Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Grand Day!

Yesterday was a day to celebrate if there ever was one! I was able to make a mortgage payment, which I know is a mundane and everyday task for millions of people, but on this farm it is a holiday every time the call to the bank is made. And if that wasn't enough, I was able to pay two smaller bills and mail out a student loan payment. Again, not anything spectacular on its own, but when I am able to do these things living the life I love it deserves a bit of celebrating, by Crow. Alas, no whiskey was poured and no horse was ridden up into the mountains. No, yesterday's celebration involved talons and cottontails. I was going hawking!

I took Italics over to Livingston Brook Farm. The picture above was taken by Patty, who is getting over a touch of the flu. I don't write about Italics much but know that yesterday was spent with a good bird, good people, on soft ground in pursuit of cottontails. Mark and I hiked into their hillsides with long staves to whack brush with and Italics watched from his perch as his "hunting dogs" tried to flush some game for him. That hunt didn't end with a rabbit in his talons but it did end with me calling him back on the lure, a large chunk of Cold Antler Lamb attached for the bird's dinner. Not a bad payment, at all.

After hawking I had to pick up some hay and feed, which I did in the town of Salem. My truck is repaired thanks to my good friends and their valuable time and kindness. I drove home smiling, absolutely drunk on the day. It started with chores, seeing after the animals I adore, then paying those bills, then writing more of Birchthorn (which, by the way, hit a true breakthrough in plot yesterday and will be updated this week with several thousand new words, Kickstarter Backers!).... and after all that goodness I got to hunt with friends and my bird on a calm winter day. So I was just happy, just damn happy.

When I got home it was around 3pm and so I started evening chores early. I checked everyone's feed, water, bedding and other small chores and when that was done could feel my stomach rumble. I had not had the chance to eat anything yet and was so looking forward to a good meal, but with daylight left I wanted to head outside and get a little more rabbit chasing in. So I grabbed my trusty H&R shotgun and small small game rounds and walked into the woods.

I had been tracking game for weeks now, and knew that rabbits were back in the woods. Their tracks are everywhere when it snows, and I had already scouted some warrens and holes. I knew how to look through, not at, the low brush and take just a few steps and then watch for a scamper or hop. It took moments in some thick undergrowth to see a large cottontail. I aimed and shot. The buck made it ten yards before lying still. I whooped! A rabbit was a meal for me, a meal for the hawk, and a long-awaited first taxidermy project. I had been researching that skill for a while now and decided the first small mammal I took in good condition would be my first project. All the references I looked into said it was better to start with squirrels but oh well, I find it is best to just start. And start I shall.

I walked home last evening in the late-afternoon light. I had a gun over one shoulder, a rabbit by the hind feet in my hand, and a smile I could not shake. I could see the smoke rising from my little house, a promise of a warm retreat for the huntress come home. There would be a good meal in that home, and kind dogs, and all the joys that come with it. And the smile was because this little patch of land never stops surprising me, it never stops taking care of me. The farm animals, the wildlife, the water in my well. The dogs, the horse, the hawk, the gun. All of this is here and I am here with it and for that I am grateful. I mean, what a day! And to end it all with a successful hunt was better than I dare ask for.

Some days are just good, and too good not to share. And that's all for now.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Novel Writing is Boring

At least, that is how Gibson feels about it. We finished chores and as I sat down to write with a mug of coffee about monsters and a winter farm in the early 1900's - Gibson watched the turkeys from the glass doors. Over the hour I was lost in the story he went from sitting on that bench at full attention, to laying down with some attention (head up at least), to this slump of absolute ennui. Without work to do a Border Collie is one sad looking layabout, no?

Friday, December 26, 2014

How I Get By

So in a few minutes my good friend Chris will be coming over with a piece of brake line to replace what has rusted out on my truck. He's also coming with a hundred pounds of feed since I can't run to pick up more at the store. Waiting for him when he arrives is a large cast iron skillet with three large potatoes (quartered, length-wise) and a roasted chicken. The taters and the bird all came from Stannard Farm and they are all braised with an equal parts mixture of honey, bourbon, and butter - melted over the stove and then brushed all over the bird and vegetables. It is all sprinkled with chicken rub spices and the house smells amazing. Chris refuses to let me pay him for repairing the truck (and Brigit knows I can't swing a mechanic) so he and his family have a gift basket waiting of jam, pork, lamb,and honey and other odds and ends. He may not accept payment, but he sure can accept a bit of this farm's bounty!

That is just one example of how much community matters around here. Skills are swapped, barter is king, and friends are a wealth far beyond money. I am cash poor but I am the richest woman I know when it comes to people in my life. Last night Tyler and Tara (of goingslowly.com) picked me up for Christmas Dinner over at Livingston Brook Farm. I brought my basket of jam, honey and the hearty wheat bread and dinner was amazing! Turkey, mashed potatoes, salads, cranberry sauce, coffee and dessert! My bread was just the thing for mopping up gravy and we spent the night just talking in front of their fireplace. Dogs and kittens in laps, no tv or movies, just good drinks, full bellies, good friends and some gift giving and story telling. Perfect. I am so grateful for these people!

And oh, the people! On Christmas eve a neighbor and Apprentice Falconer named Jeremy (this is his first year!) came by and as a thank you for giving him some old gear that didn't fit Italics he handed me a pair of handmade jesses and a piece of Kangaroo Leather for hood making! It's so soft and supple, maybe too much for a hood but for anklets, repairs, flying and hunting gear it is perfect. He drove me to the Falconers' Christmas Eve party where lots of friends and happy faces were toasting nog and talking birds. They are the folks who took me out into the wild with a hawk on my fist. They are the ones who taught me to hand sew hoods and work leather with my clumsy hands. They are amazing, and another gift.

This is how I get by as a single woman with a passion for a ridiculous life here in the North Country, my fiends. These are the people who have made my life worth living, worth sharing, worth learning and teaching and being more and more. They are the people I fight beside at Taekwondo and I ride beside on horseback into the mountains. They are the ones who taught me to hunt, to take hawks out of the sky and train them, and to cook bourbon basted birds in a home warmed by wood fire.

Community, experience, frugality, and a happiness and peace with being right here at home - that is how I get by. Over the past two years the person this farm has changed me into is 180º different than the woman she once was. There is less wanting and more fight in the dog for keeping. There is more joy in a chicken dinner and board game night with friends than a free trip overseas to eat in a restaurant in another country. There is nothing wrong with that life, nothing at all, but do I ever love the reality here at home. I would give up every plane ticket and vacation for the rest of my life to keep a pony, saddle, hawk and dog in my life from here on out.

I make my living in a couple dozen ways, working harder than ever before at any 9-5 gig. There are no weekends, there are no days off. I raise pork and teach classes. I write freelance and design logos. I hand in magazine articles, books proposals, and speak at local schools and colleges. I barter. I don't buy things like clothes, restaurant dinners, or spend time in malls for fun. I'm giving up more and more of the fringes - like my smart phone and data plan. I have learned to re use coffee grounds, shop in thrift shops and tag sales, and eat more food grown at home. I would rather spend a day hunting than at a concert, unless that concert is friends around a campfire playing homemade music with hunting stories, ale, and roast beasts! I am more a homesteader than ever before if only for the many many ways I try and pay the bills. And for that every day is a quest towards keeping my hobbit hole mine. I am so grateful for the animals, the people, and the meaning I find in all this. Life matters more to me than ever before.

And of course, and arguably as important as any neighbor here in Washington County, is YOU! The readers of this blog are what make my life possible as a writer. You following along, sending messages, holiday greetings, watching vlogs and leaving comments (which I strongly encourage now!) YOU are also how I get by! I just wanted to write a bit to share that gratitude, which is nearly impossible to share on a one-on-one basis. So I thank you, and feel so lucky to have you all, and I hope you will follow Cold Antler Farm into her best year ever! 2015!


P.S. On Christmas Day I was able to sell Merlin's Meadowbrook Cart, an amazing blessing to this farm, even if it is a sad thing to give up. But it means the farm can catch up on one more late mortgage payment and keep the wolves from the door for a few more weeks! So I am thankful for that as well! I don't need a cart, not really, and I'll find one again someday. But I do need a roof over my head and that - and a creative life here at CAF, is a worthy mission to fight for every morning!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Christmas to You!

The Solstice came a few days ago, and I was up before dawn to greet him. I lit a fire, and meditated for a bit. No mantras, no beads, no hands in weird positions on my lap. I just sat quietly and watched the sun rise. For a gal like me it's a big, bright, deal. From here on out we can measure all days in growing daylight. The sun has come back from it's hiding places and for some of you out there another very popular son is born this morning. So Happy Christmas folks!

I've been out of commission here a few days, not feeling well and resting up. I've also been homebound, thanks to a truck with a rusted out brake line. For the past few days of churning stomaches and heavy thoughts the rain came and came and came. Many inches fell here in Washington county and the sump pump has been working overtime in my dirt floor basement. But this morning while doing chores the rain stopped. The sun came out and it felt like spring. The wind was warm and I was overdressed in a light sweater! I watched the light swirl all over the puddles and sheets of not-yet-melted ice and I couldn't think of a better Christmas Present. A day where all my friends gather together, eat great food, and its warm enough that I can leave for a few hours without worrying about keeping the wood stove going. I am about to light a fire here, just to fight off the damp, but the windows are open in the farmhouse and I am contemplating a morning of baking so I have some gifts to offer my friends tonight at dinner over at Livingston Brook Farm. I think a basket of homemade egg breads, all braided and coated in cinnamon and sugar would be a fine present. And I have a few jars left of my own farm's raspberry jam! There is honey in jars, lamb chops in the freezer, these are fine and wonderful gifts for friends!

I hope all of you are well fed today, warm, with people you love all around you. I hope the wine and liquor flow, your nog is egged, and the slow-cooked beasts on the table share enough for everyone to have seconds! I wish you all kindness and peace, forgiveness and acceptance, and most of all - a sense of good will the rest of this winter and into the hard work of spring. Seed catalogs are already here!

P.S. Italics says Hi!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Great Last-Minute Gifts!

I am offering these sales on the following items and events right now, and think they would make great Holiday Gifts for anyone interested in CAF and eager to support the farm. Prices good till Christmas, including that great Season Pass discount that includes all weekend camps and events at CAF, including fiddle and archery camps! Email me (address at bottom of this post) to sign up and take advantage! It would be a blessing to this small farm!

How about Any single-day workshop (minus the cost of gear for said workshop) for $60

How about a Three-Workshop Pass for $150

How about Your Choice of Fiddle Camp or Arrow's Rising 2015 (with fiddle or bow) for $250
Or BOTH EVENTS for $400 (includes fiddle and bow)

How about any Indie Day for Two People (10AM-4PM on the farm) for $200

How about a Season Pass for $200 (or renewal of yours!)

Also for sale:

Meadowbrook Horse Cart

See details of events here, adding more every season!

Email me to sign up! Paypal only!

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Roosters add some lovely color to this farm, especially in the the heart of winter. Tomorrow is Yule, and the darkest night of the year. But how could any of us be worried about the lack of sunlight when beasts such as this are strutting around right outside your front door? Seeing this little banty, with his boots and colorful jacket makes me warm inside, regardless of the daylight hours.

I know not everyone out there keeps roosters that keeps a laying flock, but I find them a necessity to my own hens. A rooster keeps a free range flock calmer, as he is the one keeping watch and sounding alarms for things like skyward and land-locked predators. They greet each morning with they crows (which I adore) and make a delicious pot pie if things don't work out in the protection or musical departments. What are your thoughts on roosters? Do they add to your flock or annoy the neighbors? Are they banned by your local laws or do you have a dozen strutting around your ranch? What's the word on these birds?!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Meet Brick

Brick isn't new around here but I'm not sure you have ever been formally introduced? She's one of the original five blackface sheep I had bought back during my first winter here in Jackson. Over the years she has produced twins and single, all the finest sheep ever born here. None have stayed, sadly. They were all more valuable as barter than as home stock, and they went on to produce the flocks at Draftwood and Common Sense Farms. Last year her ram lamb, Wallace, was sold to another NY state farm as their new ram. He was a little brick, too, twice the size of any of the other lambs. This year, I am hoping for a nice fat ewe lamb!

But Brick! What a ewe! She is named that for her stature since she is as solid as they come. She's a smaller, furrier, propane tank on spotted legs. She stands proudly in the pasture and I am proud of her. She's a fixture here, not as charismatic as Maude was nor as big and braw as Monday - but the kind of woman you'd want to have your back. She's bred and I am crossing my fingers for some good and hardy gals to stay here and join her in the pasture. Tough broads are a welcomed lot around these parts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

KALE: Under A Foot Of SNOW!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Downtown Cambridge has a collection of shops, cafes, and businesses that make me darn proud to be a part of this community. In the past few days I have been down to Battenkill Books twice to sign copies of books and I have decided to make hand-drawn bookmarks for ALL books people buy from Connie, so please do get in any last minute orders! But to be in a bustling bookstore in your own little town, with a table of cookies and hot chocolate, kids and dogs running amok, and carolers (CAROLERS!) in the streets singing outside! It made me so darn happy. A sweet little sight in a small town with a big ol' heart.

Snowy Indie Day Today!

The snow hasn't melted yet around the farmstead, and I'm enjoying the winter warmth. Snow outside and a fire indoors, good food in the oven or slow cooker, homemade wine and good friends visiting often. This is what the holidays are all about! Friends, food, and Yuletide cheer!

Today a reader from New Hampshire came for an Indie Day. He is just starting his homestead and laying the foundation down for a good barn, but wanted to spend a day talking about bees, chickens, and rabbits. So that is what we did. A few hours inside and outside the farmhouse talking. We visited my hive and animals and I shared my stories, books, and suggestions. But I am just one homesteader and there are as many ways to do things as their are farmers to do them. So next we visited local beekeepers and farmers. We spoke with the amazing folks at Common Sense and saw their Cote/Coop setups. Their they use an awesome method hard to explain when not in person. A system of feeding tables that are rat proof on pedestals and water buckets with nipples. They have poo hammocks under the night roosts on pulleys to lower into buckets. It is genius and the way I would design my next coop if I used a coop again (Birds here are all free range and sleep in the barn at night). Then we traveled to Patty and Mark's place to visit her animals and rabbitry. Patty has been breeding meat rabbits for over a decade and knows those animals well and has her system down pat. She shared her knowledge and showed off her beautiful farm and tractor she's restoring from the 40's.

I love these Indie Days, and wish I could host Indie Weeks! To be here for a day and see the farm, meet the animals, and talk over evening chores or with tea by the wood stove, that is all wonderful, but I wish someone from a city or suburb could spend a whole week here and get a taste of the rhythm of farm days. It would be a happy rattle, I think, to spend a day around animals and wood stove needs instead of meetings and commuter trains. Or maybe they'd learn after a few days how wonderful microwaves, thermostats, and warm toilet seats are after a few days here and happily set the farm fantasy aside! Either way, what an adventure!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Keeping Chickens IS NOT for Sissies

This morning's fox shooting had me thinking all day about responsible chicken keeping. Predators are a threat to any free-range flock (and plenty of penned ones, too!) but a loaded gun isn't the hard part about keeping chickens. The hard part is choosing to take that step into the realm of livestock, a different relationship than pets. Livestock are animals we keep for food, or, have historically been raised for food even if the animals in your care are considered pets. It's a harsh line, but a real one. You may love your trio of hens but if you are leaving your rental in Brooklyn and can't take them to a new home, don't expect an animal shelter to take them in. But this is happening all over, and sadly proves that some people don't have what it takes to take up raising backyard chickens.

One Shot with the Shotgun

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Great Manky Fox Hunt

Gibson ran to the sliding glass doors, barking like a manic off his meds. My first guess was the pegs were out, enjoying a romp in the snow. But when I came to the window I saw a scene no farmer likes to witness. A manky fox was tearing apart a chicken not thirty feet from us. The fox was winning the fight with the bird, but it didn’t look much better. It was thin and sickly looking, his pelt drab and seemed more the size of a cat than a proper fox.

With a chicken keeper’s haste I grabbed my little .22 rifle, the firearm I am the most comfortable with and most accurate. (Had I stopped to think I would have grabbed the .20 gauge and finished this story in one pellet load) I stepped out on the porch and aimed at the fox's lungs right behind his front legs, and shot. As I pulled the trigger he turned and instead I hit the dead chicken. Feathers exposed and I screamed an expletive that sounded a lot like "What the Fox!" Then I loaded another round in the chamber and must have hit the theif. He dropped the bird and took off into the low brush and bracken around the stream. I pursued with a whoop of triumph.

You need to imagine this scene. A scrappy red fox slinking through the snow-heavy bushes. Me, in breeches and kilt, sporran and felt hat. Not time for a coat, just a wool sweater and rifle in both hands I stalk after him. My eyes dart through the foot-deep snow and brains, and I see his ears pop up over an snowy rose bush and slide back down. This is something out of a cartoon, I thought. He is gone before I can try another shot.

And so I crossed the cold stream that divides us, my rubber boots making me feel immune to the challenge. I ran through briars on the other side, the canvas of my kilt fine armor for the task. Gibson barked from the house. Annie slept.

I followed him, taking a shot again and was nearly certain this time I hit him. I saw his head and body duck. He ran off across the street and into the think brush of the neighbors 200+ acre property. I set down my rifle and walked out into the road, and saw his clever footprints next to mine. There was no sign of bloodtrail. He was long gone, or under thick brush. I let out a frustrated sigh. The fox was dead, dying, or scared off and most likely the last of those options.

He would be back and if I didn’t get him once or twice a day a chicken would disappear from this farm and those splendid eggs would be just a photograph. I’d also need to start all over with new birds, an expense and time suck I wasn’t wiling to give up for a fox. For a coyote, sure—the song dogs are welcome on this property—but not a fox. I walked back to the scene of the crime and followed the feathers and prints to the dead rooster. One less crow welcomes the dawn.

The roo was in bad shape, so instead of dressage him for the crock pot I tied him with a piece of twine to the same tree I saw him being killed at. I buried the twine in the snow and left it there, tethered in place as bait for return of the fox. My hope is his strungle with the tied foot gives Gibson enough time to sound the alarm again and me to take aim with the right gun. My .20 gauge is right by the glass doors now. Lesson learned.

Hopefully I'll get him or already did, and if that sounds unkind then you either don't raise chickens or can afford to buy all the free-ranged eggs and chicken dinners you'd like. Things are tight here, and the chickens are my livestock and therefore in my care. It's my responsibility to them to thwart whatever predators I can, so they can raise more chicks and keep the breeds and chicken story alive here at Cold Antler Farm. Plus, I always wanted a fox head on my wall. I wonder if taxidermy is a skill worth learning for extra income? (This is how I think now...)

Hopefully the hunt ends soon!

December Eggs

December eggs are a beautiful thing to see here on this small farm. A few of the Antlerborns have started laying again, near the darkest time of the year. I am finding two or three a day, and they are such a treat. No eggs have been found since October and I have been buying eggs at the farm stand down the road. But yesterday I had a great second breakfast of eggs and my own pig's bacon and it was a feast of gratitude for this woman.

Winter eggs, what a thing. Folk songs should be written about such grand happenings!

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Different Sort of Grown Up

I took a glance at this blog today, something I rarely do. I write it, and post to it, but actually scrolling up and down it like a reader isn't something I do. What I saw made me so happy here on this snowy rock this afternoon. Outside the world is gray and bitter and the snow isn't stopping. But inside this little farmhouse with three rooms on the first floor, there is a wellspring of creativity! I see art, design, illustration, photography, music and prose. I see story telling and books and fiddle tunes being fought with around the edges. It's such a nice change from posts of worry and fear, something I find myself doing when I make the mistake of focusing on all the frays on the quilt instead of the patches. I have become a different sort of grown up.

Last night I was working with Italics in the farmhouse. He and I are getting closer and closer to hunting weight and skill. He landed on the bench with my fiddle and I got lucky to snap this picture. I adore it. It shows the heart of this farm. The harsh melody that is a creative world that allows things like slaughter, martial arts, archery, falconry and rifle season. It's human and animal, but wood and brass and not plastic and toy poodles. This little farm is a manifestation of who I am, or who I want to be. It's what all our homes are, really.

In the mail this week I got some cards from readers. I got new blog subscribers. A man from Wisconsin mailed me a handmade Osage Orange horsebow and arrow. What woman in this country gets ancient weapons and cards with puppies playing on them delivered in the same day? Another reader send an email that floored me, about such an upturned life and personal goals I was humbled by it, and ashamed of the blog post I wrote about not living vicariously. I feel so damn lucky to have you readers. I know a lot of authors have webs tires and blogs, but I don't know many who have the relationship we have. You are welcomed in this house, in this life, at this farm. Your cards, emails, gifts, donations, book purchases and patience are helping fuel this little fire on the mountain.

I thank you, all.

Luceo Non Uro.

Bookmarks Created!

They are stained with tea, burned on the edges, and hand drawn with ink and pencil. They are going to the five folks who ordered signed books first at Battenkill! A nice little fire burst of creativity here, one of many ways to stay warm with winter!

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Give a Special Gift to a Farmer This Year!

I am running a sale on all logos, a cool and unique gift to give a fellow farmer for the holidays! I can design and email a voucher that you can print and set into an envelope. The voucher allows that person to help design and choose a brand for their farm, all expenses paid. Email or message me for details at jenna@itsafarwalk.com

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fiddle & Drum

It's a snow day here, the storm that was supposed to come with yesterday's rain came today in the form of fives inches of constant, delightful, gentle snowfall. I have been working indoors and taking breaks from the computer with two old friends, my fiddle and drum. Ihave been playing an Irish song called the Scartaglen Slide and working on being more fluid with it, more easy. It's a tricky tune with a tricky tempo but the challenge of getting it better has been half the fun.

I'm a musician, but not one of any consequence. I play music to please myself, and play it scrappy and lightly. The fiddle is my weapon of choice and teaching it to new players is one of my favorite things about Cold Antler Farm. Good food and good music, both made from scratch, might be the most wonderful combination in the world. It doesn't matter if both are imperfect, it only matters that you eat and play with deep-rooted joy.

I am not sure I ever shared the artwork I tattooed into the goatskin head of this little drum? Indian ink was hand set with a metal calligraphy pen, inspired by the dogs in the book of Kells, this wolf arches his back to the four corners. Old Alchemic symbols of the elements and knot work surround him. I have carried this drum across five states and have played it at college drum circles, outdoor music events, and just for fun in front of the computer to record some homemade music. I wrote a little song called Fireside with a tin whistle, egg shaker, dulcimer, and this little drum. Enjoy it with some photos of this little farm going from late summer into winter here in the mountains! The time of year being fireside matters most!


If you are a regular reader of Cold Antler Farm, and enjoy the stories, photos, music, and journey of a woman and her farm, please consider making a contribution as a subscriber to this blog. This is an entirely voluntary system, the blog will always be free, but if you are willing and able to contribute a few dollars a month, I truly thank you. It is a way to pay for the writing on this blog, if you wish to. These add up and can make all the difference in keeping a creative life solvent. Right now even the smallest nod towards the farm could make all the difference for me and the animals this winter. I thank all of you for even considering it, and so appreciate those who already do subscribe. Again, this is optional and the blog remains free for all!

Gibson & I Invite You to Battenkill Books!

This holiday season you can give any of my books (all are currently stocked here at the shop in my little town) as a gift fro Battenkill Books! Connie will take your rode (online or over the phone) and then email me to come down and sign copies. Not only will you get a signed, messaged (and if you ask, Gibson's paw print!) in the books - they will WRAP THEM FOR YOU as well. I am glad to sign all and any of my books but I got to say that One Woman Farm makes a beautiful gift for the farm-curious and my newest book: Cold Antler Farm is the most raw, spiritual, and honest book I ever wrote about the emotions and stories of living on this little mountain farm. Call or order today, and the first 5 people to make orders will also have mailed a special little gift from Cold Antler Farm itself: hand drawn bookmarks of a farm animal, signed by me. I'll let Connie Know!

Battenkill Books 
15 East Main St. 
Cambridge, NY 12816 
(518) 677-2515 

Get Yer Goats!

If anyone is interested in a purebred Alpine kid this spring, I'll have 2 pregnant does giving birth and taking deposits on any kids for those interested in dairy goats. Deposit is $50 and if the goat doesn't birth a sex you are interested in, you get your money back. Does are $150 each, so hundred cash or paypal on pickup. Bucklings are a $50 (no can on pickup, just take the goat!) Bloodlines all from Common Sense Farm, a commune and dairy near me where you can visit all the relatives!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Stop Reading This Blog

An Hour Warmer

Today was what I consider a normal day in my life now, a reality that I still have trouble believing at times. I say that not because it is anything of great import or special, but a world apart from the life I once lived. I thought I would share it, all the good parts and the bad, so you may get a better idea of what this feral woman is up to on a Monday here in the hinterlands.

I woke up the way I always do, under a pile of wool and sheepskins, my dog Gibson curled next to me under the covers. It is light outside, a break from getting up at 5Am for hunting. We are sleeping downstairs lately, a few paces from the wood stove. If it is really cold I make a mattress of sheepskins and blankets and sleep right beside the stove, but this morning we were on the daybed. Our combined heat sent steam up into the fifty-degree farmhouse air.

If you read this blog you know the routine that follows: coffee is set on the stove, the fire is rekindled,  and nI get dressed in the armor that puts the fight in this dog. I slide on a camisole and long underwear top over my gooseflesh arms. I pull on thick riding breeches over my legs. Then I pick out a wool sweater to finish the first layering. All of this gear (save the riding breeches) was used or well worn. Over those go a work kilt and a canvas vest. A good hat covers my head and thick wool socks slide over my feet. I am ready.

Chores are done outside next. The world is LOUD outside. All the animals want to eat, and so they tell me in their own voices. The sheep baa, the horse bellows, the goats bleat, roosters crow, geese honk.... If it wasn't for Right to Farm Laws the police would be here for the racket, I'm sure.

As the house warms up so does my body. A wiser version of me would get up an hour earlier, and have a house and hour warmer, but I slept in till 6:30. So I go about the first business outdoors, feeding Merlin and the Sheep. The horse and sheep are closest to the house and a 60lb bale is taken off the back of the pickup and split into thirds. One third to the horse, one third to the sheep, one third to the goats which will be fed on the second trip outdoors. This trip is just the horse and sheep though. The animals munch on Nelson Greene's second cut and I prepare the grain mixture for the sheep. A third a bale won't be enough in this weather for six sheep, so they will get more forage and their morning meal. In a bucket goes corn, sweet feed, and mineral mix. They are fed and I note their water level (or in this case, frozen water level) and head inside to warm up a bit and have some coffee. This is the time to get one cup in, the dogs walked, the house a degree warmer. After that I head back outside to carry water buckets and refill frozen containers. The large ones for the sheep and horse are broken with a heavy maul. The smaller water containers come inside to thaw by the stove. It only takes about fifteen minutes for the ice around the edges to thaw enough to slide out the frozen bucketcicle. It is refilled and the animals are sated.

In an hour the pigs, sheep, goats, horse, poultry, rabbit and inside animals are fed. It is a cold bit of work, but enjoyable. The sky is gray and it is around eight degrees. When I come inside to enjoy my second cup of coffee I know that every animal has had breakfast, a warm place for a clean and dry repose, and water to spare. This is the magic that turns a loud farm of whinnies and bleats into a quiet place. Not even the chickens coo and cluck as they pick at grain and cracked corn. Noise is a wonderful thing but eating is better. I am not looking for a meal yet, and find myself growing less hungry every day. I usually wait till 2Pm to have one meal of the day, though I am trying to start with a better breakfast. I make a note to start tomorrow earlier with some oatmeal and honey. For today, just coffee and later... hot chai. I have words to deal with now.

I write for a few hours, working on the novel Birchthorn. Over 15 thousand words into that novel now, and it is coming along at a farmer's pace. I imagine it'll be finished by late spring at around fifty thousand words, a chunky novella. The new section will be uploaded tomorrow morning to the blog for the Kickstarter members. When that is done I update the blog a bit. A mention of the importance of Game Night inspired by a post I saw on twitter. The farm is quiet but the tweets can be heard.

After the writing was done the house reached a comfortable 58 degrees and it was noon. I turned on the little space heater in my small bathroom with a shower stall. I took a short shower and it was heavenly. Hot water is more appreciated after an hour in the cold with firewood and the smell of male goat pee and a few more hours sitting still at a computer. After the soak I gussied up a bit an then got right back into my farm clothes after the shower. I felt cleaner. My head felt clearer, too.

With creative work and chore work done I checked emails, which is pretty much an act of hope. I check to see if anyone has sent word of work, through signing up for classes and workshops, looking for design or writing freelance, and like that. No one had any word of income coming my way, so I set into small-time entrepreneur mode. I extended some discounts on sales, spoke with a possible show hog client who may need a logo, and posted some stuff for sale on craigslist. Then I started another tactic, checking with ad sales I am soliciting and folks who I have content agreements for. I scheduled some writing assignments for later in the week for myself. It's about an hour of business correspondance, all done standing at the kitchen computer, my 2002 eMac. That old computer in my farmhouse kitchen is how all money comes into this farm. Besides a few random voluntary blog subscribers through paypal, it was a day without any other income. Things being how they are, that is concerning but not scary. Not yet.

I never checked the weather though. That was a mistake.

I headed out to get the four things the farm needed most: hay, feed, fuel, and friends. It was around 1PM at this point and even though farm, blog, and writing work was done there was more to do outside the property. My trip in the truck meant I'd be seeing to all four I called Gibson and we headed out to the little two lane highway that our errands made.

The truck stalled on the way. Can't worry about that right now.

First trip of the day took us north to Hebron to talk to Nelson Greene, a tireless flirt and a sweet man. In his late 70's he has no problem at all hitting on me and goofing off. It's our schtick and I joke right back. What can I say? The man sells great hay. I figure in your late 70's you can get away with a lot, and he does, and I adore him for it. I loaded up hay quickly and then walked over to his shop where he was working on repairing an old Papa Bear, a beast of a wood stove. Now, it was in the high teens, and here was this giant of a man, welding a stove in the same work shirt and pants I see him in, in all weathers, and a thick cap. Most men his age were not out in their shops welding new walls on a  wood stove, most men his age weren't outside at all. And most men would have scrapped that rusty stove for junk, but Nelson doesn't say no to any repair projects. We chatted and talked Border Collies and cattle (his old border collie, Sport, is a dog of legend around here) and he told me that someone told him recently about "cow tipping" and had I ever heard of it? I laughed and said only people who don't live around cows think they can tip them, but let them try. He shook his head and laughed, a dairyman his entire life and never once would he consider trying to push a ton of heifer over.

With bales in the back of the truck handed over I headed south to Salem Farm Supply. There I walked in with Gibson and we picked up a few things for the farm. We got 150lbs of feed, and some small errands inside. Gibson shopped on his own while I looked around at the holiday stuff out on display. Farm stores do not sell fancy holiday stuff. They sell lights and some hearty ornaments and tree stands. When at checkout the folks who run the joint showed me their "ugly holiday sweater contest" and brought out this hideously wonderful sweater. I grinned like the Grinch! They explained that when a local business is wearing it you are supposed to drop in a few bucks in their charity collection buckets. I laughed and said I just handed Nelson Greene all my cash and would be back later in the week. As I left they turned on a dancing Santa Hat which lit up and played carols. Gibson was certain this hat was possessed by a demon. His eyes got huge and I was worried for a second he would try and eat it. He didn't. He just backed up slowly out of the cash register area making the sign of the cross.

When we left the store building at Salem Farm Supply I walked over to the loading dock area where the grain is set into your truck. The man who brings out the grain is usually very terse. Not in anyway mean or disrespectful, just quiet and not into small talk. When he saw the bales in my truck, the load of grain, and the sky above swirling with the promise of snow, he suddenly felt chatty. "Getting ready for tomorrow?" he asked, smiling. I knew what that meant. I had a car full of feed, for many types of animals. I remembered I forgot to check the weather...

"How much?" I asked.  He knew what I meant. How much snow was on the way? Usually I check the weather every hour or so, but the morning was a mess of monsters, money concerns, and cold weather. I didn't check the future because I was dealing with the bitter present. We talked for a while about the weather and I adjusted the day's plan because of it. When I got home around 3PM I would start chores early. I'd get the pigs a full fresh bale of bedding and extra feed. I'd make sure all the buckets frozen since the morning were defrosted again, ice broken, and comfort prepared well before dark.

I drove past Patty and Mark's place to see if they were home for a visit. They weren't, so I left their driveway and turned back south towards Cold Antler. Last trip of the day was to Stewart's, our local chain of gas stations/ice cream parlors and there I got some diesel and gasoline and coffee for myself. It isn't great coffee, but it's our coffee. I drink it with gusto.

At home the stove had all but gone out. Just embers and the temperature had dropped back to 55. I got a fire restarted with some dry kindling and pine twigs from the spruce trees outside. It lit up again in a second. I checked email and got a "maybe' about a design job and that was enough to buoy my spirits. I sat down and worked on some other design projects, one very important. I was doing some cards for folks donating to the Mission Nadia project over at Firecracker Farm. The Daughtons asked if I could make up something as a thank you for those who donate towards the adoption of Nadia. I share this here incase any of you would like to check it out, and support a worthy cause. Then it was off to chores again, afternoon, pre-storm, edition.

The animals were all ready for another meal. I repeated the morning routine and then spent some time in the pig pen. The four pegs out there were growing thicker and hairier. They were not at harvest weight yet, but coming along. I poured some corn into their feeding bowl, which they promptly spilled and started eating out of the dirty hay from last night's bedding. They were busy so I went to work moving in new hay, filling feeders and water troughs, and getting them settled for the snow. I sat in their pigoda and watched them eat. I tried to get better pictures but they are not still creatures. But you can see a side shot of the big male. He's around 140lbs I'd guess. Another month or two, then off to the folks who co-own them.

By this point it is dark and I am growing tired. A gal can only do so much. The firewood was still needing to be pulled inside for the night. The hawk needed fresh water and training indoors. I had been bringing Italics in for flight practice to the glove and lure training. After we work inside I set him on my fist and we watch a movie together. He is growing used to the dogs now, and used to me again after the long summer molt. I hope to be hunting with him again in a short while.

The day ended around 8PM, and yet I am still up. I wanted to write this, catch up with friends online (Guild raid at 8pm-10pm), and there was this post I wanted to share. IT matters to me that I can come here and share a Monday like this. A Monday with men fixing wood stoves in the cold, with pig pen pictures, with dogs scared of Santa Hats, and with the fine work of keeping all the balls in the air. Tomorrow is a new day, a snow day (expecting close to a foot) and I will need my rest for shoveling, roof raking, and that bowl of oatmeal I promised myself. But for now I am happy to curl under those skins again with my dog, and be warm, tired, fed, and happy. The house is 60 degrees and in that den it will be 80 degrees or better of solid rest, a good six hours or so. What a joy that will be! In my dreams I think of wonderful things, and it is as if I am there.

I'm glad I stayed up later than planned. This farm is now an hour warmer.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Highland Hairdo

Game Night for Beginners!

I'll say this again: I hated board games until fairly recently, and I mean loathed them. I felt trapped at the table, held hostage with some plastic and cardboard. That said, I loved chess. I grew up playing chess all through elementary school and high school and had an electronic board I could play against in college. I'm not the greatest player but the strategy and intensity thrilled me, and I did not consider it a board game. Board games were rolling dice and moving pieces around and just wasting time, all luck and horseplay. But when I discovered this lesser-known world of boardgames that involved the strategy of Chess combined with just enough luck to make it anyone's game.... I was hooked.

Games loved around here are titles such as Settlers of Catan, Agricola, Ticket to Ride, Small World, Tsuro, Last Night on Earth, Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Munchkin, Gloom, and many many more. Another table top adventure that happens here is Role Playing Games such as Dungeons and Dragons, where you create a character and hope it survives the day. Two campaigns are happening here right now (one I play in and one I run as the game master) and I look forward to those nights more than any others during the week.

This holiday season you'll be with a lot of friends and family, why not get everyone together to play something simple and awesome such as Ticket to Ride instead of arguing over politics and recipes? Why not turn off the TV and consoles for a minute, set aside the phones, and figure out how to survive a Zombie attack on Last Night on Earth. Or, if you're feeling that gracious holiday spirit: save the world from several epidemics in Pandemic, as a family, how adorable!

Game Nights mean ordering pizza or potlucks. Simple food, good friends, music, adventure, and all of this done around a table looking each other in the eye and using our brains. It's a great way for any rural community or farmstead to enjoy time with neighbors and just as fun in your apartments in the city - opting for a night in with amazing take out (I am jealous of) and a few hands of Gloom to figure out how creepy that blind date really is...

So play more games! Click here to watch my favorite board game right now, Lords of Waterdeep!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Winter is Here

Winter is here. Tomorrow lows will sink into the single digits and the farm will become a small fortress of warmth and protection. Warmth for me, at least as much as the stoves can pump out, and protection for the animals here in my care. Water will freeze, bedding will need to be deep, and sheep will find comfort inside their pole barn together. I've been hosting workshops, hunting, and doing my level best to get ready for the cold and trials ahead. This post may sound somewhat somber, but that isn't the tone here. Here I am glad for my luck and the animals I share my life with. We'll stay warm together.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Needlework & Seedlings

A Design Farm? YES!

Not all of my readers know that I was a graphic designer before I was a farmer and author! And while I wouldn't say I'm the hippest kid on the block anymore with the newest issue of HOW magazine on her coffee table, I still have my chops. I design logos for mostly farmers now and love the process. I charge a quarter of what design firms charge and the final product (a back and forth of designs and changes until the buyer is satisfied) is your art, which you own, and get files able to look good on a business card or billboard. It's one of the many ways I keep this farm afloat.

P.S. These are not all final designs, but a compilation of works in progress.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Spots Open For This Weekend's Workshop!

This is a new event here at Cold Antler Farm, one I never thought to offer until my last two books came out. This is a workshop talking about farming within the traditions and mythology around the Wheel of the Year. The Wheel of the Year is a general term for the pre-Christian practices of agricultural Europe. In my case: the Celtic Tradition. Since it is so close to the Solstice and the farm will be lit with bayberry candles, fresh fir branches, and a small tree inside the window we’ll start at Yule and talk about each of the eight festivals of the Wheel and how the farm life dances along with them, in music, story, and myth!

This will be a workshop taking much on farming and faith, finding meaning in mythology and ancient traditions and why I chose this path. I hope that folks interested in the Wheel will come and share their stories. There will also be open discussions on spirituality and farming in general, the importance of feeling connected to your land, and how spiritual groups and communities in general are a part of life here in Washington County. So it’s a little deeper, a little more introspective. But if your faith and your farm are connected you may be interested in joining this discussion.

Yuletide Cheer
December 6th 2014
10AM - 4PM
Here at CAF
$100 or Season Pass!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Soggy Sal

Soggy Sal, the oldest sheep in the flock now. I bartered him for fiddle lessons in early 2009 and the guess was he was around three at the time. He's still going though, in all weathers! And with all wethers!

Do I Enjoy Killing?

While sitting in the hunting blind, my father’s deer rifle resting across my thighs, I kept thinking of an accusation someone wrote to me months ago. The comment came from a member of the Animal Liberation movement. My life online as a farmer is public and whenever I post about raising animals for food, I hear from these folks. Usually their comments roll off my back like rainwater off a Toulouse, but this one had sharper teeth. I think about it often. It was so simple, and poignant and somewhat troubling. He said I raised animals for meat because "I enjoyed killing.”

It made me think of an elementary school trip to a local river for a biology class.  I watched in absolute horror as an unchaperoned student dropped a huge rock on a recently beached fish. The fish was still alive, just, and this kid chose to smite it like an angry god. I was too late to stop it but watched as the pitiful dying animal exploded into a slimy mess. I shot angry words at him, "Why did you do that?!" He said, calm as an accountant explaining a W-9, "I wanted to see what would happen? He was going to die anyway." At that moment I wanted to punch him as hard as I could, but was too afraid of him to take a step forward. I was disgusted at the unnecessary act of violence, but his calm reasoning for such horror scared me.

Decades later, sitting in a camouflage hut—hoping beyond hope to shoot a deer—I was anticipating taking a life on purpose. Had I become that calculating boy with the rock?

You enjoy killing... The words make me shudder.  And yet there I was, hunting. And this season a pig, a sheep, and several birds were slaughtered here for food. I helped other farmers process their animals as well. I know the inside of a chicken the way I know the pockets on my jeans. Death is as normal here as a spell of bad weather. It is temporarily unpleasant, but natural and normal and most of all necessary. It does happen and I'm glad it does. Without it this small farm would be a petting zoo of horrors. It has changed my own thoughts on death, given me greater peace with it. Life isn't a movie you are the star of, farms taught me that. Life, with a capital L, is a constant cycle we are supporting characters in (at best).  Those of us who forget that, or have never learned that, can draw hard lines in the sand based on species, but not many small farmers can anymore. I have learned being glad about taking lives is not the same as enjoying killing.

While there are plenty of people living in cities who understand agriculture and its relationship with ecology, there are plenty who do not. I hear from the ones who don't. The modern animal rights movement appears to be fervent pet owners far removed from a life with animals. Listen, living with a french bulldog in an apartment is not a life with animals. When I talk about a life with animals I mean living with and alongside nature and having to compete with other species to make a living. The people who criticize us are not dealing with the food chain unless they are ordering off a menu. It’s a distance hard to take seriously from a deer blind in 18˚ weather, especially from an environmentalist's view. If I take a doe I have just provided healthy food for me and mine a thousand feet away from where I sleep. Ordering pad thai in Boston with tofu shipped in diesel truck from California and spices flown in on planes is not the "green option." It is not eh cruelty free option either. Just because meat isn't on the plate doesn't mean a war-torn family in the middle east isn't suffering so you can have a fossil fuel based economy that flies exotic ingredients to your table. Guys, eating is complicated and political and when I am told that meal is morally superior to my doe's back straps it feels like talking to a child who never turned on the news. Eat in any way that feels correct to you, I do not care. Posts like this rise when the question of the morality of eating meat is questioned with ignorant self-righteousness. Philosophy majors discussing war is weak tea to a soldier's story. I have seen first hand the complicated, cruel, dance that farming makes you learn. I was vegetarian for nearly a decade, certain as could be, but didn't know the first thing about agriculture outside statistics and factory farming horrors. Things change when you go to war.

I do not enjoy killing. I am not the boy with a rock killing for the hell of it. The word we use around here is harvest and that isn't some adorable euphemism for murder. When you harvest corn or vegetables you do so after month of planning, work, and effort. You order chicks from the hatchery the same time you order seeds from the catalog. You raise the both all through the seasons with the plan of taking them for food storage. This is a harvest, regardless if it ends in blood, bacon, or beans in mason jars.

And that harvest is the reason I was concerned by that statement, because without a doubt I love sharing these meals with friends. Some women ogle over jewelry or clothes, but I leer at recipes and ingredients. Right now a leg of lamb is slow cooking with a bottle of homemade red wine and I'll be fasting all day just to prepare for such a fine dinner. It's a lamb that was born here, died here, and his mother was bred again and will give birth in early spring. I'm wearing a knit hat from the flocks wool. I spent an hour outdoors with them feeding, watering, checking fences and noting they need more minerals. A storm is coming tonight so I am canceling plans with friends to make sure I get a load of hay in the barn and their shelter prepared for the snow. I have tank defrosters to set up, hooves to trim, and lambing season to prepare for. If a coyote comes to claim one, I will shoot it. If a neighbor's dog riles them up, I'll march that dog home and have some harsh words. This is my flock. It clothes me. It feeds me. I write about them, teach alongside them, my dog herds them as the greatest joy in his life. These are not beached fish I can't wait to drop a rock on.

If some broken synapse in your brain connects the happiness of a family sitting around the table with a lamb chop dinner with ruthless killing, you need to give yourself pause. The question is not if they enjoyed murdering an innocent lamb because they are warm, fed, safe and surrounded by loved ones. That's about as logical a connection as asking you if you enjoy necrophilic grave-robbing because you like french fries. And the farther removed you are from my world the more you forget that every amazing meal, vegetarian or not, began with suffering and death. Just because the lamb looks more like your french bulldog doesn't make it a bulldog or more important to ecology than that plant. Nature doesn't believe in Animal Rights. It believes in balance. I know this viscerally. I am telling you this from the front lines. It isn't about enjoying killing out here. It never has been. It's about understanding that your dietary choices do not elevate you above biology. You and I, we are animals. We are a part of their story, they are not a part of ours.  And to judge from a distance where becoming an herbivore is a choice created by a brain evolved from predators and heat comes from a thermostat  is not solid footing for flaccid accusations. The question to ask isn't if I enjoy killing because I am a small farmer. The question is are you terrified of death, because you aren't?

Hearth is Home

Monday, December 1, 2014

Stretching One Chicken

Here is a common scene on this farm: a loaded crock pot with a bird and some roots in it. Nothing fancy, right? Well what if I told you this single free-range chicken has lasted ten meals! It's true, and I thought I'd share the Cold Antler method of making a simple set of scratch ingredients into many meals for many folks.

Some folks don't know that a whole chicken can go into a slow cooker, but is sure can. Take a defrosted bird from your own farm or a friendly farm near you and when it is covered in olive oil, spices, herbs - place it in a slow cooker. I cook on high for an hour with just the bird, and then add 2 cups of water, a pat of butter, and veggies of the hardy winter sort. This pot has carrots, onions, parsnips and potatoes. After the veg is in, I turn it to low and let it cook until the bird literally falls apart. After that I pull out the chicken and remove the bones and leave the meat in the pot! Now you have a hearty chicken soup. Want it to be stew? Make a simple roux on the stove and add in that combination to turn it into a really wonderful, thick, dish!

Now, just ladling out soup or stew doesn't last very long. So to stretch it for company on Game Night or with a larger crowd I also have a large pan of rice or egg noodles. That base creates a filler and you ladle just one scoop of sauce, meat, and veggies over that and you have create a truly filling sit down!

After this the bones and remaining carcass are boiled for chicken stock. It is yellow and smells better than anything in a metal can, and can easily be frozen in mason jars or pressure canned, if you're nasty. Add more noodles and veggies to that broth, throw in a few flakes of chicken meat cooked off and you just created another meal for several people. After boiling; the bones go to the pigs, who adore them and their crunchy goodness!

After the company, I turn the leftover stew into pie filling. I make a simple loaf of white bread (just honey, warm water, yeast, salt and flour) and I don't even let the dough rise. I just take the dough and use it to turn it into two "pie crusts" in a deep dish pan. It's not a flaky crust at all but more like a Cornish Pasty. It's a loaf of bread baked around the pie filling and it is baked at 375 until browned and beautiful. One slice is a whole meal,  and this pie could feed four people without side dishes and have them smiling through the groans of a belly tight as a drum.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn't and at this point in my cooking/farm life it is just second nature. Flour, olive oil, yeast, root veg and birds are always around. But you don't need to be a homesteader to make a bird like this stretch. You just need to defrost one Thursday in the fridge, set it in the crockpot with all the veg and water before work on Friday morning, and come home and serve it with just the work of making a pot of rice. The carcass can boil after the dishes are done and you and your family are enjoying a movie or watching TV, and the next day you can take the veggies and meat and turn it into a simple meat pie like this!

How do you stretch your meat birds? Any suggestions?! I'm open to them!

Horse Cart For Sale

Nice meadowbrook for sale, the one featured in this video. It's a great little cart but I can't justify keeping it right now and will find another cart down the road. If you would like this vehicle (can be transported in a large pickup, standard horse or truck trailer) please email me for more information  at jenna@itsafarwalk.com! Thanks!