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.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Help and Subscribe!

Readers,

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

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

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

Thank you,
-j

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

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


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.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

SNOWSHOEING!

Hiking With Friends is Better

Get Your Pet Mailed to You as ART!

Hello from a very chilly farm! The storm came and this farm was ready! I am inside from a little adventure with Friday. We went on a snowshoeing trip around our mountain and then came home to rake the snow off roofs, feed the animals, and check all the water and hawks! All is well here, at least so far. There are no frozen pipes yet(though tonight will be down to 2°). And I still have about a month of firewood left to earn up the money for more on top of the other bills. I have truck repairs (Had new wiring to the battery in the truck last week) and between towing and the parts and time it was over $280 dollars. So to help earn up that money on top of all the other bills like the mortgage, electric, firewood, etc - I am offering a sale on sketches!

If you want to help out this farm fast, send an email to me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com and in the email send a picture of the pet or farm animal (or wild animal) you want to have sketched. The cost is only $20 (via PayPal) but the catch is the sketch is a surprise! Not sending proofs to you for approval, but I promise it will be based on your picture and a fun, animation-style version!

My goal is to sell 10 of these this weekend. That's $200 towards bills. I already did this same sale on Twitter and earned half of what I need through pet sketches alone so if I can keep it up I can make up the rest and get back to focusing on lights, the mortgage, and heating!

IF you want to add-on to the sketch, it is $40 for it to be inked and some basic shading and line work. Full color is $75 - and that means watercolor and ink. All are 9x12" and shipping is FREE anywhere in the world. Mailed in a stiff cardboard mailer. Thank you for reading and considering!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

space-heater prayers

A snow storm is settling in and I am prepared for it. I'm about to do one of my new favorite pre-storm rituals, which is this: after the firewood is cut and stacked inside, the animals fed, mare blanketed, and the barn crew safe from the ice and wind I go to a little spa space. It's just my bathroom. But I close the door and crank the space heater and set a towel on the floor in front of it. I take a hot shower (which isn't always a given here in winter, this house has seen some very frozen pipes in winters past) and then sit with my towels in a little ball of warmth by the heater until I'm plain hot. Till I need to take off the terry cloth and put on some lotion and maybe even a face mask and sit there in this little warm oasis of extreme comfort before the roof raking and ice-breaking begins. And I'll read, or watch a video on my tablet, or I'll just message the girl I can't wait to see next weekend and remind her how beautiful she is. And for a little bit, in this very old farmhouse, I forget how much winter is ahead of me. How much I still need to cover car repairs and new firewood deliveries and all the bills and banks and woes. I forget about how scary it can be and breathe slow. I take a moment to be grateful for the hot water and the hardy animals. I take a few more moments to be grateful for the neighbors who provide the hay and feed I need to sustain these critters. I take long moments to be grateful for the friends, readers, and promise of warmth ahead outside this little room of space-heater prayers.

May we all find our way to warmer times.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Auburn and I

picture by Katie H.

gather wood and sit

I am grateful for the mild weather most of January gave us. There wasn’t a week of nights 20 below zero. There wasn’t a storm that caused trees to fall or ice coat the farm like a test. There’s been days in the 30s and 40s and mild snowfalls and I have been able to hunt with the bird, do ground work with the horses, and yesterday I even went for a short run outside. Today I hope to walk a 5k with Friday and pick up some hay after the morning client work online. It’s been this every day.

But what I want, what I hope for? I hope for the kind of security that lets me start planning for spring. The kind of luck that lets me start planning spring chick and seed orders. The kind of luck that lets me sigh and not be behind on the mortgage and scared of losing my home or being scolded by strangers for not doing things the way they have. I hope for the kind of luck that starts saving for a new vehicle. I hope, mostly, for the kind of luck that encourages and invigorates me to write, draw, teach, and make the things that bring the luck I need. I don’t expect luck in the form of any kind of magical gifts. But what I need is the will to make things happen. I think that is what has been lost most of all in these hard winters. The desire to find the version of me that never gave up on her dream. That always figured out the next bill, or the next step, and rewarded herself with jars of strawberry jam she canned or a quiche from her hens’ eggs.

That person is still here but she’s cold as hell. And she’s trying to gather the energy to make it through the month safely, and it makes all the creative energy I muster and have to go towards other people’s work - logo and pet portraits and art - not my own. And at the end of the day I just want the lights to stay on and the house to remain warm. It’s scary here. And I worry writing about that prolonged scariness will just invite more criticism or the same “Just get a job!? Emails I always get from people that don’t realize I do have several part-time jobs because I don’t write about them here in detail.

Mostly I don’t write here because I’m not at the place yet where I can be excited about chicks and seeds and I am not sure I will. I don’t know what will happen to me or this farm. I don’t know if I will sell this book. I don’t know what March will be like. But I know today I can work on the people I have planed to work for. I can promote what I have to offer. I can take care of my animals, my home, my body, and be there for my friends. I can do the kind work of being a person not interested in hurting anyone else. I can be patient with people. I can gather wood and sit quietly.

I am not sure these are the posts you want to read. But I am still here.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Signs of Spring

It’s a slow start today. Most mornings start slow this time of year. In the summer months I wake up to open windows, sunshine streaming past the lace curtains and this boiling blood excited to do everything at once. I want to do the chores, plant things, ride horses, run for miles, swim in rivers and fall in love. In the winter… Well, last night I made and ate a Hawaiian pizza and watched Netflix. Both have their merits, but I miss the part of me that buzzed in the morning.

But this morning there was bird song. Different bird songs. The kind of songs you hear when you have to check chicken butts first thing in the morning for pasty bums. The kind of whistles and calls that snap pea vines swirl around and banjo tunes are plucked with. It’s slowly becoming warmer, brighter, and better. I am slowly preparing this farm for another season of hope and work.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Compassion

A few days ago a letter arrived in the mail from a reader. It was a small notecard asking me to please update the blog more. I read it quietly by the mailbox. Then I read it again. Then I stuffed it into the inner pocket of my canvas vest and walked back to the farmhouse to process what I was feeling.

A few years ago a message like that would have made my hackles rise. I would get indignant or pressed. I knew this wasn’t that kind of letter or intention. The writer just missed reading about the farm. I took some time to be grateful anyone is still checking in.

I have been having a hard time coming here to write. Mostly because I have always (and only) wrote about what I was feeling and happening at the farm at the time of entry. When I was new to farming and falling in love with it, everything was exciting and new. Over the years it went from a dream to reality to a sometimes-nightmare to what it is now - which is everyday normal life. And right now writing about everyday things is hard while just trying to make it another week.

This has been the hardest winter I’ve ever had. Both financially and personally, getting through each day has been a constant lesson in resilience and compassion. The resilience is easier. I have created a work ethic that never lets me slip. It took a while to forge it, but my days are entirely planned and work is set into a structure and goal system I need to follow. If everything is falling apart in my life, as long as I achieved those items on that list I can fall asleep at night.

The compassion is harder.

I am ashamed to admit that almost everything I ever accomplished came from a place of very high self confidence and very low self esteem. This is a horrific combination for a blogger. It means I believed I could accomplish anything, but the woman accomplishing it was garbage. I didn't think I was good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, anything enough. And now as I reach my northern thirties I am too tired to resist my own compassion. I need it. So I let it happen.

The main thing getting me through this winter is allowing myself to accept my own kindness. To take time to rest, to eat good foods, to be held, to sleep in, to stretch, to stop drinking, to not beat myself for everything I can't achieve or pay or be - and be grateful for what I can offer. And maybe that love will carry me into spring. It'll find out how to get more firewood paid for. It'll help carry the soil to feed the King Maple in the front yard dealing with erosion and age. It'll raise lambs and pigs and glasses of ale when the sun is back and the days are long and warm as a lover's arms.

But right now it is hard to write the same sad story over and over. It isn't because I don't care to check in. It's because it is kinder to simply do the work to make things better than it is to write about how afraid I am. It's another small compassion. Please be patient with me while I allow it.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Farm, Work, Body

It's a new year and I have never been more disciplined. Every morning I wake up and do the usual work of the farm my body and brain have adapted to. It's no longer any sort of thought to carry bucket of water or flakes of hay. Not any more than it is to brush my teeth or wash and moisturize my face. But once that work is done I sit down with a cup of coffee by the wood stove and work on "the list" which is both my savage grace and my boss.

The list is a notebook where every morning I write down the three aspects of my life I need to have in order that day to fight back against the anxiety of losing the farm. It is split into three sections now: farm, work, and body. The farm to do list is all the normal things. The AM chores, farrier appointments made, hawk weighing and notations, tracking feed and hay needs, the usual. But I turn it into actionable items like "Check water levels in pig's paddock" or "Inspect hooves on mare" and by the time I am sitting down to the list I have checked off so many small things it feels like a morale boost, which it is. I need to feel that I am being productive and useful during these dark months. Firewood is burning fast, income is coming in slow, the coldest days are well ahead of me and I know Winter's Bottom will hit and kick my ass. So seeing small deeds done feels good. I need it.

The second part of the list is a prioritized list of writing, design, soap orders and illustration work. I could be on my death bed, but I still need to work on 3 people's items a day minimum. This hard rules has kept me productive during the hardest times - the holidays - which tore me up inside this year in ways it never has before. But I still inked pet portraits, or packaged soap to mail, or worked on logos because I had to. It was on the list. Get through three and then you can crawl into a blanket fort with the dogs and watch Imagine Me and You for the 23rd time. But work first. And I did.

And the last is body. I am trying to stop eating from anxiety and fuel that energy into other things. I am not running like I do in the summer but I get a few miles in every week and take more time to stretch and do "farm yoga" which is basically rolling out a mat in front of the wood stove and trying to stretch with a pair of border collies licking my face and laying below my downward dog. I drink a lot of water (yes, it is also a to-do check, I am desperate for morale) and I stopped drinking alcohol and month ago. I stopped eating carbs last week. Again, it's for my well being and a way to control something and feel like I am gaining some sort of progress in a very uncertain life. I may be 2 months behind on the house but I am saving money and dropping pounds. I'll take any sort of win where I can get it.

That's where I am at. I've become a soldier of this farm. I want to keep it, and I want to make it better. I want to fix the roof and repair the fences. I want to scale it to a place I can tend and remake, even if it means just three raised beds and 3 new lambs in the spring. I want to finish this book proposal because I am writing a book (trying to) about what this farm helped me accomplish as a terrified woman lacking in identity and confidence. I want to write about how it turned me into the person I am today and how the fight to keep it changed how I see everything. Including how I see myself. And I want to do that inside a house without mold on the siding and a mowed lawn with the bills paid. I could care less if I never see Paris or never have more than a couple hundred dollars in the bank. I just want to be healthy and safe and whole.

So I stick to my lists and my silly rules. I try to be dedicated to my work no matter what. I am hopeful for better things ahead and warmer weather. I am still here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Keep Looking Up

A few nights ago I stood outside under a dark sky shining with a million stars. I had an armload of firewood and it was very cold. I let out a long exhalation I watched my breath swirl and rise like dragon smoke up towards the Milky Way. I followed the warm air and caught a glimpse of Pleiades, my favorite constellation. I’ve watches those seven stars since my first winter on the farm. They always make me feel safe. I like how small and simple they are, but so very out of place. If the sky was the human body and the stars and planets freckles and scars stretched across us, Pleiades would be a scar left from a vaccine - tiny and always present.

This winter, especially this holiday season, has been very hard on me. I haven’t been doing much outside of working on keeping this place mine. My days are to do lists and self promotion and the work of the farm. Even with scaling back the livestock and expenses it’s been hard catching up from this summer’s medical bills and truck repairs on top of the usual expenses. I lost my health insurance and can’t afford to renew it. I’m sadder than I have ever been and while I know it has more to do with daylight and serotonin than emotion, there is plenty of heaviness to Christmas around here. It’s a lonely time. It’s a time I need to reflect and gather myself and remind myself what I am doing here and why.

I know that all sounds sad. I know I have not been updating here much. But please know how important Cold Antler is to me and remains to be. This farm is the reason I am the woman I am today. It’s the reason I grew up, hard and fast. It’s the reason I found my strength and stubbornness. It’s the reason I finally came out of the closet and started trying to find love. It’s the reason that after a decade I am still here - even if the place is scrappy and I never bought the kind of furniture you see in magazines or the kind of grown-up life I was told I was supposed to have. But this place - the work and the seasons and the animals - made me. It didn’t gently sculpt and form me, it threw me around like a small boat in a storm. But I got through. I’m starting to see daylight. And I feel that what is ahead can only be better if I can keep going and not give up.

I want a flock of sheep again. I want stronger fences and gates. I want chickens and gardens and the hum of honeybees. I want kisses on my forehead. I want river swims and summers where I smell more like horse sweat and soil than my own skin. I want hawk wings and hunting scars. I want warm nights by the fire and October bonfires. I want to remain here and learn what lessons it has for me yet. I want to keep running, and hoping, and being.

This Christmas I am sad, but I am more grateful than that. This place is dirty and imperfect, but it is mine. I made it. It made me. And as this winter roars onward I hope to make it through still holding the deed into spring, when the light is back and my body is less tired and change swirls me back into a friendly sea. And I think if those are my thoughts, that is good. If I can feel this bad and still look forward I will be okay.

May we get through and feel safe. Happiest of holidays to all of you, wherever you are. Keep looking up. Keep finding the stars that ground you. They aren't going anywhere.

Friday, December 6, 2019

This is the hardest it's ever been.
This is the saddest I've ever felt.

I'll be okay.
I just want this winter to pass and feel safe and warm.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Hibernation Drawing In

As the holidays approach I'm of two minds. Part of me is trying to relax and lean into the celebrations and the seasons, and the other part just wants to hibernate through them. If I don't try for the first, I'll default to the second. Which means I need to go out of my way to stick to small goals, keep the farm humming steady, keep myself surrounded by friends and dates and stories and song - and not allow myself to whole up and stay in. I think this winter will be long, cold, and hard. It will be like that for the whole upstate area. And I can either choose to start giving up now and crawl into blankets and eat cheese in the dark or keep running, working, trying, asking, hoping, kissing, laughing, wassailing, and cheering. I hope you all find the urge for the same. We'll get through this.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Weight

It's been quite the November here on the mountain! It started with mostly just panic and fuss, all the work of getting ready for snow and the keeping the farm safe and comfortable. But there is a little bit of hay in the barn, enough to last a few weeks. There's firewood, as I wrote last post. And this woman is slowly working towards making the money for a mortgage payment before the month is over - which would keep the deed safe through the holidays. I am trying to balance all that work and the farm's needs with taking time to keep running, and keep my heart a little lighter than it has been previous holiday seasons. This time of year weighs really heavy on me but all of that could be lifted with a little luck and company, two things I am eager to find under that crusty cover of ice that is late November. I have plans for Thanksgiving by a farm fire in a loving farmhouse with amazing friends. I have a bird to fly. I have deer to not shoot because I am the world's worst deer hunter (But I will try). And so far I am stay optimistic in the fray of it all.

Stay warm out there. I will check back soon!

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.

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!