Friday, September 22, 2017

Co-pilots.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Have Smial. Will Travel.

I spent a lot of time this week in quiet awe of my college roommate’s Instagram updates from Paris. Dear lord, the pictures and the city were beautiful. She’s beautiful. Her life is beautiful. And I looked at those videos and pictures thinking about the life I had when I used to travel more. How clean and new a hotel can feel, even a humble one. How carefree it is to know not a single dirty towel is your responsibility. Add to that amazing food, sights, interesting people - her life is amazing. And I am thinking all this the same day I am trying to wash diarrhea off a lamb’s butt on the same farm I haven’t spent a night away from in six years.

Those images from France felt exotic because they are. To be fair, pictures from the Target in Saratoga would feel exotic these days. Travel is something I can’t do and do not do. I recently joined some dating sites and let me tell you, travel is the one thing every single man and woman out there says they are looking for in a partner. Not one person said, "I'm looking for a Smial." Which is frustrating, as I give great Smial.

Forget Target, some days even driving to visit a friend seven miles away is out of the question if weather is bad, gas money is tight, or the farm’s needs are more pressing than my social needs. You can’t tell a pregnant goat to hold it in while you meet friends at the train depot for drinks.You can't leave for a movie marathon and hot tub when it's -6 degrees and your house is heated by a domesticated fire in the corner of the living room.

My choices have given me a freedom my college self's wildest dreams couldn't believe. I wake up with the kind of agency of time that seems criminal its so my own. Without a spouse or kids, my day is 100% dedicated to my farm, my income, and my passions. It's a dream and one I work damn hard to live as my daily reality but it's also my nightmare. Having all this is only possible because it's selfish as hell. If I ever want to incorporate any other human being's life into it; it means big changes. I'm okay with changes in the name of love. I'm not okay with them in the name of boredom or everyday companionship.

There was a time I felt the need to write in defense of farming and my choices when I saw peers experiencing their own. There was a time I’d wax poetic on the simple joys of staying in one place and the wealth that surrounds a life of gardens, saddles, and Sunday roasts. I wrote those things because I did believe them, but also because of guilt. The guilt that I was more interested in feeling safe and nesting than traveling. I will forever be the dog circling three times before lying down. That act itself is my spirit animal. And as a young(ish), worldly,woman the guilt of staying put feels like a chosen ignorance at times. Young people are supposed to want coffee in Paris. They are supposed to envy passport stamps and towel delivery services. Yet here I am, alone on a mountain, content washing lamb butts. So to those out there considering a Woginrich in their futures, know this:

Have Smial. Will Travel.*
*Eventually, and for love and hunger.


Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth more, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Come in, sit down.

Welcome new readers and old friends, I often post this: Come in,  Sit Down, which means introduce yourself here on the blog by your name and location, and maybe share a little more about yourself as far as homesteading dreams or goals are? If you don't feel comfortable giving your name online, you could always just leave your location and perhaps a suggestion for the blog. It's a way for me to see who I am writing to and say hello. It makes the place a little more friendly on this side, as you know so much about me, but I know so little about you. A simple introduction makes it feel like I'm talking with a group rather than writing to the sky. If you never comment this post is an exception worth making. You might even make a friend or two...

It's also a way for you guys out there to connect with other folks with like interests. If you're sitting in your Sausalito apartment dreaming of mini angus bloodlines and rototillers you might just see another name from Sausalito a few comments down dreaming about coop plans and explaining his container gardens.... and before you know if you've made a farming friend. The internet is great—you'll never hear me say otherwise—but it keeps us inside a little too much. It should be a tool to network and learn from, not a replacement for three dimensional conversations and relationships. (I am talking for myself right now as much as anyone) and by saying hello here you might just spark book clubs and dinner potlucks, meetups and work parties, farm visits and advice, or just someone to grab coffee with in the Philadelphia Barnes & Noble and pour over the new issue of Hobby Farms together while chatting about why your husbands think chickens are ridiculous.

So come on inside, pull up a chair, and say hello.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Happy Friday! (on a Monday)

Yesterday I planned on mowing the leaves but the mower would not start, so I went about raking for a few hours. When the lawn was cleared I let out a sigh of accomplishment and took in the view. It should last about thirty minutes before it was covered in brown, yellow, and orange maple leaves again?

I made a big pile and before I moved it to the compost area by the pine trees, I let Friday play in it. She loves nothing more than to jump, dig, scratch, shake up leaves, and then chase around whatever she jumped in/dug up. She can actually dig a hole, flick a rock out between her hind legs, then spin on a dime and jump to catch it before it lands. This is her joy. Gibson watches, in eye-rolling frustration. I laugh. If Friday prefers some rock tossing, that's her bliss. Have at it girl!

I'm recovering/trying to figure out what I am down with right now. I rarely get sick, so when I get dyspeptic in my transmission I assume it's time to cut back on all the fun stuff (coffee, sugar, booze, etc) and eat a plan diet, rest, and hope it washes out fast. I focus less on adventures involving saddles and arrows and more on indoor work like illustration. I stick to my daily to-do list. I keep it manageable. Be it training horses, dogs, or Jennas - make success easy and end on a good note. I plan on tackling three clients and ending on yogurt. Life's not always riveting.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Months of Coffee

Part of my plan for a frugal winter is buying in as much of my winter food as possible. I want my income to 90% go towards the mortgage, bills, and emergency needs and not need to worry about many extra expenses. That also includes winter drinks, like coffee. I figure a half pound a week covers my addiction and company, or at least I hope so. Right now there are around ten pounds stored up, along with a lot of powder creamer (in case things get tight and running for half and half is a luxury down the road). The whole point of this prep isn't to just live out of my cupboards, or to prepare for doomsday - but to know going into the hardest, darkest, and most anxious time of the year for me and this farm I have the peace of mind knowing months of meals are safely set aside. A loaf of bread can be baked every other day (100lbs of flour already set aside with yeasts/sat). Stored meats, spices, grains, beans, eggs, cheeses, canned goods and more are filling up my larder and it feels good.The farm house feels more like a farmer's house than ever before.

Winter on My Mind.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Art and a Bar!

Today on Twitter I posted this 9x12" image of Bonita, the old' goat of Cold Antler Farm. She's still going strong and drawing her munching on fall leaves was a fun project this morning and a break from commissions and design work. I'm offering it for $50 and it comes with a bar of her soap! And if it sells out, or if you want a custom image of another goat (like your own), another animal from CAF, a pet, or any custom illustration and soap - do send an email to dogsinourparks@gmail.com

This is a pre-made piece of work and not custom, so the price would be higher for a full color ink and watercolor piece like this of your pet or animal of choice - but I can offer a sketch and bar for the price of $50 in the US. Thanks for your support and interest!

Thank You

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, September 15, 2017

If You Bake It...

It was around 4PM when I was just about ready to set the first Jackapple Cake of the season into the stove. I was so proud of it—not only because it’s a family tradition—but because the apples I had diced for the pie came from a tree I planted the year I bought this farm, 2010. It took that many years for the small tree to grow and beat fruit. That apple tree made it despite the winters, the sheep eating at her bark, and the thousand mistakes a new farmer makes... Still, the apples were strong and crisp and green. They made it to the family cake. I was about to slide it into the oven when the phone rang.

My phone is old and loud. It’s a big yellow, rotary, wall-mounted device that the prop department for Stranger Things used, exactly. Only mine has the bell tensions permanently set to the loudest setting and actual clanging bells roar when it alerts. It is right by the stove. I jumped. It was Mark.

Mark and his son Wyatt were having dinner and wanted to invite me over. Mark and Patty Wesner are family. Patty met me at a book reading years ago, around the same time I planted that apple tree - and it’s the only place in Washington County I feel as home at as my own. She taught me to ride and drive horses. Mark taught me to hunt turkeys and all the names and music of the songbirds that were background noise before I knew the musicians. They mean the world to me and right now while Patty is in California with her new granddaughter (Congrats!!!!) Mark is running the farm mostly by himself. Looked like he wanted some friends in the farm house.

I explained I was JUST setting a cake into the oven and could I bring it as dessert around 6? He said that was fine but they were pouring drinks at 5 so I better hurry. With the cake baking and the house starting to smell like seven years of delicious passive planning - I called the dogs and we headed outside.

Evening chores are a delight in the fall. There is none of the stress of evening dairy work - since the does are being dried off. The weather was too warm still to worry about bedding a fire down or stoking a new one if I wanted to leave... 

Side note: I know some people are perfectly okay with having a roaring fire in their homes left unattended - but I am not that person. If I want to leave for any extended period longer than an hour in the cold months I won’t do so unless the fire is down to coals. I share my house with two un-crated border collies, 2 cats, and depending on the season - chicks, lambs, kids, or Lord Knows What else and adding a raging fire to the unchaperoned mix seemed like a bad decision.

...So there was no fire chores, no dairy chores, no extra house work as the dishes were done while the oven pre-heated. So the dogs and I went about feeding evening hay and grain, checking animals and their water and bedding, and then half an hour later the cake was out to cool and the animals sated. The cake felt like a prize because it was.

Over at Livingston Brook Farm mark was skillet-frying up some Highlander burgers, from a shaggy steer our friend Brett raised near Lake Placid. Tomatoes, lettuce, and onions from his garden were set out on a beautiful plate. Bourbon was poured and we talked and caught up. I’m 35 and this is an ideal evening, hell and ideal day. I spent the morning doing the work of helping turn lambs into meat - humbling and tough work but the traveling butchers were kind and the animals a respectable weight.

After that I worked on design, on making soap, and the other errands and chores a life piles up. Point is the day included hard work of farm, mind, and craft. I ended it with the celebration cake and planned on just having a slice in front of a movie to wind down the night. Instead I got a full meal with close friends. If you bake it, dinner invites will come.

There is still a lot of winter prep ahead. I need to get in firewood, stove repairs, more animals butchered and delivered to customers, hay packed, and the regular bills and responsibilities paid. As of today the farm is solvent - my loftiest goal for years. But until a landfall of luck falls it’s scrappy work making it every month. What I can celebrate is that I am getting better at this - at the time management, budgeting, self promotion, and quality of work and words. More importantly, I have not given up. I don’t plan to. I hope seven years later that tree is still bearing fruit and the home and my life is healthier, happier, and makes me feel ever safer and more proud.

And there’s still cake.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Jackapple Cake Season is Here!

I’ve been baking my father’s famous apple cake recipe for years and have published it in past books. It is as much a sign of fall as any other in my home. and adding my own little experiments with it. I think this one takes the prize, try it this weekend, you won’t regret it!

Jackapple Cake

3 large farm eggs
2 ¾ cup flour
3 large apples (go with braeburn or gala, if you get fuji use 4)
No red delicious apples, bake like garbage
¼ cup fresh press cider
2 cups sugar
¼ cup honey, heated
1 stick butter (half melted)
Cinnamon
1 ¾ cup vegetable oil
Tablespoon vanilla extract
Tablespoon baking powder

Peel and dice apples and place in a large bowl with 1 ½ cups sugar (set aside other half cup for topping), sprinkle over them a light coating of cinnamon, and mix into a cobbler, then dribble warm honey over and mix that in as well. Set in fridge for 2 hours to let cure. Do not skip this step. 

When apples are cured, add all wet ingredients (half melted stick off butter, eggs, oil, extract) and mix with large wooden spoon. Add in tablespoon baking powder. Add flour half a cup at a time and stir in batter more than you think you need too. Batter will seem wet and yellow. Good. Pour into greased cake pan.

Now melt other half stick of butter, add to it the sugar and some cinnamon and mix them into a wet paste. Use a pastry brush to lather it over the batter, making a sugar crust to bake into the cake. Bake at 350 degrees 30-40 minutes. Check after 27, when knife comes out clean it’s done. Serve warm with stove-top cider.

Pig Tails and Apples!

So many apples this year! Every tree that has fruit to offer is spilling over, half toppled by the weight. Every day the pigs get a bucket full of green or red apples. They snarf and chomp and chew and the piglets race each other around to snag the best pieces. A farm without pigs is a quieter farm, and it might be a prettier one, but it isn't a wealthier one. They offer so much I can't imagine not having some sort of sounder on this land.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Soap & Signed Books!

Want to support this farm and take care of some holiday shopping at the same time? Well, do I have some good news for you! I am still offering Batch/Book Combos! This includes 8 custom-made large bars of soap (3-4oz) and a signed hardcover of One Woman Farm! You pick the scent/mold/combination of exfoliants and I make it to order. Takes 2-3 weeks to cure and mail. Email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com if you are interested.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Buck on the Brain

The goats are nearly dry. Milking is now sporadically done every few days. Soon the work of morning dairy chores will be replaces with morning fire chores. There's still a long road between here and there, though. The wood stove needs a serious repair and professional chimney sweeping. The goats need a few more weeks of random milkings to be dried off comfortably. But once firebox and doe are content - I need to start looking for a buck again. It's time for some fall romance, ladies.

Some goat folk keep milking all year. I do not. I like having the winter off from dairy chores and making the cheese seasonal. This year I have stored gallons of the milk (for soap making in the winter) and about ten pounds of the chevre I love! The white ziplock bags in storage are hard frozen bricks now. They are stacked white and serious and look like some sort of illicit material at first glance. When a guest goes to the freezer for ice and sees the stacked, white, bricks I say "IT'S CHEESE!!" I don't want them to think I suddenly became a lot more interesting.

So if you're around Veryork and have an Alpine or Nubian buck for rent or sale, let me know. I'd like to have him in pen with my girls by November at the latest. Email me here!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Breagha

Tiny Murder Dragons

I have chosen a life that means getting emails on a Saturday afternoon of recent Merlin captures. (Merlin meaning the small bird of prey, not my large draft pony.) I saw the email and smiled. A falconer friend a town over had just trapped the small jack, a male Merlin. It's trapping season for falconers new and seasoned and we are all on the lookout for our new tiny murder dragons.

The first four days of the month I was helping a new falconer from Half Moon, New York. We trapped her a nice juvenile female red tail hawk and since then she's been manning (training) the bird for hunting and getting along well. I'm proud of her. Yesterday I shared about helping friends get into horses, well, I feel the same way about hawking. It's the new, bright, eyes of the beginner that encourage me to become better at the passions I have. Riding along in a mini van for hours at a time, looking up, hoping for a hawk and the random circumstances of luck and chance that mean you actually capture it - it's intoxicating. There is so much horror in the world right now - from floods and fires to hurricanes and injustice - the escape to just think about one wild animal is needed. Not because I want to forget the troubles of the world and pretend they do not exist, but to find a place to exhale and feel safe in a life that is never certain.

Here's to hawks, hope, and calmer winds soon.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Home Again!

This morning was cold enough to see my breathe and need a sweater for morning chores. I had already lit a small fire in the stove and started the coffee, and while my infusion and firebox warmed up I headed outside for the first section of chores. While making the hay rounds on the farm my feet crunched over newly-fallen leaves. I could smell and see the smoke from the chimney. Autumn is here. It feels good to be home again.

I have been joyfully distracted by a few things, and that’s why the posts have been sparse. My new age and I have completed a new book proposal (worked on it all summer together) and it has been sent out to a list of publishers. Now we wait and I hope. When not editing and rewriting that I’ve been about the usual work of tending this farm, preparing for winter (food, hay, firewood), and making soap. I mean, a lot of soap. I have been making out between 4-8 pounds a WEEK of this stuff. I am proud of these soaps and their travels around North America. For a simple recipe they soaps lather well, last long (post-curing), and are made with the goats, milk, and hands of this farm. My days are mostly a rectangle of farming, design, writing and soap. It’s a good place to be.

Yesterday afternoon some friends from Troy (a city just south of me near Albany) came up. David and Allison wanted to spend some time at the farm and start learning to ride. I’m no instructor but I was happy to show my friends how to groom, tack, and understand a horse a bit. David has ridden before and feels at home on the back of a horse. Yesterday was the first time he cantered comfortably and I was so happy to see it. Allison (who hasn’t ridden ever, really) learned to sit, hold her body, use her legs, and ask the horse to walk forward, stop, turn, and back up. I was beaming. I love sharing what I learned with others. What is the point of learning a skill just to hoard it? Skills are for sharing, celebrating, and passing on.

Writing is also important to share! So I am using Sundays to pre-load some posts so your weekday gets plenty of Cold Antler goodness. Thank you for checking back in and do follow me on Twitter and Instagram for a lot of daily photos, updates, and stories.  Especially, Twitter.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Trapping & Work

I realized this morning that with all my time online, over on twitter and Instagram - I have been talking about trapping season and new falconers, the farm fall prep, and working on design - but have not updated here recently. I have a lot of thoughts about being in my thirties and the life I chose. I want to talk about wealthy vs rich. I want to share stories of potatoes, lambs, and today's ram delivery later on. But right now I am waiting for my ride from some new apprentice falconers in Clifton Park. Every morning we have been going out looking for hawks for them to trap for their first falconry hunting seasons. That's been the stretch of things recently: wake, farm, trap, work, farm, sleep. With hints of social events like game nights or movies with friends in the evenings. I'll be updating more later today and I appreciate you reading this and checking in. Fall is here!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Aiming Towards Winter!

The good news is that Cold Antler Farm is in the best shape it has ever been going into winter! Firewood (1.5 cords) is already stacked. Winter food stores have begun. Hay is set aside and in banks (larger barns close buy) to gather and load to the farm all winter long. I am not in any danger of losing the farm and bills are up to date. It feels good.  This is how I want things to remain.

But every day is another day closer to the next bill, the next month's mortgage. I am still working (with one week left) to pay this month's mortgage so I am not behind come September 1. So I am offering a 2 for 1 sale on logos and illustrations. You can pay one price and get a flat-rate logo and illustration - or any combination there of. You can buy it and receive 2 gift certificates - a way to support this farm and get your holiday shopping done early! The gift certificates are PDF emails vouchers you can print and put into cards. Give the gift of a portrait or logo to a friend or yourself!

I am also still taking soap orders! I have loose bars and custom made batches that come with a signed copy of One Woman Farm!

If you want to support the endeavors of Cold Antler Farm, email me! dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Earning Her Honesty

A few days ago Mabel bit me. Not a full attack by a charging ginger, hoofs a blazing— but a bite. I was tightening her girth (something I have done two dozen times this summer) and she turned her head back and nipped her teeth at my arm. If I had a shirt on I would have felt nothing. But I was in a tank top and the edges of her teeth clicked and pinched my upper arm. She didn’t break the skin, but a solid bruise rests there now from a beast with a skull the size of my coffee table. Not good.

I knew what that bite was. It was a mare saying “Hey, you, stop it. You’re annoying me and you are in my way.” She snapped at me the same way a mare snaps at a colt who has been nursing too long, or a pesky fly at her flank. It was a quick slap. Still, that kind of behavior is unacceptable. It hurt and it made me nervous. Once you are nervous around the horse the color of the world changes for them. Things get a little sharper, darker. They can tell something is wrong the same way a boss walking into your office with a sour look her face would make you raise your eyebrows. Also, not good.

I took a deep breath and got out the training flag. We did half an hour of ground work. The kind of natural horsemanship I have learned from Dave, my farrier and horsemanship trainer. The point was to keep her moving and responding to my gentle suggestions. If she doesn’t respond, a wave of the flag at the end of a 5 foot whip gets her attention. The flag is never used to hit her, just direct her like an air traffic controller. After a while just lifting the flag gets her moving. After that, asking with one hand on the lead rope. When she seemed calm I finished tacking her up and went for a ride. But I was still nervous.

The bugs were bad. The kind of high summer flies and gnats that all the ear salve and sprays can’t deter. She was stubborn and stopped moving all together a few times. The ride wasn’t dangerous but it wasn’t fun. It was petulant and fussy, the equine equivalent of “I donnnnntttwannnnnnnaaaa” But we rode and we got home, untacked, and I set her back with Merlin in the pasture. On paper the ride was a success. I rode my horse and no one got hurt on the trail: check. My goal was to ride my horse and I didn’t waiver. But it wasn’t fun.

That was a few days ago. In the interim I rode Merlin. Merlin isn’t as young, flashy, or fast but he is solid and dependable. Riding him is like sitting back and pouring a few fingers of whiskey with an old friend. I know his every twitch and ear signal. He knows the trails so well I am certain I could do it blindfolded and he would make the big loop around the trails and back home himself. Tuesday I took him and a book and a snack up the mountain. I rode and then got off to let him graze while I read. We took in the view from the mountain before a thunderstorm. This is something we have done hundreds of times. It’s a pure joy owning and living with that stubborn pony that taught me how to ride. I want that with Mabel. And you don’t get that unless you put in the work…

This morning I was nervous again. Mostly, of having another rough tacking up and then that stuttering struggle type of trail ride. I didn’t want to get bit. I didn’t want to feel nervous. But I owe it Mabel and to myself to train and train smart. To give that horse a job and not let her turn into some pasture-bound stranger I pet once a day and throw hay to. I don’t envy horses (or people, for that matter) that do nothing all day but eat.

I was also extra edgy because I was recently reminded how dangerous horses can be. Yesterday morning a friend was sent to the hospital because of their horse. It spooked beside a road and knocked them unconscious. Horses are huge animals, and even Merlin the fell pony is a thousand pounds. I’m 5’2” and while I am built as thick as a jaguar with a jiggle - that’s not a fair fight.

So today I did what my old riding instructor Holly says: Always have a plan. Don’t get on a horse you are training without a plan. And so this was my plan. Do groundwork first. Then, once calm and following my leads, groom and saddle. Do so with her head free so she can bite if she wants to, but discourage any attempts by making the horse move her back feet away from me in a tight circle. If she wants me out of her way then I will show her she is in mine. Remain calm, consistent, and in charge. Then, saddle up and do a short loop on the mountain. The same ride as before in reverse. That was the plan.

And that is what I did and it was lovely. Mabel didn’t bite or buck or act up. She was calm and happy to oblige. The ride was smooth and FUN! We cantered and trotted and took in the mountain as if we had done it a million times. She rode alone for the first time as if she was with Merlin. On rides with friends, she is perfect. Patty and Tyler have ridden her with zero issues but she is so different with another horse on the trail than when she is alone. I want both of my horses to be comfortable riding solo and today I got that. We have come a long way in a short time and Mabel is becoming a true blessing of a mare. It feels good to earn her honesty.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Decimation

I lost a couple chickens and a lamb over the past few days. The chickens were lost in a night of raccoon feasting, which thwarted the electric fences and tractor I had built to protect them. The lamb was (I thought) recovering from being weakened by worms. When I found him laying down a week ago I carried him inside, wormed him, medicated him against tetanus, and kept an eye on him closely since. He seemed to be doing far and on the way to a full recovery. He was always thinner than the other two lambs he was brought here with, but well. This morning while doing chores I found him dead. The same lamb that was out grazing the night before. I was crushed. I buried him near Sal, a sheep who was with me nearly ten years. This lamb wasn’t even with me ten weeks. It’s frustrating and it’s sad when this happens. I felt like a failure.

And make no mistake it was a failure. The lamb was in my care and it died. It died because what I did wasn’t enough. And it is important to know that, and feel that, and understand it.

But it is also important to look up at the rest of the farm around you. It’s important that I see two healthy horses with well-trimmed hooves and shining coats pass me by below swelling apples trees at a full canter. It’s important to know the goats bleating in the background are full of grain and relieved from their daily milking. It’s important to see the majority of the chickens, geese, and ducks all well and safe from a night without threats. It’s important to know the piglets and sows are thriving, the dogs and cats are happy, and that I was able to run an easy four miles this morning and still have a few days in the month to earn the money for the bills owed.

It’s important to see the other 90% if the sheep up and healthy as to not confuse decimation (one in ten dead) with annihilation (all dead). One sheep in my care passed away. The other nine are strong. That's still an A- and I'll take an A- in farming any day.

So feel bad about failure. But never let failure stop you from farming or any pursuit of your heart and head. Especially when the evidence of other success is all around you. There are eggs in my fridge, ten pounds of goat cheese in my freezer, and sales made of lamb and pork for future customers. There is soap made from those goats all over North America and more being made and shipped out every week. This is a small, one-woman farm yet it manages to stay afloat through words and art while so many farms and businesses are failing and that is a small miracle. One I am grateful for every single day.

Death is inevitable when your work is the raising and rearing of living things. It comes from disease, harvest for food, or old age. The hope is to pick when it happens and to feed and care for the people in your lives as you do so. It’s always a balance between a curse and a dance, farming. You only keep doing it because you learned thrive between those two outcomes and walk the line.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Summer is almost over...

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bittersweet

This morning was the first morning that felt like Autumn. Leaves have begun to shed off the King Black Maple in the front yard. The light was more saturated and tired. The entire feeling of morning chores was much more red flannel than tank top. I let out a lot of sighs.

It's bittersweet. I love the fall but the weight of winter preparation is always heavy, even when I am more prepared for it than in previous years. I have hay in barns, a house full of provisions, and half of my firewood stacked in waiting.  But all the work of getting out of that fearful place this past June and July is not done. The work of winter is just beginning.

So what is in store? There is the hope of a new book deal, but those sorts of things take time and my agent and I are still working out the last kinks of the proposal. There are piglets to sell, sheep and sows to slaughter, fleeces to tan, and books to mail. There is the constant flow of logo and illustration work (both on sale now, see post below!) and the regular every day sort of work of maintaining farm, house, and home. There was a long stretch without reliable indoor plumbing and that is finally repaired. The truck needed serious transmission work and that is repaired (Thank you to all who were part of that Kiva loan). The farm got some serious improvements to fencing, chargers, and supplies needed for livestock. A new dollar horse prances in the pasture and has made having horses feel new and magical again. Last night Tyler rode Mabel for the first time and they flew, and I mean FLEW through the mountain trails. She doesn't limp anymore like she did the first weekend she arrived. Her supplements, the rolling topography of the horse pasture, and regular work have healed her up, far as I can tell. The farrier agrees, and Dave's word is horse Gospel to me (though he does warn me of the swirl pattern on her forehead).

So I will say things are good. Better than they have been in years. I'm no longer farming from a  place of fear, and feel a slight buoy of spirit at the place finding solvency among all the uncertainties of self-e employment. But catching up to the rest of the runners in a race isn't winning and the race is far from over. But I am thrilled that bills, mortgage, and student loans are caught up (mostly). I am still working on some August bills but it isn't September yet!

I sigh outside because this is just one month and to keep that safe feeling I have fought so hard for I need to keep running. This is all I think about right now. So if these posts seem to be just about making it, and hocking logos and drawings - that's because this is my job. I am as dependable at it as I was shpwing up in my office when I worked a 9-5, only there is no certainty of direct deposit. There is your support, your reading, and the growing of my audience and the earning of patrons. Which is what all creative people do and have done since traveling bards and playwrights. We hope our words, our artwork, our stories compel strangers to buy a book instead of borrow it from the library. We hope you see value in things we make. If my readership is anything - it is proof positive writers are appreciated. After all, I am still here. 7 years, soon to be 8, on my own farm as a single woman. Not a common thing in history, and not special enough to stop working hard either.

If you follow me on social media you'll see the same. My Twitter and Instagram both share pictures and farm updates, as well as some self promotion. So if you need any of those things listed above, or know someone who does - let them know about the design, soaps, illustrations, and classes at CAF! I thank you. Keep on farming, friends. And dear lord, please keep on reading.

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth more, click here for a voluntary contribution. It is appreciated and encourages these endeavors. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Get Started!

Running a logo and illustration sale! The farm is still working towards keeping ahead of bills and improvements going into winter. So to encourage you - right now if you buy a custom pet or farm animal illustration (color, 9x12") or a logo - you can get a voucher for a second logo or illustration to give as a gift for the Holidays ahead. Or perhaps you need two different projects or gifts? Give them both, share, whatever works! I am offering this to three people and will have the illustrations/logos started this coming Monday. So take care of a Holiday gift, treat yourself to some fine logo or artwork, or simply buy one for a rainy day ahead when your farm business plan is set and you are ready to create a brand. It helps keeps the lights on, school loans paid, roof dry, and this farm chugging along.

If interested, please send me an email at dogsinourparks@gmai.com

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sick Lamb, Trail rides, & Soap Orders!

A few days ago I walked out to the field to check on the lambs and saw one, a smaller ram lamb, was down. I thought he was dead and I cursed under my breath and Gibson and Friday ran past me up the hillside. When I got closer I saw he was alive, but weak. I knew it was the transition from his old farm to this one. My soil has tetanus, there are new parasites and animals here, and a young lamb either thrives or fails, rarely one or the other. Sheep are masters at hiding weakness. It is their evolved trick of survival -to seem fine and stoic and strong until they are literally down. It is the shepherds job to know their body weight and score, to make sure they are wormed, immunized, etc. These guys had their shots and were wormed, but nothing is certain in farming. I scooped up the lamb and brought him inside.

I gave him a booster CDT and some anti-toxin, just in case. I added sugar and electrolytes to the water and gave him the entire kitchen to eat, lounge, and have grain in peace. TO my relief he was up and walking in an hour. He was drinking out of the dog bowl and leaving normal feces behind. There was no diarrhea. There was no shakiness. I don’t know how common it is to cheer at solid sheep stool in your kitchen - but I cheered.

The lamb was carried back out to the field that same night, once I had medicated and checked him out and saw him eating and drinking as normal. He was underweight and I suspect it has to do with worms not being treated by the wormer I had used. So I ordered some newer stuff and added herbal wormer as well to their feed of daily grain. The other two are plump and hail. As is Sean, the lamb born here back in late winter.

In other good news, my friend Tyler has taken up the saddle and started riding with me. He had not been on a horse in 20 years, but was so game it was amazing to watch his confidence and ease on the back of Merlin. I rode Mabel, who has been nothing but wonderful after a small adjustment period. Together we galloped (YES, GALLOPED!) those horses all over the mountain. He was a natural and rode Merlin like the whimsical hairy rhino he is. He said he’ll be back to ride this week and I hope to get some pictures.

I used to get all my kicks out of riding alone. I still love it. I took Merlin out by ourselves for a bit today and we are such old friends I can pop an earbud into one ear and listen to an audiobook as we ride on trails we know as well as our own paddock. But there is some real joy, and real wealth of spirit, seeing a new rider you are teaching beside you enjoy your horses as much as you do. You get to see those smiles of a first fast canter up a hillside, or grabbing apples off high branches as you slide below them on the back of a clever beast. Tyler was so great and will only get better.

Lastly, I am making soap like crazy. If you are interested in a custom batch and signed book, do email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com - Takes about 2 weeks to cure and mail, sometimes sooner. I am making around 6 pounds of soap a week right now and mailing it all over the US and Canada. IT fills me with solid pride and the bars are lovely. You can also just order 4 bars of what I have laying around if you don't want to pay for custom designed special orders or books.

Also! I have 4 piglets left to sell and would love to sell them to blog readers, feel free to mail about them as well.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Raccoons

Yesterday morning I walked out behind the barn to where the pigs and meat birds reside. The pigs were in their paddock, a yard of forest and brush against a hillside with a shelter. The meat birds were in the now tilled-under kailyard. But those meat birds are not just in cute garden fence. They are inside a chicken tractor with a latching door, which is surrounded by electric wiring, inside a cute garden fence. So you can imagine my surprise at seeing 3 birds ripped apart and dead inside.

Raccoons.

There was a hole in the roof of the wiring. It was enough to let a raccoon reach in and grab/pull on/eat alive some of the birds I was raising for the freezer. How did they get past the electric fence you ask? Easy. I had forgot to turn it on the night before. One night and one mistake and three birds gone to the wildlife hunger fund. I cursed myself for forgetting. I had a long day and company over and during night rounds I got caught up with the laying hens in the barn and trying to find a missing pullet (she was in the rafters) that I didn't go back into the woods to plug in the meat bird fence.

I've not lost a bird from predators all spring and into summer with the triple fortification system I was so proud of. All it took was a night off for the bandits to test, climb, and find the weakness in the system.

I learned my lesson and patched it yesterday. I also checked all the wiring and clearance. But it is still disheartening, and a failure to those animals. This is part of farming, learning from mistakes - over and over. The point is to not let those mistakes stop you, and to farm better the next day.

This morning all of the birds were fine, whole, and no returning raccoons took any more. A small victory but means the world to those inside a kailyard tractor! 

Friday, August 11, 2017

50lbs of Flour

I have been sharing on social media my plans to set aside four months worth of ingredients for winter. Things like flour, yeast, salt, potatoes, rice, cooking oils, pastas,  etc. Mostly, the kind of bulk commodities that can be boiled or baked into a starchy base and stored at room temperature.

Nothing dramatic, the kind of stuff you can fit in regular kitchen cabinets without a backyard bunker. Food that is generally cheap, but gloriously enhanced with sauces, cheese, meat, and spices. I have been up to this for a few weeks. Freezing goat milk and cheese, buying a few extra cans of pizza sauce, getting flour in 50lb bags from the local Amish market. Basically getting my hibernation nation in order.

Out here in the countryside this is normal, economic, and prudent. Everyone is canning tomatoes, slaughtering livestock, and sighting in their rifles for deer season. But online it seems at best, eccentric, or at worst - launching into a book about "a year of cupboard living!" or a survivalist panic about North Korea.

I think sharing these plans online gave people the wrong idea? This isn't about locking the gates at the first flakes of snow and eating purely out of house, never to enter a grocery store or restaurant until spring thaw. I am sure there will be Game Nights with pizza delivered and the occasional trip into Saratoga or Manchester for a meal out. This isn't about purity of intent or a reaction to fear. It's about feeling safe, comfortable, and hospitable during the hardest months of the year.

I want a farmhouse full of food and a woodshed full of firewood because it makes me feel good. It's emotional insurance, as well as kind to my budget. When the cold months come I want to know that this place is a sanctuary. When there is a foot of snow outside and more storms on the way - I want to know that bread is rising by the woodstove and coffee is perking on top of it - even if the power has been out for days and the roads are impassable down the mountain to town.

The house is heated by two wood stoves. Both allow cooking on their ranges and one has an oven. Electricity makes life easier here and the internet is fun, but it isn't needed to keep me warm, fed, and safe. There are oil lamps, candles in bulk, and food set aside for months. There is a fresh water stream and deep well. There are livestock, seeds, warm blankets, and firewood. If the zombies come, this isn't a bad place to be. I mean,  I am an armed black belt guys. But it also helps (I am sure even more so) that I have three big geese that sleep in front of my main door at night in the lamp light. No one messes with angry geese.

As I write this I see myself wanting to slide into that prepper bravado. Bragging about what a fortress this is. It isn't. It's a country home. But in today's culture a normal country home does seem like a fortress compared to some urban apartments. Look around your kitchen. Do you have enough food on hand to feed yourself today? What if guests stopped by and you were both skint on cash? Having a few jars of sauce, some frozen meatballs, and some cheap linguini ready to whip up means never having to worry about dinner or sharing a meal with a hungry friend? Wouldn't you feel better right now knowing those things were in your presently bare cabinets? Wouldn't it be even awesomer if you had 2 weeks worth of pasta set aside? See where I'm going with this? For me, living with an unpredictable income means food is one less thing to worry about when sales are light. A lot of urban freelancers would do well to live more like country farmers. I know Seamless takes credit cards, but c'mon.

I want to be a safe place for friends and visitors. I want them to know a warm bed, kind dog, and hot meal are here. If you stay at this farmhouse on a winter night you will wake to bacon and eggs, piping hot tea or coffee, a giant library of books, a warm fireside, animals to tend and care for, dogs to cuddle and cats to ignore you - even if the rest of the world is in chaos. I want this not because I expect chaos, but because life is hard enough when trains are running on time. Make it easier if you can.

I want my winter energy to go into creative forces - like writing, design, and illustration. Or to go into the harder work of tending a winter homestead.  It's hard enough making it as a single, self-employed lady. I don't need to worry about being warm, fed, and safe on top of it.

I'm storing up food so regardless of outside forces it means I will be okay - not because I think the world is coming to an end - but because it is just me here. And I want to know I can depend on me through thick and thin.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Larder

I am preparing for winter earlier than ever before. There is a cord and a half of wood stacked and more on order. There is hay set aside in several banks around the area, and plenty in the barn. Over the past few weeks the plumbing and truck have been repaired and the truck passed inspection! I put up 15lbs of potatoes yesterday and am planning for a winter with as little food costs as possible - meaning buying/growing/butchering/hunting 90% of my food and having it on hand. My goal is to go into winter with my only expenses being the mortgage, insurance, and the usual utilities. If my farm and planning can feed me on wholesome, homemade, local food all winter it will be a blessing. So I am looking into bulk flour storage and asking locals about large orders of onions/potatoes/garlic/etc as well as setting aside staples like pastas, oils, sugar, etc and whatever the garden has left to offer. I have already put up 6lbs of goat cheese and several gallons of milk to keep making soap through the winter.

The preparations for all this are exciting and incredibly comforting. I want winter to stop being a time of stress, stop being something to get-through. Instead I want to hit the first snowfall knowing I have four months of comfortable fires and food set aside. I want all the income earned to go towards bills and savings. Common Sense living for sure but I have been playing catch up for so long it is weird to be planning to lean in. It feels like a first date, this farm. It feels like I am looking at it with the eyes of joy instead of fighting to keep it or fear of banks and threats. Things aren’t perfect, not by a long shot, but things are better. I already made every mistake there is to make in homesteading and now the seas are calming and the boat is in the right direction. Still far from land, but out of the storm.

I have been working with my agent to prepare a book proposal for early fall. I am so excited for it, so thrilled to share the story of it. Unlike past books that were just about this farm and agriculture - this one is about my passion for living like fiction. The desire to live a life following my passions inspired by Fantasy novels, games, movies and shows. So I will write about archery, horses, hawks, hounds, martial arts and other activities that don’t have to only live on the pages of Tolkien and Martin.

Life is back to flushing toilets, a working truck, farm improvements, and writing books!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

It's all been worth it.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Letter From Today

I woke up to sunlight streaming into the farmhouse's upstairs windows. Friday was sprawled over the guest pillow to my left, her head against mine as she sighed. She was the only guest in the bed tonight and was making as much use of the joint as possible, stretched out like a yogi, smacking her lips. Gibson was already off the bed and looking out the window at the chickens milling below. The light in the room was telling. It glowed the way daylight does right before it gets tired at the end of summer and even on hot days you know that Autumn is close. But this morning the saturation was still turned up and I felt the pull to be in the river.

I let the dogs out and they burst onto the day with border-collie levels of enthusiasm, cranked to 11. Chickens scattered, the goats bleated, and Merlin whinnied from the far pasture. I fed hay to all hoofs and made sure all pasture and paddock gates lead to fresh water. I checked Aya in her mews and promised her we would fly later in the day. After all the stations were hydrated, coop doors open, and animals content - I brought the dogs inside to their breakfast and grabbed my fly rod.

I was in the knee-deep clear water by 8AM. I watched schools of baby brown trout circle my flies and consider them. I didn’t care if I caught a fish or not, fly fishing is a reason to stand in the middle of a grand summer river and not look insane. I saw trout rise around me, little orcas with their vertical tails slapping as they returned to the cold water.  I cast to them. A bite here, a bite there. I didn’t catch a fish in the river but I spent a lot of time scrambling barefoot over rocks and watching crayfish scuttle around my feet. I felt a swelling of goodness and luck.

I took stock in the day so far: I woke up safe alongside kind dogs. I had coffee that energized and comforted me. I chomped into a protein bar and saved the last third of it to bury in the sand by the water’s edge as an offering to the land and water wights. If I was going to walk into a place I wasn’t caretaker of and expect to take something from it, it was only polite to leave an offering - for safe passage if nothing else. I drew the rune Algiz into the sand and asked that my ancestors keep an eye on me today. I planned on doing some dangerous things later in the day. Things that included fast horses, sharp talons, and editor deadlines.

I spent two hours on the river. I didn’t bring a camera. I cast and saw my strong arms, brown and scarred, and felt lucky they were mine. My rolling cast needs work but was good enough to get a nice small dry fly dancing in a tight space. I know a lot of people enjoy bait fishing but to me it is like waiting for a varmint to step into a trap. I prefer hunting, always, to trapping. I cast to a rising trout. I laughed as big fish swam right past my flies and reeled in to try again. I had a little black box of flies with me, mailed to the farm from a friend on Twitter. I wasn’t about to avoid such a fine gift. I lost track of time.

I drove home without a trout, but happy. I felt revived. On a lark I decided to pull over on my own mountain road and cast into the stream that cascades down the mountain from my farm. I did and caught a brown trout first cast! With my truck growling her pretty growl I held the jewel of a fish. I love the redish spots on a brown trout. I removed the hook and returned her to the mountain after my bit of reverie.

I came home at 9AM to the work of the farm. I grabbed a five-gallon bucket and a shepherd’s crook and headed up the hillside to the apple trees. Friday and Gibson raced around me. I used the crook’s hook to grab tall branches in the trees and shake down apples. They hit the ground and the thump perked the horses ears and they walked over to eat what they could as I filled the bucket. I watched the dogs roll in the dust and pant, laying beside a thousand pound animal with sharp canines 5 times the size of their own without worry. I had raised these dogs to be farmers. Herbivores don’t worry them, regardless of wolf teeth.

I brought the bucket to the pigs. I have eleven pigs now to feed, Holy Crow. I am trying to sell the nine piglets but so far no buyers. The dog days of summer are not when people are thinking about piglets. I dump 30+ pounds of apples in green and red into their wood lot paddock and they chomp greedily at them. I see their mouths drip with cider and watch the little runt steal the biggest apple and run into a bush to eat without competition. While they are busy I check the electric netting and attach a fence tester to it. All levels seem fine. I refill their water and let their breakfast be fruit. They’ll get corn, grain, and kitchen scraps when the sun is father away.

I milk the goats next. I am trying to make cheese every day and freeze it. In a few weeks their milking will start to taper off and then stop all together. I’ll dry them off for breeding season in November. I will need a supply of frozen milk and cheese for winter so I am stocking up. It's work I know by heart and I like it.

I bring the milk inside the house to strain into a 2-liter milk canister. It is steel and shiny. I filter the milk and then add culture to it so over the net 12 hours it will turn into curds and whey. The curds will be salted and herbed. The whey will be poured over corn, apples, and kale stalks for the pigs.

With the morning chores now all done I realize I still feel the pull of summer. Fueled by 2/3rds a protein bar and coffee, I get Merlin from the pasture and tack him up. Last night I rode Mabel at a full gallop up the mountain. It was exciting as hell, since she’s so large and a new horse. It was the first time I rode her above a trot and it was like going up a roller coaster, but instead of the thrill being the fast descent it was the thundering, panting, ascent on the back of a half-ton on sentient power. I whooped. I couldn’t help it.

But today I wanted to ride the pony I knew so well. I changed out of cut off shorts and a tee shirt into bike shorts and a kilt. I love riding in skirts. I got him tacked up and sprayed for flies and hoped it was enough protection. It was so humid at this point we were shiny with sweat before taking a step off the property. I mounted him and we headed down the road. As we made our way to the gates of my neighbor’s property (he let’s me hunt with my hawk and ride my horse on his 200+ acres) I saw my neighbors coming up the road on their bikes. We made small talk. They had traveled into Cambridge (3 miles one way) for breakfast and rode home. From the saddle I told them I had eggs if they needed any and we agreed to barter for a loaf of sourdough bread next time she baked. They rode up their driveway and I gave Merlin some heel and he arched his back and took off up the mountain. I can make a hell of an exit when I am horse-adjacent.

Merlin ran at a full gallop up the mountain, just like Mabel did last night. They can’t help it. It must feel glorious to stretch and grab the earth with their dinner-plate hooves. We road those trails until the bugs were so large and bad we gave up and trotted home. I untacked him and set the gear on the back of my truck, laughing at the sight of my two favorite forms of transportation sharing space.

That was my morning. It was a farm, fishing, milking, piglets, horses and bugs. The next few hours were entirely the computer's. I updated designs for clients, inked illustrations, and checked emails from my agent about my new book proposal and writing revisions. I took notes and worked out deadlines. I made changes to logos and did the quiet work that pays for mornings in rivers and mid-day gallops.

I have 2 weeks to earn the money for the Augus mortgage, which does not come out of the Kiva loan used to upgrade the farm and repair the truck’s transmission this past week. I haven’t made a sale in a week and was feeling nervous. I made a note to follow up with some old emails with people having interest and advertise more on social media. Two weeks isn’t a lot of time, but I’d figure it out. Honestly, I am grateful I am working to pay the current month and not three month’s earlier. It’s enough to buoy my spirits.

I write and submit a monthly column to a Heathen blog. I work on revisions to the proposal. Most of my day is in front of machines. What people see online is horses and animals. They see pictures of chickens and dogs and sheep and fields, but the bulk of my day is sitting on my living room floor in front of an old iMac Jon Katz (neighbor and writer) gave me because it was old to him five years ago. The desktop sits on top of a wooden box. I work through my to-do lists. I download podcasts for afternoon work.

I eat a meal a day around 2-3PM. I use zucchini, kale, and onions from the garden and fry them up in a skillet with some Sweet Italian sausage. It is served over rice with some salt, pepper, olive oil and soy sauce. It is delicious! Everything fresh and local. I make enough to have leftovers for tomorrow, stored in mason jars in the fridge. The milk is starting to separate on the stove top for the cheese. I feel rich. I don’t know how I’ll earn the August Mortgage, but feel rich. I made it 7 years as a homeowner here, five being self employed. It will be paid. It always is.

Afternoon comes fast and hard. I have a full belly and feel like a nap. Instead I call Othniel at Common Sense Farm about firewood delivery. I want 2 cords stacked by Sept 1. I need 4 for winter. I also need to get chimneys swept, and inspected. I email the woodstove company about a warped part of my stove. I scan social media.

With a full belly and the sigh of contentment from the meal I am ready to digest with a thwack. I string up my horse bow and head set up some hay bales for a target. It’ll be just a couple dozen arrows, shot to keep me sharp. I have been listening to World Made By Hand, by J. Kunstler on audiobook and am feeling haunted by it. The book is about my town, right here in Washington County, NY - 20 years after the collapse of America. The characters start the novel fishing in the same river I started my morning fishing it. It’s weird and lovely. The first two books in that series are summer and fall, and I am listening as I realize I live a life not very different at all from the characters in the books.

I shoot arrows. I do another set of rounds on the livestock. A friend with sheep calls me. I hear the phone in the kitchen, a 1970’s rotary phone with actual bells inside. I cringe every time I hear a cell phone mimic that sound for a ringtone. Phones that do not have dial tones should not be allowed to mock their elders. My friend tells she lost her ram to flystrike. I worry for her, asking “Did you remove him from the rest of the flock? Are the ewes okay?!” and we talk and catch up. Flystrike keeps me up at night. She assures me the rest of the flock is okay but they need a ram this fall. I think of all the people I know and make some notes on a pad to call.

The dogs join me every trip outside. I refill water and check fences. I make sure the meat birds have clean bedding and water. Soon ducks and chickens will be in the freezer for winter roasts. I ignore the weeds in the garden. In August all I care about are the squash, a large crop of butternut that go into the larder for storage. In a few weeks I’ll have squash chowder by a roaring fire as the first snowflakes fall, probably around Samhain. How is that just 12 weeks from today? Will I be ready? I wonder if the potatoes I planted will be okay or ruined by the shallow soil at the edge of the old sheep pasture. I make a note to buy in 100lbs of potatoes, 50lbs of flour, and 10 pounds of sugar/salt/olive oil for winter. This house always has 6 months of food on hand. It’s not some weird survivalist thing. It’s knowing that good food is stored and not an expense in the coldest, hardest months. As a self-employed woman I want to know my meals are set well in advance if sales drop as the snow falls. I want a freezer of meat I raised. I want veggies in my larder. I want frozen cheese and milk. I want guests to come to a warm home any day of the long winter with enough food to feed a pile of dwarves and Gandalf himself. If I am lucky I'll take a buck this winter for venison. I know the hawk will get plenty of rabbits, too. Hunger isn't a concern here, even if the world stopped turning. It makes me feel safe and strong.

Thinking of hunting, I take Aya out for some short practice flights. She is getting ready for hunting season in a few weeks, fall is really just an exhalation away. She needs stronger wings, a broader chest, lower weight, and the regained desire to work with me but right now she just wants to stick talons in my face. It’s a little daunting. My goal is five flights to my fist for her evening feeding. They can be just ten yards or less. I want her to remember after a summer of eating, molting, and relaxing that hunger and hunting are back in her world again. If she decides she would rather not fly with me I’ll know soon and release her back into the wild. I’ll trap a new bird and start over. That’s how it goes. But I want to keep her. I want to build on what we started last year as strangers.

Her red tail is almost all grown in. It is a point of pride that I have trapped this scrappy thin bird on a telephone pole last September and here she is now; strong and dangerous in her adult plumage. I set her on a perch outside on the lawn. She looks around the world of the farm with awe. She hasn’t been free to fly in an open space in a few weeks. It takes a few moments but I get a few hard-winged flights out of her. They are sprints to her food, not the glides of an expert flyer. But she only cares about the meat and lands all her marks without a single scratch. It is encouraging.My face remains talonlles, today.

It's late in the afternoon now. I have farmed, fished, hiked, rock-scrambled, designed, illustrated, wrote, emailed, shot arrows, trained a hawk and rode a horse. I wanted nothing else from the hot day but the sweet routine of evening chores. I went about the work of them early. I fed the pigs, horses, sheep, goats, chickens and dogs. Then I came inside and set the 1940’s Westinghouse fan on the ground for the dogs to lay in front of, panting from their running around as I saw to the animals. I was ready to end this day where it started. I would drive back the four miles to the river.

You can park your truck at the river and get into the water where the kayaks and canoes get in. From there you can float and swim down river till you hit the next "beach". It is about 200 yards, not very far. But to jump in and float that distance is heavenly and weightless. I don’t feel like a 184lb woman. I feel like an otter. Under the surface I twirl and swirl among the fish. I can see the sunbeams hit the surface and the lazy carp below. The depth changes from walking to floating deep, but I still see the river bottom. The river is calm, as the storm just passed us last night. I have checked the weather 4 times today and try to think of a life where the weather doesn’t matter? I can’t. My day, my work, my life is tied to it. Thunderstorms are listed for tonight, maybe. I am excited for them as a first date.

Floating in the river on my back I look up. Above me in the sky a pair of redtails soar together. I wonder if Aya is their cousin? What would they think if they knew a relative was hunting varsity with a primate? I watched them until they caught a rise and soared so high they were out of sight.

I swam to a distant shore and walked out, soaked. I didn’t bring a towel. I set up a saddle pad on the bench seat of the truck and drove the four miles home wet. I’m in running shorts, a sports bra and tank top. I’ll be dry in about twenty minutes. The heat of the day is still there but I am air conditioned by the river and feel so tired and happy.

When I get home I strip naked and hang my swimwear out to dry in the sun and put just the worn kilt I went riding in earlier and a clean cotton tank top. That’s it. Those two clothing items and I head to the hammock with a glass of bourbon to feel the sunset on my skin and air dry.

It’s 6Pm on a Thursday night. I will be asleep by 10pm. The next few hours will be spent either at home with a movie or at a friend's farm to soak in their hot tub. I'll probably just stay in and relax. Rain is in the forecast this weekend and I know mornings of fly-fishing and afternoon rides won’t be an option. The only way I’ll get on a horse is with my character in Elder Scrolls Online. Khajits gotta ride, too.

So I am retiring early this summer day. I did the summer things I love, as was my intention. Yesterday I spent so much time worrying about money, winter, love, death - all the things that keeps Game of Thrones interesting but today I wanted to enjoy this weirdo life I carved out of force and hope. I'm sharing it because what's the point of doing all this alone? So thank you if you read all of this. I hope your day was good to you as well. And if it wasn't - there is still time to get pizza and beer and raise a glass to tomorrow.

-j

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Come to Cold Antler & Leave a Fiddler or Archer!

Come to this farm this summer (or fall) for a special trip to see this place and leave with a new skill and the tools to practice it at home. I offer half and full day workshops in either fiddle or archery for beginners. The requirements are easy - come willing to learn with the ability to hold a fiddle or draw a bow, and we take it from there. You don't need to have any athletic or musical experience. These two passions of mine can be taught to anyone with the will to learn, a sense of humor, and the stubbornness to practice at home. I provide the instruments (class comes with your own longbow or student fiddle!) and you leave learning how to play your first song or safely shoot your first bow.

These classes also make great gifts! Want to give your spouse the ability to play a song or shoot a bulls eye? You can buy them from me and get a printable pdf emailed you can set into a card or wrap as a gift. The card lets the gift receiver set up their own date and time for the class at their choice. Classes here include:

Fiddle Indie Day: A student fiddle, spare strings, bow, and case. Class covers care and feeding, tuning, your first scale, your first song, and practicing at home. Play among sheep, goats, chickens and horses on the side of a mountain. Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time, a second song and scale as well.

Archery Indie Day: A palm wood long bow and string. Class covers care and feeding, safety, equipment and range rules, instinctive archery shooting and aim, target practice, and beginner tips and lessons in bow and arrow fitting.  Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time and a woodland field course shooting through cover, down cliffs, and at animal targets on trail.

You can also sign up for both in the same day, which means a morning of music followed by an hour lunch break and then an afternoon of archery. Prices vary by amount of students and times. Base price for a half day with fiddle/bow is $250. Email me to sign up at dogsinourparks(at)gmail.com

P.S. I also have done custom classes in Chicken 101, Goats & Soapmaking, Mountain Dulcimer, Beginner Horsemanship & Driving, Rabbits, etc. Ask for a custom class if interested!

Dave and Mabel

Last night the farrier came by. Dave Czukrovany is a man who knows horses, and has been trimming Merlin's feet for years. Over that time I have come to value his wisdom and skills beyond measure. I have been using what he has taught me, both through demonstrations and conversations, and it's made me a better rider, owner, and human being.

His methods are gentle and based on how horses think, move, and live in herds. Yesterday was his first appointment seeing Mabel. I wanted to hear his thoughts on the new horse.

Mabel is head shy and has a tendency to pull back in her halter, throwing her head back if she feels scared. This isn't anything abnormal in a fearful horse. Moving their head out of the way is instinct and a noggin is something you want to protect, but as a working animal you wish to ride - it makes things like putting on a bridle tricky. I told Dave about some of the issues I've had with her on the ground (fear of the bit, pulling back when tied, etc) and Dave took her lead rope from my hand and started his dance moves.

He moved her in gentle circles. He was calm and present. He asked for her head and when she pulled away in fear he moved her again, circling in a way that naturally brought her large snout towards him. He would take the neck and nose and sway them, rocking them like a child that needs to be soothed. Within twenty minutes the horse was letting him touch and lead her anywhere. She had ground manners of a demo horse at a clinic.

I listen to Dave talk, train, and trim horses the way parishioners listen in pews. I have so much to learn, so so much. Dave connects with equines in ways I am just starting to understand. It is breathtaking.

I said with a sigh, "I have so much to learn. I barely know anything and I learn that more and more each year..." and he sighed too, and said, "I know nothing." and then kept working masterfully with my horse.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fast As We Can

If you told the 13-year-old me that by age 35 I would not only own two horses, but know how to tack and  ride them ... she would believe you but have 300 questions. She would want to know how it happened, how long it took from the wishing and wanting to holding a lead rope in her hand? She'd want to know how much it hurt - how many falls and scabs paid for that kind of skill set? And most of all, she would want to know their names and colors.

Well, 13-year-old weirdo me: it happened through stubbornness and took a decade of wishing and wanting. It hurts falling off horses, I won't lie to you. It happens less than you fear but more than you want. And the skill set you really want doesn't come from lessons you pay for riding in a circle - it comes from sweat and time on forest trails. It comes from learning to jump streams, recover from leaping deer or flushed grouse, and hundreds of miles spent on the back of a thousand pounds of herbivore. But it is all worth it.

Today my good friend (and amazing horsewoman) Patty Wesner came by to ride Mabel for the first time. Mabel has mild arthritis, and can't be ridden every day. But she can enjoy a few hours on the trail a week and today Patty rode her faster and harder than anyone has in a while. Mabel didn't so much as hiccup at the hour in the woods. She loved it. Patty couldn't stop smiling, herself!

Together we galloped through fields and trails. I was on Merlin, the man of my dreams. Mabel was ahead of us, moving across the landscape as if she already knew them by heart. Patty would give her her head and ask her to run and Mabel was thrilled to do so. Merlin and I weren't far behind. The old man kept up with his new girlfriend quite well. It was a glorious Sunday morning! To feel the wind you ask for on the back of a running horse. The years of work and time to feel happy and comfortable running together through the woods. When I first got Merlin, five years ago, I was scared of him. I didn't understand his body or mine. Now we are a time and the lessons he taught me translate to the paint mare I am falling in love with. Seeing Patty fly on her was a dream.

When we were home and currying our mounts, Patty looked over to me and thanked me for letting me ride my horse. I made a joke but inside I felt like it wasn't real. My horse? Is that tall, gorgeous, animal also mine? Will the director yell cut and the handler take her away, as if this is a movie set and not actually real? It's hard to believe I have made it this far. No one can take away those years of riding and learning and becoming the kind of woman who can race up the mountain with laughter on her tongue and joy in her heart. It's a pride that is worth boasting about. And I am proud of the home I made for Mabel and can give her. She is currently eating some apples off a tree and trotting across the pasture with Merlin by her side. It's a sight I barely believe, but will take in with all I have.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Now on Instagram!

Hey guys! I signed up for Instagram! For those of you who want to follow me there for the pictures of the animals, farm, me, and life here on the mountain you can do so by going to my IG page @coldantlerjenna. Thanks!

Piglets & Ponies

There is new electric pig netting set up and it took less than 2 days for the piglets to test it. Thanks to the Kiva funds I have been able to order a stronger charger and more fencing, so I feel more space and a better shock will keep them minding their own business. It's important to confine them because one night out can destroy your property. Last summer piglets rooted up my entire back lawn in an evening thanks to poor fencing. That stinks for me, but imagine if they got over to the neighbors... But already the netting from Premier One is a huge improvement, so far!

The piglets are for sale, but so far no buyers as they weren't ready to be away from mom until recently. Peak time to sell piglets is spring not high summer. But I have faith I'll get them out to new homes soon. If you're local(ish) and looking for some pork futures, I am happy to oblige. Email me!

In other winter-prep news I have made some calls and emails over firewood and if I get a delivery next week it'll be a record, or at least I think a record, for stocking up on winter heat early. My goal is two cords stacked and ready by mid-September. And the biggest goal of all is getting my truck repaired and inspected before the end of August as well. I am dreading the trip to the transmission shop, not because of the costs (thank you, Kiva!) but the way people who have beloved pets reaching an older age fear going to vet checkups. I love that truck more than any vehicle I have ever owned and want her to last me a long, long time. She's got my heart.

I shouldn't be making up issues in a life with plenty of projects to already tackle, but what can I say? I have a very active brain fueled by anxiety and fear of regret. It got me this far.

This weekend my friend David came to learn a little about horses and go for a trail ride. He was a natural. He took to Merlin as if he was born to ride horses and together we groomed, checked feet, fly-treated, tacked, and rode the horses. I rode Mabel (who took the bit so well!) and he took the Old Man. I have always loved riding alone, and still do. But there is a real magic to sharing the trail with a friend. Mabel and Merlin are good in pasture and on the mountain together. And to see the mish mash of tack I bought used or piled together over the years on two horses I own is a magical thing. The girl I was ten years ago would not believe that I rode out from a farm I own on two horses I know how to tack, ride, and share. A magical moment, for certain.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Dirty Work & Fighting the Bit!

Yesterday was one for the books. The kind of day you look back on with instant nostalgia. Not because it involved some amazing insight, celebration, or story but because it was full of the good, everyday, work of a farm. I don't think I have ever been so dirt or so pleased in quite some time. It all started in the pig pen.

The two sows and nine piglets outside in the woods behind the barn have been doing well. Happy to report the moms and every one of their babes has made it since their birthday, even the smallest runt. The piglets weren't behaving with the three-strands of electric wire the adults abided so I switched to a roll of electric netting. Once trained to it fairly well I felt confident expanding into the woods surrounding their pen. So yesterday morning in the glorious, pre-storm humidity of a New York July day I went out with hedge trimmers and made a path through the dense brush to make it clear enough to post the netting. If there is too much hitting the woven nylon strands the charge is pretty week. So in advance a few hours of hand-tool brush removal took place. I was soaked through my clothes in moments. Then I fell over in the muck a few times. I got so filthy I honestly can not think of a time I have ever been more riddled with muck, bug bites, nettle stings, sweat, and curse words. But I gotta say - the look on the sounder when I opened the gates and let them explore the wild would make the people at Hallmark ashamed of their lack of expressing good tidings.

That picture above is the first few moments exploring the underbrush and weeds. They were all so excited! Piglets dashed around like bowling balls tumbling down a mountain. The sows ate the weeds with pure joy. I stood there with the fence tester in on hand, wire cutters in the other, dripping with unmentionable filth so pleased. This farm has never been better, the animals never better, me never better. It feels so good even when you can taste pig mud in the corners of your mouth.

I took a long shower. It was glorious.

Post shower I had an appointment with Tabitha Morgan of Long Shadows Farm. She's a horse trainer and the person who originally connected me with the owners of Mabel, the new draft/paint cross mare that lives here. When I was over at Long Shadows this past weekend helping load up hay in their barn (Tabitha and her crew helped Patty and I load hay at Livingston Brook Farm, so the favor deserved a return!) she asked me if I did logos. I did, I replied. A few moments later we struck up a barter deal. I'd design her horse training business logo in exchange for a session with Mabel. Mabel started refusing the bit. She's almost 16 hands tall (15.3) and as a 5'2" woman a horse with a high head that refuses a bit is near impossible to bridle. I had been taking it slow and steady with her - sometimes taking an hour or more to get the bridle on without losing my temper or forcing it in her mouth. But that gets old, fast. I needed a horse trainer.

Tabitha got that mare to pick up the bit out of her hand in 45 minutes! She might be a witch. I'm kidding, she's just a very experienced horse trainer who shared this with me. I was listing all the reasons and concerns I had about Mabel and the bit - everything from wolf teeth to pasture-grazing soreness (she was in a stall/paddock at the boarding situation before) to testing a new owner. Tabitha listened to me and checked her teeth, and after hearing the owner's lament and accessing the dental situation told me that you can spend a lifetime wondering what the problem is with a horse and asking yourself why it is happening - or you can just start fixing it. She's a doer. And I loved that.

I don't know if it's some breach of ethics to share a trainer's methods. So all I'll say is using calm, positive methods that horse went from anxious and unwilling to practically taking the bit out of her hands. then I tried and had success on the first time! In the horse/rider relationship it was a really pleasing and encouraging moment. I feel that I got the upper hand on the barter, but swapping skills out here in the country is a real satisfactory exchange. 

Just another day on the farm. One that started with dirty work and ended with equine witchery. I'm glad I was there for both!


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