Thursday, January 31, 2013

Strange Times

The last two days have been so incredibly strange. The weirdness is the weather. It went from a week so cold that the trap below my shower froze solid, to the last two days of wind and rain and temperatures near sixty degrees. When I woke up this morning there was a literal howling through the downpour. Gibson was at the window, watching the world swirl around his little haven. He looked concerned.

I wasn't worried as much as I was unsettled. It felt like April, not January. April is a creepy month to me, my least favorite month of the year. I have no idea how beautiful October got all the cultural associations with death and fear. October is the opposite. It's teeming with the harvest, with glowing firestorms of colored leaves and ornaments of apples and pears in the trees. No month makes me feel more alive, more grateful, more content. October to me is exactly like the feeling of finally coming home to your lover, leaning back in his seat, and how it feels to find that place curled up against him, your head on his chest. It is bliss and safety, what we all pray to feel. That's October.

But April? April to me is rotting and rumbling earth going through the worst of ugly puberty. It's a necessary ugly period for future blessings. I understand it's role but I can't stand the entire feel of the month. Trees are usually barren and those horrible Easter flowers like lilies come out in people's living rooms; things that smell so putrid only their vulgarity can hide the wafts of embalming fluid and pancake makeup in funeral homes. I hate April. It's too dark for me. A season of zombie-like resurrection, and now my backyard feels like it when it should feel like something out of a Courier and Ives winter scene over a mantle. Take a fistful of wet mud, spit on it, pour some cheap perfume and a rotting egg on top and then set it in a warm place to fester where cat hair and dust give it a smoldering crust…. and you have April.


So, as you can imagine, this feels wrong. But there is some good news, most importantly, that this horror is over soon. Temperatures should drop back into the teens and snow is in the forecast for the next few days. And with the blessings of winter, comes a healthier flock. My sheep are looking wonderful! Even little Grace, the Cotswold with the poor constitution, has made a full recovery and is getting harder and harder to trap and give injections of ProPen to. The goats are fat, and kids are just 5-6 weeks away. And that means fresh goats milk is only 5-6 weeks away! The fiddle weekend in early Feb is packed and I am working on getting last minute preparations in order. The wool weekend is also jammed with folks and I am thrilled to spend two days with fiber, wheels, carders, and my knitting needles here at the farmhouse. Merlin is soaking wet. But he looks like something out of the LOTR set with his locks whipping in the wind and his dark eyes scanning the ground for hay flakes. He had grown so chubby this winter I can't help but giggle at his belly, but it's mostly water weight. After a good ride or cart trip he slims down and the cart shafts don't touch his sides and his girth is too loose for comfort. So it goes!

So, in summary: The weather is gross but the farm is thriving! And I can not thank those of you who contributed enough. It looks like I will be able to purchase a new camera shortly, but I am very interested in your suggestions. Some people mentioned the Rebel, correct? Any others you like that non-professionals like myself can get better-than-average results with? I can't wait to snap more photos and take more videos!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spreading Wings, Lifting up CAF!


I have decided to announce a pledge drive! This blog is a free site, and will remain so. But it takes a considerable amount of time to write, video tape, and photograph things here. I have dedicated my entire life to the farm and to its documentation. It is now my fulltime job, and I am so grateful to have it. With that said, I depend on your readership and support though workshops, book sales, ad clicks, and contributions to keep the dream alive. I would like to invest in a professional-level camera and update the entire website to look more modern and easier to navigate and search. Pledges will also go to simply running this place. The money will cover things as simple as hay costs and chicken feed - as well as website redesigns and design programs. So today I am running a pledge drive from the readership. You can donate a dollar, ten dollars, or whatever you feel is correct. This is of course, totally optional. If you do not wish to contribute, that is totally fine. I'll still be here regardless, writing to you.

I have had the donate button on the blog for years, it hides down there below the barnheart graphic. But - as other authors have already stated - this sounds like a charity option. That is not the point. I see these pledges as a way to offer the blogger compensation for a website you enjoy and follow, a contribution toward the effort and expense of the farm.

Thank you, so much for reading. And happy pledging!


From Scratch Magazine!

I am proud to share that I was featured in the new online magazine for homesteaders, From Scratch Magazine. It is delightful, and one of the best publications I've seen about modern homesteaders and downshifters. It deals with our issues, understands our style, and is filled with interviews and stories. It celebrates our life in a beautiful and engaging way. You can sign up to get it delivered every month (I believe it is free!) and enjoy some farm porn with your morning coffee.

Read It Here!!!

Goat Morning!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wool Landscape!


We had a bit of snow yesterday, just enough to remind everyone here in Veryork that this winter is not like last winter. Last winter was so mild you wanted to build a bunker, but this year a week in the deep freeze has us all feeling a little scrappier, a little thinner.

Today I drive down to the butcher's shop to pick up the pork. I have backseat full of boxes and a freezer to fill. It's the main adventure of the day, but there are others things going on as well. A ewe named Grace has fallen down with the shakes, a bacterial infection. She was the ewe who experienced this before and I think the week of nights well-below zero gave her mild constitution the ol' what-for. Yesterday I made her a hospital unit in the small shelter on the hill and she was doing well this morning when I checked on her. She was trying to stand on her own and eating the hay and grain she was offered. She's looking much better, and in a few days of medicine and rest she should be right back to her old self.

Between the pipes, the temperatures, the tired ewe and the amount of firewood I am blasting through— I will admit to feeling a bit shrammed. But today should break the spell and they want highs in the thirties and (gasp!) forties, so it seems like fine weather to turn the truck into a delicious porcine hearse. Here's to warmth and puppies, both of which are in my immediate future.

(No, the puppy is not mine. It's Patty's new OES pup she is bringing home Saturday! She already named it Darla, but I insist on calling her Moneypenny)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Boy

photo by meg paska of


Went to the Co-op in town yesterday with a wooden box instead of a grocery bag. I was going for things like eggs (my birds are on winter break), milk, cheese, oats, and other things that do better in a sturdy container. Here is my loot from the little store. Battenkill Creamery milk in glass bottles, cuts of good cheese wrapped to order, Murray Hollow bread (fired in a huge outdoor oven, the BEST I ever had), some peanut butter, oats, and whatnot. It's a nice haul. And a different looking trip to the grocer than just a few years ago when everything came in plastic packaging and could be put into a microwave. Not anymore, no sir. This is a home where food is cooked. The microwave is now in my tack room being used as a western saddle stand and doesn't come out unless I am using it to heat up curds for mozzarella stretching.

Things change if you let them change. Sometimes they change on their own accord. I didn't plan on changing my grocery orders this much, but it happens one change at a time. Bar codes are showing up less and less around here. It's starting to seem odd, when I do see them. I was at a friend's house the other day and she could use her phone to scan her cereal box for a coupon. I get it, but it still made me squirm a little. I wonder if as I get older, technology in the name of labor saving or convenience will turn me spiteful? It already is starting to. I feel that labor and time are mine to choose to spend. I do not want the opportunity stolen from me, as it takes away any change of feeling gratitude for the work. I care a lot more for satisfaction and gratitude than coffee heated up in 30 seconds. I am glad Battenkill milk bottles do not have scan codes on them. I hope they never do.

Wood and Hay!

Right now, outside the farmhouse is a humble pile of firewood and hay. In the last two days I was able to work out a barter for a cord for a workshop, and my friend Patty sold me a truckload of hay out of her barn. It's not winter stores, but it is a few good days of feed and a solid month of heat and it is right outside my front door. If a Nor'Easter blew in and covered us with 10 inches we would be okay, no one would go hungry. It's a good feeling, however humble. And I ordered more hay, too. A whole trailer load thanks to the kindness of the readership and the goodness of this blessed place. You know, it's a full moon tonight? Light a candle for your hope. It goes a long way.

Meg and Neil will be here soon, the pair who run Seven Arrows Farm on the Jersey Coast. I adore New Jersey and I adore Meg and Neil. I promised them a warm(isn) farmhouse and coffee and they are bringing breakfast! We are planning on hooking up Merlin for a cart ride and enjoying this last day of truly biting weather outdoors. In the next few days a warmer wind will come through and by Monday night they want snow and temperatures up in the thirties (at night!!!!). I can't wait!

But for now, friends and horses!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Welcome Home

Thanks, Ash!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Share the Story

It's cold here. What makes us warmer isn't just firewood and cats in our laps, but each other. I would like to ask that anyone willing share a special sort of story. Have any of you had something bad happen to you that you turned into something positive? Tell us.

This question was inspired by this post on reddit

On My Belly in the Dirt

So yesterday was a rough one. I went to bed the night before cold, right down to the bone. It wasn't so much a matter of temperature, as morale. I was really tired, and really frustrated by some personal issues I have been going through. I decided (like a fool) that I was going to be miserable and no one was going to talk me out of it. It's when you get into this mindset that you start chipping away at yourself, and you've just created a monster out of thin air. So I fell asleep cold, lonely, and scared and when I woke up the next morning a lot of bad things happened. It was as if my crappy mood had summoned them into being. Pipes froze, fuses blew, bill collectors kept calling, the oil ran out, and I just started sinking into that emotional and useless place called victimhood.

I sat on the cement floor of my mudroom (somewhere around 37 degrees) and just started crying. You can't help these things, sometimes. I was second guessing every choice I had made over the past year. If I had not left Orvis I would have more money. I would have health insurance. I'd still have my 401k. And besides all those financial things I would be in a warm that I wasn't paying to heat, place surrounded by people who made me laugh. Instead I was broke and cold, crying on cement. I was nearly out of firewood, almost out of hay for the animals, and probably out of oil. I was a mess, trying to figure out how to thaw pipes when I couldn't even thaw out my own head.

I started thinking about all the things I was supposed to be doing instead of crying on the floor and felt instantly guilty. I had design work, writing, and work outs planned. I had errands in town, chores outside, and people to call. The NOFA conference was this weekend in Saratoga and so was the Draft Horse CLub's winter sleigh ride - both of which I wanted to attend but both required time and cash I didn't have. So I was just feeling stuck.

It's at these moments when you either keep crying or start working.

So I started working. I had problems to fix. I either could call a plumber and start trying to fix them myself or I could keep crying on my cold butt. I stood up, and I got to work. And I think it was becoming a farmer who switched that ability inside me. When you take care of something or someone else, you can not dissolve into any sort of negativity long. It is not only pointless, it is negligent. My goats and dogs could care less about my relationship history or arguments with my family. All they know is that hay should be here by now and the water heater is on the fritz. So I threw myself into work, into repairs, into chores and started calling plumbers. If I couldn't fix it, I'd find someone who could.

That became the theme of the day. I went out and fixed all the water heaters, and changed their power sources to avoid any more blown fuses and shorting out. I wrote a list with each animal's species and then what I would want if I was a sheep, chicken, horse, etc. I gave the sheep extra hay, extra bedding, and some sweet feed and corn for the calories to burn in this cold weather. I double checked the coop for drafts, made it more comfortable, and refilled water fonts and feeders. I brought rabbit bottles inside to defrost and hugged Bonita. I did the same things I do everyday, really, but I did them with this higher purpose of love for the critters. Some people see therapists their whole lives hoping for someone to pull them out of a funk. I wish I could hand everyone of them a dairy goat.

I posted on Facebook about the pipes and someone mentioned a hairdryer. I read it and scoffed, but then reread it, soaking up that wisdom. knew I couldn't get into the crawlspace with a hairdryer because I could not fit. So I devised a ridiculous plan to build a "heat arm" which meant duct-taping a hairdryer with an extension cord to a broom handle and laying on my stomach in the crawlspace's maw until I heard the water run. It was in those ten-fifteen minutes on my belly in the dirt that I got a lot of thinking done.

Folks, I am fine and the farm and the house is fine. No one should ever read this blog and pity or worry about me. Everything I go through is my choice, as is my life here on the farm and all the hassles and hardships that go with it. I don't write about these things because I want to be saved. I write about them because I want what I realize to leave this head and go out into the world where *maybe* it can help someone else and make it something bigger. I had a few shitty days, but I am fine. I really am. In a few hours a new wood delivery will be here and I'll be laughing with Tom, stacking it outside the farmhouse. In a few days I'll have enough cash set aside to order a 50-bale truckload of hay from Nelson. I'll catch up on my bills, I always do. And no part of me wants to be spending weekdays in someone else's office living my life on hold. But every now and then doing all this alone eats me up inside, and when a stretch of cold days get to you you can't help but suffer a little breakdown. But I always snap out of it, and such sad days are grower fewer and farther between. This is growth, and healing, and while it may mean reaching deep conclusions crying on your belly in a dirt-floor crawlspace — at least I reached them. And the difference between the person I became and the person I used to be is that the girl five years ago would know the same things, but not act on them. The girl in the dirt yesterday realized some heavy shit, and will be fighting to resolve them with all she's got left to give.

Stay warm, friends. It gets better.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Frozen pipes, frozen water, frozen Jenna. Trying to solve the problems here and trying to get a hold of a plumber but without luck. I have the heat turned on in the house, but I may be out of oil and I don't know if it is working? As for the pipes, heaters are aimed at them and the faucets are open. Getting wood delivered this afternoon and hoping Tom Brazie can help me. If anyone knows a local plumber who is available close to cambridge NY with one of those heat tube things for crawl spaces, please let me know.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Make Your Own Spring!

It certainly is cold, but it is spring inside this farmhouse. Temperatures are in the fifties (up from forties this AM) and there are chicks and seedlings mucking about. If the cold has you down, run to the nearest garden center and get yourself a bag of soil and some seeds and plant a pot of snap peas on your windowsill. They'll climb up it just fine and in a few weeks blossom into white flowers. By the time all your neighbors are just digging into their lettuce gardens you'll be crunching into the first veggies of spring! Now, throw in a banjo tune and you might just cause a little thawing out there in bluster. You want spring? Go make your own!

Dangerous Risk

A Month At War (plus tax advice)

A few weeks ago a friend introduced me to the online game, World of Warcraft. I thought (because of the title) that this was some sort of battle game where all I did was run around shooting things with guns. It didn't sound very appealing so I never tried it. I grew up watching my brother play intense single-shooter style games and grew bored quick. I'm not a gamer and no respectable gamer would count me among those ranks. But I have fallen in love with WoW. It's just so much fun!

What I like about it is the stories. I am a lover of stories. WoW is mostly a sequence of stories, and it is your job to explore this mythical universe online finding what happens next. You decide what kind of character you are, and what your role in the game will be. And then you enter this super easy beginner level where you get your feet wet. As you progress (and trust me, it's easy) you start to collect more of the story, and interact with other players. WoW is not just you and a game, it is you and thousands of other people playing together. I've chatted with accountants from Ohio, dog trainers in Missouri, and a teacher from Ireland all while trading cheese for wine or waiting to take on a group game of capture the flag.

I created a werewolf character and put her into the world of Gilneas. As a lover of dark fairytales it was like being transported to the keep of the Brother's Grimm. I run around as a wolf gal amongst old German townhouses and riding horse carts through the night to get to the next chapter of the story. I am amazed at how rich, involved, and fun it has become. If anyone of you are just curious, I totally suggest making a worsen character like I did and stepping into Gilneas. Then sit back and enjoy the ride!

I know what you are thinking. It's too addictive or time consuming. Well, it could be I guess. But for me it's gotten me inspired to do even more in my real life. It was creating that character you see above, an archer, that got me outside practicing archery every day in real life. It was my chubby little Panda character that I watched kicking and punching on screen that gave me the gumption to enroll back into TKD classes. Watching these imaginary characters train, ride horses, be in stories…well, it just inspires and excites my real life adventures. It has me writing Birchthorn again, and I dropped five pounds and rediscovered my spinning hook kick. 14 seasons of the Biggest Loser couldn't do that. A month of being a werewolf in a make believe world could.

And while the game itself is fun, I was able to join a small group of players (called a guild), thanks to the friend who introduced me to the game. It's a group of real-life friends from the northeast. At night when the chores are done here and the house quiet,instead of watching a movie I can log onto a voice chat room and the game, and spend the night talking with new friends from all over the US. Not chatting, not texting, but actually talking! I have a little microphone and me and these six other people are talking like we're all in the same room. (Think conference call, but less horrid.) My guild gets together a lot in real life as well, and since a few of us live in the Veryork area, I look forward to meeting them if I can.

So I suggest, and I mean this whole-heartedly, downloading the free trial and giving it a whirl. You use your mouse and keyboard and it doesn't take long to figure out how it all works. It's free to try, so if you don't like it, you have nothing to lose. If you do like it then you have to pay a monthly fee of 15 bucks, but for me it's worth it. Hell, just the other night a member of my guild saved me about $600 in tax advice and I got amazing new music suggestions from another. It's a way to connect, to be creative, to feel a little thrill of accomplishment, and unwind. You can call it geeky, it is, but it's also a damn hoot.

Hoot hoot hoot.

Staying Put in the Cold

I woke up in the farmhouse this morning and the temperatures were in the forties. That's the temperature inside, folks. Outside was around two degrees. Whenever I think my home is cold I think about how it is usually fifty degrees warmer than the farm outside and suddenly wearing a sweater and socks in your living room doesn't seem like such a hardship.

Up here the week has been bitter. Not horrible, we haven't gotten below zero yet but it doesn't zoom high above the teens and tonight is supposed to drop well below aught. For someone who lives with a farm full of animals and heats with wood stoves, that means you don't stray farm from the home place. Even a few hours cut into the middle of the day isn't a good idea, because it doesn't take long for my fires to stop pumping heat. And if I leave mid-morning to have lunch or run errands and the house isn't above sixty degrees, it will drop back to the high forties by the time I return and it takes hours to get back to that level. So I stay home, and that's okay because home is my job. You couldn't ask someone to leave their office for five hours, could you?

But this is the kind of cold that stops you. Stops you from doing things most people don't think twice about doing. Things like visiting folks for a few hours, or running into town for feed and coffee at Stewarts. I am not doing those things this week. I went to my TKD class last night and paid for it with having to stay up till 2AM to warm up the house enough to feel comfortable with the pipes and slumber. When you wake up fitfully at 6AM to start all over again you suddenly realize you could have avoided that four-hour adventure and did pushups in the kitchen…

How cold is it where you are? Does it hamper your plans? And are a lot of people around you getting sick? So far I have been lucky, but I also am not around a lot of high-density people places. From the online news it sounds like a flu pandemic out there in the hinterlands?!

So here I am with my luddite heating system I adore. I'm staying put and I'm sticking to it, baby. If you want to see me in this weather you'll have to stop by for a bowl of chili or a cuppa. Admission for drop ins is one bale of second cut hay and a good sense of humor about frozen goose poo.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Upward Over the Mountain

Mother, don't worry.
I've got a coat and some friends on the corner.
Mother, don't worry.
He'll have a garden we'll plant it together
Mother, remember the night the dog had her pups in the pantry?
Blood on the floor and the fleas on their paws
And you cried 'til the morning?
So may the sunrise bring hope
Where it once was forgotten
We are like birds
Flying upward over the mountain

Monday, January 21, 2013

Talking with the Butcher

Mark snapped this picture of me talking to the butcher after the pig slaughter. We are going over the cut sheets, slice by slice. Since I am sharing the pork with the people who helped pay for the piglets and feed you need to explain everything from how thick you want chops sliced to how many pieces of bacon per package. It took a good while and Mark caught me perched on a hand-me-down bench from Bedlam Farm.

Live Like Fiction

I live a life I am proud to say sounds like something out of a novel. I spend my days shooting arrows, riding horse carts, and walking through the woods with a dog or ram lamb by my side. I go on small adventures with friends, usually in the saddle, and bigger adventures in my heart and mind. I spend long summer days fishing in a river and then working in the garden or making hay at neighboring farms. I'll do this until I am so hot and tired I need to return to the river for its blessing. I love how it grants tired skin and bones revival. Fall now is a time of holy reverence and thick gratitude, surrounded with cider making parties, farm festivals, and the fireworks of Autumn foliage. Winters are spent wrapped in wool by warm fires, dogs curled up with me on sheepskin as we read the Mabinogion by candlelight with a tankard of stout beer. I can do a spinning hook kick, shoot a bullseye, and holler behind a galloping horse in a red cart up a mountain road. This sounds like fiction, but it is very real. It's possible because I believe in magic and I believe in love. And I have just enough wisdom to realize they are the same thing. No one will ever tell me otherwise.

I'm all heart and music. I'm all dreams and firecracker. I am hope and force, manifest. I know what I am capable of and what I can help others achieve. I know where I am weak and where I need to ask for help. Most of all, I remove myself from negativity and anger. I think surrounding yourself with support and love is the only way to grow happier and to achieve the fictional life of your dreams. For me it is this earthy, Robinhoody, Celtic, farm life. That's me. For you it may be sitting in a cafe in New York City typing your novel, sailing out to the cape in your own boat, or winning the game with that amazing Hail Mary pass. The point is, whatever your fantasy life is, in some way it is already real because it is inside you. It's the wanting that sparks life into our desires. It is the work and positivity that manifests them. Our fictional lives are real because they are avatars of our emotional ones. Few things are as powerful as our feelings. What you put out into the world always finds its way back to you. Always.

And that is why this will never be a place where others are criticized or torn down. I refuse to put any of my energy or heart into such dangerous acts. This will never be a place where anger howls. This blog, like my farm, is a work in progress and always positive. I have learned that anger is a disease, as much as any illness in the body. You need to acknowledge it, heal it, and find a way to remove it or it becomes cancer and your life is taken over. I know so many angry people, and my heart goes out to them. I do not engage with them, it's pointless, but they have my prayers for healing and happiness. You can not keep those prayers for yourself alone. They grow weaker if only self-inflicted.

I think the more positive and good-hearted you are the healthier and happier you and the people around you become. Listen, I know I'm not pretty. Far from it. I'm short, and stout, and thick limbed. I swear my body has the density of a dying sun. But dying suns pack a hell of a punch, folks. I may not ever been a damsel or a princess, wrapped up in someone's arms but thats okay. That's not my story. I am not pretty, but I dare you to tell me I'm not beautiful. A stag leaping across a field is pretty. The dire wolf chasing after it is fucking gorgeous.

So dear friends, live your life like it's fiction. Love like a romance novel, seek like a good mystery, hope like an underdog story and fight like a fantasy warrior.

Non-Fiction people, get out of our way!

A New Day

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Happy Pigs, Good Deaths

There are a lot of sighs on a harvest day like today. You sigh when you hear the first shot of the .22 rifle and watch the animals you knew as piglets drop to the floor and spasm. You sigh when their throat is slit open, and the blood hits the hay like a child spilled a bucket of paint. It's intense, not enjoyable at all. You sigh those sighs and accept them. They are decision exhaled. You own them, and you move on. Better sighs are just around the corner.

Like I said, the sighs that follow are not sad. What happens next isn't delicate, but it is wonderful. You get to see the entire process from dead animal to hanging sides of perfectly split hogs. And when the work is done and the pigs are on their way to the butcher shop you let out the best sigh of all, happy gratitude and relief you pulled it off. Today was a dark day in the story of these pigs, but a bright one for this farmer. It could not have gone better and I'm very glad with the results.

This is my third year with pigs at Cold Antler. I'm proud to say it was my best ever. These pigs had the largest pen, the most sunlight, and well-rounded diet. They grew fast, fat, and true. The guys who were doing the bulk of the work said they were the cleanest, best-looking pigs they had seen in a while. They applauded the clean pen and the fact that the only grime and mud on my pair was on their trotters. They said my place was scrappy, but it was clean as all get out, and that counted for a lot more than sagging fences and visible garbage bins.

I did what I could to help but there wasn't much for me to do besides pile up the heads, skins, and offal I wasn't saving and remove it from the scene. I have lost any squeamishness around this sort of task, not thinking twice about picking up an intestine or lung and setting it aside. Blood is no longer horrific or confusing, but the living form of so many buckets of water I carried. I now know what the smell of a body cavity is like, and it has grown less obnoxious. Today it wasn't bad at all, since not a single piece of offal was pierced or torn. No unpleasant scents of digestion-in-progress wafted around and since the pigs were off feed 12 hours previous they didn't have any last spoils either.

I spent the afternoon puttering around collecting trotters, livers, tongues and hearts. The trotters went into a bucket of cold water and the organs I was saving piled up in a clean heap inside a baking dish. Most of the time we just chatted, and I asked a lot of questions about the knives they were using, skinning techniques, and recipe ideas. It was a lively bunch out there, and anyone who drove by saw not a sordid crime scene but a laughing foursome of friendly people doing some honest work. (Well, one woman drove by slow shaking her head in disgust, but just the one.) I was beaming though. I am really getting the hang of this. It was the cleanest, quickest, slaughter ever at this farm. I can't wait to split up the shares!

When all was done and the fellows were packed up with my porkers I waved them off, and brought the baking dish of saved organs inside. They were wrapped and frozen. I have plans to slow cook the hearts and tongues for Valentines Day as a special treat. (Seems fitting, no? It's inspired by a recipe from Beyond River Cottage!) The livers were sliced open by myself and inspected in detail. They were perfect, that brown/maroon of health. I sighed a long sigh of relief there, and then smiles. I did it. I saw them through.

Feel free to ask any questions about the process, or the deaths. I will answer them openly and honestly. If anyone was upset by the images or story, know that wasn't my intention. The point of this blog is to bring people into what my life is like here and all the goings-on that transpire. Today was about the death of some fine pigs. Soon you'll see baby goats and the first chèvre of spring and lambs running past the thistles on the mountain. But today was about death, and good deaths they were. I'm proud and grateful and very tired. It's one hell of a happy combination.

P.S. And a warm thank you to Mark Wesner, who not only helped me with the pig pen and wrapping up organs for the freezer, but cut me some firewood with his trusty chain saw and shared a Bunbaker pizza with me in the farmhouse! Good friends, good pigs, good help, and good spirits all around today.

Hog Slaughter Day

Pig Slaughter and Firewood

Today is the day the pigs will be harvested. It's unusually warm, or was this morning anyway. As the day goes on the temperatures will drop and the wind will pick up and by the darkness before dawn, we should be well into the single digits. Today I'll be preparing for the cold, stacking firewood and preparing the house. But before any of that (or pig slaughtering) could start I had an errand to run. I needed hay, bad. Down to two bales the horses, sheep, and goats were counting on me.

I was with Gibson, driving north with the windows were down. Daydream Believer came on the radio, and I sang along with it. Gibson wagged his tail. I was in a great mood. Heading up route 22 to fill up a truck with bales, my right-hand man riding blunderbust. The sun was out and the thermometer read 45 degrees. If you are going to kill pigs, this would be the day to do it. No frozen hands today. No sir.

A trio of experienced traveling butchers will be arriving and taking care of everything from the hog's death to their disembowelment, their skinning and halving. I feel blessed to have folks like this a phone call away. Most of the stress of slaughter for these animals isn't the moments of agony in death, but in the transferring to the abattoir. Animals get confused and scared from such change, and may spend a day or two waiting in concrete stalls, cramped or stressed while they wait their ending. My pigs will die in the same place they have spent the last three months sleeping and eating. It will surprise the hell out of them. There are worst ways to go.

It will happen so fast, and be just a sliver of their time here at Cold Antler. I won't pretend slaughter day death isn't horrific, it is. But done right it is quick as possible and from the moment the gun is fired to the animals are bleeding out and gone from this life, is literally two minutes. I don't like watching it, but I always do. I feel it is my responsibility to be a part of the whole process, from piglet in a dog crate squealing in my arms to the day their heads are on a snowbank.

It's a day I look forward to, and I mean that without any harshness or disrespect. Today is the day the work of raising the animals is done and they will serve their purpose. I started the day singing, and I will end it a bit more somber, but not without joy. The death of the pigs is a cause for celebration, feasts, and the promise of more piglets soon. Pork shares help keep this farm going strong.

Photos and more to come throughout the day.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Small Radius

I am told all the time how unrealistic my life is. If you have fallen into the mindtrap that conventional and realistic mean the same thing, than I guess that is true. My life isn't conventional at all. But what really separates my life from most people's isn't the working at home, the animals or the mountain — it's my proximity to them.

My life is mostly lived within a four-mile radius now. Outside of a drive up to Glens Falls for a class or a rare trip into Saratoga or Albany for special provisions, I stay put. This is what really sets my life apart, and in a lot of ways it is closer to how folks in cities live. If you live in a very urban area your world of employment, social needs, entertainment, cabs rides, and basic essentials to human life are a few blocks from your apartment. If you live on a homestead with gardens, a milk goat, and a cart horse it really isn't all that different. The details are, as are the costumes, but the idea of living around your headquarters is the same.

I think for most of suburban and rural America, this kind of lifestyle has grown out of fashion. We are constantly on the move, either for work or play. I know parents of school-aged kids who swear to me it would be impossible to park their car after work on a Friday and not drive it again until Monday morning. Too many play dates, activities, plans and events. One mother told me the only way she doesn't drive forty miles a day is if she is sick. So for some people, their homes have become bedrooms and garages.

I lived like that, too. It didn't stick. Now I go days without leaving the farm, easily a week without going farther than a trip into town. This isn't all that odd around our sort, but to most of modern America the thought of spending weeks in the same place is borderline isolationist. Which is kind of funny since the idea of a motoring society—people who jump into their car and drive for hours a week to commute, shop, eat out, or entertain themselves—are the weirdos in the course of history. It's only in the last hundred years (a blip) that such travel was normal. It's a by product of living in a world of cheap and abundant energy. Before gasoline and jet fuel, travel across the state (much less across the world!) was a rarity. I live my life close to the place that feeds me. It seems quaint and near-mythical in these times but certainly it is the most "normal" way to live in human history for middle classes. At least as far as the records state.

We're supposed to want to travel, constantly. We're being fed the same story over and over: growth and enlightenment happens when you put yourself out of your comfort zone. I agree with this, but I don't think you need a plane ticket to find your center. For some people, getting out of their comfort zone is a temple in India or on the sidelines of a Mongol horse race. For others, it's learning how to take a goat's rectal temperature. You grow when you meet your limits. And our own limits might include jet fuel or hames and harness. It's part of the neat juicy DNA that makes us all different and interesting.

And I know this, but I feel anxiety about my lack of desire for travel outside Washington County. I don't want to leave, and while I know that is perfectly okay and par for my life choices, I still can't help squirming when I read things like Eat, Pray, Love or watch some documentary on Tigers in Siberia. There is a big world outside the Shire and even Hobbits are known to go on the occasional adventure....Perhaps in the future I will crave and desire speaking Gaelic to a man on the Isle of Skye or load up a backpack for a trek across mountains of Korea. Tonight I just want to sit by the fire and plan tomorrow's pig harvest. My adventures are right outside my own front door these days. Why am I being told it's not enough?

My triangle of experience may be less glamorous than Miss Gilbert's, But I think both me and Liz learn about life by seeking spirit and adventure. Her's involved Italian food, Ashrams, and Bali. Mine involves homemade bread, stone circles, and a mountain farm. They both sound like Eat, Pray, Love to me.

Black Belt

This cat is feeling far more comfortable than I am this morning. I am so sore through my back and shoulders it feels like someone ripped my wings off. It's a good thing, it really is. I needed then ripped off.

Yesterday was my first time back inside a Taekwondo school in six years. I had not realized how much I missed it. It was amazing! I spent my entire high school career out of organized sports and instead at martial arts tournaments. I competed in fighting, forms, weapons kata (sai), and breaking. Through college I dabbled a little in some other fighting styles and then when I moved to Tennessee I took it up as an adult. But when farming came into my life, along with a full-time off-farm job it was impossible to find the time to be a corporate designer, farmer, and martial artist. I paid for it, losing muscle and flexibility and gaining weight. I love the farm, I loved my old job, but I do not love how I let myself fall out of shape. Mark my words, I am getting it back.

Yesterday I spent two hours working out and being evaluated as a new student at a dojang in Glens Falls. It was harder than I remember, but still etched in my body and mind. I can not tell you how wonderful it felt to be back on the mat. This is my kind sport, what makes sense to me. I am useless and bored on a softball or soccer field. I have no interest in running around a track in circles. Gyms feel like hamster wheels and work out videos grow repetitive. And folks, not even the kilts could make me join a field hockey team... But being a fighter, hot damn if I don't adore it. Archery, martial arts, riding a horse, these are what I consider my athletic skill set. I admit its a little old fashioned and perhaps not the usual for my gender, but what can you do? We can help what we like, we can't help what we love.

So I love martial arts but it has been a long time since I was back in a martial artist's body. I miss it, feeling thin and confident. My resolution for this year is to get back to my old fighting weight. And you know what? The only way to get there is to fight for it, literally. So several times a week I'll be with the rest of the adult students stretching, kicking, and punching my way home to it. Fitness isn't my only goal though folks, I am going for my black belt. To me a black belt is meaningless if you aren't pushing yourself to the point of breaking, shedding pounds and tears, and coming out the other side looking (as well as acting) like a role model to the younger students. Right now I am not even feeling like a role model to myself, and the dojang and the path back to expert will lead me back home to it.

It's also about keeping my promises. I promised myself I would attain black belt in this short life. I was very, very close at my first school but got involved with a guy and romance trumped tournaments and ranking. Before you knew it I was off to college and and then working in an office five days a week and fell out of practice. I missed it so much I joined a school in Knoxville, but moved to Idaho and did not get to advance to black belt there either. I don't regret the choice to fall out of practice, be it for men or moves, but it's time to get back to my goal.

Design For Winter Camp Shirts!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cockle Warming

The Woodpile Gang is doing well, and still in the farmhouse where it's toasty. No other eggs hatched, and were discarded after the mother started ignoring them. It's nice having some poultry in the house. Since they are just a wall away from the kitchen I can hear the mama cooing and clucking to her babes. On a shelf above me seedlings are sprouting under their grow light. That's a lot of new life for the dead of winter, and when it is four degrees outside it sure does warm the ol' cockles.

Err, chickles?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gloomy Neighbors

Tonight I went over to Jon and Maria's for some of Jon's famous pizza (kale, potato, and chicken sausage tonight!). It was a great visit, catching up on book and agent news, sharing stories and conversation over a bottle of red... nice, normal, stuff. But when the pizza was put away and the wine was running low in the glasses — the three of us got out a certain card game and the night took a wonderfully dark turn!

We were playing a game called Gloom. Gloom is simple: you win by picking a family of characters out of the deck and then spend your turns making them as miserable as possible. The most miserable family at the end of the game wins. But to make things interesting, you can also use your turn making other player's characters happy. So while I was wishing out wasp strings and mocking midgets to my family, Jon was laying down cards where my miserable characters found love. In real life, that would be sweet. In Gloom, it's bad news. You win when your family has the least amount of self worth. It is hilarious, ever-changing, and better when surrounded by adult beverages...

The real fun of the game is every time you change a character action you have to explain it in one ongoing, horrible story. This forces everyone to do a little web-weaving, and make it up as they go along. Think of it as fiction-jazz. Stories get horrible and out of control, turning the worst news into headlines. Jon took his characters into some hilarious place, including a conflicted clown named giggles finding true happiness in dark places. I talked about characters drowning in bogs and being taunted in private schools. Maria told stories about illustrated ladies on tightropes over vats of shark-infested pudding. It sounds silly, even sad, but it isn't. You get attached to the characters and get drawn into their made-up world in this high-stakes game of horrors. We played a while and pretty much just laughed. The game ended in a tie between Maria and I after she killed off my last character. It was great.

So why share about a card game on a farming blog? Well, because it's the kind of thing folks don't really do anymore. We get together to gossip, complain, converse, and award each other but we don't necessary challenge each other to a story-telling contest. this is something that doesn't require anything but your family and your time. It's a good game for farmers. You don't need anything but a blanket in the hayfield, a few beers, a tired body and reeling mind. (I think a lot of farmers have that in spades!) You can play it by campfire light while out under the stars, or at a booth at your favorite bar over dinner. It's not some confusing board game with pieces to lose or complicated rules. It's really for the story-tellers out there. And if you know someone with a dark sense of humor and a competitive edge, I may have just finished your Christmas shopping.

Tonight was a little competitive, a little dark, and a whole load of creativity. Try it out with some friends, you'll love it. And if you have time to watch the video above you'll get a real taste of the game before you commit to buying it. That show is free to watch on Youtube and reviews all kinds of games. This particular one costs around twenty dollars, but for a game you can play over and over with friends I think it's money well spent!

So that was my night. Any suggestions for equally addictive games out there that fall a little under the radar? Do you have a game the average Scrabble or Trivia Pursuit player may love but doesn't know about? Share it here!


The Fire Garden

This here looks like a pile of logs near a bench, but it is actually much more. It is a stack of heat. I have used mainly wood to keep this place comfortable all winter (comfortable to me, anyway). I like heating a living fire, it's become another harvest on this little homestead. Just like a garden it demands presence and sweat, a lot of work for a promise of a future bounty There isn't a lot of difference in felling trees and planting beans, not when it comes down to the nitty gritty. You are doing the work because someday you will draw comfort from it, primal comfort. A bowl of bean soup by a fire is a poem and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I am growing suspicious of heat that comes from dials and buttons. It is starting to feel like plastic.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Snow Patrol

Song of the Bow

What of the bow?
The bow was made in England:
Of true wood, of yew-wood,
The wood of English bows;
So men who are free
Love the old yew-tree
And the land where the yew-tree grows.

What of the cord?
The cord was made in England:
A rough cord, a tough cord,
A cord that bowmen love;
And so we will sing
Of the hempen string
And the land where the cord was wove.

What of the shaft?
The shaft was cut in England:
A long shaft, a strong shaft,
Barbed and trim and true;
So we’ll drink all together
To the grey goose-feather
And the land where the grey goose flew.

What of the mark?
Ah, seek it not in England,
A bold mark, our old mark
Is waiting over-sea.
When the strings harp in chorus,
And the lion flag is o’er us,
It is there that our mark will be.

What of the men?
The men were bred in England:
The bowmen—the yeomen,
The lads of dale and fell.
Here’s to you—and to yew!
To the hearts that are true
And the land where the true hearts dwell.

-Arthur Conan Doyle

Practice. Every. Single. Day.

Winter Is Back!

Winter is back, as my friend Maria said in an email this morning. After a few warm days of horsing around (literally) I'm back in a contemplative hibernation state of mind. It is such a calming feeling, being farm in a little house with the snow falling outside. I am trying, though it does take an effort of will, to stop and smell the snowflakes. I'm so used to working on the next project, plan the next workshop, and worrying about when and how next week's feed order will come in that I don't stop to realize what a gift a little house with a woodstove in the woods can be.

There's enough food for everyone on the farm today.
There's enough wood for the fires to burn today.
There's friends on the phone to call today.
There's books to dive into and love today.
There's good dogs with full bellies today.
There's a cat curled up by the stove today.
There's snow falling all around me today.

It's all enough, today.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

weather and pigs

I was hanging up laundry on the clothesline yesterday, and fell asleep last night in sheets dried in the sun and calm winds. The days before I rode a horse without a jacket and drove a cart in a light sweater. It has been a slushy and warm snap, I think a lot of you guys have had the same? Well, it's over tonight.

A few inches of snow are in the forecast. I brought some of my dwindling wood pile inside and stacked the wood close to the fireplace. If it is going to be a snow day I am going to roll with it. Tonight I'll load up the coffee pot and have everything I need to be comfortable with morning chores ready to go. I was going to take a class tomorrow morning, but I told the instructor I would mostly likely not make it off the mountain. A snow day on a week day is basically a holiday at this farm. I take time to stop all the worries and plans and just enjoy the fact that I am home with animals, books, and good strong coffee. These things make me very happy.

The pigs are being slaughtered this weekend. I am ready for them to check out. At the size they are at now they are ravenous and I feel like I can not feed them enough. They go through a fifty-pound feed bag in two days, with food scraps and all the hay bedding they can munch. Lunchbox and Thermos had a good run here, complete with comfy nights under the straw, escape attempts, Antlerstock riots, and Christmas Pig Mornings. They were a fun duo but I look forward to enjoying them on a bun or with a side of scrambled eggs, very very much. And I look forward to sharing them with the folks who bartered in for a share and friends who come to visit and enjoy the mountain.

Unrelated: I am on the lookout for a small one or two-horse trailer. If you have one you want to trade or sell, let me know. I can pay some gas money for delivery for local folks. Keep your ears to the ground, please!

P.S. If there are many spelling errors I apologize. It's late for this girl and I have been staring at this computer far too long. Whew, I need a snow day!

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A Spring Hedonist: Part 2

After my archery practice I was revved up. I had done well enough to feel that spark of accomplishment, however slight. When Merlin yelled out I turned and looked at him and knew before he finished heckling me we were going for a ride. I decided not to waste the fact that I had a horse and trail access at my disposal. I only own 6 and a half acres, but a few months ago I approached my neighbor, Sherif Tucker, about riding on some of his property. He said it would be fine. This was a blessing I didn't fully understand at the time. To have a horse in your backyard, a tack room in your home office (let's be honest: It's really a tack room with a computer in it) and to have access to a wonderful set of trails made my summer unforgettable. It was warm enough to want a taste of it again.

I'd been riding Merlin less during the winter, a lot less while snow and ice covered the ground. When we did go on a ride it was usually just on the road, walking to visit friends on the mountain or just to feel the saddle under me. We'd plod along for an hour while my head wound down. We had not been out on the mountain trails in weeks, and that's a totally different kind of riding. Tucker's mountain has streams to cross, big open fields, steep mountain trails, winding ATV roads, big open grassy hillsides, and steep paths overlooking drop-offs below. It's no mindless road trip. This would be our first time exploring the wild mountain in weeks, the terrain changed after the melt of the recent snows. I was hungry for it.

After our amazing cart ride the day before (when Merlin was an equine saint) I was expecting a pleasant jaunt around the mushy winter woods on a sunny day. The kind of ride you could have your earbuds in and listen to audiobooks while cardinals dashed around you and squirrels scamper about. You know what I mean, right? The kind of trail ride that birds dress you for in the morning. Pretty, mindless, sunny.

I was not like that. It was so much better!

Merlin and I were saddled up fairly quickly. The mud was dry on his long coat and brushed off without fuss. I checked his feet, checked for any sore spots, and lifted our old saddle into place. When all was correct in Tackland, I walked him over to the driveway to mount up. I lead the horse complete with wool plaid saddle pad, saddle, chest strap, and bridle. It was not long ago that I didn't even know what these things were outside of movies and television. Now I can take a horse from a field, halter, groom and prepare him to ride with everything fitting correct. A small, victory.

Here's another small victory I'd like to share. I no longer need a mounting block. Merlin is a good size horse for my own height and weight, so getting on his 14-hand back isn't a mighty feet, but to do it on solid ground feels good. Each jump into the saddle is a bullseye of its own, I suppose. So, I step my left foot up into the stirrup and used it for leverage to rise into the saddle. It's a skill I had to be taught. You need to keep your weight even and correct so you don't bother the animal or put too much pressure on anything. (Cathy Daughton's daughter Jacey showed me when she was here this summer, and I am very grateful!) I did my little gymnastic bit in my stretchy jeans and I was ready to ride. I gave Merlin a little heel and he walked right outside the driveway.

This isn't normal. Merlin usually needs to be coaxed to get started, like an engine that needs to be warmed up before it turns over. I thought this was a great sign, though. He was being biddable. We walked the short distance of road to the wooden gate that lead to the trails. I gave a little more heel and he trotted. With that little bit of speed under me, I got a little cocky. We cantered a little, and practiced going from a walk right into a full run. Merlin was a pocket rocket on four bare feet. I was hooting and hollering and having a blast, just being a passenger on this great thing we call horse.

So now both of us were full of of piss and cider vinegar. I asked him to head up a slight rise that headed into the woods. I wanted to run up it, but he just stood there, and then started to turn around. He realized this wasn't a sprinted sugar high but an actual workout and wanted nothing to do with it. I was firm, and spun him around in enough gentle circles that he got the point that I was the one in charge. I faced him back in the direction I wanted. I gave him some heel and Merlin flattened his ears and lowered his head towards my destination. I could feel his muscles bunch. Shit. This is where Merlin's aggression loses its passivity.

Once he loses an argument he gives in, but he does it with attitude. He took off! Stretching his stubby self into long lopes before he lifted his back feet into a high kick. I felt my body lift out of the saddle! Without thinking, as if the reflex was always inside me, my right hand slowly tightened on both reins and my left hand reached down and gripped the horn as I let my entire body sink into the saddle, heels down as far as they could go in the stirrups. Merlin then transitioned from his angry canter into a trot and flicked his ears at me, almost saying "You're still here?" and then scoffed and softened into a walk.

Jenna 1
Merlin 0

We kept weaving cross the streams, the birch timbers, and the open fields. He was a little amped, but controllable. Then things started getting interesting. When we headed down a slope of mud, we both learned it was just a top layer over ice. It would make him slide a few feet and it felt exactly like it does in a car when it is hydroplaning. Part of me wondered if I should have attempted a full-out trail adventure in the slush and mud, but then I stopped all that silly doubt. What is the point of only riding a trail horse in perfect conditions? The type of riding I partake in is the kind of riding people barely do anymore. Merlin and I are not training for some kind of arena sport or race. It's a lot humbler, a lot more basic. I want to know him as a vehicle in the world. The way people used to know how to ride. The kind of riding where discomfort isn't a deterrent, but an asset. Knowledge you need to know, in body and rein to get across roads, landscapes, and do it in all weathers and seasons. We both need to learn how to deal with mud, rain, snow, fallen trees and shocking surprises. And we got our lesson in that, next...

After a particularly steep slide down a path, both Merlin and I were not paying attention to anything but the ground under his feet. He didn't want to slip, and I didn't either. So neither of us saw the trio of does shoot out of the underbrush just fifteen feet to our left. Merlin exploded up into the air! There was no warning of any if it. Again, I let my body do what it knew to do. I pressed my chest forward, balancing so as to not slide off the back. After his four feet were back on the ground he wanted to bolt, wanted to panic, and with an effort of will I laughed and let out a long breath of air. I pulled his reins back, steady and strong but not in any way that would saw into his mouth. I let my whole body relax and in three strides he started walking again. He blew out air and shook his mane. He seemed confused, caught in a prank. He didn't understand why I wasn't freaking out, too? I made him stop and watch the deer, so he knew both what happened and that it was over. I counted to ten before I asked him to walk home. He was fine. Epona had our back that day, which I knew all along. She got us this far after all. It took some serious mojo to bring me and him together, and it would take something bigger than a deer, a kick, or a pile of steep mud to tear us apart now.

Jenna 2
Merlin 0

So much of riding seems to be a combination of confidence and gut-instinct body contact. You need to know when to sit deep, hold on, let go, and trust each other. Merlin and I had a hairy ride, for sure, but that doesn't mean it was a bad one. We had text-book goofs and some scares but after that little adventure I felt the same sparks of competence I felt when three arrows struck the bullseye in a row. For me, competence builds confidence. I sat tall walking home to the farm. These were skills I didn't know (never dreamed I would know) just a year ago.

That day I was an archer and a rider. Not the best, but not the worst. Sometimes I think it is more about sticking with a thing than it is getting good at it. Give your body time to wrap itself around a thing like a bow or a saddle and it will see you through. It has for me, anyway. And I untacked that horse with a feeling no argument or late bill could stomp out. We get better as we get older, at least if we're working towards something we do.

Jenna 17 Jillion
Unhappiness 0

Luceo Non Uro.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Spring Hedonist: Part 1

It was a taste of bright spring, yesterday. It still is. It's still warm enough here to open the windows and let the wood stove sigh with the break. Fifty degrees! (Baffling stuff, being that I just spent a whole night feeding a fire on a -13 degree sunrise a few weeks ago...)Grinning at the bright light, I chose to not worry over environmental ramifications of a dying winter and headed outside to be a Hedonist. If it was going to feel like spring, by Brigit's Fire, I was going to act like it was spring.

I did chores with Gibson. It was a feat of dexterity, that - sliding up hills on the melting snow. After everyone was content with feed and water, I took Annie for our mile walk down the road. That time outside with my dogs was intoxicating. Watching Gibson rocket past me in a spray of slush in the stranger sunlight was a cinematic treat. Seeing Annie trot happily down the road with her nose buried in the melting drifts, sniffing out critters who lived below — damned if I wasn't catching their buzz. Watching happy animals really alive outdoors made me want to join their ranks. I decided I would be an animal of Spring, too. I went inside and got my bow.

I shoot a recurve now, bought at an outdoor archer's meet up this summer. It has a fifty-pound draw and is adorned with braided hide supports and a gorgeous sewn-leather grip. It's a fiberglass model, a faux-woodgrain. It's a little more forgiving to radical weather changes than a wooden bow, and that suits this hunter just fine. The previous owner went out of his way to make it look like something older. His leather-working skills were something else, and it makes the bow seem magical, special. The bow reminds me much of Merlin, also bought second-hand but one of a kind. My quiver has two Celtic wolves intertwined in knot-worked designed and growling at each other. It looks like something from another time, and another world, yet feels so much like home in my hands. I had not held it in weeks and just gripping my left hand around it to carry it outside sped up my endorphins. I slung my quiver over my shoulder and headed outside.

Standing in the sunshine with a just-strung bow changes your entire mood. I went from farmer to archer and that means something. You carry yourself differently, as a labrador does from a coyote. I slid my leather arm guard over my left, tender forearm. The soft deerskin of my shooting glove hugged the three fingers of my right hand. I forgot how that felt, gentle and strong. I grabbed a trio of arrows and inspected them the way I was taught. I looked for cracks and imperfections, checked their straightness and tips. When I was happy with all three I inspected my bow and stringing effort. When I was content with the quality of all the work I grabbed an empty Blue Seal feed bag and pinned it to some hay bales. It was time to shoot.

I am starting a daily practice regime when the weather allows, and even when it doesn't. Last year I was a new archer and didn't know fletch from feather, but I had a whole summer of beginner's experience and now I wanted more. I knew the gear, I knew the sport. In my local SCA group I was asked to become a Marshal In Training on our archery team, a roll of participation and leadership in the Society. I wanted to do my teammates proud, and I wanted to be deadly come next October's hunting season. This means three things:


I warmed up by shooting the three arrows in ten sets at ten yards. After thirty draws I was feeling the bow come back to me. And I was happy that even if I missed the Blue Bullseye I only missed it by a few inches. This is encouraging to any archer back from hiatus. I made myself shoot until all three arrows hit the bullseye one after another. I am working on short-distance accuracy and slowly gaining distance as confidence and skill grows. I promised myself I would do the same routine everyday, but not quit until 6 arrows hit the center in a row, then 9. When I hit thirty arrows at a bullseye I will move to fifteen yards and start over again. It's a push, for sure, but I'd rather attempt that for hours and fail than settle for just hitting one good shot and coming inside for tea. By the time summer practices come along again with the team I hope to be at a level of skill and practice that raises my score in the East Coast ranks considerably. I attained the rank of Archer last summer, but this year I want to attain the rank of Marksman. It's a huge leap, raising my average score by forty points. I'll do the work to make it happen.

I think I only spent a half hour out there shooting into the hay. But the results I was getting were so motivating. I mean, if a doe walking ten yards in front of me and stopped for a few seconds to eat, I would be a dead doe. My powerful bow would shoot an arrow right through her, I am confident of that. What I'm not confident of is my ability to stalk that well! But that's a skill for another day. When I can set up a series of deer-shaped targets in my woods and hit them all from 10-20 yards I will feel comfortable with my chances come hunting season.

When I pulled the last three arrows out of their happy marks I slid them into their quiver and felt the blunt tip of one poke my ear. I made a mental note to be more careful. If those were broad heads I would have a place to hang an earring….

With quiver over my back and bow unstrung, I headed inside. My waxed bowstring was in my kilt's side-sporran pocket and perhaps it was the talisman that had me walking on air. I wanted this feeling of adventure and Vitamin D to last a bit longer. Merlin whinnied out and I knew what I would be doing next…

I didn't know I would be in for the ride of my life...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reins. Kilt. Epona.

Wil Wheaton on Negative Comments

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Shovels & Rope

Their new album just came out, O' Be Joyful. You Civil War buffs already know what that means, don't you? It doesn't matter. It's not a folk band, not a rock band, not a rockabilly duo. It's two people with two old guitars, a snare drum, and a rattle. Sometimes they have a harmonica. Powerful and amazing music coming out of a few sets of lungs. Buy their new CD, it comes with a donkey poster, which you rarely get these days. You won't regret it. Listen to the tracks above, I dare you not to love it.

Singing & Driving

Sunday Saturday Drive

Beautiful day here today. The sun was out (nearly fifty degrees!) and I couldn't help but hitch up Merlin and hit the road. We went down the mountain to my friend/neighbor/livestock Vet's house and I parked the horse outside her front door. Shelly and her husband came out with their new son. She just got back from the hospital Thursday and the newborn came out to meet the horse while her toddler Aidan ran around. Merlin was a saint. Stood strong and quiet while we talked, and we talked for a while. I drove home singing, and when we got close to the house Merlin went into a canter and I screamed a Wooooohhhooooooo! A grand day!

Meet Sunny & Nataya!

A pair of mares, now home on their new farm with Ejay and Kim! I love it when horse dreams come true! And all my congrats to everyone at R'Eisen Shine Farm, members of the readership here at Cold Antler, people making it happen! Join me in welcoming their new family members!

The Plow, The Horse, The Pumpkin Patch

Danvers 126 Half Long Carrots, Dwarf Siberian Kale, Parisienee Round Carrots, Deer Tongue and Speckled Trout Lettuce: Those are the five crops I have planted in my kitchen right now. My first little yogurt container of Kale is sprouting and looking healthy. The rest are under a little plastic greenhouse with a heated mat below it. The seeds, the mini house, and the heating mat all cost less than fifty dollars and I will use that greenhouse all spring long to start early seeds. After this bunch of plants are ready to transplant outside they will be under plastic tunnels (tents really) in the earliest outdoor mini-greenhouses. Kale, lettuce, and carrots are hardy creatures. They can handle an early season with a little babying. Soon as they are outside I will start broccoli, parsnips, and peas inside and then move them to the second series of covered houses. By the time the real outdoor planting season starts I will have food already in a position to be eaten and harvested and instead of spending that time sowing peas and lettuce outdoors I can use that time to build the new raised beds, poly tunnels, and put up a series critter fence. I have big plans for the garden this year. Last year was the summer of the horse. This will be the summer of the salad.

And speaking of horses! I got an email from Ejay and Kim. A young farming couple south of me in the Hudson Valley. They have a small CSA and raise mostly vegetables but also some chickens, I believe, for eggs and meat. They were growing and wanting to expand and the time had come to either invest in a team of horses or a tractor. They came to the Farmer's Horse workshop here around Halloween and less then three months later they did it. Their team of Haflingers are being delivered today! I am so happy for them! Haflingers are smaller drafts, the same size as Merlin. They are around 13.2 to 15 hands, but are powerhouses in the saddle or behind a plow. That photo above I found online is very much what Ejay and Kim will be doing this summer.

I also heard from some of the folks who came to this past Summer's Fiddle Camp, and they were still playing. One woman, Trish, has already mastered some Molly Mason and Jay Unger tunes! She didn't know how to hold the darn thing a few months ago and now is polishing up her Ashokan Farewell, Amazing!

Fiddles and horses, both inspired by a day here at Cold Antler. But see folks, it wasn't me or my farm that did any of that. The reason Ejay and Kim will be riding off into the sunset and Trish will be fiddling by a campfire has nothing to do with this blog. (Though I wish I could take credit for it!) It was those three peoples' desire to take active steps toward their goal. Both signed up for beginner's classes. They happened to be my class, but this applies to anyone who is signing up for their local community college's beekeeping class, or master gardening workshop, or deciding this year's vacation will be a dude ranch instead of Disney to see if the husband and kids could wrap their head around horses? You see what I am getting at? You're head only takes you so far without action, and sometimes it is the simple act of doing something small that inspires a bigger thing.

Sometimes it's buying that book about Dairy Goats and having the balls to set it out on your coffee table in your city apartment. That may give you the nerve to look on Craigslist or LocalHarvest for a dairy near you with goats, and email them for a tour. Suddenly, the animals you just read about a few days earlier are in your hands, their smell is in your nose. That just empowers the idea even more and soon when your lease is up you decide to stay with your job, and stay in the city, but move to a neighborhood with a little backyard. The next year you have gardens, a hive of bees, and a large dog run with a pair of Nigerian Goats you named Rufus and Bowser. Your town doesn't allow livestock, but these guys are your pets with collars and name tags. It's the same thinking that allows pot-belly pigs in high rises. That, and asking for permission is never a good idea in my book. Do what you need to do and if the city takes away your chickens and goats then all the more reason to call the local paper and have the idea brought up so those laws can be changed. If people in downtown Portland, Milwaukee, or Brooklyn can have a chicken and a goat. So can you. If the laws say no, then change them. Being meek about your dreams is the same as giving up on them.

Just thinking about Ejay and Kim, this moment, has inspired me. I have plans to brush hog out a flat area at the edge of my property along the road near the pond. I want to plant a serious pumpkin patch, like a quarter-acre. I have a draft horse, a harness, and I bet I could find a plow used on craigslist or an auction. Who wouldn't want a Black Horse plowed heirloom field pumpkin at their doorstep or in a pie this coming Samhain?

You start living with gardens and horses and you can't stop the plans and dreams from popping up in your head. This idea of the CAF Pumpkin patch wasn't even there when I started typing. But while writing about Ejay and Kim, and looking at that picture, I decided it would happen. And it will. Or at least the effort to make it happen will. It could all go terribly wrong, but so what? If the ground is too wet or the deer eat all the pumpkins then perhaps I have the perfect spot to attract deer to hunt or practice archery (or both!). I'm just excited to work hard and try, the real dream is to be out there working with Merlin and hoping for the seeds to sprout. If I get a pumpkin? Shucks. That's just gravy.

This post started talking about carrots in a hot box in my kitchen and ended with a field of pumpkins.

I love this blog. I friggin' love it.

Photo by Cindy C-H, from Flickr

Want a Farm? Get Radical.

I found this video online, it speaks perfectly to my recent post about the five whys. If you are struggling with a job you don't like? Feel stuck wishing for something that isn't happening. Listen to Lisa.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Gibson has been by my side since he was an eight-week old puppy. We have never been apart more than a few hours, never spent a night away from each other. And so Gibson shares my entire life. When I worked at an office, he was there nearly every day. He's in the truck with me on every trip into town. Everyone at the bank, bookstore, and hardware store knows him by name. And when he isn't by my side through the day's activities he is doing the work of a true farm dog. He helps wrangle sheep, chickens, and boss pigs into corners. He runs like hell. I never knew any animal that could move so fast! He knows the lay of the land, and has taught me shortcuts. He taught me a lot, actually. How to just enjoy rolling in a sunbeam. How to sleep like you mean it. And how to run as fast as possible and fall in love with the pain in your lungs, because that pain means you are still alive.

He's as much a farmer as I am. He knows no life but this one. I have rarely seen an animal as happy, as fit, and as thrilled just to be alive and by my side. He doesn't even wear a collar, never has a leash. He hangs out the truck window with both arms clutching and scratching the side door and lets the wind hit his lagging tongue. This is not great parenting, I know. But I am not my dog's parent. I'm his boss and he is his own dog. He gets his shots, shares my bed, and is offered a proper diet but I like his feral ways. He looks, listens, understands conversational tones and probably has a vocabulary of a fifty English words or more. He's always there with me. Just look down at my knees, and he's at their side.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Smile Before

I was twelve years old when this movie came out. It will always be important to me. This scene is my favorite moment in cinematic history. Well, a part of it is. That walk up the hill is it. From the hug to the last steps, it still gives me goosebumps. Every time I watch it I still feel like that little girl in the big theatre, wanting that feeling.

It all comes down to the smile before the roar, for me. Those few seconds, those are the best. There is nothing more powerful that the feeling of decision. This isn't related to a farm, but that moment is how I got mine.

I Just Walked In On This

Archery Porn

Guess What I'm Doing Today?

Brawlers & Brothels

When I opened the barn door yesterday morning, I wasn't expecting a welcome committee. But right there inside the latched door was Lunchbox and Thermos, looking up at me and snorting. Gibson was at my side, and if you could have seen the look on his face you would have thought someone just filled the barn with a hundred white plastic buckets and flashlight beams (he's really into buckets and flashlight beams).

I slammed the door.


These were not the cute little piglets I picked up squealing at Antlerstock. Lunchbox and Thermos were both around a hundred sixty pounds now. I could hear the chickens inside squawking and flapping around. It sounded like two drunk bar brawlers got into a lingerie shop. Behind the red door was a parade of squeaks and grunts and feathers flying. Gibson looked up at me and then back at the door with his tail wagging. I knew I had to get the porkers back into their pen. In my quick glance I saw their escape hatch. I would have to get inside, round them up, shut the gate they busted through, reinforce it, and then check for damage. I had to do all this while a Border Collie was begging to get into the fray, a horse was heckling me for breakfast, the goats were nagging, the chickens were screaming, and without so much as a pocket knife in my arsenal.


What transpired was nothing short of amazing. I didn't have a pocket knife But I did have a bag of cracked corn. I told Gibson to back up and lie down, then set him into a stay. I asked him to stay the way people say the last phrase of a commencement speech. I really, really, meant it. He looked deflated, but obliged. I then cracked the door open and slid inside, closing it behind me. The pigs were running amok, but turned to look at me as dramatically and quick as a pair of cartoon characters. I could almost hear their thoughts out loud.

"Hey, Hey.... It's Food Lady! She's got the food bag! We already ate all the chicken feed, and a chicken, this place is a beat scene! You think she brought takeout again? Dibs! Dibs! Diiibbbbs DIIBBBBSSS!!"

And they both came barreling towards me. As they ran at me, and the door to freedom behind me, I took the entire bag of cracked corn and dumped it inside their pen. Instead of knocking me over and running away they made a quick corner turn and ran back into their home. I had a few seconds to scramble to re-shut the door behind them and soon as I closed it Lunchbox whirled around to get back out. Suddenly, the cracked corn wasn't as interesting as the Chicken Ranch. This is true for most American males.

I had to hold the gate shut by hand. They had escaped by breaking down the wood board that created the doorstop. It was a simple design, a basic latch, and worked up to the point of over 300-collective pounds of porcine force wailing on it. I needed to get something else to hold them while I went and boarded up their pen door. But the second I left the gate they were on it. Gibson was watching with pure agony of a lie down. A lie down during livestock chaos is border collie water boarding. I called him to me.

The pigs stared at Gibson. They stopped eating, stopped pushing against the door. Whatever was going on between those two species was some deep mojo. Gibson went into his crouch and blinkless stare and the pigs softly grunted, but held back their protest. This gave me exactly 30 seconds to scramble around the barn for a piece of green baling twine and frantically tie it around the posts. The gate was momentarily secure. I told Gibson, "That'll Do!" and he looked up at me like he was rolling on crystal mushrooms. Pigs get him wonky like that.

I got some boards, I got some nails, and I hammered a few planks of scrap wood over the brawlers gate. They ate the corn and promptly took a nap. I am missing one rooster and an entire 20-pound bag of chicken feed. It was a wild party.

I called the butcher and moved the slaughter date up a week.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Last Resort!

What you are looking at is the Last resort. A quickly tied piece of baling twine that was used to hold the escaped pigs back inside their pen while I scoured the snow-covered barnyard for lumber so I could nail their escape hatch shut. Never a dull moment. More tomorrow!

Feeling Trapped & The Five Whys

I get so many emails and letters from folks who wish they could quit their job, change their life, and move to the country but feel they can't. Sometimes these emails are incredibly sad. Some folks say they are too old to start over. Some are dealing with a disease or death in the family that ties them to unexpected care for children or elders. Some people are stuck in prison, literally trapped. These are hard to read.

And yet, these people are never really suffering with desire. Most are at peace with where their lives are. Since they can't do anything to change things at the moment, they let go of their dream a while. The release is a kind of peace, one woman said. I have a lot of faith in these folks, because if they can get through whatever is holding them back now they will be even more resilient and dedicated when they do stick their shovels in the dirt. You don't get discouraged at a bad day at the Farmer's Market when three years ago you spent an entire summer in ICU. They are cultivating a perspective that lasts. It is worth acres of black earth.

Some of the emails I get are in the same sad tone but very, very, different. They come from people who want to farm as well, but aren't because the changes that farm requires seem too hard or complicated. People who have put emotional and social discomfort between them and their dreams, and they feel it is just as much a barrier as a prison wall. These are the hardest emails for me to read, much harder than the former. They always start out with "I love your life and wish it was mine! But!..." and then go through the lists of excuses why it isn't.

I have learned this much: No one can save people in this mindset but themselves. I mean, if a person writes me from an actual prison his limitations can be overcome soon as he is free. But when some one has already decided they can't leave the one they built around themselves - they can not be helped.

If you are unhappy about something you have two choices. Just two. You either can work to make it better, or walk away from it. Fight or let go, that is it. This applies to everything in our lives, from our relationships with our spouses to our jobs. It is true for our health, our weight, and how we let people treat us. You only get different results if you change your actions.

Some of them already own (or have access to) land and want to be full-time farmers. Others are in apartments and cities, but have no idea how to make next month's rent much less move to some brand new rural area. They feel they can't have what I have here at Cold Antler. Everyone tells them they can't. Their whole lives are angry balls of baling twine called Can't.

Yes you can. Of course you can. I promise you can.

The Five Whys

I recently heard about the Five Whys on the radio. The idea is simple: If there is something you want to change about your life and feel you can't, ask yourself why five times. It'll tell you a lot more than you realize. For example:

I don't like my job but I can't leave it.
Because I need the money.
What do you mean, why? Because of bills and the mortgage!
Because if I don't pay them, I could lose my house and fall into debt!
Because that's how this system works. I get money from this company, and then they get my daylight five days a week. And then every two weeks I get money that I use to enjoy myself in the evenings when I am tired and frustrated or on the weekends when I buy things with the money left over from paying for the things the job is required for.
Because that's where I am, and that's the system I am in.

It's been said if the Five Whys always either end with the person feeling validated or trapped. It's never one or the other. They either keep insisting that they are in a situation that makes them unhappy because they have to be—or they have none of those limitations but feel they are so invested in a lifestyle that leaving it would be more trouble and heartache than it is worth. So what does that leave us with? Victims of discontentment and Volunteers for discontentment.

I left my job to be self employed because my job did not fulfill me and I did not like giving up that amount of my life working for someone else's dream. I worked for a nice company, and it was filled with nice people and I can not say a bad thing about that organization. It just wasn't mine. No matter how high I climbed the corporate ladder, even if I somehow became the CEO, it was still someone elses. It was the dream of someone else, the work of someone else. Taking over the steering wheel is not the same as building the car. It took me eight years. It was worth it.

So what's the point of this long post? To realize that if you are willing to be scared, and take risks, and do something bold you can work towards the life you want. It may not be supported by the people who you have been told are the approvers of life's changes. If that is too much to bear, then you will remain stuck. But if you are willing to put yourself out there, make some sacrifices, and do the work you can have anything you damn well please in this beautiful world. Sometimes it takes money, sometimes it takes a different attitude, and sometimes it just takes guts. But money, attitude, and guts abound if you're willing to go after them. If that sounds corny, or eye-rollingly idealistic, I'm not sure what to say to you? Because it is true. I live it everyday and get emails every day from others who are doing the same. Meaningful lives are happening all around us. Better health, better relationships, better's all around us. So go get it.