Friday, May 31, 2013

My Favorite Sound

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Prepping Workshop IS NOT TOMORROW!

too many folks couldn't make it last minute, just one of those things. It will be rescheduled for when Kathy and I can get it together and in the meantime I'll post an interview with her on her amazing town and how different it is than so many others. It will blow your mind.

Goats and Soap is starting at 10AM Sunday! Get Pumped!

And Here I am at Breakfast...

I was the only one awake in the farmhouse. Or rather, I was the only human awake. There were two hungry cats with me in the kitchen ravaging their kibble bowls and two dew-soaked romping dogs in the living room, refreshed from their morning walk. Just behind the kitchen in my mudroom chirped two dozen month-old chicks in their comfortable brooder. So to revise, I was one of over twenty-nine awake animals inside the farmhouse. And if that sounds crowded I assure you it isn’t. The little chicks are feathering out but still small enough to fit inside the palm of your hand. They are all inside on this late May morning because of a frost warning, and their outdoor pens might have been on the chilly side for any birds not lucky enough to be in the center of their slumber dogpile. So before bed I walked outside with a flashlight and scooped up chicks and carried them inside to a warm brooder with clean pine shavings and a heat lamp. Now as the morning sun was washing over the chilled grass I knew they were ready to get back outside. But before any chick was to receive taxi service I was going to get my guests some decent breakfast.

The remaining trio of animals in the house were still asleep upstairs in the guest bedroom. My old college friend Sara sent me an email out of the blue a few weeks earlier, asking if her and her husband and their ten-month-old daughter Juniper could visit for a few days while on a road trip to New Hampshire. I had not seen her in years, and only kept up with her through a few rushed emails and Facebook, but it had more to do with busy lives than any poor intentions. She was a new mother and wife to a first-year resident doctor in the Philadelphia Suburbs. I was happy to let them sleep in, excited about it even. I wanted them to wake up well rested and content, and when they descended the stairs I wanted them to smell percolating coffee, sizzling bacon, and scrambled eggs ready for them to enjoy.

I had turned on a little music, the volume low enough so only the downstairs crew would enjoy it. I was cracking eggs into a bowl and whisking it into a yellow froth with some fresh goats milk. On the range there was a large pan of bacon smacking and dancing with pops of fat. There’s a pile of kale next to me, bursting from the bag is was transported here in. It made the brave, three-mile trek from Common Sense Farm’s fields along with some head lettuce and leeks. These vegetables were very dear to us because all four of us humans (baby too!) were out in the field helping with a community harvest of leaks and kale the night before. Tim spent his time cutting kale and piling it into large bins and Sara, Juniper, and I were assigned to the leek station. There we used a shovel to loose the soil and dig up the big leeks and then someone else pulled it from the earth and shook the soil off its roots. All the unearthed leeks were set on a grassy strip of pathway and children and the elderly gathered them to be set into large bins for washing and presentation. Once cleaned of all dirt the leeks had their long roots trimmed to a sharp buzzcut and their long leaves cut down into a fantail of prongs. What started as a dirty plant on a patch of grass now looked ready for a Green Market’s photographer’s display. The time went fast in those fields, telling stories and catching up with friends. And now looking at the perfect vegetables this morning I know both my guests and myself will know how special breakfast really is. They were a part of the process of taking it from ground to table. These precious vegetables were a thank you gift for our time with the community. The eggs came from my mixed flock of hens. The bacon was from my winter pigs. And while I have grown used to eating food I know this intimately it never stops amazing me that it can happen. I grew up with supermarkets and meat in Styrofoam packages. Bread came in plastic bag tubes with words like “wonder” on it. Every time I think of that I laugh because back then it was just a word printed on a label. Now when I pull a loaf of bread out of my oven wonder is exactly how I feel.

Sara came downstairs as the bacon was just being moved from pan to plate. Shortly after her arrival Tim and Juniper joined us. The babe was all smiles and clapping hands, lighting up the farmhouse the way only a baby could! I handed out mugs and we enjoyed cups of dark coffee from the stovetop percolator. Sara asked what she could do to help, seeing I was already getting breakfast underway. I handed her a chef’s knife and a cutting board and she started showing the Kale and leeks who was boss. Soon I had the savory chopped rounds of leeks dancing in the bottom of a pan of oil, a big wok that was a hand me down from my friends Jimmy and Wendy. When the leeks were soft and browning a bit I added a bit of salt and then the rest of the chopped kale. It filled the wok! With a little oil and heat it quickly softened into sweltering pieces, glistening with oil and the dark green goodness of the fresh greens forced into heat and flavor filled my nostrils. The big bowl of eggs and milk were poured over top and a messy/beautiful scramble of eggs and greens became a melody. If some meals are symphonies, this was a folk song sang in rounds along a forest trail.

I scooped big portions into bowls and a bit of grated cheese was sprinkled on top. All that with a crisp side of bacon or puled onto a sandwich bun made for a breakfast not long forgotten. The sun was out and from the kitchen window we could see the horses eating their breakfast and the twin newborn lambs asleep in a pile on the hillside while their mother ate nearby.

This is Heaven. Was all I could think, between bites of the blessed meal. This is Heaven and a sinner made it through effort and will. I took another bite and chewed it too long and too slow. I wanted every little piece of it to become instant nostalgia. I waned to savor in ways people no longer savor. I had just made the phone call to my bank the day before, setting up a mortgage payment. I was now the proud owner of the title “30 Days Late” on her mortgage instead of 60 Days Late. It was a tough winter and I got behind on bills and as summer grew hotter a new frugality was my reality. I am crawling out of it best I can and while I’m not happy to still be behind in my debts I am happy to be making progress. There are plenty of people not making the monthly bills with office jobs intact. I am just grateful to be broke and surrounded by beauty and a dream slowly coming true. I’ll take 30 Days Late.

I told Sara yesterday, on a 2 mile horse cart ride with Merlin, that if I won the lottery or came into any amount of money I would work harder than I ever had in my life. I would pay off my debts, buy a larger plot of land, and teach people how to farm and raise their own food. I’d make music and old words and old songs come back to life like the old times. I would make my farm a place where you could go back in time and be surrounded by people who wanted to be there with you and I would grow good food for anyone who wanted it for free. I could wrangle volunteers to take it to the inner city where good veggies are harder to come by. I’d offer it to food banks, or anyone who wanted to drive up and take some. When money isn’t be exchanged I bet it is easier to give the gift of meals like I was experiencing. That is what I would do. I said this with certainty as the silver bell of Celtic knot work rang on Merlin’s harness. Living for yourself is goof. Living for yourself and feeling free is great. Living for others is better.

It may sound idealistic and silly, but that’s what I want. That’s the dream. Right now the reality of bills and obligations don’t let me give away workshops and shares of pigs or chickens but someday it will. Someday. And regardless, it is something noble to work towards. At least I feel it is, and to have a goal that makes other people’s lives better makes me feel better about people I have hurt, or things that have gone wrong. We all make mistakes and I don’t want to forget mine. I just want to balance the cosmic scales of action and consequence how I can.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this as Merlin took us along the mountain rode home. We passed a woman in her sixties with a shovel trying to re-route some drainage paths. It felt wrong that two women in their thirties gallivanting down a road in a pony cart when someone in their sixties was shoveling rocks. I slowed the horse cart to a stop and asked if she wanted help, now or later? It was easy to tie off Merlin to a tree in their driveway and he would appreciate the break in the shade. The woman thanked us but said she was nearly done and it was easy work. I told her to call or holler anytime, that I live just up the road.

Now I was feeling a little bit like an ass. Sharing stories of altruistic farm ideals, saving elders from their rock piles. I blushed and felt self-concious, but Sara was just taking in the world from the speed of a trotting horse. Several other folks stopped by in their truck, letting us go by with a wave or to talk about how nice a day it was. My cart is small, and rickety would be a kindness, but it is safe and pleasant in nice weather. Sara seemed comfortable, even when Merlin stopped to take a dump about two feet from her face. Talk about a chill houseguest. When her husband joined me for a ride later his first response to moving down the road at a trot was how comfortable it felt. Normal even. I said horses and humans were partners in transportations for time out of mind before the last hundred years of oil made automobiles a thing. This feels normal because it is. He liked that.

The horse cart was just first of many activities I was lucky enough to share with them. We also milked the goat and did farm chores. We captured the twin lambs and gave them anti-toxin shots and put bands on their tails. We shot my bow at a target in the backyard (both Macks could draw a fifty-pound bow and hit the bullseye at 10 yards!) and some good old fashion napping and reading under the King maple outside my farms front door. And we ended the long day with a trip to Common Sense to eat dinner at their place (homemade ricotta and spinach stuffed calzones covered in marinara sauce!) and then worked in their vegetable rows. We fell asleep to the sounds of a roaring creek and gentle rain. This all happened on a Tuesday. For that I am grateful enough to fall to my knees and cry.

And here I am at breakfast. This is a happy place, all this good food around me and about to be enjoyed with friends I didn’t realized I missed as much as I did. You get so used to living alone, doing the work the farm needs, that you forget the absolute joy of preparing a meal for someone. And when all of that meal comes from soil and animals in your care and community it is amplified in ways so strong and primal we start to understand ourselves as human animals again. A spark ignites, and it lights a need fire we didn’t realize was aching to burn. This is the work of humankind. It is older and wiser than us. When you give into it you lose any lingering cynicism and finally can reach out and touch gratitude. When your fingers finally graze it, it is all you can do to not grasp it tight and hold on for dear life. Because life is what it is. And its all there is.

And when you get it, there’s nothing else but to dig in.


Come to Cold Antler for a day dedicated to dairy goats and homemade soap! It'll be a multi-farm adventure - visiting both Common Sense Farm (just three miles down the road) and then a summer afternoon at CAF. The morning will be dedicated to learning about Goat care and feeding. Come to learn the basics from the experts at CSF on getting into home dairy. Learn about the breeds, the people who raise them, and what goes into keeping an animal that makes you milkshakes, cheese, and amazing soap.

In the early afternoon we will make a batch of soap, a milk-based recipe of near-freezing goats milk and natural essential oils. Learn in a safe an open area how the chemistry and process works as well as how to mix it up with additions like oatmeal, home-brewing extracts, or herbs from the garden. This will be a day of happy barns and happy hands. Come meet the scene and go home with a bar of the day's spoils!

Price for last minute folks is $50! June 2nd 2013
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY


The first Saturday in June there will be a special workshop here at the farm. It's about prepping, meaning emergency preparing. It's an entire day dedicated to getting you and your home, farm, family and community ready for when times get tough. And it's not what you think!

Unfortunately, due to television series and stereotypes, using the word prepping instantly fills people's imaginations with civilian militia's, ammunition caches, and paranoia about Yellowstone blowing up. This isn't that kind of workshop. There will not be any conversations about AK-47 reloading options, UN plots, nor will any of us be wearing tin foil hats. This is a rational and important conversation about energy and the economy. It is about larger global issues and smaller, personal ones.

Prepping isn't about living in fear, it's about chasing fear away. By having a home that you know has enough food and water to last through an ice storm, a layoff at work, and a source of heat and comfort for your children. That is the kind of preparing perfectly sane people do. The kind of actions that help us sleep better at night.

Kathy and I will be talking about things like food and water storage, backyard sustainability, community building/skill sharing, canning from the garden, and small livestock. Basic elements of urban homesteading, but we will be talking about it with a focus on why growing your own food is more important than ever before. It's important because we live in a time where few people are ready for any sort of disruption in their lives or society. A small number have enough food in their house to be able to eat at home for a weekend, much less a week-long blizzard. Few people know how to shut off their house's gas and water lines in an earthquake or bad storm. Even fewer know their neighbors and feel comfortable calling them if they need help getting a downed tree out of their yard or when they lose their dog. That's what this workshop is about. It's about getting your home and family ready for small and larger problems and not having to be scared when they occur. Prepping for the Rest of Us will focus on what every home and farm should have stocked, skilled, and set aside for when the going gets tough. It's a lot easier dealing with a power outage like a scout who is ready to set up camp than a parent of scared, hungry kids who doesn't know where the flashlight is!

Kathy Harrison was on National Geographic's, Doomsday Preppers and has written a book on Emergency Preparedness called Just in Case. But if you saw the show, or know Kathy, you'll instantly see she wasn't like the other people featured. Kathy doesn't own a gun and she isn't living in fear. She's a happy grandmother. Kathy is a homesteader, beekeeper, pig and chicken farmer, gardener, community leader and and puts up an impressive 1,000 cans of homegrown food a year! She's into "old school" prepping, (aka the way people normally lived before everything we needed was at the gas station, grocery store, or wall mart). She knows her stuff.

This will be a workshop of conversations and demonstrations. The best way I can think to describe it is "rational preparedness" - It's for folks who are aware that they might need some guidance getting started but already know they would rather have a stocked larder and a peaceful mind than fear or panic in trailing times. It may be the most important workshop you attend all year! Email me for details at

Saturday June 1st 2013
Limited to 15 people
Fee: $100
10AM-4PM at the farm

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Great Friends, Wonderful Visit!

I just had an amazing and relaxing visit from a good friend from college, Sarah. She, her husband Tim, and their 10-month-old daughter Juniper spent a few days here catching up and enjoying the farm life. We rode in horse carts, picked leaks, visited several farms, shot bows, milked goats, ate amazing food, and caught up. Juniper was so wonderful, this tiny person holding onto my thighs as I played the fiddle for her. She slept aside Annie and romped with Gibson, met Merlin's long locks, and walked around chickens. If you look close you can see her father in the King Maple, looking down on mother and child.

That's what I have been up to the last two days! More about them and hosting non-farming friends soon!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sheep Happens

Sunday, May 26, 2013

On Being A Geek

Note: This is a continuation of the last post, about my day in the rain at Central Region War Camp

When I got home to the farm it was early afternoon but the weather was not letting up. I was exhausted from being a range animal all day, but looking up at the sheep shed on the hill all I could think about was getting every single animal as comfortable as I would be in a few hours. I had big plans to den up with a warm fire in the woodstove, a dinner of bread and cheese I got from the co-op, and a hard cider. It would all taste and feel better if I knew my charges were just as satisfied and safe. So I carried bales of warm hay to the sheep sheds and got Brick and her lambs some new water and grain. The twins look healthy and warm, dry and out of the wind by their mother in the lambing pen. The rest of the flock was happy for the hay delivery to a dry place and they combination nests/snacked out of the storm. I did the same for Whiskey and Rye’s pigpen and the Bonita and Ida. The horses, chickens and rabbits got a big dinner, too. Everyone was sated and warm. I was happy to do the work for them.

When I finally did get inside to relax I sat down to my computer and rewatched something my friend Andrea had shared with me. The actor and famous geek, Wil Wheaton was asked by a random pregnant convention-goer to leave a message via video to her future daughter about how it was cool to be a nerd. Here is the video.

I understand that things like the SCA, Comic Book Conventions, Dungeons and Dragons and Fantasy novels can be considered nerdy. But I am proud to be a part of this community, proud as hell. I don’t care if you think I am silly, or stupid, or lame. I don’t care if you think I am a loser. It is so wonderful to be around people who are not scared to put on a kilt in a rainstorm or invite friends over for a game of Pathfinder. I love these passionate people. I love having the courage to be who you want to be, regardless of what most of society thinks that means. I love the dedication, energy, and creativity. I love shooting arrows in the rain.

Guys, I went to college a total geek. I loved Tolkien, decorated my dorm room like a Hobbit hole, joined the equestrian team because i could ride horses like in the fantasy novels I loved, drew werewolves, and was a member of the local Renaissance Club. Total geek.

Then I became a graphic artist and felt none of the guys in my major would want to date a geek and I wanted a boyfriend. So I left the club, redecorated my room ala Ikea, hung out with people who made fun of people playing with swords and horses and became a graphic designer....

Now I am growing up and 100% back to being a geek. Totally proud and making up for lost time.

Take that, Ikea.

This Post Was Written in 2013

I woke up to the sound of rain. Not the pleasant sort, the kind of background rhythm that makes you want to tuck into another round of sleep, but the angry kind. Outside my bedroom window the large King maple was writhing against high winds. And since I live on a swoop of a mountainside the hollers and moans coming from that wind were unnerving. I could hear the heavy rain and the roar from the usually calm stream, but noticed those were the only sounds. This is a bad sign. A normal morning on this homestead means animal sounds, and a lot of them. Horses are whinnying for their morning rations, sheep and goats are bleating, roosters crow and turkeys gobble. You couldn’t sleep in if you wanted to. But when the weather turns like this even their stomachs can’t force them to leave the comfort of dry straw bedding or wind-proof roosts. I get up right away.

In moments I am in a work kilt (read, stained with mud and milk and covered in goat hair) and favorite long-sleeved shirt. It’s cotton, an old and much loved. It’s not enough to protect me from the weather so I slip on a gray wool sweater that isn’t scared of getting dirty. My last two pieces of armor come from my friend Meredith, who mailed me her amazing wool socks and a hat. The hat is thick and brown and the socks are gray like the sweater. I have work them enough that they have felted into mini booties, wicking sweat and retaining warmth regardless of the weather.

I go about morning chores slower than usual. I spend the usual time milking the goats and feeding the pigs. Everyone is happy to see their breakfast delivered to them. The rabbits chew on fresh hay, and the geese are honking at me to leave their well-protected nests in the barn. I grab a few eggs and slide them into my sporran. They will be breakfast, scrambled with goat milk and seasoned with ground pepper.

The horses greet me at the gate of their paddock, wind whipping at their manes. Merlin nickers as he sees me carry up a few flakes of hay. I give him the grass and pet his thick neck. I think about the horse cart parked in front of the house and how I wish I had a day ahead of nothing but warm sunshine and cool wind at our backs. We would take the cart to visit friends. I could call the folks at Flying Pig Farm and pick up some leaf lard for pie baking. I could go visit Jon and Maria at their farm, or trot up to the Daniel’s to pick up some maple syrup. Merlin loves heading that way because he can flirt with their mares along the roadside, arching his head and stepping proudly as we pass along the winding road. But it isn’t a sunny day at all. I have to leave the farm in a few hours and head off to War Camp. I promised I would.

War camp happens several times over the course of the summer. It isn’t actual combat but combat training. Over the warm months archers, fighters, and equestrians from all over the East Kingdom get together at these gatherings. Each Shire or Barony takes turns hosting the rendezvous and hundreds of people attend. Tent cities with fire pits, lanterns, friendly dogs and horses are erected overnight. Come daylight all of us locals in arms are called to the fields in the name of practice, friendship, and fellowship. I’m an archer for the Shire of Glenn Linn and training to be a Field Marshal. Our Head Marshall asked me to make the trip to support the Barony of Concordia’s archer so I will go, even in this torrent. And I will be happy to go, too. War Camp is a blast. There are food, gear, and craft vendors and lots of people just as crazy as I am. I do wish it wasn’t so cold and wet outside, but it’s not called the Society of Comfortable Anachronists, is it?

I shower up and change into a cleaner work kilt and shirt. I slide on a heavy wool sweater for the trip south but in my leather gear bag, among the extra bow strings, bracers, and snacks I roll up a wool plaid and leather belt. I keep my hat on. Last thing I load for the hour and a half journey is a bottle of water and my bow and quiver. The man who sold me my bow, Joseph the Bold, will be running the gathering of archers today. I hope my shooting does right by him. The bow has won tournaments and been to Crown Events before I used it mostly for target practice and varmint hunting on my farm. I try not to think about expectation and double check I have some extra money in my pocket, just in case. I head south and the rain picks up. I am grateful for the plaid in the backseat.

When I arrive at War Camp I gear up. Walking to Troll (the entrance to the event where waivers are signed and fees are paid) I look like an archer alright. My bow is in my left hand and my quiver is over my back. My plaid is wrapped around me like an arsaid, tied in place by the leather belt. My boots are rubber and inside them are Meredith’s Magic Socks. I am comfortable and feel strong. I walk into Troll and a few people running the tables offer me smiles of pity.

“An Archer, huh?”

“Yes! Here from Glenn Linn!”

“Ah, yes. Lord T’mas is already out there but no one has seen Joseph yet. T’mas is shooting clout up into the rain. Now he’ll have company I guess.”

I smile. T’mas is my Marshal. Of course Glenn Linn archers are the only ones stupid enough to drive several hours to shoot arrows into a storm. I ask for directions to the field and am directed to a map in my pamphlet. Then I am asked to pick Lancaster or York, a red or white rose, to wear on my person to show my side of this war camp. The event is called War of the Roses, after the historical war, and I chose red. Lancaster sounds like Lannister and I have a crush on Jamie. Red to me says passion and energy. White says purity. I’m red all the way.

I tie the rose to my chest strap on the quiver and head out into the rain along the half-mile of winding paths. I pass campsites where people are gathered out of the wind in heavy wool jackets and cloaks. They gather around campfires and blacksmith forges. When I get near the archery field someone hails me over to a nice canvas tent with several people comfortable underneath it. It must be a house of Concordia because everyone dresses enough alike under banners of the group. I then see a woman I recognize, it’s Joseph’s wife. I don’t know her name but she remembers me from last year and see’s the bow.

“How’s that bow working out for you?” She asks.

I am soaked out in the wind, and I take a question as an invitation. I walk up under the canvas canopy and can feel the warmth of the fire pit. These folks have made quite the camp. There is food and drink out, warm blankets, and the wind can’t get to their well-staked abode. I say the bow is great but could they direct me to the field? Then Joseph speaks up. I didn’t notice him wrapped up in a heavy wool plaid and a slouch brown, wool hat. He is in a great kilt, wrapped around his waist and up over his shoulder. He has on rubber boots a heavy leather jack over his shirt. His red hair and beard make him look ready to take on the storm. On his hat is an image of Epona. Horses are his symbol. His sporran has horse hair, black like Merlin’s and his quiver has a running horse on it. Crows are the symbol of my house in the SCA but horses are his house’s sigil. I like that I have friends who take sigils seriously.

“I didn’t set up the targets or the field yet. Are people heading there?” I told him I haven’t been there yet but I already heard at Troll that T’mas was out on the field. Joseph knew that meant his day of work had started. I don’t think he expected to see any of us due to weather, but he wasn’t dealing with city folks from Concordia today, the rural folks from my shire regularly hold practice in the rain. You better believe we’ll show up when we can shop and buy food too!

Joseph and I head over to the field and the rain starts to pick up, so does the wind. Joseph grabs for his wool hat, trying to keep it from blowing off. We make small talk and head out to the field where we can both see T’mas standing alone with his bow, covered in a thick wool short cloak. It covers his upper body, and the wind whips at his hood. I shout out to him.


He smiles, yelling back, “SOOOO PROUD!”

There is an instant bonding between all three of us. We are out in a storm, the leftovers of a tropical beast, and dealing with temperatures in the low forties in may. We are outside among the wind and rain in period clothes and longbows in an open field. And we are all smiling and laughing. Every looks great, feels strong, and that period rush fills me up. It’s that high you get when you can almost believe you are in another time.

Some people think of the SCA as a fest of socially inept dorks, obsessed with fantasy novels and about 100 pounds overweight. There is some of that, but out on the archery field today were three fit people. These are historians and athletes, farmers and teachers, hunters and parents. I am proud to be out with them on this bitter day, far from our fires and homes. We are going to shoot our bows and have a great time, weather be damned.

We set up staked targets and a tent to protect us from the rain. We have a table with sample bows and extra weapons in case some brave person decided to leave the tent cities to try their hand at the old art. As we are gearing up for the morning Erik and his wife Ruth show up, both in heavy cloaks. They are with our shire, not Concordia and are ready to take on their bows as well. Two more folks from Concordia walk over but only stay for a bit. I can’t blame them. If you’re not passionate about archery why put yourself through the ringer like we were?

In the rain the five of us shot at the targets. We talked bows and bracers, the right string tension and lengths. It was a combination of messing around and jokes and actual lessons in archery. We shared our own stories and techniques, aiming high for a target a couple hundred yards away. It was a fish in a barrel. T’mas hit the barrel and we cheered. Best shot of the day by far.

When the bows were unstrung and our party of archers was ready to head off for a lunch and a warm cup of coffee at one of the hospitality tents, Joseph took our picture with my phone. It’s 2013 and the photo was taken with an iphone but what you see is something from another era. All of us soaked and exhausted, bows and fletchings damp and in need of some serious TLC. But we are happy, we are a team. Before we left Joseph to his post he handed each of us a handmade broadhead. He made them out of glass bottles, in colors of blue, green and ale brown. It was an offering of thanks for coming out in the weather, and I looked at my arrowhead gift with awe. It was perfect craftsman ship. It made the entire day worth it, as if wasn’t already....

The next post is about why I am okay with sharing that I am a geek. Stay tuned.

I'm Not an Agoraphobe. I'm a Farmer

If I wanted to I could drive my truck down to Albany, hop on a train and be in the middle of New York City by 1PM, walk around central park or check out the newest exhibit at the MoMA and be home in time for evening milking, with hours until dark. Up until just a few years ago, that would have sounded like heaven. To wake up on your own farm and have a full summer day free to travel and explore a wild city, and then come home to the comfort of your own croft, amazing right? But the woman I have become could not imagine such a trip, and not because it doesn’t sound enjoyable or realistic, but because distance has changed for me. An hour drive on a highway followed by 2 hours in a fast train may just be a quarter turn of the clock face, but there is a decadence to it now that unsettles me. If I want some time in a city I drive the lazy forty-five minutes to downtown Saratoga, or perhaps Glens Falls. These are far smaller towns but when you live on a mountain with sheep any place that offers Korean Barbeque seems exotic.

I don’t dislike the city, quite the opposite actually. I miss it. Part of me feels a dull ache for it, something amputated by circumstances out of my control. I used to spend a lot of time there in college and some of the best memories I have of those years were walking with friends under saffron banners in Central Park or eating out on a street side café. I was raised just a bus ride away from the city, too. My parents took us kids all the time to see exhibits at the Met, where I could look in pharaoh’s tombs, get within a foot of a Faberge egg, or see the embroidery on one of Jackie Kennedy’s dresses.

No, right now New York City seems much farther away than three hours. Everything about it has changed in my mind and that paradigm is powerful. I chose this life of chicks and milking goats and leaving behind any semblance of my old life and part of that is the idea of travel. I don’t go anywhere, I really don’t. It’s impossible with the amount of livestock and responsibilities on the farm, but above that I don’t want to leave. It’s not agoraphobia, it’s just contentment.

There’s so much going on here and even more happening on the friends farms around me. Within ten miles of my place are work, friends, food, and entertainment beyond measure. Three miles from my front door is the town of Cambridge where I have seen live plays, ballets, poetry slams and traveling world-renowned musicians. A few doors down is Battenkill Books, which hosts everything from book clubs to local history lectures to knitting circles to book signings from local authors. There are cafes and little diners with local and hardy fare. There’s an old train depot-cum-community arts center where everything from bluegrass jams to Irish Step dancing classes take place where cargo used to head down along the Hudson to the city. Cambridge hosts a farmer’s market, several bars, more churches, a saddle club and I’m sure many events I haven’t even been told about. It’s not New York City, wouldn’t dare call it as such, but it keeps me busy and enlightened to more culture than a trio of turkeys in the tall grass at home ever offered

I know the people, and they know me. I can walk into the hardware store and pick up sheep feed and everyone knows my name and says hello to Gibson, who comes wherever I go. Small town establishments aren’t worried about sheepdogs biting customers and being sued. It’s a casual, artistic, and hard working town with a tray of dog biscuits at the bank teller’s window.

So while there are museums, concerts, and vacations out there I would love to experience with old friends the reality is none of that is a part of my life anymore, not really. A daytrip to a museum means at least five to ten hours away from my home. That means dogs indoors, without bathroom breaks for five to twelve hours. That means calling a friend to come into your home to walk said dogs. It means a full udder of milk is praying your don’t get stuck in traffic or miss the bus. It means leaving detailed instructions with neighbors on what to do if the sheep escape and how not to get electrocuted by the fence. It means no one refills empty water tanks or is there for animal emergencies, and lambing snafus. Or, it means having a roommate or spouse that can do all these things for you. I’m single and raise livestock of several varieties near a wood-heated home. I’m not going anywhere. If I wanted to grow food and travel I’d grow vegetables with irrigation lines with good fences. But carrots don’t take you at a canter up a mountainside at sunset do they? Those farmer’s products are what I feed my farm’s animals for snacks. It doesn’t make either of us better, but certainly different. I bet a lot of horse manure helps a bed of carrots grow…

So how does one not become a hermit? Simple. Friends and family come see me. I host potlucks, game nights, workshops, and friends from out of town. We entertain ourselves right here in the country, on the farm or close to it. The more adventurous can hike the mountain, swim the river, fish the streams or join me in a cart ride with a pony to visit friends. We head into town for lunch at a café, buy a book, shop the antique stores, or drive through this beautiful county. We cook good food at each other’s farms with cold, tall glasses of adult beverages. We do all the things I used to watch people in those silly farm magazine pose doing, but we’re not posing at all. And I feel foolish writing that but it boils down to a very simple truth about the choices I have made. I am not longer a spectator. I’m no longer going about my life with a running monologue in my head about motives and what I deserve or should be admonished for. There are still choices and consequences, but more action than ever before. I am losing that voice in my head.

Carrie Bradshaw has left the building.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Just Because I Danced in my Living Room

Gotta Start Somewhere

Brick and Her Boys

Good Morning!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Goodness of Shearing Day

When I started raising sheep I had only three outside my rented cabin in Vermont. They arrived in the late summer with short coats and throughout the winter gained thick inches. As spring turned warm fast, I watched the wooly creatures hide from the sun in the shade of the pine trees or the small wooden 8x4 sheep shed I had provided for them. It was clear they needed a haircut and as a complete ovine novice I realized I had not lined up a shearer. So I did what I always do in times of farm need: check Craigslist.

I asked the Farm/Garden community who around the area was a quality sheep shearer who traveled. Not just one, but several strangers sent me Jim’s name and number along with high praise. I called the Vermonter, who lived near Rutland (about an hour north of my rental cabin in Sandgate) and left a message. I wasn’t sure anyone would travel an hour to give three sheep a buzz cut or what it would cost. I explained my need and prayed he’d call me back.

He did. And he explained that with small flocks like mine he would call me back when he had enough interest within the area. Coming all the way to my farm just to shear three sheep (at $6.50 a piece with a $25 flat farm visit fee) would cost as much in gas. So soon as enough locals flocks filled his dance card he would come to the farm and happily shear the two wethers and my surly ewe, Maude.

That first year having my own sheep shorn was beyond special. Understand I had spent years reading about sheep and sheepdogs and to finally be involved in that ageless agrarian act —even as a bystander—was so emotionally overwhelming I nearly teared up in front of Jim. I was certain wrestling with fat Sal in his lap was not as endearing to him. He’s a man who sees thousands of sheep a year. I couldn’t help it. I wiped my eyes when he wasn’t looking and made up something about having a possible lanolin allergy.

I was a girl who collected sheep books, contacted sheepdog trainers and breeders, attended workshops and classes and owned issues of SHEEP! Magazine before I ever had reason to call a sheep shearer. I imagine it’s how people who dreamed of their first horse when they finally had reason to call a farrier, something utilitarian but wonderfully specific.

I watched Jim do the work of shearing and helped where I could. IN this small a space with so few animals there wasn’t much to do beyond picking up the fleeces and carrying supplies. He was the one doing the holy work and I once again was busy as an altar server. Only this time I felt like the people in the pews, too. All of it was sacred to me now and I still got to participate with the adept.

And Jim certainly is adept with his shears. It takes him less than ten minutes to grab a sheep, flip it on its rump, shear the belly, sides, back and head with boot camp-ready buzz cuts and trim their hooves. This year I was more needed than usual, having to grab animals in the holding pen and take them over to Jim’s shearing platform outside the scrappy fences. Once he has them it isn’t long before the animals are shaved and set free of our clutches to commiserate with their flock mates on the hillside. Seeing them under the apple trees, their newly pedicured feet in the mud and moss, I have to remind myself they are the same animals. They look so foreign after so many months covered in wool I forget those black-and-white-speckled deer on the hillside are the same frumps I knew that morning.

It’s been five years now that Jim has come to Cold Antler to sheer sheep. This year, for our fifth anniversary, he had 11 sheep to shear and I had the most wool ever ready for the mill. This place has steadily grown since those first three sheep in a pen outside a rented cabin. It’s been quite the adventure getting here. I went from being a gung ho future sheepdog trial with an anglophile crush on British trials and breeders to someone trying to just make the mortgage on her own farm. I’ve been on this path of going from a beginner at a thing (raising and breeding sheep) to someone actually doing it, making it a part of my regular life. There have been mistakes, animals that died. But there have also been over fifteen sheep added to the world because of my work here, all of them used to better the farm and my life through barter and swapping. Now there are Cold Antler Farm blackfaces reaching as far north as Lake Placid and as far south as my friends at Common Sense Farm. That’s something to be proud of, that the breed lives on in a world bigger than my backyard. Sometimes I forget that.

Season Passes? YES!

I am offering a HUGE discount on season passes for folks who already have them for this past year and want to renew, or for folks who would like to If you are interested in taking up the offer, you can email me at and sign up for a full year (or a year tacked on to your current season pass) for just $250. That's the price of just two day,workshops and it goes to help keep this place running. I have three spots to sell at this price. So consider it as a great gift, a treat for yourself, a resource for your own homestead, or just as a way to help keep this show on the road. If you have the means and want to buy it for a local who can't afford it, we could do that as a giveaway as well. Thanks for your time, and now back to your regularly scheduled programming!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

While I'm Writing, Watch These Ladies

There are few people on the internet I adore more than Hannah Hart and Grace Helbig. Mark my words folks, these two will be cohosting the Emmy's someday. They are a hilarious pair of young comedians/vloggers who are stars of their own projects: My Drunk Kitchen (Harto) and Daily Grace (Helbig). You can check out their Youtube pages and watch, subscribe, like, and laugh. I highly suggest checking out Grace's reviews (my favorite!) and Hello Harto. this post has nothing to do with farming, goats, gardens or writing but it sure has a lot to do with the internet. Watch and Enjoy!

Beautiful & Bittersweet

I'm deep into writing the manuscript but I wanted to check in an share that twin ram lambs were born today! It's a beautiful and encouraging thing, to see more Scottish Blackface sheep in this world. They are my breed and one I hope to continue to raise. The announcement is bittersweet though, as the twins are both males and I already have two rams on this farm... Monday and Atlas. These animals will be raised for food, for me and some good friends.

I am a little disappointed, to be perfectly honest. I need younger breeding stock, ewe lambs. Out of six possibly pregnant ewes I think only three were bred and two of those have already given birth. There are these beautiful boys I discovered this morning, and then there was also the corpse of a stillborn ewe lamb. I found her and her tiny body, deformed and contorted in the sheep shed. The limbs and body were proportionate to a normal lamb but her head was so small, as if it never had the chance to form right. I am grateful the mother had no complications but sad to lose the one little girl of 2013.

There is one older gal who may still lamb this week. She has a tiny bag but I am not sure how successful she will be. Both the cotswolds are fat as hens but have no udder at all. Either they haven't dropped their bags yet because they are an entire cycle (45 days) behind the Blackfaces or they were never bred. Same goes for Maude. Maude has never lambed and probably never will. She stays no matter what. She is Maude, after all.

I'm going back into the manuscript in a bit, this is just a break. Weird how writing here feels like a break and that feels like a job. I guess it's because one has a deadline. I don;t think I do well under command performance, but it is getting done. I write about four hours a day and after that I am tapped. Right now a thunderstorm is drenching the farm and from my office window I can see the twins and their hefty mother in the lambing jug/pen on the hill. Gibson is curled up at my unshod feet here in the hot little office room. I think he's afraid of thunder. He can't herd it. He's resigned to sleep instead.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jim McRae on Shearing Day!

Where's Jenna?

I'm in the last ten days of a manuscript deadline. All of my energy, creative or otherwise, is going into this book. Blog posts will be coming, but expect long dramatic ones between midnight writing blocks or sleepless photo-posting sessions. I might post some excerpts from the manuscript, pictures from shearing day or this weekend's archery event. Right now I am somewhere around the 62,000 word mark and a few sections behind in my goal with a ticking clock over my head the same time as lambing season and last-minute edits on the October book, One Woman Farm. Hoo! Game Nights and visits with friends are canceled. I'm basically a shut in until this is mailed off to Boston. So this is your Till-June Warning that I'm going to be super sporadic for a bit. But I'm here!

Leave the light on for me!

Monday, May 20, 2013

It's Shearing Day!

Freedom Hangs like Heaven Over Everyone: Iron and Wine

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Finally Learning This on the Banjo

So lay low, Baby. I won’t be back anytime soon
If it gets too lonely, I will follow you around in this tune.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Chicken Adolescence

The chickens I had carefully raised from innocent, Easter-greeting-card fluff balls have left their adorable phase. There is nothing attractive about them at this stage. They have feathers, and height, but look like tiny dinosaurs in feather boas. They now boast long, scaly legs, too-large beady eyes, and stalk bugs and get into boxing matches with each other along the hedgerows. There is A few weeks out on grass in the moveable hutches (if they are meat birds) or ranging free around the barnyard (laying hens) has turned them into awkward, miscreant youths. They lack all the happy, matronly, roundness of mature hens as well as their calmness and industry. Instead of sauntering through the fields, cooing between pecks at bugs, these little hooligans are teenagers on the move. They do not walk, but instead they run everywhere. If there’s a chance to make a noise, they make it, and loudly. First-time crowers lift their heads to the sky like wolves and let out moans only a mother could love. They sunbath, but only in short bursts in piles of dry earth where they stretch their fast-growing wings only long enough to catch the shortest acceptable amount of solar love before erupting into a epileptic dust baths. They boldly jump into the pigs’ pen to steal from porcine dinner plates. They jump on the backs of sheep and goats. It is madness and with their new plumage in bright colors combined with their antics it looks like a punk band from the eighties or some anarchists collective took over my otherwise bucolic setting with a mission towards their own idealism. In this case, that idealism is nothing but spent energy and attempts (poor, poor attempts) at sexual congress. The immature males climb on top of the females after displays of bad dancing and horrible crows and make a few stabbing attempts towards the end game but are usually sideways, or too slow, or just embarrassingly inexperienced and the young pullets lose interest and walk away towards the stream or to scratch some design into the gravel driveway.

You know, the more I write about chickens the more it sounds like college...

Friday, May 17, 2013


Everyone's got one. A place that removes even the lightest varnish of self doubt or fear. It isn't necessarily a place that makes you happy, though sometimes it surely does. The point of sanctuary is to feel safe, as if everything that troubles you is on the other side of glass and no matter hard they gnash their teeth they can't get through.

I'm doing okay here. I don't think I've ever felt more overwhelmed. It'll be a relief beyond words to get to June. By June all the edits for One Woman Farm will be done. The manuscript I am struggling with now will have been turned in. Lambing should be over with. I'll have time to think and breathe a bit deeper. I think the root of all my stress is not related to relationships, or money, or deadlines. I think my stress is related to being far too hard on myself and sorely lacking in the care a hard working body needs. Things like rest, meditation, long stretches, lots of water, good healthy food and plenty of sunshine. This is what I need. It'll bring a clarity and freshness to tasks that have become monstrous.

I've been spending a lot of time with Merlin and Jasper. I have needed it. I'm going through something, that's for certain. I have never felt more anxious or dissapointed or unsure of myself. Stuff is just broke, but nothing tragic. Nothing time in the saddle can't place behind glass.

Horses have a way of caring very little about what concerns humankind. And without realizing it, they have a way of making humankind care very little about their concerns.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Announcing The Midsummer Invitational!

Join us at Cold Antler Farm on June 29th for a special event. It's the Midsummer Invitational! A small evening archery tournament and potluck here at the farm. Folks who enter will get to shoot twenty arrows at twenty yards for a total possible score of 100 points. The highest score of the day goes home with a black arrow trophy with "As The Crow Flies" written in paint on it with the event name and date. It is however, an Invitational, so folks need to contact me if they want to come and shoot. It is invite only. This year I plan on having friends from my local SCA team, neighbors, and folks I know come out to the farm since inviting the internet to show up with weapons seems like a bad idea….

It's going to be a fun, entry-level and beginner friendly tournament followed by a potluck and campfire. It's not a workshop, this tournament is a fun private party at the farm. But anyone who wants to come along for the event needs to bring a dish! Being a medieval-inspired event, finger food only and try to stay period! There will not be paper plates and solo cups either. There won't be anything to eat off or out of, so come with feastware in wood or clay with a cloth napkin or hankie if you need a wiper. Lacking feastware, bring a water holder to refill (I have a mug tied to my belt) and eat with your hands. I'll have a bbq, breads, and honey cinnamon butter for the potluck.

Tournament begins at 3PM, ends around 6PM and during and afterwards is food and a campfire into the night hopefully with music, songs, and stories!

BEGINNER'S WORKSHOP 10AM-3PM But, I would like to make the whole day about archery and help get some new brand archers get started. So if you would like to make this weekend a holiday for a new hobby, you can come to the farm in the morning and learn the basics of the bow, arrow, shooting stance, safety, aiming, vocabulary and safety equipment. This is for people who have never attended an SCA practice or class, and who only seen people shoot on television and movies, total beginners! You will need to bring your own longbow and at least six arrows (no compound bows, only traditional longbows and recurves). And if you have no idea where or what to you can ask me when you sign up and I can point you to several great bows at a reasonable price online. Show up at 10AM for a workshop dedicated to the basics of archery, and the care and feeding of bows and arrows, and practice on close targets, working our way up to 20 yards. The workshop ends at 3PM, right when the tournament gets started so you can either head home or stay an compete! Email me if you want to come for the morning workshop at - I am limited it to five people, and the payment for the time spent teaching will be a donation to the farm.

Chicks In The Well At Sunrise

Updated Workshop Calendar

Here is the list of workshops coming up in the next few weeks. Come to the farm and learn how to raise rabbits, string a bow, play the fiddle, prepare for the worst and make soap with the best! It's a busy spring here and folks have been asking for an up-to-date list of the goings on. So here it is, along with the links to each event! And you can still get a Season Pass for a full year for about the price of 3 workshops, so if you want to support the farm or just want an excuse to roll in the grass with a border collie, email me to sign up!

Prepping for the Rest of Us with Kathy Harrison!
June 1st 2013
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY

Goats & Soap!

Come to Cold Antler for a day dedicated to dairy goats and homemade soap. It'll be a multi-farm adventure - visiting both Common Sense Farm (just three miles down the road) and CAF. Come to learn the basics from the experts at CSF on getting into home dairy. Learn about the breeds, the people who raise them, and what goes into keeping an animal that makes you milkshakes, cheese, and amazing soap.

In the early afternoon we will make a batch of soap, a dairy based recipe of near-freezing goats milk and natural essential oils. Learn how the chemistry and process works as well as how to mix it up with additions like oatmeal, home-brewing extracts, or herbs from the garden. This will be a day of happy barns and happy hands. Come meet the scene and go home with a bar of the day's spoils!

Price $100 June 2nd 2013
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY

Midsummer Invitational! Archery For Beginners and Tournament Potluck
June 29th 2013
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY

Rabbit 101
July 20th 2013
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY

Summer Fiddle Camp
August 31s and Sept 1st 2013
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY

Dulcimer Daycamp!
Oct 5th 2013
Cold Antler Farm, Jackson NY

Antlerstock is up in the air right now, not sure I can make it happen this year. Columbus Day Weekend, if it goes down.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Love Seeing This On My Road

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Double Entendre

Last night, just before dark, I heard the sound of calling sheep. I've lived alongside sheep for years now and over that time I have acquired an ear for what all the different bleats, baas, and cooing mean. This was an all out holler, translated roughly into English:

"Heeeeeeeeey, heeeeey! Hey guys outside the fence! We want to be outside the fence with you tooooo. Heeeeeyyyyyy!"

The sigh I let go of must have weighed six pounds. I was inside, having just finished the last of the milking dishes and had just swept the living room floor. Sweeping the floor is the last chore of the night, something done more out of habit than necessity. The beautiful handmade broom was a gift from my good friend, Raven Pray, of Maryland. Sweeping the last of the dirt, dog hair, and grass clippings stuck in upturned pant legs is the chore that says, "Okay kid, you can sit down now." And that is what I was doing. I must have been teasing fate because the sheep had escaped, were certainly in the public road by this point, and I had to get dressed and head back outside. Goodbye fire. Shut up, mocking broom.

It was colder out, around forty degrees with wind and the weather report was calling for frost. This had me in a frustrated mood. Chores took longer than usual this afternoon while I went about the extra work of watering and then covering all the garden beds I wanted full clemency for. I could see the sheep behind the fences, up in the woods and along the thick bushes and brush by the roadside. I stood outside my house by the lamppost and called to the sheep. "Come here you wooly bags of dim suet!" I yelled, copying the insult from a favorite book. And then the parade headed towards me.

Maude was in front. In her full wool coat she bounced down the hill, the crescent moon above her. Behind her in a perfect goose V were six other escapees. They all trotted with heads high, horns gleaming lamp light, and fluffy coats. I would have been angry with them if they weren't so damn beautiful. Maude stopped a few paces ahead of me, having seen no evidence of grain. I put my hands on my hips and stared at her. She looked away.

"Can we please stay inside until daybreak? Please." And I grabed a bag of chick feed to lead them back into the main gates by the horse's paddock. Merlin and Jasper watched the parade behind me, giving me their own heckles for rewarding acts of anarchy. One by one the sheep came back inside the fence to join Sal and the Cotswolds who didn't escape. Then in the near black of real nightfall I walked up the hillside repairing holes and hatches in the poor quality fencing. What I needed was a clean, fresh, string of electric wire right at nose level. I had a new grounding rod on order at the hardware store and plans to do it this week. But for now it's all about reaction and repairs. I did what I could and prayed it would make it till morning. The last thing I needed was a school bus driver beating on my door to tell me to move my livestock out of the road.

This morning, they of course escaped again. Three times. And right now this blog post is the first writing I have done all day. That's a crime and a pity with two weeks to a manuscript deadline. But a woman needs to vent, so there you go.

There may be frost in the air but as far as the sheep are concerned, it's time to spring.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday Night Poultry Slam

Gibson And The Nail

I took Gibson to the vet today. Last night while I was milking Bonita, I heard a yelp of canine panic and left the chore, midstream, to run outside the barn. I know the sound of fear in Gibson, and this was intense. What I saw was a dog running towards me best he could on three legs, the fourth up in the air wildly kicking back like a cowpony. I thought he ran over some broken shard of glass, or stepped on a thorn. When he ran to me I asked him to lie down and he rolled on his belly, showing me the problem. He had a rusty nail sticking out of his paw.

It wasn't in deep at all, barely really. But the bend of the nail made it impossible to dislodge. I took it out and brought him inside. I washed his feet, checked for a wound and bleeding. What blood there was was less than a scrape. This was more an act of drama than injury, but I was instantly worried about tetanus. I called the vet first thing this morning and they said it was rare for a dog to contract tetanus, but they could check him out and give him a preliminary strike of antibiotics. I set an appointment time.

Gibson was a good patient. The vet staff was kind and patient. We were there just a half hour, mostly talking, and Gibson got his shot. I felt somewhat foolish, all this fuss over a nail scratch. But I knew if any sort of blood poisoning, bacteria, or infection happened to that dog I would never forgive myself. Gibson is the closest I've ever been to another animal, human or otherwise. I raised him from a pup and we have never spent more than 4 hours apart from each other. That sounds co-dependant and crazy-dog-lady scary, but it's more a case of luck and lifestyle than anything else. I once worked at a place that allowed dogs so Gibson came to my office. Now I work from home on a farm, which doesn't allow overnight travel or any fancy vacations, so we are here, together.

I love all my dogs, all I ever owned, but Gibson has become the saving grace I needed during the toughest time in my life. The last year since leaving Orvis, the events that lead up to it and all the personal things swirling around it caused a firestorm of emotion and choices that have had a considerable level of fallout. I don't know how I could have gotten through it without that dog. As I write this he is asleep outside the office door. He is worth $77.50 to save from the threat of tetanus. He's worth everything I own or could hope to own.

If a man in a suit said I could keep my farm or my dog, I would hand him the keys and walk away. There are a thousand farms in this region. There's only one Gibson Mackenzie that has ever existed and I'm the luckiest son of a bitch to have him.

He's my fast, fast dog.

A Love Worth Fighting For

Lambing Soon, Escape is Nigh!

The flock is getting ready to lamb any day now. The mother's all have tight, round bags under their tails and are pawing at the ground before laying down away from each other. I have a feeling lambing will be a chaotic three days here, but not last much longer. It seems everyone is on the same schedule, biologically speaking. Of course, just saying that is taunting circumstance, so perhaps it'll be a long 45-days of lambing, one or two little quicktails showing up at a time.

I like watching the flock this late breeding season. They are all stuck in one paddock, the ground all eaten down to moss with petals of apple blossoms all over like falling snow. They eat and bitch, circle and butt heads. As a woman (albeit, not a mother) I can tell when others who share the gender want more personal space. Atlas the ram seems only interested in food, his job done for a while. He has escaped (and lead three other escape attempts) into the woods so far in search of the lushness all around the fence lines. I guess it's hard to deal with that level of matriarchy inside a fence? But sheep escapes are easy to thwart. A bucket of grain and a lifted bit of woven wire they can shimmy under and they are back inside the safe zone. I have been repairing the weak areas these past three days, trying to stop all the exploration committees, but Atlas is clever. He knows exactly the spots I have missed. Jerk.

I am in the last two weeks of writing a book, behind on the mortgage, lambing is any day now and out of coffee. As you can imagine, stress is at an all time high. Gobson ran over a rusty nail in the woods yesterday and is on his way to the vet this afternoon to get it seen to. When it rains....

I do know enough about myself and this farm to know this is a phase. And all this fear and frustration and deadlines and bill calls will ebb and flow away. Right now I need to focus on the work, and working a little harder to make ends meet, but it'll all be fine. Whenever I feel panic wash over me I just sit outside on my porch and take a deep breath or seven with my eyes closed. I tell myself when I open them I will be surrounded by a farm I built by hand, through nothing but scrappy willm hard work, and the kindness and devotion of a readership all over the world. And when I open my eyes the proof is all around me. It's in the waddling ducklings parading to the well. It's in the sounds of Joeseph the sheep on the hillside. It's in the flickering ears of Merlin, the toss of his mane. It's in a dog with a sore paw, and a house with apple blossoms crowning a rack of antlers, and in the heart of the girl breathing slow on a porch.

Good things are on the way, and the only way out is through.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

All Music

All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song.
-Louis Armstrong

Staying Grounded

Staying focused on your goals, and staying grounded in your achievements is important. It's good to work hard, and good to feel that swell of accomplishment. But it's just as important to remain focused on your mistakes, faults, and goals not yet achieved. Being grounded doesn't just mean calm and humble, but keeping two feet poised on firm ground, ready to explode into action. These days I find myself trying to balance between what I have gained and what I have lost and it's a see saw I don't know how to balance. Some things in my life are wonderful, others are horrific, and all the joys and problems seem to stem from the same place: me. So I am trying to stay focused and grounded. There's much work to be done around here. I can't spend all my time worrying about it. Time is too short, and there's too many beautiful things lost in the stress.

Focused. Grounded.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Backyard Livestock 101 is Tomorrow!

Come to Cold Antler this spring for a day dedicated to backyard livestock for beginners! This is a day at the farm for those of you interested in adding animals to your home and garden, but perhaps a little cautious? After all, farm animals add a whole new element to your everyday life, and if you come here you can see, touch, ask, and have questions patiently explained and fears removed. And if you are ready to add that flock of chickens and rabbit hutch: you will get the inspiration and community push you have been craving. Heck, you can get the chickens too..

The long day focus on animals raised for food production, and how their by-products (manure, offspring, etc) can add to your farm. They do this through added income, barter, food savings and by creating nutrients to your soils for vegetable production. (I want folks who come to this workshop to not just understand the value of a rabbitry, but how to use the magic pellets in the garden and use compost tea.) By adding livestock you are creating a full circle for your. Chickens and compost piles create a place to feed food scraps, and their soiled bedding creates new, rich, soils for your plants. Stop depending on outside sources to enrich your life. You have the space, time, and resources to do it yourself, promise.

We're going to focus on chickens in the morning, and everyone who attends is welcome to pick three from a brooder of heritage chicks, all will be dual-purpose heavy breeds for eggs and meat production. You'll get a copy of my book, Chick Days, as well. It's a complete beginner's guide to raising layers for the backyard, but will also help you get your dual purpose flock off the ground. We will discuss brooders, coops, predators, feed and care. Since I firmly believe that poultry are the gateway drug to backyard animal food production - we will focus on them half the day. And if you haven't sat in a backyard holding a chick in your palm while a goat yells at you to scratch her neck, then you haven't lived!

The afternoon is about additional animals that can feed yourself, family, and friends. Get an introduction to rabbits (bunnies may be available to purchase), dairy goats, sheep, and pigs too. We'll tour the farm talking about hay, fences, water options and sharing stories and tips. Since all of Cold Antler's livestock have entry gates within 50 feet of the farm house you can see, touch, and smell what turning a backyard into a farm does to a place: the good and the bad. I will also talk about slaughter, and the options you have as a new farmer. Come knowing little and leave with a lighter heart, a starter flock, a book, and a day spent with fellow new farmers on a beautiful spring day!

P.S. We may even see a lamb born! It's that time!

Date: May 11th 2013
Time: 9AM - 4PM
Location: CAF
Fee: $125 (includes birds and book)
Limit: 15 people, 2 spots left!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Chick Feet!

The Chicks Have Arrived!

This morning I drove with Gibson to the post office in Cambridge to pick up a small package. In a very loud box, no larger than a VCR, were 45 chickens. Babies, of course. Little day-old hatchlings who were shipped express up from Mount Healthy Hatchery in Pennsylvania. It was over five years ago that I picked up my first postal order of chickens on a winter day in Idaho and so many springs and states later it never stops delivering a happy thrill. Chicks, all chicks, are adorable. And to set them into their brooder for the first time ever never gets old. Right now all these tykes are under a heat lamp with food and water and in a few days folks coming to the Backyard Livestock workshop will take them home with them to start their lives as beloved laying hens. I don't know if these little guys know how lucky they are! Shipped to a chicken author's home to be fawned over and then sent to live in free range backyards and coops! They hit the jackpot with us. But alas, nothing in farming animals these days seems to come without controversy or pushback. Some people feel shipping chicks in the mail is animal abuse. Joel Salatin addressed this in a recent book and again in this article from Flavor Virginia Magazine,where he wrote an open letter to vegan and vegetarian animal rights activists about chickens in the mail from hatcheries.

Some people sign petitions to criminalize shipping chicks in the mail. The reasoning goes like this: “I need food and water daily. These chicks spend up to three days in the mail. Therefore the chicks are being abused.”

Can you abide me some farm wisdom? A hen can’t lay more than one egg a day. A clutch is normally seven to ten eggs—that’s about all a hen can keep warm under her body at one time. It takes several days for her to lay that many eggs. She lays one the first day and goes to eat and put on extra weight. She lays egg two the second day, and goes and eats and puts on more fat. When she leaves the nest to eat, the eggs cool off and that retards the embryos’ development.

This early forced developmental slowdown, caused by the hen gorging herself to gain weight for the multiday setting period, brings the first and last eggs laid to similar levels of embryonic development. With her clutch complete, the hen begins setting, losing weight, and almost never leaving the nest. Finally the first egg hatches.

If that first hatchling ventured out to get feed and water, the hen would be forced to choose between protecting the adventurous chick or continuing to set on the almost hatched, critical-temperature dependent embryos still in their eggs. God designed the chicks, therefore, to go without feed and water for three days to let the siblings hatch. Once all of them have hatched, the hen takes them to feed and water. Once the chicks have tasted their first feed and water, they need it several times a day. But this is nature’s protective plan for species propagation. Is that cool, or what?

Lesson du jour: chicks are not humans. And in case you missed it, I didn’t mentioned how hens nurse their chicks. You see, a hen has six nipples tucked under wings…

Today’s level of farming ignorance is unprecedented in history—including all time and all cultures. Never have so many people in a civilization been able to be this far removed from their food umbilical. I think it actually brings into question the sustainability of a civilization that has twice as many people incarcerated in prisons as it has people farming. But that’s another question for another day.

When the only connections people have to the living world is a pet dog or cat, it skews their view toward animals in general. The fact that Americans spend more on pet veterinary care than the entire continent of Africa spends on human medical care should give us all pause.

Sometimes, on the farm, animals die.In that respect, animals are like humans. They don’t live forever. And sometimes farmers make mistakes, or have accidents occur that create a temporary, difficult situation. But I beg my non-farm readers: if you see something that doesn’t look right, be neighborly. Go over and talk to the farmer. You may find out you are ignorant. You may have seen something he missed and he’ll thank you for bringing it to his attention. And you may have seen a mistake or accident. But at least give the farmer the same courtesy and benefit of the doubt you’d want for yourself.

Beyond that, go visit a farm. And by the way, if a farmer won’t let you come and visit, you probably shouldn’t buy food from that farm. Integrity can only be hung on a framework of transparency.

Now go feed some strawberries to your cat.

Joel's comments are wonderful, but one thing he didn't mention to the concerned folks was that these hatcheries that deliver rare breed and heritage chicks in boxes are the main alternative to corporate hatcheries and battery-hen hatcheries owned by folks like Tyson. A sustainable farmer can not order chicks from Tyson breeders unless he is a contracted grower, so he either has to breed his own stock, buy hen-sat chicks from a local farmer, order chicks from a hatchery. Now, for a backyard flock I can provide for you 3-7 home brewed chicks of various breed mixes and unknown gender. But if you wanted a predictable breed of quality laying hen, or fifty of them, you need to call the folks at a place like Mt. Healthy. Same goes for birds raised for meat. So think twice about tsk-tsking mail-order livestock. The people who are doing it are doing it so they don't have to buy animals who lived in cages out of sunlight their whole lives, and are offering a quality of life to those box birds few chickens (less than a .001%) ever could dream of. If I were a laying hen I'd take an overnight plane ride to Cold Antler over a life in a battery cage any day. ANY DAY!


Looks like a few days of rain are in store, much needed . Here are a few members of the flock resting below the blooms of the apple tree before the wind kicked up yesterday. I am not sure if sheep could get degrees in meteorology, but they should be considered. I know with certainty that if my flock leaves green pasture to sit under a stand of trees on a partially cloudy day (meaning they aren't seeking shade) steady rain is heading in. Not a drizzle or a storm, but the kind of rain that comes on hard and lasts for days. It doesn't matter what the weather channel or popular opinion downtown around the Stewart's coffee stations says: when sheep gather under the trees, it's going to rain. So put away your mowers and don't dare think about cutting that hay.

P.S. Not raining where you are? Click here. That may be the most elegant and wonderful thing on the internet.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thank You!

Thank you to whomever it was that mailed me this coffee maker. I didn't get a return address, or a note in the box, but I sure do appreciate it. As most of you guys know I am a big fan of percolator coffee. This one is a gem.

Timber Framing Course In Veryork this August!

If you live around the area or want to come up for a special event, my good friends Tyler and Tara of are hosting an amazing workshop in traditional Norwegian Grindbygg Timber Framing. You want to learn a style of woodworking and construction good enough for the vikings and strong enough to stand the test of time? Then talk to these folks. They have described the workshop like so:

...Master timber framer Peter Henrikson to hand-craft and raise a one-of-a-kind Norwegian Grindbygg workshop in Arlington, Vermont. This unique style of roundwood construction is the oldest known building technique in Norway. Archeological evidence suggests it was in common use during the Viking age—over a thousand years ago (790-1066 AD)!

For time, date, details and such click here

Part Timer

Yesterday I had an interview as an archery instructor at the British School of Falconry over in Manchester Vermont. The job I was hoping to land was as a part-time instructor, someone who could be called up when guests at the school want to take lessons. It's seasonal, and on-call, but seems like a great way to earn some extra money for Cold Antler. After my two hour trial run with some guests and such I was offered the job!

The School works closely with the Equinox, a local resort famous in the area. The equinox is a beautiful old hotel, kept up in gorgeous shape with a full staff, bars, golf course, several restaurants, activities, and a spa. It's the place where people with deep pocketbooks come and stay when they ski, peep at leaves, or enjoy the month-long Vermont Horse Show held every summer. Archery is just one of the many things folks can do while staying here but as the tourism season ramps up with the temperatures I should be working more. This is good, mostly because anything that can help keep the farm going is needed right now as I've hit a rough patch. A part time job will be a bit of a relief on that end, and something that needed to be pursued.

Some people assume, very wrongly, that this farm is a woman's playground paid for by donations from adoring readers. I know people assume this because they send me angry emails about it. I assure you that isn't the case. I appreciate any and all contribution to the farm, but for example, this week I posted about contributions and they totaled 73 dollars. That was the total haul for the bi-monthly fund drive which I post six times a year (last time was March). That is enough to buy half a month's worth of chicken feed or a week and a half worth of hay bales. It is a HUGE help and I am incredibly grateful for it, but $73 every eight weeks does not a playgirl make. A part time job is appreciated and needed. It'll help add income to how I actually make a living, which is through ad sales, ad clicks, workshops, freelance design, speaking, and writing books.

Anyway, this archery job, I'm so excited for it. I'm excited to help introduce people to bows for the first time, teach them to pull and release, and watch them light up at their first hit in the yellow. It's the perfect part-time gig for me, outside and doing something I love. And the best part of it is all the archery ranges are part of the Falconry School, where I'll get to be around Harris Hawks, eagles, falcons and red tails. I won't be doing any falconry classes but I do hope to listen in from time to time and talk with the handlers. Maybe even get a tour of the hawk barn and meet the animals they teach and hunt with. I just got my results back from my State Falconry Exam and I got a 91%! Not a bad score since I needed an 0% or higher to move onto the rest of the application and written exam. But I am on track. On track to become a falconer, on track to get the mortgage paid, and hoping to announce updates to the dulcimer/fiber fest weekend in September and other stuff. There's a lot going on right now and I feel overwhelmed and stressed most of the time (I'm into the last three weeks of a book manuscript deadline that coincides with lambing and spring planting! YIKES!) but it's all productive stress. Everything gets done. It always gets done. I just feel more relieved when the checks are mailed and the work handed over.

But in the meantime, I will shoot arrows. Shoot arrows and keep the lights on. Decent goals, I think.

What I Woke Up To...

This morning I woke up to the beautiful sounds of my mountainside farm. There was the creek water flowing over rocks, and the crowing of roosters, the gobbles of the trio of new turkeys, and the chorus of other hooved beasts waiting for pasture, hay, and cold well water. It's a happy sound, make no mistake, but like any neighborhood your mind knows where sounds belong. I could hear the sheep, but they sounded as if they were right outside my bedroom window...

Because they were.

Yup, sheep escape this morning. The same Gang of Three that always escapes together and I think they do it for the grain they know I will bribe them back into the paddock with. I think this because as soon as I walked outside Knox, Brick Shithouse, and the Old Dam came right up to me. They looked me over for a bucket or a reason, and then with the air of decision, turned around and went back to eating the lawn. I haven't mowed yet so I let them do some edge work for me. Long as they left the garden alone I was okay to shepherd them during the morning commute. So I went inside and got some iced coffee and sat on the front stoop while they bustled about the lawn and the non-escaped sheep watched, complaining, from behind their fences they weren't clever enough to thwart. People drove past on their way to work a little slower this morning.

Sometimes I wonder what the neighbors think of me.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Office At My New Part-Time Job

Monday, May 6, 2013

Let's Pray for Vulpine Literacy

Tour of the Battenkill (Farm Girl Style): Part 2

We ate ice cream and watched the race. It was a good break for the drivers and the horses. Neither Steele or Merlin seemed to have worked up much of a sweat but we still had another stop to make and the loop home. I sat on a picnic table with my prize. The ice cream was, as always, delicious. Battenkill Creamery is a little gem here in my county. They sell milk right on the dairy site, nestled in glass bottles with antique labels. You are free to walk out to the calve barns and see a half dozen little Holstein babies romp and play together. Some dairy farmers keep the calves in their own little sheds and confined spaces, but not here. It’s like a raucous summer camp. Tumbling and little bleats abound while their mothers and several other generation watched from the hillside of stream, grass, and rocky ledges. To be so close to your food, to look it in the eye and see it compete for King of the Mountain as a brown eyed-babe, never stops amazing me. Never loses its authenticity. And somewhere mid-scoop while licking the edges of the icy treat I remember that this is not a special event for me, not a paid experience. (Well, the ice cream was a paid experience, but not the countryside trek via horse cart to acquire it.) My life, thanks to a pile of good and bad decisions, had lead me to a place where this is as normal as hopping into the car and going to the mall. I know these people, these horses, this equipment and had the skills to drive me and a friend there unscathed.

We got back into our rigs and said goodbye to our new friends. We waited for a lull in the race, between clusters of cyclists, to head back onto the road. When the coast was clear we trotted off on the road and headed along a popular country highway, Route 30, to Gardenworks.

Gardenworks is an interesting and wonderful place. It’s an old Scottish farm set into some rolling hills. It specializes in You Pick berries, and grows acres of raspberries, strawberries, and blue berries which folks come out and pay for fruit so fresh it was their own hands that plucked off the vines and delivered it to their front door. However, berries alone do not make the operation that is Gardenworks. The large barn adjacent to the berry fields (just twigs and rows now in late April) holds an artisan market and gallery. The barn’s main level is dedicated to local meats, cheeses, desserts, preserves and local art and crafts. The upper loft has whitewashed hanging drywall that displays art among old plows and threshing equipment. If you were an artist who did anything even mildly agricultural this would be the perfect place to display it. And to pull up aside this sunny barn in two horse carts felt correct and happy, something that was simply supposed to happen on a weekend as festive and community-centric as the big race.

I stayed out with the horse while my fellow travelers wen inside to get coffee. Mark, Patty’s husband, eyed the plants for sale outside. It was only April but vegetable 6-packs of lettuce greens and some bright flowers were already available in 6-packs for those eager enough to gamble with the weather. Late April still left a lot of time for frosts around these parts, but Gardenworks knows people around here are thrilled to take a chance on some lettuce after the long winter. I bet they sell out of those six packs by the time the race is over. If I had any room on the forecart to pile in a flat of those blessed greens I would have took them home that instant. I was thinking about this as some folks, tourists to the area for the race, walked over to ask about the horses. We chatted and leaned back a bit towards Merlin’s head, giving him a scratch. As I told the visitor about the horses, the community, and the amazing Nuns of New Skete cheesecake for sale inside I could feel Merlin’s breath and smell his sweat, which had made his underbelly wet. He was breathing deep, working hard, and I took note of it. Breaks like this are good for both the driver and the horse because it gives us time to relax and catch our wits and breathe between the constant reaction and focus of being an animal-drawn vehicle on a road. But stops like this are also good for the people in this county, to chat and smile and share stories and buy coffee. I am grateful for my pickup truck and all the work it does but I don’t have to stop and let it rest. I can move so fast, so concentrated, past businesses and neighbors and never stop to share a mug of coffee or tell a stranger about cheesecake. The pace driving horses gives to your life is a reminder and a gift, one I am constantly grateful for. Having these animals in my life has helped me meet so many neighbors. On my little mountain road that my farm resides on folks do not stop to talk to me if I am jogging, walking my dog, or driving my truck. But if I am on horseback or in a rig they always pull over and ask how the farm is doing, how I am. I think the horses make me seem more open and friendly, nostalgic and timeless. Folks see a rider or cart in the road and perhaps they are reminded of a different time and place and part of them wants a taste of it too. So they roll down windows and wave hello and ask about the new goslings they saw following the geese or the baby goats running with Gibson past the house. We talk with the comfort of old friends, even when we don’t know each other’s first names because the situation of a horse and a country road is enough to infuse us with comfort. It is agreed upon in a smile, and understood without saying a word of confirmation.

After our second rest of the day we get back into the rigs for the last time and ask the horses to trot us home. It is four miles to Livingston Brook Farm and we take it slowly. We have sun on our faces, a bit of weariness in our voices, but it’s all happy forms of wear. If people in cars are in cages, we are range animals. We accept the sunburn, road dust, and pain in line-holding hands because we learned a bit about what traveling really is. It’s not about a means of connecting A to B. It’s not about showing off fancy horses for a local event. It’s certainly not about making good time, saving gas money, or even our horses exercise. It’s about the energy and people needed to see the world, even this incredibly local piece of it. We traveled an eight-mile loop, that’s it, and it took half a day and several stops. It took knowing every part of our harness, our horse, our rigs and the means to make it all moves us from one place to another. It involved time for conversation, song, laughter and stories. It got neighbors to walk up to us, conversations with stores and businesses, and the chance to feel like a scoop of ice cream was deserved calories for road fuel and not a guilt-inducing splurge. That is a lot to gain from a pair of horse carts plodding down the road during a bike race. It’s a lot to gain from anything.

If you want a lesson in proximity, ask a working horse to teach you.