Friday, January 18, 2019

Storm

I'm writing you from a very comfortable living room. It's 68° in here and I have just wrapped up the day's work. There's a bunch of just-poured orange honey bars of soap in dragon molds and it has filled this comfy homestead with the most scandalous scent being deep winter right before a snow storm slams us here in the Northeast. I don't know what the future holds but right now, right here, things are heavenly.

This storm that is on the way will be rough; at least 20" of snow and nights around -10° and as bad as that is, it's the days after I am most worried about. There will be a real deep chill after the snow hits. The kind of cold that is dangerous for the house's pipes, my dwindling wood supply, and my nerves. So I am writing you with a bit of fear as I type. Maybe I shouldn't have looked into the extended forecast at the end of such a long day?

I've been preparing for it. I've been chopping and carrying in firewood, running errands, and making sure the animals are comfortable as I will be. There is a pile of tarped hay outside my front door, the pigs can practically swim in their deep bedding, the hawk will be fat and out of the wind, and the dogs will be curled up with me in a backpacking sleeping bag on the daybed by the woodstove. I mean that. Friday literally climbs inside the bag with me and together we are a furnace regardless of how much ice may end up in the toilet bowl.

And you know what. I'm okay with all of this. I'm okay with the fear. I'm okay with the uncertainty of how the hell I'll mail this mortgage check sitting by the family altar in my front room. I'm okay with the sore muscles. I'm okay with checking on the hawk at midnight and 4AM. I'm okay with sleeping in a bag instead of my bed. I'm okay with all of it.

Here's why:

Earlier today I had an adventure. It was around 1PM on a weekday and I was walking up a snow-swept mountain with a hawk on my glove and a heavy ash staff in my right hand. In a little over an hour he flew above me and dived after rabbits and grouse while I jogged my Hobbit body behind him. I bushwhacked and crawled under thorns and ran out of breath moving uphill in a few inches of snow and when it really started to squall and the wind picked up on my mountain I pulled out my rabbit fur lure and called his name and he came back to me from 70 yards away. I fed him and lashed his jesses to my glove. I slipped on his hood and sweaty and tired we walked home together.

That is worth being afraid. In fact it's the fear of losing it all that I am still here.

This storm is going to be hell for me. There's a roof above the kitchen that needs regular raking because it needs to be replaced and that isn't happening anytime soon. The barn roof needs to be raked, too. I know this Sunday I will be outside several times in the night to remove snow from this farm's tired roofs. It means feeding both wood stoves like hungry dragons and keeping pipes running at a drop all day. Basically - it means total exhaustion. Still, worth it.

Being here alone means every path shoveled, every animal safe, every water bucket and bale carried in thigh-deep snow. It will be just me without trips into town and that used to embolden me and the only thing keeping me here is the stubbornness that fuels this dream.

By Wednesday the storm will pass. There will be rain it will be so warm. But between now and then feels like a thousand miles. I am afraid but I am ready. I would rather be here trying than more comfortable somewhere I no longer have to.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Snow and High Hopes!

A significant storm is heading into Veryork! It's hitting this weekend and I'm starting to plan for it now. Making sure everything is ready on a tight budget means careful planning - both here with farm as well as work and finances. Not the same planning as super cold weather (which we've been having) but more of the snowy type of planning. Things like making sure the roof rake is repaired, pieces assembled, and ready to go. That the hay isn't in the barn for the storm but under a tarp beside the house so on the heavy snowfall mornings I don't have to dig a path to the barn before horses get breakfast. Making sure there's enough feed for pigs stacked in the kitchen if I can't run into town for a while, that the dogs are cats too are set, and that I am prepared as I can be.

I am okay with the storm coming through. I feel like this winter has been pretty mild so far. If I'm home-bound for a few days I can focus on things like sales and catch up on illustrations and designs, maybe double the usual workload even. I'll do my best. And speaking of people doing their best...

Yesterday the most amazing thing happened! A stranger on Twitter bought an entire lamb from this farm for a family in need. I will either find a family that needs it or donate the meat to my local food bank or the elder care home in town. It was such a beautiful way to help out both this farm and other people. If you're reading this from a position able to do this, send me an email. I would be THRILLED if this entire farm's remaining meat shares went to people in need here in Washington County. I just want to stay here, in this home, and keep raising food. If I can do that while helping others get lamb and pork from a local farm that tastes great - even better!

I am going to remain optimistic about this storm, about this farm, and about my own future here. I am hoping to turn things around in a really positive and prosperous way with a new book contract and  maybe more freelance writing gigs. In the meantime it's the old-fashioned pork, lamb, and art pushing and hoping to keep figuring out this life month by month, as I have since I started working from the farm in 2012.  Onward into good work and high hopes!!!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Dash's First Rabbit!

So proud of Dash and his first rabbit! He got it while hunting yesterday with me on the mountain here near the farm. Cold was the day—a high of 18°—but despite that we worked together to scare and dive after rabbits into clearings. It's a heck of a feeling seeing the little guy you met in the fall turn into your hunting partner by snowfall. Here's to many more! 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Help This Winter 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:


Cold Coming On

A Cold couple of days are ahead for us, with nights all in the single digits and days not much above. I am bringing in more firewood and working hard towards the goals that keep this place above the danger lines. I need to mail in a mortgage payment soon, to keep ahead of the cutoff where the house falls into danger of being mine no longer. The struggle keeps struggling but the fight is well worth it, and today I have some big news: I am starting a brand new book proposal. It's something I have been meaning to write for a long time, and was far too afraid to share it. But I'm going to outline the intro, the chapters, the pitch today and start writing the sample chapters. It's a book meant to encourage those struggling to find their purpose, self, and confidence. It's about all the ways this place changed me and helped create the woman I am today. I'm excited to get it started. I'm really excited to pitch it! But for now: firewood, and hope, and working on bills and another day of work. Best to you all!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Lamb and Pork Shares Still Available!

Shares are open for 2019 half and whole pigs and lambs! Looking for small-farm raised food at very competitive rates? Send me an email! MY prices include the price of the animal (which you either own or co-own) as well as the butchering and smoking/cutting fees. Most farmers have you pay for the meat and then pay your butcher bill later, I offer a lower rate to pay all upfront. NY pickup only - I do not ship meat. So if you're in the Capital Region north of Albany or like driving - consider supporting this farmer by buying food from her!

The Best Moments

There's this moment I look forward to every morning. This time after I leave the comfort of bed and before the worries of the day begin. It's not when you may think — not the morning chores in the fresh air with the animals. As much as I love the beasts out there in the swirling morning snowfall; that work is a daily mild panic ritual.

Chores are half responsibility and half inspection. Yes there's the serving hay, grain and water but also the random luck of living with so many animals in one place in a harsh season. Right now there are 20+ chickens, 4 geese, 4 pigs, 2 horses, 2 dogs, 2 cats and a hawk and I can't enjoy my coffee or sit down here to write to you until I am certain all are fed, well, and digesting before winter coffee hits my lips.

Summer and winter farm rules change. I am not ever anxious waking up on a 60 degree morning in June. But after a night of wind and cold - I need to check on a hundred little things that could snowball into problems if not addressed. Did the pigs' water tough freeze in place? Will the truck start? Does the wood stove need the ash removed? Is the mare's blanket chaffing anywhere? Are the geese nesting under that brush because something is wrong in the barn? Did the hawk cast his pellet? And so on. You get the vibe. Morning chores are making sure everything is okay and another day can begin. It's a sigh of relief and a pat on the back. It's accomplishing something big before you ever pour that first mug...

BUT! Oh, man. But when you get to that point in the morning where everyone outside is sated and chewing, when the fire is roaring, when the coffee is percolating and the dogs are done with their breakfast and the cats are already curled up for a long stretch of morning chow... That is when I find my favorite time. I have a criminally large mug of coffee. If I have any heavy cream I whip it up in a bowl and add vanilla to it and plop a real dollop of treasure on the mug. I turn on a podcast, an audio book, a YouTube documentary about people who still think the earth is flat... anything I can observe as entertainment instead of work. I give myself a whole hour to do basically nothing by the fire. I don't work on freelance articles or editor notes or book proposals. I don't send logo updates or illustration sketches. All that can wait for that one hour. I know once I start that stuff I'll go until past dark and worry like mad about bills and the mortgage and whether or not I'll be able to mail a house payment in time this month. I know all of that is coming. But before it does, I give myself permission to be happy instead of scared - just for a little while.

I know I need to make serious sales this week and I also know how hard that will be. People can't just buy artwork and soap and meat shares they won't eat till next fall after the holidays. Everyone is recovering from those expenses of travel, gifts, hosting, meals, etc. It's something I need to adjust to. I am working on it. But I still need to try. I write down my list of work and goals for the day and income is part of that. Today I hope to meet as many of them as I can without spending anything. Some days you can't avoid spending money - animals demand certain things and choices. But today I should be able to hole up and work and hope. Get a step closer towards feeling safe. And if I'm lucky tomorrow I get to repeat all of this on my own farm, again.

But right now: coffee and a long sigh. There's no cream on top today and I'm not running out to buy any either. But it's hot, and I earned it, and it's here and I'm grateful.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Bird and Bodhrán!

A few days ago friend of the farm, Kathrine of Caer Luna, joined Dash and I for a hunt. Kathrine has a small farm near Albany and raises goats, rabbits, and poultry. I met her online and she and her husband have shares in lamb in pork here. When I mentioned falconry she asked if she could join us sometime and I was thrilled at the idea. Dash is coming along well this first winter together, but is more cautious and less likely to stay with me when new people hunt beside us. To fix this I asked friends to join us for short one-hour hike and hunt exercises. Every time he gets a little more comfortable.

She brought her camera and I am so grateful she did! She caught this moment of Dash flying past us towards the end of the hunt while playing tag with the lure. What a perfect moment! And when Dash did return to my my call and was awarded for his good work, we walked down the snowy mountain talking about our farms and stories. She mentioned stopping by the Brewery in town and asked about a Thursday Night Celtic jam there and how her husband played the bodhrán and wanted to try it out. I told her they should come by that very night! 

And they did! Ever since the other bar in town closed its doors the brewery is a happening place at night. The musicians were doing tunes that fit with his music and before long everyone at our table was raising our mugs to the drummer in the circle! A beautiful moment of new friends, community, music, and local beer. Who knew birds and drums could make a perfect winter day?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Looking Ahead

The Holiday came and went in a happy flurry of food and friendship! I spent Christmas day at Livingston Brook Farm and enjoyed a ham dinner and good whisky with great friends. Now it is back to working towards the farm's goals and planning for spring, which will come sooner than I realize I'm sure! I have started taking shares for lamb and pork, which I want to double sales of from last year. Planning and taking reservations now gets me the income I need to order the stock from local farmers to raise in the spring through fall of 2019. Along with the new bees and expanded vegetables this will be a heck of a year for Cold Antler. I'm trying to farm smarter and focus on what I am best at: pork, lamb, and squash. I want to create a place I can leave for a night or two - with my dogs - to explore the mountains or a romantic night away. And I am excited for the days growing longer and the light returning into spring. As much as April creeps me out I so look forward to her.

The last lamb share is being picked up today. The pigs are still growing. Soon the farm will fall into the winter lull of ice, snow, mud and easier chores made simpler by the weather and farm's seasonal changes. I look back at June and it feels like a theme park compared to this morning's routine. I woke up to feed the pigs, the horses, carry water and check bedding. I fed the poultry and the pets, removed the mare's blanket and weighed and worked with the hawk - but without the work of a summer farm with lambs, goats, gardens, hives... it feels insanely simplified. Not a bad thing at all, but I do miss those sweaty mornings with less mud and more light.

My days now are based on earning money, winter chores, spring preparations, art, soap, meat, and writing. Goals are in focus. I hope we all have a bright and wonderful 2019!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Merry and Bright!

Last night I was woken up by the weight of Gibson slamming into me and his front paws clinging to my torso. A flash of lightning so intense the whole bedroom lit up followed by an exploding crack of thunder. Gibson is terrified of storms, gunshots, any uncertain unseen loud noise. I remembered some dog person telling me not to coddle scared dogs because it reinforces their fear, like you are rewarding it. I held my shaking dog because when I hold him he stops shaking and buries his head in my chest. That is what he runs to me for. I refuse to deny it.

It was Solstice Night and never in my memory had there been a thunderstorm at Yule. It was just a few hours earlier we (the two dogs and I) had walked up in the moonlight to the highest point on our land. The moon was full and the fast-moving clouds were swirling past it as warm air whipped our hair. It was a magical feeling up there. Then a storm roared through. What a collision of the wondrous: Winter Solstice, A Thunderstorm, a Full Moon. Magic is afoot.

This has been an overwhelming month. Scary and hard and some nights bitter cold and some warm as a tropical storm.... but I managed to pull off mailing a house payment, a root canal, an emergency vet visit, dozens of packages mailed, and a butcher bill for four lambs - all on top of regular bills! Well, for the most part at least. Some things always fall behind but for the most part I can sleep soundly tonight. 

That happened because of the community around this blog. This community keeps this farm going through purchasing meat, soap, art, and stories. I can't tell you magical that is to me. How grateful I am. The only reason I get to live in this weird life of selective time travel is because of those of you that still read along with this story. Ten years, TEN YEARS!

I still have 2 house payments to be made to be caught up, bu that is well away from foreclosure threat. Heck that's a month away and while that isn't exactly something I am proud of it is something that keeps me fueled to work even harder in 2019. Had the same funds been available minus the dental work, dog at the vet, and meat processing I wouldn't be behind right now. I'd be on track. And that is encouraging as hell. It means if things go easier in January I have the steam and will to catch up.

And, here is some more good news, I enrolled in the ACA and have the chance to get back into a healthcare plan! Yes, the deductible is huge and it doesn't cover much everyday care, but I have been covering that myself for years - this is in case something awful happens like a real sickness or broken bones or medical expenses. I have been chancing staying healthy and whole for a while now and it's time to have one less thing to worry about - like losing the farm I have fought so damn hard to keep over a broken arm. So hopefully I'll get the scratch together for that premium and be a person with health insurance! More magic!!!

So the farm keeps breathing in and out. Not perfectly, but still alive. And while winter is far from over I have firewood and good friends. I have my health and a house still in my name. I have two healthy dogs (Gibson is so much better) and a hawk that really gives it his all in the field. I have my animals, my friends online, and good work lined up making a modest offering food, art, and words to the world. I am aware there is so far to go - but I am feeling merry and bright. May all of you have a lovely Christmas or whatever you celebrate and be kind and good to your fellow man out in this cold world. Everyone is just waiting to feel okay.


Friday, December 21, 2018

Yuletide!

It's Solstice and warm weather has rushed through the valley with intense rain. This has messed with the farm's rhythm and schedule so much more than a snowstorm or snap of true cold would. This means melting and mud and ice so slick that dogs can't cross without slipping and they have built-in crampons! Last night we all slid around the farmyard checking on the livestock before bedtime. Horse and hawk, hog and hen - all of us were tucked in and dry save for the gal and her fool dogs romping around in the rain by the glow of a headlamp. We came inside soaked and happy. A hot meal of soup and a warm fire are the things than wipe the board clean of any regret for this life. We sat and enjoyed the show - the weirdly warm night and gusts of wind. I fell asleep feeling like I was in a pirate ship instead of a farm house. The way wind and water hit the siding you would not even turn over in your covers if you felt the house start to float away...

The real pain in the weather is how it messed up lamb share pickups. My truck still doesn't perform well in the rain, even after a replaced distributor cap and new battery, so that mystery lives on. There's a chance that if it does start and get me to the butcher it won't get me home. It also needs new tires and so driving in an inch of rainfall in bald tires also seems like a bad choice... There was a good change I'd either get stranded or in an accident, neither a great predicament to be in when you have boxes of frozen meat promised to neighbors and friends. So I had to reschedule the pickup for Monday instead. Not ideal, but all any of raising meat on this scale can offer is our best. I'd hate to mess up the story of lamb to lamb chop by getting boxes of meat sprawled across the highway...

So I am home this morning instead of driving to the butcher. I am working on logo designs and starting the planning stages for spring. I want to invest in some more honey and garden operations this year - focusing less on meat birds and more on veg. I'd like to double the laying flock for egg customers and also double the lambs I raise. This is a transition year between breeding lambs and goats for milk and buying in feeder lambs and milk from other farms for soap making. It involves some more planning and hopefully by the new year I'll have that on paper. I do want to keep the pork, lamb, egg, fleece, and chicken operations ago but would like to involved more vegetables and honey/beeswax craft. It moves the farm in the direction I want to go - which is active and thriving but able for a single woman to spend a night off farm every once in a while with help from friends or neighbors. I still have this pipe dream of taking the dogs to Mystic Connecticut overnight, or walking the streets of Providence Rhode Island like some design student or backpacking in the White Mountains with Tara, my adventure buddy. I guess we'll see!

I'll be celebrating the holiday quietly here. Lighting the candles at dusk all over the homestead and instead of a bonfire there will be a fire in the stove, welcoming the return of light and hope to the cold, wet, earth. Christmas Day will be spent with friends at their farm, and a big feast of the lamb, chicken, and maybe even a turkey we raised while sharing our lives and stories. I feel very lucky to have people like Mark and Patty and Tara and Tyler in my life, especially this year with so much change in my heart and hearth. I hope however you celebrate you are surrounded by loved ones and the belief that next year will bring more love and light into your life. That's what Yule, Jul, Christmas - whatever you celebrate! - is about. Blessings of good tidings and peace to you all.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Farming On

Outside a gentle snowfall covers this farm. I know the pigs have their nest of deep hay. I know the chickens are all roosted in the barn. I know the mare has her blanket, Merlin has his coat. I have my hawk beside me on a perch, waiting for his dinner to thaw by the fire while I wait for the oven to preheat. We are both having chicken tonight. Friday's heat has passed. A new cord of firewood has been delivered. My root canal is done, mostly. What matters is the infection is gone and there is no pain. And very recently - the lambs were all harvested and sent to the butcher. I write you on this snowy night with no sheep on this farm. There are pigs, geese, chickens, horses, dogs, cats, and 2 possums under my kitchen floor but no sheep. This is the first time in a very, very, long time this farm hasn't had wool on the hoof outside the door. It's exciting and scary.

I sold my breeding flock to Leah at Moxie Ridge. My goats, Bonita and Ida and her kid to homesteaders friends of mine recommended. Deciding to cut back on breeding animals was a big deal to me. It was the choice to buy in lambs in the spring to raise for shares, like I usually do with pigs. But the real change wasn't the ages of the animals but the security and presence of a breeding flock. As a storm swirls outside right now - it feels like a bad decision. Every homesteader in the modern era - I don't care what your politics are - is aware of the security and safety of having breeding animals on her own land. I currently do not. That prepper inside me is a little scared. That girl enamored with homesteading that wrote my first memoirs is disappointed. The woman I am today is patient.

My goals now are keeping the passions I have alive and the hope of love a beacon. I don't care how sappy that sounds.

I hope you wish me luck. I hope to keep farming on.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Firewood And Lamb's Eve

Gibson is doing better and on an antibiotic for the infection found in his urine test. He's on a bland diet and taking it as easy as a border collie can. I am so glad he bounced back, because losing him is something I am not prepared for in any way. But he's okay, and the kindness sent via Instagram and Twitter was amazing and much-needed. So thank you for taking the time to share a bit of grace to a woman very worried about her dog. The best news is that for showing up at a new vet's office with no patient history, with an hour's notice, and a full hour of talking to the doctor and testing and inspecting Gibson it was only $155. Not exactly a cheap visit but a lot less than some places charge for walking in off the streets. And everyone was so nice to us, even though I looked borderline-homeless and was ranting about symptoms like a terrified parent. I'm so happy he is okay.

I stacked firewood this afternoon till my arms were ready to fall off and am just now inside from evening chores. I mailed out thirty bars of soap and three pet portraits today, sent out sketches for approval for two more, and still have soap and art to make tonight. Sadly, all the work is catching up on earlier sales and new sales are rare. Which is causing the usual fuel of anxiety to promote like mad on Twitter. While handing over the check for the firewood to my friend Othniel there was a lump in my throat. I'm grateful for the heat but worried as hell right now. My number-one priority from today on is getting out a house payment before the farm hits any possible foreclosure dates. (technically possible as of Sunday). This month hit with a root canal, truck repairs, a surprise vet bills and a butcher bill for the lambs. Every day is one step at a time. Which if you've been reading this blog for any amount of time you know and probably feel like I do: nervous but certain I'll figure it out.

Remember when I said I wanted to write about love, loneliness, etc? I did. I wrote possibly the most personal thing of my life and submitted to an editor for INTO. Here's hoping it get's picked up. I think a lot of women in my situation can relate to what I shared. It's a very optimistic piece, at least I think so.

Tomorrow is a butcher date for the lambs here. After tomorrow night there won't be a sheep here for the first time in ten years. That is a scary thought. Expect some serious writing tomorrow about the intensity of the day.

And if you are in the position to order some soap, logos, artwork, classes, etc and want to help out the farm this is a very wonderful time to do it. I am all ears but booked like mad for this holiday season if it isn't a gift card - but offering someone the opportunity to pick out a custom batch of goats milk soap as an Xmas present is a winner in my book! Email me if you're interested!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Gibson

Running to a vet ASAP. Something is very wrong. He is vomiting bile and weak on his feet all of a sudden. Morning chores were fine and now this. Will keep you posted after visit with experts. Very very worried. Never seen him like this before.

Update: I'm back from the vet. Everyone was so great. The doctor thinks he had a stroke, and after some tests finding blood in his urine and bacteria - he is also on antibiotics. He is home now and resting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Great Gifts!

Morning all! If you are looking for a holiday gift that is quick and easy and also helps out this farm during a rough month, you can email me to buy a gift voucher for soap, artwork, or a logo! These are printable and sized to fit inside a card. The person who receives the gift can email me after the holidays to redeem it for custom art, a logo, or soap! The farm could really use the sales and this way you get a special one-of-a-kind gift! Email me for more details!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Back to Work!

Mornings here run on an economy that's equal parts excitement, responsibility, and anxiety. This is the Woginrich Formula. Let the fuel that runs the machine be a balance of passion, work, and panic. Maybe that isn't wisdom but it got me this far. And waking up on a morning like this with a set of goals to achieve makes falling asleep in an uncertain life possible. Here's me explaining all that:

Soon as I am out of bed there's the animals to check on and feed. Those rounds are what start the day and have yet to stop being genuinely exciting. It still makes me so happy to walk outside and see this piece of land I made my own, to step into a world of animals, effort, and stories all surrounding recipes and friends. If you farm you care about food, period. It's your life and what you prioritized as the centerpiece of it. Everything else is in service to that happy ending!

I think all homesteaders share the love of a good meal and a safe space - your own kitchen table at a big meal or bench by the wood stove with a strong cup of coffee. We get up and feed pigs, collect eggs, milk goats or herd sheep because that is the few sentences we are writing that day towards the Book of the Feast we are writing.

Like this morning; the first thing I did was carry a bucket of feed and another of water down the barn with Gibson. The pigs were fed, and I made note of getting a bale of hay to them to refresh their sleeping area and add some loft for night-time insulation. They like to move from that nest to the outside area that used to home the goats. This year it belongs to the pigs. And as I go through this morning check of the sounder I am doing it for the farm, but also the larger characters of the story: the people waiting on pork or my own future meals with friends, like a summer lunch of BLTs with garden ripe tomatoes...mmmm.

Sidenote: Oh, gardens! I think this coming year will focus a lot more on planting and honey. Two ways to grow and expand the farm's operation without worrying about the around-the-clock work of a hundred meat birds. 

When all the animals are settled in for the day, with feed and fresh water, hawk weighed and noted, and the house pets all full from breakfast and napping - that is when I get to work on drawing and soap making and designs. I promote work online, write to you guys, work on freelance contracts, and do it all in a series of work periods broken up with time outside. For example: chores are done and it's time to get 3 different illustrations drawn, photographed, and sent off to clients for notes and approval. When that is done I can go for a run, grab a shower, or play a video game for half an hour. Then it is back to work on 3 logo designs, or packing 3 soap orders. The tiny rewards break up the day and allow the flexibility to fly the hawk in the afternoon or ride the horses in better weather.

And it sets the day into a project of joy, work, and goals that balance out that underlying fear of losing everything. I'm behind on the mortgage, more than usual, because of this root canal. So that adds to the panic around the work - and not in a necessarily bad way.  It means that there can be no slacking, that goals must be met! And that worry about money and cold - the monsters of winter - that is what never lets me back down on the work of the day.

I create lists and goals that allow me to physically check things off and see, on paper, that I am moving towards a safer place. If I can get through a day managing to keep every animal happy, get good work done, and make something using the skills I learned (writing, illustration, design) and put some money in the bank to work towards a house payment - Holy Crow do I go to sleep feeling good. And that is what I crave most of all about this life - going to bed at night content in what was done in the daylight.

It's almost 9:30 and so far the farm chores are, of course, done. I had three mugs of coffee and a power bar and three illustrations done. I have made a third of the daily income goal and next up is working on a large soap order for a customer. Through the day I'll keep track of work and progress and by 3 or 4 be burned out creatively but have this piece of paper showing me what was done. Whatever part of me could enjoy doing nothing seems to have died off, and that's fine. Over the years discipline and budgeting and work had to change or staying here was off the table.

Everyone's life and farm and work is different. What matters is that you find a way to wake up excited and go to sleep content. Everything in the middle is up in the air. We all get surprise bills, get sick, worry about relationships etc - but if the foundation is something worth the esteem it builds, I find you can literally carve happiness out of effort. That's no small thing. You focus on your story, what makes you happy, and try like hell to make your life a little more positive than the day before. And even if you fail you spent the day trying.

So, yes, wake up with whatever combination of joy, anxiety, and work makes your life sing. If you are sad or tired or scared, this is even more important. Stay away from things that anger your or frighten you until at least lunchtime. The news doesn't change that much between 6AM and noon. Drink water, get outside, move your body, be grateful for the trying and allow yourself to be okay with the trying being the bulk of the story.

As for me: back to work.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Through The Storm

Through The Storm He Silently Glided Along in Front of Her While the Woods Sheltered Them, 1915. That is the name of the painting above, a piece by Norman Rockwell I had never seen before. It's now my favorite painting of his. A woman and her friend alone in a wild place, being guided through the roughest times by the light that is a black dog. Holy Crow, can I relate.

Things here are pretty okay right now, especially after yesterday. There are some setbacks and concerns: like an entire mortgage payment's worth of funds going to dental work instead of bill and quickly dwindling firewood supplies - but these are battles I know how to fight. I already contacted some suppliers and worked out payments and  I am happy to announce tooth number 14 got its root canal yesterday, or most of it...

It's a tooth with three roots, being a molar, and while two of the three were easy to drill and clean and repair, one was a disaster. Old filling material had been compacted up into the actual root and made it impossible to do all three roots in the same visit, so I need to return after January. Good news is the price doesn't change and I'm not paying for 3 root canals (technically, that's what this is) and just the one. Because of this community online I was able to get that medical care. And because of good friends here in town I was even given a ride to the office in Saratoga.

There is some pain I'm dealing with right now but it is manageable compared to what an abscess deals out. And it's the pain of repair, not decay, which is encouraging -with teeth and with life in general.

I've been meaning to write about loneliness. It's a new sensation for me, something I never dealt with before. But writing about it means talking about some LGBT themes and romance and I am not sure if that's something you guys want to read about? Perhaps that's an essay for Autostraddle. But it's a different way of being here on the mountain then ever before: not being okay with being alone. It's not sad as much as it is growing pains. It took me a long time to want to not be alone. That's the real storm - the complexity of learning who you are - and I am glad as hell there's black dogs to guide me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Powder Sugar Morning

Woke up to a farm covered with a fresh powdered-sugar shake of snow. Not much, but enough to coat the trees and make the mud from yesterday a little more pleasant. I walked outside and all the truck tire ruts had fluffy shoulders and the bit of pine swag hanging from my front door was frosted. I smiled at the happy start. It's the little things.

Chores went fast this morning. Mabel seemed happy in her blue blanket, which I put on around 9PM last night when the snow squall started and the wind felt harsh. I was out there in a headlamp with the dogs, fidgeting with the snaps that go under the equine belly. Today she seemed easy going as ever, and she and Merlin enjoyed their hay at their eating spot below the lamb pen (who were doing the same).

The pigs were all snug in their nest in the barn and seemed annoyed to be waken up for breakfast, steam coming off their bodies when they emerged from the straw. The dogs ran around me, enjoying the morning chicken bothering and goose baiting while the two cats enjoyed their extra layer of winter fat asleep by the wood stove. We are here in the folds of winter and it's not even the solstice. Feels early. Already went through a cord of firewood and need to get more.

So I talked to Common Sense Farm this morning about buying two more cords over the next few weeks. Another thing to figure out. It never ends does it? And that isn't a complaint as much as a comforting reality we all share. Just when you think things are starting to level out you end up with truck repairs, double the firewood needs, and a root canal.

My root canal is scheduled for this week with an Endodontist in Saratoga. I have about 3/4th the funds together, another $400 to go. Part of me is so grateful it is getting done because my head has been dealing with this ache for the last few days that scares me, not a headache but this bone ache of inner infection. All I can do is take the medication, work on current clients, and hope more sales come in to pick up the slack. So that's the other part, this knowledge that all that money could cover another mortgage payment and bills. I'm angry at my teeth, my genes, the bad luck of having to deal with this some mornings. Right now I am as angry as I am glad Thursday is inching closer. I want these fears and the pain behind me but the fire to catch up is both causing anxiety as it is motivation.

If you want to help out, please consider purchasing a gift certificate for artwork or soap to give as a holiday gift? I can't promise artwork or soap by this Holiday's deadline but the gift vouchers can be printed and redeemed anytime in 2019. It's certainly needed and so appreciated. Send an email.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Piece of Junk

Someone recently called my truck a piece of junk.  They said it the way you'd say any mundane fact—not a drop of cruelty in their tone. They said it as if describing "a slice of bread" or "that brown cat". It was a gut punch. 

I agree my 29-year-old truck isn't impressive. It has faded paint, rust spots, and dim headlights. It has no working AC, a wonky cassette player, and hand-stitched holes in the upholstery. It often needs work, rarely starts in the rain, and (until recently) the oil leaked as if it was being held by a colander.

But you know what? I love that truck.

I sought out that truck. It wasn't something I settled for. It was an intentional purchase. As intentional as choosing homesteading over corporate design. Yeah, she's a little rough but so am I.

I wanted that age and model of truck for good while, too. I longed for it. The XL bed, the steel exterior, the lack of anything digital inside. She works on switches, levers, dials and slung luck.

I love the style of late-eighties trucks and how much space they take up, proud and true. They are unapologetic in their utility and comforting in their simplicity. And like raising your own food in your backyard; they are inconveniently old-fashioned. When I drive her to the movies it looks like a lego parked among rows of suppositories. Which is how I feel about modern car design in general. I didn't want to drive around in spaceship. I wanted a machine.

When I emailed the musician who was selling her he told me no one had ever seemed so excited about an old truck before.  When I contacted him I had no idea how to pay the $1900 asking price. That is still a lot of money to me. But I told him I would figure it out, just give me the weekend, and I did!  I got a micro-loan through Kiva and was able to get the money within 48 hours! That man drove the truck to my farm and delivered it himself. And that was three years ago and I just got home from picking up a load of hay in her. The heater worked. The speakers were playing a podcast. I was so happy and grateful for her.

Piece of junk... Well I own that piece of junk. Her title was paid for that day I met her and I paid off the Kiva loan early. I keep her oil changed, interior spotless, windows washed, and I know my mechanic's number by heart. I have never been so educated on a vehicle I owned before. I understand her quirks and pieces. I own the tools to keep her going and maintain her like any other beast on this farm. She is part of my family here.

She only costs $48 a month to insure and even if she needs $500 worth of work every quarter it is still less than the nearly $500 I was paying A MONTH to have a newer model truck. The 2004 Dodge was bought on a $14,000 loan and needed all sorts of inspections and insurance. I couldn't afford to live like that anymore so when the Dodge started failing and was too hard to make payments on I knew my next vehicle had to be drastically different. Paid in full, simpler to repair, easier to pass inspection, ready for snow and farm. That truck was a prayer.

Scaling back on things was the only way I could afford to stay on the farm. I did it with many aspects of my life. I dropped my insurance and went to Planned Parenthood instead of my old doctors. I stopped using a cell phone and only kept a land line. Money went to bills, loans, and the cost of running this farm instead and that was fine since it was my work, my playground, my grocery store... my entire world. I got my cost of living down to what matched what I could scrap together. And so far, even though I am usually right up against it, it has worked. This May will be nine years on this farm. Almost a third of the way towards ownership as a single woman. No in-laws, no parents, no spouse made any of this happen. This blog, my books, this community made that happen. Which is magic and as amazing as my truck.

My truck got picked on and I felt the need to stand up for her and for me. Be mindful of the words you are saying. Something worthless to you might be the keystone to someone else's lifestyle. Or it could be something they wish they didn't have and being called garbage doesn't help their esteem or heart. Kindness can be the choice to say nothing at all.

When I look at her I do not see a symbol of poverty or failure: I see a decision to stay. I see something I can afford that works as hard as I do. She is my girl and one of the puzzle pieces that allow me to live this feral life that I am so honored to keep scrapping together.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Wonderland!

Morning chores were a wonderland! Snow has been falling gently through the night, covering this place in a blanket of powder. Every tree was heavy with inches of snow and the temperature *just a little below freezing, making it comfortable enough to do all the feeding and water buckets in a sweater instead of insulated layers.

The dogs ran and played, bothering chickens and geese, and the horses were coaxed out of their pole barn for morning hay. I got a fire lit, soap orders packed, and soon as all the loose ends of work around here are done I'll be heading into town to See Wendy or Martha at the Post Office.

Most days those ladies are the only people I talk to in person. While I never stop yammering on social media it's rare I get to talk to most people in person during the work day. Town is for the post office, hardware store, laundromat, and occasionally the brewery where my own tankard is on the wall waiting for me to walk in. Cambridge is my village, but it's a few miles from this mountain and the farm tucked around a sharp corner. Yesterday I left to get hay. Today I'll mail out soap and art. But 90% of the time I am here. And that's a good thing. When homesteading is your goal in life and you managed to figure a life where most of it is at home: ding ding ding!

I also wanted to check in and thank everyone who sent words of advice, encouragement,  contributions, and emails about the dental situation. I am hoping to get the surgery next week and have tooth 14 root canaled if at all possible. You have no idea how much light it is to get a nice note from a reader, or friendly DM on Twitter in support of the farm. Thank you so much. I hope it is taken care of soon and I can keep the tooth as is.  I'll certainly keep you posted.

But for now: back to work!

Monday, November 26, 2018

New Kitten!


Cold Truths

The farm got through the cold snap tired but okay. I am proud of how far I have come when it has to do with bad weather and managing this home. The house's water, heating, and pipes all did fine. Faucets were left dripping on the worst of the nights and I slept downstairs by the fires, tending both wood stoves and keeping things in the right concern. Not a single beast or spirit went hungry, cold, or distressed. The lambs had extra hay in their shed and the pigs were buried in a nest of straw in the barn. The horses were their usual selves: Mabel in her blanket and Merlin with his woolly coat. The dogs shiver when outside too long when it's really cold, being accustomed to household temperatures and not the outdoors - so the only real issue with the cold is two bored border collies (boreder collies?!) but they had chewies and their own indoor missions to keep them occupied. Friday likes to monitor the actions of a baby possum that lives under the crawl space of our kitchen. Gibson watches the windows like a sentry, alerting me of any winter walkers in their down jackets walking down the road. The hawk is almost trained to fly free and came inside twice a day for weighing and health checks. All were well in this storm.

I called and made an appointment for a root canal in early December. The pain is getting unbearable at certain times and my doctor won't prescribe any antibiotics anymore, saying I need to get the surgery. The reality is awful that without health insurance a root canal costs $1300 and the antibiotics cost me $10. A dose of the antibiotics can knock out the infection for weeks but then it returns, worse than before. I know I need to get it done but it means not making a house payment this month, which will knock the farm into the danger zone. I am trying to figure it out but right now I am just letting myself a good cry. It's a cloudy afternoon and bad weather is coming. There is nothing I can do about it today besides go to Rite Aid and get more ibuprofen and avoid eating anything too complicated or chewy.

The good news is that I have the appointment. And if I can't figure out how to pay for it then I can cancel within 48 hours without penalty. The other option is to have the tooth removed for a couple hundred dollars but then I won't have an upper molar (the rest have been removed) and it will cause the entire top of my mouth's teeth to shift.

So why share all this? Because that's what I do. Because that's what I have always done. Across this country people in all sorts of middle-class jobs and lives have to decide between healthcare and regular bills. And because part of choosing (and this was entirely my choice, I am not a victim in any way) to leave a regular paying gig for self-employment and zero health care. That's the cold truth of it. This was my choice. If it means having the molar pulled and messing up my teeth, well, that's what will happen. All I can do right now, today, is work on the jobs I already have and hope some freelance payments make it here sooner than planned.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for being there.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from Cold Antler Farm! We are in a true cold snap here in the Northeast! Last night dropped to 4° and both wood stoves in the house were lit into the night. I slept downstairs to tend them, the dogs and I enjoying a movie marathon in a pile of blankets. I didn't sleep great, and was already up before sunrise, so I suited up to go hunting at dawn instead of dusk. Walked right up on a doe bedded down (I was up before she was) about 50 yards ahead of me. I waved. She stared. And I spent the rest of the morning seeing just her and some rabbits and squirrels (which I did not have the right gun to shoot at, though it would have made a great feast for Dash!). Came inside after a few hours to hot coffee with eggnog instead of creamer. Why not?! It is a holiday!

I'm not sure how much I'll be participating in Thanksgiving this year. I'm heading out to meet friends later, and am ready with a giant round loaf of sourdough, but eating anything too chewy isn't happening. My tooth is actually pounding. I am taking antibiotics and a lot of ibuprofen and I'll call the dental surgeon tomorrow, but there's nothing else I can do for it today besides Orajel and whiskey.

I am somewhat glad for the cold. It has chopped up the Holiday into work zones I am taking on like tasks that win a game. The day is blocked into fire chores like stacking wood inside and stoking fires and gathering kindling and animal chores: checking on water levels and making the rounds with the buckets 3X a day. I have some basic hawk training to do with Dash, a woodland walk and feeding him on the lure. I have the regular house and farm chores, too. And all of it planned out for me in my list book, my saving grace of order in a pretty chaotic life. It's all a distraction from the holiday and my stupid molar.

Off to work with the bird, get a shower, and head out to be properly social for a bit before returning to fire tending and illustrations. I hope you are warm, well fed, and well in general today!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Hunting

Every evening, a few hours before dusk, I set outside to the farthest corner of the farm and wait for deer. It's hunting season and I am still trying to get that first buck. At this point (years into trying) it is less about excitement and more of a quiet breathing hope. I want a deer. I want him in the freezer to make the weight of food expenses and security a little lighter. I want to know I can achieve that skill, from the shot to the butchering to the meat wrapped in white paper. The reality is I can't stop life and take three days to sit in a stand or travel to farms with better odds. The holiday season has me working from around 8AM till 3:30 on obligations and clients waiting for logos and animals waiting for dinner could care less about venison. So I am trying, but not thirsty. Mostly it has become a quiet time to sit still in the forest without distraction. I think of pretty things to write. I plan out dinner. I try to ignore the dull ache from this molar that needs a root canal.

I know I need to get it done but am trying to put it off. I called my dentist for some antibiotics for the pain and he said he'd only fill the prescription this last time. I have to get either the molar removed or the canal. So that's become a higher priority but the roof over my head comes first. Once I get a mortgage payment in I'll start setting aside what I can for tooth drilling and plugging and hope this Rx gets me through the holidays without any pain.

The good news is I've been here before. My genes may be garbage when it comes to teeth but they are top notch when it comes to resourcefulness. And with most of the firewood in I can shift focus to this. And since the farm now is mostly animals being raised for the freezer instead of carried through into a breeding season - that also frees up time, money, and resources of mind and spirit.

While feeding the lambs on the hill today I felt this real pang knowing they would be gone in a few weeks and for the first time in nearly a decade I would be without sheep. Sheep have been the cornerstone of this farm. They were what fueled my dreams, brought me border collies, kept this farm moving and spirits high. But before I can have a flock like that again I need to reseed pasture, redo all the fencing that failed over the years or focus on electric. I needed time to get away and sleep through late March nights without the fear of frozen lambs.

But I feel that guilt. That same feeling of not doing enough that I wrote about yesterday. And when I feel that I need to remind myself that regardless of how I feel, it has been enough to keep me here. It's been enough to carry this farm since I signed the papers and took it on. And even though it is always harder than I want it to be - it is mine. Entirely my choice, my work, my gift to have.

Things work out or they don't. Teeth get fixed or they don't. Farms carry on.

Snow!

Good morning from a snow-covered Cold Antler Farm! Happy to report the truck started, the animals are well, the coffee is peppermint mocha and I am in a very fluffy blue sweater. All I want to do now is light the wood stove and watch Gilmore Girls.

Alas, this woman has work to do. Making two big batches of soap, finishing two portraits, work on two logos, and taking a big load of art and packages to mail at the post office after the roads clear up. I hope your day is just as beautiful, productive, and ends with kind dogs and possibly Gilmore Girls.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Bully

A lot has changed in my life since starting this blog but few things make that as clear as days like yesterday. I woke up to a broken oil furnace in the basement (what I use for hot water) and the truck wouldn't start. Years ago I would panic and then instantly hit the blog; writing about how scary that was and not knowing what to do, feeling stranded, worried about costs and being my myself. And to the magic of the Internet's credit: comments, advice, texts with friends and emails came pouring in. We got through so much together. It gave me the ability to feel cared for, gather some some deep breaths and feel okay. Then I'd go through the action steps of  calling a tow truck/repairman or asking friends to help. Which is not a bad thing, at all! By all means call and ask if you are in (or without) hot water!

But 36-year-old Jenna didn't feel the urge to write about it. She didn't have to call anyone. She just wanted to get it back to good. And luckily the truck broke down while at the Wayside General Store in Sandgate. I was meeting my friends Dave and Laurie for breakfast and so I had arrived at a friendly place full of friendly faces. The battery was dying after four years of solid work. Dave jumped me and I had the juice to carry me home.

I knew how to get a jump. I am now a woman who carries cables and a trickle charger behind the bench seat. I got the battery replaced at NAPA back in Cambridge. When I pulled into the farm's driveway I started the hot water repairs. I knew how to turn off the furnace and safely tinker with it while scouring YouTube videos for the right troubleshooter. While doing that I found out I need to replace the filter. I make a mental note to grab one next time I'm at the hardware store. By noon I had hot water flowing from the taps and a working truck again. I say this in my driest Paris Geller voice: Bully.

My brain took in the $127 for the new battery and added it to the daily income goal, hoping I could at least break even with the day's sales. I scoffed at the idea as I made notes on my daily list and let out a long sigh. Okay, keep going. You got this.

When I bought this place in 2010 everything about farming, home owning, repairs, insurance... all of it was new and I was learning it alone. No spouse or in laws to call. No relatives or family nearby. Just a sole wild Jenna trying to figure out how to keep the gears moving. And while I did fail miserably at home-owning competence, I succeeding at making friends. Soon I knew people who knew what I didn't and cared enough to help. I did my best to return that help whenever possible. Lather, rinse, repeat and this girl had herself a network.

I know how to fix more problems than I did when I bought this place. More importantly, I learned how to fix myself. I wish I could say that was from learning some meditation technique or wisdom based down through the ages... it was mostly me making mistakes and being too stubborn to quit or change. That furnace has been giving me guff for years and I know it the way I know Merlin. That truck might not be much to look at but few repairs cost $127 dollars on modern vehicles, even replacing batteries.

Today my friend Othniel came up from Common Sense Farm to deliver the last half cord I had paid for and he brought along his industrial power washer. While I stacked the wood the house got a bath. The plastic siding was growing mold large enough to soon require names and classifications.  Today that hose smote it. I once again live in a white farmhouse, not a green dapple.

While he washed the house I went through the day's list and felt that panic seep in. The low-grade panic that haunts the edges of the day. I constantly worry I am not doing enough. I looked at what had been accomplished so far:

Strip Bed√
AM Chores (stock fed, watered, fresh bedding if needed) √
Make Coffee √
Emails and Socials Checked √
Dating Apps Checked √
Grocery Shopping √
Pay Verizon Bill
Soap-making Supplies Restocked √
4 Pet Sketches Sent for Approval √
Buy Feed √
Make Soap √
Package 2 Soap Orders √
Half Cord Wood Stacked √
Cat Litter Box Cleaned √
Change Sheets √
Train Hawk √
Blanket Mare √
PM Chores √
Make Dinner √
House Bath √
Paint an Illustration
Write Blog Post
Shower (clean sheets!)

This day started at 6AM and won't end until 8PM. After this post is done I need to paint that illustration. I didn't make any sales today so that means tacking today's goal onto tomorrows. Right now I want to move the bank account from the land of three digits to four. Once I'm in that world I can start thinking about a house payment. But it's list like this, written every morning, that combine the work of farm, household, business, and social life that keep me in line.

Compared to what I used to do in an office, this is 4 times more intense. The combination of the certainty of a direct deposit and knowing I was one person among hundreds working for the same goal felt like I was the crew of a giant ship. I could get coffee three times a day. I could take an hour lunch. I could leave at 5PM and not even humor the thought of a work email. Now I wake up and fall asleep thinking about this farm, the needs of the place, the money I need to earn, the work I need to prepare for. And even when the paper is littered with cross-out items it doesn't feel like enough. Like I am simply. not. doing. enough.

 So to remedy that feeling I make my lists and I have to finish them. It took years to learn this discipline, again, through mistakes. But this list will be completed. And even if today meant just emails and queries, bills and errands, and no income I do have this list done. I am a woman with a trickle charger in her F150. My water is hot. My house is heated with a stove and fire and an oven with a roast I got on sale that will make 5 more meals, easy.

I think that feeling of not doing enough can't go away. I think it is part of me. And I think it'll take becoming someone else in another ten years to learn to ignore those feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. But tonight I am warm. I have work, a shower, and clean sheets to look forward to. I am going to flirt online with people who I'll probably never meet and aren't interested and the fall asleep whispering sweet nothings to Friday while the snow falls on my white house.

And tomorrow I will get up and try again.






Thursday, November 15, 2018

Before The Storm!

As usual, let me begin a blog post by talking about weather! A true snowfall is coming through, tonight and into tomorrow. Anywhere from 4 to 10 inches, but a snowfall regardless. I am just inside from evening chores and preparing for the storm. Things are solid! The pigs have full bellies and defrosted fresh water and the barn door tight! Mare has her blanket. Merlin has his coat. The hawk has been worked with indoors, hydrated, fed, and set outside in his safe mews. The lambs have a full bale in their shed. The chickens have 5 stations outside the weather to perch in. The dogs are fed, the human is fed, the stoves are fed. I am down to 2.5 cords of wood but the house is WARM! I am well tonight. Feeling healthy, ready, willing, and hungry for this storm!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Snowfall and Dog Paws!

Woke up to a new sight: snowfall on the tree branches outside my bedroom window! It didn't last long, sadly, but the cold rain that came after made morning chores the kind of challenge I adore. The work of outside care, making sure all the animals are settled and fed, followed by warm mugs of coffee by the wood stove.

That tiny dream came true and fueled me through a morning of illustration work that is just starting to wind down now. There's a chicken roasting in the oven and a hawk is perched here inside, having just finished his flying lessons for the day. Little Dash is coming along well and slowly learning the commands and suggestions a falconer asks of him. The only restless spirit in the house right now is Friday, who wishes she was out digging trenches in the mud. No dog living or dead has loved digging like this happy monster.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Morning to Celebrate!!!

There's a hint of snowfall in the forecast and the temperatures are finally dropping! This morning there was some frost on the horses' backs and I could walk across the pasture without slipping and sliding on mud! It's a small victory, but what a morale boost! And this farm is finally comfortable with the firewood supply! This is a morning to celebrate!

And on top of all that fine news a reader named Cathy mailed me a camera! I am figuring out how to use it and soon as I do I will be able to post new pictures here of the farm at a higher quality than my Kindle Fire! I have hot chocolate, hay bales under cover, wood stacked inside, feed stores for the lambs/pigs/chickens.... I have new books to read (thank you to my sister who mailed me a new novel) and basically everything a Hobbit requires for a snow storm. Dogs, cats, hawk are content and the flannel sheets are on the bed.

And yes, I know that I have basically just been writing about fears of winter prep, firewood, money, and such but that's it's all I think about. I wake up and think about what I can try to sell, what I can manage to pay towards student loans, electricity, save a little for the root canal. The to-do lists and the daily income goals I make through sales, freelance, the farm... That's my entire world right now. It's my job. And about a thousand times more consuming than any office job ever has been.

The stakes are always so high and the fear right up against it all - but man, the strength this farm has given me makes me stand eight feet tall. I've been here for nearly a decade. I bought this place as a single woman. I kept it. I will keep it. And for at least this weekend I will be ready for cold mornings and snowfall and enjoy that buzz of the first true storm that makes this barren place of dead trees and brown fields turn into a magical land again.

I'm going to keep going. If you want to help with that, please do. Send an email or buy some artwork or soap. Those sales and blog contributions are all I have to make a living off of right now between lamb and pork shares. It's certainly needed and may be what carries this place through into December. And then I figure it out from there, month by month, as I have since I signed the mortgage papers.

And Cathy, of the camera mailing, please email me so I can send you a winter's supply of soap!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

All Sighs

It's been a long time since the ground was solid and the sky was bright. Which is a sentence I am writing about the weather, but might as well be about the election. I hope all of you got out and voted! I was at my poling place first thing after chores today. The place was packed, not usual for a mid term. I am on pins and needles waiting to see how it all shakes out. Politics mean a lot more to me these days. A lot more.

But yes, the weather has been a trial. It's been raining for a long time, day in and day out. Milder weather and the deluge has turned this farm into a mudslide and I am going through straw like crazy keeping everyone comfortable and dry where they bed down at night. There are towels by the door and I've been keeping up with the laundry and mopping but good heavens this farm is looking exactly like all of us look between transitions: rough. Nothing in nature is expected to bloom year round, right? Once snow comes this place will feel as perfect and right again as it did in late June. It finds its place in the gear slots of my heart. It keeps digging in.

After last winter, you think I would have changed my tune but I can't help it. I am excited about the first true snowfall. I am giddy about the idea of waking up to my world covered in white powder and making my way barefoot down the old stairs. To light the wood stove and start a pot of coffee and then head outside from a cold house into that perfect snow with the dogs to care for my animals. And then return, to a house suddenly so much warmer after being outside than being in bed and sitting beside that domesticated fire and sipping hot coffee and knowing that for the day all in my care is safe, fed, warm, okay. I want that feeling back again. I crave it. And as the mud pools and the earth stays warm I miss it.

There's now two and a half cords of wood stacked for this farm. I'm a month behind on the mortgage, but catching up and a lot closer to solvent then I was a few months prior. This morning after voting I went to the laundromat to clean my sheets and comforters. I took a hot shower when I got home. The world may be rain and mud and politics but tonight I will be clean and warm and tucked in close with dreams of snowfall and the steady released sigh of knowing that there is wood, candles, stoves, coffee...

Tonight I hope we'll all be okay. We'll all sigh.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Meet Dashiell! My New Hawk!

Just trapped this looker recently. Dashiell (Dash!) was 955g at trapping. He was caught right outside Cambridge, a few miles from my property on route 313. He has small feet, a big heart, and already is comfortable at Cold Antler Farm! So glad to have this little guy to restart the hunting story all over again. Wish us luck!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Nesting Season

It's full-blown Nesting Season here at Cold Antler Farm. Days are shorter, muddier, colder, and wetter this fall. I am so glad the stove is up and running and that another cord and a half (three cords total!) will be delivered to the farm, all paid for! Knowing that my heating needs are met, at least for a good chunk of this winter, is such a relief. And because of that relief I can focus on other things this farm needs to do. Basics like keeping the bills paid, animals comfortable, and house pleasant enough not to scare away strangers.

I'm hosting some friends of friends' from out of town this weekend. Her and her husband are coasting through town and I was asked if I could handle guests? I am always thrilled to have visitors but feel I need to prepare them for the farm. This isn't a Haycation/Glamping situation. It's a small old house that is always happy to offer hot food, strong drinks, and clean sheets but it is still a home heated by (mostly) a single wood stove. There's no TV, microwave, washing machine, and I live with four mammals beside myself in this house and if you're allergic to cats or dogs... well, you're not going to have a good time. So I try to let folks know upfront. But the upside: you wake up to crowing roosters and the singing of a creek each morning. The blankets are heavy and beds are comfortable. The dogs are kind and the horses usually don't buck very hard. It's a fine place to rest if you like backpacking.

My trusty Canon Rebel I bought years ago finally kicked the bucket. So I am without a digital camera right now and hoping to get one used again soon. If anyone has a quality used camera to offer for sale or barter, let me know. Looking for Canon or Nikon, SLR. Email me!

The truck has an appointment to fix an oil leak and I am saving up for a root canal so most of this farm needs minor repairs, but whose doesn't? And both of those things are more important and urgent than a camera right now. But I figure asking never hurts and if someone has a five-year-old Rebel they want to trade for lamb or pork futures, I can ask. Never hurts to ask.

Okay I am off to get a load of hay in the truck and clean off some muddy paws from my farm dogs. You guys stay warm and well!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

On The Hunt!

I released Aya last Thursday south of Cambridge. I pulled over near state game lands, far from anyone's farm, in a tucked in corner of the Battenkill River near a covered bridge. If my bird was Thomas Kinkade, she would have plotzed. She was over 1400 grams and without any anklets or leather attached to her for the first time in nearly free years. She flew up into the trees and took a perch and I waved goodbye and thanked her before driving home. It was sad and lovely. That's what any wild-caught bird could want: three years of safe, professional, training before heading out into the job market. I wish her nothing but luck.

Now, time for a new bird!

Yesterday I spent about five hours in my truck, and the vehicles of friends, driving around Washington County looking for my next hunting partner. It's trapping season until January for Falconers, so all of us without birds (or trying to help others find theirs) get into our cars and load up with traps, coffee, binoculars, gear, more coffee, stories, and coffee. It's possibly one of my favorite parts of this sport: trapping. You wake up with this insane hope to pull a dragon out of the sky, and if you use the skills and mentors you have collected: it works.

Hawks are trapped humanely with a live lure. Basically: a small mammal in a wire dome cage covered in tiny nooses. When the hawk sees the critter it lands on the wire cage and its talons get caught in the noose. As a falconer you only drop such a trap right below a hunting hawk in a tree or on a telephone wire and watch that trap carefully. You do not leave it out of your sights. And soon as the bird lands on it you are right there to wrap it gently in a towel and remove the ties from the talons. the bird is uncomfortable for about 3 minutes tops, and then safely hooded to stop it from panicking and taken right to a falconer's home to be outfitted with anklets, jesses, a leash, bells, and a well-fit hood.  If you want to see this entire trapping and securing process there are thousands of Youtube videos, this one was especially good at explaining it all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Flying Free

My apologies for not updating recently! Things here have been in full pre-winter preparation mode. Getting firewood stacked, finding a new source for hay delivery (Common Sense Farm doesn't have enough to sell this season), and trying to stay on top of chores, bills, and work. October has been a whirlwind of both wonder and anxiety. The wonder of fall, guests from out of the country, logging with the horse, foliage, hunting, and the joy of my favorite month but also all the last-minute panic of getting ready for winter. So far there's a cord and a half of firewood stacked, and another cord and a half paid for and awaiting delivery! I am still behind on the mortgage but made a payment last week and will work hard as I can towards making another one soon as possible. There are some hiccups in the way to juggle - a root canal, truck repairs for a valve because of an oil leak, new winter tires, and the dogs' annual checkups - but those things will all get done soon as I can. I need to remember that a few weeks ago I had no firewood and a broken stove and now I am writing from a warm house on a rainy cold day, with most of my wood bought and half of it stacked and stored and functioning stove! Huzzah!

Besides the happy struggle I have been really enjoying working with Aya this fall. She's been such an amazing hunter and true partner in the field. But I do think it is time to release her back into the wild well before snowfly and start with a brand new hawk when I can. She's been with me a few years now and it's time for her to be back into the local breeding population. It'll be sad but to see her go but I am proud of her hunting, health, and the work we did together.

I hope all of you in colder places are preparing for winter best you can, excited for white tails and hunting stories, that first snowfall, and the happy hibernation we may hopefully all safely get to the other side of.  This year without the goats and breeding flock will be easier - both for chores and for the pocketbook, I am using half the hay I used to. The lambs go to the butcher in December. The pigs, later in the winter or spring. The farm goes on regardless. This is our good work.

Here's to free birds, gentle winters, and luck finding us all.


Monday, October 15, 2018

It's a Stay Comfy Kinda Day...


First Hawk Hunt of the Fall!

It's a rainy Monday morning and I am in a great mood! Chores are done, the coffee is hot, and I'm about to slip into a hot shower and get some groceries for my guest staying a few days. Having people visit the farm (and those of you doing this a while can understand) and seeing it through their eyes is such a needed thing. It doesn't matter how they see it. My guests can be in love with morning pony rides and swimming in the river on summer days or hating the heat and wishing they just had Air Conditioning. Love it or leave it, you get a new perspective. But having guests come in October is somewhat cheating. Everything is in full color right now - maples and oaks and birches - all swirling with leaves. I have logging work to do with Merlin and the goal of firewood to make. I have a house with good farmed meats, eggs, and just-made soaps to offer in a household with hot water and kind dogs. These are simple things but I can't imagine not loving a fall visit to a farm.

I am hoping to take my friend Ivy out hawking tomorrow, if the bird and weather agree. She's in the country (usually splits her time between England and Germany) for a meeting and some work stuff near me in Manchester Vermont. I think hawking in the woods will be a fine introduction to Cold Antler life! It'll also be Aya's first hunt of the fall since all our work so far has been based around handing, hood training, flights on a creance, and lure baiting. The same work you do with a just-acquired wild bird is repeated (at least by me it is) every late summer into fall. And now on a crisp morning I hope to fly my bird out and about if she's at the right weight. Fingers crossed!

P.S. If you don't follow me on Twitter (and you shouldn't if you just want farm updates) you haven't heard me rave about The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. It is so good. If you like family drama, light scares, a spooky old house, and a touching story - check it out. I watched the ENTIRE series in two days this past weekend!



Sunday, October 14, 2018

Logging With Merlin

I came across a bit of good luck! My neighbor Jared, who lives a few miles away from Cold Antler Farm, said I was welcome to pull out some of the ash he cut this last February to use for firewood. Jared logs with horses and I had emailed him a few weeks ago to ask if he wanted to barter firewood for a logo for his horse-drawn business. (Turns out but he didn't have the time or size wood I needed.) But he did offer to let me take some of the downed, dry, logs! Jared's family used to own my farm and they still own the land around it. Some days he drives his gorgeous team of Percherons up the road past my house to train them, cut timber, and haul it out. So today I hitched up Merlin to his trusty leather harness and we made three trips into the woods next to my farm.

I was using the road he made with his team, happy at the thought of another modern working animal using the road. This was a wild road. A place for time travel. Me and my pony walked up it, his thick black tail swishing with our stride. It was a gorgeous fall day and I tried to do something I have been forgetting to do amidst all the stress of winter prep: stop and enjoy myself.

I took a moment on the trail to simply admire him. This pony, born across an ocean and here a few decades later helping his Hobbit move some logs. For a horse in his early twenties he was moving fast and even trotting along with the logs. He seemed to be enjoying the work of it. There was no bad flies, the weather brisk, the woods new and alive. I was reminded how good it felt to do this: to go from harnessing to commands in the forest. I let myself forget how much I adore driving this beast.

We started with a lighter load of small trees and then worked up to two hefty logs. All brought to the driveway where I'll get a friend with a chainsaw they can cut them into rounds for splitting. Or maybe I'll invest in a tough sawzall or electric chainsaw at some point? I think I can use my hand saw on the smaller ones myself. I'll figure it out, the promise was getting them here in the first place!

So on this fine Sunday I worked my pony and was reminded of the moments I'm trying to keep, but also trying not to get lost in all that when life throws these perfect little chances to be aware how lucky you are just to try. 

I didn't make my goal of making the last summer mortgage payment by the 15th. I don't have a cord and a half of wood stacked yet. But I am a little closer to both of those goals. I have a working wood stove and a cord stacked - that's not nothing. And I bet Merlin and I hauled enough wood for a few nights comfort.  I am waiting for some soap and art sales people said they would pay for to ping in via email. I am still grateful for this magical time I get to be a single woman hauling logs out of a forest path with a pony and getting paid with tech magical banking.

I won the dice roll on timing, for certain.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Too Late

I remember the first time I ever went on a trail ride. It changed everything. It gave me the strength to make life decisions I didn't realize I could make. It was the day I accepted my life wasn't about control, but resourcefulness and reaction. Here's that story.

I had been on trail rides before. The kind where you rent a horse at a dude ranch or resort. I'd even upped that game a little and ridden across farmland with my riding instructor at the barn I took lessons at. But all of those experiences were different. All those previous rides included signing waivers and the watchful eye of professionals. They also involved someone else's horse. I was paying for a taste of an experience I so desperately wanted: to ride and explore the world on horseback with my own mount. The kind of life I read about in fantasy novels and history books.

Those rides taught me a lot but were a totally different from that spring day in 2012 when things changed. Patty Wesner offered to trailer Merlin from the stables he was being boarded at to her farm. There she and I would tack up our horses and go for a ride across her land and a neighbor's. Seems simple right? Nothing fancy. But it wasn't simple. This ride was on private land with a horse I was planning on owning. There wasn't a professional in earshot. We were on our own, in the wild, and all the lessons and dreaming seemed to lead up to this moment. What was it going to be? Two women galloping across the landscape like the opening credits of a movie? Or me strapped into a gurney as the helicopter whisks me away to ICU?

The ride itself was a calm walk and trot. No one got thrown off their horse and the spring weather was overcast but pleasant. I honestly don't remember much about it other than hoping I got home to Patty's farm in one piece. What I do remember as clearly as ten minutes ago was the moment I got on my horse and we started walking down her driveway...

So much anxiety lead up to actually getting into the saddle. This was a big step for me. The entire time I was tacking up Merlin (in all English gear, that was what I knew best) I was clammy. There's a real fear that sets in the first time you venture outside your comfort zone, and I wasn't sure I was good enough to ride beside Patty and Steele. And all of those nerves contorted and swirled inside me. I remember shaking as I lifted myself into the loaned dressage saddle. And then something happened:

It was too late.

From the moment I sat into that saddle and clicked to Merlin to walk and follow Steele, it was too late. I was on a horse. The ride had started. Anything that happened from that first step on was happening during the trail ride I had agreed to go on. All the nerves slid off me like a wet raincoat dumped in a hallway. My brain and body had no use for them. I had a job: to guide this horse well and return to this driveway. There wasn't any use for anxiety here. I had none.

We rode and returned and it was lovely, but it was the click of my brain from anxiety to action that taught me I could do this. I could quit my job. I could someday come out of the closet. I could follow this insane dream... I could do it because the ramping up to the action is the hard part. It is always the hard part - but once I made the leap my brain was just in problem solving mode.  I knew that if I could be brave my mind would follow and lead me safely home. I'd be okay. I'd always be okay because while my fear is a guide, it isn't my leader. It always takes the back seat to decision.

Sometimes being too late is a good thing.