Friday, September 19, 2014

Email Issue

Aol.com has totally rejected every email address I have, so if you are waiting to hear from me or trying to contact me and use aol, please contact me on Facebook or email me from another service. Tori, I am sorry but have no way to reply to your email about coming to Antlerstock! I put a ticket in to aol, but if they listed me as spam it could take a while. Please contact me through another means to reverse your spots!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Home

3-Inch Assumptions

Yesterday was quite the test and adventure, totally unplanned and entirely exhausting. What was supposed to be a quick clip over to the Stannard Farm Stand to pick up my pre-ordered lunch (ham sandwich); well, that turned into a five hour lesson in horsemanship and teamwork. Here goes!

Yesterday at 11:30 I called Melissa at the farm stand to order a hoagie. They make great sandwiches and I skipped breakfast. I knew I'd get there in around 45 minutes, at a slow walk and trot. The four mile trip was a familiar one, we have been doing it for years. I was not expecting much fuss, at all. I figured we had worked through all the kinks last week in our relationship and since he was off the sweet feed and we had been enjoying lovely rides: I wasn't worried. I should have been.

I had been adjusting and re-adjusting the new cart, shafts, harness and bridle. Trying to make it fit Merlin perfectly. I thought everything was perfect, having even adjusted the tug lines and hames a bit to be a closer fit, getting the shafts to ride higher next to his shoulder, where they should. When all three hitching points were double-checked, just as I was taught, we trotted out of the driveway.

We made it twenty feet before Merlin stopped cold, turned around, and headed home. I rolled my eyes, angry at him. I turned him around and we tried again, and just like the first time he headed back home. This is not like Merlin, at all. So I got out and checked everything again and all was fine, far as I could tell. Third time paid for all and we ended up heading down the road just fine. Good, I thought. I didn't back down and everything seems normal.

Then we hit the end of my road and the intersection with the two-lane state highway. The kind of highway where giant milk tankers, logging rigs, and gravel trucks travel on along with 60MPH traffic. Merlin balked again. After two tries I got him across the road. And once on the dirt road across the highway he had a total breakdown, if a Fell Pony can have such a thing. He totally refused to move. He ran off into a farmer's field next to the road, tried to rear up, tried to bite off the shat loops, kicked back, threw his head. I had him circle and stop to catch his breath.

I got out and checked and rechecked his gear, the cart, I could not see what the problem was. I checked his teeth, his hooves, his whole body for sores or markings. He was just acting like a kid in a grocery store who isn't allowed any sugared cereal. I wasn't scared, but I was so frustrated. I didn't understand what made him crack? So I sat there, in a horse cart, in a stranger's field. I got out my phone and texted Patty, telling her Merlin was acting atrocious and we had not made it one mile in an hour. Yup. We had been playing these wargames for an hour now. My stomach rumbled. I was getting a headache. Patty wrote these wise words back:

Take a deep breath.
Check equipment.
Be safe.

I was ready to cry. Merlin kept trying to run back home. I didn't understand what was causing him to refuse forward travel yet blast off towards home? I had a moment out there where I realized I could do two things. I could go home and try again later or I could get off and lead him by halter and rope all the way to the farmstand, another 3 miles, and 4 back. I got myself together and we started walking.

And he was all of a sudden fine. Soon as I was off the cart he was happy as a tinker's donkey to walk alongside me away from the farm. So now I was truly confused. Something about my weight (which is less than it was last time we road to the farm stand?!) was bothering him. So I started making adjustments. One tug chain link at a time, one hames notch at a time, one step at a time. It took us another hour and a half but then I realized it was a matter of inches that caused his fuss. INCHES. The tug lines were 3 inches too close to the cart. Soon as I let them out his entire body chemistry changed, his entire attitude changed. I had him hooked up the same way I would have to other vehicles he had been hooked to, but this meadowbrook is different. The driver rides higher than in a forecart (a much heavier vehicle by all accounts) or the old red cart (RIP - shaft broken by neighbor's son). So on the back roads of Washington County people who drove by us saw a woman leading a horse and cart. A woman adjusting things as he was tied up to someone's mailbox post. A woman ground driving behind her cart. And eventually riding again, with a mile to go to her stupid ham sandwich.

I felt so foolish. Had a more experienced driver been with me, she could have told me right away the weight wasn't right. What I am grateful for is my stubbornness, since it was bad enough riding him a mile with the weight off, imagine if I just let him trot home, up a mountain, pulling all that the wrong way? It wasn't pretty, our circus in the field, but I am glad we figured it out. After that 3-inch adjustment he was as docile as a jersey cow trotting to the home barn for milking. This horse, I tell you.

When we finally arrived at Stannard's Melissa came out saying she was worried, that she was about to go looking for me. I apologized and explained the snafu. I hitched Merlin and got him water and Melissa got him some apples. I let him rest for over an hour while I talked with her and neighbors, ate a lazy lunch, and texted Patty the resolution.

The ride home took half an hour and was easy as could be. Merlin didn't even break out into a sweat, either relieved or just in the best shape of his life (both?!), he was a rockstar the whole way home.

We got back to the farm at 4:30PM. My entire day shot. Till he was untacked, groomed, and turned back out to pasture it was time for chores. I didn't get any writing done, nor did I get any work done on the side garden. My whole day was a lesson n 3-inches of assumption.

All that said, I was proud of myself and that horse. I learned a hard lesson about proper fit, but it's a mistakes I will carry the rest of my life with driving horses. And maybe I'll save one of you fellow (or future) novice horse-drivers the same mistake? Either way, I'm proud of myself for not turning around and giving up. I was scared and knew Merlin wasn't acting normal, but I also know him well enough to know the difference between stubbornness and trouble. Today was trouble, and the mistake was how the weight of one person affected 3 inches of chain.

After chores I was done. The Hoff family came to visit with some bags of kitchen scraps for pig food and we just talked and visited a while in the farmhouse. Before I went to bed I watched Pete Holme's stand up special in Austin and felt better. That man makes me smile. I saw no reason not to end the day with comedy. I survived. Merlin survived. We're both better off. The sandwich was great. Brigit's Fire, what a day it all was.

NOVEMBER FIDDLE DAY CAMP
STILL ONE SPOT LEFT!

I'd like to invite five of you (no more, since it'll be indoors and intimate here in the farmhouse) to join me by the wood stove on a few sheepskins to learn the fiddle. This workshop will be Saturday, November 8th. This will not be a camp, just a long day here at the farm. It'll start at 9AM and go until 5PM - a bit longer than most workshops - but I am certain you will leave knowing how to teach yourselves and be on your way to memorizing your first song! You DO NOT NEED any prior musical experience. You DO NOT NEED to know how to read music. You DO NOT NEED to be right handed. You DO NOT NEED to be a musical prodigy. What you do need is a strong desire to learn to fiddle, 15 minutes a day to practice at home, a love of old time and bluegrass music, and a sense of humor! And I can make you this promise: attend this workshop, and make daily practice a commitment and by Yule you will be able to play carols by heart, easily!

This day camp will include:

1 Student Fiddle with bow, rosin, and case.

You will learn:

The parts of the fiddle
Fiddle folkways
Tuning your fiddle
Fixing and adjusting your bridge
Restringing your fiddle
The D scale
Bowing, shuffling, and droning notes
Reading Tablature
Your first song!

You will need to bring:

Wayne Erbsen's Fiddle Book
A set of spare strings (4/4 size)
an electronic guitar tuner (I suggest snark tuners)
Laughter (in barrel loads, please)!

If you want one of these five spots let me know ASAP. They are first sold, first reserved. The cost for this workshop and basic student fiddle is $225. If you want a higher quality student fiddle, I can have a very nice mid-level instrument waiting for you here for $350 (includes the workshop, of course). Either fiddle will be fine for learning with, just one will grow with you longer. Contact me via email to sign up!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Make a Vest from Old Work Pants!

Got a pair of work pants that have been worn thin? I have, and needed a special vest for Falconry. So I figured out how to make a canvas hunting vest (with game pouch in the back!) from an old pair of pants and a shrunken sweater. The sweater part is optional but saves you from having to do the work on installing a zipper, button holes, or toggles. Okay. Here's what you do:

1. Get out those pants. These are a size 14 women's canvas pant. I have lost some weight and they no longer fit. But I loved them, so much. The inner thighs were worn through, stained from blood and mud, so they live on as a hunting vest!. Pro tip 1: If you can get a hold of bigger pants than what you wear, this will be a lot easier. So ask your friends with more posterior for their old work pants.

2. Cut as pictured here: Don't be fussy, just kinda cut it like this. Great job!

3. Now, cut up the inseam, to one close side of that industrial sewing. You don't want to cut the seams, but aside it, just through the fabric. Now you pretty much have two sides of a vest. At this point, I suggest ironing them flat. It makes sewing easier.

4. Get out a needle and thread or sewing machine. I used needle and thread since machine died.

5. Sew both pieces together to make the back of the vest. I let the thick seams of the pants and inseam become the front and bottom hems. If the pants are big enough, at this point all you need to do is lay a vest that already fits you on top and use scissors to create the proper armholes and neck hole cuts. You can install a zipper, or buttons, or grommet it and use paracord to lace it up. If the pants fit you (or recently did, like in this case and you happen to have breasts) you're going to need more front coverage. Enter SWEATER!

6. An old sweater, the hooded kind is best, is a great addition. This one shrunk on me, so I cut out the faux fur hood and the chest area, and sewed them into it. This saved me from any actual talent requirements and made it wearable sooner. I didn't have to measure side panels!

7. Pouch in back was sewn using the butt of the pants, and even came with an extra rear pocket! Not pictured because of reasons.

8. And there you go. No pattern (I hate patterns), no fuss, just go with your creative instincts and if confused or unsure, but it on and adjust from there. You probably have a lot of these potential vests sitting around!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Day 2

I was fall-down-the-stairs tired when I was walking out to the pasture with a lead rope and halter, collecting Merlin for the short errand to a neighbor's home down-mountain. Tired because the day started at 5Am and even though it was only 1Am, I so needed a nap. The bowl of scrambled eggs was used up, converted into the energy that saw me through a rainy morning of usual chores. I re-bedding the piglet pen, fed the boar in the barn three-day old potato soup over his pig chow, and milked the goat. I had fed the horses, sheep, and goats their hay. I had hauled water in excess of 300 pounds in five-gallon buckets. I had hoed, weeded, and mulched the entire kailyard and prepared it for winter seeding. I had a loaf of bread on its first rise in the kitchen for a meal a hundred years away and had walked the dogs and cleaned the house. I was tired.

But it had rained through the morning and this bit of sun had lasted over an hour. Merlin was dry (good, since I was about to harness him and hitch the cart) and if I waited much longer I worried I would hit School Bus Time (not ideal for horse drawn vehicles on winding roads). So i gathered my horse and brought him to the lamppost in front of the house to groom, pick feet, and harness. Within twenty minutes we were headed down the road in the meadowbrook. His tail swishing, my body relaxed, and my mind grateful as hell that Merlin would be doing the traveling on hoof while I finally got to sit.

Just two miles was the trip, a short ride down the mountain and back to return a laptop to a neighbor I had borrowed. She was at work so I was given instructions to stick the computer bag inside her mud room. A simple errand, but it made me laugh. I was driving down a country road by a horse cart to deliver a computer. What a weird and wonderful world we live in where a single woman can do this on a Tuesday afternoon. I cashed in a happy check right then and there.

The wind blew and gave me my second one. I felt energized again. No longer tired, but alert and attentive to my surroundings. I watched a juvenile red-tailed hawk fly ahead of us from tree to tree. A doe watched us from 30 feet away, not bothered by the carnivore in the cart but enchanted by the herbivore in skins and bells. I waved and her eyes met mine and she dashed off. Smart girl, her. I am no friend of the whitetail. I have recipes ready and an eager rifle.

We drove there and back again, a decent ride without the protestations of the last few trips Merlin has offered. I stopped feeding him grain and it helped, at least on this short drive. When we pulled into the driveway I met the UPS man who had one package for me, thin and mysterious (the package, not the man). I opened it and was deligted to find a back ordered book: a hardcover of the unabridged Legend of Sleepy Hollow. New York State's best folktale!

The afternoon was overcast but warm, humid even. I planted some Annie's Heirloom seeds: a Winter Density Lettuce and a Bloomsdale long spinach. I ordered some cheap row cover cloth online to extend the season a bit. I still have plenty of kale but the last of the tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil came inside today. I picked the basil leaves and ground them into pulp and shoved them into a ball jar with some olive oil: quick and dirty preservation till I gather some pesto recipes online and get some ingredients at the Stannard Farm Stand tomorrow. We have plans to drive down in the morning in the cart. I'm all out of cheese, green (non kale) veg, and coffee. I'm also low on flour. Ergo: trip to provision!

Lunch was skipped, but dinner was a slice of oven-warmed bread and a slather of mayo, topped with a garden tomato slice and some bacon. An open-faced BLT was exactly what I needed and I savored it. I'm still full, and far too tired to write about Antlerstock - but I will soon, as it is coming ever so closer. It's not even 7PM and I am nearly ready for bed, but happy in my tired state. So much work is getting done around here, so much effort and sweat, improvement and time in sun and rain. It's only 2 days into my Staycation and I am feeling as beat as an Amish mother of six, so goodnight for now, and if you want to see pictures of today look at my Facebook page.

P.S. Sorry for spelling or grammar mistakes, not even spellchecking tonight.

P.P.S. No new birchthorn updates until I get on to a computer that let's me log into my BTblog, and these 12-year and 10-year-old computers don't have the OS that allows such fancy work. Honestly, I'm grateful I can even update the blog!

Looking For New Sponsors!

If you have or know of a small business that serves the DIY, Homesteading, or Small Farm market please let me know. I am looking for 4 new sponsors going into October to replace some open slots. You can email me at: Jenna@itsafarwalk.com to suggest or apply. Just a few sentences about who you are or who you suggest, will do for a start! Web-based businesses only please that serve all of the US and/or beyond.

Ale & Honey

My kitchen smells like ale and honey: two things that occur here in early fall. Over thirty pounds of raw honey are bottled and stored in the larder and several homebrew projects are bubbling in this humble kitchen. Right now a gallon jug of pale ale is finishing its first week of initial fermentation and plans for a pumpkin spice beer are in the works. These easy batches produce around 10-12 bottles of beer and take less then an hour to brew - so they are the current projects with all the winter prep going on. You cook it in a big spaghetti pot right on the stove, sanitize gear in rubber tubs, and 2-3 weeks later you're pouring organic ale into tall glasses. Pretty awesome and fast returns!

Last year's ciser (a cider mead) is already bottled into several cases of longnecks, growlers, and such. If we get lucky enough to find an orchard that will sell us their drops, we'll make apple cider this year as well and I'll use my own hive's honey as the sugar that the yeast will use to create alcohol out of fruit and time.

Homebrewing excites me. It's not something I am especially good at or practice year round. There are plenty of beer nerds and wine geeks out there making far better fare than this farm ever will. (I'm sure far better within ten miles of me!) But just knowing how to ferment and kick back by a campfire with a brew you knew as wort is just as rewarding to me as any bread you knew as flour or chicken dinner you knew on the feather. It's being part of making something. It feels correct.

It is a rainy day here. Soon as the farm dries off I'll be harnessing up Merlin to deliver a package a few miles away. I'll be wearing a good wool cloak, just in case the wind and rain gets too wild and tears up the maple-laned mountain road. I don't wear it for costume. I wear it the way people in football stadiums wrap up in wool blankets in late November: it's warm and you're outside in a stationary position. There are all sorts of sexy outdoor techwear for hikers and climbers and such, but when you are driving a horse cart what you need is a blanket with a hood and sleeves. A style that hasn't changed in centuries for good reason. So that is the big adventure, but besides the drive down the mountain there is a garden to work in. Soon as I can go outside without getting soaked I will get to work on that kailyard and get it ready for Thursday night, which may bring our first frost already. Predictions are for a hard winter, and I am starting to believe them. Which it rains I am working on making a hunting vest with a game pouch and hood out of an old pair of canvas work pants and a thrift shop sweater. My sewing machine is broken beyond repair (stored by open window and all gears rusted over) so it will be hand sewn. If you like I'll post the rough instructions?

Do you brew? Do you garden into winter? Any advice for a new winter gardener? Any inexpensive sewing machines out there you can recoment or have one you can barter with me for a class or Indie Day? Please comment and share!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 1

I woke up this morning to a sickening feeling, as if I had spent the night in a Tupperware bin. Like the kind used to store sweaters under a bed. It felt muggy and confined in the house, as if that rubber bin was heated by a hairdryer blowing through a small hole. All of this is to say: I woke up to furnace heat.

The first chilly night of fall triggers it on when the house's indoor temperature goes below 50 degrees. Even if you had it set for 40 in March it resets after not being touched for a few months and you have to manually turn it off, and in the festivities of Game Night I had forgotten. So I woke up to a 63 degree home even though all the windows were open and it was 36 degrees outside. So you have to imagine that false feeling of forced air warmth so heavy it let the house remain 63 degrees when the earth outside was happily cooling off. Gross.

I walked right downstairs and turned it off, feeling cheated from my morning plans. I wanted to wake up to a house cold, but not in any way threatened like it could be in winter. At the beginning of fall such cool nights are a novelty. I wanted to come down with my bare feet cold to the touch of the floor. Come down to the primal desire for a warm fire, for a hot drink in my aching hands, for a blanket and a woodstove and my own breath in my living room and watch it all disappear within an hour of fire and morning chores. All wondrous discomfort gone in a bowl of oatmeal made over the fire, with brown sugar and apples from the tree outside pilfered when I fed my flock... That was the dream for this first day of Staycation...

Instead I got to feel like a bedsweater. Ugh.

But as I headed outside to clear my head and open my lungs, I realized my entire life up until a few years ago was furnace heat and open windows. I would have never noticed it before, not ever. That feeling of living inside confinement, diesel fuel and recycled air was normal as moss on rocks. It was part of living in the Northeast, part of every day. But for the past three winters only firewood has kept this house warm. My body has changed to favor it, comfortable in temperatures now that just a few years ago would have teeth chattering. Yet here I am, a few years later, offended by the furnace's uninvited imposition and seriously upset I woke up to—in most normal peoples' opinion—a comfortable home. I had an apple and a cup of coffee. I'll save the oatmeal for later in the week.

I spent the morning outside stacking my second cord of firewood. When that was mostly done I walked the dogs, wrote this morning's post, witnessed the death of my work computer, and went outside to stack more wood in frustration of two year's of lost work, photographs, and manuscripts. I wasn't upset, just frustrated I had no backed anything non-publishing related up. Lesson learned.

Having the entire day at the farm I did the last thing I thought I would. I cleaned. I raked and washed windows. I picked up trash and old bottles in the woods. I did the mundane outside and indoor stuff I usually ignore - assuming it part of the war casualties of the life I chosen. Clean windows?! I'm a homesteader with 50+ animals. We don't need no stinkin' clean windows! Well, I guess I do. For a blessed 34 minutes not one dog snot mark was on the panes. They are back of course. Computer data is as fickle as a leaf in the wind, but nose streaks, that is a power that LASTS.

My one meal of the day was leftover soup from last night, heated over the stove and served over Amish egg noodles from the larder. It was only enough to fill a small bowl but more than enough in energy. It was delicious. Apples are in season so I bit into a Honey Crisp and it was better than candy.

The end of the day was a 3 mile ride with Merlin after chores. We traveled up the mountain and took in the mid-September view of a still, mostly green, mountain. We did a little exploring and off-trail riding in the woods and came home on the road a mile or so up from the farm. People right now are on planes to India to explore. I wonder if they know all the hidden paths just a few miles from their front doors?

Tomorrow I have one short 2-mile errand in the horse cart to a neighbor, but hope to spend most of the day in the Kailyard, preparing it for winter. Today was about firewood and cleaning but tomorrow I hope to weed and hoe. My goal is a properly presented Kailyard for fall and maybe even some new fall plantings. I know it is late but even if all I get is baby greens before true frost that's just a few hours of work for many meals. I'll risk it. And if I rig up some plastic out there it'll certainly stay protected for tough crops.

Calling it a night now. Reposing with a movie and glass of cider. I hope you all had kind and productive days. Tomorrow I'll post with updates on Antlerstock, and hope some more of you will grab the last spots! Two days of a small and hearty homesteading festival here at my farm. Lots of authors, instructors, artisans and teachers - all eager to take on axe, harness, herb and hoof! And I promise only WOOD heat for my guests that weekend, so expect some awesome discomfort ahead. If you're a part of our tribe, you know exactly what I mean!

Edit 11:33 PM I would just like to say there's nothing wrong with furnace heat. What I failed to explain was just how much hot air was being pumped into an old house with every window open to feel like a food dehydrator. Also I am weird, and enjoy earning the first comforts of the day. I did not intend to sound like an ass who is too good for heat, though the worry that I did has me updating from my phone, in bed, worried I insulted every nice person with a furnace. I am used to being the heater instead of being heated, is all, and that change in body and mind was what I wanted to talk about. It will either turn people off from all-wood-heat or excite them. I suppose? Let's hear it for me!

A Week at Home

Yesterday afternoon when the slaughter was over and chores were just ramping up—my good friends drove off with my pickup truck—taking it north to a garage they own near Lake George for a whole week. For the cost of parts they are doing some serious repairs on the ol' girl, working on her in their spare time. This is saving me a lot of cash by avoiding the mechanic and marked-up parts, of which I am incredibly grateful and will be showering them with baskets of egg, pork, lamb, honey and soap they best accept. I don't know how to fix a truck but I do know how to feed people!

So until next weekend I am without a vehicle that isn't powered by my horse. I have a cart, saddle, and boots. I have work to do, indoors and out on my little homestead and here I will remain all week. To make it a little more interesting, this Week at Home, I am also not allowing myself to eat outside of what my larder and farm produces. It's a test in making due with what is at hand, and help me prepare for winter weeks ahead where travel is rare and the larder really matters! So no one will be driving over with pizza in a flat box. All meals will be home cooked and from my own farm as much as possible. Instead of running into town for errands or feed, I'm stocked up and learning to work within the rations of supplies I pre-bought before this weekend. I am here: more than ever before.

So far this morning I've had an apple and a cup of coffee. There is plenty of homemade potato soup left over from last night but I can't imagine digging back into something so rich without a roaring belly and a day of work under my belt. I'll be doing chores, stacking wood, and maybe hunting a bit on my own land. When I am indoors, I'll be working writing here in the kitchen on my 12-year-old eMac (My "good" computer may be dead...a 2010 iMac which won't read the hard drive as of yesterday, so that is pretty awful if I can't save it...). This older mac model looks like R2D2 and weighs about as much, but it has the internet and email so I can update you here, thank Brigit.

So this post begins a week back in time, a week truly at home. This is not meant to be an Amish experience, so I have my old computer, phone, and Amazon Prime - but just knowing my horse cart is the limit to my wandering is exciting and novel. I am not a wild or careless driver but I do leave the farm a lot for town, for a quick lunch, for coffee and talking with farmers at the Stewarts, to see friends at the Farm Stand..... I leave a lot. More than you may think. But not this week. I can't run off. I am here. As someone who did not grow up rurally, who used to leave home every week day of her life for school or work, this is a change. I've been self employed 2 years now but come Monday morning I too am on the roads, getting supplies, running to appointments, get get the gist.

I'll be updating often and welcome your questions or challenge suggestions from now until Sunday! I ask you this? What would you do if you had a whole week at home on a small farm three miles from town? Would you go nuts without a car to escape in? Would you see it as a vacation or absolutely terrifying without a vehicle for emergencies or toilet paper runs to the gas station? Ask me questions and share your thoughts!

P.S. If anyone knows how to get past the gray apple screen and get your desktop to load instead of just shutting off.... let me know! I tried PRAM and SMC resets, disk utility can't repair or verify my harddrive... so that isn't an option. Magic cures or computer tonics of any sort welcome!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Feral 30-Somethings

A ram lamb was slaughtered a few hours ago and I am in the kitchen. My eyes are welled up and into streaming tears. I can't help it. This is one very powerful onion. It has been just pulled from the good earth a few weeks ago and was handed to me from young storage. I bought it (and some garlic) at the farm stand, drove it home in the horse cart, and tonight it joins potatoes, goats' milk, and diced ham from this farm to make a rich and hearty cream soup.

Now, that isn't to say I wasn't sad at the loss of my lamb. The hogget was too small for breeding stock, and Monday the ram had the only position he could apply for. So the little guy born here last spring was butchered today. His meat was taken to hang and package at the butcher's shop and his fleece was salted and frozen to be turned into a sheepskin. I'll mail it off to be tanned, my first sheepskin from my own farm in the house.

So there is the loss of the sheep, but it is not the focus of this day. He was thanked and I am mighty grateful but as a producer of lamb, pork, chicken and rabbit I no longer see the death of animals as a period of morning. It is a solemn task, unpleasant work, but the recipes and events that follow the meals that animal will be a part of are amazing! For example:

Right now I also have dough rising for a large, braided loaf of egg and honey bread. It is eggs from my chickens, honey from my hive. Tonight just sugar, flour, butter, salt, pepper, and olive oil will not have come from this 6.5 acre piece of magic called Cold Antler Farm. Even the booze will be courtesy of the land: hard cider from last year's apples. I am so excited for tonight! Tonight many friends are coming for the restart of our regular Game Night Season! Which tonight will be Agricola and potluck. There will be glasses raised, clever eyes around the table, phones turned off, bluegrass turned up, and a night of laughter, full stomachs, and good drinks.

When the soup was on simmer, the bread rising in bowl, and a fire in the woodstove - I set outside for chores and grabbed Merlin. I wanted to see the view of the first changing leaves from the hilltop. It would be a short ride, just twenty minutes to the top of the mountain, but worth it. The morning was four hours of archery lessons starting at 8AM, a fine Indie Day with a family of four. At 1PM the butchering team came, and I helped where I could. After that was evening chores, milking the goat, cleaning for company, and walking the dogs. When dinner was ready I felt I deserved the short ride. I wanted it, very much. I was as grateful for Merlin's effort as that hogget's life. Perhaps his pelt will become a saddle pad?

On the mountaintop I could not see my farm, but I could see the small trail of smoke. It warmed my heart. I was watching my farmstead, watching the smoke from a swept and safe chimney. Watching and knowing 2 cords of wood were already put up and dry. That 50 bales of hay filled the barn and several bags of feed were stocked for the week ahead. Good food from my own piece of land was waiting for me. A carve jack o lantern was grinning, a welcome to fall himself on the kitchen table. I sat tall on that black horse, smiling at the first changing leaves and smiling as I pet his strong neck. He was mine now, finally paid off. Soon my small home would be full of friends: human, canine, and feline in various stages of exhaustion from their long days. Tara and Tyler are building their home. Joanna is working two farms. I was the one who stacked the cords, did the chores, and put up the bales here. We all work so much to keep our lives in this Shire strong as we can. Perhaps tonight we will just celebrate that fact. Even if the temperatures do drop into the 30s, as predicted by the weather service.

I road that horse down the mountain and home. We have each other, us feral 30-somethings in the wilds of the Northeast. We have each other, good drinks, good food, and much ahead. Not a bad way to end a long weekend. Not bad at all.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Anterstock Is Coming!

You are invited to come visit the farm this fall! There are still openings for Arrows Rising, Dulcimer Day Camp, and even a few more slots for Antlerstock! You can get details on all of these events by clicking on the workshop link (with the bird on it) over on the right hand side of this blog. But even if those dates or events don't excite you, I am always hosting Indie Days and a have a few weekends free in this peak foliage season coming up. So if you ever wanted to learn the fiddle (and go home with one), harness a horse, talk sheep or pigs, or maybe just see what a One Woman Farm runs like - you are welcome. Workshops and classes are part of what keep this farm going and it's a grand way to make friends, meet readers, and see the farm through new eyes. Your energy and your efforts at these events are part of the sap that keeps the tree blooming - email me if you are at all interested in a private or group event!

On another somewhat related note: presenters at Antlerstock - I will be sending out an email shortly picking dates and times for your talks and presentations. If you have a preference, let me know. Most folks are excited to talk and share Saturday and have church or personal commitments on Sunday - but if you are here both days, consider Sunday! You'll be able to see more Saturday if you are free and not presenting. But as for now I have roughly scheduled traditional woodsman skills with Brett for Saturday AM, Cathy Daughton will talk about frugal living and preserving foods, draft horses with Patty Wesner for Sat afternoon. Beekeeping (urban and rural, intro) with Meg Paska Saturday - mid morning. Blacksmith forge and tent with Greg Clasby, All day Saturday. And evening campfire and music circle at the farm around 7PM. Pumpkins will be available for carving all day - getting a bin from the Troy market. Sunday will include archery, herbalism with Elizabeth, sour dough bread starters with Kathy, saddle horses, orchard 101, pigs, chickens, and dairy goats. Whew! More details to come! I can't believe how close it is!

Please join us for one of the many events coming up! In the next couple of week's Washington County will be gorgeous!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Gibson Watching The North

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Good Feet, Stubborn Grump!

Ask anyone who lives with horses whose opinions matter the most to them, and the farrier is on the top of that list. I was touched to hear such kind words from Dave, my farrier. He's the best horseman I know, a whisperer in the truest sense. He was pleased to see Merlin in such great shape, from haunch to hoof. He gave me the thumbs up after trimming the Fell's bare feet. He said the pony was in great shape, a good weight, feet were solid, and he could tell I was "using him", which in Dave means: riding and driving a lot. That is certainly true! Merlin is ridden or driven nearly every day, be it trailside or roadside, I am with him and he with me. But it sure was nice to get such accolades from a man I respect so very much.

But things were not perfect, in fact, this past week with Merlin had been kinda rough. I told Dave I started graining Merlin, giving him some sweet feed in the morning since I was worried at his age (19) and his amount of everyday physical work, told him I thought the horse could use the extra calories. Dave is too polite to say anything that contradicts an owner's statement, unless you ask. I took his lack of comment for disapproval, and was right. Dave kindly explained that most sweet feed was nothing more than sugar. I would see energy, alright, but maybe not the kind I wanted. He then offered some more mild feed suggestions if I felt inclined to grain my horse. Turned out, Dave was absolutely right. Just one week on sugar and Merlin was a totally different animal in cart and saddle, and not in the way I wanted.

Merlin and I have a lot in common, a whole lot. But the thing that we both have stamped on our souls is a streak of determined stubbornness. When Merlin doesn't want to do something, he just doesn't. And when I want to do something, I just do. Both of us are certain as angry gods and don't give the tiniest shit what anyone else thinks about it. So, when Merlin was hitched up in a cart and about to trot up an easy, dirt road, he just stopped. Stopped. A thousand pounds of nope. He didn't want to do it, would not step forward, and instead headed into a farmer's field to our right. After half an hour of circling, backing up, and refusing to give in to his hissy fit, I won that argument. We trotted up the hill and he was back to normal. All it took was zero quit and a lot of gentle patience. I can thank Dave for that.

I have learned how Merlin presses my buttons. He knows he out weighs me, he know's he is the mightier beast, but he also has to deal with the fact that out of all the predators known to his kind, only human beings can talk to horses. And I don't mean actually talk, I mean communicate with an equine the way horses communicate with each other. Using a halter and a plastic bag on a stick I can do astounding things with a horse. Dave taught me some fundamentals of Natural Horsemanship, and it has done wonders. I can make him move his feet and that matters! Moving each other is something dominant horses do to lesser ones. We all know dogs have a pack order, but so do mares and geldings. When I show Merlin over and over again that I can move his feet (be it on the ground, saddle, or cart) he eventually sighs, snorts, and farts and does what I ask. It just takes a lot of dance steps and a total removal of frustration (which I am working on).

I think his week of sweet feed was too much. He is usually solid as a piece of granite and predictable in the saddle, but three times since he was grained his attitude went back to testing me after months of being totally okay. Yesterday it took 15 minutes to get up onto the trailhead we have ridden a thousand times. The day before in the cart it took us a half hour to get up a hillside. Once I win the argument all goes back to normal, but starting any work seems to be met with some serious butting of heads. I blame our natural vice: sugar.

What do you guys do with your stubborn horse friends when they don't feel like doing what you ask? For me it is a lot of deep breathes, ground work, circles, and fuss. I make it so the easiest and most comfortable option is to just do what I asked in the first place. So, for example: I want him to trot down the road and he won't budge, I have him trot in a circle and then release his head and praise him when he just goes forward like I asked. There is no crop, no kicking, no yelling. Just the simple lack of annoyance when he does what I ask instead of being made to work harder standing his ground. But I know some folks have different methods, or get off and go back to ground matters, or might not have a Dave around to help? So share your horse stories - acts of patience over stubborn grumps appreciated!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Buckets & Posts

It doesn't look like much, does it? A scrappy hillside, some sheep, and a small pole barn in the background. In the foreground: a few strands of wire, some step-in posts, and a rubber water trough. The picture isn't anything to brag about. It's not a sunny day. There are no beautifully saturated, lens flared, memories here. It is a rubber bucket, weeds, and some sheep eating grass. Not exactly what you see scrolling across the bottom of CNN...

But when I see it I beam. Because that grassy hillside was nothing but dirt and stone last summer. It was erosion and mistakes, overgrazing-turned-desertfication. That ram in the foreground was just a yearling, half that size and half as braw. Go back two years, and that shelter was just being built, by a man and his son who belonged to the community down the road. When money became really tight they let me pay off the pole barn in sheep, and so today if you drive past Common Sense Farm you will see a flock of five Scottish Blackface sheep who were all from stock born and bred here.

I have had a lot of sheep escapes, too. But these sheep are minding this small, impermanent, fence because I now understand chargers and wiring. I know how many strands it takes, how strong a pulse, the things you only learn by doing and taking a constant mental inventory of what is and isn't part of your own farm's story.

Five years ago this was a mowed field. An extension of someone's lawn. Now it is a farm. A living, breathing, abundant farm. This is a place where honey, milk, wool, vegetables, pork, chicken, eggs and berries are produced. It is a place where apples are pressed into hard cider and baked into pies, homemade bread cools on stovetops, and ducks roast in the oven. It's a place that has its own butcher, farrier, chimney sweep, and neighbors who trade baskets for eggs. It's a place where hoofbeats can be heard at a god clip, coming up the sweep of road that brings a white farmhouse into view.

I used to see this place as a dream come true, but that isn't the case at all. Dreams are wonderful but it was not the act of wanting that made Cold Antler mine, and it sure as hell isn't dreams that keep the lights on and roof over my head. Cold Antler is not a dream come true - it is a reality come true. And while I use the romantic term "dream" a lot, I never thought of farming as something as far away as a dream is to most people. It was always the conclusion, the place I would end up, even when I was most scared and uncertain how. Dreaming is good, but believing is better. If you want something you need to believe it will happen and fight like hell to keep it. It's worth it, and every day I wake up my life is full of freedom and a mission that makes my heart sing and blood boil: to stay.

A place that deals with good and bad, mistakes and repairs, and a woman figuring it all out a day at a time. Good fences and healed earth matter here. They are the foundation and the result. They matter a lot.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Before the Storm

It has been so humid these past few days, my skin has not stopped glowing. The whole forest around the farm is tense, humming, alive. I love it. It feels hot enough for a firefly rapture, bringing back all those little lights that said goodbye in August. I am excited, loving the powerful anxiety all around me, waiting for the release that is a big storm. I know it is coming. The wind is coming down the mountain in bursts. The sky is growing dark. And the radar on the National Weather Service website is coated in greens, blues, and reds like Jackson Pollock grew frustrated with splatters and just dumped the whole damn can. I covered the meadowbrook cart with a tarp to protect it, got the hay I picked up from Common Sense Farm into the barn, and the grain was indoors to stop from turning into over-priced moldy bass food for the pond. In a few moments I'll get a shower and start cleaning up the house for my Game Night company tonight. I'll have plenty of extra candles and lamps out, as I am anticipating a night without power if these storms do what the service says they will.

I'm excited for the wind, rain, and coolness. I'm excited for the feeling of mint soap on hot skin. I am excited to go on an adventure with friends tonight around my living room table. I'm excited about the new horse cart. I'm excited about September, and fall's holy crown coming in the shape of changing leaves and cooler nights. I'm just so excited, guys. Things are getting better, the farm is running like clockwork, friends are all around, and October is no longer just a hope - he's a reality I can count down to. It's a great feeling, all around.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Piglets!

September Songs

It's September and I am loving every minute of it! Every day I have made time to go hunting, even if only for an hour. The only game in season are those tricky squirrels but they aren't the point. The point is find time to be alone in the forest, to be quiet, to be still. In the past four days I have not shot one squirrel but I have stalked up on unsuspecting does at sunset. I have watched spiders spin webs. I have learned to turn my head so slow it doesn't scare turkeys ten yards away and I have hiked miles upon miles. The first day I was winded after a small hill at a fast walk. Now my body seems to run on fumes out there, energy keeps at me like some forever well.

And that energy comes from two things: hope and fall. Few things motivate me like wanting and colder weather. I was the kid that couldn't wait to get back to school, who planned her halloween costume all summer, who was more excited for leaves turning than a July pool party.

Yesterday my friend Miriam came by for an adventure, a proper introduction to fall. We didn't hit the forest to hunt, but we did hitch Merlin up and go for a nice 8-mile drive to Stannard Farm stand for lunch and back. We stepped out of the driveway around 10AM and by 11 we had reached our destination, Merlin was in tip top shape! Now, that isn't to say the drive didn't go off without a hitch. Twice Merlin balked and wanted to turn around and trot home (being nearly a thousand pounds, the one holding the lines needs to have her wits about her to win that argument). But I figured it out, kept the passenger and myself safe, and when we stopped at the Farm Stand and Melissa and Jackie made us sandwiches for lunch, Merlin got water and treats and chomped on grass while we sat and watched hawks in the sky.

We saw so many animals that trip. We saw a red fox run across a field of cover crop rye. We saw deer in numbers. We watched a kestrel fly across the road in front of us with a mouse in her talons. We saw herons, vultures, crows, ravens, and finches. We saw wild turkeys and a groundhog scuttlecrawl across a dirt road right in front of Merlin (who could care less since it was carbon-based and not a plastic bag). We saw all these things we share the world with because we took the time to slow down. I'm sure folks who cycle, walk, jog, or just take time to pay attention notice as well. The world is so much more alive when it slows down, and so am I.

So, as I was saying, Autumn is on his way. I have wood being delivered, chimneys being swept, and hay to put up in the barn. There is a pig and lamb being slaughtered next weekend, colder weather on some mornings, and after this last summer punch of heat is over I'll be in full Sleep Holllow Mode, as I call it. More on that later. For now, know things are good here. Fall is my favorite song, and looking forward to playing it!

photo by Miriam Romais