Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Luceo non Uro

A lot of people are surprised when they find out about my love of Scottish history and language, since I'm not of Scottish descent. This always takes me aback. Does every devout Catholic have to be Roman born? Does every bull rider need to be raised on an Oklahoma ranch? Do you need to be from New Jersey to know how to navigate a shopping mall? Of course not. People are drawn to the lives they want to live, at least the stubborn ones are.

I identify with the old Highland Clans' history and people. Their stories are full of dramatic fighters and lovers. People who created an agrarian religion that celebrated life without fearing death. People who loved dogs and horses and hunting and music—who told stories, danced and sang, and understood the import of a hot meal on a cold, rainy day. I love these people. I love their lives, their livestock, and even their miserable weather. I may not be Scottish, but both by deed and elevation I am certainly a highlander. Alba Gu Brath, Mac.

When I joined the SCA I was told I was supposed to pick out a name from the country of origin I wished to study and participate as. This is what people would call me, know me as. (It's not often you are told to pick a new identity, an exciting idea.) Naturally I chose Scotland and I picked the name Corbie Mackenzie. Corbie is an old slang term for crow from traditional music of the period. Mackenzie was in honor of the modern clan in the serial novels I was reading that brought me to traditional archery in the first place. Since I joined the Society to learn to be an archer it was a nod to author S.M. Stirling, who's Clan Mackenzie were renowned archers in those books I came to love. Honestly, I didn't know much about the Clan outside of that whimsical fiction. But as I started to study their real history I couldn't help but fall in love with it. Here's why:

The Mackenzie's have two clan crests. An old one with a giant stag and war cry in Gaelic and another, newer, one with a torch-lit mountain and a romantic phrase in Latin. Yup, the Clan Mackenzie has two historic symbols: Antlers and a mountain in need of heat? They are the original, dramatic, identity-changin' Cold Antlers.

Knowing this, how could I not dive into their tales, battles, religion, history and everyday life? These people also knew what it felt like to ride a Highland Pony in a kilt, tend blackface sheep during lambing season, and work with wild sheepdogs that ran across the hillsides like loosed arrows. So I read on, and studied. And the more I learned the harder I fell. Let me share a story about why the Clan Mackenzie has two crests.

See, It started with the stag, and just the stag. That was the symbol of the clan. And the old motto was in Gaelic, Cuidich 'N Righ, which means "Help The King". It's a pretty standard motto for highlanders whose identity was based on war, country, and family. Their motto was a battle cry that was surely screamed out in those endless clan wars. But back in 1605 all that changed. A Mackenzie Chief fell in love with a McLeod and going against tradition and family pleading he changed the crest and motto for his love. He fell for a daughter of the Lewes family, of the McLeod's. The romantic Mackenzie took the Lewes' Family Crest of a bright sun and their motto "I shall Burn without being consumed" and rebranded the Clan Mackenzie with a mountain on fire and a new motto. Which means he literally took a piece of the heavens and represented it on earth with a torch and changed their martial slogan to this, single, amazing phrase:

Luceo non Uro — I Shine, Not burn.

I Shine, not burn! What a beautiful way to see the world! to choose to be a part of light instead of destruction. We live in a culture of victims and anger. We are surrounded by nonstop news foaming at the mouth with rage and fear. Pundits, disaster, crime and threats. All around us there is this fire, this burning. And if you let yourself fall into it you too will be consumed by it. You'll become angry, depressed, unhealthy, scared, and worried. You will stop living the life you were meant to live. Why would you not choose love? Who cares about the fallout?

Tomorrow is a big day. It's Samhain. A holiday those Highlanders knew well. It was the Celtic New Year, and the end of the Harvest and beginning of winter. Not a lot of people celebrate Samhain anymore, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you're a diehard Christian, Atheist, Pagan, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic or none of the above. If you are reading this with a heartbeat then you are a fellow celebrant because you're alive. You pulse makes you my brother or sister in a world on fire. We need to help each other shine. We do it through memory, and kindness, second chances, love and forgiveness. You don't have to believe in anything to be a part of those things. All of us can take a moment to think about what inside us needs to change, and who we loss that we don't want to let down, and to be grateful we're still alive to do those things.

Since last October my life has changed in ways I could have never anticipated. Things I didn't plan, not really. I didn't plan on quitting my job when I did. I certainly didn't plan on Merlin. I didn't plan the heartbreak, the arguments, the loss of loved ones, or the hundred things I can not write about here. But in just twelve months I am an entirely different person. I really am. I'm someone who decided to take her own life by the horns and follow a dream most people think is dead in America. To leave the desk and corporate world behind and become a full time writer, shepherd, and farmer. I did it because I was burning there. I was falling apart and fading fast. I just wanted to shine.

So many people are going to wake up tomorrow and go through their day with the absolute certainty that will fall asleep that night. Everyone who dies tomorrow will be wrong. There's no rule out there that says it isn't going to be me. I hope it isn't, because there are so many more stories I want to tell, and love I want to find. But I don't make the rules. I never expect to die, but I also never assume I'll live. Not since I almost died in Tennessee on sunny day. I think that's what really brought me to Cold Antler, a fear that life could be cut short and I was spending it doing something I didn't love. It went against everything I believed in, and everything I believed this life could be. I didn't understand what could be more important than following that goal of a meaningful life? What else is there to do with this gift of time than to spend it being happy? Not everyone can make their wildest dreams come true, but hell, everyone can try can't they? So why do so many people choose to put off happiness? Choose to not try? Why do they do things that make them sad? Why do they choose fear and anger and step into the fire that consumes them instead of lighting the path towards something better?

I can't answer that. But I know on this Samhain Eve that there's a flock of sheep, a black pony, a loyal sheepdog, and a beating heart of a Mackenzie on this mountain farm. All of it is here because that's what this short, blessed, life lead me towards. I chose to Shine, not Burn. And it is a choice, for all of us. And it can all change to be whatever you are willing to create. So will it.

Now go light your torches and enjoy the New Year.

Be My Guest: All Year!

I decided to run a a big discount on season passes. It's ridiculously low and that's because the farm could use your support. If you email me at jenna@itsafarwalk.com I will tell you the rate and it is good for 24 hours. I can afford to just sell 4 more at this price (roughly the cost of Antlerstock that covers an entire year of events) so email me quick and I'll explain more details. You can pay now and be covered for fiddle camp in the winter, words and wool with Jon Katz in December, Herbalism with Kathy Harrison, Dulcimer 101, and more to come. Please consider this if you are able to attend or just want to support the farm from afar!

Defiance In Unlikely Places

While I was preparing for the storm née hurricane, I was worried about a few of the animals but none more than the turkey. I have one fat Royal Palm gobbler here and he has a few quirks that would not make him the best survivor in bad weather. Mostly his absolute refusal to sleep indoors. He will not go into an open barn, chicken coop, or anywhere enclosed. He prefers to sleep above ground where he can see 360 degrees around him, not too far from an escape route. Usually this means my pickup truck's tailgate, which is covered in turkey poop. But as dead set as he was in his ways, I wanted him to survive the high winds and downpour. I had a plan, you see.

I would ensure his safety by catching him and placing him inside a hay-bedded dog crate inside the barn. There, even if he wasn't perching he would be safe from the storm and present for Thanksgiving Dinner, where he will be feeding nine people. I got the crate ready and then stalked him as he sat on a garbage can. I was going to grab him, confine him, and do it for his own damn good.

I thought I could catch him. I couldn't. I tried, chasing the black and white sub-emu around like an idiot as the wind howled and the horses watched in silent awe. He just ran into the woods, or flew up into the trees. After a few more long and exhausting tries I decided to let him take his fate into his own hands. Some times you need to just let the powers that be take your farm into their own hands. I gave up on the turkey when I heard the first tree in the woods fall.

This morning when I walked along the farm in the darkness, checking on horses and feeding them some breakfast hay I could not believe what I saw. There on the top of the garbage can (where I first saw him) was the turkey. He was dry, gobbling, and looked better than I did after a night of little sleep. I don't know if he spent the whole storm on the can or perched there after camping elsewhere but I know the barn and coop were locked up to keep the regulars safe. I shrugged and told him he was a mighty fine turkey. Maybe he was smart enough to dine on a salad of Maple, basil, and birch before Sandy hit shore? I'll never know.

But I do know this! On Thanksgiving we will not only taste my bourbon honey glaze, but something extra special—defiance. Which is what I finally decided to name him.

Hold Fast

Just in from morning rounds by lantern light. Outside the farm the moon is bright and full and shining all over the wet and branch-covered ground, but from the looks of morning feeding the horses, sheep, goats, and pigs are all doing fine. Being dark out and the wind still howling I didn't open the coop I shut up and latched last night but it was in good shape and none of the barns had downed-tree damage, nor did the house. A lot of people weren't as lucky from the looks of Facebook. Trees took out parked cars and garages, awnings went flying into the air and NYC has become a wading pool in some areas. For those not familiar with my area: New York City is a four hour drive south east, pretty darn far from Washington County. I live closer to the state capital, Albany, which was lucky too from what I haven't heard in bad news. This little farm is holding fast.

Post title inspired by the McLeod crest, which I learned about from a cattle owning Scot in the Adirondacks, named Brett McLeod. I assure you his farm did just fine in the howl.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Maple, Basil, and Birch

I think storms are good in the way they get people focused on what matters most: home, family, and survival. I don't mean that in a creepy doomsday way, I just mean that for once most people on the east coast up here aren't worried about much beyond staying safe and keeping those they love safe. Right now the wind is actually howling outside, you can hear it like an owl in a tunnel, but no rain has fallen. I'm as prepared as I am going to be, but still a little nervous. It's time like this you wish you had a big stone barn with a dozen stalls and places for every claw, paw, and hoof. But I have what I have and I am ready as I can be.

A homestead is always a safe bet. My farm isn't very high tech, save for the computers and long before Sandy was even a twinkle in the atmosphere's eye I had plenty of oil lamps, extra oil, extra wicks, flashlights, batteries, emergency charging for my cell phone, radios, and food. The farm is located halfway up a mountain so it is naturally living within a windbreak. There's a happy stream purring downhill, just another twenty feet from my well's overflow that I load up buckets with. If the power goes out at length there will be plenty of mountain water here to drink for human and animal alike. I have purification tablets as well as a couple big stockpots to bring it to a rolling boil over my wood stove.

One thing that isn't fun is riding out a storm as the only human. It's not loneliness but a feeling of isolation. I don't mind being without power for a few days and I'm not worried about my basic needs. It's just nice to ride out a storm with a partner. Someone to tell me "It's going to be okay". Which I know, is a luxury for any person in this world but trust me, there are times I would happily trade in my canned goods for a friend in a storm. It's just me and these animals here and whatever happens it's my job to solve it. And I will.

And I am doing my best. I am all about all forms of protection and security and so there is a sprig of basil, maple, and birch tied together on the front door. It's an old folk trio of plants said to protect farmhouses from weather danger. I used it for Irene, and some other big storms as well and it has always seen me and the animals through. But to really load up my protection arsenal I'd like it if any of you have room for all of us in the storm's path in your prayers to send some of that protective mojo our way. Deity of your choice, to me it is all the same. It's the love that matters. And I'll remember that tonight when the wind is rolling through the mountain.

The Storm Is Coming

Thermos The Storm Pig

Sandy is coming up our way by this afternoon. The Storm Pig is ready. Thermos and Lunchbox, Bonita, Francis, and Monday have the best rain, wind, and general protection on the farm. They share the barn and should remain safe as houses while the wet wind blows. The sheep have a four-sided shelter, the horses have a sturdy roof built into the side of a mountain. And I have three dogs, a kitten, and a house that has made it through 150+ years of weather. Everyone will be okay, I am confident of that. What we have in store is just 20-35 MPH winds and a lot of rain. My sump pump is ready to go and so is my sump pump backup generator. There is plenty of food for me and the animals, two woodstoves, water, flsh lights, oil lamps, books and candles. I even have a bottle of port. It's not Washington County that's under the big threat like the Mid-Atlantic coast but I am still expecting a few days without power. How are the rest of you coasters doing out there?

Horses, Hames, & Sleepy Hollow

Saturday night I was sitting around a campfire with a pulled pork sandwich in my hands, wood smoke in my hair, friends at all sides, and a day of working horses behind me. Elizabeth, to my left was playing some improve fiddle music and to my right Jessica was talking to Mark about the day's events. Everyone seemed tired and happy, some of them had sat on a horse for the first time since childhood. Others were churning over plans to buy their first harness for the horses they already owned. Others, a pair of farmer's from downstate, were driving home under the cloudy, darkening sky deciding where to find the perfect team of haflingers. I was just happy to be (and I mean this in the best way possible) done for the day. The pork from Flying Pig farm in Shushan never disappoints and the one boston butt roast I had bought was more than enough to feed ten people through to full. I ate two sandwiches, without apology. Everyone around me seemed to be doing the same. As I munched and the sky grew dark I leaned back in my chair, raised a homebrew to my lips and took in the happy scene. In a few moments I would start reading from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but before I started any orations I just wanted to breathe deep and reflect a bit.

Today twelve people got together to talk about working horses, ride working horses, and even drive a working horse. Some were here to for R&D to learn about what goes into keeping and containing a single horse. Others wanted to get an introduction to driving and learn the harness and hames with guided hands. Some just plain old like coming to workshops, and smelling horse and dead leaves on their hands. And out of all those reasons none is better than the other.

We started the workshop at my farm. Folks pulled in as I was grooming Merlin, getting him ready for the morning riding demonstration. The plan was to show everyone the basic grooming supplies, practices, and reasoning behind a clean horse before you start saddling up. As we brushed and curry combed people asked questions and got their answers. The workshop was very organic this way, that we might be in the middle of explaining how to inspect a saddle pad but then off on a tangent about shoes vs barefoot and bit harshness. But we always managed to stay (roughly) on track and before noon everyone watched me saddle and ride Merlin through a hissy fit (extra entertainment) and then take a turn in the saddle, learning to sit with their heels down and calm shoulders and arms as they were lead around the farmyard. Merlin was a gentleman and a great sport. At 14 hands he wasn't intimidating and his draft personality really shone through.

Psst. If you want to read an account of the day and see more pictures of Merlin and us riding along check out R'Eisen Shine Farm's blog post here!

We broke for lunch and then reconvened at Patty's Farm to go over the work of a horse in the field. Patty went through harness and collar fitting, vehicles, ground driving and moved heavy stones across her barnyard via a homemade stone boat! Everyone who wanted a pair of lines in their hands or a ride in a forecart got one. By the time evening started to fall we were all a bit weary from the long day outside and ready for warm food and cold beer around that cracklin' fire.

No one got hurt. Quite the contrary, really. There wasn't any fear or danger to the day as safety was my number one goal. And everyone who attended seemed in great spirits. It seemed that by the time we were basking in the campfire everyone was also holding great spirits. The homebrew was a little flat, needed more time for carbonation, but went down smooth and dark. I sipped it slowly as I listened to the fate of the school teacher and Gunpowder the plow horse. We were passing around the book and reading out loud and it was more engaging and entertaining than any big screen TV. My imagination went a little wild, thinking of poor old Icabod riding home in the dark as the massive headless horseman matched his pace in the forest road. I smiled as I shivered, looked over at the smiling jack-o-lantern across the fire and let out a deep sigh as I took a long sip. Darn, that was good stuff. I laughed to myself, thinking how tell people I like my horses and beer the same way: strong, dark, and stout. The fire cracked, the story read on, and the night was the perfect ending to a beautiful day.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Collars & Carts

Showing Us The Ropes

That's patty and her working partner, Steele. She's showing us the basics of a working horse collar and how to measure and fit it. Yesterday's workshop dedicated to working horses was wonderful. Everyone who was there got a chance to ride or drive, feel and carry harnesses, grab onto hames, pet a pony or lead a near-ton of massive Percheron. Folks from Ontario, Chicago, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts came and the night ended with a campfire story hour where we passed along a lit-up copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and read Irving's tale aloud as guitars or fiddles jostled about in the background. Magical.

I'll write more on it later today. I'll also post videos and pictures as people email them in. Right now I just wanted to check in and let you know it was a fine time, and in a few minutes I'll be heading out the door for archery practice and some feed pickups. My team has a few more weekends before it gets too cold to enjoy an afternoon outdoors. As a Marshall in Training I need to go and learn the ropes of a proper SCA host of the sport.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Horses and Storms Ahead

In a little bit Jess (AKA Rabbit on the blog) will be here from Ontario, and arriving after a 9-hour drive south into the States to hang for the weekend. She, Melina, Robert, Elizabeth, Joanna, Mark, Darcie, Tom, and a bunch of other friends and faces from the Cold Antler Farm community will be here this weekend to celebrate the working horse. They are all equine enthusiasts and everyone has different levels of experience. Some have just dreamed of horses and others have a few in the backyard. Patty will be co-hosting the event and sharing our stories about Merlin, Steele, Jasper and Ellis. Trainer/Farrier Dave will be also showing to talk about finding the right horse and answer any questions Patty and I can't. Folks coming for the day will hear about horses from a beginner, intermediate, and advanced equestrian. I'm the humber beginner but anyone who has read this blog this past year can see where I started and where I am now. It's a beautiful story, horsefeathers and all.

The weather is a bit tricky, with rain on the way, but I think we'll just have a proper Scottish day of overcast skies and the occasional shower. If the campfire gets canceled then so be it. I think everyone will be happy to touch harness leather and long manes and ask questions and learn about the way to act and be around horses. Some folks just want to be here to learn more of our stories, and some are serious CSA farms wanting real experience with the animals before they decide on a team or a tractor for their own farms. It's going to be such a grand time.

I took Merlin out yesterday for some ground work and a nice ride and while out on the mountain I realized this was the most comfortable I had ever felt on him, or any horse. He wasn't at his best. A little jumpy and nervous from a few days off and construction equipment near the road—but I felt I was at my best. I've learned how to ride, really ride. And when I say that I don't mean I have amazing form or dressage-ring elegance. I mean I know my horse and how to be comfortable with him and together we are travelers without fear. I used to be scared of him, always scared on some level. I'm not scared anymore. Not of him, and not of many things that used to make me shake. But I think it took the forest and the black mane to show me that. And the friends, teachers, and trainers along the way.

That's not to say I don't respect him and the dangers of riding a thousand pound animal in the forest. Of course there are risks and safety precautions. I never leave the farm without his saddlebags containing emergency gear like a halter and lead line, first aid kit, rain coat, hoof pick, and a cell phone in my pocket. But I don't ride expecting there to be a problem. If a problem comes like a spook or a bucking halt I know what he's thinking and how to solve it. These are the kinds of things you learn through miles in a saddle, not through books or lessons. I think for me and horses the recipe just needed enough time to simmer. That, and the right horse. Merlin is nothing short of a gift from the Almighty and I'm thankful for him every single day. I'm going to be riding Fell Ponies the rest of my life, I'm quite certain, and he may be the one reason why.

Food Mythbusters

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Then and Now

Jennaism Cooking?

I've been getting a lot of recipe requests. People wanted to know about things like my pumpkin pie, naan, and pies in jars. I have the link for the write up about jar pies here, and my apple pie recipe is on Huffington Post. But generally, I do not use any sort of recorded measurements or recipes. I learned to cook through the building blocks of a single recipe and from there its all experimentation and luck. For instance, for last night's curry I steamed a pile of chopped summer squash, red pepper, and cauliflower with a bit of salt in a large basin like pan that was a hand-me down from my friend Jim. It's a semi-wok so I steamed right there in the pan and then added my yellow curry paste, some cream, some honey, and cheese curds. It was a pretty farmy curry for late harvest but it was good. I served it over basmati rice with naan and no one left the table hungry. But nothing is written down. It's all just "doing" and as frustrating as it sounds I think that going freelance is how most of us learn to cook.

I do however, have the easy naan recipe from online I used as my base of operations. You can click here for that. I didn't use a lot of the ingredients they suggested, like minced garlic, melted butter or milk. I just read how to do it changed it up in a way that seemed more appealing. Here's a Jennaism change: after I fried them in olive oil in the smoky skillet I would butter them with melted butter via a cook's brush and then gently sprinkle sugar and sea salt over them. It made a savory/sweet combo that was pretty boss if I do say so myself. I find with naan people either want to use it as a rice/meat scoop (like me) or eat it as a side dish. So I offer it up in a basket and let people decide, but there is always more honey and salt on the table if they want a flavor boost.

I adore cooking, but most of the time my recipes are just me saying things like "add some flour until it feels *just* sticky enough to be annoying and then stop even when you want to add more because it won't get in your fingernails" That isn't really specific. I could write Jennaism recipes though, but they'd be more like a narrative with food than measurements and rules? Do you want some of those? Does anyone else cook like this? You must.

And The Beer Winner Is...

Justine Navarro!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Naan, Kittens, and Halloween

It took a while to get naan down. Now, a few trial and error meals later I think I have it in stride. I make a sweet bread dough with one egg and a quarter cup of sugar, a little milk and salt, and let it rise an hour. Then It is rolled out with flour strewn all over the counter into little pancakes the size of my hand. They are fried in a cast iron skilled in a bit of olive oil and then set on a plate, one by one, as they pile high. Tonight I'm making a quick yellow curry with veggies and cheese balls for Jon and Maria, who love Indian food as much as I do. Last night I made a lamb masala for Patty and Mark. This might just be an underground curry joint in a few weeks at this rate. I'm just kidding. Masala Farm is right up the road. If anyone was going to be a Washington County curry joint, it would be them.

I'm loving hosting friends for dinner. It's a big hoot, and sharing the farmhouse isn't something I get to do much of. A lot of folks come by the farm for workshops or visits, but not many are treated to meals and bottles of wine. It's a shame because if you want a seasonal outing I beat your local corn maze, no contest. Right now the inside of my house looks like a set from Harry Potter. There are brooms and crows, pumpkin lanterns and strings of Halloween greetings. There are gourds and leaves and cider-smelling pumpkins and a warm stove keeping off the wet chill. There's a little brassy kitten running amok and trying to chase Gibson's tail when he wags it. When he grabs it and bites down Gibson looks up at me with his ears back and eyes wide in pleading makethedemongoaway lady makeitgoaway. I pick up the little monster and set him closer to Annie. Annie doesn't tolerate fools and just rolls him aside with her jaws, which are roughly the same size as Bogh's entire body. I wouldn't call it a peacable kingdom, but the natives aren't restless. And the animals' antics combined with the fiddle music on the computer radio and the decor...the house takes me away.

I made this farmhouse from a fantasy. It is surrounded with things I love: antlers and crows, moons and dogs, autumn's smells of scented candles and saddle leather. The place is never really warm, but there is firelight and plenty of wool sweaters. As October gets ready for his final bow into Hallows, I'm here and ready for our last dance. With the big day getting closer I am hoping the weather holds out. A rainy Halloween is appropriate, I guess, for a day of reflection. But the Saturday before is all about horses and cookouts and working animals and I am hoping for some luck with the weather in that respect. The Farmer's Horse will happen rain or shine, so be prepared and dress for that, friends. If it is raining we will cancel the bonfire at night, but if it holds we'll tell stories and sip cider and enjoy some of the end of the fall together.

Hey, Garlic Winners!

Scott from Annie's Heirloom Seeds said he still needs to hear from two of the four winners? If you didn't get in touch yet to claim your prize, email me at Jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

This Just In: Americans Eat Cows!

There's now a national controversy at Green Mountain College because the school's working farm has decided to turn two ten-year old working oxen into food for the students. The school has decided since it is an actual sustainable farm that the two steers will be turned into burgers, but many students and alumni are upset. Upset because this particular burger would have a face and a history of service to the college behind it. Below you can click for a link to the story.

The Jenna from 5 years ago would have been appalled at eating any burger, much less a working animal's flesh. The Jenna from today would ask you to pass the A1. And that's not meant to sound harsh or cynical. I adore animals, I have dedicated my life to living for and with them, but I feel about these oxen the same way I feel about Farm Sanctuary and other "rescue" options for edible livestock: A place for not-hungry people to feel good about captive animals not being eaten. I can expand on this later. But for tonight, read the story and see how you feel about it. There is also a discussion on my Facebook page.

Meet Your Meat

Today's Your Last Chance to Enter!

Lots of excitement around homebrewing lately. I decided I would offer a giveaway to inspire some of you folks to take a shot at it. If you want to be entered to win your very own Beginner's Beer Kit from Mr. Beer, just leave a comment in the post. If you already brew, this could be a great Christmas gift for someone you want to get hooked. I mean, It's how I got started and I was never disappointed with these guys or the beer the kit made. It is a no-boil kit, so you don't have to worry about advanced chemistry. You just need a saucepan, a faucet, and a place to stash your very own mini-keg. In three weeks you'll be cracking open bottles of your own homebrew, in time for Thanksgiving!

Winner Picked Wednesday Night! And if you share the link to the blog/contest on Facebook you can enter a second time. Thank you for entering and following along with Cold Antler. It's appreciated and this is a way for me to show that and help someone out there get into a hobby. So comment away, share on FB, and think about what kind of beer you'd want to brew if you could brew anything at all. (Hint. You can!)

Kit pictured above is the advanced kit. That's the image they had on the beer kit page at mrbeer.com. Just know I am giving away the basic starter package at a $39 value.

Making An Entrance

Woke up earlier than usual today. My alarm rang while the world was still very dark and I didn't want to leave the warmth of my blankets and sheepdog. Gibson wasn't thrilled to get up either. In the 48 degree house our bed was probably closer to blood temperature. But you can get a Border Collie out of bed if you whisper a herding command into his ear. I just asked him "Where's the sheep?" and he leapt to the window.

I got up shortly after and got dressed. Outside there was a big dog crate of four fat roosters. They spent the night in confinement so their stomaches would be empty for their date with Ben Shaw. Now, you may think four roosters wasn't worth the effort of a trip to the abattoir, but these guys were not your average-sized cocks. These were Magnums, easily weighing in around ten pounds a piece. Most of them Freedom Rangers who escaped capture earlier this summer and had a full autumn to keep putting on weight and grow even larger. But now the boys of summer had hit that plateau where more food doesn't equal more meat and it was time for Freezer Camp. The monsters had their date with destiny and I had plans for a roast dinner Friday night with company.

After feeding the horses, goats, and sheep, waking up the pigs with slops and new grain, and throwing some scratch down for the chickens—I drove the truck around back where the crate was waiting by the coop. I hauled it up into the bed and Gibson and I headed up over the mountain towards Greenwich. It was a fifteen minute drive to Ben Shaw's family farm and I passed an old coworker's home along the way. Her Subaru was warming up in her driveway and soon she'd be heading the opposite direction I was going to her desk at Orvis. I felt a pang I didn't expect to feel. I don't regret a thing about quitting my day job or my life at Cold Antler now—but it was like stepping back in time into a past life for a second. Getting that sense-memory shock of the early morning civilized commute. I would be all showered, in a nice outfit, heading into a long day of design, laughter, friends and lunch breaks with dogs and ponds. It was in no way a bad scene. But now I was in a giant black wool sweater and cap, flecked with hay and certainly not showered. I had oily hair in braids and an empty stomach. There was no just-ironed cardigan and steel thermos of coffee. I made a little sign of blessing and drove on past, putting it behind me. I had a mission in mind.

You would think roosters in transit in the back bed of a truck going 40 MPH along country roads wouldn't want to crow. You'd be wrong. The four tenors crooned the entire drive. They crowed at dairy farmers moving cows. They crowed at kids waiting at bus stops. They crowed at a cop waiting to catch speeders. They crowed at Gibson, who watched them whining out the back window. And when we got to the town of Greenwich and stopped at Stewart's (our local chain of gas station/mini marts) they crowed there too. We pulled into the blue-collar gossip hub with hay flying and roosters making like their voices were their last-chance auditions for a life on Broadway. Construction crews eating their donuts laughed, folks driving kids to school pointed. I just got coffee. Talk about making an entrance….

I arrived at Ben's place and unloaded the birds. He said it was a twenty dollar minimum charge and I could come back in half an hour. I agreed, deciding that I just paid three dollars for a coffee and seltzer, so an other two to have someone do a job that would take me an entire morning to complete (and an unpleasant job at that) and headed into town to get some provisions. I went to the grocery store and bought one of those aluminum cheap turkey pans for the big roos and when I checked out the woman clerk said, conversationally, "Oh, you cooking a turkey this week!" and I said no, that I had this for a chicken big enough to fit in there and she just nodded the way you nod at crazy people to make them go away. I had a wolfish smile at that, and told her thanks and good morning.

So how did it turn out? Well those four roosters weighed in at over thirty pounds! I picked them up and it felt like I was hauling off a bag of kibble. Now, I just paid fifty dollars for half a lamb with Patty and Mark and that didn't even come in at half the weight of those fowl. I was happy as I could be to hand Ben's daughter a crisp twenty and load up my truck with my groceries, meat, and giant turkey pan. The ride home was quieter, and when I passed the neighbor's empty driveway I didn't feel anything.

Change is good.
Roast chicken dinner is great.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Living Grass And The Dead Sea

I picked up a truckload of hay from Nelson Greene's farm this afternoon. It was a beautiful drive. Still a little too warm for my October tastes, but I didn't let the sunny sixty-degree afternoon spoil my day. I was determined to enjoy it. I cleaned out the back bed, and called for my farm hand. Gibson jumped up into his spot in the cockpit of the Dodge and we headed north to Hebron.

I rolled down the windows and I hung an arm out my side, and he hung his front paws out his. I turned up the stereo and The Lumineer's were just hitting the final few choruses of Dead Sea, which I adored since the first time I heard it, so I smiled wide and drove on, singing along. What a sweet little song that is. I looked over to Gibson and sang to my smiling dog.

Like the Dead Sea
You told me I was like the Dead Sea
You'll never sink when you are with me
Oh Lord, like the dead Sea

Gibson doesn't sing but he knows when I'm happy and he gets the energy of the joy. He closed his eyes as the truck picked up speed, the wind knocking back his black and white mane around his face. What a grand dog he is. What a beautiful (okay, okay, I admit the weather was lovely if you're into that sort of thing….) day. What a good task we had ahead. An afternoon of loading and unloading fifty-pound bales so that a few weeks from now when frost covers the world my sheep, goats, pigs, and horses have good grass of the summer to munch and roll about it. I like this work for a Monday afternoon. It suits me.

I picked up 17 bales and Nelson helped me tie them down. I handed him a check and he asked if it was okay to cash it today? It's the kind of question that keeps me coming back to his farm as a customer. If I told Nelson to hold it three weeks he would (and he has, trust me), but instead I nodded and told him it was okay. The fine people at AdSense sent along my payment today and it was enough to cover the hay order and my truck payment. What a blessing that was, to have the blog itself earn enough money to feed the animals for a few weeks? Who knew?

My heart is dedicated to change right now. Nothing deep or drastic, just changes I need to keep this place moving well into the future (and me too). New habits, new diet, new books, new projects, and all sorts of things too exciting to talk about just yet. But I can say I feel pretty darn good about whats in store for me. Not to tease too much, but y'all best just stay tuned, ya hear?!

I'm Like the Dead Sea
The finest words you ever said to me
Honey can't you see?
I was born to be your Dead Sea

Getting Ready For A Big Week

I've spent the weekend mostly involved with other folks lives and projects, not my own. It was a nice change of pace to focus on other things. Not because CAF has been a bad place to focus, but just because you gain a little more reflection away from your own messy world.

And trust me, Cold Antler is messy. The rains brought mud, the frosts brought dead grass, and what is left around here to munch isn't much. The horses and sheep are on 100% hay now. Not a bad thing but I need to get more later today. I'd like to pick up 20-30 bales or so. That's a lofty goal for a short bed pickup in one trip, so I might not hit that, but yeesh, ten bales is even enough to help the barn look less empty. Last winter I had the sheep and Jasper to feed. Now with two pregnant goats, a ram lamb, and two horses hay doesn't last as long. I go through 2-3 bales a day! Looks like it'll be a winter of a lot of hay errands. Oh well, I have sources and storage ideas ahead.

Patty is thinking of stopping by this morning to help measure and figure out the best way to close up the horse barn today. It's not heavy work but it does require getting the right lumber and materials and planning a work day to sling it all together. I'm not worried. It'll get done. It always gets done.

If it is going to be as lovely a day as the weathermen are suggesting I think a ride is in order. If I can get the office and housework done, I will saddle up. There's a lot of preparation for this week and the workshop this weekend. I have a house and two guest rooms to prepare, Dave to remind/check in about speaking Saturday night, roosters to catch for slaughter tomorrow, a cookout to organize (bbq chicken I'm guessing?), and horsey logistics to cover. I am thrilled about the entire day that Saturday will become. I have picked out my passages from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and figured out the campfire. I have two spots left for anyone thinking about getting a horse. The workshop covers riding, pulling, driving carts, logging and will have an expert on hand, but mostly it is for dreams who want to stop wishing for a pony and start buying saddles!

P.S. Check out my Facebook for pig shares and updates.

P.P.S. If you are coming this weekend to the farm, bring a folding chair! All I have is hay bales, which are fine but some of you folks might want something less heavy to haul around!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Mariner's Revenge! (classic)

Leave The Light On

Spent yesterday moving Jon and Maria, and it was such a gorgeous day. What might sound like a lot of work turned into a wonderful community event. They had five good friends come to help, all different ages and with different abilities. Kurt and Ben did most of the heavy lifting (I helped with some) and loading up their trailer. Maria and I hefted bags and boxes and delivered luggage and frames and shows and everything else smaller than a chest freezer. Jon organized and helped and set up his new writing office. Two of their friends who are long-time Cambridge families helped carry gear, sort, and provided a full lunch board with cold cuts, sandwiches, and veggies. It was the perfect division of labor, everyone doing their part and happy to do so. And through a day of trips back-and-forth between the farms, furniture arranging, heavy lifting and hard sweats we ended up with a home. A real, honest to goodness, home. That photo is from the pizza dinner we shared last night in celebration. Frieda, Maria's loyal art hound and ex-terror was watching me with mild interest. One of these days I'm going to pet her. Last night wasn't that night though.

I wanted to come back at dinnertime with something special. Since they were making the pizza dinner I was providing dessert. I made a few tiny pies in jam jars quick and as they baked in my oven I grabbed a pumpkin off the porch steps. I was going to carve a smiling face, but changed my mind. Jack-o-lanterns are powerful symbols you know? They were set on porches and front windows as lanterns to the spirits who passed away. In some legends they lit the way home for the ghosts of loved ones lost, so they could spend one last day among the living. I don't really believe in ghosts, to be perfectly honest. But I do believe in memories, and they may be very much the same thing. A light to the past, a torch to invite nostalgia and love. I really like the idea of leaving a light on. Hope's a mighty gift.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Amen, and other Fledgling Birds

Annie's Kingdom

Big Day For New Neighbors

In a little bit I'll be driving my truck up to Hebron to help a friend move. Jon and Maria are leaving their beautiful 90-acre farm to relocate to Jackson, just a pony ride away from Cold Antler. I'm so proud of them for taking the leap, and moving on with their lives. Their old farm hasn't sold yet (and it was reduced to $375!) but they aren't letting fear, or naysayers, or agents, or anyone tell them to wait. They wanted to move in by Halloween and today they are jumping together.

I'm thrilled to help them out, and to know them. Today's a big day.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Some songs are old friends.

Pablo's Gaelic Pancakes

Halloween is a day of quiet remembrance. It has always been that. Traditionally, you are to remember the people you lost since the last closing of the harvest, a full calendar year. When I think about my life and the people in it just a few Octobers ago, and where we are now—it makes me pensive. You're going to get posts this month about big things, because big things are on my mind. Things that are October to me—like memories, death, the farm's sweet year, gratitude and love. I think tonight I want to write about loss and love.

Losing people is as natural as finding them. It happens to all of us, every day. The losing just isn't as pleasant so we tend to give it more of ourselves. We let ourselves punch underwater longer trying to figure out answers out of our hands and hearts. This certainly isn't a personal experience. I'm sure many of you have lost someone you cared for since last October. Some are lost through death, through anger, through success or change of address. Others through slower things like social entropy or dying light. The only thing all these random circumstances share in common is the end result: they are gone. This is October, and it's time to recognize that. Time to reflect. Time to move on.

There are people I lost I think of every day. People I miss so much that the memories cling to my ribs the way coral grows on sunken boats. Even at a confused glance the they remain beautiful and complicated. There are songs and stories that bring them back as if they're sitting right next to me on the couch. I love them so much. I miss them so dearly.

And then there are people I lost whose middle names I can't wait to forget. They aren't anything like coral. They are just rust, and if you don't scrub them off you'll start to break apart before you even realize it's happening. Rust has songs and stories too, but I can't listen to them any longer. Pablo Neruda wrote about people like that, and in his Song of Despair he explained them perfectly. "You swallowed everything, like distance."

So it's October and I feel it is my job to spend the days heading into Hallows' celebrating the people I miss and love and trying to forgive the ones I don't. It's hard to turn grief of into a wake. It's hard to forgive. But if I wanted an easier Halloween I'd buy a slutty maid costume and hit the bar. No, That's not my game. There's nothing wrong with having a frisky and fun Halloween, and I applaud your revelry. But there's nothing I want out there waiting for me in a bar in a Superman costume. And I'm not writing about any of this because I want comments about support, advice, judgment or pity. I don't think I want comments about this at all. It's too close.

Listen, someday I'm going figure out love. I'm not there yet and you won't be reading about Mr. Jenna anytime soon. But I have hope for it, and believe in it, and know it is as real of a possibility in my life as this farm was. And you know what? Someday I'm going to sing Pablo's Sonnet 25 out loud in Gaelic while I make him pancakes. He'll have no idea what I'm saying, but he'll know exactly what I'm saying. You dig?

Who knows. We're all a bunch of Luckless Slingers when it comes to love. We're all hoping we find (or found) that person that makes us smile so loud inside we can't help but sing. I won't settle for anything less than that, and that might mean I never have a partner at all. I'm okay with that, too. I've been single for over ten years. I'm good at it. It's my choice. I'm sure there are people out there to date casually, but I'm not interested in dating for sport. To me it's boring, just binging. I'll wait. Because it's all meaningless and lonely efforts without that song inside you. I know, I tried.

I'd rather be single indefinitely than in a relationship without Gaelic pancakes. I guess it all boils down to those famous words of Paul Virilio:

The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck.

It's October, people. Take your chances.

Gibson Knows How to Nap

Farm Updates

A lot of plans ahead for the animals of Cold Antler. I thought I'd fill you in on what's in store. Starting with the Testosterone Reduction Program. There are just too many roosters here at CAF (just ask the Fiddle Camp attendees who slept 30 yards from the barn....) So I made a call into Ben Shaw and Tuesday morning Gibson, me, and a crate of seven roosters are taking them to be processed. Three of those boys are HUGE Freedom Rangers that escaped capture during summer slaughter but the rest are just accidental hatchery misfits that happened to be male in a very female workforce. All of them will make Freezer Camp by Tuesday night. That'll reduce the farm to a few choice males and a happy group of hens of mixed breeds.

The goats are bred and back in their pen with Monday the ram lamb. Their fate is pretty blissful. Kidding will be around March 9th and last that week and while no part of me is nervous about Bonita, Francis is a new mom and might need help. I hope Yesheva is back from North Carolina by then as her midwifery might be needed! Monday seems to be growing by the pounds and will make a great table lamb or new breeding ram here at CAF. Since he is only related to one of six ewes it's not out of the question here. Might involve penning away his mother to avoid the line breeding but that is an issue for next fall, not this one. Atlas should return in December or so to revisit his old stomping grounds and serve the flock. I'll have to pen up Joe and Sal to make sure the job gets done right, but that's not hard to do. Just walk into a pen with apples and grain and those boys will follow me anywhere.

Just as Meg Paska warned me during her bee workshop this past year, my hive did swarm and took the queen with her. The bees didn't make it and I never found the swarm so I'll start with a new hive in the spring. Anyone out there who wants to barter a hive for what I can offer, email me. At least I don't have to worry about wintering them over, one less thing to fuss about in a snowstorm.

The horse barn still isn't walled up for winter, and I'm not sure how far along it will get. Right now I just can't get the finances together so I may just get some long boards from Home Depot to reinforce it and some plywood to make a wind break. It won't be pretty as planned but it will suffice.

The piglets have stopped escaping and remain together in their new deluxe pig pen. Between their pig ration in a bag and their main diet of scraps from the house both Lunchbox and Thermos have grown and have grown to trust me. They let me pet them now, specially Lunchbox. In the morning I go into the pen to serve up breakfast and they are always spooning in clean hay together, snoring. I feel like I invaded their personal space but they care little when last night's roasted chicken drippings and some cracked eggs coat their grain. All if forgiven in food.

Jazz is still healing up, but so much better than he was this summer. His skin and hair are all fresh and clean and growing back fuller than ever. His eyes have gone uncloudy and his energy level is high too. He can walk a full mile with his tail in the air. Annie hasn't changed this the day I met her.

Boghadair is a firecracker. Hoo! As I write he is playing with my pant legs and then leaping over Jazz's back to run circles around the kitchen before shooting across the farmhouse to go upstairs. All the dogs tolerate him and his fox clever ways. He's litter box trained, eating like a horse, and so fun to snuggle (until he bites you). I love the little guy. And with winter's call bringing in the mice I am thrilled to have him on board. I caught four mice just last night.... ugh.

Jasper and Merlin are getting all excited for next weekend's Farmer's horse workshop. I think this will be my favorite of the year, not just because this was my Year of the Horse, but because the people who are coming are not equestrians, but dreamers. Folks of all ages and without experience who just feel passionate about the possibility of a horse on their farms (future or present). There will be a young couple who run a CSA and are on the fence about tractors or a team of work horses. There are young couples in their late twenties and thirties who are just drawn to riding and carting. There are people who have owned horses for years, and people who have loved them from afar. And we're all meeting here next Saturday to learn together, work together, and spend a day on two farms with four beautiful horses and their gear. And it all wraps up with a cookout and warm cider by a campfire where I will read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as it will be just a few days before Halloween! And what could be more fitting than a farming horse workshop in New York in October than that?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thanks Jennifer!

October Stories

It was warm today, too warm. In the sixties and sunny and that's all fine and dandy in September but come October I want sweaters and snow-kissed nights and a world shutting down for me to turn around three times and lie down in. Instead we got this burst of warmth and light and I supposed the best thing to do was enjoy it. I took Merlin out for a long fall ride through trail, forest, across stream and up a hillside out towards our rode. I love that horse, and what he has given me. He's a book in himself and one I can not wait to write.

We got home and he returned to Jasper and I let them both out into the back pasture. There in that amazing october light they grazed and swished their tails and told the silent stories horses tell with low heads and raised ears. I sat in the grass to listen, trying to hear whatever I could in the warm wind.

Bottling By The Gallon

I'll be bottling beer tonight, around five gallons. Two weeks ago at Antlerstock Adam King did a great and involved introduction to homebrewing and brewed a demo batch of porter for everyone to watch. As a parting gift, they left it here and I was thrilled to accept it. I have some pop-top glass beer bottles and some growlers of various sides to fill with the flat beer. I'll use a siphon and with the help of some table sugar added to each bottle before capping—I'll have carbonated beer ready to drink in a week.

I'm excited about the mini 32 oz. growlers I ordered from Northern Brewer. Once carbonated and ready to drink these will be coming along with me as gifts at Halloween parties and dinners. I love the typography, and of course they are reusable (though they need new lined caps for every filling). If I could get Northern Brewer to support this blog I would, I've ask but never got a response. But I don't care if they do or not because those boys in Minnesota know their stuff. Every kit or recipe I have tried from them has turned out to be the best beer I ever tasted. Soon as these 5 gallons are bottled and carbonating (priming in the lingo of brewers) I am going to brew up another 5 gallons of their sweet stout. It'll take an hour of boiling over the stove in a big steel kettle. It's a fun hour though. I play audiobooks on the speakers and listen to stories (Currently listening to all three unabridged Lord of The Rings Books) while I seep grains, pour malt, add hops and sip my last homebrew while I dream of the current one. It's gotten to the point where there's always going to be something fermenting in this house.

When I was at the Zymurgist in Saratoga a few days ago a scruffy guy in his early twenties came in with the focus of a scientist in a lab coat. He carefully picked out grains by the pound, then the right sealed package of hops and yeast. He was brewing on a whole different level than I was but I sure was intrigued. He would be making a wort from scratch. Wow. I stared at him in awe. He's doing what I hope to do someday, know the craft so well I can just shop for the perfect blend to make a house brew. Though to be honest, what I really want to do is grow my own barley and hops and make my own TRULY Cold Antler blend.

That's a ways off, but for now I am thrilled with my adventures in kits and kettles. And the beer I am bottling today was from a no-boil kit by Munton's. Which means this 5-gallon batch was made from a pre-made wort so easy yo brew Adam showed us in under half an hour. Instead of boiling your own mixed grain/hop wort it comes in a can and you mix it with warm water then add yeast and BAM, you just made beer at home. It's a safe way to get started if homebrewing makes you nervous. Those Muntons box kits and the well known, Mr. Beer starter kits are a great way to get cracking.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jasper's Luck

Jasper is the luckiest horse in the world, he really is. The little guy may not get all the pomp and glory in words that Merlin does, but trust me, both horses would agree he's been the one kissed by luck.

Jasper came to Washington County via the Cobleskill Amish Horse Auction. A fellow member of the WDCAA, Rob, bought him on a hunch after seeing him trot out into the auction ring pulling an EZ entry cart. He was in full regalia, harnessed and stepping high. In the auction book it had a warning though: very spirited.

The Amish are not looking for Very Spirited Ponies. It's not that they are against personality in their working animals, but ponies aren't used the way a sassy Percheron may be used. Ponies are some children's first ever harnessed and driven horses. They are used as all-purpose ATVs for their kids. A good and well trained cart pony can take a pair of kids to a neighbors for an errand, follow behind the family buggy on the way to church, or let a kid hop on top of bareback to race across a field. This is what Jasper was supposed to do, but he was failing. Too much energy and too much kick in him and that is no good around working animals and children. So he was sold, and sold with that deadly stamp of "very spirited" and no other Amish Farmer would take him.

But Rob wasn't Amish. He was a pony trader, and he knew a good bet when he saw one. He took Jasper home to his pony operation and started letting his (then 8-year-old) son ride him after a period of evaluation. He had his older daughter ride him bareback, and he *tried* to get the horse to buck him or someone off, and he didn't. Turned out Jasper wasn't as much of a monster as he seemed.

It was around this time of Jasper coming to Washington County that I was thinking about getting a horse. I wanted an animal to learn with, something to both cure my fear of taking that first equine step and be useful around the homestead. I think I had the hunch most people new to livestock have, which is to start small. Look at the rise of the Nigerian Dwarf dairy pet, the bantam flock of roosters, baby-doll sheep and the popularity of miniature cattle. I don't think this is an accident, I think people getting into livestock want animals they can handle and house, and it is a lot easier to house a trio of Nigerian Dwarfs than it is a pair of full-grown Nubians. Smaller animals also can thrive in smaller spaces, and with just a 1/4 acre of pasture fenced at the time (the rest was all electric netting) I wanted a pony that could live with and protect the sheep, share their housing and fences, and just sort of melt into my life.

I wanted a horse, but I wanted a Nigerian Dwarf, not a Nubian. I craved an animal to pull a wagon, not ride. I wasn't ready for that yet. Riding a horse around my own farm or down the road seemed something from a movie reel, not reality. Something for people with big walk-in stall barns and white fences and level ground for arenas and miles of fields for pasture. No, what I wanted at this point was a 10-12 hand pony that could live on this farm, be harnessed, and used in cart or lead by the halter to pull things like a small analog manure spreader (meaning a wooden box on wheels full of his own poop and the sheeps' poop and a pitchfork I could fling on the highest field). My goal were humble.

But getting a pony seemed a huge and scary commitment, even if the animal was small. I found a white draft pony online and emailed the seller. It turned out to be Rob and the horse turned out to be in it's twenties and too big, a Haflinger cross. I wanted a younger animal and I explained to him what I was looking for. I told him I wanted a smaller pony I could drive, or ask to pull firewood. Something I could jump on the back of if I really wanted to, but mostly to live with my sheep and do odd jobs. I explained the barns I had, the fencing, all of it. He said I should come meet Jasper.

I did and the rest was history. I met Jasper on a miserable wet and cold spring morning and watched him jump out of a trailer window in a panic, and let me walk up and halter him and lead him back to Rob. I watched him get tacked up in western gear in the downpour as his son road him at a walk, trot, and canter around their backyard. I watched him allow all this, with his calm and even temperament, and I decided he was the pony for me. I paid him half his selling cost on the spot ($275) and arranged to have him delivered by Rob in a few days. I came to Rob's farm as a shepherd and left as a working horse owner. Holy crow. Times were a changing....

I didn't know enough about horses to even know he was underweight and in shoddy condition. To me he was beautiful. That photo above is a few days after I brought him to Cold Antler. He looks like a different animal than the one in the video below. Who knew under that gray winter coat and dirt was this dappled white king? Who knew he had muscle and strength and power? I didn't. But I did know to have vets, and farriers, and plenty of grass and sunshine at his service. He really healed here and looking back at how he started I can see that more than ever. Jasper is one of my greatest success stories. By just being himself, he makes me feel better about myself.

And Jasper lived here and worked here, and he did thrive. But no horse should be totally alone. Jasper wasn't, as he had the sheep and me, but sheep do not make the best companion animals for a pony. When Merlin arrived Jasper's life improved in unspeakable ways! He now had a larger pen, a companion, someone to run and rub against, kick and whinny with. Those two are my odd couple for sure: Merlin is so calm and steady and authoritative and Jasper is all piss and vinegar and goofiness. But it works. It works brilliantly. And now with Merlin being the more trained animal on the farm, he is used for work and Jasper's life is just running, and playing, and bumping heads, and eating out with friends. Merlin is doing nearly all of the work and Jasper is on a holiday, so he may have hit his own personal paradise.

I want to get Jasper in harness on a cart soon. What I know now about driving and horses has given me the confidence to try and I bet soon as J is in a cart he'll do wonderful! But right now he is a party animal, on vacation, and loving every minute of his life. Not a bad way for an Amish reject to turn out.

Making Toast

Pasture Time

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Does October Mean To You?

Trading It All In?

Back in the high twenties tonight, not as cold as I'd like it but a fine temperature. It's a temperature of change and possibilities. Possibilities like a blustery wind of flurries, or the death of all the pesky flies, or maybe a new type of dough in my woodstove's bread oven. I have been craving soda bread and just watched a man on the BBC use Guinness instead of buttermilk and added baked apples and a cheddar crust. Can you imagine the divine bite! A crusty sweat apple bread loaded with cheese and the savory tang of that black nectar? I have fallen in love with cooking good food. Fallen hard. I now eat less than before but everything is precious, quality, and made with the intentions of wholesome fortifying nutrition. Well, you know, most of the time. I can eat some boozy soda bread too.

Been working outdoors a lot this afternoon. General stuff that needs to be done like picking up any old trash the mud brought to the surface and fixing fences, but also work like turning over the gardens before the earth freezes and sleeps. Most of the hard graft was dumping all the stock tanks and refilling them with buckets of clean well water.

While I did this the sheep and horses grazed together in the back pasture. On these chilly days it sometimes feels like another country or time. A black prehistoric looking horses sharing a meal near prehistoric looking sheep. It warms me up, regardless of how cold the night gets. I'm so drawn to their world, work, and smells. I love the way Merlin smells after a long ride, all sweaty and warm. I love the way the Blackface horn's feel in my hands. I love the cart rides, and lambing season, and the way those new lambs smell against your chest on a cold spring morning. I think about all the choices that got me here, and keep me here, and I try to think of something that someone could offer me that would make me turn over my riding boots and shepherd's crook and you know what comes to mind?

Absolutely nothing.

The Girls Are Back!

The goats arrived last night after 8PM. I was in the farmhouse living room, chomping down on a quIck slice of homemade pizza. I had to use up the veggie's from my morning deconstructed omelet on toast and a veggie-piled pizza was just the trick. I could only eat a slice and a half and that was something I am coming to realize about homemade food. When you make it with care and time, from kneading the dough to crumbling the cheese on top—it fills you more. I could easily house four slices of flat, pizza house pie and not even remember eating it. But the homemade slices were so thick in veggies and pillowy dough one slice was plenty and the second piece was a battle I could only start to enjoy.

This morning was just oatmeal.

But yes! The goats are home and I am thrilled to have them back at CAF. The morning started the way I like it, stepping out on the front marble steps and hearing that happy bleat of Bonita. Somehow, she knows before any other living creature that I am awake and possibly carrying grain. I heard that bleat and just smiled. It's the sound of life feeling correct.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Make A Small Batch of Hard Cider!

Every year my friends and I gather to hand press gallons of fresh apple cider at our good friend Dave's home in Vermont. Sadly, this year a late spring frost ruined our apple harvest and few if any local apples were around in the wild or at orchards to forage or pick. Which meant no hard cider, the real reason we all get together to crush and press.

But today I decided no late frost was ruining my favorite Yuletide drink. I decided to just buy some fresh-pressed cider at Saratoga Apple, get a small fifty-cent package of champagne yeast at my local Zymurgist, and make my own small batch. It's so easy, folks. You should try it. It's not like beer brewing that requires timed boils and measurements. It's more like making wine. You just pour, add yeast, and let it sit. The yeast does all the work for you! And while it does require a small upfront investment in brewing-grade sanitizer, fermentation bucket, airlock, and some yeast it isn't a lot of cash. I think all of those things are under 25 dollars and nearly all of it is reusable for your next batch.

Making a small batch of hard cider is a great way to get into homebrewing in a fearless way, and a great way to support your local orchards. For this small batch kit you need very few supplies, but it will grant you nearly 2 gallons of the good ol' scrumpy ready to bottle for the holidays! Not a bad way to show up to a Christmas party.

To make the hard cider you just need a gallon and a half of fresh pressed cider. You want the kind that has no additives or "nutrition facts" on it. The best place to get it is from a local orchard that presses their own apples and sells it from their farm. Around here, it is everywhere. But even if you live in an urban area I'm sure the orchards ship it to local co-ops and natural food stores. Just make sure what you are buying is plain apple cider, nothing fancy.

Now, to turn that cider into alcohol you just need a few tools and any brew shop online can ship them out to you. You need a small 2-gallon fermentation bucket with a lid that has a grommeted airlock hole in it. Northern Brewer sells these for a few bucks, and I suggest buying one from the pros as they aren't expensive and you are certain to get a fresh and air-tight seal. You also need an airlock, Star San Sanitizer, a pound and a half of honey, and a package of champagne yeast. All of these can be ordered online or found at your local brew shop.

Now, let's make cider! To prepare in advance make sure you set out your cider on the counter to come down to room temperature before brewing. It makes the process faster and the yeast more active if the cider isn't cold.

1. Sanitize you bucket and airlock (just throw it in the bucket) by filling it nearly full with clean tap water and adding in a little over a 1/4 oz of Star San. Cover bucket and seal lid tight. Cover the grometted hole with your finger and shake a little to make sure all parts of the inside lid and sides of buckets get contact with the sanitizer. When done, pour out foamy liquid (foam is okay) and set aside. Do NOT rinse with more tap water. Take out airlock and set it aside on clean plate.

2. Pour in your gallon and a half of fresh cider. Dump pound and a half of honey in after. No need to stir.

3. Pour in half a package of champagne dry yeast. No need to stir that either.

4. Place lid on tight. Check all around so seal is good.

5. Insert airlock in lid. Make sure seal is also good.

6. Set in a dark, quiet place to ferment and bubble.

That's it. It really is that simple. You can make it more complicated if you like and heat up the cider first and stir in warm honey and so on. Mixing ingredients will make it ferment faster, but I am all about spending as little time as possible brewing and more time farming. In about a day or two you will see bubbling coming out of your airlock. That means it is working! Right there in your own home or cabinet you are creating alcohol, and not just any alcohol but really, really good apple ciser (honey based cider is called ciser). When bubbling stops (two weeks to a month later) let it remain in the same place at least another week. The yeast will settle and you can siphon it into sanitized bottles. At this point it is ready to drink but I like letting it season a bit longer. It sits in dark green or brown beer bottles or wine bottles in a cabinet until I am ready to pour it out and enjoy it. But be mindful and responsible folks. Homebrew cider is usually around 12-15% alcohol. So don't down a wine bottle and go drive a school bus.

So, Anyone going to try it?

Jackapple Cake!

I’ve been baking my father’s apple cake recipe and adding my own little experiments with it. I think this one takes the prize, try it this weekend, you won’t regret it.

Jackapple cake

3 large farm eggs
2 ¾ cup flour
3 large apples (go with braeburn or gala, if you get fuji use 4)
No red delicious apples, bake like garbage
¼ cup fresh press cider
2 cups sugar
¼ cup honey, heated
1 stick butter (half melted)
1 ¾ cup vegetable oil
Tablespoon vanilla extract
Tablespoon baking powder

Peel and dice apples and place in a large bowl with 1 ½ cups sugar (set aside other half cup for topping), sprinkle over them a light coating of cinnamon, and mix into a cobbler, then dribble warm honey over and mix that in as well. Set in fridge for 2 hours to let cure. Do not skip this step. When apples are cured, add all wet ingredients (half melted stick off butter, eggs, oil, extract) and mix with large wooden spoon. Add in tablespoon baking powder. Add flour half a cup at a time and stir in batter more than you think you need too. Batter will seem wet and yellow. Good. Pour into greased cake pan. Now melt other half stick of butter, add to it the sugar and some cinnamon and mix them into a wet paste. Use a pastery brush to lather it over the batter, making a sugar crust to bake into the cake. Bake at 350 degrees 30-40 minutes. Check after 27, when knife comes out clean it’s done. Serve warm with stove-top cider.

unexpected holiday

Today has turned into an unexpected holiday. I woke up early and had coffee and a divine breakfast of a slice of pan-friend, whole-grain bread with a happy topple of egg, red pepper, onions, squash and cheese. Inspired by all this seasonal cooking I've been watching online I was a dervish in that kitchen, pan frying up the diced veggies, whipping the eggs, and watching the slice of bread crisp up. It was amazing, so much so I wouldn't even share it with the dogs. Boghadair perched on my shoulder and tried to steal bites right from my lips but failed.

After that breakfast it felt safe to go get some provisions. Gibson and I loaded into the truck to hit the Stannard Farm Stand down route 22. I bought a gallon of cow's milk from their glass bottle exchange, and a hunk of good cheese. They were rick in apples and bought some honey crisps for snacking and baking. Tonight I may make my father's famous Apple Jack Cake (I'll post the recipe in a bit). I was in a foodie mood. The good grub, the new haul, my mind was in the kitchen.

But it can't stay in the kitchen forever, bless and pity it. With the new groceries put up, I went and got Merlin for a rainy day ride. We had some showers in the morning, and more on the way but right around 11 the sky seemed tempered so I saddled up and headed up the mountain. My perfect mountain pony getup is a kilt, paddock boots and half chaps, light sweater and wool knit cap. We did our usual over-the-stream and through-the-woods ride, sliding between walk, trots, and canters. The wind was brisk, but the horse in light spirits. We stopped (as we always do) at the top of the mountain overlooking Cambridge and the mountains of Vermont in the distance.

When we headed home I untacked the lug and set him and Jasper out to graze in the largest back pasture. They run out together kicking their heals and tossing their manes. In the new mist it looks like I'm witnessing some ancient equine rite. The Freeing of The Geldings, nothing else today would be half as splendid.

This truly has been a holiday, even on a gloomy Monday. I'm kind of celebrating, actually. Somehow the horse, truck, house, electric, everything is paid up and on time. This calm of course is just a few days of grace but I am enjoying it. In this homestead a day without financial panic is rare as a Washington County coconut. So I am savoring it. Between that and the gift of the Adsense links I might pull through October right into November. Those little box and text ads are powerful things, providing for the farm in their own way! Oh, here's some swell news, a box of McRea's Caramels came in the mail and if you think I haven't already snuck one in before lunch, then you are dead wrong. I got the sea salt and some other flavors. They are hand made by friends of the Farm Kate and Jason in Boston. They support CAF and I did a little sweet support of my own for them. Mmmm.

In a bit I'll call the farrier and make that appointment and then call about my beloved goats and their return. Right now though, I think I'll have a cup of coffee and sit down a bit. A girl needs to make her holiday last, and pretty sure if I went out to feed the sheep their flushing grain right off I'd be knackered before I even got out the mixing bowls.

shotgun goose (not what you think)

Found this video from the summer and couldn't keep it to myself. This is Ryan and I sharing the cab of the truck after he walked a half mile down the road. The geese rarely stray from the farm but after Gibson "herded" Ryan a bit down the lane he decided to keep waddlin' away from CAF. I drove and picked him up and gave him a lift home.

marathon stationary beasts

It was a busy and exhausting weekend, full of festivals and going-away parties and pancake dinners and late night tea with neighbors. Last night was spent indoors at Common Sense farm saying goodbye to some very special people. It was warm in so many ways, with smiling faces and hugs. And then their were days like Saturday spent entirely outdoors in the cold wind. And that's not a complaint mind you, but it is an acknowledgment. Long cold days outside make you a kind of tired of its own breed. When the wind is bitter and your body craves sleep, fat, and warmth you withstand time outdoors much like a sheep on the hills does, I assume. It's a marathon of stationary activity.

I'm a big fan of long days outdoors and how coming inside to a warm wood stove and some soup and crusty bread can revive you...but my friends, it was a brutal day! I was at the Ackland's locally famous CiderFest at Maple Lane Farm, which was full of hundreds of kind people, amazing just-pressed cider, hay rides in tractors and an entire two buildings full of potluck treats. I was there helping Patty give cart rides in her new green wagon with Steele. I had not slept well the night before so by 3PM in the wind, after being up 12 hours already, I was ready to come home and tuck in. Which is what I did, with gusto, around 4PM. I came home from the day outside, fed the animals and did evening chores and then lit the fire in the bunbaker and fell asleep by early evening watching River Cottage Road Trip. Wild Saturday night.

Over the weekend I found homes for some of my future pork shares and did a lot of cleaning and regular house chores. Bills were paid, parents called, and groceries gathered. I even cleaned out the fridge, and that was a revelation. My fridge insides look totally different than just a few years ago. The inside of it looks like a third world market. Cloth-covered glass bowls of meat and butter and glass jars of milk and cream. There's carrots with tops still on them and heads of broc and soon I hope a few rows of homebrewed porter to join their ranks. There are very few bar codes in that fridge, very little packaging. It's the way my whole life seems to me moving. I mean, you can't slap a license plate on the back of a horse's bum, right? Anyway, I hope to add to the cold larder today and pick up my half of a lamb I split with Patty and Mark from Livingston Brook Farm. My own sheep are not in the meaty way right now, and so we bought a lamb from up in Hebron. I will play around with some masala recipes, also with gusto.

P.S. Goats should come home today or tomorrow, I can't wait. I miss having those two scoffers here. It will be one happy reunion, that is for certain!

P.P.S. Do any Fiddlers want to come up next weekend for the potluck? If I can get four of you or so, I'll be happy to host it but if people are just busy or travel is hard we can do it later in the winter?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

In Today's Mailbox!

Read This Book.

Questions for Non U.S. Readers?

So I am watching my River Cottage over oatmeal and have some questions. These are mostly about the UK (being on my mind watching the show) but I'm curious about other countries too. I am wondering if the US is homesteader and hunter friendly in comparison to other countries based on these questions that come up watching the show. I'm not sure if everything is so by-the-book because of the TV show or laws?

1. Is it illegal in the UK to slaughter animals at home?
2. Is it illegal to hunt without a guide or game keeper?
3. IS there public land for the general public to hunt?
4. Does your town, village, or country offer hunter safety and licenses?
5. Is it hard to get a hunting rifle?
6. If you have a rifle, can you use it to dispatch your own livestock?
7. How much is a quid compared to a pound? Is that the same thing?
8. What does "knackered" mean? Tired? Crappy?
9. Are public gardens and allotments common?
10. Can you keep chickens?
11. Is homegrown food common?
12. Why does Britain use metric units in cooking?

goats and social butterflies

It's 24 degrees outside but inside the farmhouse is a comfortable 62. Not bad for just one woodstove lit an hour ago. I love that this place is heated with wood, and this year I was able to acquire all of my heating wood through donated time and help from friends, barter, and some old fashioned horsepower. This morning, around 5:15AM I went out with Gibson in the lantern light to chop some kindling for this morning's blaze. He chased shadows while I split some seasoned elm. I used the splitting axe and then the hatchet to make the slivers that I start my fires with. So far I haven't used a single "cheater" fire starter compound or ez-light log. I'm proud of that little accomplishment, and the money I save using a little more elbow grease. I can now start a fire on a rainy day in a few moments with just a match. And if that makes me sound like a purist, don't worry. I still start my bonfires with soggy wood and a little liquid boyscout.* Helen Nearing, I am not.

I'm making a pot of oatmeal on the stove, heating up some yerba mate, and thinking about my goats. The girls have been gone a while now and their loud and proud presence has been missed. Funny how just one piece of the puzzle missing leaves it so clearly incomplete? Goats belong on this farm, and their creamy milk could not be more missed. Oh, the homemade soap, and the milkshakes, and the fresh chevre and coffee turned creamy tan....

Bonita and Francis return tomorrow, delivered safely home from Common Sense Farm. Othniel and Yesheva will be coming along, both to bring my two fine does but also to say goodbye for a while. They are leaving for North Carolina for leadership training in their church and won't be back until late January. It's a bit sad for me, as I have always had these two farmers just a few miles away to help over the years. They taught me so much in basic livestock care, of which just a small portion I have paid forward so far. I'll miss them, even if it is just a few weeks. People always warned me having a farm would make me less social, keep me away from people. It has kept me away from some people, sure. But it has also drawn so many new friends and experiences to me it rivals my four years at college, easily so. It's how I met Yesh and Oth, and how you met me. Farming has been my social butterfly, I just needed to open up and let it. The people who email, come to workshops, read this blog, shake my hand... There were more people on my college campus, but then broth is really strong stuff around here. And the folks around the dinner table are lovin' every bite...

*lighter fluid

Friday, October 12, 2012

This Just In: Francis is Pregnant!

I have two knocked-up goats!

Battenkill Books Drive Going Strong!

Battenkill Books is my town's small indie bookstore. The first time I walked in there I was with Gibson, then just a puppy. I had recently moved to Jackson and Connie, the proprietor, was behind the desk. I said hello, she gave me a Happy greeting and then Gibson lifted his leg on some fiction. Any normal bookstore owner would have done the reasonable thing of asking me to leave with my dog. Connie shooshed my apologies, grabbed some paper towels and told me not to worry about it. Gibson, and all kind dogs, were welcomed in the store. I decided I would never buy a book at any other store that day.

When barnheart came out, she hosted our launch party and it was a hit. She's done the same for other local authors like Jon Katz, James Howard Kunstler, and Meghan Mayhew Bergman. She cares about her literary community, and because of her and the other authors blogs, outreach, and support all ships rose with her tide. I'm grateful to her, and her store, and to the other authors I listed. Connie is amazing, using a combination of savvy business sense, fierce spirit, and a true love of books—she is an unstoppable force.

It takes some serious brass to open such a business in a town of around 1,800 people.I would like to support my community as much as possible and will be hosting a contest of sorts. If you call up Connie, or email her, and order any signed book by me, Jon, James Howard Kunstler, or Meghan MB—and tell her it is part of the CAF Book Drive then you are entered to win a drawing from my farm and Storey Publishing. Storey will be giving away a basket of homesteading titles and I am giving away a free Season Pass to any events at this farm for a full year. All you need to do is call or email her, and tell her I sent you. You can order Made From Scratch, Barnheart, or Chick Days and I will sign them for you however you like. Gibson will sign them too if you ask (he hasn't peed in there since that first time) and I can assure you other local authors will sign them to your liking as well. It's a great way to stock up on special holiday gifts like a signed edition of Rose in The Storm or World Made By Hand. You just can't beat Washington County Based Fiction!

So if you want to enter for the season pass and a bunch-o-books, call the fine people at the bookstore and order something from a Washington County Author. You get a unique gift signed just for you by the author's hand, and you could win a bunch more. Either way you end up with something special: a handsome book for yourself and the satisfaction in knowing you are both supporting a small, rural business, authors, and a community on the rise.

Me and the whole W.C. Thank you. Except the cows, who do not talk.

Here are the Books Storey has Donated for the winner!
Chick Days (signed)
Barnheart (ditto)
Made from Scratch (ditto)
The Backyard Homestead
The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals
Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock
Barnyard Games and Puzzles
The Chicken Encyclopedia: An Illustrated Reference
Root Cellaring
Farm Anatomy

Battenkill Books info:
15 East Main St.
Cambridge, NY 12816
(518) 677-2515
photo by jon katz, who makes meatless pizza