Monday, November 11, 2019

Colder Weather

Winter is officially here. Snowfall forecast for tomorrow and lows well into the single digits. I am glad the snow and true cold is only for a few days, by the end of the week things should be kinder, weatherwise. I am sitting in this farmhouse at a comfy 65 degrees, thanks to the wood stove that has been growling all day. There is hay in the barn, a few weeks worth. There are 2 cords of firewood stacked beside the farmhouse. The mare has her blanket. The hawk has a full crop of quail and flew for an hour earlier in the day. I will let the pipes drip all night and hope that nothing freezes, though a cold this fast and hard may very well do just that.

I have been very overwhelmed lately. I think the time change, the hovering darkness, the fears about being ready for winter and heading into the holiday season (always a sad time for me) all collected into one pile of darkness for me. To fight back against it I spend time running, hiking, outside and moving. I hunt with the hawk and work with my hands. I stick to my daily goals and stay productive as possible. But the weight of this time of year feels like walking through life with a 60lb lead vest. And the usual worries about money and making it and feeling safe didn’t feel like something I wanted to share on here. It’s the same story, hard work and hope. But the deadlines for my agent - which isn’t really a deadline as much as it is an expectation to create something sellable and good - is both a daily inspiration and burden. Every day, no matter how much I do, I feel like I am never caught up. Taking breaks to do anything else makes me feel guilty. And this is the time of year I need breaks the most. So I am in this place of hard work and hope and trying and distraction. I am balancing that with the inspiration to try and write something beautiful folks like you would want to read. On top of that there’s a farm to run, a house to heat manually, a dog in heat, a truck on its last legs, and a winter storm about to hit.

Can’t say I’m bored.

But I am also not depressed, just very overwhelmed and extremely focused. Every day feels like swimming underwater in cold water and the breaks are little loud gasps for air. All this is working towards that magical book deal, that small respite to catch up on medical and house bills. The kind of money that can get me a new (used) car to get through 2020 with. It’s all unfolding at the pace of Jenna - which right now is very much like a tired bison in a storm. It won’t stop moving forward - but it sure as hell isn’t moving fast.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Step 100

October has been sweeping by in a rush of winter preparation, mild anxiety, and dutiful progress. I'm not where I want to be as far as firewood, hay, and bills are concerned. But I am where I wanted to be in the way of opportunities, dutiful determination, and work. I have been keeping up with fulfilling at least three orders a day between soap, illustration, and logo work. I am taking on whatever jobs I am offered and already contacted my wood delivery guy to start preparing my second cord. There is hay set aside in a local barn for me. The butcher dates are set. The bad news that the truck's frame is beginning to rust away means I need to start saving for a new used vehicle. (Something reliable and 4wd I can use to go farther than 25 miles from home!) So the month has been getting up, fighting against the entropy of time, and keeping myself moving and sales coming in.

I feel like most of my posts here, at least right now, will be the same sort of checking in. Letting you readers know I am okay but struggling and trying my best to make the next step in the larger plan. That larger plan is selling a new book I am so proud of this house will float. It's about getting my mind and body into the happy, calm, state of a regular runner who isn't afraid of whiskey. It's about loving my dogs, hiking on new trails, making new friends and maybe at some point falling in love before I die. But right now it's just step 100 in the marathon. Thousands ahead of me, but on the path.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Hold on Loose

Every day here is about small goals. About keeping things safe, getting the work done, and reminding myself why I chose this life to begin with. Sometimes it takes escaped pigs to trigger that exact reminder, which is what they did for me a few days ago.

The electric fence was down and the piglets found a weak part of the fence and squeezed out - their mother's did shortly after. But there wasn't a panic about it, not from me. Years of raising pigs taught me how much they ache for comfort. It was a blustery day so soon as their bellies were full of apples, grass, plants, and acorns they would want their nest in barn. So I made it as comfortable as possible - soft hay for days, clear well water, plenty of sweet grains and scraps in their feeder. I repaired the electric fence. I stuck around long enough to watch the first pig saunter in, and then the rest.

Hold on loose and don't let go.

Help and Subscribe!

Readers,

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

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

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

Thank you,
-j

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

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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Make An Effort

I can feel the way the colder months are settling in, and for the first time in my life I am scared about it instead of excited. Usually fall is my favoite time of year. Even with all the anxiety of winter prep—the wood, hay, bills, etc—it was still my favorite time of the entire year. I loved the crisp weather and the Hallow's history and the feeling of wanting nothing more than warm blankets and a cozy fire and hot mug of cider to end the day. But I have been swimming in Hygge for years. I have perfected it. It doesn't stop the feeling of loneliness or sadness that the darker time of the year brings on. It doesn't make the days longer, or warmer, and it doesn't pay the bills or tell you that you'll be okay. Which, in the end, means I have two choices. Either change the cycles of the earth or change myself. I bet you can guess which one isn't budging?

So I am making every effort to me more active, healthy, and positive as the daylight fades. I am still running several times a week. I am doing my best to eat well (though there is more pizza in my life as darkness falls around 6 instead of 9). I am keeping up with the daily tasks and every time I get dressed I hear the voice of Tan France saying "MAKE AN EFFORT" which I do. I dress in my own style, I do my hair, I like a red lip and favorite pair of boots. I listen to new music. I stretch. I drink the water. And I make the effort.

Things are shaky here, and I am still a long way off from making the monthly house payment but I'm trying like hell. I have an afternoon of artwork ahead of me. I have logos to update. If I make a sale I'll spend $5 of it on a mug of cider and listen to the Celtic Music Jam at the brewery. That's my Thursday night here in Jackson. I know things are going to get tough on my heart and in my head - but I'm ready for combat.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

October Air

Yesterday evening my friend Natalia came up to the farm to go on one of our regular rides. She's a teacher so now that school is back in session it's been harder to find time, but we manage and I'm glad. I love riding solo on the mountain but there's something kind of wonderful about tacking up both horses, putting some beers in the saddlebags, and going on a small adventure just to catch up with a friend. We ride to an open field and let the horses graze while we sit in the grass and talk. She's learning to be more comfortable and confident on and around horses, and it really shows. I'm so proud of her and of my two good mounts- both having their own quirks and attitudes, but game to carry us on mountain roads when we ask. It's a lucky feeling.

The farm has a cord of firewood stacked and dry, and I hope to get another delivered in the next few weeks, well before Hallows. I didn't make a mortgage payment for the last month so that's where my attention is, as usual. Once that is settled I can focus more on hay in the barn, butcher bills, medical bills and that sort of everyday debts we all are dealing with. But there is firewood. And the animals are all doing well.

I'm spending any free time I have to myself out trapping, looking for a kestrel to be my new bird once Auburn is released back into the wild (hopefully sooner than later). She's almost ready. I want her hunting well and in great physical shape first - which we are working towards!

I admit most of my writing energy is going into two powerful sample chapters for a book proposal, and the blog hasn't been well attended. For that, I'm sorry. I am trying to navigate a tough financial time, fall and winter farm preparations, and a somewhat confusing personal life all at once. But I'm healthy, running miles every day, trying my best to be a better version of myself and be a little more daring with my heart.

October is in the air, and I hope this month is as amazing as I know she can be!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

STACKS!

Good morning from a farm with a GIANT pile of firewood outside to stack! I got some delivered last night! It meant taking half the money currently to my name out of my bank account but I can't tell you what a relief it is to have that to begin stacking! And just in time, too. Tonight there's a frost warning (first of the season) and may be in the low 30s tomorrow AM, which means I will get to wake up and light a fire and it won't just be from the dead fall I've collected from the side of the road coming home from my runs. I still need to get more firewood, but even having that small amount here is a comfort. I also talked to a local farmer about a hay delivery, at least 30 bales, which I can stack in the barn for the horses and pigs over the winter.

So today I stack. And today I plan. And today I get to sigh a little with relief as I start the uphill climb of winter prep and paying bills and working on the projects and goals I have for a better Thursday. I hope you also are waking up with some hope in your hearts!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Fire(Wood) Sale!

FIRE(wood) SALE! Do you want to help get an order of firewood delivered to this farm? It's what I depend on for winter heat and so far I have none stacked - the most behind I've been by September. I am offering the next 5 people a painted pet portrait for $50 to buy it! Send me an email or DM on Twitter or Instagram to order!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Heat

As we're making our way to the middle of the month I am only thinking about getting firewood delivered so I have some security in my heart and hearth. Slowly I am getting there. It's been such a hard summer and every month feels like I am inching towards just making that stretch of the finish line. It's been exhausting as it's been encouraging. Exhausting because I have never pushed and tried so hard before to make this place work - and encouraging because I *just* make it every month. And when I say just I mean razor thin margins. And the things that keep me motivated are the animals and people counting on me. The desire to keep this particular roof over my head, and the dream I've been holding onto for years. Every day I hope to make a sale that covers the costs of daily feed and hay and the usual gas, groceries, utilities and such and then adds a little more padding to the pot. Yesterday was encouraging. Today has not been. That's how it goes in the world of freelance luck-and-go. But I am working towards that delivery of firewood before I start saving for the mortgage. And once I know some heat is stacked and I'll be okay if a frost hits early - then I can hunker down and focus on the usual work and usual goals. One day at a time. That's how this farm rolls.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Hog Dog!

Yesterday morning I was able to enjoy a spike of warm weather and lots of time with Friday chasing these little goobers around the homestead! the piglets have a home base in the barn with their siblings, but this pair of runts - a black and red set of troublemakers - are always leaving the crew and having adventures together. This is fine if I'm home working inside on writing or working outside on fences, but not if I need to leave for town. Free range is fine when it's supervised by humans or canines, but not otherwise. So when I need to leave for the post office or hardware store I need to herd them back to the barn and shut the door to thwart any explorations and let them nurse and nap. This means: FRIDAY!

While Gibson is the Sheepdog in Chief - Friday is the Siren of the Sounder! She has her ears and eyes trained on stray piglets and can always find them in the pasture or woods when I want them back in the barn, safe and sound. She is attentive, never bites, and is fast on her paws. Watching her seek and herd them back is a real joy. Who knew I had a hog dog?!

Between these piglets and the lambs I got to enjoy the type of morning that made me fall in love with farming to begin with - which is working beside animals to raise other animals to produce food I am proud of. It felt good, and Friday got to be useful in ways she rarely is without a backpack and trail map, and I got to let out a happy sigh.

Monday, September 9, 2019

I Will

Last night I started a fire in the wood stove from deadfall I collected around the yard. It wasn't cold enough to need it for heat, but it was nice to have it for comfort. The temperatures were in the low 40s, clear starry skies, some wind. It felt like fall. I was spending time with my good friend Tara, who was visiting for the weekend so we could catch up with each other. Beside the fire she enjoyed soup and tea and I enjoyed some pasta I whipped up, a night of simple food eaten in. She told me about work, romance, her summer. I shared with her all that is happening in my life. It was a lovely visit and a gentle reminder that good friends are worth far more than their weight in gold. Gold is just a rock, a shiny burden. Friends help you carry them.

Speaking of fall and friends! Natalia, a friend from Cambridge, has been riding with me all summer. If you follow me on Instagram you've probably seen pictures of our adventures together here on the mountain. She's learning, but naturally comfortable with horses and Friday night she and I went out after her work around sunset. It still feels like summer on the mountain, and she snapped this picture of Merlin and Mabel grazing in the high field while we enjoyed our take-out dinner of handmade PB&J and hard cider. But to sit in a field and talk, watching the sunset and my gorgeous horses that just carried us to that beautiful view... I am reminded why I deal with all this stress about the farm and making it happen - because in a few months everything could change. Because it could get so much better or so much worse - and to hold onto this life with all I got while it's mine to have.

I feel really lucky to have the women in my life I do right now. So many strong, beautiful, powerful women that encourage and support me every day. I hope they all know how important they are to me.

Friday I mailed a house payment, and that is a very good thing.  Barring any complications with ti, the farm has another three weeks to exhale. Also, the truck passed inspection, thank goodness! Now 100% of my focus is getting the cash together for a firewood delivery of dry, split, hardwood on top of the usual feed/hay/bills and other regular expenses. I have the guy on-call to deliver and soon as I can manage that I'll be thrilled to be stocking the woodshed. If I can get a cord stacked every 4 weeks through December I will be okay.

One month at a time. I will make it.


Thursday, September 5, 2019

All I want is to mail this mortgage check. Get a cord of firewood stacked. And watch a scary movie with a cup of coffee on a rainy fall night knowing I get to stay here and be warm. That's all I'm thinking about.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Lesson Embers

The biggest decisions of my life were made out of fear. I used to see that as a flaw. It felt like something to be ashamed of. We’re taught that broad gestures and risky life changes are acts of bravery made by strong people who know exactly what they want and exactly what they’re doing. That was never the case for me.

Not one year of this farm came from swagger, it all came from varying degrees of panic. Everything I chose—from buying a farm alone at 27 to quitting my safe day job to training my first hawk—was a combination of self preservation and regret management. I needed to distract myself from what I wasn’t ready to accept while remaining vigilant of the dream that I had centered the entirety of my self worth around. I ran away to a farm to hide from myself, and the place I was hiding in defined who I was.

That said, it was never a cage. It was always a secret garden.

I chose to hide from the world for years on this farm because I was so afraid of myself, and being isolated meant I didn’t have to deal with it. That is what I convinced myself I was doing. What actually ended up happening was the opposite. That isolation became a pressure so intense it forced atomic changes. It was in the act of remaining here, on this farm, for nearly a decade that forced me to be a stronger woman. And it wasn’t a fairy godmother waving a wand and turning my rags into a sparking dress - it was violent and awful, a writhing werewolf transformation from a terrified girl into a powerful woman.

But now I howl.

Ten years on this farm has been a gift. The most important being the work of caring for animals. When you make yourself a caregiver,  every single day, for nearly a third of my life - it changed me. Being distracted by the needs of a hundred other small lives meant I could never allow myself to sleep in, or have a sick day, or ignore the work outside in all weather. It meant no vacations. It meant no travel. And it meant every singe day I was avoiding my demons by playing farmer I was instead forced to dance with them.

When you raise animals you are forced to constantly deal with life as a reaction. An animal became sick? Either heal it or you’ll be disposing the body. A storm is coming over the mountain and tearing down trees and removing power - start up the propane stove outside for hot coffee and start sawing limbs and repairing fences. The bank sends someone to talk to you about your third month behind on the mortgage threatening a short sale if you don’t pay up fast - pace and sell whatever you can offer legally to make at least one payment to keep the door only covered in scratch marks instead of bite marks.

Those knee jerks and panic attacks, the constant resourcefulness and fire-smiting… do that for a decade and when you turn your head to look back you realize that the forest fire that you’ve been running away from for so long has started to consistently return to pasture. You can squint past the smoke and charred earth right behind you and see green. Those years that were hell and now scarred over and healing. The fraught moments that made sleeping past 3AM impossible are now lesson embers.

Homesteading changed from the passionate novelty of my twenties into the everyday work of my thirties. I stopped writing about it as if I was crushing on the new girl in town sauntering in a sundress. Now I write about it with the certainty and security of a hard-earned marriage. The work of the farm stopped being a blog, books, and workshop vehicle and started becoming an actual brand. And by brand I mean literal, burned, permanent marking on who I am, invisible runes tattooed up and down my spine.

I was playing dress up with authenticity and stumbled into the back wall of my wardrobe into Narnia. One day it was real. It was mine. Finally.

These are the thoughts that take up most of my time these days. The book I am working on selling now is about who this farm made me into, what it taught me, how I needed it to become who I am today. It's a love story about realizing happiness isn't something you get from travel, or religion, or love - but from accepting who you are and where you are at the exact moment you are in. I am starting to find that in myself and be kinder to myself because of it.

It's September and I just want to mail this mortgage check so I can exhale for a few days. I don't know if I can pull that off without the luck of a freelance check coming in ASAP. I still have no firewood stacked for winter, so no heat at all. And I am constantly waking up worried. But I have a lot of faith in the woman that's carried this with her for the last decade - and knows worry the way some people know regret and that's the better option. At least for me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Trucks & Trials

Happy to report that the truck is going into the shop today for all the repairs and surgery it needs to pass inspection. And that is only possible because I got very lucky with a Hail-Mary small loan offer. But it does mean that by sunset today I should be driving home in an inspected, road legal, 1989 pickup truck that is safe and sound from danger and the law. I had it's registration, insurance, and such all updated in August so this is the last hurdle in the most pressing issue on the farm right now and the sigh of relief is long and real! Without a truck I can't do any of the other things I need to keep this place lit, fed, and solvent. It picks up hay, feed, runs orders of meat to customers and soap and art to the post office. She's the roaring heart of this small farm. I am so grateful and happy she will be okay to drive again soon.

In less good news, I am three days into September and didn't manage to take care of August's most important bill (a mortgage payment) or get firewood delivered. My goal is to make both of those things happen as quickly as possible, for my mental health and peace of mind above all other needs. Then I need to focus on a hay delivery of at least 25 bales to start stocking up for winter since my usual hay banks are not available like earlier years and I can't just buy-as-I-go through the cold months. So planning is different this year, but the good news is all I need to focus on is 2 horses and piglets going into snow fly. There won't be sheep here through the winter again this year - both to save costs and to satisfy lamb customers and clients.

More news as soon as I have it. Today is about catching up on work after the Holiday Weekend, making soap, writing for my agent's deadlines, hope, force, and gritted teeth going into some hard trying.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Inspection!

I’m sitting in my mechanic’s waiting room, typing on my laptop. The truck is in for inspection and I am really, really, hoping it passes. Only a few days left in the month to figure it out if it doesn’t. So nerves are a bit high. The good news is I got to the county seat and she’s registered through August 2021 - so jumping this inspection hurdle means I can focus on getting firewood and the mortgage paid. I wish things weren’t so stressful, but at least the stress keeps me motivated and busy.

But all of these stresses are low-grade and no different than any other farmer in this county. We're all getting together plans for harvests, hay, firewood, and fuel. Everyone who lives in a rural area has this same mindset of getting to a solvent, safe, space to let out a sigh of relief before the snow dares to fall. And even though it'll be ten years at this farm (TEN YEARS) of proving to myself I can pull off winters on this mountain - it doesn't get easier.

I have arranged for firewood delivery this week, hoping the man that will drop it off can still get here. Having even just one cord stacked before the first frost feels like progress. It means I need to earn the money to replace what I spend on it ASAP but sales have been slow and steady and encouraging. I try to make at least my daily minimum a day, keep orders moving for handmade soaps and artwork, while keeping the farm and CSA customers happy. Feels like a juggling act for the ages. But I have learned to juggle better than most.

Wish me luck with this inspection. If the truck doesn't pass then I need to cancel tomorrow's dental appointment to fix a cracked tooth and focus instead on getting her street legal. May have to change firewood plans. It's all balls in the air. But I can't say I'm bored. Never, ever bored.


UPDATE: Truck did not pass. Needs a new power steering gear and some other minor repairs to be street legal and $500 is the bill to make it pass. Canceled the dentist appointment. Trying to figure it all out. Like I said, never bored.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Blocked

I got a letter in the mail today. No return address. No first name. A very hard to read last name. It was from a reader who told me she (assuming) was upset I had blocked her on Twitter, as she has always been a supporter of the farm and even came to fiddle lessons years ago. She was clearly hurt and I was very confused. The letter did not include an email, a twitter identity, or any way to contact her.

Guys, If you are using social media to interact with me, that's great. But if you are doing so with an anonymous, pictureless (or picture that isn't you or a human being) I have no idea who you are! I don't know that the person asking me about my farm, animals, life, etc is someone I have met or a total stranger. It is so frustrating dealing with anonymous accounts on here. It's lose/lose. If I block (or mute you) it's usually because I have no idea who you are and don't like dealing with people that avoid a public life online. Especially if that person is asking about my farm.

I'll anwser pretty much any question to another public person, author, verified account, etc. But I've learned to be super wary of people that don't use their real names and pictures online. Outside of extreme personal safety reasons, I don't get it.

Not telling you to use your real name or picture if you don't want to. But don't expect people who make a living being any level of a public figure to embrace your comments or respond. We get so much shit. I tend to lump you all into "not safe"

If you have been blocked by me online there's a 90% chance it wasn't an act of aggression, but safety. Please use your real name, real picture, and let me know who you are. You know so much about me, practically the last ten years of my life. But the internet isn't a safe place always for people like me, and I am only acting out of the best practices I know. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Pet Portrait Special Offer!

Want to get a custom ink and watercolor pet portrait?! Buy one and get a free sketch of a friend's pet (or give them the portrait and you get a free sketch)! Send me an email and I can set you up! Trying to make 2 sales today to reach my goal so I can start planning for the truck and firewood and make this month happen!

Don't want to buy art but want to kick in a dollar to the blog, you can do that here

Garden Luck and a Truck

My neighbors have left for a long vacation at the peak of their garden's bounty. Their loss is my gain as I have full permission to gather whatever I want or it will rot from their community plot in town. I already had an amazing meal yesterday with their green peppers and tomatoes making a summer stew with my sweet Italian pork sausage. All I had to do was fry up some of the sausage till brown (adding soy and sriracha, coarse salt and pepper) an diced chucks of tomatoes and peppers. It made a natural stew from the meat juice and tomatoes so all I needed to to make it perfect was serve with a dollop of sour cream. It cooled off the heat of the spicy meat and made a perfect dinner from my own community. If you need a quick dish - I can't suggest it enough. It's filling with a kick. The kind of meal that fills you up, doesn't weigh you down, and can be made in under ten minutes.

Right now my mind is on my truck. So far, it's been running well and despite a power-steering leak I need to keep refilling until it can be addressed - it is okay. I depend on that truck as my only vehicle, and the thing that makes the hay, feed, post office runs, and milk pickups possible. It needs new tires to pass inspection (due in ten days, as is the registration) so I found a local place that sells used (but in good condition) tires for $55 a piece (mounted and old tires discarded). The tires, the inspection, driving to the county seat before the clock strikes September 1st is what is needed to keep me on the road. It'll be a couple hundred bucks and driving all over the county and that's if everything goes as planned. It has to happen before the first cord of firewood is delivered and stacked, and sadly, before I can mail out the mortgage. The good news is that I have 11 days to left to figure all of that out. And if I make the daily income goals, plan well, and keep things moving I can probably make it all happen. I think it means getting rid of my health insurance - as I am already a few months behind and suspect my insurance company will drop me soon anyway - but not being insured I am used to. Not having winter heat or a truck and a roof over my head- that I need to deal right now.

Every day here is one step at a time. Every day is checking off that list, hustling, planning, praying, and hoping. And every day I am working towards bigger goals - slow and steady. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Clean, Run, Lists

When things are stressful, as they have been all through this spring an summer, I make sure to take time to do the things that are actively taking care of this home. Domestic chores are just that, chores, but they also leave you feeling like you accomplished something that ticks a box towards having your life in order. All day I cleaned, mowed the lawn, did loads of laundry, straightened up and put away things laying about. These are small acts that give you a sense of order - the illusion of control. I need them when I am so worried.

Another thing that helps is running. I don't know if it's the time away from the computer or the actual physical activity but I know when my heart hurts the best thing for it is to make it distracted too. Run and get her pumping again, don't let anxiety do the bulk of the cardio, ever.

Lists, too. Lists are a godsend. My daily to do list shows me how I am keeping promises, mailing out work, taking care of something bigger than myself. I list the amount of income I hope to make (sometimes I make it) and the miles I ran, the chores done, the fences fixed, the bills paid or appointments scheduled. Sometimes all that gets done in a day is I make 10% of what I needed to to feel okay - but I made that eye doctor appointment finally, and the animals are fed and good, and I got two soap orders mailed, and I can see on paper that even if things aren't ideal I am doing something good in my day towards something better.

So right now as I am trying to figure out this month I am cleaning, running, and making lists. I am doing the things I know I can do. And right now that's what is keeping me grounded and sane as fall is starting to plow into my every thought and firewood and hay seem as faraway as possible.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Night Chickens

It is a novel thing, being woken up by the sound of a cackling chicken downstairs in your living room. By 6AM the pair of birds I call "The Night Chickens" are squawking in the fresh daylight to be let out of the pen in the living room and outside to chicken about on the farm with their friends. They aren't captives. Every night at dusk they peck and ask to come inside the sliding glass doors and gently walk over to their pen and perch on top of it. All summer this was their M.O. The reason being that a weasel one night killed four of their friends and they survived and so returning to their coop was terrifying and the pen they were brooded and raised in remained safe. So, being a total sap, I let them in one night and they jumped right back into it. Then a routine became a habit and now The Night Chickens (a buff orpington and silkie bantam) are a part of the daily ritual of this farm.

At least until this started happening. They now demand to be let out at first light and while I am no slouch sleeping in - I don't like the idea of waking up to their VERY LOUD demands. So tonight when they saunter in I will return them to their coop and begin this long awaited break up. Sorry Night Chickens, time to become regular ol' farm birds.

Morning chores this morning were something from a storybook. The first apples are dropping from the trees and fall around the edges of the lamb pen. I keep the lambs penned and night and when I am not home but when I am here, usually working or writing inside, they are out grazing. I let the horses out of their paddock into the grazing area and they munch on the apples and swish their tails to music I can't hear and the lambs putter about like the worst percussion backup you can imagine. Roosters crow, hens squawk, the piglets in the barn snuffle around the sows. This place wakes up slowly and then wakes me up fully. 

It's now officially mid August and I need to really hustle and focus. Two weeks to make this month's bills,  buy in and stack the first cord of firewood, and get my truck new (used) tires and inspected. The goal for today is to earn $100 towards the bills and $100 towards those tires. That is what I will be writing down on my daily to do list. Besides those goals I have a batch of soap to make with the milk I have from Northern Spy Farm. I have 2 pet portraits to finish and mail out the door. I have logo clients to update.  I have hay to pick up and pay for. I have the usual evening chores and house work and the same routine that makes up our days as all of you have as well.

It's a good, messy, life and I'm giving it my best shot. Sometimes that means chicken pity and some times that means chicken tough love. But hopefully, it always includes chickens.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Ghosted Mare

I am grateful it is still early August, at least technically speaking. This morning the farm was a crisp 53° and the first leaves are starting to collect below the birch trees. When I was outside doing the chores with the dogs I could feel how everything is working towards Autumn and I made a mental note that I need to get the first cord of firewood stacked and ready by Sept 1st to be on track, with a second cord ready by end of September. I know I am months away from needing that heat, but for obvious reasons of budget and timing - the sooner the better. And as I walked to the barn with the pigs' breakfast bucket I went through my other lists in my head - the way all of us start our mornings. How I need to make an eye appointment for a new eye prescription. How the truck needs new tires to pass inspection. How before I get firewood delivered I need to clean out the woodshed and store the garden tools somewhere else. What is good about all this is how I am learning to plan and manage well in advance - a skill that took so long to actually truly learn. But that is how we grow, slowly.

Last month I was offered a free horse. A beautiful Fjord mare that was a little rough around the edges and needed a new home. Originally I was going to take her on as a trial, just a month, and either send her back or keep her. I thought about it a long time. My reasoning being that Merlin is in his mid-twenties and Mabel is only 12. Who knows when a trained, beautiful, animal will just be handed to you like that... and it was tempting. Really tempting...

I chose to not take on the mare, even for a few weeks. I didn't downsize my herds and sell my goats to jump on something else to fill that void. As much fun as it would be having a new small draft I needed to be realistic about the cost and time another large animal would take. This is simply something I can't be certain I could afford right now. Maybe my life will be very different in a few months or years - but right now I just want to pay my bills and start stacking cord wood. That's enough excitement to carry me into September.

I know the woman I was just a few years ago would have taken the horse no matter what, figured it out as I went along. But the woman I am now is learning boundaries with myself, and what is and isn't going to support my goal to keep this farm. So there won't be a new pony or any new additions to the farm that aren't being raised for CSA customers. (Well, maybe some new laying hens but nothing with hooves.)

So as August hits the mid point all I want to do is make the money I need to be warm and safe and my truck pass state inspection. I want my thrills to come from quiet places, right here with the things and animals and people I already have. When you're always looking for validation outside yourself free ponies seem like the most amazing thing in the world. When you start learning you and your life are fine just the way you are - you don't mind saying no thank you.

Wish me luck getting to September and may the wood be stacked and weather be kind.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Moving Forward

This weekend was wonderful. Truly.  Friday kicked off with a carriage ride and friends new and old, sharing stories and getting to know each other. That evening I sat beside a fire sharing a meal of pork I raised with people I truly care about, all of us savoring the last bites of summer over smoked roast and sumac cocktails. Saturday evening I was gifted the company of a good friend, and we talked late into the night about new lives and new adventures - about how much our stories have changed in the past few years, and not talking about those changes with trepidation but excitement. It was a cheer leading/therapy session and the next morning we got freshly fried donuts from the King's donut cart in Cambridge. And Sunday night, HOO! Sunday night new friends introduced by others came to see the farm and enjoy pizza and games and it was another late night of stories and shared lives and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it all. I'm so lucky to have this community around me, these friends so close and willing to enjoy this farm with me. Friends that will jump into the saddle, or hike on the mountain, or just DM through Instagram that there's extra bbq in town drive down and join in. Ten years in this town and I feel a part of it in a way I feel people can only dream of. It's Stars Hollow and Cheers and Twin Peaks all at the same time.

And the movement. Oh, the movement! This all started with long walks in the spring, then hikes in the forest, then days running up to 14 miles on hot roads in very worn running shoes. All of it in a blur of to-do lists and tiny hopes and the work I know how to do. All of it constant and always moving forward.

And here I am as August starts and the real pressure of winter begins to settle on mornings with the first falling leaves and tired light. I need to start thinking about firewood and hay storage. I need to start thinking about how the hell am I going to get through another month. I need to start thinking about all the 13,000 scary things that usually motivate me... but you know what? Not right now. Because right now I am happy.

I'm so happy here. Happy today. Happy with the life I've built and the world it created. Happy with the woman it carved me into, the skills I learned, the people I met, and what I now consider a normal Monday. I couldn't stop smiling on my run this morning. I don't know if anyone has smiled so much with a single-digit bank account after a late mortgage check cleared. But I was beaming. I pulled it off again. I mailed that payment and it was accepted which means I have four weeks to figure out the next month. And while I can't buy a tank of gas right now - I can start trying. I can start hustling and making sales and maybe by the time I am going to sleep my bank account will be in the triple digits because a sale came in. I don't know. Maybe it'll be negative and tomorrow I'll wake up on fire.

What I do know is there isn't a single other person in the world I'd want to trade stories with. As hard as it has been - and it has only got harder - there's never been a day I wanted to take back the burst pipes or toothaches or throws off horses or any of it. Every day has been a lesson and every year I become more comfortable and confident in the woman I am. That's the gift of this homestead. All this time I thought I was learning to be more self reliant and safe from a dangerous world. But by embracing this small farm all it has done has created a person hungry for more community, connection, and experiences outside of it. I thought I was the one doing the cultivating. I was a fool.

Cold Antler Farm was creating me the whole time.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Drive On

A perfect morning spent with friends new and old over at Livingston Brook Farm! Patty took me, Natalia, and Travis out for a morning drive and I was able to introduce them to each other. (Turns out everyone has someone in common and before long evening bbq plans were made.) It was a magical morning of harnesses and horse sweat and a blue sky stretching over the entire county. Travis would reach out of the wagon and grab Sumac blooms to make iced tea cocktails with later. I snapped photos with my cameras and let myself enjoy the conversation and the clip clop of heavy hooves on field and road. Not a bad way to start the weekend. Not bad at all. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Frenetic

New piglets were born on the farm, new little guys running about! Auburn the hawk is molting her feathers. The horses are avoiding flies by staying in the pole barn during the hottest stretches and I am doing my best to catch up on art and logo work. Most days here now are a string of chores, running, desk work, and then during the hottest part of the day a dip in the river. I hope for the mail to deliver a long-awaited freelance check or someone emails about a large project but mostly it’s been doggie paddling through the month trying to keep my head above water.

July is winding down and things are precarious. This is the first time I haven’t been able to post mark a mortgage check, with not enough sales coming in and too many bills going out. I hope to make it happen in the next few days and have it slide under the feet of any wolf at the door, but it is what I am thinking about the most right now. No one ever said a farm/freelance life would be stable. And certainly no one said it would be windy successful - but it has so far been enough. When the dates tick by and it isn’t - it makes a woman nervous.

But nerves aren’t a bad thing. They mean you understand the gravity of the situation and the consequences that they entail. I know how on edge this place can be. I’ve made this farm work from that edge, barely keeping balance, but proven myself a capable acrobat in this circus. And the longer I manage to pull those trapeze moves the more I manage to remain optimistic and calm during these most doubtful times. Which isn’t nothing. There’s a real power in learning how to keep life moving a trot - yes it’s frenetic and uncomfortable but it’s still moving forward. I’ll slow down to a walk when I earn it.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sighs Instead of Sweat

The month is almost over and I'm in the usual fraught stance to make it happen, and keep all things moving forward. With August on the way it is time to start planning for winter firewood, which I know seems soon to some of you but not to anyone on a budget with a wood stove. The animals are doing well and I made some choices involving livestock that I think benefit the farm if not my fun - such as declining to take on a horse for a month to help train and work with. It would have been a blast having a new mare to saddle up and ride and learn from but I declined knowing how hard August is probably going to be - even taking on a horse for a few weeks wasn't the best choice. I need to focus on fall. I need to keep my eyes ahead.

July has been an overall wonderful month, at least with my personal life. Lots of running and feeling stronger and more confidence than I have in years. There were not any surprise with the truck (though the month isn't over!) and despite it needing work on some power steering issues that keep cropping up - she seems to be just fine. I went on a great first date. I got to see live music, catch up with friends I haven't seen in weeks, lots of riding the two horses I do wish to keep on the mountain, and yesterday a litter of piglets was born!

I have a few days left to mail off the mortgage check, to keep things safe. I am hoping that with the heavy promotion of sales on social media that I can make that happen. SO far I have, but this is the most behind I've been this late in a month. I know that can all change in an email, or twitter comment, or if a freelance check magically shows up at my door and that's the kind of optimism that has fueled this farm for years between book deals and lucky breaks.

I'm close to a lot of very good things. I can't see the finish line but I know it's around the next few turns. Today, and the next three days of the month, will be about making it there however I can. So I can wake up on August first with a sigh instead of sweat. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Still here.

We're in the middle of a hot one, guys. The heat index says it feels like 108° and my morning chores left me so covered in sweat after mild effort - I believe it. Most of today will be spent indoors in the shade with a fan. I have work to catch up on and orders to complete, but the heat really saps creativity out of me like rolling around in a damp blanket. Which, let me be clear, it's complaining. I love hot weather and practically worship it all winter. But what it does do is make my head a little slower, like I'm two drinks in without taking a sip. I'll keep today's post short for that reason.

I had some guests here from NYC come and take a 2-hour intro to archery class. They were so very nice and seemed to have a good time! All of us got to sweat out the morning on the mountain. I love teaching beginners about archery, and fiddles, or anything really. It's the excitement in their voices, the thrill of hitting the target, the time spent outside. I get to share this small place with the larger world. It is genuinely lovely.

As for the rest of my day: besides an errand in town to pick up some feed and extra water rounds about the place - I am laying low. Not running. Not hiking. Not doing anything that takes too much effort whatsoever. I'm trying like mad to promote sales and support on social media to make what I need to pay the mortgage and this plumbing bill. I am staying optimistic, as much as possible, that I will continue to be able to keep this farm chugging along. That has been the majority of the theme for the last decade. Still here.

Still here.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Every Single Day

Up early to beat the heat, and loving every minute of it. Getting the farm sorted before coffee, before a run, before anything else makes me feel like I am already rolling through the day's accomplishments. I have my to-do list set and off-farm work to dedicate time to. I hay a load of hay to pick up, livestock additions to source, soap fats to procure, orders to ship, and best of all: A TOILET TO FLUSH! The plumbing was repaired yesterday by the fine people of Ed's Plumbing who arrived and got it sorted through the septic system yesterday between rainstorms. I was so happy I scrubbed and cleaned my entire bathroom and may even organize my medicine cabinet and towels today. My thirties are wild.

I don't know the cost for sure, but it seemed reasonable and I'll get the bill in the mail. Most of yesterday was dealing with the house - plumbing and cleaning and restarting the hot water system down in the basement since it's been dormant for so long. Between all that, some minor small engine repairs, and learning how to smack the twin relay boxes on the truck I am starting to feel like a new woman. I'm less and less the woman who needs rescuing from circumstances and now I'm the one rescuing myself - at least most of the time.

It's been ten years of this place, of this farm and the live and cycles and seasons around it. I live it differently. I write about it differently. It's no longer a passion and obsession I am so thirsty to learn - it's every single day of my normal life. The reverence is still there. It's undeniable. But all those things I wrote about with the beginner's mind are now fused in every day choice and life. I feel the real luck of this place has been getting to this point. And while every month is still so touch-and-go—and even today I have no idea how I'll reach my income goals written on that to-do list—I have a decade of proof positive behind my back proving that I can. The data doesn't lie. As hard as it is sometimes the plumbing gets fixed, the lights get turned back on, the bankers stay pacing far from the gate, and I can still mount that magical black pony and ride in the mountains on the same days I used to be waiting for leftovers to microwave in the company cafeteria.

I hear from people every day who just find my books, or this blog, or the old youtube videos. I am always grateful even though I feel the woman I am at 37 is a world apart from the naive and scared girl that started all this. But nothing feels better than them seeing that this life is possible. That you don't have to be married, rich, or marry a rich cowboy to end up changing your life and becoming something new. It takes a lot of small choices, built up every single year, and then one day you realize that you're the cowboy after all. You're the one holding this wealth of experience and stories and hardship and awkward tan lines and new muscles found in the shower.

This place still holds me close every single day.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

SALE!

Okay guys, I need to get a plumber to get the shower/toilet working at this house again ASAP. I also got to start getting the crumb together to make this month on the farm. So I am doing a Flushing Sale tonight on art, logos, classes, and soap. Email me for a rate you can't refuse!!!

Humble

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

Then I got thrown from a horse!

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

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

Mares, they keep you humble.

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

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




Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Guts

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

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

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

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Lifted Up, Torn Apart

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 1, 2019

Good Things!

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

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

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

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

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





Friday, June 28, 2019

Carry Through

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

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

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

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hogs and Hawks

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Balance

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Home

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

Cold Antler is home.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

20 Days

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

Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Small Dirty Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 3, 2019

Whew & Weasel!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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