Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Humble

It's been a hell of a week, and a wonderful birthday celebration to boot. I was able to spend my 37th with such good friends, music, and this little hidden town full of people that have become such an amazing part of my life. I don't think places like Cambridge are normal, and finding a place that I fit into and love being every day feels like the absolute best birthday present there is. There wasn't a day last week around my birthday I was allowed to pay for a meal or a beer and I got to ride my horses, meet some new people, and spend a lot of time simply enjoying a bit of summer.

Then I got thrown from a horse!

I'm fine! It wasn't one of my own horses, but a very sassy little Fjord Horse mare that belongs to a friend of a friend in Massachusetts. She's grown a bit nervous around her, so myself and some horse gal friends went to see her and possibly help with the situation. I volunteered to ride her since she reminded me so much in attitude and size as Merlin. I was warned she was spooky, but soon as I saddled up all I felt was the normal draft-pony goodness I knew from years of being around my Fell. As a short, strong, woman I am kind of a draft pony, too. So after a little groundwork and some tack, I was on the back of a Fjord for the first time.

We rode in a small outdoor exercise area at a walk, trot, and eventually a few lopes of a canter. I was told this horse was a little problematic but all I felt was a horse a little stubborn, but willing. I was feeling confident, even arrogant about the whole thing. Which is exactly why I deserved to be chucked off. Because after a while of feeling fearless, I was ready to end the ride and took off my helmet and threw it towards my friend Patty, right past my mare's head. Something that wouldn't even cause Merlin's withers to rustle. In two bucks she darted left and I went down. I hit the ground hard but got right back up and right back on.

Mares, they keep you humble.

So does plumbing. I am still without drainage and using basins for dishes and everyday washing. It needs a real plumber to help with the main outage clog but that has to wait until I take care of a house payment, the electric bill, and other more pressing needs. It is embarrassing though, when a guest comes and I have to explain the privy in the woods - but that's where the farm is at right now and I'd rather be inconvenienced in 80-degree weather than homeless. So I am forging ahead with the hope I figure out this month somehow, as I've figured out the month's before. I'm a quarter of the way there and have 2 weeks to make it, so here's to that luck.

I've accepted that this farm, the past ten years of it, is trusting my gut. Sometimes choices I make seem foolish. Sometimes they are. But all of them have ended up with a life I am truly happy to be fighting to keep. All of it is becoming this book I am more excited to write than anything else I've done in my entire life. The horses, hawks, winters, storms, dogs, people, town, stories... all of it have made me into the woman I am now and I like this woman, a lot. I haven't always. I've downright hated her at times - but at 37 I have never felt more comfortable and confident in myself. I trust her. I love her. And I want to keep making her proud.




Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Guts

Things here are a mixed bag of emotions. There are things I am excited about, energized by, working towards. For example the book I am hoping to sell and have been working towards all summer may be ready to shop around by Labor Day. That is encouraging. So is the time I spend running, or hiking, or feeling more like myself and active than I've been all winter when things were so glum through into spring. I have more optimism now - which I think is directly related to the light and activity - and I am grateful for it. That said:

But there are also a lot of things making everyday life troubling - like the plumbing still being out of working order. The household feeling out of sorts. The certified letters being sent in the mail reminding me I still am not caught up on my mortgage. It's all stressful and all I can do is work on one problem at a time, taking care of the most important things and then down the systematic list towards a resolution. Between the part-time work, freelance, writing, and the farm I feel like I am doing more than ever to stay behind. This marathon towards my end game - the farm's success and solvency - well I'm hitting mile 19 and feeling my legs shake. I've ran too far to quit and am scared of what'll happen during the last stretch. That's my everyday right now. The combination of energy and hope and this fear that it will all fall apart right before I hit the finish line.

So what is there to do? Just the day in and day out work of moving forward. Try to make sales, make soap, make art, land more work. Take advantage of part time opportunities that arrive and always make the choices that best serve the farm. That is why I'm still here, almost ten years into purchasing this place, and I know to trust my gut. My house's digestion might be off but mine remains intuitive enough to make it this far.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Lifted Up, Torn Apart

July has started with a bang, all puns intended. The farm is a little hairy - less landscaped and a little off track towards some goals, but all the big things are in place and so far every month the lights have (mostly) stayed on and the bills have been paid. The heat of summer is making me so, so, so happy. To wake up and have the light and energy to run a few miles before I even make coffee is something Winter Jenna couldn't even tolerate the dream of. Now I'm feeling lighter, stronger, tanner, feistier. I was able to mail in a mortgage check at the tail-end of June, cover the butcher bill, work out a payment plan with the electric company and my student loans. I've cut out so many costs I used to think were necessary in life. I'm broke, but feeling beautiful. I'm hustling, but feeling happy. I'm promoting this farm's wares and my skills to the best of my ability and without apology. Oh! And yesterday I applied to join the team of an online magazine that might open the door to a new stream of freelance and audience. What I am saying is things are tight but things are good. Hands down I am the happiest woman you know this Sunday morning with $65 in her checking account.

The new hawk, Auburn, is slowly improving as we spend time together. We aren't into real fall training yet since she is molting her feathers and that means a steady, rich, diet and not the weight-control of training season. So what we do together is simply spend time. Time on walks with her on my fist. Movies inside at night. Getting her used to me being in her space. It's a slow burn towards something lovely.

I'm writing you while my friend is asleep in the guest room. I've been up since 6, having done the chores around the farm, ran a quick 5k, made coffee, scoured social media for news and pop culture fixes - and now I am settling in to paint pet portraits and work on a logo client. I try not to do work on weekends like this, but I also need to catch up. Mailing out 5-10 orders a week is the only way to keep the flow moving and make room for new sales. I have soap to make today, and weeding to do to keep this place looking sane. But all of it is good work. All of it is a promise and luck. All of it is moving into a better place.

The lambs and piglets are doing well. I need more of both, though. Fall is always just around the corner and I need more stock here before the end of the month to stay on goal. It's a good post to set and something to wake up and work towards every day. Which is the best thing about this farm - the need to always be on top of what the farm needs. It never lets me slack off. It never lets me give in. I am the woman I am today because this place lifted me up, tore me apart, and let me start all over again. It means the world to me, it is my world. And I am going to do my best to keep it the plates spinning long as I can hold them.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Good Things!

Sunshine and warmth, what a beautiful thing. This morning the horses are grazing on new pasture, the lambs are starting to wean off their bottles, and the dogs are in from morning runabout and sleeping in sun beams in the living room floor. I have made the Monday List and am checking off "blog post" first because there are somethings to catch you up on! So far, none of them bad!

The new hawk, pictured here, is doing so well! She is getting trained from scratch and we are spending a lot of time together. She has a very nice mews set up, and expansion of my old set up, and it's been so wonderful having her here as well as building on my own falconry career. This fall I am considering a small falcon, to learn a new species - a kestrel or merlin. I'll be trapping wild birds, not purchasing any from breeders. While that costs me nothing by gas and time, it does mean there's a chance I won't get one at all. And of course who knows what the future will bring. Maybe training Auburn for release will turn into a whole season of hunting side by side and I won't have time for 2 birds. But just the whole thing of it is exciting. Something to look forward to!

I handed over a second outline to my agent, an overhaul of the last book idea, which was the bulk of my week's work. Planning out how a book goes is like building a hiking trail out of wild forest. You know there's a way to get your idea through, but the winding and switchbacks and need to cut down debris and find your route is harder than bullet points. At least for this book it is. I want to write about what was going on with my heart and mind the past ten years. I want to explain why and how I was hiding and how I was finding myself at the same time. At this point it's a book I feel I need to write, mostly to get the past decade from inside my ribs out for all of you to see. And while this is the baby stages of that process it is IN PROCESS and it lets me wake up feeling like an author again. It's a goal, and it'll be along hike to get there, but I get to wake up excited to make it every single day. Makes a woman feel very lucky.

I've been riding more, running more, hiking more - generally being out in the world moving as much as possible under the sun. It is amazing how much that and music can change my entire world. Miles fly listening to songs that inspire on the road. Trails become more saturated and magical, like the forest is a place for secret stories and hidden doors. I am feeling more like myself than ever and mind and body both seem to be letting go of a huge amount of stress. The kind of stress I want to write about in that book, not the regular farm-stress of making the place solvent and whole. But the stress of hiding who I am, or being ashamed to like what I like. It's been let go.

I hope you are all enjoying this summer as we start this month from jump. Wish this farm luck in keeping on, miles and mortgage, and I wish you the same in return! 





Friday, June 28, 2019

Carry Through

Life right now is a lot of nerve and verve which isn't a bad thing. I am balancing anxiety about making this place work with the intense dump of energy I have for the heat. I am so happy it is finally hot outside again, that simple chores outside drench me in sweat and the is bright and the air is wet. Mornings are a little milder and that is when most of the chores are done and I get out for a run. Today I ended up going for a ride and then running a 10k around noon and while I am sun burnt and sweat for days - it felt so good. So much of winter is being cold in ways you can not understand - inside and out. Summer I feel alive again.

I have around 48 hours in this month to make it clear through and am very close. I am grateful for that, but also feeling proud that while every month is right up against it - through luck, kindness, contributions, sales, or plain luck I have made it this far. I can never take that for granted or assume that will be the case, but every time the bank clears the check for a house payment or I manage to keep mailing in that health insurance check - it feels like proof on paper I am able to keep this place my own. And if the time it takes to retain that solvency is the fuse that leads to something bigger - whatever that it - that is my religion now. Hope.

But so far - it's work and miles and horses and heat. That is what carries me through. I have little secret goals and things I am very excited about this summer happening in the larger world of pop culture and politics - but small things like making a bill and riding a horse up on a mountain are what holds me up. I have allowed a lot of change and acceptance since I started farming here, but the reasons behind the actions are always the same. I'm in love with this place and this life. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Help and Subscribe!

Readers,

Every once in a while I will suggest you consider subscribing to this blog. It's entirely free to read the posts, see the pictures, and share the adventure. It always will be. But all authors, artists, musicians, and creators depend on the people who appreciate their work to be patrons on some level.

If you own my books, thank you. If you share my blog posts, thank you. If you have come to a workshop or event here, thank you. And if you simply want to kick in $5 a month towards feed and hay - I thank you. It's a small way to both encourage me and help keep the lights on.

Like NPR stations, I'll be here to tune into whether you wish to subscribe and be a patron or not. But I do ask if you enjoy what you read here and do not already subscribe - to consider it. Please only do so if you feel the writing has value (as entertainment, inspiration, etc) and you can manage it.

Thank you,
-j

Want to make a one-time contribution?
https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF

For a monthly contribution to the blog and to be a regular patron:


Friday, June 21, 2019

Hogs and Hawks

I have been feeling a surge of energy recently and I think I can thank running and the longer days for it. When I am outside moving, listening to music, everything else shuts off. I can daydream, breath easier, every stride has a purpose and every day I run a little farther. Running costs nothing but time and when I am home from a long one I feel relieved as jumping into cold water. It was a slow start getting back into the swing of things this summer - but now as the solstice shines in I am hoping this energy is here to stick.

In farm news, a small litter of piglets has joined the farm! The first-time mother successfully gave birth without problems. This is my second time farrowing, and the first time was so flawless and easy. This one was more cruel, with some piglets dying shortly after birth. It's been a decade of raising livestock and the highs and lows still slam into me on a regular basis. I am as terrified of them as I am grateful. No day passes that doesn't contain an entire soundtrack of emotions. There are little accomplishments like harvesting the first snap pea, learning a new fiddle tune, a new birth, and sunshine returned after such a long, cold, time. But there are also losses, and mud, and rain that seemed to last for weeks. I'm not sure how healthy living in a roller coaster is but it's never boring.

This weekend I may be getting a new hawk! A local falconer is going to college and won't be able to train up her bird for fall before releasing it back into the wild. I'll be taking over training with the bird, and the family that currently keeps it is coming over to help prepare and update my mews first. So it's a weekend of construction and possibly even a new hawk in my life! A falconer without a bird is a sad thing, and I am very happy to have talons in my life again and someone to feed all the quail in my freezer to!

So that is what is going on here. New additions and stories. I am working on notes from my agent about a book outline and trying to catch up on all the soap and art orders. I am promoting sales like nuts on Twitter. I am trying to make time to get away from the farm - if only for a few hours a few nights a week - to go into town and meet up with friends new and old. I still have time to make the mortgage this month on top of the butcher's bill - and if I am lucky that will happen and I will just make it another one. Only now it feels less like scratching and clawing to survive and more like scrappy pride in being resourceful. Coyote life is for me.

Oh, and the fireflies are back. I missed every single one of them.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Balance

When things are stressful I find myself wanting to be around people more, at least these days I do. And for the past few days I have been making time to be out around friends and enjoying conversations, a beer, stories, and music. Wednesday night a friend bought me a drink in town, Thursday I got to see Mark and Patty, and today I was able to meet up from an old riding friend at the farmer's market in town. It was pouring rain but we sat in the cover of the train station and told each other what was going on. My biggest news was writing projects, dating, freelance, and the general uncertainty of the farm. And all of these people, the town, the stories and shared places make even the most tense moments on this farm seem more manageable. Being less alone means feeling less alone, and I am so glad to be catching up after the long winter in ways I have not when fires needed tending.

The farm is humming and the first fireflies of the season came out to shine last night!The lambs are slowly getting weaned off milk and grazing more and more. The horses are being ridden more often on the mountain trails with friends. The heat is making me feel so much more active. Evening runs are now pushing 6 miles and the time to zone out to music is as powerful and recharging as time surrounded by friends. There seems to be more balance these days - which only took me around a decade to develop. Better late than never.

As for the farm I have to figure out butcher bills, more lambs, a house payment ASAP and try to get it all done while avoiding any truck repairs. The remedy for all of this is hunkering down Monday through Friday to work the part-time writing and art gigs I have collected. There's a collection of editors and my agent - art and soap customers - and locals who have purchased meat shares or want a dozen eggs or what have you. 

I feel like I am about halfway to where I need to be and since the month is about halfway over that seems manageable. I think there will be a lot more running and more time outdoors with friends. Both of those activities cost nothing and make me feel tired and happy. Which is still possible to find - that happiness - even while being scared of the mail truck and unsure of what is ahead.

When there's more news to tell I will share it. In the meantime I hope to be moving fast across the landscape, listening to good music, talking to good friends, and keeping my head and heart in line as summer starts to nest.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Home

I can say this, I am not going anywhere. Just because the bank is threatening me doesn't mean I am leaving, selling, or quitting. In one day I have managed a third of the sales I need to make a payment. I believe I will make the deadline, and I will keep finding ways to make it. At some point this has to get easier and if it doesn't then I'll get better so it IS easier. But do not think for one second I am selling, or giving up, or leaving my farm. If you want to help you can. If you want to sit back and watch me pull this off you can. If you want to jeer and tell me I'm an idiot you can. But Cold Antler Farm is my home and no matter how dark and scary it gets I have made it here ten years alone knowing nothing about rural living and I made it to this point and I refuse to throw in the towel over something like money. I will find, sell, create, write, accept, tell, freelance, farm, story, and song my way however is legally possible.

Cold Antler is home.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

20 Days

Got a very bad certified letter in the mail today. Farm is on final notice from the bank. I have 20 days to make mandatory payment or that's the beginning of the end. Internet/phone is still down. Please be patient with email replies and work. I will address everything as soon as I can.

Run

I woke up the the sound of three lambs bleating below my bedroom window for their morning bottles. The trio's pen gate had been left ajar and at first light my three lambs made their way to the house and situated themselves below the window where dog heads were poking out. Don't let anyone tell you sheep are stupid. They aren't. They are survivalists.

The dogs were up all night barking and sleep was hard to come by. I didn't know what was going on? Maybe the weasel was back? A deer or Barb the local mountain bear had made her way into the farm? Nope. The old tree by the driveway finally broke in two and fell in the night. I found it this morning. Luckily it broke off into the pasture and not in the driveway where my truck was parked!

I finished farm chores fast and headed into town for the laundromat, which is where I am updating you now. My phone and internet service was shut off and is in the process of being restored. Since the internet is 100% the way I get income and talk to clients - I have been driving to my new "office" several times during the day. All of my sheets are clean though, and right now blankets an throws are being dried. The silver lining of free wifi at the laundromat is a lot of clean linens.

Been a hell of a week though. Within the last 48 Hours I have had the plumbing stop draining, $500 in medical bills without a diagnose, a fallen tree, my front door fall off the hinges, no internet or phone service, and the stress and try of getting it all back together.

But in the meantime I have been burning up some extra energy and anxiety out running. These days of more hot and humid weather seem to demand I run and I am putting out some 5k and 10k days, hoping to get up to an average of 6 miles a run soon. It makes me feel better in every single way - both losing weight and losing stress. To be totally soaked from sweat and tired from work makes those moments after a run feel amazingly calm and clean. A cold shower or dip in a river, fresh clothes, a cold drink - it is better than any sort of AC. These days walking into AC feels like walking into a morgue. I hate it. I especially hate it if I didn't run or sweat. Feels like something for corpses, not animals.

Today is about catching up on work, running errands, preparing for piglets and the butcher. It's about getting sales and getting tired. It's about repairing broken doors and moving dead branches and keeping this place moving forward another day.I hope your goal is the same and a low smoother than it is here!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Small Dirty Paradise

It finally felt like summer today. The thermostat hit the eighties, I went on a long lazy run, and I got to mow the lawn! It's been two whole days without rain and my town's annual Hot Air Balloon Festival which always gives this little gin joint a shot of activity. Between the tourists, the balloons, the heat, and the longer days this finally reminded me of what summer feels like. It made me want to jump in the river (I did not, it is freezing and high from a month of record rainfall and low temps) but I wanted to, and that is a welcome desire.

The farm is slowly getting on track with the season. Getting a hold of hay is hard, as we are all waiting on this year's cutting to start and everyone is out of last years. I am grateful I set up fences to allow the pasture to grow in sections and in the morning the horses get their cereal and fresh grass to graze. The lambs get their bottles (and also are starting to eat grain) and one of my pigs is very pregnant and the butcher gets here later in the week for the boars. It's a week of grazing management, bottle feeding, slaughter, and the occasional lawn mowing and all of it to move towards the goal of feeling safe at home.

And flushing the toilet... The amount of rain water has either flooded my septic system to the point of super slow drainage or it is blocked. I need to call a plumber but I'm not doing that until I mail in my health insurance bill for the month. In the meantime there's a lot of peeing in the woods.

Maybe I'll date a plumber? That would be a real jackpot. 

That's going to be a hell of day, guys. The day I feel really safe here. If you have that, savor it. If you know tonight your roof is tight, your bills are paid, you have money in the bank and there isn't a chance of losing your home, savor it. If you have someone that loves you sharing your life and work and trials and stories, savor it. I know for a lot of you that is just a humdrum life. It's a normal Sunday night to know there's a new week starting and work is at 9AM and your spouse has the day off to mow and go grocery shopping - and that kind of everyday security is what I crave. The caveat is I want it here. I want it on this farm, from this work, from my own skills as a writer, a farmer, a designer, and an illustrator.

But one day I am going to make it. One day when the farm isn't under threats from banks. When I have more than $20 in my bank account after the mortgage is paid. When I know for sure I have everything I need to make utilities, health insurance, grain and feed bills and someone to talk to before bed and plan out the week.... I feel that isn't too far away.

Or, if it is, then the years of learning to balance skills and costs and making it almost a decade here alone still feels like good work. Because while it's always been a struggle and recently, a horrific one, I am still here. Next May will mark ten years and eight of them working at home as a full-time creative freelancer and farmer. And you know what? I regret none of it. This place has changed me entirely, given me strength, resilience, self-assurance and esteem I could not have found anywhere else. And as of tonight I still own this lawn I mowed. I still have customers, and people to feed, and a place where I wake up every single day with this fire to keep trying to find that safe place in the same nervous corner of this mountain I have been trying at for a decade.

So it's another month of work. And another month with butcher bills and that precious monthly payment that is always late but always dependable so the bank so far lets me stay put. Their patience is impressive but so is this little farm that is still starting mornings with coffee and a promise and slowly carving this woman out of petrified wood so she can dream of kisses before bed and lazy rivers and a savings account in her small dirty paradise.

I don't know what this life seems like to you. Most of the time I don't know how it seems to me, but I am grateful I am still here and able to live a harder life alone doing what I love. And while it may seem sad or lonely, overwhelming or fruitless - most of the time it is simply mine. And a life a person can call theirs with their shoulders back and chin up is worth a week of peeing in the woods.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Whew & Weasel!

We made the month! I mean, I just barely made it, but oh good gods what a relief! I mailed out the mortgage check! Once it is cashed I'll be back to a 2 digit figure in my bank account again, but it has been mailed! The relief is like taking two fifty-pound feed sacks off my shoulders after carrying them for 2 weeks uphill. Now I just have to wait to make sure the bank cashes it and there isn't any issue with that, since it was postmarked a day late - but I am hoping it clears and I am back to the solid work of earning the next one.

Whew. That is the word of this day, whew.
 
This happened because of you. Thank you. Your emails, your letters, your purchases of soap and meats and logos and pet portraits. Your patience, your contributions to the blog, your readership. This is a farm that depends on her online community. It only exists because of it. Thank you so, so, so much for sending your kind emails, comments, tweets, Instagram notes, and a very special thanks to Maria whose 3 beautiful canvas paintings of Friday, Merlin, and a hen with her chicks arrived today. I wish you guys knew how much larger you make my world. Some days I don't leave the farm or see anyone. I don't talk to an actual person at all. But to know there's a readership sitting in front of screens all over, watching and cheering - it makes things feel so much less scary. 

In less happy news, a weasel came into the farm the last two nights. One young Buff Orpington pullet was taken and a meat bird, but I think that is the worst of it. The birds that were taken were in the chicken coop closest to the house and while the metal gate to the run was closed, the actual coop door was not. The weasel figure out the wire door, which seems like a very weasel thing to do. But last night when he returned I was ready and me and the dogs met him and his little ferret eyes face to face at 2AM! He ran like hell with Friday on his tail. No birds were lost last night. Which is another relief in itself!

Right now it's mid afternoon here and the sky is gray after a short chilly morning of sunshine. The lows may dip into the thirties. It is such a false summer and everyone is nervous about all the cold and rain. Hay isn't being cut, it's barely being grown. Crop reports from all over the Northeast and Midwest are showing at least a 2-week delay in progress. I am wondering if this will effect food prices into the late summer and fall? 

In personal news: It's Pride Month! I've never been to any sort of parade or event, but maybe this year I will? I am going to try to focus on my running and maybe even go on a date if luck swings my way - but if I'm being honest a flag on the farmhouse and a possible weird first date is probably the extent of my romantic life. But a gal needs something to run for.

In author news: My agent has my completed book proposal and she and I will work on it until it is ready to shop around. This is a big step, and what I have been working on when I haven't been in a frenzy about making the bills. Just having the shot at telling this larger story behind Cold Antler and the little girl who grew up to be a feral mountain woman - that is exciting enough. Perhaps I should run for her, and not for a rando date? That seems better.

Thank you again for reading along. Thank you for being part of this story. I have four weeks to pull this all off again, and so many orders to catch up on. I mailed out four packages today and my student loan payment. I am making soap and painting this afternoon while the natural light of day lets me see what I am doing with my paint and brushes. It's good to have these goals to work on.





Thursday, May 30, 2019

Crunch Time

I have 2 days to earn half my mortgage and have my check postmarked. Holy crow this is crunch time. Yesterday I made some headway, and that headway had to go to the electric bill, gas for the truck, 100lbs of feed, and phone company. The reality of needing to earn money through this blog and farm is that I am not able to just earn it for one expense. All the income I make through part-time work and what I offer has to cover every aspect of the farm management, insurances, utilities, student loans and home ownership without government, spouse, or family assistance.

What can you do? Right now so many offers are constantly being advertised on Twitter but if you aren't on there know I offer:

Handmade soaps
Pet portraits
logos
Lamb
Pork
Classes in fiddle and archery (that come with bows and fiddles!)

All of this is just an email away. This is a key time to support this farm if that is something you would like to do or are able to do. Note: if you buy soap or art from me the wait is long due to catching up on previous sales from this very tight year. But if you are not in a hurry to get soap or art, both are amazing ways to get a gift and support CAF.

And to those of you who already have - through purchasing something or plain ol' sending a contribution towards the blog - all of that means so much.  Thank you! I do my best to send as many thank you messages and notes as I can. I hope these messages of asking for encouragement, sales, and help fade away soon. I hope my luck changes. Right now I need to do whatever I can to keep my home of 9 years safe and not back in the hands of the bank. 


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Little Lambs, Little Cars, Friend Visit!

Woke up to a morning of chores in gentle rain, and now that has cleared off and the lambs are grazing on the hillside, the horses are chomping on their morning hay, and the dogs are enjoying a mid-morning nap. A good writer friend from out of town is visiting for a bit and I am so excited to see her later this afternoon! She'll be spending her time in Washington County between a few farms and this one is excited to prepare the guest room! Last time she was here there was such an intense heat wave (and this house doesn't have AC) and we ended up enjoying the river. This spring has been so cold and wet we may end up enjoying a fire?! 

In better news I have sent the first draft of a 38-page proposal to my literary agent and she is going through it in hopes to help me prepare it for the marketplace. To get a book deal would be a game changer for this farm! It would have the mortgage caught up, new equipment, and I hope - a new small vehicle to be more mobile. And by "new" I mean a used hatchback that is safe to drive farther than an hour away from the farm. I love my truck. She's been my sole ride for almost 4 years now, and I plan on keeping her. But the age, the breaking down, and the fact I am certain I can't go farther than 30 miles away without a rental car means it is time to find something small and sturdy for upstate New York.  Retire her to farm plate status and keep her for hay and town trips.

If one of you has a used (but dependable) Subaru or VW or Volvo or something that fits two dog crates and has 4WD let me know! Can't buy anything now. My bank account probably couldn't even cover state taxes on a used vehicle - but that is the dreamy thought I have for what I'll do with any advance money if I do sell a book. Oh, and buy a working washing machine!

Okay! Enough dreaming. Here's the goal right now: I have three days (counting today) to make this month's mortgage payment on time, splitting that up into three smaller daily goals. This is how it gets done, something large becomes smaller, daily, tasks and decisions that add up to the outcome I need. If you are at all interested in seeing this farm make it through, and want to help - the best way is to order something! Get a pet portrait! Get or donate a share of meat! Take a class! Or hell, if you just want to throw in $5 towards the blog you are reading now, you can do that here: and good gods does every small action help and I am grateful for all of them. https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF

Monday, May 27, 2019

Small Adventures

photo by tara alan
Ever since the electric wire was set into the horse pasture, Merlin has stayed put. Almost a week without his rogue grazing in the lawn and that is a tiny victory! The lambs are still being bottle fed three times a day and the pigs are being very pigish. I have a lot of nettles and scrub to clear this week and a house to prepare for a friend/writer coming to visit later in June. So my day-to-day has a lot more weed whacking and dusting than usual - but all of that is for happy reasons - a farm coming back to life as summer grows stronger and friends are taking time to visit. It's a nice feeling, for sure.

I'm still trying to save up for a mortgage payment, which I am about a third of the way there. Four days to make it happen before the bank can pull the ripcord on a possible foreclosure. Every month until I can make a double payment, that is the race I am running.

Mark my words, some day these worries will be behind me. I will figure out how to be successful as a writer, an artist, a farmer and a person in general and I'll have it easier while still having what I fought for: this farm. That, or I'll try as long as I can. And I am a very stubborn woman, so I am hoping it's a while longer that the try still roars.

To end this post on a happier note: I got to do something every special last night. My good friend Tara and I have been hiking and slowly working towards the goal of going on small adventures together. Last night we got to do a trial run here on my mountain! A neighbor with a lot of land and trails permitted us to hike and camp on his land, which was only a half mile from my farm. So I was able to hike all afternoon, set up camp in a beautiful meadow, filter water from a stream, cook dinner, prepare a campfire - and then walk home to feed the lambs and check on the farm before returning to the mountain Hobbit Homes we had made. Training Wheels Backpacking, but I'll take what I can get.

We stayed up till nearly midnight by the fire making smores and catching up. We watched the stars and hoped for fireflies (Not yet, it has been such a chilly dark spring) but it all felt like a real adventure to me, all of it. In the past eight years this is the second time I didn't sleep in my own bed. I know it was only a camp site a half mile away but it is emotional and physical distance from the place I haven't been able to leave in years. With the downsizing of livestock, learning new fences, and making time to do things like this camp out I get to feel adventurous while still being a farmer at heart. And to wake up in bright meadow at dawn, heat up water for some coffee and oatmeal and watch the mountain wake up...

It was wonderful.

And I need this kind of activity to keep me from sucumbing to anxiety, to keep me on my toes. Backpacking is free - at least once you've gathered all your gear (most of mine was loaned or bought used or part of my gig doing outdoor gear reviews for magazines) but once you have that a vacation is just sweat, gas money to the trailhead, whatever snacks you pack AND I can bring the dogs. To some it may seem even more isolating that being on the farm alone - but to me it is a chance to explore a wide world that has been getting smaller, get back into my summer shape (15lbs to drop yet) and learn to love this region of the world I call home all over again, from a wilder eye.

So I'll farm and I'll hike and I'll hunt and I'll ride and hope that the work I am doing will end up in an easier life on my nerves and never on my heart. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Escape Pony

I walked around the far pasture shuffling slowly and head turned to the ground. If any neighbors drove by they might think the Zombie Apocalypse had finally arrived. I wasn't undead, I was frustrated. I was scanning the edges of fences and posts for yellow insulators long abandoned or pieces of old electric wiring - the kind used for string fences. I needed to set up an electric barrier fast.

I was scavenging for what I needed because spending money at the hardware store on new wire and a new charger was out of the question. I had already spent a third of all the money in my bank account today paying towards the electric bill's balance, a prescription for my lymph node issues, feed, and some AAA batteries. I needed to not spend another nickel until the farm made some sales. I've got till the end of the month to mail the mortgage payment and what I have now in my checking account couldn't pay for half of a Yeti Cooler. Zombie life here I come. 

Merlin has been escaping through extraordinary feats of ponyism. He's learned to leap over low fences and slide under high ones. If the space between two areas isn't electric he will find a way to push through it. He is liquid, fitting into spaces most equines would never dare tread.

His reasons for wanting to escape the paddock are because over half of his normal grazing area has been fenced off. He feels shorted. I've been giving those areas time regrow and heal from years of overgrazing with sheep, horses, goats, you name it. So the whole front area of the pasture has been seeded and sectioned off and Merlin wants in at those precious new shoots of grass. He's been a very ponyish pony lately. The mare has been perfect. Mabel wouldn't so much as cross a line drawn in chalk.  Merlin has a parkour that astounds.

So I have been slowly thwarting his escape routes, every day he finds a new one. It is a miserable game of chess and makes leaving the farm stressful. I worry he'll get into the road. So today I watched him leap over a divider and knew it was time to start electrifying the entire 2 acres he is in now, starting with the easiest areas to escape. It was the area without woven wire, just stretches of t-posts. I was using non-electrified horse tape, 2 inches thick which he minded for a good long while until the grass literally became greener. So now I had to get a wire across that 40 yard stretch of pasture.

It took about an hour to find, set up, and get the fencing, insulators and wiring all in order. I don't have any other chargers that work but the pigs'. So in an act of reckless choice I unhooked their charger to use for Merlin's fence. I know this is asking for trouble but I am hoping one night doesn't get me a runaway sounder. I set it up and used my fence tester to make sure it was hot. It was.

I am hoping this does the trick. I'm glad I was able to set up that fence without spending a dime. And now I am going to get back to the stress indoors in hopes for less stress outdoors. And hey, at least it wasn't raining. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Blossoms and Storms

The little lambs that have been sharing the farm house with me are finally sleeping outside in the lamb pen on the hill. The first night they were outside I also camped out with them, sleeping under the stars with my dogs in a tent. We got out of our nest three times that night to check on them. I was mostly worried about predators because Ser Pounce is so very small, but they were fine. I still need to add 2 more sheep to the flock this summer but these three are hail and hardy and sheep are back on Cold Antler soil!The apple blossoms are falling like snow in the wind after thunderstorms. They decorate the nursery pen on the hill. It feels like summer is stalking me and I love it.

Good news! My test results came back and I don't have any of the five tick-borne diseases I was tested for! And just as good news: the heat is on! The last few days have been hot enough to work up a glorious sweat just doing light yard work outside! Thunderstorms are every day (the mild, benign, northeastern sort that cool off a hot day) and I am back to running and hiking regularly.

If you remember last year when I decided to sell the dairy goats and breeding flock of sheep, the reason was for a little more freedom - financially but also time wise. I think at the heart of it I missed the small adventures of not being so tied down to one place. I have no desire to leave the farm or stop raising food - but I do want to be able to travel and hike a bit. That is what this summer is about. There will be small, brave, solo backpacking trips with the dogs and whatever I can carry on my back into the local state parks and Appalachian Trail. There will be camping, fly fishing, beautiful trips that cost me nothing since I already have the gear I need to be comfortable outdoors. It's not exactly amazing travel plans - I am talking about a few nights in the forest within an hour of the farm - but for me it is a big deal. I hope to spend one weekend in the White Mountains of New Hampshire when the lambs are older. I hope to enjoy the trail with new friends. I hope to feel healthy and safe.

Besides the usual fears of making the bills, this farm is okay. I am healthy. The animals are well. All my limitations right now are set by what I can earn and create. That is an amazing place to be. It makes you resourceful, careful, frugal, and most of all: grateful. I am hoping for more of this, all through the long hot summer. And as someone who spent the last 5 months heating a house with wood on many cold, dark, nights I welcome the heatwaves and harvests to come!

P.S. All of the recent photos here and on social media are thanks to a cracked-screen 2010 iPhone I found in a drawer. My most recent camera, a reader-gifted Canon G9 - sadly has broken so I am without a camera or new phone for pictures. I'll do what I can when things are better to have better images for you. 

P.P.S. If you want to contribute towards this blog, the medical tests, the farm, any of it - it is always appreciated and encouraging.  Do so by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Blood & Kailyards

It’s been an interesting couple of days. Since being tested for Lymphoma I have been to my dentist for x-rays to see if there were any complications/infections in my teeth. There are not. I have also been tested to Lyme and other Tick-borne illnesses and waiting on results. I am glad to be taking care of this, having the tests and appointments, but also quietly dreading the bills. It's hard enough making the money every month to fend off the worst of the stalking threats. Now this.

While waiting to figure out what is going on with me, I am actively trying to ignore it. I’ve hoed up and started setting up the kailyard behind the barn. It’s been such a cold and wet spring I haven’t had the weather or want to get out there and clear up and compost. Now I am. I have spinach and lettuce and kale to plant and tend. I have 8 plants of butternut squash to start my fall squash pile with. I have all the laying hens raised as chicks outside all day foraging and being proper chickens (though they do tap on the glass doors at dusk to come inside to sleep in the brooders at night. I let them.

The three bottle lambs are doing so well. The smallest one, named Ser Pounce, had a rough start and was very skinny and took a while to train to the bottle. Now he’s a small tight ball of energy that rivals a kitten! Podrick and Lyanna are also doing well. When it is over 50 degrees they are outside in the lamb pen on the hill. Otherwise - in these windy, rainy, and sleet (yes SLEET filled days) they are inside on a pile of hay in the dog crate in the living room. Across the room from the chicks gathering at night, of cats curled up by the wood stove, and of me and the dogs sipping tea and watching a movie before bed. Quite the peaceable kingdom, even if the outdoors are savage lands.

So I am moving this farm towards its goals, CSA, customers and seasons. I am worried about what is going on with my body but it isn’t like the flu - not anymore. I am able to go on gentle hikes and walks, but I am not running. I am sleeping more than usual, but not a worrying amount. I am trying to rest and heal. I have these medical costs to deal with on top of the normal farm bills and mortgage and that has lit a fire of frugality and shameless promotion. I am actively looking for art and soap sales. I am hoping these warming months will encourage people to come here for fiddle or archery lessons. I am also looking forward to long hikes, hot runs, cool rivers and the real heat and humidity I so love.

Basically I am trying to keep the farm going among all this dreariness. This has been one of the coldest, wettest, springs on record (since 1895) up here. Grass won’t grow. Mud collects and pools. What I would give for a sunny afternoon on dry earth… A chance to get some pasture back I already fenced off from the horses (who are not happy about it) and to play fiddle with the lambs once they are outside full time on the hill.

Hoping for luck with better health, easier times, and a lighter heart. For now I am grateful for the hoe and bottle - meaning gardens and young lambs - they are keeping my heart turned towards the farm and better, easier, warmer days.

I am best at the keep going. So I am going to keep. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Scare

Yesterday I decided to go see a doctor about a swollen lymph node under my collar bone. It had been sensitive for days, inflamed, and I was starting to get the same reaction near my throat. I felt tired, unusually so, and weak. I was worried I was in the early stages of mono or Lyme. I have health insurance for the first time in years and decided to have it checked out. I thought I would have a boring office appointment and be home for lunch.

What proceeded was a day of being screened for cancer. It was a terrifying couple of hours from the concerned physician at the clinic  explaining to me that a node so inflamed rarely meant something good to being sent to the local hospital for chest x-rays and white blood cell counts. I ended up getting hours of tests and driving all around southern Vermont in the rain.

I am very relieved to say the tests came back negative for signs of Lymphoma. I found out late in the afternoon. That releif will set me back about $600 in medical bills but was worth every penny. To know that fast that I was okay, instead of worrying and saving up for the tests over months - I am so grateful I was able to get results back soon.

Now I am not sure if my body is fighting off some sort of infection, a root canal that's reinfected? I go from feeling like the top left corner of my body is fighting with itself to fine. Today I feel mostly fine, if a little foggy. I did a gentle hike with Friday to clear my head and process what happened yesterday. When you're being screened for cancer there usually only two outcomes to that process. Yesterday the news was lucky. Who knows how many lucky days any of us have left?

So I walked with Friday in the new spring woods. We stopped at a view overlooking farms and mountains as far as I could see. My body brought me there and home, and without any pain. It was a celebration and release of that tense day yesterday. And the joy of knowing those bills were being sent to my insurance company and not a demand for payment on the day of service. If that was the case I couldn't get tested.

Quite the day. And now I am back to the work of soap and art and the farm. I am bottle feeding three little lambs - all are doing well. I have a lead on some more. I am so encouraged by your kind emails and letters. People are contributing to the farm in so many ways and it really, really, makes a difference. I am very grateful for that, too.

Back to work for now. I'll call the dentist Monday morning to see about x-rays for the broken fillings above root canals. I'll figure out what is wrong soon as I can. And be gentle while I wait.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Gibson to the Rescue!

It was already a busy farm day when I got Patty's message. I was just home from a trip into town to mail off some soap packages. Before that I had my farrier here trimming the horses' feet and spent an hour sectioning off my pasture for better rotational grazing/regrowth. I felt the farm part of the day was done and was planning on an afternoon of writing and design work. You know, the kind of gentle, quiet, work done hunched over a computer screen with a cold drink and music playing. But when I went to my computer to check my messages I read:

I need help. Bring Gibson - the lambs got through fence
Patty

I didn't think twice. I wrote back I was on my way and Gibson and I jumped into the truck and headed to Livingston Brook Farm.

I wasn't too worried. If there's one thing I am used to it is sheep escaping. Gibson, Friday, and I have helped return many a stray sheep to this farm. But most of the time it was animals that were born, lived, and knew my farm. It's a whole different story when the lambs are brand new to a place and have no idea about the lay of the land and no familiar shelter to call home. Patty picked up her three pasture lambs this morning. They escaped during the re-homing process. They were in a strange place and out of sight. This is scarier than sheep outside a fence. This is three animals that have no idea where they are, why they've been taken there, and suddenly loose and wild in the big wide world.

So you call in a sheepdog.

When we arrived at Patty's farm no cars were in their familiar places. The horses were restless. They snorted at Gibson and pranced alongside us as we jogged towards the far field. I saw Patty's truck out in the pasture - she had driven in the direction they had ran.

I called out and she seemed okay, but worried. She had a recording on her phone of the lambs' mothers call and was, I think, just happy that reinforcements had arrived to help. She explained she was unloading three very boisterous young Romney ram lambs out of the back of her capped pickup truck and they found the one spot in the fence to escape and made a dash for it. They took off into the woods, across a stream, and away from her property. She lost sight of them in the fray and now they'd been gone about half an hour. She didn't know where they'd gone off to.

We split up, her driving with a bucket of grain to neighbors' homes. Gibson and I took for the road and decided to walk along the long, winding, driveways of adjacent properties. This area of the county is real farm country. Where I live - on a mountain road - there are small pieces of yards and lawns cut into the forest - but this was a place where people mow with tractors and 30 acres is a driveway. I didn't know where Patty had gone but I took Gibson where I thought sheep would go - to grass on a high spot.

Gibson and I followed a long driveway for a while and then I decided to cut into the field, walking up a small crest of hill. Then, by luck or tactics, we both came across three lambs laying down in the middle of the grass in the sun. I was certain Patty didn't see them if she drove by. They looked like a pile of brown dirt, almost level with the ground in tall grass. What luck! They were here! All together!

I told Gibson to move forward and the sheep exploded up from the ground, taking off. Gibson made a wide circle around them and gave chase - keeping the trio of runaways inside the perimeter of his herding. It was a beautiful thing to watch. He ran with such focus and intention. It reminded me of the lessons we took together when he was a puppy. We had found the sheep. They were okay. We weren't even a mile away from the farm! We could get this to all work out!

Soon Patty's big black truck crested the hill. I waved and pointed to our prizes. She poked her head out of the window asked what was best to do next? My first thought was for Gibson to herd them into the garage up the hill towards the neighbor's home. But I could tell Gibson had the sheep under control. He had been a living fence for about five minutes now, weaving and chasing and keeping the lambs more and more trustful of me and less of him. As they got closer to me the idea of grabbing them made the most sense. We could scoop them up and carry them to her truck.

Moments later Patty came out to us with a few leashes in hand. Together - two women and a dog - we were able to catch all three ram lambs and carry them to her truck. It probably only took another ten minutes but felt like The Battle of Woolterfell.

To Patty's credit she caught the first one and then grabbed the second with the other hand! I nabbed the third. Mission accomplished! Gibson, who had been running, trotting, or sprinting non stop in the sun had his tongue out halfway to his chest. He needed to cool off, fast. He's a damn good dog but not used to this level of intense work

I called Gibson into the pickup, he was panting up a storm. He had not herded this hard in a year. On the way back to her farm I had her let us out at the edge of her property where the Livingston Brook winds through her pastures towards the Battenkill River. Gibson knew what to do. He slid his over-heated body into the stream near a culvert letting the water slowly float him towards some soft stones. He floated like Baloo the bear and drank as his black fur floated around him. It was the prettiest thing I'd seen in years. When he felt better walked out to be beside me.

This dog. A thousand tiny gods could not offer me eternal life in exchange for him. What a perfect beast. He was a true hero. He was there in a pinch, performed, and saved the day. If he wasn't with me we'd still be chasing those lambs.

We got the three runaways into their shed with shade, water, grain, hay and a scolding. Patty set up the fencing to a better system. We went into her kitchen to clink glasses of iced tea in celebration. We got the livestock back and home safe. They weren't lost, or in the road, or feeding a generation of very grateful coyotes. The shepherds managed to keep the flock. Honestly it was a shame it was too early to drink.

I am glad the sheep are back, but really it was all Gibson. A trained herding dog became the transportable fence we needed and did so without hurting the sheep or himself. He worked hard and I gave him two glazed donuts on the way home (his absolute favorite thing in the world).

And it felt wonderful to be helpful to Patty, and to be useful and there when she needed the help. That woman has rescued this farm so many times. I hope she always knows she can count on me to do the same. That's what friends and farmers are for.

And very good dogs. 




Good Morning

Morning all, thank you for the kind messages and encouragement that came my way since the last post. I want to be clear that while the post was very personal, it wasn't meant to portray that I am unhappy, in danger or without supportive and wonderful friends. The post was about a very unconscious and normal sort of isolation women feel at a certain age when they don't fit into assumed roles. There is a sadness to it, of course, but please do not think I am saying my town isn't great - it's just adapting to a changing society the best it can. As every town is.

I wanted to also share that the farm is becoming brighter, greener, and more alive as I search for more lambs, plant, rake, prepare for summer guests and friends and do the everyday work of making this place scrape by. I have projects indoors and out. I am slowly working towards a new book, repairing fences, planning around restoring lawns and teeth - all the regular things!

I so appreciate every email, letter, card, message, contribution, story, DM and interaction. But what is most important to convey this morning that I am okay, and writing about the times I don't feel okay - is important to feeling that way.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Selfish, Broken, or Trouble

One time a man came to my door and asked to talk to my husband. He was perhaps in his mid fifties? He had gray stubble and an impressive beer gut and held forth with the confidence of a boy about to climb into his tree fort. I stood in the door, nervous. When I said there wasn't a husband here right now he asked to talk to my mother, Mrs. Woginrich.

Confused, I asked what he wanted. I was 28 and had not owned the property very long. I didn't know why this complete stranger knew my name or why he thought my mother (who lives hours away in Pennsylvania) was visiting me right now? He balked when I said it was just me here. This wasn't the correct anwser.

He eventually explained he was looking for permission to hunt on my land. Since someone recently bought the property he needed to talk to the Jenna Woginrich listed on the tax map. It was a woman's name so he assumed it was an older lady, a wife or widow, not a twenty-something in ripped jeans and bare feet.

I explained that I was the owner of this property and neither my mother or any sort of Mr. Woginrich lived here. I was the one hunting the property now and two is a crowd on six acres. He left after that, disgruntled and dazed.

That was the first of many times people would act uncomfortable around me when they found out I lived alone on a farm on purpose. I've been asked by neighbors, strangers, road crews, and bar patrons the same question for years: who is my husband?

When I explain I don't have one - everything changes. When straight men find out I'm alone they either take a step closer or a step back, but never remain in place. I am not claimed and therefore fair game to chase or a distasteful thing that should be avoided. Either way, I am not safe.

When straight women find out they change their tone. Almost 90% of the time it's a faux you-go-girl-approval masking their discomfort. I don't take it personally, but it is as loud as a stop sign. I am not claimed and therefore undesirable for partnership or a possible threat to their marriage. Either way, I am not safe.

For women residing in small farm towns the correct anwser to who are you? is daughter, wife, or mother. This is an unwritten, but well-understood rule. If a woman isn't one of those things she is either selfish, broken, or trouble. Someone either purposely avoiding the adult responsibilities of marriage and motherhood or someone not fit to fill them.

This unwanted caution is not loud. No one goes out of their way to be unkind. There is a veneer of politeness out here that is necessary in rural places. You don't need to know who the person plowing your driveway voted for or sleeps with as much as you need snow removed. But the unspoken assumption is women my age should be straight, married, and raising a family. Not doing those things waves warning flags and every year the flags wave harder.

Which is wildly aggravating because if I was a 27-year-old man who moved here from out of town, bought land, started farming, wrote books, paid taxes and never showed up on a police scanner—I would practically be voted in the new mayor. But I'm not. I'm a 36-year-old woman alone on a mountain with animals. I'm one step away from neighborhood kids telling each other I'm a witch and daring to knock on my door at Halloween.

So I own it. I don't want a husband or children and I'm okay with being alone. I would prefer to be in a relationship, but that seems pretty unlikely anytime soon. I have twice as many Twitter followers as there are people in my town - which, in case you were wondering, is the perfect algorithm for not getting laid.

Being a public figure in a small town is one thing. Being a single, newly-out, woman in a small town is another. There are things people do now they didn't used to do.

I drive a big ol' red pickup with a rainbow decal on it and everyone knows what that means. I'm damn proud of the work it took to put that sticker on my truck. Happy to let others know (who may not feel comfortable being out) I'm here. I'm here as your neighbor, as your farmer, as a fellow homeowner, as a friend, whatever. But I'm here. Reactions were mixed.

Small things started to happen. Not just because of that sticker, but because word gets around in a small town like fog on a cold night. People that used to wave when I drove by stopped waving. Women at red lights go out of their way to avoid eye contact with me, as if looking a gay woman in the wild will be met with a leer? Men blatantly stare like a hyena is driving a truck. No one paid attention to me before that sticker. I used to be a part of the background and now I'm one of "them."

Conversations changed. People that used to always joke about "new single men they met" do not talk about "new single women they met" the same way. Once I came out all joking about dating and sex shut off. It's not that they are upset, not at all. I think people aren't sure how to joke around anymore when identities change (to them). This quiet tension breeds a hissing caution that screams YOU ARE DIFFERENT NOW.

I am well aware that careful distance isn't homophobia and I'm not saying it is. My sexuality has very little to do with people's general wariness of me. Mostly I am avoided because I am single and past the age most women are partnered up. I think being a woman alone is far more off-putting than being gay.

I don't know what to say to this? I'm not single because I want to be. I'm single because I haven't met someone I love that loves me back. Pretty much the reason anyone is single. But when you're single for a long time in a little town; that is where the broken comes in. I must be alone because something is wrong with me. That, or I am something to be avoided altogether. So I am.

Which makes me so much more anxious around strangers now. I don't know how they feel about me when they find out I'm not partnered, that I run a farm alone, that it's not successful. I worry just existing in the same space will be seen as aggressive.

I avoid talking to other single women at all costs. I am afraid that anything I do or say will be seen as hitting on them, any sort of kindness or compliment or eye contact will be rejected, that I disgust them. They terrify me.  I never used to be afraid of people when I didn't want them to love me.

It's primal, lizard-brain, reactionary thinking. I know this. We all know this. So much of this is subconscious and never with ill-intent. No one means to ignore or distance themselves from women that don't make us inherently comfortable, that do not fill a social role. But that doesn't mean it isn't happening and it isn't isolating.

I moved out here to follow my dream of being a farmer and to find a safe place to hide from the person I knew I wasn't ready to be yet. I threw myself into sheep and horses, hawks and arrows because I needed a distraction from who I was, which was alone. And as long as I'm a part of this social primate species that lives in packs and hunts by daylight - I'll be considered an outsider for a very long time. At least in this place where belonging to a tribe's social placeholder is more important than any bumper sticker or tax bracket.

I'm okay with this. I'm fine with people keeping me at a distance. I'm fine keeping my distance from them. But to pretend it isn't exhausting is a lie. Everywhere I go I know people that look me directly in the face and smile think I am selfish, broken, or trouble. Eventually it changes you. It makes you more afraid and more bold at the same time. It makes you wistful and defensive. It makes you hopeful and lonely. It makes you someone who thinks women are avoiding eye contact at red lights when the truth is you're too afraid to look.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Encouragement

Podrick! First lamb of 2019!!!
I can not tell you how loudly I cheered in this living room when the farmer I emailed about delivering large bales (3'x6' of hay) to the farm was willing to barter for graphic design work. He was an ad on Craigslist, and was hard to find to begin with. People are almost out of hay up here, and all of my usual sources were out and politely explained I needed to get my bales elsewhere. I found this farmer in a nearby town and after he explained the price and delivery rates I countered with an offer of my logo work. A farm is a business, and sometimes people want a logo or a flyer or tee shirt design. Eric let me know he did need some graphic design work done and would deliver the bales the next morning. On a handshake we traded a few hours of my time and professional skills for all the hay I need for quite some time. I also didn't have to spend a dime, which is a HUGE bonus. I needed this kind of good news.

To celebrate I did some planting in the recently cleaned up Kitchen Gardens here at the farm.  Lettuce and other springs greens were planted alongside some kale. Not the biggest garden push but a start and food in the ground. They say a garden is the strongest act of hope you can offer. My hands have soil on them and the gentle week of rain is encouraging them on.

And the big news: the first lamb of the year is here! I still need three or four more but I bought a bottle lamb this morning at the May Poultry Swap. He's a darling little cross of Icelandic and Dorper, I think. They weren't really sure. His name is Podrick. I hope he has company soon as I can find them for sale around here. I need to make more stops at sheep farms, phone calls, and such. But to have sheep back! Even a singular sheep! This is also great news.

I am still dealing with broken teeth. I am eating just soft foods. I have a checkup with my endodontist this week and I'm terrified he'll need to redo the root canal. I am trying not to think about it if I am honest. The good hens of this farm are laying well and the chicks I raised to add to the flock are outside now - being scrappy CAF hens like the should. I have all the scrambled eggs I could eat.  I am grateful I am not in pain.

I wrote yesterday on Twitter that the problem with always figuring things out is eventually everyone assumes you'll always figure things out. That even if every month is a white-knuckled struggle the fact you keep doing it is all the proof they need to not worry about you. I get more messages saying "I'm sure you'll be fine!" than I care to admit. These are worse than messages where people urge me to throw in the towel, at least those people are being realistic about how dire things are. Even the guy who wrote to tell me it was pointless getting root canals if you can't cap them because you'll lose the teeth meant well.

I feel like people that send me the most panic-inducing emails are the ones that don't have to worry about being home alone all night, or have a regular checks coming in. Guys if your advice is "Oh well, you're screwed" it's okay to keep it to yourselves...

So on this Sunday I am trying to figure out what I can figure out. I have plants in the ground, a lamb to bottle feed, and feelers out for more. I have a mortgage and livestock to raise. I have a mission to wake up to and fight to keep every morning. And this bit of luck - the hay trade and new lamb - these things bring in a fresh wind of confidence. Not the kind of arrogance that assumes I'll be okay - but a rung on the ladder out of panic.

If you are out there and can support this farm, please do. I need the help. Holy Crow, do I ever. This year has been the hardest and I just want to get through each month, I'm fine with it being hard I just need to know I'll be okay.

If you want to: contribute to the writing or buy some soap or artwork. And if money is out of the question because your as up against it as I am - send a nice word of encouragement via email or on socials. I always ask for that during rough times because I need it. I need it as much as I need to make sales. Maybe one or two of you will do so, and when that happens the world seems kinder and the readership feels realer and I feel so much less scared.

Thank you for reading. I hope this spring leads to something better. I am getting there slowly with this hay and lamb and some planting. Fingers crossed and hands dirty in hope.


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Grass, Eggs, and Teeth

Teeth and grass, that is what I was thinking about today. I recently found an old iPhone from 2012 of mine in a drawer. I charged it and saw it worked okay, even if the screen was broken. It didn't work as an actual phone (no plan or sim card) but it would dial 911 in an emergency and since my camera is broken, I could use it for pictures for here and Instagram. While looking at the photos I saw pictures of this place back then and what struck me was how lush the lawn was. I had forgotten. Since farming I have walked over the soil in places so many times, and rain from the hillside eroded, most of the soil and earth that allowed for grass in a lot of the front lawn area under the maple tree. It's where I go to fill buckets several times a day. I hope to reseed and add topsoil over the summer, the best I can. But I probably would have not even noticed if it wasn't for the time travel the phone granted. I'm not sure I am grateful for it or not?

Part of me is really proud of this farm and how wonderful it can look in July. That's when the lawn is greener and the gardens are lush and I don't have to worry about heating the house or cooling it. And with some flowers in the wash bin by the door and a little paint here and there it is lovely to me. Plain, but lovely. I was especially proud of it last summer when my friends Danielle and Sarah came to stay. I had just mowed the lawn and the siding was power washed and door painted and the pictures they took while here make me beam.

But this place in April, when the mud is just drying out and the lawn is packed clay and we are a long way from July, I have to give myself permission to be patient. Growth is slow.

Eggs are not slow. My hens are laying well every day, at least half a dozen eggs. They are keeping me and the neighbors supplied. This is important because I think the bulk of my protein for a long while will be coming from scrambled eggs, at least 2 meals a day...

Today while eating some trail mix I bit down on an almond and a large chunk of my molar broke off. It was painless, since it's the same tooth I had a root canal on a few months ago and the nerves are gone, but I hadn't been able to get it filled in properly because it's another couple hundred dollars over the initial root canal cost which is already more than a mortgage payment. So over the months it got weaker and weaker now I am worried that it will expose the roots and get reinfected and need a second root canal. It is now the third broken filling/tooth in my mouth hiding back in the molars. My dentist said the combination of genes, my under bite, and grinding in my sleep I didn't realize I was doing until a few years ago is what caused most of my problems.

I am doing what I can but right now, like everything else, it's a problem that has to be dealt with in order. I don't know what to do but not eat anything that requires chewing until I can afford to fix it. That, on top of everything else that is going on, allowed me a good, long, cry. The kind of cry you hold in for a long time while you roll up your sleeves and pretend everything is okay. I am literally falling apart.

I wish I had different teeth. I've had bad teeth my whole life. Far as bad body parts go, I'll take it. They are something that can be repaired and replaced. But to me they are a reminder of failure and status. There's a reason people on TV have veneers, dentures, whitening, and straightening - because a person with a smile in order is a person with their life and health in order. If I ever "make it" in any sort of way I am getting a new mouth.

Tomorrow I will call the dentist and tell them what happened. Hopefully they can patch it, or do something that I can afford to keep the actual root canal safe. There is nothing I can do about it tonight but write about it, which is what I am doing here to help with my anxiety. And also, to ask for help.

What I mean by that is help relieve the anxiety through kindness. If you can send a kind word through email or social media, a cheer, encouragement, please do. I don't always reply but I do always read them. It really means so much to me. It's the difference between setting my shoulders into the plow or setting it aside.

Want to help with the farm in general, well if you ever bought soap or artwork or meat shares and want some more (and are not in a hurry for any of them) do let me know. Sales are what make bills, the mortgage, all of it possible and what I need most.

I hope to write about new books and lambs and piglets and summer gardens soon. I hope to get through all of this. But tonight I just want someone to say it'll be okay because this is getting scarier every year. And while I do think all of this will be worth it, and that I will find a place of comfort and peace on this farm - right now knowing this night will be okay is all I need to get through the worst feelings of doubt.

Thanks for reading all this.

Still here.








Sunday, April 28, 2019

Permission

The most common feedback I get these days is permission to quit. It never comes from a place of ill intent. The senders of these emails want to see me find a sense of peace and less panic. They want me to know that I owe nothing to the readership and they enjoyed the story regardless if I keep the farm or not. Some want the trying to stop, as if it makes them anxious. Others are genuinely worried about my mental or physical health. But most of you read quietly and keep your opinions to yourself. I assume a great many of those of you reading quietly also understand if I wanted to start changing directions.

That said:

I got through this miserable winter and am slowly getting through each and every month. I am almost through this one. A few more small sales and I will have the mortgage to mail in. Today a person came to make sure I was here and take photos of the house. That always hits me hard, a reminder that mailing in a late payment every month isn't a victory - it's treading water until I am past caught up and saving for the future. Solvency is the dream of this farm and thousands of others. I know a lot of you out there are also trying to make it, to keep your land and animals, to manage whatever scraps are left of the American Dream we were promised.

I am not quitting. I am not giving up. I am not selling the farm. I have a real chance to pull something good off this summer and I will figure out a way to pull that off. I do not care if this is the hardest stretch of my life and every single month is a panic and prayer. That is what I signed up for when I put my story online to share with strangers. I made that unofficial handshake, that I would keep telling the story of this farm in the hopes you keep reading about it. I can't tell you how powerful that is, knowing that someone out there is listening. Even if you read this blog hoping I fail and lose the farm, it is comforting knowing someone is reading this. Maybe you find life a little less lonely reading this, too.

I feel close to being okay. I've come so far. I've grown up so much, changed so much, got stronger and harder and far more focused and determined. I hope I can figure out these next few days. I will try.

You can always count on me to try.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Little Rituals

Last night a thunderstorm and high winds ripped through the farm deep into the night. I know because I was woken up by Gibson slamming into me, and it wasn't his usual desire to be close while scared of the noise. It was as if he was trying to get through me to the other side, shaking as if something had shocked him when lightning struck. Friday was so wigged out she chose to sleep on a dog bed on the floor - giving up her prime spot to not be bothered. I wish things were easier on him, but he has to ride through it. And in the morning we both know things will be easier, the mind and body can focus on work, and a belly full of food and a job to focus on takes away the anxiety.

Wait? Am I border collie?

Huh. Well, I woke up with Gibson beside me and Friday watching the window at the sorry sight that is a mug spring farm. Water was pooling all over, the hill was a mudslide. The horses heard us getting ready because they were close to the open windows and Merlin hollered for hay. I was glad I repaired the sump pump. Flooding was likely, if not certain. Here goes the day...

The month is halfway over and I am scrambling to figure things out. I haven't been posting as much for that reason, which is what I tried to explain. I'm 20% there and I have 14 days to earn the other 80%. I'm doing my best to stay on top of things, the farm coming first. This morning I watched the geese (4 of them here now) guarding their nest as I walked by them with buckets of water to refill the horse trough. The chickens are laying eggs like mad. The horses are almost half shedded out. The other Day a friend came over to ride Mabel while I road Merlin and the black rope reins are now splotched with her white and brown hairs. Both the horses are barn sour to be left alone in the pasture if the other is taken out, so I am trying to take them out together while I get my riding legs back and get used to a muddy ground instead of a frozen one.

The chicks I am raising indoors are doing well and outside all day. Then at dusk they jump to the door to be let inside to their roosting spot in a brooder in the living room. Chickens never stop impressing me how clever they are about where they belong. All I need to do is open the door to the brooder and let them inside and they jump inside the wire cage and rest in the hay together. It is a lovely little ritual. This is their home, too.

I am putting together a book proposal, working on logos and portraits, gathering up leads on lambs and piglets, calling farriers, butchers, and veterinarians. I am going through all the motions a woman would go through on a spring farm as if this is exactly where she will be when summer hits. I hope that is the case. And I hope I have better news soon, at least news that things are still scrappy and constant. Things have to get easier at some point. Or maybe they don't? Maybe that's not what I signed up for and would be a fool to assume?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Fires

Checking in quick to let people know I am okay. I am trying to spend every single day working, walking, practicing music and figuring out how to get through the month. There are lambs and pigs to secure, a book proposal to write, art and soap to create, and sales to promote. This is what I am focusing on with all I've got. If you have a kind word of encouragement, it is priceless. It'll be a while before I am out of the woods but right now I am focusing on foraging herbs and making fires to survive while in it.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

PSA

I am a bit worried my blog posts are getting a bit too dire to keep posting them, and I don't want every single post to be about the same concerns related to the struggle here. I will be checking in more when things are better, but things are not better yet. Right now I need to put all my energy into making sure things are okay today. I appreciate your understanding. Posting often on Twitter. Not as much on Instagram since my camera broke when dropped 4 feet a few weeks back.

Keep going out there. I will too.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Sturdy Bread

These last few days have felt like waking up from a long nap, just as slow and sore, but insanely grateful. Spring is really here. The nights are still chilly, but my firewood made it through. I am out now but that is okay. I can collect little scraps of dead dry from the lawn and make a cheer-builder at night if I want. The bank cashed my mortgage check, which let me exhale for the first real time in weeks. They only cash it if they aren't moving forward with any foreclosure proceedings, and so when I saw my bank account plummet this morning online I hugged the dogs. I raised my mug of coffee high to any ancestors that might take any passing interest in me. I mailed my health insurance check yesterday, had it post marked for the day it was due. I don't know if they'll let me keep it or cancel it for being a week late. I will find out. If it does cash and I manage to keep it another month I'll have less than ten bucks to my name, but I don't care. I can earn back the money towards the next month's goals slowly. Today, I celebrated this find spring day. I let myself enjoy the exhale of getting through March.

I did the best thing I know for my own worried little heart: work. I did all the morning chores, which right now focuses on keeping the pigs penned and not exploring the wider forest. I carried hay, grain, and feed. I carried buckets and when I needed a break I pulled the little tin whistle from my pocket to play a tune. Once chores were done I set into the logo clients I have scheduled, five this week to work on. I have a donkey running logo, a knitter's croft set of comps, and a beautiful dragon family crest to design. I inked a woman's grinning dog and sketched another clients cat. I made a batch of soap that should fill two orders once they cure. This is my trio of winter work: design, draw, and make soap. Every day some part of that is worked on. Slowly I am catching up on orders and clients neglected during the worst of the last week's worries. It felt good.

With most of my clothes in the laundry pile I dusted off an old canvas kilt and tied it around my waist. I forgot how much I love them. How they fit me like a second skin, the most comfortable farm clothing there is. I have them in a few sizes, and thank a thousand tiny gods that the one I grabbed was too big for me. I welcomed the tiny boost of confidence, feeling my summer body slowly coming back to me. (I am still walking every day, at least 4 miles.) I let it hug my hip bones as I went along with the spring work. Besides chores and inside work; I tended pea seedlings, and collected eggs. I paid for and picked up some hay. I baked bread, went for a long walk with Friday, and wrote with Gibson sleeping by my side. Later in the afternoon I practiced my fiddle, shot 2 dozen arrows off a light bow, and worked with the horses. Feeling overly confident, I tacked up Merlin to enjoy a short ride. As I trotted him away from the barn Mabel hollered in protests as if I was taking him to slaughter. He flicked his ears back to her and yelled back. Two horses hollerin' and mud under our feed. Not a bad way to spend a spring day.

I am now into April, the creepiest month, my least favorite. But I am here. I am still here, and with good work and high hopes. Things feel better and if I am lucky and smart I will get to stay here. I have good projects of all sorts ahead of me. I have shoots of grass, two healthy (and loud) horses, and all the flour and eggs I need to survive off french toast if I have to while I save up for another month. Which starts today. Which starts in earnest. Which starts with coffee mugs raised high and bow strings and old kilts and horse neighs and good, sturdy, bread.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Old Friend

A few days ago I restrung my fiddle and replaced the battery in my tuner. The fiddle was already wiped clean and fussed over, as was the old case I have had since I lived in Idaho. Even free of dust the case is so beaten and the stickers all over it are fraying. Rightly so, as it has been with me for over ten years, throughout this country from Idaho the New York. The old Smoky Mountain stickers are fading right next to the Sandpoint and Vermont ones. One clasp is broken entirely so I use and old dog collar as a belt of sorts to keep the thinner neck section shut. It is as scrappy as this farm and my fiddler's education. I like it.

I am keeping a small handwritten journal of my practice sessions. I titled the journal 50 Songs Till Summer, and the goal is to relearn and sharpen 50 beloved tunes to the point of flawless playing from memory by June 21st. Through out the journal I mark songs I am working on, giving myself little musical rewards when I hit a certain goal. For example, when I have memorized and perfectly performed the first five songs I am working on - all in a row without a single mistake - I am rewarding myself with a new container of Hill Dark Rosin. In ten songs I will replace the broken bow I am using, which I stepped on by accident last fall. It still works but you can't adjust the tension since I somehow stepped on the frog.

These goals are all depending on if I have the funds to get such things, but I am pretty sure I can figure out the rosin at least. The bow won't be a fancy bow, by any means, but it will be encouraging to have these small victories and presents to look forward to. And I am glad I am at a point in my life where I am not interested in picking up new hobbies or instruments. I want to get better at the things I have.

As for my playing? Well, If I am honest, the notes that first came out were awkward and tired as a drunk cat. I cringed, trying to remember how to match the balance, tension, fingering and sawing motions. After twenty minutes or so I could hear pieces of the D scale fall into place. It was like jumping off a stone bridge into cold water - relief.

My old friend is coming back to me. Some things can't be helped and some can. The new strings, the bridge alignment - these adjustments are better after the weeks of neglect. Other things like the way the cold of winter altered the shape and curves of the wood - even slightly - that changed how a note sounded. I played through it. Adjusted. Practiced.

I got through many renditions of Ida Red and Rain and Snow. One or two of them even sounded good. I decided that the rest of this week was theirs. I would play those songs a lot, so many times the dogs would confuse them with their own names, and get back the trust of that fiddle through regular conversation. It's like starting a relationship from scratch after three months of the silent treatment, literally.