chicken hutch will mean you're walking out there twice a day come January. That means extra shoveling, glove liners, hauling bags of feed, and collecting eggs before they freeze. For some folks it's a deal breaker, and understandably so. But for me, it's the bitter mornings and trudging through snow that makes summer (and Autumn, espcially autumn)so lovely. Now that the snow is getting slushier, and the novelty of winter waning—I find myself paying extra attention for warmer winds and hoping for rain. I haven't heard a good rain in a long time. The kind that brings thunder and slams against the tin roof. I'm ready for spring. Yes, I am.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

barnheart shirts now in the store!

There are a few barnheart shirts and products in the dry good store. I thought it would be nice to make something you folks could wear proudly, as fellow carriers of the disease. The front has a human heart with a barn deep inside it, and the back has the definition of the disease. There are organic tees, jerseys, and water bottles. The design is simple, but gets the point across. Get them while they last and wear them with pride.

garage light at dawn

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

neighborhood #4

I looked down at Annie and she looked up at me, smiling. And why wouldn't she be? We'd just sprinted a mile from the cabin out into the blizzard. As soon as I got home from work I changed into coveralls and a parka and harnessed the dogs to the sled. We raced out into the blue dusk light, the snow falling fast. We're in a storm here. Already six inches have covered Cold Antler Farm and another two days of snow are on the way. It is beautiful.

This is what siberian huskies live for. Her and Jazz had been running side by side in harness, doing what they were born to do. I held on to the sled for dear life. The dogs were turbo charged tonight, inspired by the howling snow. I had to ride the runners with only one foot, the other dragging along the side for resistance as we sped down West Sandgate Road. Snow flew everywhere. I was elated. I wish dogsledding was in the winter Olympics. I'd watch them then.

When we got to the farm near Lincoln Lane we trotted to a stop. Next to us was a trio of bay ponies, they came to the fence line to watch us make decisions. I realized we were a mile from the cabin in a snow storm. It was time to turn back. I switched on the lantern in the sled bag, clipped a leather lead to the dogs gangline, and we walked back together side by side. My old dogs are nearing ten. Asking them to carry me uphill was too much. So we walked in the blue light back to our dinners. A girl and her dogs in a squall so thick I couldn't see the mountains a hundred yards away. We were panting and happy. Covered in sweat and snow from the run and watching the ponies watch us as we trudged away. There wasn't a car or unnatural light to be seen. Just us. I turned on the ipod and let some music walk with us.

I had Funeral on, the Arcade Fire's first album. The song Neighborhood #4 (Kettles) came on, and nothing could have been more perfect. A soft and rolling song with the sound of piping hot tea kettles in the background. A song I already knew by heart. I sang to the dogs as we headed uphill. I was already in another place, thanks to the music. I tilted my head over to Annie, who was watching me for some sort of direction. I gave her none, I sang to her instead:

...It's not a lover I want no more,
and it's not heaven I'm pining for,
but there's some spirit I used to know,
that's been drowned out by the radio...

When we got home the dogs shook out their coats and I removed their harnesses to let them rest and drink. While they stretched inside the warm cabin—I headed out back into the storm. Grabbing the lantern, my shepherd's crook, and an armload of hay I fed the sheep and chickens and watched the place in the dark. The farm turns into something else when it's snowing like this in the dark. Remember how it felt to make a fort out of blankets as a kid, and hide inside it with a flashlight and pillows? That is exactly what this place feels like with draping white pines and awkward lights. With the animals fed and on fresh straw—I headed over to the woodpile to stack the evening fire wood. By the time the animals were fed, the wood hauled, and the dogs served their egg, kibble, and lamb dinners...I was famished.

I have been making breads and fast meals for myself for years now. Within four minutes I had yeast bubbling for pizza dough and a dried onion from the summer garden pulled off the wall rack and caramelizing in a skillet. I whipped up a quick pizza and shoved it in the oven while the dogs chomped away. I liked that chickens and sheep keep them going too. I am always the last to eat here. I would not have it any other way.

Now It's evening and I am going to stoke the fire and enjoy a sinfully long hot shower before I change into clean clothes and sink into the couch. There I will play a couple love songs to no one on my guitar, drink a glass of red wine for the hell of it, and call it a day. I'm sore from mushing, thin from the snow, full from dinner, warm from the fire, and looking forward to tomorrow morning: hot coffee and reading with Jazz before sunrise. It's a thing I do.

This was the evening of a corporate web designer.
Our lives are just the sum of what we want them to be.

coop signs

Monday, February 22, 2010

giveaway today!

Every once in a while we do a giveaway on the blog. Today it's a brand new, redesigned copy of Savings Seeds by Marc Rogers. The book teaches you how to keep some of the fruits of your garden labors. How to harvest, dry, store and label seeds from your own backyard. It's going to be mailed to whomever wins the random drawing today. Which you enter by hocking the blog. It's funner than it sounds.

Here's the deal: to enter the drawing all you have to do is kick in with some grassroots marketing. Tell one new person (who has never heard of this blog but might like it) about it, and then post here about who you are and that you spread the Barnheart. The catch is that it has to be a brand new reader. If you told your cousin about it yesterday, no dice. And you don't have to walk up to strangers and start talking about Chuck Klosterman either. Write the blog address on a post it note in a feed store. Email a coworker with a copy of Hobby Farm magazine on his deesk. Leave it scribbled on your napkin when you go out to eat at a local foods diner. The idea is to spread the word about CAF to help the blog readership grow. The point being so I can keep writing here. A healthy readership keeps us writers inspired to keep things like this going. So this is my attempt to stir up the pot.

So post today who you told and you're entered. No need for names or any personal information, it's just to encourage others and for me to learn how the word is spread. Your comment today is your ticket to win. At the end of the day I'll pull a name out of the hat and announce it here in the comments. Then you email me and I send you a free book with a chicken feather bookmark and a copy of my farm music CD. Cool?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

i think he knows everything

a stuck truck and a new book

Every once in a while something happens here that makes me feel kinda tough. Something simple and dirty, but after it's accomplished I feel like I could sign up for a rodeo. This morning was one of those circumstances. I got the truck stuck. And I got it out.

I was so excited to meet the mortgage broker this morning I jumped into the Ford and pulled it into reverse. The snow had other plans. The slush got caught under the tires and turned to hard-pack ice. Suddenly it started slowly sliding sideways down the hill towards the trees. Before it got too far, I slammed it into park, and hopped out to see the damage. The car was fine, but really in a bind. The little 2WD beast had been buried in a drift up front, and the back wheels were spinning. Already late to meet my broker - I left it for dead and hopped into the Subaru with my file folders. I'd deal with it later.

Wayside was buzzing, as it is every weekend morning. A mix of farmers, skiers, and locals who were in to pick up their Sunday Times. I met James (the guy making this all happen) and we talked for a while. I asked a million questions and signed all the application papers at the old roll-top desk in the back the country store. The main table was full of familiar faces gabbing over the news, so they set me up in the small office section to do our business. It felt quirky, but fitting, to be applying for a home loan at Wayside. The country store has been part of my solid footing since I moved to New England. I've met friends here, brought dates there, cried, danced, and laughed I was signing the papers for my own farm loan. The 30-year USDA-backed fixed rate mortgage (which by law can't go above 5.5%) is what was at the end of that dotted line. I sucked in the air around me, exhaled, and signed away. When the paperwork was done, we shook hands and I headed home to a laid-up truck.

It was on. I was getting my girl out, and I was going to do this myself. I grabbed a shovel, rock salt, hay, sand, and the old tire chains my dad gave me as a teenager. It took some muscle (and considerable time) but after I dug it out and set up the back tires with the chains—I revved it into reverse and she popped out like the pin of a grenade! I hooted and hollered in the cab. I slammed my fist on the dash, laughing like a drunk. Rightly so, because today I cheated at my own game and won. I got myself into trouble, and then out. Just as recent as a few months ago I would've left it in the ditch till a neighbor could pull me out with his tractor, But today I wanted to save myself. Maybe it was the mortgage papers, or maybe it was the fact some of these neighbors want me gone—regardless, today I was my own tow truck and it felt damn good. I crossed my arms in the front seat, leaned back into the seat, and grinned like a fox.

Oh, Big news! A new book just hit the shelves called The Profitable Hobby Farm, How to Build a Sustainable Local Foods Business by Sarah Beth Aubrey. I bought it last weekend because I am in the beginning, business-planning stages of Cold Antler Farm. I want it to grow from a homestead that feeds me into another source of income. I want to market wool, eggs, and eventually meat and vegetables from the farm. This book seemed geared for people like myself: folks already starting out, but who need some guidance making a homestead into more of an income. So I bought it, set it on my pile of research, and went on with my life.

Then, the following week at the office, an email came in from Sarah Beth, the author of said book. She wanted to thank everyone who was a part of it, and to contact her if they had any issues or needed more information. Then it clicked: Holy Shit. I'm in that book! When I got home I flipped to the last chapter and there I was! Me, Sal, and everyone here at Cold... as well as interviews and stories about beginning my life as a small farmer. I had completely forgotten I was interviewed for the project (which then had another name: Town to Tractor). Now I'm on the books as a resource and example for folks who want to make a lifestyle change. How about that? An auspicious little nod for a girl on the way to buying her own chunk of earth to do exactly what the book's about.

There are a few mistakes in the book. For example it says Cold Antler is in Arlington, Vermont instead of Sandgate. And there's some section about dogsledding that wrote I hook up the dogs by their collars (ouch) to pull me on our kickled. (I assure you, we use properly fitted x-back racing harnesses.) And I think she thought Diana Carlin (my Idaho mentor) was also my landlord - but anyway, all of this is inconsequential to the intention. It's a fine book, and should be helpful getting Cold Antler off the ground and start helping make the future mortgage payments. Fingers crossed.

P.S. Now that I am in the home stretch - I will be removing the donation button from the blog. The point of that button was to allow readers to contribute to making Cold Antler into my own farm, and that is what is finally happening. I want to thank everyone who kicked in a dollar or two, and in some cases more, to help save for the future of Cold Antler. But I feel my savings are set, and would not feel right accepting any more farm-buying donations. Any gifts that were given remain in the savings pot, and were used for nothing else, but it's time to help someone else. It's not your job to help pay for painting the kitchen or putting up fences. We're here guys. We did it. I could not have gotten here without you. I thank you with all I am.

running to the morning hay

When I let the sheep out to their hay pile in the pasture, they tear off after it like dogs let off their leads on a beach. Watching them leap through the snow to eat their second-cut is a tiny joy this farm offers. It lasts seven seconds, but soaks in your soft smile all morning. It makes coffee taste better, sweaters heavier, the snow more potato flakey. It is good as the land.

The sheep aren't the only running animals at the farm. I went for a jog yesterday, the first in months. It was glorious. Jogging has a way of losing myself in focus that few other activities do. As I huffed down the dirt roads I felt my tension release, especially in my upper back. I could feel the relieved muscles exhale under the strain of the jog. Almost as if my body was happy to be used again. My upper back expanded as I ran, as if my shoulders had been held together by glue and toothpicks, and with each gasping stride they'd break apart or dissolve under my skin. I only went a mile and a half, but the effort was exactly what I needed.

I am at my happiest when I'm outside and tired like that. Perhaps my desire to farm comes partly from this understanding. The exhaustion from physical labor relaxes me in ways nothing else can, and the sweet laziness that follows it seems fermented by the action. I can do hours of yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises but none of that holds a candle to three sweaty summer miles in high humidity followed by a mint soap shower and a thunderstorm. Heaven is a the way it feels to be clean in a linen shirt, on a lightening splattered porch, with a banjo playing an old waltz. Your whole self feeling as if you could fall asleep in a hammock or go out for another run in the rain.

I don't know if I'll get outside to jog today. The snow that fell this morning is still coming down, covering the roads with a slippery layer of slushy film. But I will be heading out shortly to meet the mortgage broker at Wayside. Today we are meeting to go over the application and to hand him all the paperwork I'd been collecting on my end. It's just another step in the farm-buying process—but a step none the less.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

maude remembers

Maude will always be a little suspicious of me, and rightly so. Ever since the day she first arrived at the farm, we've been at odds. While the other sheep calmly exited the back hatch of the station wagon and walked into their new pen somewhat amicably—Maude nearly choked. Instead of exiting the car and bucking her head like the others, she decided to make a break for it. She soared out of the Subaru, causing her head halter to slip around her neck and tighten. It all happened in a flash and I remember the panic scraping at me like it was yesterday. As soon as her hooves hit Cold Antler dirt she was gasping. She fell to the ground and I raced to her side, instinctually flipping her onto her back (so I could help her without her fighting me) and trying to calm the wide-eyed sheep as I cut off the halter and gently moved her into the pen. Within minutes she was eating grain and batting her eyelashes. She was fine, but I felt awful. That was the only time I ever hurt a sheep. It was a complete accident caused by her panic and a loose halter, but it could have been avoided had I only been more prepared with grain bribery and better restraints. And ever since that day she's distrusted and disliked me. Keeping her distance. Watching me like I was a sheepdog myself.

Sheep remember everything. Anyone who tells you they're stupid, probably never lived with a passive aggressive one.

Weekends here are a mixture of intense work and equally intense relaxation. Mornings are met with chores the weekdays do not allow, and afternoons are dedicated to loftier tasks: like learning a new fiddle tune or writing a chapter of something. Evenings, however, are a little more tricky. If you want some sort of human entertainment out here in the sticks you need to do a little sociological excavating. Vermont is not known for its hip night scene. Hell, Sandgate doesn't even have a bar. The closest is the West Arlington, ten miles down a winding mountain. So, in lieu of being mildly pathetic and going to the movies alone—you hope someone who lives in a town will let you know when something is going down.

I got a call from a friend about a bluegrass band playing in Manchester. I'll probably hop in the shower sometime after dinner and get all gussied up to listen to some upright base and banjo. It'll be nice to be out around people and music, laughing and not thinking about egg eating chickens and mortgage brokers for a while. I look forward to leaning back into a bench with a Guinness and some good company. I'll raise my glass to their health and better fitting halters on future livestock.

Friday, February 19, 2010

and i understood

wide as the ring of a bell

I just walked out into the fresh morning snow to feed sheep and the opening bars of Sodom South Georgia sidled up on the playlist. I know every word by heart, and it is impossible to sing it without smiling, a bit of a canter in every step. Even the crows seemed to bob their heads with the lryics.

The day can't get any better.

hutch birds

With snow on the ground again, the chickens make their daily pilgrimage to the calf hutch: a plastic giant dog house next to the coop. I use the hutch now as storage for buckets and shovels, but the chicks seem to have other ideas for its use. See, inside the hutch is some of the only snow-less dirt on the farm—an oasis for dust baths and scratching. A place for a rooster to feel soil under his feet. I had originally picked up the hutch as a goat house, but now it just sits in the snow. (It's here if anyone needs it or wants it, and has a pickup to carry it home.) I like that my birds use this place as they see fit. Logic rules the mind of laying hens. I respect them for it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

like humidity

I think I just realized that this is going to happen. It's not certain yet, but it's going to happen. I am going to own a farm. In a few months a hoe will break into that New York soil and so many things will begin. There will be the chirping of chicks, and the moans of roosters. There will be bonfires, and bleating lambs, and a black dog. There will be food pulled out of the earth by the roots, and long jogs in the July night. There will be thunderstorms, and fireflies, and a black guitar that knew what Eisenhower sounded like. There will be pounding hooves, curling ram horns, and gardens so rich in food I will kneel before them. There will be sweat, and tears, and so many sore arms and backs that I will forget about all this joy and want to curl up in a bathtub in pain. There will be old records, and apple pie, and a white farmhouse that knew what General Grant sounded like. There will be pastures, and new lives, and gardens, and hives, and so much hope. Hope that hangs in the air like humidity.

And it is all ahead of me. Strum from E to E and know it.

I count the years ago on one hand that my life was completely different. I was living in a major metropolitan area designing for a television network—now I am weeks away from owning my own farm. I can't fall asleep at night because I am trying to decide between varieties of pumpkins. Because I know what it feels like to hold one you knew as a seed, and how the smooth, orange skin feels in your palms, and how the whole autumn world belongs to you while you touch it. Sometimes I think I get more out of pumpkins than some people get out of the whole world. I am so in love with this.

Happiness is understanding you don't want to be, can't fathom being, anyone else.

workshop reminder

If you are coming this Saturday for the Beginner Fiddler Workshop, please get in touch with me via email? If you live around the area and would like to join in, email me as well! It's four hours of lessons and instruction here at the cabin. A crash course in mountain fiddling, and it'll be a big time. BYOV.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

i'm such an ag dork

I'm a dork. I own this pair of gloves with directions for sheepdog work written on the hands. The point is for shepherds-in-training to make sure they are teaching their collies the right words for moving left and right. To make sure us dumb humans don't mess it up. I don't have a border collie yet (or, anymore) but eventually I will have a pup to raise with my life, and bring the flock to me. A border collie means this single girl can work a field of livestock alone. A good dog will make or break Cold Antler someday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

never looked worse

One of the more unsettling conversations I had this winter happened on the porch steps of one of my Sandgate neighbors. It was right after all the controversy was unraveling, when animal control officers were showing up and phone calls from the landlord about removing animals were common occurrences. It was during this malay that I went to a few of the neighbors to talk to them in person, and see if they felt I was in the wrong trying to start a small diversified farm in their village. I asked one woman her opinion and she sighed, looked off into the distance, and said "Well, you know Jenna. The property has never looked worse..."

This absolutely shocked me. Since I've moved in I'd turned the overgrown backyard with an empty dirt-garden into a thriving small farm. I had made useless land into a place that fed, clothed, and filled me with joy. But what I had considered beautiful, she considered an eyesore. The sagging fences, the chicken poo on a stepping stone, the bags of feed behind the garage, the hay stacked on the porch....all of this was aesthetically unpleasing to the non farmer. I had turned a lawn into a pasture, an abandoned metal garden shed into a chicken coop, and a porch into am open air hay barn.

OKay. Martha Stewart I was not. The property had gone from domestication to production, and it wasn't what some of the locals preferred. I didn't spend the summer mowing lawns (what a waste of sheep food) or planting flowers. I spent it turning the one acre I had at my disposal into a place that could help sustain me. I planted thirteen raised beds of organic produce. I bred litters of Angora rabbits. I raised Thanksgiving turkeys, ducks, honey bees, and a pack goat kid. I sheared wool producing sheep. I raised egg-laying hens from chicks and even had one rooster in the freezer. How could all this been seen as ugly? Was Cold Antler better to the locals when it was just empty grass and a few tulips? I agreed, currently this place may never make the cover of Yankee Magazine - but it wasn't ugly. It was edible.

I recently read this passage in Joel Salatin's You Can Farm. The book explained this opinion as all too common:

"Ask the average person to describe a successful farm, and you'll hear about pretty fences, painted red barns, waxed green tractors and manicured lawns. Because people have a jaundiced sense of what 'success' looks like. they think the lean and mean, threadbare look of a truly lucrative far, indicates a lack of care, negligence, and poverty....Too often people get so bogged down in appearance and having everything just right that they never get the basic project underway. Trust me, the pigs are much more interested in feed than in whether or not the feed trough is perfectly square."

I'd been so deeply in love with Cold Antler, I didn't realize what it looked like to the manicured-lawn set. I saw food, and wool, and eggs. They saw muddy hooves, scrappy gardens, and a shed gone bad. They saw dead grass in the sheep pen, and the tall grass on the wooded hillside as unmowed. I had been so focussed on the productivity I didn't even think about these things. Apparently, others had. It was a reminder that not everyone (even people in the country) appreciate the idea of a homesteader as a neighbor. At the end of the day, most people want to hear lawn mowers and and smell grills - not hear roosters and smell wet sheep. Consider my eyes open.

When I made the offer on the Jackson farm, I had to sign a waiver saying I understood I was moving into an agricultural disctrict. That Washington county was a place of dairies and tractors and if you weren't prepared to live aside agriculture you may want to live elsewhere. When you cross the state lines there are signs posted saying "Right to Farm Law" and that's what it means. You can't complain about your cake and eat it too. I never smiled so much while signing a legal document. I'll fit in just fine over there.

Good news friends. I checked my credit score today. It went up 50 points! I am nearly home free in this USDA home loan process. My credit score is soaring thanks to that last paid off credit card. I have leaped the final personal hurdle and now I just need to pray that Chase bank agrees that I am ready to start planting on my own land. It is farming that gave me the drive to get this far. And if not mowing lawns means owning my own 6 and a half acres of hard-working land, may I never mow again. That's sheep work.

Life is happening so fast around here. I am humbled at the pace

back to two

Early yesterday morning a truck pulled into the driveway. A man named Chris was coming to pick up the goslings for his farm. It took a while to scoop the trio into his dog crate he brought along, but despite Cyrus's snapping bill and the freezing cold weather: I got them all safely off the farm. We're back to two geese again. The farm is a quieter place.

The home inspection was brilliant. It took hours, but the professional from Saratoga was thorough and picky, and tested for everything. I bought the most detailed package they had and he did everything from dancing on the old slate roof to crawling into the attic to decipher bat and mouse poo. There will be water, radon, septic, and structure reports coming in the mail shortly. But the man said he was impressed, that the house was ready to move into in his opinion. A weight was lifted, and a sigh released. Now I just need to get the mortgage....

Snow today, and by the looks of the 05250 area code on - a fair amount of it. Perhaps as much as half a foot by nightfall. We could use the insulation around here. We haven't had a decent snowfall for weeks. And to be perfectly honest, it just makes the farm look pretty. I like the look of a black lamb in a snow-filled pasture under the pine tree. It makes a smile wider.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

the jackson farm

Here are some photos of the Jackson Farm. I'm showing you the original house (built in 1866) and behind it is the kitchen addition. With the addition, and the basement, the house is a total of 1500 square feet. I think its box shape and small windows makes it look bigger than it really is. The ceilings inside are only 7 feet tall and there are only two bedrooms and one bathroom. The photos here show the farm, the leftover outbuildings, the pasture, and the living room. I would have taken more photos of the inside but I have two words for you:

godawful wallpaper.

The house is in far better shape than the barns and coops. And the pasture isn't fenced yet, but the cleared 2-3 acres of grassy hillside is just begging to be put back to work. The barn is crying for bales of hay, straw, and bins of grain. I can see the hive by the garden. I can picture a black and white flash of a young border collie running in an autumn windstorm, gathering sheep back down the hill to me for hoof trimming. I can feel the prickly tendrils of the future pumpkin patch, and smell the cornstalks in the winter air. This maple tree infested hillside farm will be throbbing with color come October. It was once home to sheep, and if it becomes mine, it will be once again. If this inspection and mortgage come through, I'll do right by it. I want to make this place come back to life again.

The weekend was intense emotional bungee jumping. I went from wanting nothing more in the world than this farm, to being scared at the notion of it. My parents were great. They liked the house just fine. My dad thought the 6.5 acres, pond, woods and pasture were a steal. My mom was happy all the wiring and heating was redone. And just being with them in general was nice. It was great to spend time with them here in my land of Veryork, and introduce them to some of my friends. They were in high spirits the whole weekend.

I'd however go from being thrilled about the possibilities to being terrified about leaving Sandgate and Vermont in general. It's such a huge step to wrap my head around. The only like comparison I can make is the first night I stayed in Tennessee. I remember laying in bed listening to a southern thunderstorm, feeling sick to my stomach with regret. I was certain I was making the worst mistake of my life. I ended up falling in love with that place is a way that makes my feelings about Vermont seem like a Jr. High Crush. Now just watching a UT basketball game in a sports bar with that blazing orange on the boys' jerseys makes my ribs hurt from missing the place so much. No part of me thinks buying this farm in Washington County is a mistake. But every part of me is scared of the big change. I suppose that's normal. We'll all have to wait and see.

so much to think about

Saturday, February 13, 2010

reincarnated rice pilaf

It's morning on Cold Antler Farm. The sheep have been fed, the dogs have been walked, and the coffee's on the stove. The chickens had a feast of leftovers from last night's pub dinner in Manchester. Between myself and my parents we have enough left overs to constitute a fourth meal. I asked for one large take-out container and scooped up every bit of rice pilaf and orphaned french fry on our plates. What resulted was a disgusting combination to most - but a delight for my hens. I just can't let food go to waste like that, not anymore. Years of working to produce some of my own food have turned it into currency. So instead of leaving bits on my plate - I turned it into eggs. Chickens adore rice pilaf. I adore its reincarnation as a cheddar omelet.

One of the hens is eating eggs, a high crime at this farm. After some detective work I found the culprit. A black Jersey Giant with egg on her face (literally). I didn't give her the axe just yet. First I am trying my chicken rehabilitation trick (which usually works). I put a wire rabbit cage in the coop and separate that hen from the rest. She can't get to the eggs and therefore stops eating them. After a week of isolation, chickens usually forget about thier new culinary preferences and stop eating eggs. It's easier to go for the grain. And don't worry, the isolation is only during laying hours. She comes out every night to join her sisters on the roof. They let her nuzzle right beside them, even though she eats their children. Chickens are funny like that.

In a short while I'll be hopping in the truck to meet my parents at Wayside. We'll get coffee (I can always drink more coffee) and a donut and then head over to Jackson to see the farm. I'm excited, but nervous as all get out. I feel like I'm introducing them to my future in-laws. I'll take plenty of photos and share them later tonight. For now, fingers crossed about this and Monday's inspection.

Friday, February 12, 2010

my lion

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

folks and orchards

My folks are coming up for the weekend, and I've never been more excited to see them. I'm proud to show them what may be in store for their daughter. I want them to see what all the livestock and writing and weird phone calls about poultry in the bathroom or sheep in the back seat were leading up too. I want to take them around Washington County and maybe grab lunch in Saratoga. They'll see the house, of course, and I'm sure they'll have endless questions parents are obligated to ask. I feel prepared to answer them all.

I am very interested in my mother's opinion of the farmhouse. Her gut feeling about the place won't have me throwing money on the barrel head or bolting from the contract, but it does matter. She's intuitive about places and has high standards. If she walks around the house and has a good feeling about it, it will mean a lot to me. It's not that I want her to be impressed, farms aren't exactly her style, but I want her to understand it and consider it good for me. And my Dad's thoughts on the place are just as important. He'll want to walk around and rap on wooded walls and ask me about the oil tank and wood stove. He'll ask about the farm layout and want to see the orchard. He's a huge fan of apples, him. He'll want to see what will be creating future pies and cakes. I miss them all the time.

My folks called from Palmerton to tell me that over 18 inches is weighing down the pines in the backyard. Here in Vermont, we never got the snow predicted. You can see grass and green moss everywhere, and it was above freezing today. Might as well have been late March, for the weather. The horses at the farm across the road from Wayside seemed to leap in pre-spring joy. I didn't have the heart to tell them we may still get nailed with snow yet.

Good news: back in the truck again tomorrow.

can you tell them apart?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

i steal myself

I think the best investment I made in the winter of 2009/10 was my insulated waist coveralls. Which is a fancy farm-talky way of saying chore-time snow pants. They are thick canvas jeans, brown as Joseph's wool and quilted inside. I can step into below-zero temps, get nipped by geese, plop down in straw and not feel anything but warm, farm-proof, goodness. I pulled them on this morning to do the pre-office chores and for the first time in months, didn't need the flashlight. What a gift a free hand is! I was able to cut my morning rounds in half. I can carry out a fresh font of water for the chickens (pouring half of it into a basin for the geese) and a flake of hay for the sheep in the other. Warm and in the smoky pre-sun light I could spend hours outside, even at 10 degrees. But instead I go inside for the dogs and my morning ritual of coffee and a chapter of a favorite book. Coffee, a quiet dog breathing on my chest, and a chapter in the morning makes all the difference.

This daylight is creeping back into New England, and the lack of snow here makes us think it's almost spring. I was looking at seed packets and nest boxes on my lunch break. I am trying not to make any plans, but am thinking about pastured broilers and magpie ducks if I land the farm. I want to start raising my own meat, and get back into that old life. Oh, and the lack of snow means I can drive the truck to and from the office! It makes me so happy. I love hopping into that big orange rig, the color of fall. I love cranking up the Be Good Tanyas and singing as I roll down the mountain to work.

I'm feeling optimistic about this house. It's a long way from a sealed deal but I am moving forward with the rituals and circumstances that go into home owning. The offer contract is in the lawyer's hands. The home inspection is Monday. My mortgage broker thinks he has a back-up FHA loan in case the USDA falls through (cross your fingers it doesn't). I am closer today, right now at this very minute, than I ever have been to owning my own farm. That in itself feels amazing to this girl sitting in a tiny cabin. The hope itself is big enough to move into.

When this blog started, Cold Antler was a rented backyard in Idaho with a hive of bees, a few raised beds, some rabbits, and a small flock of chickens. Now it's on its way to becoming something substantial. A place of sheep and dogs and goats and geese. The bees are already ordered. Hell, who knows what's in store? I constantly find myself getting lost in the idea of the Jackson farm. I steal myself.

More than one person has recently asked me why I named this place Cold Antler. Cold Antler, darling, is a combination of things. The first part is actually a name. The famous Chinese Zen poet, Han San, was a wise mountain recluse. The English translation of his name is literally Cold Mountain. His poems make me laugh, and smile, and think for long gallops about my own place in the world. The second part, Antler, comes from the old pre-christian belief that antlers were a sign of man. The Celts put antlers on some male deities, a symbol of both the gender and of fertility itself. For me, the antlers (and I am some what embarrassed to share this) stand for someday falling in love. Cold Antler Farm is the hope that this crazy zen recluse will find her antlers. It is hopelessly romantic, foolish, and the complete opposite of the sensible and pragmatic work of living off the land. Cold Antler = hope for love. I don't need it, but that doesn't mean I don't want it. I'm certainly in no rush, and not even mildly interested in 98% of the men I meet, but I am always on the look out. Most men I meet are kind, and sweet, but not correct. But every now and then someone comes along with antlers, and the hope and excitement makes me feel rich.

It'll happen eventually. It's just not my time.

So that's what this place really is. One woman's work. My entire life goal is based on a hopelessly romantic notion of true love, sheep, good dogs, strong coffee, mountains, autumn and home-grown food. I don't want anything else but these things. The details mean little to me. Vermont, Tennessee, New York, Idaho... These are names. These are lines on maps we made up to make sense of the world. But dirt is dirt. A lamb is a lamb. A border collie flanking a flock in a windstorm is just as much pure poetry in suburban New Jersey as it is the hills of Scotland. Maybe even better.

I can't get hung up on details. Truthfully, I abhor them

Anyway, now isn't the time for romance or over thinking. Now is the time for big change, long sighs, and not looking down. I have a farm to buy, and then when I finally get in the door, the real work starts...

P.S. Snow tonight and tomorrow. We are due.

Monday, February 8, 2010

in the shed

Sunday, February 7, 2010

a book and the baa

As a thank you for the hospitality last month, my friend Diana mailed me a book I absolutely adore. It is pure fiber-farmer pornography and I page through it with wide eyes and a wider smile. It's called Shear Spirit: Ten Fiber Farm, Twenty Patterns, and Miles of Yarn. The book is so beautiful. It's about ten farms across America and their stories. The photography is stunning, and the personal history of the people who own these operations is so inspirational. There are sheep farms on the coast of Maine and goat ranches in Texas. Every chapter ends with a project specific to the stock and styles of that particular farm. As someone who aspires to join this tribe, I devoured it. It's a fine edification of a subculture. Check it out.

It also got me motivated to finally start working with my own wool. I'd been putting it off for months, waiting to mail it off to be processed by someone else. But ever since a reader donated me her drum carder—I lacked a decent excuse not to start making yarn. I had the wool, the carder, and my trusty Ashford drop spindle. (For those of you confused by what that is, a drop spindle is a hand held apparatus that does the job of a spinning wheel, slower and far cheaper.) So yesterday I carded and spun the raw wool. When I filled it up, I started knitting right off the spindle and when that was kicked I'd card and spin some more. The yarn came out greasy and super strong, lumpy and bumpy. Lots of character. I have about a foot knitted with size 15 needles and so far it is the thickest, warmest, thing I ever made. The plan is to knit it into a scarf—then either felt and dye it, or let it soak in a wool wash and research natural dyes. Even if it turns out to be some hideous long piece of fabric, it's my hideous long piece of fabric. It's still warm as all get out, and from a sheep right in the back yard. I'm proud of myself for finally getting started on my own wool. And hey, even if Cold Antler is a long cry from the farms in that book, I'm still grateful it crossed my path. Sometimes it takes someone else's efforts to ram you into action. Cheesy pun, intended.

P.S. If you ordered prints from me, please be patient. I need to find a new printer and then get decent copies made and signed. But I promise they'll show up eventually. It's a hectic month, February.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

of kits and goslings

Last night I visited in a friend in the nearby town of Shaftsbury. Mel and her family have been watching Bean Blossom, Benjamin, and four new French Angora kits for me. They've also been raising the goslings that Saro hatched before thanksgiving. The deal was she would happily watch the animals but would either keep the rabbits or the kits if a litter was born. Her teenage son Ben wants to learn more about what goes into raising animals, which I think is grand. I was stopping in to drop off the pedigreesm see the kits, and pick up the three remaining goslings. Two of the original five already had new homes, but the three left were still freeloading. Her new dog was giving them the eye, and they were now a canine liability, so it was time for them to move on. Mel has done more than enough for me already, and I was happy to take them off her hands. The trio would come back to the farm until I could find them new local homes or moved to a new farm. Honestly, I was thrilled to have them back in my arms.

To be in her beautiful farmhouse drinking coffee near her woodstove while her new Lab chewed on a rope toy on the floor-felt wonderful. As we sipped our coffee and went through some fiber books I brought over, I couldn't help but look around her 160+ year old home. Mel was living my dream. A loving family, her own farm, a good dog, and a barn and truck outside the door. I used to look up to famous graphic designers and Iditarod mushers as my role models. Now I look up to people like Mel. Everyday people who made their lives what they wanted. People who raise children, go to work, and come home to make sure the pipes don't freeze. Fame or fortune doesn't prove self worth to me like it once did. There is nothing more extraordinary than what happens every day when people choose to be kind. Amen.

When the truck was loaded, and hugs given: I drove home to Sandgate. The back bed was loaded with bedding straw and feed bags from an errand on my lunchbreak. A six-pack of hard cider was chilling between the bales. Up front in the warm cab I was singing with a backup of mandolins and banjos on the radio while three young geese honked in a box. I was wrapped in wool, from my socks to my scarf. In the Vermont dark, my Ford's headlights beamed across the birches and faded red barns. My eyes scanned for deer and suicidal cats. My head was warmed by the Jacob hat. I had just spent an hour with the animals of my farm being selflessly watched by a friend. Soon I would reintroduce children to their parents—to the place they were born where I held them as babes in one hand.

The concoction of emotion was thick. The drama of wanting this farmhouse and the nearness of it all makes my heart race. But the peace of this life as is, and how far I'd come to feel this way, was so comforting. The fact I was already a farmer—yet so scared and uncertain—made me break down and cry as I winded up the notch to West Sandgate. I want to know how this story ends so I can begin another. Sometimes it's too much.

It is hard to cry very long when your passenger seat has french geese children in it. Their honks made me smile.

I wish I had more to update you on, but right now it's a waiting game. Waiting for the score to rise, waiting to weigh all the financing options, waiting to show the farm to my parents when they come to visit next weekend. They're happy for me, but want to see the place for themselves. My dad has fatherly concerns about insulation and fuel consumption and my mom is convinced if I buy my own working farm I'll never meet a man. Both are valid concerns, but the house is sound and believe it or not—I've met more decent men since getting involved in agriculture than I ever did in the city. Between sheepdog trials, workshops, clubs, and trips to feed stores, you get to tip a lot of hats.

And last, thank you to everyone who helped out last post. Your many small efforts have saved this process. I am now prepared (at least on my end) to step inside this new farm. My own farm. There are still obstacles to overcome, such as getting approved for that loan, home inspections, and the logistics of transplanting all the animals—but as far as being sound in the bank - I am. I could not have done it without you, and I thank you with the echoes of a thousand future lamb's heartbeats.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Thursday, February 4, 2010

the hail mary

So here is the updated story so far. The house is mine. The mortgage is (by some grace of god) totally affordable. I could own my own farmhouse, acreage, and small barn for what my rent in Sandgate is combined with my old car payment. It is totally doable.

Paying my mortgage isn't the hard part folks—it is getting in the door in the first place. The realtor is moving forward as if all is perfect. The contract is on the way to the lawyer, the home inspection is getting set up, and the broker is frantically hunting down a mortgage with the USDA. But here in lies the drama. My credit score is seven points below the number the Lender wants to finance my loan. Seven measly points.

So, In a last ditch effort to try and raise my score, I took all my (non-house-buying allotted) savings and paid down my last credit card this morning in hopes it will report to the credit bureaus in time for the home loan to go though.

If I do not qualify for the USDA mortgage, it means I need to go through the FHA program. This is good and bad. It means I may still get a fixed rate mortgage and get the farm, but I would need that 3.5 percent down. I have that saved, but it's all I have saved. I was planning on using that money to cover the home inspections, closing costs, and all the other things you need to take care of when moving in. Things like U-Hauls and updating the outbuildings. If is use it to pay for the house, which I can, it leaves me high and dry. You get the jist.

It may very well come down to how much I can dish out. I am within a wolf's breath of this farm, friends. I can taste that Jackson Dirt. I don't want to lose out on the perfect home right when I need it because of seven points.

With all that said (taking a deep breath) if you are motivated to help. Here are some things you can do.

1. If you live nearby, and can help set up the new fences, move the sheep shed on the back of your trailer, help take down CAF VT, or lend a hand with boxes. Let me know.
2. If you want to sign up for the fiddle workshop the weekend after President's Day, please do. I only have two so far. It is a hundred dollar donation for four hours of instruction, materials, and an amazing first step in becoming a mountain fiddler. You just need to bring the violin.
3. Buy something off the Etsy Shop (though the wait may be a few weeks or until all this dust settles)
4. Order a watercolor (though the wait may be a few weeks or until all this dust settles)
5. If you own a business that caters to the homesteading community, consider advertising here. Email me for rates.
6. Or, if you are so motivated, just put one dollar in the donation jar. If each reader does that, I am home free.

I don't mean to sound selfish, crass, or rude. I am just trying to pull off some sort of Hail Mary at this point. I may get some mean emails for this post. In fact, I'm certain I will. But in the long run, owning my own farm wins over pride. A home for my flock, geese, chickens, Finn, and bees on the way is too important to worry about public perception. Farm > me. For those of you reading, know you're at the climax of this story. Let's try and change the ending together?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

this just in

Just got a call from the realtor. The house is mine if I can aquire the funding. The sellers agreed to my terms and the contract goes through to the lawyer on the tenth. Now, it's all about the mortgage. Wish me luck.

it's not looking good

I don't think my broker can pull off this mortgage, even if the offer goes through and the place is otherwise mine. I have to wait and see. Right now, it's not looking good.

in the back bed

Woke up earlier than usual. I think the stress and excitement sped up my metabolism and my body couldn't handle being horizontal anymore. I found myself outside in a light snowfall, moving hay bales off the back of the truck. It was dark. The only light came from my lantern and the glow from the dim garage bulb. Snow was falling in front of it, making it flicker. It was 5 AM and the world was quiet, but the farm was not. I could hear the sheep bawling for morning hay. The roosters moaned. I sang the words to Pretty Saro as I pulled hay from the back bed. While the rest of the nation is sleeping, and the forest is quiet–a farm is alive.

I felt like I was the only member of a secret society.
I felt like I belonged.
It's why I farm.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

worse than love

I should know better than to get emotionally invested in this house. I should be solid steel during these meetings. I should care about it as much as I care about the filing cabinet in the office. Poker face. Stiff upper lip. Walk away like a champ. But getting emotionally invested in my lifestyle is what got me where I am today. It's what drove me to move cross country (twice), start a renter's homestead, write this blog, author books, and try to make some sort of difference in how I consume. So I've been attached to this house before I even knew it existed, before I ever saw it. It's the embodiment of a life I crave so deeply—I'm certain my claw marks are already on the deed.

I just want to go home. I want it so much it physically hurts.

Another person is being shown the house tomorrow. I found this out moments ago. I made my offer, did my level best, and they countered. We came an an agreement that made them happy and only cost me fifteen more dollars a month. We're not out of the woods yet though. The other people can beat my offer, and take it to a lawyer or something. Plus, I still need to be approved for a mortgage, which is the razor's edge of this whole thing. Since I've been dedicated to fixing my credit I've raised it 20 points, but it's still twenty points below what the lenders wants. If they decide no, I'm basically out the dream. That's going to be a very bad day.

I just hate the thought of it going to people who won't use the land. So now I feel like a jr high girl who just passed the cutest guy in class a paper with Do you like me? Circle yes or No. and I'm waiting on pins and needles (more like a horizontal stegosaurus) to see if I get my dream or need to start figuring out another year of importance and renting.

This is ridiculously stressful. I know in my logical mind that there are other homes and everything happens for a reason, but to lose out on this place, at this price, near my work, with a ticking time bomb of eviction over my head....

Buying a farm is worse than being in love. Especially for me. At least with a house, I have a shot.

If you pray, please pray. If you meditate, please meditate. If you can send good vibes, voodoo dolls, spells, rosaries, nods to the east....anything, please do it with a scrappy girl in Vermont trying to find home in mind. People say they're pulling for me, well, It's time to start yanking.

things are moving fast

I have a meeting with a realtor today to talk about possible offers on the Jackson house. After the cabin fall out, I called a mortgage broker who specialized in USDA rural housing loans in Washington County. We figured out that if we use the Dept. of Agriculture's loan terms, get the seller to kick in closing costs, and get them to come down even a little on their asking price - I could be living in that 6.5 acre farm in Jackson for roughly what I spent here on rent and the car payment. It would be mine. Originally I thought the payments would cripple me, but with this program it's equivalent to what I spend here already. Not to mention the USDA program doesn't require a down payment, so that lets me save more of my money for starting the farm up again...

It's all hypothetical at this point. I'm still looking at other properties and part of me is foolishly worried about leaving Vermont. Jackson is literally two miles from my current cabin, it's not exactly like I'd be moving to Arizona, but even if it is just a line on a map—I'd be leaving a state I love.

However, I'd be leaving it by about seven miles, and finally able to live the life I always dreamed of at a property I can't believe I would be able to afford. All those doubts I shared with you earlier were half truths, said by a hopeful person who never thought she could live on that farm. My heart was set on the cabin because it was in a town I was comfortable with and it was a cabin: two things I love. But that small lot couldn't hold my dreams or even my current animals without renting more land from others, once again making my life dependent on others. This farmhouse in NY is more than enough room for Cold Antler and much more. I could own the land big enough for market lambs and a profitable garden. I'd be part of the most pro-agriculture part of New York. I could finally get my black puppy. I could put a few Scottish Blackface ewes in the pasture. I'd only be an extra twelve minutes away from work, with two coworkers of mine on the same road.

Is this actually happening?