Saturday, June 30, 2012

i know what these kids will want some day...

fences up!

My alarm went off at 4:34 AM and no part of me wanted to get out of bed. I was just tired, not resistant or ungrateful, just plain tired. The last two weeks of heat and labor have whipped me into a kind of pace I am getting used to, but just. I'm getting used to it the way a doggie-paddling labrador chasing a college crew team down river gets better. If 12-hour days of summer farm labor are elegant rowing, I am hell at doggie paddling.

I was getting up early because the night before Brett Arrived from New Hampshire (on the way home from his graduate program, he lives up near Lake Placid) for the Greenhorns screening and panel discussion, and offered to help spend some free time of his putting up Merlin and Jasper's new fence around their new pole barn. the catch: his free hours were 5-8AM and if you think I am turning down help from two grown men to put up rolls of field fence, well, I'm not.

The second grown man was Ajay, of course. I called him from bed, at 4:45 AM and our conversation went something like this:

oh, Hey...

Ughmm huh?

youstillwannacomegiddupfences? membbe?

uhhh huhhh MMmhuh

5:05 - 5:15. ish. i bethere

yupyup ugh huh..



Ajay was at the front steps of Common Sense's main house, a huge mansion three miles of the farm in downtown Cambridge. We stopped at Stewart's and got coffee and breakfast sandwiches for all of us, and I told him Brett was already bracing the fence posts we put in last week and getting the site prepped.

We arrived and slammed into the work. It was a fast-paced, buggy, three hours of pounding in t-posts, stretching fence wire, rolling 300+ feet at a time, installing gates, and cleaning out old metal and wire trash. Brett was a machine out there, a farming workaholic. Watching him with a roll of fencing over his shoulder or nailing in fence staples on an old locust tree is like watching some sort of animal in his natural habitat. British voiceovers could narrate his actions with a telestrator. "And here, we can see a native Lumberjackitus Adirondackus maneuvering his way through the timber. Notice his intent. Stunning." I once told Brett on an earlier work day that if people could be categorized as animals, we would be Dire Wolf people. Out dated, stocky, feral, and carnivorous. That or Badgers, but if I was a Badger People I would be wearing a Dire Wolf tee shirt and really mean it.

And this Badger can howl, son.

Ajay has lost at least 10 pounds since he arrived from his new lifestyle up here and has quit smoking cold turkey. He glows when he works now. It's another person. The combination of intense physical labor outdoors, clean lungs, and organic food from the farm has turned his body so fast into a machine of work. He loves the life in the Community there, the buzz of a big house full of people, non-stop interaction. He craves community the way I crave my quiet.

Both the gents at the farm were friendly and goofy, both know me well, and it was a treat to spend the morning working beside them. By 8:15 we had the job done, and Brett was off to Livingston Brook Farm to work on Patty and Mark's barn floor. Ajay had an ultimate Frisbee game back at Common Sense, and I had an archery tournament an hour north at War Camp. We all hugged and parted ways. I could not thank them enough.

Tomorrow when I head down to see Merlin it will be the last time I hand over a boarding check. Within the next two week's he'll be living here at the farm full time. Him and Jasper will be paddock-mates, and I must admit it is a nice spread. A full 1/2 acre of woods and hillside and pasture, attached with a gate to even more pasture. And I stood out there, looking over it tonight in earnest awe. Just four months ago Merlin was a pipe dream and internet argument, now he's the horse I know better than any other, my own. He's going to be on my farm in a brand new barn and paddock and the Sheriff across the street agreed to let us use his ATV trails in the morning to trail ride on. He owns nearly 100 acres of woods and pasture and it is literally 100 feet from my farmhouse front door. All I had to do was knock on the door and ask.

Do you know what this means? By October I will be able to start my mornings, even weekday mornings, here at the farm stoking the woodstove to fight off the morning chill, and then pulling my favorite flannel or wool sweater on and tacking up my Fell for a quiet morning ride through the forest? By then my current manuscript will be completed and turned in, and my new work will be planning Antlerstock and fiddle camps and figuring out the next adventure.

Fences up. Friends at arm's reach. Farm is thriving.

Life is good.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Attn: Fiddle Camp Folks!

Hey All! If you are coming to Fiddle Camp, I need your t-shirt size and if you paid for a fiddle, I need to know if you want an adult sized instrument (4/4) or a 3/4 sized one (for smaller hands and smaller bodies)? Please let me know soon as possible either in the comments section or via email!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

meet me in montauk

Here is some news! Monday has been sold to a couple in Montauk. They will drive up from Long Island to pick him up and he'll be castrated and kept as a pet with their Shetland ewes. How about that? Monday gets the life of few male sheep, perhaps he'll be their Sal?

francis, too

goat walks

My goats don't have a pasture. They live in a pen with an indoor/outdoor combo run with fences. But goats are browsers, natural herbivores and to them Washington COunty is a large buffet when it is this green. So my goats go on walks up and down the county road, to eat the apple trees and weeds along the sidelines. Bonita is a fan of these walks, and Francis is learning a collar and lead aren't a noose one shrub at a time...

The Need Fire

There’s an ancient tradition in the Scottish Highlands called Tein'-éigin (Tine-Aye-Gan), In English: The Need Fire. Whenever a group of farmers or clansmen felt a particularly bad patch of luck had hit their cattle or community, all the home’s hearth fires were put out and a new fire was started for all. This fire was special, incredibly so. It was a fire for the commons, started not with a match or fuel, but by friction. You needed to light embers with the traditional methods of rope against wood because it was a blaze to be earned. Once it got started in earnest it burned high and wet wood was added to create smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. Farmers would run their cattle or horses through it, a baptism and cleansing, a prayer on the ashy hoof. The smoke was supposed to heal, and all it touched would aid those in need.

After the fire was smoldering, prayers sent up to the likes of Brigit (Saint or Goddess, depending on personal leanings or time period)—everyone grabbed coals and burning logs from the common fire, and took it home to start anew. They lit their own hearths again from that ritual, knowing that the whole clan was there together in whatever happened. They’d deal with the cattle, the limping horses, the bad crops—they were a community and they had the embers to prove it.

I have yet to gather my own clan up here for a Tein'-éigin, but I can assure you this much, they would all come. Everyone will have different ideas about religion, some will have no faith at all, but the Need Fire isn’t necessarily about deity, it is about each person’s trust in the larger community. That as a group we are more and capable of support and the healing of each other than any household or farm alone is. If my farm hosted a Need Fire I’d know Jesus, Buddah, St. Brigit, and Gaia would be present in the hearts of the attendees. Each religion would walk us separately to our bonfire. All those beautiful internal fires of belief just add to its strength. Like different woods create different sparks and slow burns, they come as one under the heat of the moment, the need.

And whether your friends and family actually create a smoky fire in a state park or just meet for coffee, the point and spirit of the Tein'-éigin lives on. It’s about coming together to work through pain. We see examples of it every day: Town Meeting Night over in Vermont, Personal interventions with addicts, prayer groups in church basements, Rotary Club and Girl Scout meetings alike. These are all examples of common hearts and minds coming together in support and change for something bigger than themselves, something better. Perhaps it is the farmer in me, or the romantic, but I can’t see a difference in any of these examples. I see the same hope swirling from the smoke of a 1356 Bonfire in the Highlands and the steam coming off a coffee cup in a church basement’s AA meeting. Strength comes from community support, so does change for the better.

So, dear friends, who would light a Need Fire with you? Who are the members of your clan? If there is something you ache for, or wish to heal, why not gather the support of your people? It took moving to a farming community for me to fully understand the idiocy of self-suffiency. Either in survival or spirit, community is what has the ability to thrive.

You don't have to be a religious person to let the Tein'-éigin burn in your heart. You just need to believe that a better life is something worth believing in. May your clan light the way.

-Excerpt from my upcoming book, Days of Grace.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

merlin won't be going to war...

This weekend is Northern Region War Camp, up here in the shire of Glenn Linn. That's the region of the SCA I belong to, and am an archer in good standing (number 182) with my fellow historical reenactors and craftsman in the Society. I will be at War Camp Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday, but Merlin won't be coming along. No trailer (and lack of practice driving and loading the horse alone) is just a fool's cry for trouble. Maybe next year.

I found this photo of a Fell at an SCA event if you want to see what I mean. Yes, I would totally ride Merlin in a corset. In fact, Fells are popular at such events since they are actually period animals from the area of my persona and time. So not only would he match the time line, he'd match my quiver!

Click here for details on NRWC, bring out the family for classes and demos! The SCA is a great way to learn skills of the past in your area of the country, free. Here is what is being taught at War Camp

photo from flickr, see more from pahz's site here

cowboy up

friend spoken here

I came across this old hobo symbol in a book today. It was painted or carved outside friendly places were ideas and stories were taught and then sent out into the world to be shared. Within twenty minutes of finding that page in the book it was painted on the front walk near the door with a goose feather. Friendship is spoken here, as is friend. Paint it near your own front door if you feel the same way. We know our own, by and by.

This symbol does not apply to groundhogs.

Come one, Come all!

take home monday?

Looking out my kitchen window I can see Monday asleep by the garden. He had a bottle of warm (fresh from the udder to the bottle!) goats milk and then chewed on some grass till life got tiring again. Sun is hitting his wooly back, and the vitamin D is soaking in. Before I leave for town I'll put him back into the large, hay-lined, dog crate in the barn. When I am away he is there, and when I am here he is out in the yard. In a few week's he will be large enough to not slip through the fencing at will and then join his flock. I'll miss seeing that fat belly out in the sunshine, though.

I have been thinking about Monday. He's a bottlefed, socialized, and intact purebred Scottish Blackface. He may be worth more to the farm being sold as a breeding animal than turned into Holiday Feasts. Does anyone have any interest in buying this boy for your own farm or flock? I would be asking $175 and he does not have papers. If you are interested in coming up to CAF to pick him up, let me know. He comes from New England Lines, the sheep of Barb Armata (New York) and Denise Leonard (Mass). Both women are active farmers and sheepdog trainers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Workshop Giveaway Winners Are....

..Lesa and Kelsey!

still love this

watch your feet, dropping updates!

Monday the ram lamb is scamping along. He's on that bottle, but already nibbling grass and enjoying fresh water too. He's doing great, and becoming the farm's unofficial mascot. I think I'll bring him to the event at Hubburd Hall this Friday. I hope some of you will make it, a free screening of the incredibly important documentary The Greenhorns, right here in Cambridge.

Francis, the new yearling doe with a buckling name (that is how she rolls) had a weird limp last week. Soon as I noticed it I went in with hoof trimmers and inspected the foot. Besides a little growth in the hoof on all of her feet nothing seemed weird or off. She limped another day and I decided to check again and give her a bit of Penicillin as a Just In Case. I cleaned her foot with soapy water to get an even better look. Nothing was wrong, not in touch or smell or anything? The next day it was still there and I called Yesheva to check it out, my goat mentor from Common Sense Farm. She saw the same thing I did (nothing at all) and agreed with the Pro-Pen G shot. It lasted two days and then she stopped limping. I can only guess it was a sore or pulled muscle or a light sprain. Maybe Bonita butted her? Maybe she got it stuck on a fence wire? Maybe she took up Salsa dancing and this was the inevitable fallout due to the fact she's a goat. The world will never know, but my goat is healed. Glory Be!

Bonita is kicking out a little less than a gallon a day. When the Daugton's came by this morning for a pre-slaughter road trip brunch (we both had trucks with livestock to deliver to local harvester Ben Shaw after breakfast) those boys lit up like firecrackers at the offer of cold chocolate goat milk. They used it to wash down their egg and goat milk quiche filled with kale and spinach from the garden. It was a hit. Ian was proud to tell me about the successful mating of his meat rabbits, animals from my farm and Meg Paska's Brooklyn Homestead litter. He has his calendar marked for nest boxes and kindling. He's a natural farmer, that kid. He shouldn't be in 4-H, he should run it.

On the way home from Ben Shaw's farm, I stopped at Tractor Supply and got all the t-posts, field fence, t-post toppers and somesuch for the big fencing day Friday. If anyone wants to come build fences let me know, it'll be an early morning (starting around 5:30 AM), but both Brett and I welcome the help! And when the fences, gate, and ground is cleared of holes and debris I will be ready for the arrival of Merlin. An event so important to me, to bring him home and have him outside my window every day. He belongs here, and will be ridden as often as possible, worked too. I am going to ask my neighbors across the street if I can ride their ATV trails early before they would ever use them, perhaps I will have a nice trail just a few feet from my front door? A girl can hope, eh?

Jasper is a spitfire and being worked twice a week. He's willing in harness, but channels Dennis Leary in every other aspect of life and work.

Ajay was dropped off at Common Sense Farm around lunch and was thrilled with the mansion, the people, the work, and the farm. They were ready for him early and so I took him there and stuck around for a meal with my friends. I'll check in on him all the time, and hope to see him at the movie Friday, too. Brett will be here soon to talk fencing and horse paddocks. I'm trying to get him to get another horse, a matched Haflinger named Milt I have been watching on Craigslist for him.

Jazz is mostly solid. His coat and eyes are failing him, but he is generally active and smiling. Annie is the same as ever, smiling and food lovin' - Gibson starts herding lessons again soon and I bought an Aled Owen video for farm dog training as well. Progress comes as it comes. G and I are in no race to learn. I can say he may not be any trial dog, but every day he works on this farm. He brings sheep, helps me capture chickens, protects Monday, and terrorized Thor the rooster, whom I despise and worry I may eat out of spite.

Also, Expect a webinar (woolcentric) and more Birchthorn soon!

haters gonna hate

"What truly horrifies me is that so many find this book wonderful, and insightful, and think by reading it that they are closer to understanding the animals in their lives and in the world around them. I can't help but wonder if they are blinded by the author's name....writing about a field that she so obviously knows very little about, she has ventured far outside her sphere of knowledge and experience; and threatens to take gullible and unsuspecting readers with her as well."

"She says she loves animals...but fully upholds the human right to own, control, manipulate, mutilate, buy, sell, inseminate, incarcerate, and slaughter animals..."

"I cannot recommend this book to anyone -- although it contains some interesting facts about handling livestock, in other areas it has too many un-scientific personal assumptions, which could in my opinion, cause more harm to innocent beings, the animals."

"Her outlook is sadly insulting to anyone who truly loves animals, and who shows that love daily by doing the least harm possible, including not forcing them to die for us."

"...disingenuous and unfair."

-Amazon reviews of Temple Grandin

Haters gonna hate. There's nothing for it. You'll find just as angry reviews on Joel Salatin, Jon Katz, and my own reviews pages and across the internet. Anyone who deals with people passionate about animals will be accused of such offenses. I have learned to trust myself, and my farm, and walk around with people here who share in the workshops and events and let my life and words speak for themselves. I use the delete button, too. It feels great. I hope Temple does the same.

Ajay's Moved to Common Sense Farm

Thank you for all of your help here as a short-term intern, you worked hard, did amazing things around here. I wish you all the best at Common Sense Farm! And now Brett (Official Lumberjack of Cold Antler) Will be staying for a bit to do fencing and hard work as well. Let's hear it for the boys!

Monday, June 25, 2012

understanding the whole machine

As much as I love riding Merlin, it was driving him that felt the most comfortable. As if it was what we were meant to do together. Sitting in that forecart with the lines, asking Merlin up into a trot felt no different than changing lanes in my pickup. Unlike the automobiles I drive, I understand exactly how I am moving across the landscape. I know the animal, the harness, the way the cart is put together. If any single thing breaks down myself or someone close to me can repair it. I have no idea how to repair the microchips in my truck's computer. Travel may be slower. It feels right, though.

Why have we been taught to want to leave home?

ho, hey!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

farm dispatch: by ajay

So if any of you were wondering about the differences between the city life and the farm life, allow me to shed some light on that subject; there aren't many. How can that be you say? Well in my old life I had to deal with ornery cab drivers. They rarely spoke a dialect of english that I could understand and if I tried to reason with them in any kind of civil way about the route I wanted them to take I would have to listen to a ten minute discourse on why I shouldn't tell them how to do their job, which may or may not end up with me getting booted from his cab. On the farm this happens to be a lot like dealing with Thor the rooster. He speaks a dialect of dinosaur which I completely do not understand, he assures me on a daily basis that I have no Idea how to do my job or anyone else's for that matter and boots me out of his rooster barn for even making eye contact. At least I don't have to defend myself from the cab driver using a steel trash can lid.

In the corporate world I needed an ID card to enter the building where I worked. On the farm my ID card is knowing which wire fences are electrified, spoiler alert: they all are. In my old life I needed an alarm clock to get up and its the same thing here on the farm except that my alarm clock is a border collie named Gibson and all I have to do to hit the snooze button is tell him to get "his" sheep. The sheep themselves are a lot like my former co-workers, it doesn't matter that they're huddled around  a pile of hay instead of bag of bagels in the company kitchenette. The sheep and my former co-workers speak exactly the same dialect.

There's really only a one main difference from the city to the country and it's this. . . you're work is entirely rewarding. It's like taking the sticky plastic cover off of your aunt's Mabell's couch and sitting on it for the first time. It's real. You're hands touch the rich soil and the sun lights up your world like no florescent light ever could. It does take a level of sacrifice to exchange one life for another, even if for just a short period of time. But it's worth it.

Yerba Mate. Google it.

change your story

I was watching Patty, Steele, and Ajay walk up the Livingston Brook Farm driveway, and couldn't stop smiling. Ajay was on Steele's back, his first time on a horse since the few minutes he experienced it when he was eight. He looked comfortable, proud, and under the watchful eye and advice of Patty, confident. Mark, Patty's husband, walked up aside me next to the trailer Merlin was in. He had been in the garden and handed me a fresh radish, "Take a bite of that!" he said, and I did. The crispy tartness filled up my senses and I nodded to him. He pointed to the pile in the driveway harvested that day. It was enough radishes to fill a commercial gumball machine.

Mark looked at the horse and new rider and said so matter of factly, "You know, this changes his whole story?" And I looked at him, expected more of an explanation. Mark continued, "His story with horses. He said his only experience with horses was riding a pony as a kid for a few minutes. He had no experience, at least nothing substantial. But he can't say that now." And I got it. Mark was right. Ajay, even though he was nervous and as green as it gets when it comes to country living—got up on that draft horse. He did it even though he was scared, and now that he realized there wasn't a landmine in the saddle and was actually controlling the reins enough to make Steele circle, back up, turn, and stop, he looked ten feet tall.

He can't believe he's only been here since Wednesday night. Because our work starts so early (4:45 on a weekday), and lasts till dark, the days stretch out into a dance of sweat, food, meals, and more sweat. Breaks are few and cherished in swimming holes or hot tubs at friend's houses. In a few more days he'll move on to a new farm and start work there. I'm grateful for the help while I have it. I hope he sticks around to do some more riding, hard work, and falls in love with Washington County and our way of life up here. It's sure been wonderful seeing a good friend so happy and tired. <

He is changing his story.

the boys of CAF

Monday seems to go everywhere with us. He's 100% on the bottle so every few hours he eats from a goat's-milk-filled stubby beer bottle with a plastic nipple from the feed store. Yesterday I brought him along to Maria and Jon's Art Show at Bedlam Farm and he walked around wagging his tail and being held and pet by visitors from all over the US and Canada. Jon brings in the crowds, that is for sure. I talked to people from New Jersey and then the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the same random circle of strangers. They all seemed to soak up Washington County and its beautiful rolling hills. Yesterday Ajay said it reminded him of the Shire in the Lord of the Rings books. I told him it feels like home to me too. I can't imagine living somewhere else. Not anymore.

After Jon's we went out to the Wesners' for dinner (Ajay's first time eating rabbit, which he LOVED) and, of  course, Monday came with us. Gibson did too. It was like brining along the baby sitter. Gibson kept an eye  on that lamb like it was the only thing in the world to him. He even ignored Patty and Mark's rabbit cages (Gibson stares at rabbits for hours so this is a HUGE deal). He watched and herded that little boy right around us. Gentle, never biting, just circling with that beautiful stalking crouch and dead-set eyes. I was so proud of him.

I'm proud of Ajay too. He is doing so great up here. He's working like a dog, no doubt, but in love with Washington County. He agreed to write a post about what it is like and his observations on it all. It'll be a treat, for certain. He's no writing slouch. He's an inspiring novelist and lover of story and song. I'll post a video of him on his git box later, tearing it up for the dogs in the living room.

Ajay's taken up an interest in horses and riding too. He wants to learn, a combination of being around horses and riders so much,  but also watching things like Game of Thrones and other horse-centric bits of entertainment that got him jonesing for saddle time. He's nervous about it, since he hasn't been on a horse since "three minutes when I was eight" he says, but today he will get his first informal lesson. Patty and I will show him how to tack up, and the equipment and parts of the sport. The he'll get up on Steele under the watchful eyes of Patty and learn some basics of communication and steering. I think he will love it. I can't wait for him to get up on that 17-hand beauty and feel what it is like to see the world, my world, from horseback.

Enjoy your Sunday, Friends.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

monday in bedlam

Enter A Big Ol' CAF Giveaway!

An anonymous donor gave the gift of a workshop payment to the farm. So I decided to group a day at Cold Antler (workshop of your choice) and some other prizes as a giveaway! To enter for the chance of a Full day regular workshop, a signed copy of Barnheart, and a copy of the Backyard Homestead. (So that's two books and a day here at the farm) leave a comment in this post. A random comment will be picked to win! All you need to do to enter is help spread the word about the farm.

Help the readership grow by telling someone who doesn't read the blog about it, who you think might like it? Please do so with a person starting today. If you told your sister last month, please tell a new person to enter. All sorts of ways to do this, all easy! Put a post-it note on your coworkers monitor with on it. Or tell your Facebook friends. Or email your sister in Toledo. Whatever you do to share CAF with a non-reader, post it here and you are entered. Enter as many times as you like! And the winner will be announced Monday night!

Driving Merlin!


Having Ajay here has turned my life (and his) into Farming Army. With another strong back things I couldn't do myself are possible, and to take advantage of the gift, we work from 4:45AM until sundown on chores. It's why you haven't heard from me much (that and a heatwave that sent us to the Battenkill to swim every free chance in our work day). It's also why I think more work got done around here in 48 hours than all of last week!

Ajay and I did usual chores but we also trained Jasper in harness, put up 300 bales of hay at the Wesner's Farm, set locust posts for the pony gates, bought used gates from another farm, went to the hardware store, toured Common Sense Farm, cooked all our meals, visited neighbors, and more. On top of all this new work in a new world, Ajay has decided to quit smoking. He's really putting change into action, and so far with surprising grace. I mean, this is the same guy who's nickname in high school was "Struggle"

Besides Ajay there is a lot going on here at the farm. Monday the new lamb is a 100% bottle fed babe, and small enough to slide through the woven wire fence squares. Whenever he sees us outside doing chores he just walks out and follows us around like a pup. It's quite the sight seeing this circus now. Last night Ajay was watering the garden (he's so green I had to explain where the raised bed gardens started and lawn ended) walking around with watering cans and buckets, I was holding a bottle of goat milk between my knees while sitting on the stanchion to milk Bonita. Three tasks done at once, and necessary due to our appointments and chore lists. It is GO GO GO all day but I have to say, I feel great. I feel free.

Oh, and here is some big news: Merlin and I went for our first cart ride yesterday! He did amazingly! Milt (the trainer) said to Patty as he got off the forecart after our first outing, "You got some competition, Patty." And we both smiled ear to ear. Videos and photos soon!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

too tired to write...

The day started at 4:45 AM with coffee and a horse in harness, then loped into six people moving 300 bales into an 1800's barn, and then a heatwave day of outdoor work, river swimming, and cooking grass-fed burgers on the grill.

I think Ajay's first day here was a tough one, but he's smiling.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Summer, Folks!

It's the Solstice today! First day of summer. In a few hours I'll head to Albany to pick up Ajay at the train station. He'll be coming by way of Philly. Ajay will be living in Washington County for a while, starting at my farm while he finds his feet. He's an old friend of the family, somewhat adopted by my parents as the feral kid who showed up for some holidays and then got postcards from Arizona from. We are close friends and went to highschool together. He just turned thirty and is eager to get out of the city and learn about farming. He'll be WWOOFing over at Common Sense Farm after a few weeks here. I'm excited to see him again, and excited to have someone to go over the day's chores and plans, hold the lines while I fix Jasper's harness, and chop firewood from the locust pile under the side porch.

But here's the thing. Ajay is brand new to this entire world. He has no idea about haying or livestock auctions, couldn't tell a lamb from a kid at 30 yards. He's a total beginner, but has a strong mind and back. It'll be interesting to see what is new to him, what he tends to like the most, and how he fits into this eccentric and artsy ag town. I mean, this is a place where a Christian Farming Commune lives four blocks from a community theatre group that put on a live performance of The Lottery last summer and all the kids handed out rocks by the bucketfull to the audience before it started. You can buy deer butchering gear at the IGA. Horses ride downtown. It is a far cry from the city and I can't wait to see how he does. I already bought him a straw cowboy hat. Let's see if he blushes before putting it on.

Barn Raising: Part 2

We started the barn with a bucket of tar and some serious heavy lifting. Cathy Daughton and I moved most of the wood from the front driveway, up past the pasture and garden fences, over to the area in the woods that would be the horse barn for Jasper and Merlin. "Barn" is not the goal of the day though. Today was about setting corner posts, bracing them, and putting on a roof with rafters and scrap tin we found on the farm.

When the wood was delivered, in order of priority, we saw the magic of the day start to happen. Brett picked up the 16ft post as if it was a friend's golden retriever (some effort but not uncomfortable) and then dipped the end in the bucket of tar. The boys lit up at this act. I had to admit, it was impressive. You don't get to see lumberjacks hoist lumber every day, do you?

Once it was dipped in the tar, the younger Daughton boys took turns painting the bottom four feet of each main post a thick, black, sticky gobber. This tar wasn't pretty, but it did the job. A serious sealant between dirt, moisture, and rot on those in-ground pieces.

One at a time posts were tarred, set, and tempered into the ground with a thick, flat-bottomed piece of cherry cut down at last Antlerstock. Soon as all four were up the bracing pieces went up and suddenly the quadrant of totems turned into the ghost of a building.

We broke for a lunch down in the grove behind the barn. It is circled by tiki torches burning citronella oil and no bug dared bother our kabob grill. Pieces of stew meat marinated in balsamic dressing and peppercorns skewered with crisp onions, pepper, and squash sizzled as we drank lemonade. There would be an icecream break too, a little later. It was so hot, and the work so constant, the food felt more like fuel than a meal.

Here is where Holden, Cathy's 16-year-old son took on the world. He took that giant 6x6x16 beam and climbed up the stone wall and helped set it into place. Then he scrambled up top of the frame and helped nail in rafters one at a time until we now had an honest-to-summer building framed up. Neither Brett or I planned on having such a help from the kid and it was a blessing. He worked like a dog, up there in the sun on metal roofing, with only hand tools like a hammer and nail. The work between the two men became a dance. They'd throw nails and hammers to each other and never miss. By 5PM the entire plan for the day (posts, roof, and frame) was up and ready to protect two ponies from rain. It would be a few weeks before the fences, gate, siding, and water system was worked out, but it would be worked out.

I am so grateful for these people, and for the day. What started as an idea and a plank set of boards turned into a real, tangible, thing in just a few hours. I want to especially thank Brett for his tools, skill, and time. Right now the poor man is hiking through the Adirondacks looking for a lost Highlander breeding cow and has been consumed by this search for days. Good thoughts on finding her way back to your pasture, friend. Stranger things have happened on Midsummer's day.

Right now the structure is sitting at the end of the path in the woods. This Friday I plan on spending a lot of the day working on some fences and gates with the intern (more on him in a bit) and getting as much work done as possible. If you are free and want to help out, please email me! I can't pay you, but I can offer you some awesome kabobs and my sincere gratitude.

For more images and detailed photos of the day, visit Firecracker Farm's website and see the images posted by Cathy Daughton. That photo of us was taken by you son, Seth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Still a favorite. Makes me crow hop in the kitchen.

ian and the new lamb

talking with a farmer

I went outside after reading some blog comments, and found a farmer in the driveway waiting to talk to me. He wanted to discuss meat rabbits. He was lanky, but certain looking. No way a frail man at all. He had on camo pants, rubber boots, and a serious farmers tan peaking through his t-shirt sleeves.

He had noticed the little lamb up in the sheep paddock and we got to talking about raising meat animals and sheep. I knew this guy had serious experience with many critters, and his methods were much like mine: animals raised humanely and under grass farming principals. Both our homes knew Joel Salatin as a household name.

I told him how some readers were put off at the idea of naming a lamb and then eating him down the line. At this the farmer smiled, scoffed out a happy laugh and said. "What other way is there?!" and then added, "Just this last fall I sold beef from a steer I bought as a calf, bottle fed, named, and raised." I nodded. I knew that cow, had bought a hundred dollars of his beef and enjoyed every bite of it. He didn't see a problem or disconnection with caring lovingly for an animal he would himself slaughter or aid in the slaughter of. This was normal to him. It was how he had been raised, how he understood the world. He didn't seem too interested in the conversation beyond that point though. He was a busy man, with work to do. He was already fumbling with his pocket knife and ready to get going. We made plans to talk rabbits tomorrow afternoon at his farm.

The farmer was Ian Daughton. He is eleven.

cantering towards life!

Yesterday morning I met Patty at her farm early. We had carted with Steele the day before, and today was all about hitting the trail with our horses. The entire day was a magazine shoot of perfection, and I can't thank Patty enough for her encouragement, trailering, and time.

We picked up Merlin and getting him on the trailer was easier than ever before. The training with Milt, and on our own, has created a new experience for Merlin. He gets on with little fuss, sometimes ahead of me. It's so satisfying to see that money and time and effort spent fixing a problem, well, fixed. I am hoping to get a trailer soon, as I need it to take Merlin up to War Camp on the 30th. I'll find one in safe condition, certainly. I will barter or buy one used, whatever comes first!

Here's a video of the first part of our ride. Right before I hit record we had trotted up a steep climb out of a wooded path along a brook. The feeling of walking gently through the forest on a horse you love and trust, and then breaking into a bit of changed pace and bursting into open land and light felt like a movie script. Here we are on the half mile pasture walk to the lake. And yes, we got wet...

We walked out of the pasture and into the woods. Tree branches grazed my head. This is not something a woman of 5'3" feels often. I touched maple leaves and felt like a giraffe.

Steele headed down into the lake and here is where I got nervous. Merlin isn't a fan of water, and getting him to walk through puddles is sometimes hard. But when Steele started heading into the lake, Merlin did too! And suddenly the two of us were on top of splashing and stomping happy horses, drnking and dipping their snouts in lake water and using their front hoof to dig and splash. Merlin and Steele were having a ball. I was still a little nervous (Merlin slipped once getting out and I didn't fall in) but we did it. Woods to pasture, pasture to lake, and now were were off to walk hedgerows, dirt roads and other fields. We walked and trotted mostly. The sun was out, but not hot. the flies weren't bothering the boys much at all. Merlin was coated with fly spray and ear Swat, and Steele (who gets bothered by flies more) was in a mask.

What you see here is Merlin's road pack. It's a saddle bag that sets on his saddle's cantle. It has a pouch large enough to hold things like a poncho, pocket knife, snacks, first aid kit and your phone and straps to tie on a wool sweater. It also carries two quarts of water for the rider. I'm a fan of it. As trail riding takes up more of my summer, I am looking forward to packing snacks and gear.

Back to the ride: we moved across the farmscape, taking in the new corn shoots, and rolling hillsides. Merlin now felt as natural below me, as calm, as my own Dodge pickup. I was feeling a little cocky and would give him heel to trot alongside Steele's large walking stride. Patty and I talked. She and I are people who focus on gratitude and positive things. No talk of war, politics, ill-intended gossip, or fear on those trails. We took in the sunlight, the smell of cut hayfields and horse, and made statements about the beautiful weather, swapped horse tips, talked about the men in our lives and families. It was textbook delightful. There is enough anger, suffering, and fear in the world without us having to surrender to it. If you want to hear about it, "be informed" then turn on the news or pick up a paper. Invite a scared person over for dinner and listen to how horrible the world is. I am losing my tolerance of intentional negativity. Every day, every minute, you choose how to life your life and see the world. If you are kind, compassionate, and honest about your feelings those kind of people and experiences wrap themselves around you. To this I am a living testament, this blog certified proof. A happier life means choosing to be a happier person. It doesn't mean running away from reality. It means having the guts to create your own.

Whew. Anyway, I was so wrapped up in the conversation I didn't even think about it when Steele started to canter up a steep slope. I just gave Merlin a bit of leg and he loped up right after his big brother. I rode that canter as if I had been born to it. All those months of riding lessons, trotting in circles, had taught me enough of seat and leg to remain calm and communicate. It felt amazing, to be on a galloping horse, MY horse, out in a feral trail ride where only our whims told us where to go.

And all of this, the horses, the ride, the lake and that unexpected burst of cantering. All of it was happening on a Monday morning. To someone who spent the last 8 years of her life surrendering every single Monday to Paid Time Off or someone's company: it felt so much deeper, that freedom of the day. I WAS in my office, on the back of a running black gelding in the place I call home.

When we trotted back to her driveway I hugged that horse for a long time. He's worth every penny, every drop of sweat, and every board carried to make him a barn and pasture fence. He's magic to me.

And to those of you reading about this at home, those of you who wish with all your heart You had a horse to ride? You can ride too. I promise that if it is something you want it is yours to have. I don't care if you live in the middle of Boston and don't have a car or a spare twenty dollars to your name. You are online now, aren't you? Well, search for stables, trail rides, and lessons in your area. Look for places you can can get too (or close too) by foot, bus, or car. ASK through email and phone calls if you can exchange hard work (muck stalls all morning?) for a half hour lesson or a trail ride with a group already paying with horses set aside. Ask that cousin in the country you visit to show you how to put on a bridle and pick feet. Walk to your neigbors with horses and tell them you think they are wonderful, and would love to get a barn tour. Go to the county fair and ask the girl with he draft team about her local club. Do you see what I am getting at? If you want something, you need to start dialing numbers, asking friends and family, and putting time ad sweat into it. I have no doubt that anyone who wants to ride will.

I know a woman at the stables who gave up her cable and cell phone to take a lesson a week and is saving for a horse and fencing of her own on her small acre homestead. She'll make it happen.

I'm not lecturing, I am making that promise. You can have your farm, your horse, your goats, your chickens. You can have it as soon as this weekend (in some form) if you start making emails and phone calls now. Live around here? Call or email ME! You already have a resource! One couple new to farming is trading a bin of pumpkins and possibly a pig to come to the Farmer's Horse workshop here in the fall. Another couple who owns a t-shirt comapny is printig up the fiddle camp shirts in exhange for coming to camp. This farm is how I make my living, but it is also dedicated to you, the readers. I want anyone who wants what I have to have it, too. I will do whatever I can to get you there through words, encouragement, workshops, and stories.

Go get your own canter started right now, and don't let a single person tell you it isn't yours to have. You won't hear anything to the contrary here. I know it is yours, just go ask for it and receive it with gratitude. It is yours.

Brigit's Fire, it is.

general update

The new ram lamb is doing well! I was worried the ewe was going to reject him, but the little guy had a tight stomach when I picked him up and gave him some vitamin paste. Just in case the mother was slacking with the milk business, I offered him a bottle of warm goats milk and he sucked it down like a little piston. I think I'll keep him to raise for the Holidays. A tradition started last year, but certainly worth keeping up. Leg of Lamb served with cream sauce while the Yule log burns is a nice way to start the year, no? Any suggestions for names?

Updates to come for you about the Barn Raising (part 2!), the TWO new pony carts, my first canter with Merlin up a farm field hill, a new workshop for you fiber folk, entering the Washington County Fair, and (drumroll) a NEW INTERN is moving in tomorrow. All of this just happened and I have a book to write so blog updates will come in on breaks from writing.

So much is happening! All of it good!

Monday, June 18, 2012

sunflowers in the cabinet

I found a packet of Flash Blend sunflower seeds in my cabinet. I got them back in early spring, but forgot about them. Tomorrow I will plant them and see where they end up.

good morning from cold antler farm!

not even 7 AM....

...and I already have afterbirth all over my hands.

Hello Monday.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

join us for a sunday drive

the distant future, the year 2000

What's that a picture of? Why it's aerial firefighters with bat wings putting out a blaze in the year 2000 of course. Folks, you need to check out this link. It contains photos by a French illustrator in 1910 and what he felt the year 2000 would hold for society. I find ideas about our future and technology so fascinating as a modern homesteader? How progress meant lack of effort to people then, or versions of that ease. Life was hard, I know this. But sometimes their pipe dreams are laughable. Others are spot on. Which of these made you laugh or tilt your head at the screen? Do you think the future we have now is all 1910 cracked it up to be? (I personally love the flying water bat people, but click here to see more.)

P.S. Ten points if you started singing Flight of the Conchords when you saw this post title. Robots!

accidental juggler

Last night Brett and I were having dinner over at Jon and Maria's and Brett started a conversation about academic writing and said something like, "Well, the two of you are writers and you understand..." and Jon just nodded and kept a steady trot alongside Brett and Maria in conversation, and I am sure I did as well, but that moment kinda stopped me. I am a writer. I know this. I write here nearly every day. I have books with my name on the spine. I write articles for magazines and online news media blogs for two countries but when I hear or see someone point to me and say "writer" it still seems kind of odd. Like as if someone handed me three balls and I kept them in the air long enough they called me Juggler.

I understand if anyone out there desires to be a writer, I sound like a total dick right now. That is not my intention.

I am honestly being incredulous. I never meant to be a writer. I never took writing courses, or went to writing workshops or events. I never opened a single copy of Writer's Journal or anything like that. In high-school I was invited to go to the Pennsylvania "Governor's School" summer session for writing, but I turned it down because I was 16 and had a boyfriend and I wanted to hang out with him and watch Buffy and travel to South Dakota for a few weeks. I didn't want to sit in a college and write.

My first book was picked up by a publisher because one night on the phone with my friend Raven (an Idaho to Maryland conversation) she told me I should write a book about backyard homesteading as a renter. So that weekend I googled "How to publish a non-fiction book" and got the news I needed to submit a proposal with a writing sample. Okay. Check. I went to a book store and saw books about homesteading and farming and wrote down their names, went to those publisher's websites, and Storey happened to list exactly what they wanted in a book proposal. So I followed that, designed it pretty, and sent it in. I got an email back in five days from the woman who would become my future editor.

It happened because I asked. Things only happen if you ask.

So here I am, a few years down the pipe and I'm now a full-time writer. I love writing. I can't imagine going a day without it. I find I am always writing, or wanting to share stories and feelings and ideas. It's become such a focus in my life it constantly surprises me. I find myself taking notes for blog posts on my hands in black pen ink, or writing first sentences on my iPhone's notepad so I can remember it. It's a craft I feel stalked me from the bushes and jumped me. Writing has made me its bitch and I'm now branded as a steer's rump with my occupation. Happily so.

And so on Jon's porch I was a writer last night, and I think I finally believed it when I heard it. No one slammed their hand on the table and called me on it. Not even me, and that was the first time. How about that?

my new truck

Barn Raising Tales: Part 1

The last two days have seen so much activity. I woke up Friday morning at dawn to start preparing for the tasks ahead. A workshop was being hosted here on Saturday and between then and there was a large order of chickens to pick up and set up in the outdoor brooder, a large farm lawn to mow, regular chores to be accomplished, a house to clean, food to cook, and a barn and chicken tractor to build.

Brett arrived at 9:30AM towing a red two-horse trailer and his big Ford truck. The trailer didn't hold a horse, though. It was going to carry Atlas, Ashe, and two Cotswold ewes instead. The four sheep were part of a large livestock barter for the help and expertise building Jasper and Merlin's new home. Brett would also end up leaving with a cage of laying hens (adults), ten Freedom Ranger chicks, and the frozen body of the chicken he slaughtered at the demonstration. In exchange (with the help of the Daughton Boys) a pole barn frame would be hoisted up with rafters and a tin roof.

I remember looking at that pile of wood in the driveway, and wondering how we were going to move 16 ft beams and 12 foot rafters by hand? How could we possibly get it all done? I had forgot to specify that the posts be pressure treated, and that was not a slight omission. How would they not rot in the ground and send the structure toppling over in 4 years? Between the gravity of these concerns and the childlike understanding of the amount of work ahead, I didn't think too much. I decided just to go with the flow, sign the checks, and do as I was told. Brett knew what the barn and wood needed. He knew how to fix and mend mistakes. And I decided if I just trusted the guy there might be a four-posted barn without siding in my woods by sundown. So we got to work.

As we loaded up into my Dakota Brett mentioned, off hand as all get out, that there was something for me in the back of his truck. I didn't think anything of it really. I was grateful but surprises between us have been fairly common. I'd hand him a turkey, he'd hand me a bag of bacon and ham steaks next visit from his pigs. We don't keep score, it's as natural a system as tributaries.

 First up was a trip to the work site. I showed him the four post-holes the Daughton Boys had dug, and the stone wall behind the old foundation taken down with a sledge hammer to grade. Then There was the area brush hogged to put in fences. He seemed pretty okay with these best-laid plans and the next step was a trip to the hardware store in Cambridge to buy the nails, screws, hardware, and random supplies that would turn that previously mentioned stack of boards into a home for 1600 pounds of horse flesh. He bought a bucket of roofing tar, a big bucket, and decided that would be our weather-proofing method for the 3 feet of post going into the ground. After the hardware store and grocery store (gotta feed this work crew) I had sunk somewhere around $485 in the barn. (In the world of large outbuilding construction, that is quite a small amount.) And only possible because of the help of Brett and a very-brave 16-year-old boy in the rafters nailing down tin roof about twice his age. More on that bit later... When Brett and I got back from our errands it was already 11AM and the Daughton boys and their mother, Cathy, were already there finishing up last touches on their post holes and brush hogging the fence line. That mixture of boys talking, the mower's roar, and the engine turning off on the Dodge were music to my ears. I took the groceries inside and Brett started walking tools and the bucket-o-pitch to the work site. We were going to build a barn, folks. This was actually happening.

As I headed up the hillside to join everyone in the work of the day, I decided to take a peak in the back of Brett's pickup truck. I was curious. I couldn't help myself. Inside the F250's bed was a vintage pony cart, red as a cherry with a wooden seat and floor. No foolin.

This would be a day to remember, and it had barely started...

photo by jon katz

Saturday, June 16, 2012

barn raising 2012

photos by seth daughton!

Friday, June 15, 2012

going up...

Today: a barn starts

This here is a $288 pile of pine boards. It was delivered yesterday by the fine folks at Windy Hill Sawmill and it is resting in this whorey, Not-Brett-Approved pile in the grass. I'm waiting for the Lumberjack to get here and show me how to build a pony shed for the horses. I bartered three ewes and Atlas the ram for his help, and when he leaves Sunday he'll have a starter flock and I'll have a pony home for Merlin and Jasper (Future BFFs).

We might even get the fence and gates up today, too, if all goes as planned. Brett's coming down from the Lake Placid area to help teach and demonstrate his chicken tractor building skills for tomorrow's Meat Bird workshop. But today isn't about chickens, it is about horses, and we are going to turn this pile of wood into a frame and rafters and tin roof. I did buy the wood but we are salvaging roofing from around the farm, from old scrap piles. I already got the site prepped with the help of the Daughton Boys who dug the post holes and helped level the stone wall and brush hog the fenceline.

I have a feeling it is going to be a long day, and it starts now with running to the post office to pick up 50 Freedom Ranger chicks with Gibson.

I used to be leaving for the office right about now, just a year ago I worked every Friday. Now I am jumping in the truck again, but to spend the day working in the sun building a few horses a condo and transporting boxes of poultry. I am happy with how things are working out.

Here's to a weekend of friends, fowl, hammers, lumber, and the occasional flying arrow or two!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Help Jerri, Mission Small Business

Friend and blog supported, Jerri Bedell, is the owner of a small business called Homesteader Supply. It's a business of love and growth towards a more sustainable life. It's the kind of online store that covers everything from milking pails to solar powered lights and certainly my type of place to shop.

Jerri had a favor to ask. She just created a specialty cheese press, one she designed herself to fit the needs of a home cheesemaker. She had so many issues and changes required of commercial presses, she decided to just go ahead and create a press herself! You can read more about it or order it by clicking here, or clicking on the image above. Here is a quote from Jerri on why she went ahead and made this beautiful thing:

"Basically, I really didn't like the cheesepresses out there, difficult to use, and some actually fall apart from the exposure to water. So I found an experienced local woodworker with large professional shop to be able make them fast and perfect each time so we won't have backorders waiting for production... together we designed ours to overcome the problems with the others."

It is so easy to use, probably will last a lifetime with care (continued oiling through the years)."

So that new cheese press, I am happy to share the news about it. And I also wanted to ask you guys to consider helping a business such as Jerri's out. You don't have to spend a dime to support her own home-based business dreams. See, Jerri is working hard to get a grant from Mission Small Business to continue following her own dream of developing and promoting new homesteading goods like her hardwood cheese press and such. If you log onto this program, and search for Homesteader's Supply, you can click a button and vote for her company to get support. It will take a few seconds and cost you nothing at all, you simply log in with your Facebook account and hit vote when Homesteader's supply comes up in the search. (You need to put the apostrophe in Homesteader's for it to show up as a search return!) If she can get 250 votes she has a chance towards this grant to grow, save, and comfort this homesteading business and I hope some of you are willing to help out with your clicks! I voted!

annie hates summer

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Support CAF, Sign up!

Last chance to sign up for any of these workshops listed below. Some only have one or two spots left. I encourage anyone out there who is considering a workshop to come on over, reserve a spot! It would be a blessing and a gift at this time! More details on any of these workshops can be found by hitting the button to the right with the crow and fiddle! To snatch these spots up, please email me at

Backyard Meat Chickens (this saturday!): 2 spots left!
Fiddle Camp: 3 spots left!
Antlerstock 2012: just two spots left!

Beekeeping 101: 8 spots
Candles & Soap: 5 spots
Farmer's Horse: 6 spots

Also, weekend farm stays, short internships, personal lessons, personal classes, and more available. Just ask and email.

my dogs jump

A lot of people teach their dogs not to jump up as a greeting. I do not. I adore it when I come home and Gibson leaps up on his back feet and wraps his front legs around my hips and holds on. It's a canine hug, and he means it. He lays his head against my chest and looks up into my eyes and his tail wags and I grab him around the ribs and hold tight. I am pro dog hugging. It makes me feel good.

I read today that dogs are the only animals, other than primates, that can read human emotions through faces and actions. Other domesticated animals will come to the people that feed and comfort them if they cry or seem despondent, but apparently the science says that only dogs and primates can look at your face and understand, make decisions about their interaction with you based on your eyes, face, laughter, tears.

I don't raise this point to argue, or to invalidate the compassion of your cat, parrot, horse or raccoons or whatever. I am sure your animals have comforted you as well. I raise it because I have spent my entire adult life in the company of dogs, always 2 or 3. Sometimes my living room has 200 pounds of dog and 25 pounds of feline all sharing the box fan and it is as serene a scene as waves hitting the shore. We all live together, and we know each other. We know our boundaries and quirks, voices and needs. We have our own routines and habits. And yesterday and this morning some anxiety and worry took over and I walked into a room, probably weighing an extra hundred pounds of radiating stress. I'm worried, folks. About a whole bunch of things. A lot of the pieces of leaving my desk job aren't falling into place. Loopholes in contracts, delays in payments, just everyday issues really. But enough to make you wake up at 3:30 AM and not fall back asleep.

Anyway, so I walked into a room, feeling all this. And Gibson simply lifted his head from his paws, stood up, and walked over to me with decision on his face. He didn't bark, or wine, or ask anything of me. He just lifted himself off the ground and wrapped his paws around me and held on. I held on to him, too. I kissed his little black head and told him he was a good boy.

I am very glad my dogs jump.


This first week has been strange. It's odd, and I'm not sure I'm doing it right yet. Honestly, it feels like a long weekend, or a vacation off. It doesn't feel like a business or a serious writer's home. I have open word docs, new chapter outlines, and design projects in progress. I am working with readers to set up workshops and fiddle camp barters. Yesterday a pack of eager college students arrived for a farm tour and talk (wasn't I just a college student?!) and today I have a web design meeting with a local artist. I am staying busy, keeping on task, the farm has never had such attention.

And yet I feel like I am pretending. Like it didn't really happen? It feels like in a few days I'll be back at my desk and back to the normal file folders and lunch breaks. But I KNOW that desk is swept clean, and I've been removed from the record sheets. There is no going back right now. I made a decision and I understand that, but I am waiting for it to sink in, or feel real.

Right now everything feels like limbo.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Movie Night in Cambridge June 29th!

There's going to be a wonderful, free, event right here in Cambridge New York at the end of the Month. It's a combination event with Battenkill Books, Hubburd Hall, Bedlam Farm, and Cold Antler Farm (among others!) to do a screening of the powerhouse documentary The Greenhorns right here in farm country.

There will be food, essayists from the documentary's companion book (I am one of said essayists), and I believe remarks and a bit of speaking from the young farmers in question. Come on down to Cambridge, say hello, watch an inspiring movie about new farmers across the country starting out and leaving their desks and colleges behind to play in the dirt. It's a revolution, baby.

Get details here! Click Clicky Click

Also, you can pre order a copy of the beautiful book of over 50 essays, stories, and songs from Connie at Battenkill books. Email her at, and she'll get your copy ready for you. It will be waiting for you when you arrive, ready for me and Luke, Severine, or whoever else is there to sign it. Every book you purchase through Battenkill Books is supporting a grand new indie shop here in my town. You can also order signed, personalized copies of Made From Scratch, Chick Days, or Barnheart. If you're not that into me, you can order signed copies of Jon Katz's books, or James Howard Kunstler's, or Megan Mayhew Bergman's. We got as many writers around these parts as dairy cows, so don't be shy now.

Okay, so who's coming?!

the new kids!

Went out this morning expecting lambs and instead found a mama Swedish Flower Hen with a clutch of new hatchlings! Beautiful and healthy little chicks are strutting about with mama, and about to get a welcome from thunderstorms, fireflies, and a pack of college students from Bloomfield University of New Jersey in a short while. Doing a tour/talk on backyard sustainability and the importance of small diversified farms today. Hopefully, also putting these kids to work bringing in a barn-full of first cut hay for the flock and ponies. Welcome to Tuesday at Cold Antler Farm! Chicks, College kids, expectant mothers, and hay rushing because storms are ahead!

P.S. Expect more and better farm photos! Jess and Riley from the wild Northland of Canada have sent down a Nikon for me to use! Not to mention a mess of handmade soaps and a sweet letter, thank you guys, see you at Antlerstock!

How to Make Goats' Milk Soap

Making Milk Soap at home is easy, but it can be intimidating at first. Here is a recipe for a very basic, small batch to get you started. You need the following things to follow this recipe:

2 pounds Olive Oil
2 pounds Coconut Oil
9.5 oz lye
2 cups milk
2 stainless steel saucepans
thermometer for oils/milk
soap mold(s)
hand blender
rubber gloves
digital scale
Makes 12-20 bars

You start out by melting all four pounds of oils together, and keeping tabs with a candy, cheese, or soap thermometer. You want them melted from solid state (coconut oil is kind of like crisco in texture) and around 100-120 degrees. Set them aside once melted. The saucepan you use to melt these in should be stainless steel, but if it isn't that's not as big of a deal as the pot you use to activate your lye in the milk. You can heat up these oils in a plastic or glass container in your microwave as well.

Now, for the tricky part. ( I do this step outdoors, by the way.) Wear long sleeves, rubber gloves, and glasses if you have them. Take your 2 cups of cold milk and set it in a STAINLESS STEEL saucepan and slowly add you 6 oz of lye as you stir with a wooden or steel spoon. It will start to turn into a bright yellow, and that's okay! As it activates it heats up and fast. After a few moments of stirring I add my steel saucepan to an ice bath in a sink or washtub outside and get it to cool down to bathwater temps (around 100 degrees) before I add my melted oils to it.

Warning: Add lye to water/milk. Do NOT add milk to lye waiting in a steel pot. The reaction is more violent.

When both oil and milk are around 100 degrees add the oils to the milk and stir them together with your spoon if that's all you go, but I suggest using an immersion or some sort of hand blender. You need these two main ingredients well mixed until it starts "tracing" Tracing means that when there's some visible lines across the surface of the soap mixture, like if you ran your spoon through it you would see where it traveled. Kind of like how you know if your kids got into the pudding? Swiped a taste with their finger? That's tracing.

You want your soap the consistency of honey or pudding. Now it is ready to pour into molds! And you can use anything from a shoe box lined with wax paper, to handmade wooden molds, to pre-made soap molds. I bought my soap supplies here in Washington County from Betterbee in Greenwich. They sell gear online, but so does Caprine Supply and many others. Soapmakers out there? Can you leave comments of your favorite soap supply online shops? Some folks may need to order lye online if it is rare in their towns, but call your hardware stores first. They may have it! Hardware, feed stores, and other work-related businesses still carry lye.

Soap needs to set in molds for 24-48 hours and then popped out of the molds, or sliced into bars, and then set on cookie sheets or racks where they can cure for up to 3 weeks. Curing is a natural hardening/evaporating process.

Want to see a video? You can go to this page to see a demo by Brent Ridge, one of the Beekman Boys, and see it all go down, as well as get a detailed recipe. Click Here for that (requires flash)

Now, don't be discouraged if you don't have olive or coconut oils on hand. You can use all sorts of fats - from lard to palm oil to make soap at home. I found this amazing web site that lets you fill in all the parameters of your own supplies, volume, and such and it tells you how much lye to use and prints out a recipe for you. Amazing, this internet thing.

My last words of advice? If the idea of working with scary stuff like lye, or measuring out exact volumes isn't possible since you don't have a digital scale, then find a local soapmaker or mentor to watch and learn from. Or sign up for a class or workshop in your area. Soapmaking isn't violently dangerous but I have watched demonstrations melt pots at Greenhorn events and I myself once DESTROYED an aluminum pot at the farm in a sordid attempt. If you are just going for it, then have fun, but play safe. Use gloves and careful planning when using lye.

Monday, June 11, 2012

soap today!

Made goats' milk soap today, infused with mint essential oils. Right now a dozen bars are curing in the farmhouse. I bought some special molds to show off Bonita's goods. It amazes me how much one gets out of a single, 150lb animal. Milk, cheese, soap, coffee creamer, milkshakes, meat, leather, and more goats. That's just skimming the surface, too. The dairy life has become my own, and it fits.

Easy milk soap recipe to follow tomorrow, and there's a soap and candle making workshop at the farm the day after the beekeeping one later in July. Come on out and see it all in person, with tips and tricks. You can also see how milking, herb drying, homemade beeswax and using essential oils works in the process to make your homestead soaps even more special. You can't buy a raw milk soap like this in your grocery store. You can buy soap that isn't even really soap, since most commercial bars are actually detergents. They don't use actual fat/lye processes and instead use petrol chemicals and artificial fragrance. You are basically lathering up in chemical waste. So try out some real soap, and feel real clean, and the real difference from the old school methods of grime removal. Support your local Real SoapMaker or give it a try yourself. All you need for the CAF recipe is:

9.5 oz of lye
2 cups milk
2 pounds coconut oil
2 pounds olive oil
A few drops of essential oil (scent)
1 stainless steel* pot (4qt at least)
1 saucepan
soap molds

so you thought lambing season was over...

first week...

It's the first Monday morning of my new job. Officially, Friday was my first day on the job but since I haven't worked Friday's in a while it felt like any normal week. But now, a Monday morning and I am self employed. Incidentally, I'm still going into an office post-chores and before 9AM. Dentist appointment... Gotta use up this Cadillac Health Plan while I still have it through the end of June. Then my higher deductible individual plan kicks in. I am trying to get the check ups, cleanings, and trips about my carpal tunnel in soon as possible. My personal copay and rates will be higher. It'll be interesting seeing what it's like not having that same coverage, and I think it will be for the better. My healthcare is now turning into preventative and not reactive care. I'm losing weight, spending more time outside, eating better and yesterday I ran a mile up my mountain road without stopping and I felt invincible. That's how I ended up in my hammock taking that video, a post-running high suspended above the ground.

After the Dentist I am running to Betterbee in Greenwich to pick up soapmaking materials and then Yesheva and her girl Emmith from Common Sense is coming over to practice making soaps with goatsmilk. It's a R&D mission for the upcoming Cold Press Soapmaking Workshop in July.

Between all this is email catch ups, paying some bills, and talking with freelance design clients. I have logos to wrap up, homepages for some e-commerce sites, and a visit to a friend of a friend tomorrow to help a local artist start a blog. Tuesday is the visit of students from Bloomfield College in New Jersey. I'm excited to have them over and talk about backyard sustainability. Barnheart is part of their ciriculum for the class! How about that?!

The rest of the week involves fishing, horses, writing, design, and possibly even the rare and elusive nap...

Here I go.

Soap & Candle Workshop - July 29!

Happy to announce I just confirmed a candle and soapmaking workshop here at the farm! Come for a full day of fellowship, gardens, goatmilk, beeswax and craft. It is the day after the Beekeeping workshop, so if you are traveling from out of town you can make a weekend of it and learn how to use your future beeswax in salves and candles. Kathy Harrison, fellow Storey author and accomplished candlemaker will be here at the farm to teach the morning candle-making portion of the day. She keeps bees and makes light from her own hive using traditional techniques. She's an accomplished homesteader of the third degree, and I'm sure open to all sorts of questions!

After Kathy's discussion and demo, I'll be teaching Cold Press Milk soapmaking with dried and ground garden herbs and milk. The afternoon will include a farm tour and time to talk about the herb garden, goats milk (and backyard dairy goats) and what ingredients and alternatives can be used. And everyone who attends will go home with a soap making kit, so you are ready to take your new skill back home with you and start churning out all sorts of soaps for your homestead and family!

5 Spots Left!

on the fly

Woke up yesterday morning with a purpose. That purpose involved a 5wt fly rod and a river just over the state line. I was going to meet my good friend Chrissy Penn for a morning on the river. We were hitting the Battenkill, a well known New England Trout stream.

Fly fishing is different than spin casting. You aren't trying to trap a fish by luring it with delicious smelling bait and then hooking it. You are instead trying to mimic nature, making that little fake fly on the end of your line land on the water the same way a Caddis or Mayfly would and get the trout to react in an instinctual way and hunt it. You need to be able to read water, know insects and hatching times, cast in gentle ways that "present" your target to an animal in a way that convinces it you are a simulacrum of a wild moment. And if you do it right you get a fish to bite, and if you got the skill you can set a hook and pull it in.

I didn't catch any fish yesterday, but I did get a few bites and it was thrilling! I found a spot to cast near where an old log and calmer water seemed to mingle and could see the flashes of native Brook Trouts and decided to use a small streamer and see if I could catch their eyes underwater instead of on it. I cast the sinking "fly" and it shimmered as it was pulled through the water and that's when I got a nip and saw the flash of an almost hooked trout fly out of the water and my heart raced with the excitement of it all.

Chrissy didn't have much luck either but that isn't why we go out there. We go to try, and because holding a fly rod gives you an excuse to start your morning standing in the middle of a big clear river. I could hear the birds, and the sound of water over rocks, and wave to passing cyclists and kayakers. It felt nice being one of 'The Outsiders' on this beautiful summer day. Just enjoying our daylight as a community in our own ways.

Can't wait to get back out there. I see a lot more time on the fly this summer....

Sunday, June 10, 2012

i think hammocks are my spirit animal

the new wheel

Here's a picture of my wheel. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I know very little. It was in a farmhouse before mine, used to spin, and sold at an estate sale. I Iooked all over it for a signature, label, or mark but it seems to have no sign of craftsman or company on it. It's a little mystery. But she spins true, has a great treadle, and is currently residing near the woodstove in the living room.

When I woke up and went downstairs I saw a Turkey poking the glass doors from the deck trying to get inside to see the new "Turkey" inside. And he strutted and fluttered about, showing off for the new wheel. I didn't have the heart to tell him the chances of him getting laid from an antique spinning wheel weren't betting odds. He danced about and hit the glass with his chest repeatedly in sordid attempts at disarming its virtue. I raised a mug of coffee to him.

"I like it, too." I said. And took a long sip.

broccoli with morning dew

Saturday, June 9, 2012

wonderful, this.

A great moment in television. Filmed on one little camera in the dressing room before the show. I couldn't stop smiling the whole time.

hoof and wheel (and trout talk over beer)

This past Yuletide, a reader mailed me an amazing gift: two pairs of hand knit socks. One was a natural cream color, the other a forest green. I wear them all season long, as wool is warm in winter, and wicks away sweat from your feet in the summer (both seasons require boots around this farm). Anyway, I was putting on the cream pair, now well worn and well loved, and I realized there was a toe sticking on on my right foot. I was already running late to meet Patty over at Livingston Brook Farm, but I liked these socks and wanted to wear them on our trail ride through Maple Lane Farm (the 200+ acre farm across the street from LBF).

I grab a needle and thread in my kitchen windowsill. I use them to quickly stitch up the hole (while still wearing the socks) and slide into my well-worn paddock boots and half chaps over my navy blue breeches. I am about to go on a trail ride, but I am taking my English saddle and British horse and we just are more comfortable out there as a team in a dressage bridle and bit and black velvet helmet than a cowboy hat, horned saddle, and jeans. I am what I am.

I head to Patty and Mark's place and the trailer is loaded. We hop in to go to Riding Right to get the MerMan. He's only there another month and then back to Cold Antler. He'll be living here with Jasper full time by my birthday, July 10th.

Merlin did wonderfully. He loaded with little difficulty into the trailer. He tacked up like a gentleman. He rode off onto the paved roads, country lanes, up driveways and though corn and hay field paths without a single issue. I was riding on a saddle mailed to me by another reader, and I realized how many blog readers were a part of this trail ride. Socks to saddle, Patty too, all of them came to me from sharing my life right here. Patty introduced herself to me at a Barnheart event at Battenkill Books. I was on a Virginian saddle. The socks, came in the mail... I thought about all this and clicked my tongue and pressed my heels into Merlin;s side. HE stepped into a trot and I started posting with him. It felt as easy, and even, as riding a car and shifting gears. We are starting to really become a team, him and I.

As many good things come off the blog, so do the bad. I thought about a reader who left a series of negative comments explaining to me what she clearly knew and I did not: that I was not a real equestrian. I was a joke, and as soon as I got hurt or scared I would sell that horse and write something poetic about learning from mistakes. She/he was an angry person. Very angry.

I thought about those comments as I asked Merlin to step gently down a steep slope, leaning my body back into the saddle to help distribute my weight with each careful step. My hands guiding him as much as my legs with the same ribbon-placing reins from a dressage show a few weeks ago. Not to mention the same reins that I lost when I flew off Merlin's back into a fencepost and slammed to the ground after I forgot to cinch the girth tight enough. I have known the entire spectrum of becoming a rider from this Pony—bruises to ribbons, tears to cheers.

Well darling, you can bet my girth was cinched tight today. You can also bet I don't believe the words of angry strangers who tell me what I am and what I am not. I was out on sunny summer afternoon riding my own horse across an estate land in the company of a good friend. Merlin was biddable, gentle, and calm. I felt in control, content, and ready to go wherever Patty and Steele wanted to go. I may not be a cowgirl. I may not be some adapt of the Religion of Horses. But I am by no means NOT an equestrian. Merlin and I trotted to meet up with Patty and Steele and passed by all sorts of distractions without fuss. A small dog at Merlin's heels, horses in a nearby paddock, trucks passing us on the road pulling trailers with tractors...Merlin was fine. He loaded back into the trailer fine too.

When we finished our ride we sat out on her Adirondack chairs and she handed me an Otter Creek Stovepipe Stout. "That's right." I said, leaning back into my chair and raising my bottle, " I like my beer like I like my horses, black and stout, with a little kick..." We clinked bottles and enjoyed the celebration. Another successful ride.

When I got back to the farm there was a note on the door. Jack, from Jack's Outback Antique Shop in town stopped off to deliver my spinning wheel. It's an old one, but in great working order, that I had been paying off in installments at his shop. The last time I was there we had been picking out bits and pieces for a friend/s birthday present together and I saw the wheel in all its glory in the shop. It came with bobbins and pins and all sorts of woolly accouterments. I hadn't picked it up yet because it wasn't paid off but Jack apparently was in the neighborhood so he set it on the woodpile of locust rounds on the side porch. I went to fetch it and bring it inside. How about that? Five years of sheep and finally a proper wheel!

Tonight is something to look forward to. Meeting friends in Manchester and a Fly Fisher-woman named Molly who is coming in to do an Orvis School Class and is being treated to a proper night out at a favorite Tavern, the Perfect Wife. It'll be classes of hard cider and good food with fellow fly-fishing ladies tonight. A grand way to end a day of horses, wool, milking goats, and reading in the hammock.

Life is good. Even when it's not, it is. And when it gets dicey...well, I still have good socks. And that counts.