Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Today is Table Top Day!

So the party starts here at 3PM an into the evening as long as the snacks, pizza, and gaming lasts. I am so excited to be hosting this and so far have RSVPs from the Daughton, Hoff, and Wesner families as well as good farm friends Tom, Melina, and Robert coming over. It'll be around 15 people playing several games and I am ready to rock and roll. Hop over to Geek & Sundry to watch their LIVE streaming of celebrity game play at noon EST. It'll be hilarious, and inspiring, and might give you some ideas for what games to add to your own collection.

Feels Like Spring!

Goat kids running around, eggs in every nook and cranny, and green grass starting to pop up at the edge of the well stream... Shucks folks, it sure feels like spring around here! I've been enjoying long and lazy chore sessions outside. My bow arm is aching to have my recurve in its happy grip. I am taking out Merlin as much as I can manage for cart rides and saddle work. It's a shame all this beauty and life has to share a month with April, the worst and most horrible month of the whole dang year. But we'll get through it together.

Turkey Feathers

These are the tail feathers I kept put outside in a pair of old boots I can't bring myself to throw out. The tail feathers are from this past Thanksgiving's turkey, who happened to be the first ever turkey I raised, got to know, and butchered entirely by myself. He was cooked up at a table of nearly a dozen people along with one of my Freedom Rangers and it was a pleasure and an honor to be the provider of the ritual sacrifice for that holiday meal. I know ritual sacrifice sounds like scary or harsh words, but that is exactly what a Thanksgiving Turkey is, a point made to me by a character on a favorite TV show of mine, Buffy TVS, from a decade ago. Anya is upset that there won't be a turkey at the dinner table.

Anya: Well, I think that's a shame. I love a ritual sacrifice.

Buffy: Not really a one of those...

Anya: To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice, with pie.

I can't help but chuckle at that, but it's true. Those tail feathers aren't compost because that animal lost its life to mark a holiday, one of great import to most folks around here. So the feathers stay as a little grave marker, something to be grateful for every time. And they sit in the first pair of mucky farm boots I ever bought, old and full of cracks. They were purchased in Idaho at the farmer's Co-op in Sandpoint and they served me in Vermont as well when I moved. Now they are a vase for the remnants of a ritual sacrifice. Life is neat.

The first Sunday in May is the annual, amazing, livestock tailgate party that is the Poultry Swap! I will be there and I'll be shopping for some turkeys for certain. Adult birds, too. Raising poults is cheaper but I can't tell you how many flocks of Bourbon Reds I started with chickens and goslings only to have them the first to become May Fox chow. And I do not pen birds here, and I won't. So I purchase a big fat Tom or Two and hope for November.

And I never mention Buffy episodes to them, ever.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Farm For The Future

Brunch Spread at Northern Spy Farm

Get Yer Season Passes here!

If you sign up for a workshop this soon, and reserve your spot via paypal before Sunday night, I will offer you an Entire YEAR, a full season pass for just a little more. Which means folks who live within a few hour's drive of the farm can come learn about Herbal first aid, how to play the fiddle, backyard livestock and more. Workshops are always being added (banjo day camp with Julie Dugan is in the works as well as a Rabbit 101 day with Livingston Brook Farm) and honestly, the company alone is worth the drive. Email me at to get the details! And if you already have a season pass, and want to take advantage of this for 2013-14 Season you can contact me as well and I'll offer you the same rate.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eustace & Turtle Island Under Fire

We're All Still A Thing

Shutting off the comments, even for just a few days now, has been such a positive experience. I still hear from you guys, but the conversation seems to be more in-depth, more useful. After posting about Ida and Earl I got an amazing email from a reader with a herd of goats about the advantages of a wether or two in a herd. She was great. I got support and understanding on Facebook, a great conversation there about taking down the comments. I also got emails with folks who are upset they are gone (even temporarily) saying they miss the community that was created. I urged her to join the CAF Facebook group and thanked her for emailing me. I understand her reasons, as I share them too.

The comments will probably come back. Right now I just really need a break from them and the moderation. In the meantime please email me if you want to chat or have a question. I will do my best to respond. Usually soon as possible if I am at my computer, and if you don't hear from me just resend your email. Like I said, persistence is what I need around here. Between editing and writing a pair of books, dairy chores, regular farm chores, web writing, workshops, emails and freelance time is rare but I will do my very very best.

P.S. That photo of me and Merlin from last summer makes me want June in the worst way...

Still Life: A Scrappy Farm

Pig Update!

Rye and Whiskey are doing well! The little girls are getting larger, and have me well trained to feed them delicious scraps and kibble several times a day. They have turned their pen into a kingdom I call Good Porkington. They have set up a dining hall, a bedroom, an outhouse, and spend a lot of time chatting with chickens and Bonita.

I like pigs. I like having them here and seeing them grow big and fat. I also like the community aspect of keeping pigs here. See, Rye and Whiskey do not just belong to me. The live animals are co-owned by a few friends who decided to buy a share of a live piglet. It's a way to make raising pigs financially possible for the farmer and brings good meat to the fellow pig owners who don't have land or time. These guys will be going to slaughter some time right after Midsummer, I guess. They will be ready for my fourth of July Barbecue! I can hardly wait!

The two Woodpile Gang chicks, who are in that weird state of mini-chickendom/post-chick have decided that stealing pig chow is easier than going out and finding their own grubs and worms. This may end deadly for the chicks, so let's hope they shape up. I'm not going to build a chicken pen or a chicken-proof pig pen either. I don't want birds on this farm stupid enough to be eaten by a pig when they could have jumped three feet in the air to hop out and escape. Might sound harsh, but I am not running a petting zoo with fifty pets. This is a working small farm and I could buy 45 new chicks for the cost of a new chicken run made from wire and lumber or 20 for the cost of reinforcing the pig pen. I'm pretty sure once the porkers learn that some of their kingdom mates are edible and start snapping at feathers those birds will learn quick it's easier to crib from the rabbits (who lack piggy verve and menu choices). I have only lost three birds in three years of pig keeping, and that's with seven pigs and over 200 chickens! So this farm is practicing a little barnyard Darwinism. My money is on the chickens.

Here's A Taste of What I'm Talking About

...Of what we'll be doing Saturday here at the farm. International Table Top Day is Saturday, with events around the world (over 2,500) and no matter where you live there is one by you. If you are new or suspect of games (I get that, I was ANTI-BOARDGAMES until this past year) trust me, this isn't monopoly or go fish. These are intense, satisfying, super cooperative, smart, and entertaining games that the show Table Top has shared with the world. I think we now have a dozen folks coming, with several games going on at once and a few prizes being given out too. So go check out an event at your local game store, bring a some drinks or a snack, and hang out here in a way you probably haven't interacted with friends and family in a while. Like, for example, saving the world from a horrible disease. Pandemic is a favorite Game Night event here. Check out the video to see what I am talking about!

And what the heck does this have to do with farming and homesteading? A lot. Because unlike computer games, television, going out to dinner, cocktail parties — this group activity involves active community, problem solving, sportsmanship and strategy. You want to be a part of a faming community, well learning how to find quick and dirty solutions and work with others is just as important a skill to a homesteader as pounding fenceposts. Also, games like this can be thrown in the backseat of a car or tucked into saddle bags and played outside, away from plugs and speakers. You can engage in such a creative way that so many of us have lost to instant-gratification of TV and movies. Now, I love TV and movies but they are no where near as fun as using all of my wits and laughter with friends, some beer, and a board of imagination and competition. And unlike a trip to the bar or a visit to the movie house, you buy a game and it is yours to play over and over. I have had so much fun with my cheaper games like Tsuro, Zombie Dice, and Gloom I feel like I owe the companies that made them royalty checks....

I think all farmers are gamers, because we all love being tested and figuring out how to make things better in our own situation. We like little victories. We like each other. And we really try to avoid zombies in our water sources. So get out there and play!

Here's my top ten list of games for beginners:
Settlers of Catan
Ticket to Ride
Zombie Dice*
Glen More
Small World

* means card or dice games under $20

Milk, Magic and Thanks

What a beautiful morning it was here, breathtaking in it's rawness. The whole farm was frozen mud and fat white snowflakes, the kind of no particular consequence, fell around me as I walked to the barn. In my hand was a milk pail and trailing behind me were the two kids and Gibson. I tried to take a few deep breaths out there, focus on what the day's purpose will be. I have a lot of work ahead of me and a check off list of errands and emails, but in that moment I tried to just think about milking and Bonita's mineral pail being refilled. The work of a farm, any farm, can overwhelm you but if you turn a to-do list into single actions done in the present moment it changes from anxiety to action. It's a magic trick.

I don't try to tell other people that my ideal life is theres, but I can say with 100proof conviction that I hope every one of you gets to walk out to a barn some day with a milk pail in your hand with a few goatlings trotting behind you in a flirting snowfall.

And hey, I want to thank you guys for helping out with the ads on this site. Last month those ads barely made a dent in the farm but thanks to your participation next month it may be a real help. So thanks for taking the time to click and support. And I hope everyone who sent in a contribution recently received my email of thanks. I am trying very hard to make more time for small gestures like that. I'll get better, I promise.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Come Over Saturday!

This coming Saturday is International Table Top Day! Across the world people will be getting together at homes, farms, colleges, game shops, community centers, parks, gyms, town halls, square dances and anywhere else people gather to play games. Cold Antler is hosting a really fun day here starting at 3PM on Saturday and going into the evening. We'll be playing a lot of games, ordering pizza, enjoying potluck goodies, and having fun. I am giving away a few games too at a raffle, so you may even leave this joint the proud owner of your own copy of Tsuro or Zombie Dice.

It's a laid back event, and you need no gaming experience to join us. This is just a fun, goofy, around the farm table kind of day playing mostly European style and co-op games. Pop in for an hour or just a game or stay for the afternoon. If you live close by and want to join in the fun email me and come on over. I just need an RSVP!

Ida and Earl

Several times throughout the day I head outside with Gibson and the kids for a stroll around the farm. I would like to say I do it because exercise and thoughtful play are important ingredients to a healthy and vibrant production animal, but the truth is seeing them plod around is just so damn adorable I squeak. With the current warm temperatures turning the snow into pools and mud, all they need is little yellow raincoats and song birds around them and you have a Disney movie. Shucks, it's muddy out there—and it seems no matter how much I wipe the quadrupeds down—little brown hoof and paw prints coat the farmhouse floor. It's a small price to pay to watch these guys grow up. Paper towels and diaper-crate liners cost very little compared to having a kid fall asleep in your arms while you watch Firefly reruns by the wood stove.

Ida is here to stay. That's her in the picture. Here we can watch her grow up, get sassy, get bred and have babies and start milking like her mother. She's Bonita's daughter and from big, hardy, alpine stock. I love that breed and I love her parents. Her father was a big boy named Little Britches from Common Sense and he was gentle and funny. Goats, unlike sheep, have so much personality they are pretty much the emoticons of the barnyard. There is no mistaking a miserable goat for a happy one for a horny one for a sick one. They wear their hearts on their fur. I like dramatic animals. We have a lot in common. Life isn't always smooth but it sure isn't boring.

I am torn about what to do with Earl. He's an extra wether (strike that, will be shortly) and while I think he is adorable he doesn't really have a place here. The only point of keeping him is as a packing or companion goat. I've been down that rode before and it didn't work out very well. My little goat Finn ended up at another farm a few years down the road because neither I nor my life was goat-ready. I don't want to repeat that mistake so I am looking for a new home for the fellow or I'll just simply have him join the winter's meat supply. Not the most adorable of stories but there are not little raincoats and songbirds in the chest freezer...

Mud is everywhere. It is full-out spring around this mountain. I had the strongest urge to harness up Merlin for a ride but the design and editing work I had indoors had to come first. I have a few logos and a new book in the works. I do work at home, and have the option of blowing off my responsibilities for some fun stuff but if you start that habit in the raw of spring it is darn hard to break for haying season when everyone's cards are on the table. So today I worked indoors, but I still made time for goat shenanigans.

Anyone who can't make time for goat shenanigans is a robot and should be melted for parts.

Farm House Cats

Boghadair and Yeti went from being mortal enemies to sharing the same bed. It's been a hoot watching them go from scrapes and claws to nuzzling naps, and I snuck up on them to snap this photo. I felt kind of dirty taking it. What two cats do in their own bedroom is none of my business. But shucks, it sure is adorable.

A Quieter Month

For the next few weeks there will not be comments on the blog. I want to see how it affects my writing, and if it makes it better or worse. I also am interested in seeing if you, the readers, like the blog's content more or less in this time. You can still email me with feedback, questions, or what have you at I do my best to reply but sometimes I can not. Persistence wins the day in any case.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Coon Eyes

Two Scenarios

Here are two scenarios of two different types of homesteaders. After reading them, consider them. I'm sharing them because I want to start a discussion here on what defines responsible preparation for a new farmer? Do you need to have your wits or your wallet in order to start farming? Do you need to take risks and accept the losses, or plan and prepare until you and your significant other and extended family are ready for a new lifestyle? These are two dramatic and vastly different scenarios, but both include passionate people who want to farm and are not ready yet.

Scenario 1:

Laura has always wanted a flock of sheep, she really has. She has spent a few weeks touring and probing around local sheep farms asking questions and helping with shearing, lambing, shots and bottle babies. She doesn't have a lot of money but she does have a library card and plenty of free time since losing her job four weeks ago. She was one of dozens laid off when her advertising firm was bought out by a larger firm. Being forced out of her day job made her reconsider what matters to her, and where her life should go next. She always wanted sheep, and decided she was going to become a shepherd. Come hell or high water, she would be spinning her own wool come next winter.

Laura doesn't have a lot of land, or any really. She's an apartment dweller in a small town. But she recently attended a LandShare meeting in her town hall, where wealthier landowners allow small farmers access to a few acres of their land in exchange for some of the farm's profit or a share of what the land produces. There Laura met a woman who runs a Bed and Breakfast a mile bike ride away from her town apartment. She has seven acres of fields and offered her four of them for a small flock of sheep. It benefitted them both, as the B&B owner gets some bucolic critters outside the window and the farmer gets use of the land. Laura has kept this woman's number in her pocket every day for three weeks.

So one day, while helping with lambing at one of the largest sheep cheese farms in the county the farm owners are so pleased with Laura they offer her the gift of five ram lambs from their herd if she wants them, but she has to take them today. She is frothing at the mouth, but her mind is reeling. These aren't the wool sheep she wanted? These are dairy males, so pretty much lamb chops. Why take these sheep if they aren't part of her mental business plan. What if she says yes and the B&B owner changes her mind? And not to mention Laura doesn't even have a single fence up or out building put together. What to do?

Laura heads home from her farm apprenticing that morning with five ram lambs with full bellies on a blanket in the back seat. of her sedan.

She gets home and sets up a puppy gate in her kitchen her trusty Labrador Rocket used to need during potty training. One by One she carries the ram lambs into the kitchen while Rocket watches, golden tail wagging at the new house guests. She calls her dog back to the very sheepy-smelling car and they leave the little ones with a bowl of water. They peel out of the driveway for the local town's farm supply store.

There Laura buys a dozen t-posts, a post pounder, and some woven wire fencing. She buys two feeder rubber bins, nipples for soda bottles, milk replacer, and some castration rings and a bander tool. The total is around $400. It's a quarter of all the money she has in her checking account. She has no savings. On the drive home she calls the B&B owner, shaking. The woman she spoke with weeks ago remembered her, and was thrilled to have sheep but not until two weekends. She was hosting a May wedding and needed the place pristine for white tents and a band stand. She could come and set up her fencing and such anytime after that. Laura and her make a date to do this, and she lets out a long sigh.

So what happens to Laura and the five sheep in her kitchen? They live together in less-than-optimal circumstances in her apartment. It's far from perfect, but temporary. Every day of their two-week-to-pasture-wait Laura prepares for the big day. She has three friends coming to help run the small fenced enclosed and found a plan to make a simple A-frame shelter out of wooden pallets. Her friend Mark offered her a morning of power tools to help cobble it together. With a shelter, fence, grass, and a backpack full of bottles at the ready she is ready to go. She is on her way, and even in her smelly kitchen a bonefied shepherd.

Zoom to three years later and that first summer of milk-born wethers is long behind her. That first crop of apartment sheep was where she cut her teeth on fencing, nutrition, electric fences, pasture rotation, and marketing. She sold two and a half of the lambs in shares to friends and family and kept half of one for herself. A whole lamb went into the B&B freezer for payment of land use. A fifth lamb died of coccidia. It was a harsh lesson learned. She got a lot of flack from the farmer who gave her the lambs for letting it die. A lot of people around the area had bad things to say about her in general. Her family and friends are supportive but the lifestyle changes having livestock inflicted have caused a lot of conflict. Her life is far from perfect, but he is happy with the slow direction of it.

Now another two seasons have passed and the little fenced paddock is still there with some slightly improved animal housing and a flock of ten wool sheep, all pregnant and expecting in a few weeks. She sells wool, lamb, and works part time at the book store in town. She's not a full time farmer yet but well on her way, and no more lambs were loss to disease or mistakes since that first rough year.

Laura is, however humble, a farmer.

Scenario 2:

Stephen has always wanted sheep, always wanted to be a shepherd. He grew up reading books about the fells and dales of England, where his parents were raised and where he still carries a bit of their accent. He's got a good job, working for himself from home as an IT consultant. He doesn't mind the computer stuff but his passion, what gets him going, is farming. He wants to slip on a driving cap, get a border collie, and walk out to his flock with a crook in his hands.

Stephen is not one to do anything without planning though. Lots of planning. He has a bookshelf full of sheep care books and manuals. He has attended all his local Ag extensions classes. He has set aside thousands of dollars for supplies and gear. His backyard, which opens up to a fifty acre property he inherited from his uncle, is already fenced. His uncle used to keep a small flock of dairy goats and then cattle, and so the fencing is well ready for sheep. It's a bit overgrown, but a small army with weed whackers and some hoes could get it looking sharp.

What's holding Stephen back is his partner, Jessica. Jessica loves him and he loves her, but she just doesn't think their life is ready for livestock or a puppy. To her it's a commitment that means weekend trips to Montreal or last-minute adventures to camp in the mountains are gone. She loves animals but doesn't want to be so tied down to a farm or a dog. She has already told Stephen this, and that if it's what he really needs to be happy they need to have a longer conversation. Stephen, who hates any sort of long, controversial, conversation that may end up giving up on his flock idea - puts this conversation off constantly. He isn't ready, right? His life isn't where it needs to be.

So instead Stephen goes to watch sheepdog trials, save for his future farm, attend workshops and classes, and add to his growing library of dusty farm books. He researches breeders and looks up pedigrees. He can spot hoof rot from a dozen yards away. He has already picked out the sire and dam of his future puppy. All his friends are tired of hearing about sheep and farming. Jessica has gown so weary of it their relationship is in its last throes.

Shoot ahead to three years down the road and Stephen still does not have his flock of sheep. Jessica and him parted ways, but all the things she and his extended family said about livestock keep him away from lambing pens. He still has paintings of old shepherds and their dogs on the walls and even flew over to Scotland to watch some of the Big Hat trials post-breakup with his girl, but has yet to fix a fence or email a puppy breeder. He's just not ready yet, the support isn't there. If he gets sheep now he'll never have the time or energy to meet a woman if he's tied down to a farm. So perfectly prepared, wealthy, with land and fences to spare he keeps putting it off. Waiting for the perfect time when he is ready.

Stephen is not a farmer yet. Maybe next year.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I Want To Write a Book About Him

Three Years Old!

Gibson recently turned three. Which means I have been at this farm three years, since it started with a little puppy, a Gibson guitar, and an orange truck. He's turned into an amazing farm dog, best friend, business partner, and cowboy. He cuddles and wrangles, keeps me warm on cold nights, and never turns down a sunny spot in the grass. I love this dog so much, and he turned out to be exactly what I needed in my life right now: consistency in a river of change.

Next Month's Book Club Pick!

The next selection in the Live Like Fiction Book Club will be James Howard Kunstler's World Made by Hand. I figured if we're going with an end of the world theme already, this would be apropos. This novel is the story of Robert Earl and the people of Union Grove, New York. It takes place about a decade or so past the age of oil, in the not too distant future. The electricity is out, the Government has collapsed, and people are living truly locally. Some of you have read this book, some have not, but if you like reading my blog and about the adventures here in Washington County you may be in for a treat with WMBH. It takes place right here, as in my very town and the towns surrounding it. You'll recognize names and places, understand the seasons and the weather. It's a familiar geography and I think a very non-fantastical approach to life in a small town post-collapse.

There are no zombies. Guns work just fine. What is so gripping to me is the way society and communities change when living as a unit becomes the normal, instead of all of us out in our own little worlds and lives. If Dies the Fire made you think about how you'd fit into that changed world, this book will make you obsess about it.

What I liked about this book was how it made me think about my own farm and neighbors all the while making me so emotionally invested in these fictional farms and neighbors. The book does have sex and violence, but don't expect any battles with swords and arrows. This is a small town story about a very large emergency, and the horse-drawn ride James takes you on makes you think, laugh, worry, and look at junk on the side of the road and wonder if you could turn it into a solar shower or ham smoker. Not many books make me wonder about that.

Like all LLF Club picks it is available in paper, eBook, and audiobook forms. And if you want an author-signed copy right from the heart of the story, Battenkill Books can happily mail you one right quick! Just click that link and call or email Connie and the gals and they'll drop a copy in the post.

I promise the next pick will have nothing to do with the end of the world. Pinky swear!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

LLF Book Club: Dies The Fire Wrap Up

So today we wrap up the first ever Live Like Fiction Book Club Pick. I chose Dies The Fire, the first in a series of books about the modern world we all live in now post-change. The Change, as it is referred to in this book is a global event, which came around 6PM on day in the late nineties, and a burst of light seared painfully in every single living beings brain and after it quickly passes the world was different. All electricity, firearms, and engines past the most basic of steam engines have stopped working. The laws of science and physics were bent to send modern people back into Bronze Age living conditions. What survives are the hardiest, smartest, or meanest factions of society living in places lucky enough to be away from large urban coastal areas. The book series is called Emberverse, since it is all about the first sparks of a new culture and people post apocalypse.

S.M. Stirling's Dies The Fire was a blast for me. It is a fantasy book, but there isn't anything fantastical about it. Not really. No one is flying on dragons or fighting vampires. The only fantasy is the flash of light that changes the world, all that follows is regular people forced to live extraordinary lives. I think that was the appeal for me.

I know this book has many flaws. Some say the religious aspect of Christianity, LDS, Wicca, and other faiths is too much. Others say it is ridiculously feminists to the point of unrealistic. Others think it takes too much from movies, or Tolkien. Others say the plot is just too predictable and so are the characters. I understand these criticisms, agree with some, but I ignore them. I adore this book and not for any reasons of literary critique. I am in it for the joyride, the adventure, the story! As a lover of all things Celtic, Pagan, Medieval, Archery, Equine, and Tolkien this was like a mash up of fantastical things being thrown into the everyday lives of very, very normal people (well, most of them). What transpires is a year of survival, battle, faith, friendship and a world going from one of history and statistics to one of legends and myths. It is pure escapism for me.

Okay, let's kick this off and start talking about it! What did you think?

P.S. Tonight at 8PM EST I will host a public Google Hangout to talk about Dies The Fire, look for me there. To find me just go to this link and click on the Dies The Fire option of on-air public events. I wish I could link to a live feed here, but I'm not sure how to do that yet. If this is a flop and it's just me on there and no one else joins for ten minutes then I'll log out and chalk it up as a loss. I'll figure it out for the next book!

Jasper Photobomb

Saturday, March 23, 2013


A Morning of Good Work

It was a day of good, necessary, work here at Cold Antler and most of it had to do with botany. My friend Tom recently bartered some firewood for new logo for his landscaping business, and we unloaded it this morning. The sun was bright and the reflection off the snow was harsh, but we squinted and laughed through the effort. Stacking wood with a friend is great fun and it didn't take long before the side of the house's little covered porch was once again loaded with good, dry, wood. This farmhouse was heated by nothing by two wood stoves this winter. It was a really good trade.

The night before I filled the truck with bales of hay. When the wood was in place the bales were smartly stacked right alongside the cord wood. Hot Dang,It was a beautiful sight. Hay and firewood (grass and trees) are the two main arteries pumping the heart of this winter farmstead. I have never in my life appreciated botany so much.

With those big chores done I offered to buy Tom (and his majestic beard) brunch at the Burger Den. We enjoyed it the way only people who stacked cord wood and hay bales really can. Every bite of pancake was bliss. And those calories were appreciated (and put to work) soon as we returned back to the farm. The gentlemen had offered to help with some chores and I wasn't going to turn another pair of hands away. We repaired the horse's fence and rewired any parts of the electric element that needed more "zip." I cleaned up the barn and set up new nesting boxes for the hens, cleaned out all the rabbit cages, and gave the goat and pigs some new bedding. By three in the afternoon I was past ready for a nap, but incredibly satisfied at the progress.

It was a little frustrating spending so much time snapping and twisting wires while Merlin and Jasper watched us. The part of my brain that still wants to play hooky just wanted to saddle up and spend the day riding instead. But keeping animals, any animal, is mostly involved with the "keeping" and not the playing. We fixed fences and wires today, in a few weeks when snow is a memory I won't have to worry about them tearing it down to eat grass on the other side of the fence. With order restored, I am excited for that day not too far ahead when a patch of sun breaks into my office window at 10AM...

And when it does, I'm shutting down my computer, grabbing a bridle, and playing hooky.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Still Winter, Just.

When I left the farm's drive, and turned down the mountain road towards town, the mountain felt as if I was trapped in a diorama called "Perfect Winter." Even the snow felt like potato flakes, too perfect to be real. Annie was riding shotgun and there's something neat about sharing a vehicle with a husky in the snow. Neat as well as ironic.

By the end of this weekend there will be bare earth and the few inches from the storm will be nostalgia. I really think this was the last performance, and within the week I'll be sporting Chacos to run into Battenkill Books or get the mail. But today it was delightful.

I'm getting a delivery of one last half-cord of firewood today and I think that'll see me right through to warm spring. I'm picking up hay tonight and tomorrow as well. There isn't enough open grass here to stop feeding the animals hay save for a few glorious summer weeks but that's okay by me. Hay is plentiful up here where the average hayfield can be anywhere from 10-50 acres or more. I live in a deciduous rain forest of rolling green hills, rain, and humid sunshine. I look forward to the power of those inland mountain thunderstorms and the little fireflies, just a few weeks away...

But today I appreciate the snow. Annie does, too.

We'll Wrap Up Dies The Fire Sunday Night!

So we're going to wrap up Dies the Fire on Sunday Night, and enjoy a conversation in the comments about our thoughts on this book. I'll make a post with my thoughts on it, and anyone who wants to leave a comment can also join right in. But I also have a bigger idea for this bookclub...

For anyone interested, I will host a live Google Hangout at 8PM EST, and it'll be public for anyone to watch or chat in. I'm looking for a few other people in the club with Google+ to join is as co-hosts and then the whole event will be open to community comments and such. If I can figure out to do this, and then save it as a file to upload onto Youtube I will be amazed (and very pleased). If anyone is a wiz with this stuff, send me an email!

comic by lit brick!

Who Out There's Taking Part?!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

No, I Love YOU More

Whimsical Agitation

Gibson was bit by a gander today, right on the nose. The shock in his eyes was one for the books! My sheepdog was not expecting retaliation from the same fat lad he'd been bossing around since he was a whelp. See, it's easy to scuttle geese about when you're a dog. Gibson's reproductive organs may be outside his body, but unlike human males who visit the farm, are not at gooses beak level. A lot of men shy from my trio of French geese but Gibson does not share their anxiety. With his testicles tucked safely behind him he gives those toothless brutes the ol' what for whenever he can. But today was a special occasion, a biting occasion. Cyrus the Toulouse was not about to let any four-legger anywhere near his lady's nest.

In the past week the egg production of this backyard farm has exploded! I went from zero eggs for months on end to nearly a half dozen a day, and now there's a nest of proto-goslings in the works. Saro is perched like a lioness on her big pile of goose eggs in the corner of the barn, eggs so big only one can fit in my hand at a time. I am letting her work on them, and if any hatch they will be for sale. I think this small farm as a three-goose maximum for sanity. So if you are looking for the most adorable goslings in the world, check back in thirty two days and see if you want to take one home. Just a head's up, Toulouse live to be around forty years old. So get your male friends some jock straps and tell your dogs to get excited. You have a lifetime of fun* ahead of you!

*by "fun" I mean whimsical agitation.

Feeling Better

It was not an enjoyable last couple of days, but it's behind me. I am finally on the mend and back to my regular life and plans. I feel tired a little out of sorts (I lost 11 pounds in four days from dehydration), but back towards normal. The farm kept me moving, and kept me from burrowing a hole into some blankets for a week, and thanks to the help of neighbors or good friends the animals stayed fed, watered, milked, and cared for. I am darn lucky to have friends that will show up with diesel and toilet paper...

Today is a big day, with a morning of freelance design work, an afternoon at the post office, and then sitting down to work on my new book for a big chunk of time. By evening chores I'll have a visit from the entire Daughton Clan. They are coming to take home Francis and one of Bonita's kids. I am going from five goats to three, and while that sounds like a decrease it isn't. It's an increase in sanity and realistic expectations of me as one person doing thirty jobs. Two milk goats is absolutely manageable, but not ideal. For me one milk goat is more than enough. So Francis has a new home along with Dorian, who is being renamed Nacho. I decided to keep Bonita's Daughter so I always have a doe from that line in my herd. I adore Bonita. She's sweet, trained to milk like a pro, has great babies without fuss, and produces a gallon of milk a day here. Me, the kids, the pigs, and everyone else who drinks it is thrilled with her. I still have one kid I may keep or sell, a little buckling. If anyone is interested let me know?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Spring Equinox is Tomorrow...

Advice Taken

I read all your comments and emails about allowing those who offered to help with the farm while I'm sick. Last night I took up Patty's offer to help with chores, and not only did she pull into my driveway at dinnertime with her willing self, but with a truckload of hay! Together we stacked a few bales, fed, watered, milked and fussed with the animals. Having another set of hands made the work go twice as fast. I can't thank her enough. After she left I collapsed on the day bed to some Viking documentary and tried to sleep.

Here in Washington County we're in the middle of a snow storm. Morning chores went slow but all got done. The two goats produced a gallon of milk this morning and it was strained and in the fridge by 9AM. I had two big cheesecloths of hanging chevre in the kitchen but decided to give them to the pigs. They were probably fine to eat, but I wouln't want to offer someone soft cheese that was open to the air of a very ill person's house. The pigs dove in like it was Thanksgiving dinner. If anyone is happy here it is those girls in the barn.

I'm typing on the kitchen eMac while three goat kids play and romp about. Earl is all better, the twins are working on their spinning kicks. Annie is barely tolerating them. Gibson is in heaven. To have livestock to boss around right in his living room is the bee's knees. It doesn't feel like a sick person's house anymore. It feels very much alive and thriving.

So, yes, I am feeling a little better, and I think this morning's hot shower and bottle of fizzy soda are the main reason. That and knowing the worst of it is over. Last night I couldn't sleep and spent most of my upright time walking to the bathroom between cold/hot sweats. But this morning I feel less... explosive. I even made a trip into town. I plan on getting back to work on some editing and freelance today as well. It feels good just to be showered with a plan. The last 48 hours have been rough but I think I'll be back to my normal self in a day or two.

P.S. I know I don't have any control over the pay-per-click ads but has anyone else seen the one about Thai girls looking for marriage?! Yikes.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sick Kid, Sick Woman, Storm on the Way!

Earl is doing so much better. The two days of Propen, some yogurt, and plenty of warm sleep has him more active and bright eyed. He is still on his heating pad bed in the living room but he gets up and off it to use the bathroom and now walks over to me to bleat for milk. This is so encouraging because two nights ago he just stood like a zombie by the stove and had no interest in playing or jumping about (not normal for a week-old goat). Now he is up and at it, on his way to recovery. I thank everyone on Facebook, email, and here on the blog whose advice and comments helped out. So much.

In other news, I am sick. Really sick. The kind of once-every-three years sick that has you shaking under covers, freebasing gatorade and out of breath from walking across the room. It hit me last night, and it hit fast. I came home from a mile jog feeling amazing, did my evening chores, came inside to dinner and a bottle of hard cider and then promptly threw it all up. After that it was like someone flipped a health switch. I went cold, needed a leash to the bathroom, and felt like a truck sideswiped my sternum. So I'm laying low, sleeping as much as possible between chores, and checking the weather like an obsessive compulsive. Because, dear friends, a storm is on the way

Last week it was sunny, warming up, muddy and fifty degrees. This morning during milking it was ten degrees in the barn. Weather reports are calling for a humble snowfall of around five inches, just enough to demand vigilance. Anything over three inches mean roofs must be raked and paths shoveled. And I'm not complaining or in need of any sort of pity, I find all this invigorating! To be down and out and change gears to still take care of a place is a road to wellness in itself. I like that when I get down the farm keeps going, not allowing any sort of rest. This place is bigger than me and needs me even when I am a little scruffier than usual. It makes me feel needed, and that makes me feel better. A sick girl with a mission is a girl on the mend!

So I keep at it, just slower. I am prepared with enough firewood and such to stay warm and rest up. I am not overwhelmed by the farm(I just do chores all day, and slower, instead of two power sessions morning and night). I feel okay about it. I had several friends call or offer help with chores: folks from Saratoga, Massachusetts, and just up the road! That kind of community makes me feel so much better in itself. But, honestly, I think I have it under control. But it sure felt good to get those offers in the first place. If this was food poisoning like back in 2010 I would be laying rose petals at their feet. I'm just down with the everyday flu or Noroviris. Some tea, rest, slower work days, and lots of sleep will set me right.

So snow is on the way, probably the last hurrah of winter before peas go into the ground and lambs start hopping down the hillside. I'm grateful to be forced inside with books and a tea for the big show. I'll go out and do chores here and there, no creature will go without food or water or a proper place to bed down for the storm. I'll be with Gibson, who has my back in every sense. I love that dog and need him more than I ever realized. He never became the trial champion I had originally planned for, instead he became a farm manager and best friend. And last night when four quilts wasn't enough to stop the shaking his warmth next to me under the covers was.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Patient

Today is a scary one. This little guy has recently (and suddenly) fell ill. He has an infection of his navel. I do not know how or why it happened. When the kids were born they were all brought inside, towel dried, and their navels dipped in iodine to prevent this very thing. Two kids are in the pink of health and this guy is not. Son as he started to act slower and less playful than the other kids I checked him over and discovered a sore belly button. It looked like where the cord met the body it was infected, pussy and swelling. I called my goat expert, wrapped him in a towel, and was driven by my good friend Tom to Common Sense Farm where Yeshiva went over symptoms and treatment. We decided to put him on a regime of antibiotics for the infection, clean and irrigate the pussy stub of a navel cord, keep him warm and clean, pray, and watch for signs of white muscle disease or floppy kid syndrome. If anyone has experience with such infections, please share your own advice or ideas. I'm worried I'll lose him. I have big plans for little Earl.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Art of Asking

Friday, March 15, 2013

Starting From Scratch

It was last March, just around this time, that I was learning how to be a decent partner to this magical animal. Merlin spent the first few months of our relationship at Riding Right Farm in south Cambridge. I loved having him there and I loved the instruction and people I was lucky enough to encounter there. It was such a necessary step. Being fairly new to the world of horses (I still consider myself brand new) I was timid, actually, I was terrified of being hurt. To have a safe and encouraging environment with solid footing and rules was exactly what I needed.

Both of us were starting from scratch. My entire career as a riding student was only in English and only up to the most basic of beginner levels. I started in college, just one lesson a week and the occasional show in the novice class. I didn't jump fences or rails, I walked and trotted other people's horses in circles. Then after years out of the saddle I started again at Riding Right as a student, and still a beginner. I learned so much about seat, confidence, hands, bits, and fitting tack proper. The lessons were invaluable. And I will never forget the summer day Hollie told me our lesson would be a trail ride together through hay fields at sunset. I was on a 14 hand Haflinger, and I think it was that ride that had me falling in love with smaller drafts.

I left my corporate job at Orvis four months later, for a lot of reasons. If it wasn't for this horse and what he showed me I could be, I'm not sure I could believe it was possible. He was and is a dream come true. He has done so much for me, and asks for so little in return. The time I spend with him is without measure, somehow horse sweat and forest paths have the ability to freeze the world in place, making summers last decades. I want another summer of trail rides and visits to friends farm on horseback or in our little red cart, but we are starting from scratch again. We both need to work up our bodies, trust, and partnership after a winter mostly out of practice.

I look forward to every lesson, even if they now happen on my winding road or a neighbors' field. I'm out of the arena and the land of velvet helmets but not ungrateful for them. If it wasn't for Riding Right I would not be the rider I am learning to become.

The Woodpile Gang

Do you remember the chicks I found behind the woodpile in the depth of our deep freeze up here? I'm happy to say they both grew up strong and fast and are outside chickens now! They still hang around mama a bit, but they spend most of their time in the goat pen, roosting on the milking stand and talking to Bonita about how great wings are (I'm guessing?!). It is nice seeing their little selves running around the barn. Makes this place feel like spring.


Thursday, March 14, 2013


The Goat Life

As soon as cats and dogs are sated from their own particular morning-time urgencies, I am heading to the goat pen with milk pails, gear, and grain. With two goats I have a system. I start milking Francis first, and since she is in training to be a proper milk goat I like giving her my attention first. I snap a leash to Bonita's collar and let her wait outside the barn with I lead Franny to her station. Fran's tail is wagging, she LOVES grain. She happily lets me slip a rope through her collar to secure her in place while I get to work washing udders and squeezing out milk.

Francis is a darling. She lets me milk her into a little saucepan (she is too short for the big 2-liter stainless steel milk pail I use with Bonita). She chomps into her sweetfeed and I milk out her little teats. After a while she starts to lift a back leg in protest and I say "Foot" with authority and place it back on the ground. After a few days she stopped all kicking. So far she's turning out to be a little rockstar of a goat. She gave birth to a beautiful boy all by herself, she lets me milk her from day one, and she doesn't kick or bite when the going gets tough. It makes me a little sad that I decided to sell her…

Yup. I'm going to sell Francis. She's a purebred Oberhasli, with papers and everything, and she is a proven mother and milker. The reason for the sale is simple: I just want larger goats around here. She is somewhere between the size of a large Nigerian Dwarf and a small Nubian, maybe 80 pounds? I like big goats that offer A LOT of milk, so she just doesn't match the size standards I have in my head. her quart-a-day is nice, but not enough to satisfy my milk needs. I think I will keep Ida, raise her up, and make her the next goat friend for Bonita. I'll sell Francis with her kid to a new homesteader looking for a good backyard goat for cheese and soap.

If interested email me, or message me on the Facebook thing. Asking $200.

When Francis has been milked out I wash her udder with the warm soapy water and cloth I bring outside with me, and then place some pink udder cream on her teats. I don't want her to crack or get sore from this new attention. The whole thing takes about ten to fifteen minutes, a lot of time but since she is new to this I cut her some slack. I walk her out of the barn by the collar and trade spots with Bonita. Now Francis is tied out watching the Big Show inside while Bonita gets to work.

Bonita has been a working dairy goat for over five years. She just turned six and has had four kidding seasons (this one included). She literally dances into the barn, a tango with herself (such a fine goat does not need a partner) and hops up into the stanchion without being asked. I clamp in her neck, fill her trough with grain and a mineral seasoning and she starts chomping while I wash the udders and check her bag for heat or lumps. She is, as always, perfect downtown.

I milk Bonita in five minutes flat. My pail is now heavy, and almost full. I guess that 3/4ths of a gallon is in that pail and when all is said and done I kiss her goat forehead and place the metal lid on the milk pail. (An aside, if there was one investment worth making it was this stainless steel, 2-liter milk canister from Lehman's. It has a tight lid and holds two goats worth of milk and it keeps it from spilling over or hay or dirt getting in. I adore it) I love Bonita, I really do. I think keeping her girl Ida is just an act of hope that I will get to have another girl of her line after she is gone. I am a total goat-romantic when it comes to legacy. I sing to my goats, a song in Gaelic I am learning about a dark-haired woman and her famous wedding. I collect my leash and towels, tubes of cream and the empty feeders and hop the fence to grab them some hay. I always feed hay after milking. It keeps the girls standing and off the ground while their valves close up in their teats. A just-milked goat who plops down in bedding straw could get Loki-knows-what up her tubes while they are still open. It takes twenty minutes for system shut off. My gals enjoy the salad bar while they whir to a halt.

I take the milk pail and such inside and set all washables in the sink and the big pail on the counter. Boghadair knows this canister and starts rubbing his head on it. I am grateful for the 30th time it has a tight lid. I run back outside with Gibson, literally run, because I did it! I got nearly a gallon of milk from half an hours work! I run around the yard with Gibson to celebrate. I open my arms and he jumps up into them and I feel like we have our own version of a touchdown, end zone dance. Merlin is watching this, totally unimpressed. He hollers at us in his deep, British, voice and Jasper just stares alert as a buck in a field. His little white splotched body all taunt with prick ears and wide eyes. I get to the work of morning feeding and soon every heckling sheep, chicken, rabbit, goose, horse, and pig has nothing to say to me but crunch, chomp, griiiiind, crunch, chooommmp, swallow, repeat. With everyone outside content I am finally free to see to the funnest job of the morning. KID TIME!

I let the kids out of the big dog crate and they pile out. Before they can even think about peeing on my floor I scoop them up and take all three outside with Nanny Gibson to keep an eye on them while I return for their bottles. When I come outside I can see all of them jumping and tumbling, Gibson frantic to restore some sort of order. I sit on the front step and feet the three little ones their 8 oz breakfast of warm goats milk. They swill and suck and finish the bottles in short order. I let them run it through their systems and relieve themselves again before coming back inside.

Inside the house there is a baby gate (technically a puppy gate) that keeps all the hoofed beasties out of the carpeted dining room. Annie and Gibson eat their breakfast on the carpet side while the little ones run around (and I mean run!) the living room and kitchen, jumping and carrying on like every motion requires the skill and verve of a Ringmaster. To a kid, every step is a circus and every day they are masters of their own ceremonies. They know I am the milk mama, the only one who has ever fed them, and so where I go they follow. I walk into the living room and they burst into a run behind me. I walk back to the kitchen and they trot right behind to the bright lights. It is endearing as all get out.

I have plenty of milk in reserve for feeding the babies in the fridge so I decide this morning to do something special. I am going to make my first Chèvre of the season! I set a big stainless brewing kettle on top of the oven and pour the strained milk into the low heated metal. I stir it with a metal spoon, letting the temperature of the low burner heat up everything to about 90 degrees. When I feel this warm milk to the touch, I add a packet of Chèvre culture from my fridge and mix it in as I turn off the heat. I set the lid on top and let it rest. The fact that the little ones who made this cheese making possible are trotting around my feet only makes the process feel even better. This cheese isn't just good food, it is a celebration of a successful kidding season! I might even go to the hardware store and get those fancy, squat, ball jars to store it in. Stuff this special deserves a presentation of note, right?

By the time I am ready for bed the cultures will have separated the curds from the weigh. before I call it a night I will pour it into cheesecloth, lightly salt it and add a few herbs, and then hang it to drip over the sink in cloth. By morning I will have a perfect cheese. It will slide across bagels, make crackers sing, and be the perfect topping for salads or pizza. To those of you not fans of "goaty" flavors, I get it. I'm not either. This cheese is mild and smooth. Think cream cheese but fluffier. It will win you over.

The day is just getting started. I feel like I have so much to offer it still. It's colder and cloudier than yesterday but I want to get on my horse and ride. We saddled up for the first time in weeks yesterday and it was bliss. Okay, it was a stubborn out-of-shape pony and a mental wrestling match but I am happier on his back than anywhere else in the world. To feel him under me, moving across the landscape of my mountain road with confidence. I now lack the fear I had off him last spring. Knowing that was a quiet thrill. He was bad, or rather out of practice. Merlin didn't want to trot away from home and he wanted to spring home to quit, but we worked through it. I now know what a crow hop is compared to a buck, and I know when he is being bitchy or dangerous. I have seen both. But today was just a barn sour brat who needed to be reminded that the girl on his back is a thousand times more hard headed and stubborn than he could ever dream to be. And by the end of the short ride he was starting to understand this wasn't my first rodeo anymore. We trotted down the road and turned around to walk back to his hitching post calmly.

Bring on bright spring. I got cheese, kids, a pony and a hoe waiting for my hungry hands. There are snap pea sprouts in the house and eggs in the fridge from the newly-laying hens. I have piglets growing strong, goats for sale, and big plans for a hawk and a garden. I'm excited as hell for this spring, darn near shaking from it. And it is mornings like this that keep me going.

Demons, Dog Shit, & Grace Before Coffee

Yeti woke me up. The once shy Maine Coon has found his place here at the farm, and this morning his place was rubbing his snuffly face in mine while he purred me awake. He had slept beside Gibson and I all night, helping keep me warm in the chilly upstairs bedroom. It's chilly by choice, mind you. Once these days get over forty degrees and the snow starts to melt I sleep with windows open and lots of covers. I love the heat of that blessed cocoon, skin against sheets. And I love the cold room, and the smells and sounds of a farm waking up just outside. Give me chicken wire over glass anyway. Humans are not meant to live in terrariums.

Soon Boghadair joined in, and two cats were crawling over the now rumbling Border Collie. I finally give in and get up and feed them. I like my cats but they fall somewhere in rank of favoritism between the best sheep and the rabbits. I share my home with them because they eat and catch rats and mice and because I have low self esteem. This is proven by the fact that I wake up and walk downstairs and before a regal dog is let outside to pee or I dare start my morning coffee, the cats are fed. What can I say? I'm a sucker for flattery, even when I know I'm being used. Cats are demonic, but I haven't seen a drop of mice turd or flash of rat tail in months.

With the yowlers fed I take the dogs out for a brisk walk. They putter and piss and I walk alongside them in my morning uniform. I have on milk-and-mud-stained canvas pants. An old, wool sweater, and a hand-knit hat. I look up at the hillside notice the thick clouds of fog rolling up and down past the sheep. It is magical enough to give me pause, and remind me to go through the things I am grateful for that morning.

I find that if I don't take a minute to be thankful before the work of the day starts, it is always a bad day. You can't expect anything from the day without a foundation of grace, however scrappy. So I say my morning prayers while the dogs scamp and growl. Anyone driving by would see a bundled up woman with uncombed hair staring at a hillside while dogs wrestle at her feet. They don't need to know my secrets. Inside I am on fire from the lack of want. As if all the things I stayed up the night before worrying about were doused with lighter fluid in a big copper kettle and set aflame. All that is left is a ringing sound, a singing bowl. This is what gratitude can offer before breakfast. Even if you're stepping in dog shit.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Photos From Fiddlers' Rendezvous!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Truth About Dairy Goats

I have been getting a lot of comments and emails from folks asking why the little ones are away from their mother and bottle feeding. While Yeshiva was here with me, checking on Francis and helping me getting her used to being milked I asked her how she explained to people about this same quandary. How do you explain the necessity of what appears to be such a harsh act?

Yeshiva, who has more grace than I can ever wish to achieve, stated this perfectly. With a smile she answered that keeping the kids with their mother, while seemingly more natural, actually works against domestication. What we all want is a happy goat that runs to meet us in the barn, right? Well that only happens because from the moment they first met the world it was us humans that fed them, cared for them, and kept them warm. Unlike sheep or horses, a goat's job isn't to be ridden or make lamb chops. Her job (at least on this farm) is to be milked so I can drink it, make cheese, and cure bar after bar of soap.

A dairy animal of any specie gives birth to create that beautiful natural creation process we call lactation. I don't have Bonita and Francis to be pets, they are here for the milk! And their offspring is just a part of the process of getting to that milk. I could leave the little ones with their mothers, but the truth is that they would need to be separated from their mothers within a week. Why let them bond and them take them away from each other? It only causes added stress for both the offspring and the mother. I want blissfully ignorant dairy mama's on my stanchions. Goats that were raised by people, that trust people, and who associate me with grain and that sweet relief of milking to reduce those painful swollen udders...

Some farms let the babies with the mothers for a few days, I do not. It's a choice I made based on what I have studied, seen, and what mentors and memoirs have taught me. Remember that every single animal on this farm is here to do work, not to be a pet or a fantasy creature. I will sell the kids soon as possible to folks who want to raise up sweet kids of their own for the same purpose. Or perhaps someone who wants a little wether to back their backcountry gear or pull the milk cart? I have ponies for that job around here! So the kids are here as a blessing of a few days and then off to start their lives on other farms. The mother gets milked and the whole dance gets repeated next year.

Do other goat milkers out there do things the same way as me?

Francis Did It!!

I am writing with absolute pride right now in my little goat. Francis, the practically Nigerian Dwarf sized Oberhasli gave birth to a big, seven-pound, baby boy all by herself! I ran out on an appointment this morning and came home to a beautiful, clean, bleating boy in the hay. He needs a name, and the theme this year is fiddles so suggestions are welcome! Things like Rosin, Flameback, and Catgut come to mind! He's in the living room with Gibson, who has taken over as goat nanny. Annie is sleeping in the truck while I get everything figured out. She isn't aggressive, but plays rougher than Gibson who is gentle as can be with the little ones.

And just an aside, when the birth was over little Francis let me milk her without a single kick or fuss. Yeshiva was there and couldn't believe her eyes. She said she never saw a first-ever milking go so smooth. Way to go Francis!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is This What She Meant By Rendezvous?!

Fiddler's Rendezvous was going along just fine when my cell phone rang on the chair next to my fiddle case. We had just started a conversation about how to shuffle notes and were taking turns going around our circle of chairs when I lurched for the phone. It was Patty, in big letters, vibrating across the cheap upholstery. I put up my hand and smiled, everyone knew what the call was about….

"Bonita's in Labor! I see feet!"

Patty was on the second shift of drive-by goat monitors I had lined up for the day. The workshop was originality planned a good month before goat births were due, but the snowstorm that nailed the Northeast had us moving the date to whatever worked for the bulk of the students and the staff at Hubbard Hall. March 9th and 10th it was, and so I would be away for the bulk of two days with red circles drawn around them on the calendar. So I got friends to stop by and check on them. Yeshiva was there in the morning while I was teaching people the D scale. And I ran home at lunch. When I was there, just a few hours earlier Bonita was walking around, eating hay, and nickering like it was any day of the week. She showed no sign of being in early stages of actual pushing-hard labor. I knew if I didn't hear from them nothing was happening with the girls. But if a phone rang….

"I see feet! Front hooves and a nose! Here comes the head!!!"

My heart was racing. My head was pounding. I had seven fiddle students hanging on my every response and another hour of practice time left in the camp day. I wanted to be there but knew I couldn't. I was three miles away and the middle of a lesson. I called Yeshiva and told her about the birth and she said she wasn't worried about Bonita, just little Francis, and congratulations in her sweet, forever calm voice. Yeshiva was an Old Hat at this. I felt a lot more like Patty, all exclamation points and fuss and happy. So I hung up the phone, looked at my seven students, and asked point blank. "Who wants to go see a baby goat being born?"

We were at the farm in under ten minutes.

I ran inside to get the milk pail, towels, and baby bottle and then ran back towards the barn. Eight of us total stormed the joint, and Patty looked up smiling. At her feet was a beautiful little baby girl, still wet from birth but breathing and cleaned up from hay and Patty's attention. The farmer had delivered her, pulling her out gently while Bonita pushed. I hugged Patty and thanked her and wrapped the baby up in the towel to keep her warm. There were coos and pictures from the fiddlers and before long Bonita broke out into more cries and another water sack burst from her rear end....

This time Patty put up with my panic and excitement and terse words (I get bitchy when I get worried, sorry Patty, I love ya) but I pulled out the second little one and it was a big, healthy boy. It was a flurry of people and happy cries and little babies still warm from their mother, taking first wobbly steps and bleating for attention. Bonita licked and cooed, I hugged and smiled, and the Fiddlers didn't seem to mind having to start the next day an hour early...

When all was well and done I milked out a quart of Bonita's thick eggnog style colostrum and poured it into a little baby bottle I bought at Rite Aid. The little ones didn't know to suck yet, so instead of first meals we brought the babies inside the farm house. At this point and all Bedlam broke out. Nine people were in the house when Boghadair ran past everyone with a mouse in his jaws. Annie escaped and ran outside, people somehow caught her. Sheep were baaing at the ruckus. Merlin was yelling for hay. And in all this happy chaos the little babies got their cords cut and new belly buttons dipped in iodine. People patted backs and helped carry towels and milk pails and buckets. It was nuts. I was so happy.

It takes a village, it really does.

So now there are two healthy, perfect, amazing little baby goats asleep on an adult-diaper bed liner in a got crate in a living room with a wood stove. Every four hours they get a yummy meal. It's a pleasure having them here, and somehow it feels totally natural. Like they are end tables that always complimented the room. This is my life, and how I live it. Some folks search for the perfect coffee table book. I just accessorize with things that gnaw on coffee table books.

We named them Ida and Dorian, in honor of the fiddlers. I love that.

Ida & Dorian

Saturday, March 9, 2013


Friday, March 8, 2013

Fiddler's Come Here!

All of you folks who are coming to Fiddler's Rendezvous tomorrow, this is where we will be camping out! The Freight Depot is a greenish building behind Hubbard Hall and Battenkill Books. It is easy to find, just park in the lot behind Main street. Doors officially open at 10 AM but feel free to come a little early and help set up! See you tomorrow!


A storm came through last night, dropping 4-6 inches of snow on pony and hillside alike. I had gone to sleep sometime around 1 AM and woke up close to 5 and I don't think I was awakes more than few moments before I was dressed and outside with the goats. I thought for certain this storm would bring in at least one bout of labor, but it hasn't. Still no kids...

We are in that wild March dance right now. We tango with half a foot of snow one day, and by tomorrow evening it will be gone and nearly fifty degrees with the sun shining. I am, in all honesty, frantic right now and this weather isn't helping. With a big Two-Day workshop starting tomorrow morning downtown, two goats about to burst, Two manuscripts, and a farm to keep going on a shoestring....I am a little frazzled. There just isn't any time or room to stop and take a breath. And that isn't a complaint, it's just how things are!

I have a lot of errands and meetings today, things to coordinate and such. I have a Farm Family Insurance agent coming to evaluate the place. My current home insurance is being revoked in April. Their reason? "Farming on Insured Property" So some of you folks with a few sheep, horses, or chickens might want to check with your current insurance agents that you are still covered. Allstate has now dropped me in all forms of insurance. I got in two accidents last winter (slid on ice) so they told me they would no longer cover me, and now I have been caught Sheep-handed and my crook is the smoking gun. That's okay though. The folks at Farm Family are used to people like me, it's all they do. I just hope I can manage the new premium, hoping it is less that my current. Anyone have experience with these guys?

I just reread this and I sound like a crazy person. I promise more focus when my life exhales a bit!

International Tabletop Day!

If you read this blog you know about our weekly Game Night. And you know how much I love the people over at Geek & Sundry, who inspired this winter's cabin fever free lifestyle. Having friends come over for Gloom, Dixit, Tsuro and such has been a highlight in an otherwise super stressful spring. When I saw they were going to host an International Game Night I had to sign CAF up. Here from 3PM-6Pm there will be all agricultural based games going on like Glen More, Agricola, and Settlers of Catan! We'll sit inside and play with our board game farms in a totally thematic and awesome afternoon of pizza an meeples. All this with goat kids in a pen the next room over and ponies outside heckling us to come feed them carrots! Beat that!

If you can't make it to CAF, that's cool. How about you host a game night or go to one to see what this crazy lady keep talking about, go to this website, and sign up!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Live Like Fiction Book Club! Checking in!

So we'll wrap up Dies the Fire on March 21st, and have a big discussion then. But since we are halfway through the reading period I thought I'd check in. I'm curious to know how many of you are listening the audiobook (which I recommend!) and how many are enjoying some old fashioned library book time?

I chose this book to start out this Fantasy/Historical fiction book club because I think it is a genius approach to the genre. It's technically Science Fiction, since the event that happens is work of Nature (far as we know) and it is the people in the surviving groups like the Bearkillers, Mackenzies, and PPA that add any sense of fantasy to the story. Which is really the heart of this book, and why I like it. There aren't any dragons or balls of fire being shot out of witches hands. The "fantasy" elements of armor and witchcraft are mundane and practical. The monsters aren't dragons but cannibal bands and escaped zoo animals. This is a very different, but very much the same world as we live in right now.

Folks who know me well, or even been reading a while should understand why I loved this story. And really, to me its just that, a fun story. I am not interested in anything but a fun ride when I sit down with Juniper and Mike and Arminger. But even as a source of entertainment in a messed up fictional reality: it was this book that made me fall in love with archery and re-join the SCA after a ten-year hiatus. It was this book that inspired me to work harder with Merlin, be brave in the saddle, and stand out in the cold rain for target practice with my first bow.

Some folks are drawn to the post-apocalype theme and the prepping. Some are drawn to the farming, rebirth of myth, and religion (that's my favorite aspect of the book) and others just like a good old fashioned sword fight! I am curious of your thoughts (good and bad!) now that we are at the halfway point!

P.S. Elizabeth of the Berkshires was the one who told me Juniper Mackenzie was inspired by a real life singer, songwriter named Heather Alexander and much of her music is in the book. She is now James Alexander. Life's a ride.

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