Sunday, May 24, 2020

Oink to the Future!

As the month comes to a close I am in the process of figuring out what is ahead. Right now all the money I have in my bank account has to go towards bills and fees not related to the house or household at all. Things like hay delivery, a farrier visit, feed, butchering, etc. Planning the June mortgage without any sort of luck like that stimulus check that was delivered earlier this month means a brand new act of faith. But the difference between now and every month in the past few years is I'm no longer fighting to just avoid threats of foreclosure and staying just ahead of the banks. I'm trying to stay solvent, on top of things, figuring out the best ways to be frugal and sane and save amongst a pandemic where people are not thinking about archery lessons or pet portraits. They are thinking about meat but my shares for what is available right now are sold out. So I am going to start selling shares for the winter/fall soon as I figure out some pig futures.

I think pork makes sense for this small farm. I eat it. Neighbors eat it. And with meat shortages a coming thing and customers willing to co-own the animals and receive a 1/4 or half share of the meat helps stay small and solid. If you're at all local and interested in a future meat share let me know. These sales help pay for piglets, feed, and the farm itself to move safely forward while securing good food raised on a small scale without antibiotics. Consider supporting if you can! If you are not local and want to support by buying a share for a local family let me know!

In non-pig related news - I got to get outside yesterday for a small adventure! I was driven north into Vermont by some local quarantined buds for a hike up into the White Rocks National Forest! We hiked 6.5 miles along the Appalachian Trail in Vermont until we took a side trail towards a beautiful view looking over rolling mountains as far as I could see. My hiking boots finally died, the leather ripping from the sole, but I'll get a new pair soon and they are fixable right now with gorilla glue. But just to be outside seeing trillium and trout Lillies and watching waterfalls and feeling the harsh trails and soft spots make my whole body expand and work felt amazing. And there is no place in the world that makes a snickers bar taste better than the top of a mountain.

This is what I am talking about. I want to move forward with things like this. Time hiking and backpacking in this region of the world not far from the farm, not spending money on tickets or planes or admission but just a little gas money and shoe leather. My goal in life is simple: live the creative and independent life I adore on a small farm. Keep writing. Keep exploring. And find joy in things like long hikes and mornings on the trail and then returning home to a farm that needs my care and love. Today I'll be watering the gardens (four different ones this year!) and if I can find the charger for the electric weed whacker - do that. Lots of cleaning indoors - spring cleaning. And if I am lucky sell some pork. Then the farm moves forward into June. Hopefully safe. Hopefully healthy. An hopefully all the things I need to keep the dream alive.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Pack Goat!

Training a goat to join me in the mountains is a long-time goal of mine. My entire love affair with homesteading was and remains based on the working partnership with animals. I like a horse in harness, a hawk in jesses, a dog in a sheep pasture herding, and a goat in a backpack. And since the great outdoors is more and more the place I want to be when time is free - here comes the sound of little hoofs on the trail!

As my years of farming accumulated the more I ached for time in the wild. I love my farm. I love the animals and the seasons and the work, but there is something so appealing and lovely about hiking and backpacking. I love traveling across the landscape on foot. I love getting hot and sweaty and feeling it fade away by a campfire where I need a cozy sweater and cuddling close to friends or loved ones for s'mores and stories. I mean, who wouldn't want to throw a goat into that mix?!

So Cade (Named after Cade's Cove in the Smoky Mountains) is my farm-to-forrest ambassador. He's a Nubian wether. So far this training has involved having him join me for walks and learn to follow since he was brand new to this farm. As he grew older and learned he could forage as he hiked, I learned he couldn't be trusted to keep up with a hiking pace. It wasn't that he wanted to be separated from us, there's just so much to eat! So that's when the books and vids and community online really helped out.

When I take Cade out for a short training hike now he wears an adjusted dog pack. Adjusted in the way that a strap of webbing runs around his bum like a horse or pony harness would. This was a game changer for us on hikes! No goat wants to be dragged around by a collar or halter. They will happily trot along side you though if you give them a small tap on the bum to remind them this train has left the station. The britches strap tugs at the goat's rump gently along with the harness on the chest which basically tells the goat every part of this body is to move forward and instead of fighting it - he trots right on ahead. Every trail together gets easier. Every walk less about snacking on brush and more about moving up the mountain.

His saddle bags now only contain tee shirts to fill them and a small 1/2 liter water pouch on each side to balance a little tiny bit of weight. His growing body shouldn't be packing any real sort of load at all right now, but getting used to the equipment and the suggestion of weight on his back in small doses is part of the process, or so the books all say. I am excited to start really seeing the mountains with him later this summer. Taking him on hikes locally! But right now we are a pair of students and really enjoying the goat packing world online.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Pasture Healing

Every few days the pasture here needs to be rotated and reworked. There isn't a lot of land at Cold Antler and my entire pasture area for 2 horses, 3 ewes, and a pack goat is around 3 acres. To make the most of it electric netting is set up and moved about every few days. This allows places that are grazed to be rested while the fences move to a new area. In the past I had just fenced a large area and without fail it was aggressively overgrazed until clay paths were started in the soil from hooves and no amount of rain wouldn't slide down the hill. This has been corrected over the years and things have been reworked. The amount of sheep grazing for example, the places they can graze, and the management to keep track of it all on paper at times. All of it worth it. The hillside is entirely green here again. The animals that came this spring are all thriving (though the sheep did have a bit of diarrhea that cleared up quickly). And as over-tread areas heal (like areas that were horse pasture moved back for the sheep), things seem to be healing all around. Which is comforting as hell. To see this place better than it's been in years, the mortgage up to date, the animals well, the sun shining... It's so good. I am trying like crazy to keep that feeling going and I know it is going to be tough. Soon as things seem to be okay around here all sales fall aside. Which of course means there's no income to keep things okay! So if you are interested in seeing this place solvent, send an email and get yourself some pork or handmade soap or a logo for your own farm! All of it helps keep this place going on, and going strong. And I promise if I ever sell this book and have any sort of financial security I will be thrilled not to hustle my wares every post. Right now, I need to get through these next big bills.

Going to share what is up with the gardens in the next post, and what is being built for little projects like the dipper gourd garden (gourden!) and training Cade the pack goat! Also, without a hawk here currently I am working on preparing the mews and weathering yard for a new bird in the fall and hopefully saving up slowly to repair the broken cement porch next to the house with an actual deck (Which is only costing me the wood, friends are building it with me!). All in all - lots of small projects and goals if they are all possible. I certainly won't be building a deck if the truck still needs new tires or I'm behind on the mortgage. I haven't even bough new hiking boots yet I need because I can't swing it right now with the bank account where it is. But talking about money and what can be done without it is part of what this blog is. For example: yesterday I expanded the pig's pasture using just the materials found around the farm - removing old pasture fencing and straightening out old woven wire replaced by the netting in the field and rewiring the electric with discarded (but saved) old wiring. Which was a big all-morning project done for free. And done with the help of friends who helped me move old junk out of the way that had piled behind the barn.

Basically, this place is cautiously optimistic and hoping it stays safe. No new livestock or projects planned, just the garden and the pigs, small super-value flock and the gifted baby goat. And going forward may the hillsides and lawns continue to heal and the gardens thrive. Keeping my head high and the water troughs filled to the brim as summer slides into home.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Hello From A Little Slice of Jackson

Apologies for the time that has passed without an update! The reasons are pretty good for why though, I have been working dawn to dusk on the betterment of the farm and falling for someone. It's a pretty wonderful place to be in and I don't know if I have ever been this happy. Right now my life is mostly chores, improving and repairing the farm, and staying ahead of any financial trouble with the same zeal I've had over the years when I was in it. Not that things are cheery and great. I have no idea how I am going to make the June mortgage in a few weeks but just the fact I am not trying to still make April payment is enough to make every t-post pounded into the ground feel better. What I don't want to do is get ahead of myself, or take on too much just because I have the energy to do so. So right now my life is gardening, horse training and riding with Mabel and Merlin, and working on expanding and rotating sheep and hog pasture and foraging spaces.

The days are growing longer and warmer. I am starting to run a lot more and it feels so good to be moving like that again. Soon days will be lost in the forest hiking or on 8-10 mile long runs listening to reputation for the 1901290302 time and loving it even more. I'm so looking forward to the heat that pushes me towards the river. I am incredibly excited to share the river with this girl I adore and spend lazy afternoons casting for trout or swimming while she reads on the banks or dives in with me.

I am hoping to post more these next few weeks and share what is going on here with some videos and pictures. Proud of the work going into this place and into training Cade the pack goat! He is really coming along! Also trying to grow some new things here like a very extensive herb garden and some dipper gourds for crafts like bird houses and spoons! Mostly, I want to bask in this summer and enjoy every minute of not feeding a wood stove or and try to make this place continue to work. It's been ten years here in Jackson and the place will be so gorgeous by June I can't wait.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

May Snowfall!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Get Yourself a Girl That Can Castrate a Goat

I think that title says it all. My girlfriend and I spent today working as a team to pen the small flock of sheep here and tend to the regular spring management of lambs brought in from another farm. The lambs were brought without much medical information from the farm I acquired them from, so I decided to do it all this morning. Every lamb got wormed, their tails docked (banded), and a CDT shot. My girl would gather and hold the stock and I would go about with injections and the elastrator. I noticed all three sheep had a bit of loose stool and I gather that comes from the influx of greener grass (and any parasites that may come with them) as well as the grain I've slowly been adding to their hay and pasture diet. To be safe some electrolyte solution was added to their water and the whole work of penning, injections, docking, inspecting, worming, etc only took about half an hour. However, both of us left the sheep shed with far dirtier boots and pants then we entered with.

Today was also the day Cade the goat got castrated. After talking it over with different dairy farmers and a vet (and watching some instruction videos online like this one) it seemed pretty straight forward to do at home with the same tools I already owned for tail docking.  I was so loathing this chore but the entire procedure took a half minute and Cade didn't even so much as bleat once. She held him as instructed, safely inverted with head and horns out of the site and in one quick motion the work was done.  He got a nice bottle of milk afterwards, a treat since he is almost weaned, and then trotted right back into the pasture right as rained. Compared to the banding Cade was much more concerned when he was included in the lamb pen for tail docking. He let out a string of Nubian wailing that only people familiar with the breed can understand.

So far the trio of sheep and the goat have been getting along swimmingly, having been raised together. They are mowing pasture down fast as it can grow so the netting is moved every few days.  Much more work than leaving sheep in a woven wire fence, for sure, but better all around and with zero escapes!

Having help made everything so much easier. Everything went (fairly) smoothly and when things didn't she was there to laugh with. I've had friends and farmers help me with chores in the past but there's something different and more comforting about it being your person, and sharing in the work of this place and all the sheep poop that may include. What I'm saying is this was a regular day of very normal farm work made better with a second pair of hands I am always reaching to hold during movie nights — and the betterment of the farm is just so much sweeter in the end.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

GREAT NEWS!

I am so so soooo happy to announce the MAY MORTGAGE IS PAID! Thanks to the stimulus check I am already set for the month of May! At least when it comes to this farm's mortgage payment! But that leaves my bank account in double digits so I am running a promotion here only for blog readers, not on social media accounts. I will do a full color pet portrait for you or as a gift to someone you want to give the gift of a custom-drawn and painted pet portrait for $50. This includes free shipping! Please email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com and I will explain details. My goal is to sell 5 of them today which I know is a lot and a lot of money to come in at once, but I need to keep trying and this is the most return on time of everything I do. If you order them they will be completed and mailed by June.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Old Red Door

Good morning from Cold Antler Farm and this first dispatch from the month of May! It is amazing what a weekend of sunshine can do to a woman. Two days of small improvements to this farm — and I'll tell you this for free — they add up. Every day something new happens here that seems like such a small betterment. Like for example, yesterday I touched up the paint on my red front door. It took maybe fifteen minutes between chores and moving firewood outside? And this morning while sipping coffee in the sunshine I noticed there wasn't any wood showing through and it was solid red. Still chipped and warped a little, but if you drove past your brain wouldn't read "look at that chipped old door" it would think, "red door". I'm fine with simple adjective/noun combinations replacing more colorful adjectives about my property. The old homestead is looking sharper.

This farm hasn't felt this good in years. It hasn't been looking this good in years either. There's a new shine on it and it pours out over days of light like the last two. All those days in March moving topsoil and shoveling it onto bald patches of high-traffic clay is now spouting grass again. Old pieces of broken things like fallen trees have been cut away with friends' chainsaws and tossed aside for firewood. Gates and old woven wire fencing stuck in mud have been worked free and set aside. New, sharp fencing is set up for the new flock of ewes with some loaned electric netting and the hill that was once worn away to mud is fresh with grass and pasture seed. Going into my tenth summer and this farm is starting to feel more like the place I moved into today than it did five years ago. It's amazing what a little morale boost can do to you.

My goal right now, above all else, is to make the May mortgage payment before May 15th. If I do that I get no new late fees. I am on track. I am at a place this farm hasn't been in a long time which is safe and sound and making it month-to-month instead of making it month-to-two-months-earlier. The great news about this is if all goes as the government plans (we all take a minute to laugh to ourselves) that stimulus check for the pandemic should arrive before that date. And that will cover the May mortgage! That is amazing news, but as we all know the money sent to pay for your house (and home insurance and taxes in my case) doesn't cover hay deliveries, oil for hot water, chicken feed, groceries, electricity, internet and landline, truck repairs or insurance, farrier or butcher, etc etc. A farm is the kind of business you feed resources into like a coal maw on a steam engine. Yes every shovel moves you forward towards your destination but damn if that fire isn't constantly needing to be fed.

So there's no resting on laurels here. That magical check leaves me with a basically empty bank account after so I am hustling my wares on social media. I have the same daily income goal. I have the same hope to earn from my words and work what I always hope to. And every day I make my list and write out the day's goals and chores and hope to end the day looking at a checked-off list. if you're reading this, know I got to check off "blog post" on this Monday morning. Like paint on an old red door, it's not much but it's something.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Rest Cure

I’m trying to continue my optimistic mood. There is much to celebrate around here! The farm is working towards the May mortgage payment. The gardens are being planted with greens and peas and other cold crops. I spent the day mostly in the sunlight or with warm wind at my back while I worked on fencing, raised beds, cleaning up winter deadfall and trash and the regular chores. This is the time of year after the snow and before the green so everything feels like a wet sponge with the appeal of a old sock, but there’s promise in the dampness - summer isn’t too far away.

A week of warmth and sunshine would be a rest cure. Sadly, the next few days will be more of the rain and muck we all associate with spring. The lambs don’t seem to mind and neither does Cade the goat, who is now getting weaned slowly off the bottle and already living with the flock. But goats aren’t sheep so he’s let out of the pasture to go one a walk with me and the dogs once a day.

I am working to get any sort of income into the farm. Promoting what I can on social media and here on the blog. I am in the interesting position to be nervous about the future, and not the present. This is actually good news! Instead of pacing around the farm trying to figure out how to make up lost time and old house payments I am worried about making the one due next week, without the weight of past payments behind it. So sure, I’m still stressed but it’s about staying on track and not running with my heels being bitten. So if you are interested in any handmade soaps, pork shares, pet portraits, logos, or gift certificates for art or design - do email me! Every sale goes towards staying ahead of trouble and keeping the farm safe into summer.

In other news: I got pictures and word on a ram for the ewes. I have CDT shots and tail docking on the schedule, along with the regular work appointments with the farrier coming up. This is all great and every day is one with sturdy boots and hands back in the soil and weeds and those are things that make me very very happy. I know this time of waiting for summer is necessary and it’ll be weeks before the leaves are all out and the lawn needs to be mowed but every day I remind myself we’re all a day closer.

One day at a time, right? That’s how we carry on.

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

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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Sunshine

Sunshine is rare around here in spring, especially April. More often than not April is a cruel month of cold rain after a long winter. But today the sun is out and every mare and hog and hound at the farm got to spend time out in it! The new lambs are settling in and have adventured from their little paddock out onto the hill. There a combination of woven wire and electric netting gives them an area to graze along with the very excitable goat kid. So excitable it is a small miracle I was able to snap this quick photograph since Cade was climbing all over me while the ewes munched their brunch.

It'll be well into May before all the trees have green leaves. It'll be well into June before the first cuttings of hay are harvested. But on this northern side of the month of April I am grateful for what I have survived and what I have ahead to look forward to. Hopefully a healthy and loving summer of hard work and continued luck on these six scrappy acres!

Friday, April 24, 2020

MORTGAGE UP TO DATE!!!

I am so happy to share that for the first time in years, in longer than I can remember actually, the mortgage is caught up! This farm is safe! I was able to get the loan and as of yesterday the money was out of my checking account and to the bank and every sale this farm makes going forward is for NEXT MONTH'S mortgage! Hoo! I feel like I can let out such a sigh of relief! This is a huge deal and feels like a second wind hitting me with warm air. So long have I been scrambling just to hold on. Now I'm caught up. Now I'm looking forward.

It's been such a morale boost around here. In the last few days the farm has exploded with good projects. New gates are getting set and old trash thrown away. Raking, gardens, little things are being cleaned and made new again. The ewes are doing well and little Cade (the goat) is learning to reside with the sheep. They romp around and tomorrow if I can get everything working I'll be setting up the first big pasture grazing for them with some borrowed sheep netting. I need to test the fence first but it'll be in the sixties and sunny and while it may be the only nice day ahead in the ten day forecast I will take it!

So what now? Now is the waiting game for warmer weather and a greener home. Now is the time to scrimp and save and make sure I get that May mortgage payment made as soon as possible so I never fall back into that hole again and the anxiety it builds in my heart. Now is a time to start planning rams and moving horse pastures and filling in groundhog holes and planning those gardens that will start feeding me greens into the spring and early summer.

So things are looking up. And the farm is well. And if I can stay ahead of the troubles this farm will slide into summer singing. There's been some hurdles, but I am getting over them. I hurt my right hand really bad yesterday and was unable to use it at all. Today I can somewhat use it. Tomorrow I hope to have half use of it. But every day I just take my time doing the chores and even if things like bucket carrying take twice as long that's okay. Adaption is the name of the game.

Right now all I am dreaming of is a gloriously hot and humid summer. I am praying for gentle thunderstorms and fireflies, long runs and cold drinks. And instead of looking towards all that with the weight of paying for the winter's mortgage I am looking forward to earning what is ahead.

This is good, guys.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Only Good News!

Monday's Legacy Returns to CAF!!!!



For a change of pace, how about I only share some wonderful news this morning!? The sun is out and the temperature is set to reach 60. After days of gray weather, snow fall, frosty mornings and horrific news about this pandemic every time I turn towards social media - we are all in need of some happy farm updates!

Sheep are back at Cold Antler Farm! A small starter flock is here of three ewes, all beautiful and brawny thick little Dorset Crosses. I found them listed online and the price was too good to be true, $125 for all three! I was there to pick them up the same day after hours of repairing the sheep paddock's fencing on the hill. I am very happy to report that every bit of replaced woven wire, insulator, electric wiring and even the charger was scavenged around the farm. There is something really satisfying when you hit the point in your farming journey that you can build a safe paddock from scratch, knowledge, past mistakes, and local parts! Once that was all sorted I set a fresh bale of good hay, clean flat-back bucket of water against the shed, and set some grain down in a feeder for good measure.

Once the trio of ewe lambs (two white and one black) were set in their shelter I made sure Gibson saw sheep were back on his farm. Oh my goodness how his eyes lit up when he saw woolies back in his domain!

These lambs are what I hope to keep over this summer, flush with good feed into fall, and possibly keep them all as a future breeding flock. I miss lambing. I miss walking up the hill and seeing sheep covered in a wooly jacket of fresh snow. I miss the feeling of carrying hay uphill and making sure they are all safe and prepared for storms. I even miss waking up and walking the fields by lantern light at 3AM in March to search for lambs...

And to make this story end even better, Lee of Moxie Ridge farm (the farmer to whom I sold my breeding flock to a few seasons back when I needed to cut back on the farm for both mental and romantic reasons - hard to spend the night at your girlfriend's place when you need to be up to milk goats at 6AM....).... Well we are still great friends and he is selling me Monday's son Jojo! I get a bit of this farm's greatest ram back here on the hill! Monday, bless him, passed away at Moxie Ridge last fall I was told, but what a great life for a fine sheep. And what is left of him is a tough little Scottish Blackface/Romney boy that will be here to become the father of future flocks!!!

Guys! Sheep are back at the farm! A new line, a fresh start, a new ram from a sheep I adored! And besides the fresh sheep there is other good things to share!

1. Auburn the red-tailed hawk has been released back into the wild! After the best season I've ever had with a falconry bird she is free and back soaring the skies of Washington County!

2. I am seeing someone wonderful, a woman I hope to spend a lot more time with. Quarantining with her is absolutely lovely. When I am with her I feel a stillness in my heart and mind that steals away any fears or worries. We are working on this spring farm together.

3. I may have secured a loan with a good rate and no payments until summer to catch up on the two more mortgage payments I need to make this month. It isn't certain yet, but it looks very possible! This could mean that by May 1 this farm could be in the best financial shape with the mortgage it has been in years.

4. As far as I know I am healthy. My temps go from 97-99 depending on what I ate and what I am doing but nothing besides needing more water and activity and sunlight. Being as careful as a person with extreme anxiety can be.

5. Gardens are planted, at least all the cold weather crops. Seeds are in the ground and the potato patch is next! Inside the farmhouse are tomato seedlings and peppers. I can not wait to start weeding! Which is something gardeners only say when the soil is black and nothing has come up green yet.

6. Horses are coming out of winter shedding and starting to work in the saddle again. Sunlight and horses ate a balm like no other. Hopping up in my kilt on that black pony, even though he is 26 now and gray in the face, he brought me so far.

7. The laying pullets are outside and in the eglu cube learning to be chickens and they are all doing well and I love seeing a buff orpington's golden feathers in the sunlight again. Pure gold.

Okay, so that is all the good news I have for right now. I still didn't get any check from the IRS but it should arrive in the mail with that idiot's stamped name on it anytime in the coming weeks. It'll go right towards the mortgage for April. I may enter May working to earn that month's house payment!!!! So get yourself some art and soaps, meat shares, logos, whatever! IT all helps this place get solvent!

I hope you are safe and sound. I hope you are finding joy in your own farms or dreams of farms. I hope you are staying positive, active, cared for, loved and safe. Keep your chins up and wash your hands and summer will find us. She has to.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Onward

Among all the chaos in the larger world the farm moves onward. Seeds are being planted. Hundreds of pounds of compost being moved to new gardens. I started looking for lambs today online. I am putting the word out here and with friends and local farms. I am hoping for a flock of 4-6 and keeping at least 2 ewes over winter, hopefully bred. I miss lambing, and I am thinking about Romneys! But honestly, I'll take what I can afford after this month of catching up and chasing tails. One tip is to look on local markets for farmers that don't want to deal with bottle lambs. I can deal with them, and last year they saved money for the extra effort. This is how I move on. This is how a farm moves forward.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Winds

It's amazing how quiet a farmhouse can be on a cold April day, even with so many little souls inside it. There is baby Cade Finch (the pack goat I am raising) asleep in the dog crate. Friday and Gibson are also napping. The cats have been curled up for hours, tucked into their favorite secret corners. Outside there are fast-moving clouds in a spring wind, but don't let that imagery fool you. That wind has teeth. It is chilly, and there's snow in the forecast for tonight. I have the last of the firewood burning in the stove. I am warmed by both the chai I made with milk and honey not too long ago and the logs I split and carried inside. The horses have hay and are snacking as they let this wind pass through their manes. They are shedding like mad and robins and crows are collecting their hair for their nests. Gardens are planted with cold crop seeds and warm-weather seedlings are sprouting indoors. I am looking for lambs. I am moving soil. I am getting this farm ready for a spring of plants, production, livestock, soap, barter and sales. It feels good.

I have one of the three mortgage payments I need to make completed and registered with my new bank. I have saved up half of another one. I am hoping to make it, so that this farm remains safe in all storms; weather or financial. I can only work with the resources I have and the things I have to offer and sell. So every day I try to make that happens, sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. I didn't receive any stimulus payment from the National Covid Response and probably won't get anything until a paper check arrives at my door since I filed by mail and don't have any bank account info on file in a recent tax return. If I do get it, that will cover another payment. Fingers are crossed.

I am healthy. No one I know has gotten ill from this either, at least not anyone I know locally. I am remaining optimistic as I can. I am still making and mailing soap. I am still getting up to feed pigs and train horses. I am still planting, hustling, trying like hell. I know we all are. I wish us all nothing but warmer weather and gentler winds.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

97.9

Today was the kind of spring day I dream about midwinter. I spent hours outside clearing brush, raking, mucking poop and prepping gardens. It felt wonderful to see cleaned up lawn space just waiting for grass seed and warm rain. It felt like a homecoming waltz, padding piles of good dark soil in the raised beds. Since I am more home then ever before (and that is saying a lot for a homesteader) I am cleaning out drawers and dusting inside. If nothing else, this time away from friends and town has helped me become more organized than any spring before.

Kindness has been abounding this week. Friends and neighbors reaching out and asking how each other are doing. Two friends gave me hand sewn masks to wear. I set one in my truck for trips to town, the other is backup. So far Washington County has been taking this seriously, but without malice of any sort. People give you plenty of space in public but nod and smile as they jump out of your way. It’s odd but not rude, and normal life right now.

I have been birding a lot! Learning to identify and appreciate the small birds that aren’t hawks, keeping track of everyone that attends the feeder, and making notes and talking about birds with friends. It has been a lovely and calming distraction from the news. This morning a friend told me about her first red bellied woodpecker at the feeder and it was like hearing about a live concert. I found and cleaned up my best pair of binoculars and have been taking time to learn calls and feathers and between that meditation and seedlings - it feels good. It feels good to be reminded that life is happening everywhere.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Mortgage Sold

My farm’s mortgage was sold to another bank. I found this out by reading the notice in the mail after coming back to the farm from errands today. Irony of ironies, I had just mailed a house payment that morning via a paper check. The new mortgage company’s letter explained they acquired my delinquent mortgage. They explained I not longer send payments to my old bank. They gave me numbers to call and a pile of paperwork about taxes and insurance and things made for accountants.

Panic set in, hard. I tweeted. I texted friends. I cried. I paced.

Then I called the woman assigned to my loan and talked for half an hour about what is happening. I can not tell you how helpful she was. She explained that their bank was not able to foreclose on the farm now if they wanted to, that no bank wants to do that ever, and they are not trying to take away my home. When a loan is transferred the homeowner has 60 days of space to learn this, figure it out, and come up with a plan and it is illegal to foreclose on someone during that time. There’s a pandemic, but my late payments happened before that. And while there may be assistance or options for April and May, I still need to catch up on earlier months to be safe.

What is happening now is a serious need to catch up as soon as possible. If I can get two more mortgage payments in we can work out a new payment plan, possibly refinance, possibly get a loan modification. So that is what I am going to try and do. I already sent one in today. (I was old my old bank will cash and transfer this payment to the are one.) So two to go before May. I’m a third of the way there. On first base. That is something.

I have lived here for ten years. And while I am three months behind I have paid for the past ten years before that - over 115 payments cashed. This new bank doesn’t want to foreclose unless forced. This is all good news. But holy shit is it scary being the only one in a household with this weight on my shoulders.

Why write this? Because I’ve shared every single aspect of following this farm dream for over a decade. Because I want people to see how hard it is, but also show it is possible. This blog has never been one to pretend everything is perfect. My books haven’t done that either. Following a homesteading, farm, tiny house, or self employment dream is worthy of all your sweat and tears - but I will never sugarcoat how terrifying it can be at times. And I hope seeing this place make it through all of the past and future encourages and inspires those who think it can't be done. If I can do this, any of you can. All of you can.

Here is some good news. I am healthy. The animals are healthy. I am working every day on soap orders, art, taking care of my animals and bills. I am not giving up. If my dream has to change then I may have to sell things or figure out a roommate or a thousand other options but it’s still my dream and it’s all I have. There is no plan B. There is not moving back in with my parents. There is no magical trust fund or inheritance or amazing new high paying job. But there is me. And the past ten years has taught me that I am remained here, made it through all sorts of trials and tribulations and the rewards have been the meaning I’ve found in my own life. To be stronger, smarter, and better at this every year regardless of how it changes or changes me.

So right now I a going to put away the feed and groceries from town. I am going to change the sheets on my bed and clean the house and take care of my farm. I am going to sit down and figure out the most frugal budget and my assets I can part with and catch up on this home because it is my everything and I’m all I’ve got. Yes there’s a community in real life and online. Yes there’s support. Yes there are options. But at the end of the day I go to asleep in this farmhouse alone like I have every night and wake up facing the new day alone and regardless of that changes I have come this far and I am not letting scary letters and the whims of giant banks destroy this place.

Now to do the next thing that solves this. And to remain.

P.S. Your emails, comments, and notes from the last post are all being read and helping me feel connected to all of you. Please keep sending them.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Highest Stakes

For the past ten years I have lived on this little farm that felt so separate from the entire world outside it. Not exclusive, but separate. The reasoning being that in a world where all my peers were living a drastically different and modern lifestyle - I had chosen to live dramatically domestically. As the rest of society churned and swayed with commutes and offices and remodeling kitchens and buying seltzer machines and concert tickets I was home, milking goats and raising pullets. I was making my own cheese and learning the banjo. Friends were getting married and traveling to Europe and my passportless ass was living like the turn of the 19th century; shearing sheep, driving horse carts, training hawks, planting seeds... You understand, as many of you have as well.

There is a peace of mind and wholeness of spirit that comes from staying put. When I left my full time job to work from home it felt radical and brave. But now I am in a pandemic, alone, and it doesn’t feel brave any more. It feels scary and uncertain because while I was the one living month-to-month by the skin of my teeth I knew the majority of you were safe and partnered up and stable and certain. I knew I was a risk, this whole farm, but that my readers had it together and if I failed at this farm I could leave and return to an apartment and desk job if I had to. But now all those office jobs and that buzzing world past the threshold of this farm has come to a stand still. We are all homesteaders now.

We are all trying to figure out what to do and how to make it. And while I am glad I have this small homestead with water and food and social distance - it isn’t the same. There isn’t whimsy in it, there is now the stark jab of survival that isn’t sugarcoated with the safety of a functioning society and I hate that I am mostly alone.

Being alone in the woods during an International crisis isn’t like in the old days. I’ve got the modern marvels of both Tiger King and nonstop news to read. There is a helplessness to it. All I can control is what work I have and the small goals and lists I make every day. In that way nothing has changed. But what has changed is how much harder, more than ever before, sales have been. If I do make sale it’s for $20-$40 bucks for some soap and not the big logo or art sales I used to make. No one needs a logo in a pandemic. So I am making a lot of soap and doing my best to only go into town a few rare times to ship goods.

I am mostly writing here to use up some energy and share my fears. I would like to hear from you, if you could? Send me an email, a twitter or IG DM? Reach out and let me know how you are doing and how you are coping? Are you also alone? The more people that can connect the better I think we all will feel. Or I hope.

Today as rain falls on this farm I am staying home. I am not going to do the basket of laundry in town. I am not going to mail things at the post office. I am going to eat what I cook or bake. I am going to hug my kind dogs and talk to the girl I miss so much my ribs ache. And I am going to try and make music, and art, and read stories or watch enough episodes of British Bake Off to be reminded of a time when a baking competition was the highest stakes of the day.

I miss you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

From Home

For so many years I have been working from home, in isolation, alone on this mountain. And that was done along side a community of people commuting to jobs, working 9-5s, and living in the splendid modernity of everyday life and conveniences. But now everyone is a homesteader. We are all trying to figure out how to feel safe and sound in our own spaces. There is no novelty or lightness in my work now. It isn't counter cultural. It is necessary, serious, and I feel like the last decade has been training for it. What a ride.

I am trying to make it. I just want to feel safe. But if I am honest, every month for the past 8 years has been this way. Every month I just want to feel safe and figure out another 4 weeks. But there was comfort knowing all of you had it figured out. Or if you didn't, you were in it with me on your own farms. Now things feel uncertain and what we do have is community. Reach out to those around you. Offer to pick up and deliver groceries. Offer to share what you have. All of us need to know we are being cared for in some way. It's what we all need.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A Better Future

It's been a rough month for all of us. So many things are changing and growing more uncertain every day. I have been doing my best, as I know all of you are doing yours. Today I am working on making soap and transplanting seedlings. I am moving the once-fluffball chicks to a small insulated coop outside. The young goat, whom I am leaning on naming Cade, is growing strong and true. I have horses to train for the summer saddle. I have cleaning and home projects and hope for a brighter spring. I am trying like hell to make sales and orders. I am slowly making progress towards this month. Hell, I even vacuumed out my truck today while at the laundromat. There is something to be said for a clean cab and clean sheets in the same day.

The world does seem smaller. I am listening to James Kunstler's World Made By Hand series again on Audiobook, which is about my corner of New York post apocalypse. There's comfort in the book since my little town is okay, and some people are even thriving. I listen while pulling dead burdock stalks out of the ground and raking and slowly preparing my home and farm for a better future if there's one ahead, which I think there is.

More soon. But for now I wanted you to know that the seasons and farm move on. That I am healthy. That my heart is full and there is much work ahead. That I am trying to be brave but I am still very scared. That a baby goat dancing ahead of you on the trail until it is too tired to walk any more so you carry it home, is a good feeling still swirling out there in the world.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Brighter Notes

The past few days have shown me the beauty of these trying times. The way our small community has come together has been nothing short of magical. From sharing resources like lumber and hay—to picking up prescriptions and groceries for each other—we have been there. And as awful as the reasons are for having to quarantine, we are checking in constantly, making extra trips and phone calls and visits. Some of us are even lucky enough to have someone we care about to ride through this wave of news and frightening symptoms with. Not an ideal reason to cast for gratitude but it's there. I am lucky to be here with these people and these farms.

There are little shards of light poking through. This farm is making soap as fast as it can to make orders, hopefully in time for a mortgage payment before the month ends. I have tuned up my banjo and am tuning my fiddle and taking long walks with the dogs or gentle runs alone to welcome the spring. There are seedlings everywhere. (I have a feeling garden centers won't be selling six packs of vegetables this summer so start planning your gardens now from seed!) and there's a baby Nubian buckling in my arms. A little boy to finally fulfill my dream of a packing goat I had over a decade ago when a less experienced and confident woman bought her first kid at a livestock swap meat. Now I'm a woman with a gentle little baby from a farm I know well and that knows me well. It's making me smile as I type.

I hope you are all safe. I hope you are all warm. I hope you are keeping your hearts light with crafts and music and movement and nature. Life goes on even when it reminds us it sometimes doesn't. Be true and kind and wash your hands. I'll check in more often to share pictures of light and growth among the chaos.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Same Song

The past few days have been intense. I've been preparing the farm for the worst, and by that I mean gathering as much feed and dogwood and other supplies as possible in case the local feed and hardware stores have to shut down. Here in NY there are a lot of stores closing and events canceled and even in rural America everyone is staying home. Being alone makes me feel a little nervous, more so than before. If people get deep into a scarcity mindset it can get tense. I think tense can turn to bad real fast. I am not saying I am expecting Zombie hoards or End Times panic - but it may be hard to be comfortable for a while. I am trying to get ready for that.

I am mostly worried about making it through the coming months. Almost all of my income right now comes from freelance, handmade soaps, meats, and artwork. If people are not in the mindset to purchase anything, even soap, this farm won't survive this. Not when I am working to catch up on late mortgage payments already. I've been right up against it so long in a normal, thriving, economy I don't know what will happen during this Covid Scare and that scares the hell out of me. I am hoping some sort of stimulus or assistance happens for all of us struggling before the world came to a halt. But even if it does it may not be fast enough to save the farm.

So I wake up. I tend my farm. I sweep the floor and light the fires and do the work I've been paid to do. I mail and make soap. I work on writing and design. I am working on pet portraits and writing gigs and trying to earn back what I lost this month on hay delivery and truck repairs (over $700) and that is my life. Also trying to be outside more. Trying to stay away from the news and Twitter much as possible. Trying to feel safe in knowing right now this farm is set for a while.

If you want to order anything from me you can contact me on Instagram, Twitter, or email. MY email is dogsinourparks at gmail dot com. I hope you are all safe. I hope we get through this together. This month started on such a safe note and I thought things would only get better. Now we are all skating on thin ice.

Be kind. Help who you can. Be brave. Wash your hands.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Gibson's Tenth Birthday!

Happy 10th Birthday to Redtop Gibson! A decade together and we have never spent one night apart, not once, your whole life. May we always be side by side. Stay with me, my good boy. I love you more than you'll ever know or need to know.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Cold Antler and Covid

I wasn't nervous about this pandemic until last night. In fact I've been happily avoiding the fervor and believing people were overreacting here in the US. But last night on Twitter, reading though the NBA cancelling their season and about the travel bans to Europe, things felt real and the weight fell hard.

As someone who has basically lived in a self-imposed quarantine for the past 10 years; it isn't the illness that has me worried - it's the people worrying about it.

People in a panic about money will effect this farm. People that are scared about work, child care, or their stocks don't go out of their way to buy goat milk soap in bulk or drawings of pets. They aren't thinking about summer pork or a fun trip upstate to learn archery. Everyone is closing in on their own lives and it's been really effecting small businesses. Yesterday was my first sale in five days. Without a constant hustle towards my bank account this farm doesn't stand a chance so I am doing what I always do - trying like hell.

Try like hell and prepare. I went out and bought 350+ pounds of feed this morning. I also bought two large bags of dog and cat food. I emailed a supplier about delivering more hay. This wasn't because I was worried we'd all be sick and stuck in our homes. It was because I don't know when or how I'll be able to access feed close to the farm if people dive into scarcity thinking and farmers start hoarding feed like I just did.

I don't know if I'm overreacting or not, but I do feel better knowing it is here.

I do know I have food, water, and a roof over my head. I do know I *generally* feel healthy. It's easy to read about diseases and symptoms in a small house all morning and convince yourself (or allow my anxiety to convince myself) that maybe my chest does hurt? Maybe I could cough? I ended up going on a walk outside in the sunshine just to clear my head and get away from this onslaught of bad news. I felt a lot better.

I do have the advantage of working from home. I am lucky I have a set of design and illustration skills I can offer. All I can do to fight my own fear is keep my head down and work. Yesterday I started raking and cleaning out garden beds. Today I will plant kale and onion seedlings. I am making soap after I publish this and I already mailed out art and soap orders this morning at the post office. My work is going on as it has, but that doesn't mean it will keep coming in. Not if I don't stay hyper focused on getting the word out about my business and this farm.

I sold five bars of soap this morning. So that's something. That will cover a third of my phone/internet bill. Maybe one of you will get a pet sketch or logo. that could kick in towards that or even cover some of the new truck repairs done on the brake-lines (I've paid off $263 of that $500 bill so far!). Maybe one of you will plan a fall trip here to learn to play the dulcimer or fiddle? That could save the week. Maybe you'll be temped to stay home and read and download a ebook I wrote. That all keep this small homestead in your thoughts. All of this helps! Whatever you are doing to support this place in these more-than-usually turbulent times, I appreciate it!

Now, back to work. I have soap to make and hopes to send into the sky.

Wash your hands and be kind.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Shovel and hoe

I forgot to turn off the comments yesterday when I posted that. I check the "awaiting moderation" tab this morning expecting the worst. What I found was nothing but kindness. Thank you. I read them and I thank you. I did turn the comments back off because they are a dangerous thing an earlier version of me needed for validation. Now I know the price of that validation is people using it as a free punching bag, and having to feel that sinking feeling every day to moderate comments isn't a fair trade. No one should be able to punch you in the stomach on your way to get a bowl of ice cream, but that's the internet.

The pullets are three times the size of their baby selves. I am repotting the first lettuce and pea starts I planted way to early just to enjoy the bits of green they offer. Today I will start cleaning out the raised beds and moving some of the defrosted compost into them. Maybe I can start moving seedlings in there early if I create a dome of plastic poly around them? Mini green houses to bring the first beautiful fresh salads to this farm? Just thinking about it makes me want to refresh my coffee and get outside with my shovel and hoe.

A lot of friends online are posting kidding and lambing pictures. I love to see them, but it still fills me with a bittersweet envy. There was a time that every piece of me belonged to this farm. I was fine with waking up in the dark to milk goats, wash pails and filter milk, make bread and cheese, carry buckets and move chicken tractors and then maybe squeeze in a ride or hunt with just enough time to do it again. I needed that. I devoured up that life. But now I want small parts of myself for others. To be more helpful and available for friends. For off-farm work and freelance so I can stay here. For dating and romance. And for myself, too. Time to walk in the woods and explore and run and move my body and swim in rivers, not for a 20 minute dip but for hours.

Today I will continue my daily groundwork with the horses. I'll start prepping that first raised bed. I'll walk the dogs. I'll work on art for clients and I'll write and do the normal chores. But I hope to take time to also remember your kindness. And to appreciate the kids and lambs out there others are raising. And to do the best by my own little sounder of pigs, flock of chickens, horses, hawk and fluffy baby chicks inside.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Today while shaking out rugs

When I was studying Zen Buddhism in my twenties I found myself at a small rural temple in the mountains of western North Carolina. Sometimes after a meditation session students could ask the monk who ran the temple questions about our practice. Once a fellow lay practitioner asked about dealing with bad news? How to find peace in trying times?

Our teacher told us a story about a monk she knew who was diagnosed with cancer. How he was asked the same question. How he continued to practice Zen knowing he was dying, and that a life of seeking enlightenment had thrown him this fate. He answered with one sentence.

“The cancer wants to live, too.”

I can count on my hands the times I’ve heard something that made me shake. This was one of them. My entire life no one had ever come to the defense of cancer. It was the one thing everyone agreed was bad. I had run in races to beat cancer. I had lost family and friends to cancer. I knew the pain and horror cancer riddled the world with, and here I was being told about a man who found compassion for the disease that was killing him.

I think about this story more these days. I had forgotten it for a long while.

Today while shaking out rugs in the muddy front lawn a small SUV pulled up. It had professional stickers on the doors, NY STATE AG & MARKETS. My stomach dropped. I knew what this was. A few weeks ago the State Police were here along with Washington County animal control. They were sent because of complaints filed by a person from Vermont who was reporting practices they read about on my blog they felt were bad.

The visit with the police and animal control went well. They were both kind and I always oblige any requests to see my animals, their housing, bodies, food and water, etc. The officers saw no issue with my animals or my farm. They were kind and appreciated my cooperation. I thought I was done with surprise inspections. I was not. Here was another agency. Also here because of an online complaint about my farm.

I was told by the folks in the car they were here on a Swine Feeder Check. That they had gotten complaints and wanted to talk with me and inspect my herd and their housing/facilities. I had to physically control my shaking. I was terrified.

I wasn’t terrified about my animals or their care. I was terrified of the thing I’ve been terrified about my entire life: getting in trouble for something I didn’t realize I was doing wrong. Having a government agency show up unannounced because I write books and a blog was reason enough to be shaken up, but I wasn’t scare of the people with clipboards. I was terrified of the people who sent them. And this was happening now. And this was real. And this was because I choose to share my life online as a public figure.

I put the dogs inside. I talked with the experts. I had to get myself together for the entire farm.

I showed them the barn where the pigs spend most of their time. When I opened the door there stood my two largest males, Gunther and Garth. They were standing under the light I had set up in the rafters, like a spotlight. They stood on a pile of fresh hay. My barn is far from magazine-spread ready but even in this muddiest and most disgusting time of the year my pigs were clean, dry and comfortable. Their water was fresh and crystal clear. They were healthy and hail and walked in and out of their nesting area to watch the man with the white beard and the woman with glasses and a clipboard.

The inspectors took photos and asked questions. I answered everything and explained how this small farm raises a few pigs a year and sometimes breeds them but usually I buy in feeder piglets to raise for my small CSA. They explained what was going on in the state and why they do inspections like this. They were worried I was feeding my pigs garbage because that is what the complaint had told them. My pigs do get kitchen scraps from my farm and baked goods, but I have never in my entire life fed a pig garbage. And there was zero trace of garbage in their barn or paddock. They explained all was okay here and I exhaled but remained tense as a hawk on a wire. I hope I wasn’t rude to them.

They shared pamphlets and information about diseases that could really hurt farmers and pigs. They were kind and listened to me. Over their long visit I started to realize how helpful they were to agriculture in general. What they were trying to avoid and prevent. At no time did I feel scared of them, but I did find myself sharing how scared I was of the people that kept reporting me. They listened.

I know my farm is scrappy, but I am proud of the animals I raise and the life they live. Yet I was still brought to tears a few times. I explained how scary it’s been these past few weeks. How trolls online who never met me or my farm have been sending officers and agencies here, all unannounced. I explained that I was a public figure sharing books and my blog for years, and I have to deal with all sorts of anonymous harassment. They were professional and compassionate. They told me that my farm was doing everything right. They complimented my animals, asked questions about falconry, and left me with helpful information and their contact numbers. When they pulled away I felt like I made two new friends.

I don’t know if your state’s Ag Market people are as good at therapy as New York’s but they might be? Offer to let them inspect your pigs. It’s nice.

Then they pulled away with a wave. I stood there alone. My dogs watching me from the front window. I collected the rugs I was dusting and took them inside.

I felt this anger fill me. I felt my heart race. I knew it was the start of a panic attack. I knew the idea that, once again, strangers were following my life so close they were making sure government agencies inspected my five pigs in hopes I was caught doing something wrong. I felt that anger come into me hard and I saw it. I watched it burn. I came inside and ranted on Twitter because I wanted a witness. And then I realized I needed to stop and process what was actually happening. I needed to sit with this feeling.

I ran for a few miles without music.
I took a long hot shower.
I meditated as I was taught.
Here’s what I decided:

I need to be more compassionate towards the people who dislike me because they are me. We are exactly the same. We are people drawn to the freedom and idealism of homesteading. We are people who love animals. We are fiercely independent, strong minded, driven people who have used one farm to distract themselves from much harder issues in our lives.

I needed this farm like a blood transfusion. I needed something pure and wholesome to flood all the poisoned parts of me. I spent ten years distracted by every aspect of this farm; the animals, the plants, the hobbies, the dream… because I was so scared of dealing with myself. Inside I was a woman terrified to come out as gay. I had so many body issues, yo-yo diets, dysmorphia and disorders. I have a complicated family dynamic. I have dealt with self hate so perfectly distilled there was nothing, no comment or snark site, that could say anything about me I hadn’t said to myself a thousand times over. How does that song go? “Baby I could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at me.” Only I was throwing most of the bricks. I had built the castle I call Cold Antler Farm out of my own disdain for me. You guys, you were mortar.

So if you are reading this as someone who hates me; I see you. I see you and am grateful for you. Because of my fear of you, because of your constant calls to offices and agencies the animals of this farm are never without the most pedantic care. The kind of care that I am 30 minutes late to any dinner or hang out to make sure everyone has their water topped off an clean bedding before I dare leave this place alone. Because of you I have professionals come to this farm, look me in the eye, and tell me I am doing the right thing and I am okay. Because of you I feel paid attention to. I feel like I matter. I feel seen. I wish it was on kinder terms but I understand what you need from me.

You need me to be wrong. You need this place to be a sham. You need my story to be broken, a lie, a scam. Maybe because you tried to have a farm and life hurt you or ruined that chance? Maybe you tried and failed? Maybe you were too scared to try? Maybe circumstance or choices took away your dream? Maybe you feel sad or isolated? Maybe everything about Cold Antler Farm makes the quiet parts of you shake? I hit a nerve. I made you throw bricks.

I am sorry I caused this pain and anger in you. I am sorry I let you down. I am sorry I am not someone you want to forgive or understand. I don’t know the story you tell about me. I don’t know what your truth is. I do know that I see you, and I appreciate you, and I think about you with kindness.

I hope you are safe, warm, and well fed. I hope you are fueled with meaning and justice seeking by what I write that you hate. I hope that you have found community in others that dislike me. I hope that people who you post about me with ask about your family, your kids, your life? I hope that you have discovered a family and support online like I have. I hope that even if your idea of Cold Antler Farm is a nightmare that it helps sooth the scared parts of you. That distracting yourself from your own life by calling some pig division of NY State gave your day a jolt. I hope that you told your friends about it and they congratulated you for fighting for your beliefs. I hope your are as active and helpful to your own communities and friends offline. I hope that hating me is good.

Thank you for caring so much about my farm. Thank you for caring about my animals. Thank you for going out of your way to make sure all is well here, and that my practices are good. Thank you for keeping me vigilant. Thank you for seeing me.

Thank you for teaching me that the thing I think only wants to hurt me, only wants meaning and purpose, too.
That we are the same.
That we are trying to be good and right.
That thinking of you as my enemy is only going to hurt me.

I see you.
I love you.

I only want you to live, too.

Monday, March 9, 2020

And that your coffee is hot.

Good morning from the warmest day of spring Yet! Despite the rough start to this month I have to confess, this day has my mood and spirits so high I am feeling butterflies in my stomach; the kind of joy that and anticipation that fueled the earliest days of this farm! I woke up in bed beside my two beautiful collies and walked outside to morning chores in a light sweatshirt. The geese and chickens are laying eggs and the first shoots of green life are poking from the earth. Hoo, what a sight! I sang while carrying buckets of water and bags of feed and watched the pigs and horses eat their breakfasts with wagging tails. Everyone seems happier today. I have good reason to be.

This farm is always on the edge. You know that. But last month I was able to pull it off at the last minute and entirely because of luck, a surge in last minute sales, kindness, comments, support and letters. And I mean actual letters in my mailbox sending encouragement and love. And I needed it because a few days after the bank cashed that Hail Mary mortgage check the truck's brakes died and so I ended up writing a check for over $500 to my mechanic to have Taylor back in working order. I smiled writing that check though. As bad as the news was, I had a little over $500 in my account. I had the money to repair her and have wheels again on the farm at the earliest point in the month after all those bills go out. That's a small miracle! And while my bank account is low again, it will be built up over the month with sales and freelance, soap making and art promotion, maybe even the rare speaking event or big article for a magazine. But I will get there. Or at least on this sunny morning I feel like I will.

Which is the biggest gift this farm has given me. As hard as it has been, to know that I have consistently found a way to stay here has been a well of strength and confidence I cannot help but drink from when scared. That is not a boast of ego or solo achievement. IT's the opposite. This farm only exists and continues to because people want to see that happen. They support the farm in a million different ways, from checking my books out of the library or clicking on old youtube tutorials or buying soap or simply reading this. And while that also has it's ups and downs, mostly the internet has been kind and supportive and consistently reading about this scrappy freehold tucked into a mountain. To which I am grateful. Very, very, much so.

So today, after chores I took some time to enjoy this small life with music and mindful sipping of blueberry coffee (which reminds me of Sandpoint, Idaho so so much!) and with that safe and lovely knowledge that every animal in my care is fed and well, I poured a steaming mug of that magical brew into a diner mug, tuned my banjo, and played a small concert of old time tunes to my chicks in the living room. Seedlings of snap peas and lettuce grew in the morning sunlight beside us. The stove behind me, unlit. To know I didn't need a morning fire made the music all the brighter and carrying more promise of the day ahead. I have hopes to take Friday on a local hike a few minutes away from the farm. I'll go after I've done some customer work and I look forward to moving hiking boots on green moss surrounded by melting snow with the same joy I had signing that check. Because what I find the most true joy in isn't the easy things. It's not the banjo music and relaxing moments at all. My joy comes from doing something hard a step at a time and being able to still go home. A hike up a steep mountain path. The ability to cover the cost of a truck repair. Even if both take nearly all I have to offer in energy or money, they can be done. And that is what I feel today. Capable of going forward. Eager to do the work. Hopeful my songs will continue to change for brighter mornings.

And all with a hot mug of coffee?! Is this HEAVEN?

Yes.

After that bit of church, I started my morning with my daily list. I will start to earn the money that replaces the truck costs, that starts saving for the next mortgage payment, that buys lambs and pasture seeding and chicken feed. And on that list are the small daily goals—from income to work to self care— and every time I check an item off I feel a little safer in this rare sunlight.

So am I okay? Yes. Meaning I don't know how or where or when I'll make this month's bills but that is every month for the past 8 years and I am still here. And all I can do today is keep at my list of work, hope for more sales and readers, and take time to sit quietly and stretch my cold winter body and move in the sunlight that is finally returning to my mountain.

Things are feeling better. I hope with all my heart I retain the energy and love and beginner's mind this farm has given me. I hope your spring is warm with banjo strumming and seedlings and small animals that remind us how new every day can feel.

And that your coffee is hot.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

MARCH!

February was something to get through. For the shortest month of the year, it felt like an uphill hike every single day. But I got through it. Thanks to a Hail Mary surge in sales, kindness, support, luck and friends willing to drive me around while my truck was in the shop I have gotten myself and the farm through the second month of the year.

I have mailed in a house payment and the bank cashed it. Which means this farm is technically okay for another few weeks and I am on my way towards another payment. Not quite, but on my way. This is still not exactly solvent but compared to my life, health, and story this time last month it is REMARKABLY better. I have six little pullet chicks in the house! I tuned my banjo this morning and was playing a favorite waltz in double c tuning! It's a bright morning after a very dark two weeks.

I am starting to plan for lambs and a goat kid. I am starting to figure out the gardens and kailyard and possibly a pumpkin patch. I have butchers to call and piglets to purchase and fences to mend and a farm that needs love and sunlight. I am so looking at this month of March with more hope and joy. I am excited for spring! (Still hate April) But excited for SPRING!!!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

kinder weather

It was early this morning, before sunrise, that wind roared down the mountain and blew the front door off the hinges and shattered the wood. Gibson jumped up into bed and held onto me so fast I am not sure he wasn't what woke me instead of the BANG. I tried to screw the dented hinge back on, but it broke once again in another gust. Now, a few hours later, the bluster has turned into a squall of snow covering everything on the farm in fresh powder. Including the broken door. Including the truck.

Yesterday while driving home from the post office I felt my truck's brake peddle collapse all the way to the floor. It was as if the brakes were disconnected from the tools that work them. A bit panicked, I realized they worked at a tap or a stomp, but no play in between. The brake lines were shot. I drove home slow and nervous, but safe. She's parked in the front yard and I am waiting to hear back from my mechanic. I know I need to get a newer vehicle soon, but right now that isn't an option. So she'll have to be repaired again - back in the shop the second time this month. Going outside to a muddy farm, a broken door, a broken truck...

I want this month to be over. I need the next 48 hours to last forever.

I have a doctor's appointment for an infection on Friday. Even with decent sales coming in this week I need to decide if it's smart to go and get a prescription or wait it out. Yesterday I thought I was going to *just* make it. But I am hundreds below the mark now if I want to go to a doctor and drive. If I wanted to just mail in a payment I am still a coupe hundred below unless I want to risk the check bouncing. This is America. Feeling safe is for people with bigger bank accounts, stronger hinges, newer vehicles, and health insurance.

Feeling capable without those things is for me.

I do feel like I have the energy to keep going. I am writing this without a fire going this morning because even though it's cold outside it isn't cold enough to use what is left of the firewood. But the coffee is hot and if I can make the money today and tomorrow I need I can push through. I can post date the check at least for this month and earn the cushion I need in the meantime. I have been here before. You all know that. I know that. It's getting harder on me.

But I do want to know what it is like to be a little more comfortable. To have some savings. To know that every bill this month and even next month is paid for. I haven't had that level of safety in nearly 8 years. I don't regret my choice. I don't regret the farm. I don't regret going outside half an hour ago and using a screwdriver to force longer screws into the frame of a broken door. But I do need it to get easier soon. This is wearing me down creatively, physically, emotionally, and I can't tell if that's winter's ending making me feel helpless or a sign that I need to write and write NOW. Write something that will save this farm.

I feel pretty beaten this morning. Soon as I think I'll be able to mail in that mortgage check something like a doctor or dentist appointment, a truck repair, a screaming bill I can't put off - those things take over and set me back again. Which is everyone reading this. I know my life isn't any harder than any of yours and we are all figuring out what to prioritize first, how to get through the day.

So that is what I am going to do. I'm going to keep trying and figure it out one day at a time and hope for kinder weather and luck soon as possible.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Close

Things are not looking good as the month comes to a close. More later. I need to finish up some orders and work and get my head right. Worried.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Still Have Time

Yesterday I planted some snap peas and lettuce seeds. I am hoping to get these and more starts going indoors, ready for the earliest possible planting outside. Even if I am jumping the gun it'll be a little boon to the soul to see small lives starting out as the days grow longer. I hope chick orders, lamb pickups, and even a possible goat kid follow. I want to stay here and stay farming. I was that very bad.

Not much else worth updating. I had had the truck repair and dental bills this month, along with feed and hay delivery and hopefully more firewood. But even with those expenses I am halfway to making a house payment this month to stave off wolves at the door. I still have a week left in this month to figure it out. I still have time.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

In a Sprint

Farming for a living is the most amazing choice I have ever made with this small life. If you've done the same, you understand. It's heroic and hard, but also foolish as hell. Because every single one of us knows that we don't have to do this. Every single one of us knows there's a desk or a ditch out there calling our names and we don't have to struggle with making our land work. We can sit down to a spreadsheet or pick up a shovel - yet we remain.

Maybe we're wrong? If the comments and emails I've received over the years are any metric to go by, I certainly should have stopped farming 8 years ago. The minute this farm went from joy to fear I was told to either get married to a man for help, sell the farm, get back to the job and life I hated, or turn my home into an air bnb (this last one is always suggested by people living with a partner that do not live in an isolated farm house alone and without the fear of strangers on the internet that have stalked them for years anonymously online!).

I've done none of those things and I'm still here. This May will be a decade since closing on the farm and making these 6.5 acres in Jackson NY mine. I did it with the help of an amazing community - on and offline. I did it by being vulnerable and honest about how hard it was. And so that is what I am doing this morning over this first cup of coffee. It's what has kept me sane and present.

This was one of those mornings where I lay in bed knowing everything I need to accomplish by the time I return to it tonight, and it's borderline impossible.

I'm not talking about the regular winter morning chores like carrying buckets of water and sleds of hay around the farm. I'm not talking about stacking firewood or tinkering with my 30-year-old truck. I'm talking about the staggering reality of keeping this farm mine and how it has been increasingly hard to do so. Because getting up (which I did), and the chores (which I also did) was the easy part. Now I am sitting down with my emails, messages, client work, bank account balance, bills, dental appointment later today, and knowing I have ten days to make this payment happen to avoid any possible foreclosure.

This farm has been right up against it every month for a very long time. Years of stress trying to figure it out, and sometimes the only comfort I have about that is I'm still here after all of it. That there's this past of check receipts from house payments and butchers and firewood cutters and truck repairs and I am still here.

But I also know what doing that took. And I know today I need to do it again. I have a number I need to make to be on track and cover this broken tooth repair (not surgery, hopefully under $200) and what I need to make in sales today to cover that and keep building up the savings for the mortgage on time. But I got out of bed and put the coffee on, so I must be willing to do the work, right? I'm writing about it here to both help convince me and to vent my stress about it.

I know this blog went from hopefulness and joy of country living to the constant uphill clawing to keep what I have. I know half of you think I should quit and the other half need to hear I should keep going. And I'll tell you this for free. If this next book doesn't sell, or flops, then I will. I will have to. Or change my life drastically in some way because waking up ready for battle every day just to keep a roof over your head and your house warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing is worse than smoking three packs a day. This is why I wasn't updating much. Because hearing that every day isn't any kind of inspiration or fun. But it's what I was going through, and I did. I made it through the darkest part of this winter and now bird songs are changing and the light is sticking it out a little longer and so am I.

This is what I focus on every day. It makes maintaining more than a handful of relationships impossible. I can't keep up with everyone I care about or was a huge part of my life. That creates guilt, which compounds into stress, which only adds to making getting out of bed harder. If you know someone who has fallen out of touch with you, be mindful it probably has very little to do with you and a lot to do with them. I have no more than 6 people at a time I can manage a close, reliable, reciprocal friendship with right now. Because 90% of my energy goes into simply figuring out if I get to keep my house this month.

Every day I need to decide if this fight is worth it. If i's fuel or poison. Today it is fuel. All the panic and stress tearing at my heart isn't making it weaker. It's breaking down and repairing the muscle like lifting weights. I am so much stronger for it. It may look tired but it is so determined it could beat Secretariat in a sprint.

I'm going to keep trying.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Three Perfect Days

Dusk at Livingston Brook Farm Feb 15th
Had the most amazing weekend right here in Washington County. Three days without checking email or social media very much. Three days of local music, local smiles, and local beer. Sometimes I need to be able to do that, right here at home. Take a few days surrounded by friends and sunlight. Take time to be quiet and caring of myself and others. Take time to not worry about the mortgage for three days and have faith I'll find a way to make the month work. And that is what I did. I had three perfect days. And now, back to work.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Warming Up

Today was a long day of preparing for a few quiet days off. I have plans for romance and adventure, and I am hoping both go well. But a farm isn't something that wait for either and today was spent doing three times the usual client work and emails than a usual work day to make up for it. I also ran out to get the feed, hay, and groceries needed in case the coming cold makes it for a weekend more indoors than out and about. I have been really lucky this winter with the plumbing. I am hoping that luck continues a few more days!

I am starting to plan out this farm season and I think I want to try raising meat birds on a small scale again. For myself and perhaps some local pickup customers. I also won't to double the amount of lambs raised from last season and have Auburn the hawk released before mid May. This way I won't have a hunting bird until fall, most likely and let me focus more on the horses and farming I have in mind. Friends have some projects in mind with me as well. One handy friend wants to rebuild the deck off the living room (sorely needed the current one is in very bad shape, has been since I bough this place). Another friend wants to help me cut down some brush and make space for pigs to roam in new areas. I want to have bees here again, but I may have missed that timeline to purchase a nuc. I want larger gardens. I want to possibly raise a male goat or alpaca for packing, as in backpacking with - a dream I started back in Vermont a long time ago and wasn't prepared to follow through with. But these things are all swirling in my mind. It doesn't mean they will all happen but they are active. A few months ago I was in such a dark place I couldn't image thinking about spring. Now I am thinking greener thoughts.

The firewood situation is getting hairy. I am done with all the utility, truck repair, hay, feed, and insurance bills for the month but only halfway to the mortgage and no cash for firewood. I will get to both. I have to. Sales have been picking up and I have been living in a warm house with running hot water all winter. That isn't always the case here so I already feel ahead of the game. One day at a time and soon there will be mud and lilacs and distant thunderstorms. I crave them like bourbon after a long hike.

I hope all of you have a lovely Valentine's Day tomorrow! I will be spending mine and the whole weekend with friends and food at our farms. It may be cold but our hearts and spirits are warming up.

P.S. Thank you to everyone who has sent letters, emails, messages, and social media comments letting me know you're still out there reading. Those messages are why I am still here. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Carry a Hammer

Art by Milo Mars
Remember when I told you about the reader who sent me a notecard asking me to please write more? She sent me a thank you card yesterday for doing so, and you have no idea how much I needed that little boost!

It was a rough weekend - for farm and personal reasons. Two of my closest friends lost one of their close friends. I sat in a state police office, filing a harassment complaint. The weather hit hard. My truck broke down getting hay. My nerves broke down shortly after.

So getting a letter in the mail with a few sentences just sharing that she was happy I was writing again, and how her electric blanket was like her version of the space heater in the bathroom… I know it doesn’t seem like much but knowing that there are still readers out there who want a connection has been a powerful reminder.

It has encouraged me to write more, both here and to really bare my teeth and focus on this new book. I care more about this new book than I’ve cared about anything I have ever written. It is taking so long to feel good enough to send to my agent. But I will get there. I will write this book. It’s the book I so needed ten years ago when I was so afraid of all of you, and more so, myself.

Back to my truck. I was stuck Saturday in my friend Patty’s driveway in my 1989 f150, tires spinning from ice and then she stalled out. Since I was on a hill and sliding backwards and the brakes did nothing I panicked and stomped on the emergency brake, which snapped into place and stuck, broken. The last few days of worry over friends, winter, wood, bills, and already still paying off the last truck repairs… I started feeling the uncontrollable shaking and tears and weight in my chest from a panic attack. They come on like an assault over every security. By the time Patty walked out to my honks she saw a shaking, crying, woman in her stuck truck unable to even make it up her driveway. She talked me down, leaning her calm and kind arms on the driver’s side door through the open window. She talked my foot off the brake and assured me it was safe to come out and no one would be hurt if I left the truck alone. She walked me up to her farmhouse, holding my shoulder, helping me not slip on ice.

We got into her farmhouse and she let me cry it out. She went through all the simple steps to get the truck unstuck and repaired. For people with anxiety, not nerves, but real anxiety, this is better than anything short of a prescription pad. To have someone listen and help solve the issue that caused the attack to occur (even if it has nothing to do with the underlying anxiety) is a godsend. I don’t know what I did to deserve Patty and her husband Mark. But they have been in my life since Patty showed up at a local Barnheart book event in Cambridge a lifetime ago.

The truck remained unable to drive but we got it to slide down the driveway and off the main road. She helped me get hay for my animals and loaded it into her truck, and she drove me to get anything else I needed in town while I didn’t have a vehicle. She took me home to my farm and helped me unload and stack the hay out of the weather. And I felt a lot better. Yes, because I had all this farm could need for a while and didn’t have to worry about my truck at the moment, but also because I have a friend like her in my life. I have the luxury of breaking down every once in a while and being okay.

Part of what keeps me going when times get like this is the hard data that I made it this far. That I bought this farm in 2010 when I was a terrified, inexperienced, attention-hungry, overly-enthusiastic, highly-imperfect human being terrified that she liked girls in a world that told her to just find some strong farmer guy to take care of her. And now, a decade later, I am still often terrified, but more experienced. I’m still attention-hungry and overly-enthusiastic, but tempered by a mountain farm that taught me patience and self-reflection. I am still off-the-charts imperfect, but I am not scared to like girls. In fact this is the first Valentine’s Day I’ve looked forward to in 37 years. Keep going, it gets better.

Yesterday while I was finishing work inside I heard a sound I’d know anywhere. Taylor, my pickup truck, was pulling into the driveway. The dogs barked and I whooped! Patty came out of the driver’s side and threw her hands in the air in victory with a hammer raised above her head. THIS IS WHAT FIXED IT! She laughed like silver coins rattling, so bright and happy. I couldn’t believe she did it, and I hugged her so hard. She saved me having it towed to my mechanic and more truck bills on top of the regular winter struggle. I cried again after she left, but not from fear. From grace.

You gotta judge yourself not on the fear sliding backwards in driveways or the lowest points.You need to judge yourself on the people in your life, their character and love. My friends and chosen family in this small farming community have helped me become such a better person, and such a stronger woman.

Last night I sat in a friend’s living room in Cambridge and listened to her talk about her lost friend. I hope I was in some way of use to her, and made her feel better. I hope if I ever write a book that pays off this farm I make sure Patty and Mark have the most comfortable elder years a human being can experience. And I hope all the people that remind me that even at my most vulnerable and weak moments, that I am loved, that they know I love them too.

Happy Valentine’s week to all of you out there. Thank you for listening. Now go love someone, be kind, send sweet notecards, and carry a hammer just in case.