Monday, April 23, 2018

Horse Power

I am checking back in to talk a bit about driving over at Patty's farm, and a lot about Mabel. First off, I need to express how wonderful it felt to drive two tons of horse at the end of thick leather lines under a bright spring sun. To be outside! To be with friends! To have defeated winter and be holding this accumulation of horse power in my hands! Hoo!

And by Horsepower I mean the two harnessed Percherons at the end of the lines, but I also mean the half decade of riding and horse stories I have piled into my heart. I was the girl scared to move at a trot on a horse's back outside a ring with an instructor and a helmet. Now I am this woman asking two horses she knows by name to whoa after trotting across a field with nothing holding them back but 182lbs of farmer. The power you get from these animals is the confidence. I am so much stronger than the girl who was scared to trot indoors.

Now, for miss Mabel. This girl has been nothing but a delight since she arrived last summer. I bought her for a dollar off of a sweet woman in Saragota who realized this half Belgian wasn't the right fit for her. She is no beginner's mount and would have scared the white from my eyes if she was my first horse. Mabel is strong, fast, and a bit jumpy. She's leader of the pack and a force to be reckoned with in the pasture. Every sheep, songbird, chicken, and groundhog knows she's in charge.

Yesterday I took that same strong lady out for some extended grooming and tacking up. I wanted to go on a quiet trail ride with her alone. I was thinking just a mile at a walk, something light and fun. But five minutes into that walk the nieghbor's granddaughter was with her friend on a fast golf cart with a running German Shepherd! Mabel was freaked out, to but it likely, and tried to run home.

I remained calm. I kept her still. She didn't bolt, buck, or rear but she did crow hop and snort. She wanted that horse-eating golf cart out of her sight. The girls stopped the cart and I asked them if I could walk Mabel over to inspect it, see it was okay? They obliged and soon me, Mabel, the dog, the girls, and the cart were fast friends. I was proud of both of us ladies - horse and human alike - for making it a successful ride even if it was cut short. We faced a problem and solved it.

And our tank gained a little more horsepower.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Learning To Teamster!

Had my first ever experience harnessing and ground-driving a team of horses today! My friend Patty Wesner got a second Percheron, a mare named Ruby. She's a stunning black beauty and calm and true. I learned to drive horses thanks to Patty and Steele, her gray gelding. When she invited me to help learn to harness and drive I was excited, but cautious. I am confident on the back of a horse where I feel in control, but driving has always been the scarier mode of transportation to me. It only feels safer when things are going well, but a runaway cart with a spooked horse (especially on a road with cars) is a crap shoot of terror unless the horse is rock solid. If something goes wrong on a ride I am 4 feet off the ground. If something goes wrong in a carriage - I'm possibly on the last hell ride to my demise into a semi truck. Let's drive horses!

More tomorrow on this adventure! 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Chirps and Mountain Views

I got an email from my neighbors this morning. A wonderful couple who just returned from their winter migration in Georgia. With them came the sunshine (which they said they were happy to bring with them as a gift) and as we made plans for trading eggs for bread we shared stories from the winter. One of them would be stopping by in a minute to pick up eggs. I said sure, stop on by and don't mind the wee goat. 

When she stopped by to barter she pet little Bette Midler as the lamb scuttled around her legs. We chatted, talked the cold and the distance. It was nice.

It wasn't until she left for her errands in town that let out this exhalation of relief. I remembered saying goodbye to them at the start of winter. I told them I would see them when they came back to the mountain and to have a wonderful respite down south. But when I said that there was real fear in my voice. I had no idea if I'd still be on the farm in come the spring. I intended to, but intentions are worth the air you speak them into.

But I made it. I'm here. And not only did I get through that winter with the bottom of -20 degree nights and burst pipes - I managed to keep the farm and my wits through it all. Thanks, of course, to the readers that supported me through sales and scary times. And also through the power of this community - farmers, plumbers, firewood deliverers, feed sellers, friends, and plenty of podcasts. I felt lucky and grateful. I smiled after that sigh. The sun was shining and this was something to celebrate.

I had gone for a run earlier in the morning. A nice 10K; six rolling miles of farm and field. My area of Jackson, NY (just north of the town of Cambridge) was so excited for the sunshine. I ran past butterflies and chattering squirrels, past crows and redtails, and even (I swear to you!) a boy painting a white picket fence. With the vitamin D from above and music in my ears I allowed myself to feel safe for a while.

I allowed myself the permission to be proud of a morning of chores and miles, of the new delivery of baby chicks to the farmhouse this week (Thanks to Strombergs!) and the tuned fiddle by the kitchen door. These are small things and moments - but they shape the season's turning.

After the run I changed and took Merlin out for a ride. He was feeling his oats because it took ten minutes to catch him out in the field! Mabel watched, standing still, as Merlin and I paced around her. But after his initial hissy fit I slid the halter on and promised him just a nice walk in the woods.

We rode up to the top of the mountain. I took in the view of the gray trees without leaves, the brown earth just starting to look green again. Would we be here for the summer?

Even at a walk he was huffing, so we took it slow. As someone who just hours earlier was ready to throw up around mile 5, heading uphill along a highway, I could understand. He found his air and I found my seat and we even trotted a little. It felt amazing to be back in the saddle, back on the horse that taught me to love riding and feel at home on a pony's back.

As we headed down the mountain I had to remind myself of some lucky things:

You have a body that you take care of and takes care of you. You have a farm that you take care of, and takes care of you. You have kind neighbors, a promise of warm sourdough bread in the morning, a date with friends tomorrow, and the sun is shining. As easy as it is to get caught up in the fear of the keeping, there is the joy in the having. And if I don't stop on the back of a dark horse and recognize that I may forget.

Luceo Non Uro.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Lambs and Chicks

I am fighting this glum weather with sunny plans and music. I have my fiddle out and set beside my computer's work station. Every so often I pick it up and play a tune. I can't stress enough how much better I feel when I make time in my work day to drink a lot of water, exercise, and play music. It doesn't have to be gallons, miles, and hours of songs. A few glasses, a nice walk, a tune on the fiddle and I'm a better, healthier, kinder me.

New chicks will be delivered via post soon, probably tomorrow morning! I'll head down to the post office with the dogs and use the trip to mail out some soap as well, checking two items off my to do list with a grin.

I'm very excited, guys! New chicks lift up the entire mood of this farmhouse! Their songs remind me that while yes—it is still gray and snowing here in Veryork—by the time these birds are ready to move outside there will be green grass and sunshine. I can't wait for that boost. And like seedlings planted, or gardens plans drawn, these little steps towards production are in motion. And those steps are what turn a house into a farm. If you are using the land you occupy to grow food for yourself and others, congrats, you're farming. Welcome to the club.

In more cloudy news: I am getting suspicious that the other two ewes I am hoping will lamb, won't. This means buying in lambs like I did last year. I like the local Romneys available (like the ones pictures from last year) but would rather sell animals born here than ones I had to buy in. So fingers crossed for more lambs, kids, flowing milk, and wool in the next few weeks. In the meantime - I'm focusing on the work that pays the bills these days - design and illustration, as well as farm plans like dairy, eggs, lamb shares, and shorn beasties.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bad Rain & Good News!

The wind outside is intense. Angry weather is roaring through the valley and even with the protection of the mountain some trees are down in the forest and large limbs have fallen near the driveway. Every few hours I head outside with the dogs to check on the horses and the flock, the sounder and goats, the poultry and hawk, and start the truck in the race against a possibly-damp distributor cap.

So outside is a howling mess but inside is a kinder, quieter, mess. Right now Bette the lamb is curled up by the wood stove, a defrosted quail beside her for Aya Cash's dinner. The dogs are close to me, curled up as well. I'm already feeling worn down from the day's client list and phone appointments; but generally optimistic. Here's why!

Good news! The weekend was a success and I was able to mail a mortgage payment this morning! This is the uphill clawing needed to catch up, and I will hopefully mail another this month to be even safer. Between this and a phone call this AM with some questions about taxes I had with my accountant - a HUGE sigh of relief was exhaled. May this weekend hopefully keep me (fingers crossed) ahead of any danger to my home.

More updates soon. Let's all pray no lambs feel the need to be born in the slurry outside!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Keep On!

My goal is to make enough money this weekend to mail a mortgage payment to keep the farm solvent and safely mine, even though it is behind. The 15th of the month is my cut off, and while I've been able to send in a house payment every month - it hasn't been enough to catch up. I'm trying to earn that through the work and skills I have to offer and in spring that means selling soap, classes, logos, and pet portraits.

So if you want to support this scrappy farm - now is the time! Logos, illustrations, classes, soaps! I can also offer signed books in bundles with soap orders, speaking events, dulcimer classes, fiddle lessons, etc! Email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thank You

Readers,

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

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

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

Thank you,
-j

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

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


Digging Up The Positive

The farm is slowly thawing, with tiny shoots of green just starting to hint at their occupation. When you live halfway up the eastern slope of a mountain daylight is scarce, especially this time of year. If there's cloud cover it feels like sunset starts around 5PM as the sun starts to head west and shade the farm.  But this morning the sun was shining and there wasn't frost like yesterday morning. In bed I heard birds singing outside as I started to come to. It feels like change, I hope for the warmth promised by experience and rotation - more and more the older I get.

Last night I was visiting friends to use their washing machine and their farm was already starting to look green, out in the open fields that all face to the west. It's an odd feeling to be jealous of geographical placement, but there I was. I was grateful to use their machine, and for the clean sheets and towels, but coming home to the farm last night was hard. Panic is washing over me, and I wrote about it in more detail and then deleted the post. I don't know what good comes of focusing on the negative. Every day I wake up with a farm of animals that need to be fed, with a list of clients to address, with soap to make, packages to mail, and besides promoting what the farm has to offer - all I can do is the work itself and be calm and certain things will eventually get easier. And I need to remind myself that they are getting easier, day by day.

Keep digging out. Be patient with how dirty and tired you get trying. Be kind to yourself. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Spring Flirting

Morning chores are behind me and the dogs are eating their breakfast of warm rice, a cracked raw egg, and kibble. I'm on my second cup of coffee and planning the day. We're in this shoulder season before true spring and it's like flirting.

While feeding the animals I was breaking  ice from water stations and crunching on frost across the dead lawn, but by mid afternoon I'll be out in the sunshine on my run convinced river swims are moments away. The whole thing is confusing and I like it. I should be heating the house more but I'm not. It seems like the fire times are behind me. I should be outside preparing for new life; lambs, seeds, chicks, and clean lawns. I raked up winter hay scattered around the yard for an hour yesterday. All I accomplished was making brown earth with snow clods on it less hay-scattered but green stuff will come. Ya gotta have faith.

I'm still waiting on two ewes to lamb. I have kids (I hope!) on the way as well. Spring butcher dates to arrange, banjo strings to tune, seeds to start, and brooders to clean. The weather is cold enough to allow me to hesitate on those things. But I am certain in the coming weekends there will be chicks at the post office and pitchforks of compost filling beds just waiting for cold-season crops.

Right now I am enjoying daily soap making, thanks to the goats of Northern Spy Farm in Vermont. My friends Dona and Brad let me pick up milk when I need it since they already freshened their Nubians and my freezer stash from my Alpines has dried up. The soap pictured above is a new experiment: bar soap! It's made with milk, coconut oil, olive oil, lye, honey, honeycomb, and oven-dried and ground spent grains from the local brewery's maple porter. It makes a scentless, exfoliating, soap of local goods. In my Norse animal mold it is just lovely. Already sold six bars on Twitter last night!

Follow me on Twitter if you want to hear about dating life, pop culture, and see more pics of the animals and farm. Right now I am keeping that part of my life off this blog but happy to share in that more casual space. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Escapes and Teamwork!

I'm just back from a trip down my mountain road in search of escaped ewes. Spring means breakouts here, and I was in the shower when the alarms sounded. The system works like this: Ewes of young, athletic, ability leap or crawl under downed fences from winter windfall. Older sheep like Joseph, Brick, or Monday don't feel like exploring but still feel left out. Joseph is attached to the ladies and lets out a bawling baa that everyone in this house knows that something is up. I was halfway through moisturizing in the steamy bathroom when the dogs exploded with barks about Joseph's complaints. Goodbye self care, hello herding.

We got into the truck, me barely together with wet hair and blotchy skin from the hot water. A quarter-mile down the road I could see the fluffy sheep up in the forest, heading for the road. I pulled over and the dogs ran down into the forest, leaping across the stream, and ran up the mountain after the flock. It took moments for the woolies to turn on their heels and I shouted praises to Team Cold Antler!

The flock is back and my afternoon will include at least an hour of fence repair, looks like. Not the most fun way to spend a morning that isn't snowing or raining, but I couldn't be more proud of the dogs. They live like kings and work like dogs.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Get Me Going

As I'm typing an April snowfall is happening outside the window. The farm is sated from evening chores, the house is somewhat orderly, and my to-do list is checked off. So there is this feeling of low-bar accomplishment and determination. I got through this mud season day. I got the work done, the animal's settled, the place warmed up. What is left of a day fire is turning to coals in the stove and I am planning my first order of meat birds for spring. But in this snowfall, in this spring prep, I am thinking about summer. About how good it will feel to be sunburnt and bug bitten. About how great the sweat will feel and weeding before a thunderstorm will be. It's enough to get me going, I guess.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Hot Shower, Clean Sheets, Fresh Coffee.

I was thrilled to find the seven eggs in the barn, tucked into corners and old rabbit nesting boxes. They were blue, green, and brown - my Easter egg hunt of the day. After weeks of snow and storms the hens were finally laying again and what a bounty! I slid them into my pockets with a grin before continuing my water rounds from the goat pen to the pigs. Or, where I hoped the pigs would be...

I just wanted those pigs to be minding their fence, which I rewired yesterday after I noticed three had escapade and were loose all over the farm. Thanks to Gibson and Friday they were back in their paddock in no time and busy with dinner grains - good dogs like those two make all the difference on this One Woman Farm. Second stroke of luck this morning: the pigs were exactly where they were supposed to be, thank Frey.

As I carried the buckets to the four black porkers (growing too slow for my taste if you'll allow the side comment) I thought of the possibility of baking some kind of mini soufflé later, thanks to my recent egg surplus. A complimentary dessert to my Sunday dinner thanks to the hens. I already had a big braided loaf in the oven, the kind that was boiled first and brushed with oil and sea salt before baking. I had defrosted a small ham steak for dinner and some goat cheese from last summer. The idea of a meal from these hands: fresh bread, my farm's meat and goat cheese, and a dessert of whipped eggs felt good enough to make my mouth water. Not a bad meal for a gal with two low digits in her bank account till she makes some sales. There are many ways to be rich.

I came inside and decided to spend the holiday with some self care. One of my favorite indulgences is a long, hot shower. I scrubbed myself down with the goats milk soap I made, another gift of the land. Another way to feel wealth. I felt my sore thighs, trying to be gentle with them as I washed. I noticed all the black and blue marks, the scratches, the scars. A farm woman is a range animal, for certain.

I wasn't upset at the sight of those flaws at all. Yesterday those legs carried my hobbit frame across eight miles of landscape, a truly great run in the sunshine! I ran to the town of Shushan and back! I came home to a strength workout followed by my first ride of the spring on Merlin (after I herded pigs). We weren't out long but I laughed as my thighs stung on his back. I was too happy to feel a gallop under me for the first time in ages.

I continued the Self Care Sunday with changing my sheets, something I do every time I shower and a mug of hot coffee. I hope I never get to a point in life where a hot shower, clean sheets, and a fresh cup of coffee isn't enough.

In other news: Bette the lamb is happy and healthy. Benjen the goat buckling is still sleeping indoors with us at night, but outside all day doing goat things. No new lambs yet, and I hope for two more at least - but I have the name of a local guy selling out his flock and hope to get some lambs from him at discount to raise for the customers I have. The promise of that shepherding work is good enough to make me feel like the farmer I intended to be.

I need a rooster, if you can believe it. This farm is oddly silent in the mornings. Falkor the Silkie rooster doesn't crow alone and he only minds the three hens in his care. I may have a lead on Craigslist, but I sent out the call for a mature rooster on Twitter as well. Here's hoping the word gets out.

The rest of my Sunday will include practicing Whiskey Before Breakfast on the fiddle, and possibly harnessing up Merlin in his collar and lines for some ground driving. I am trying to stay put and enjoy the food, activities, and goodness of this farm today without interruption of errands or off-farm adventures. This place is everything I worked to have and fight to keep. It gets all of me today.

Support Welcome! If you ever want to pitch in for hay/feed or just general morale support or writing contribution you can do so at: https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF If you don't, that's fine too.

Easter Wishes!

To those of you who celebrate Easter or Passover, enjoy this day! This farm is celebrating in a small way by baking some braided bread and defrosting goat cheese for a delightful meal. I am grateful for the stored flour, yeast, salt, and cheese. Planning ahead for tough times and ensuring full bellies on a sunny day before hens are laying or gardens can be planted. I am not Christian but feel a day of rest that celebrates the work of hands and animals on a small homestead is festive enough to warrant some restful downtime. I hope your Sunday is relaxing and spent with family and friends that bring you nothing but kind and grateful feelings of Spring!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Bring On The Mud and Music!

It's a rainy day here at the farm. I have to head out for a hay pickup shortly, and am hoping to hear back from a possible lamb customer, but besides that it is a very quiet weekday. The house has muddy paw prints and the fire I lit this morning during chores has died down. It's far too warm out these days to use the bit of firewood I have left on luxury heat, so I am letting the embers do their quiet dance and bow out till dark.

Most of the snow is melting and being replaced with the smells of dark soil and wet hay. The horses were both soggy this morning from the soft rainfall. While feeding out their morning rations Mabel shook and made sure to share the wealth of muck and shedding hair on her back, covering my whole front and splatter on my glasses. I laughed for a solid minute!

It is such a joy seeing this horse that I was told would be too lame to do anything above a walked trail ride jump and run and boss around Merlin like the queen of the pasture she is. I can't wait for the snows to melt on the mountain and the ground to firm up again so I can spend summer afternoons with her again out on the trail.

Last night I met up with three friends at the Depot, (our town's train-station-turned-brewery) and worked up the nerve to ask the regular players of the Thursday Night Celtic Jam if I could play with them? I didn't have my fiddle but I did have a tin whistle and so I joined in for a song or two. It felt so great to meet the crew, shake hands, and see some of their amazing instruments. One man has a vintage Gibson J-45 (the guitar my dog is named after) and some vintage fiddles were there. Author Jim Kunstler was there as well, on his guitar and fiddle. It was a lovely night of music, and Friday was with me asleep at my feet while we played.

I am going to be positive as possible about the farm. I don't know what else I can do? Be calm, and positive, and hope for the best. Keep playing music and enjoy the gift of a beer bought by friends every once in a while. Outside the Depot everything was wet and windy last night, but inside were friends and dogs, beer and music, stories and song. I don't know anyone so anxious about money who manages to feel so wealthy.

May sunlight, luck, and good work find us all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Could Do Worse

Winding down the month of March and the farm is still covered in snow. It is melting in sections, but living on the eastern side of a mountain means shade all summer but winter gets an extended stay. Things here are volatile but hopeful. A part-time job I have been working at just considered hiring me for 20 hours a week instead of 8-10. That could happen in the following weeks, but if it doesn't, at least the cold will have passed and energy and money put into heating the homestead can go towards seeds and gardens and chicks. I am so ready for spring I am tuning my banjo.

Earlier today my bread dough flopped. Maybe the flour or yeast I pulled from winter stores was too old? Maybe the kitchen was too cold? Instead of trashing it I rolled it into donuts, boiled it in salted water, brushed it in olive oil and sea salt. Baked into "bagels" which they technically aren't but damn if I didn't make the best out of a mediocre situation. Story of my life, baby.

Right now I am trying every trick in the book to stay solvent. I would be lying of just making it wasn't the goal. I hope things turn for the better, that some luck swoops in, or sales pick up. If not I know I have stale bagels and sunlight on the way. A girl could do worse. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Eight Years of Gibson!

Gibson recently had a birthday, eight years old! He was the dog I dreamed of in the first paragraph of my very first book. The dog I secured online for a farm before I even bought a place to call our own. And the dog I picked up from the Albany airport in early summer of 2010 and brought home to his own 6-acre sheep-filled abode! Gibson means the world to me, and has been there for every triumph and tear on this land. I love you, Gibson. I love you every minute of your life.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Curated Lives

I have been thinking a lot about curated lives, a discussion I was introduced to via Dax Shepherd's podcast. In an interview with his wife, Kristin Bell, they talk at length about how much our society has changed and how modern social media effects our mental health. I'm paraphrasing but the gist was this:

We used to live in groups of a couple hundred, at most. When human civilization was new—and our social brains were forming—we were used to being celebrated for being best at something. In groups that small you were the fastest runner, the best fisherman, the best squash grower, the best hunter... You could excel and be awarded by your community for your contributions.

But now we are constantly on social media and instead of comparing our lives to another hundred people we're comparing them to several million. And we're comparing the real selves we know to the curated lives of strangers - people showing the pictures they want you to see, and ONLY those pictures. It's a recipe for a real bummer.

So now you're no longer content knowing you're the best goat herd in your village. Even if that is true you can scroll through the Instagrams of several thousand goat herds online. Goat herds with perfect lighting, effects filters, personal stylists, etc. None of us can compete with the best of the best in a selection pool of the millions, certainly not while looking at models with goats on screen while we eat our second bowl of oatmeal in our stained yoga pants...

As a blogger and memoirist I thought about this a lot. My Instagram is guilty of this, too. My blog, books, and Twitter account certainly aren't. (Arguably, I'm sharing too much of the imperfect on those.) Am I part of the problem? Even if you don't like reading what I am going through is it giving you the inevitable comparison hangover?

This is what I am thinking about heading into another Lambing Season Sunset. Should I post a lamb covered in placenta and out of focus on Instagram? Probably not. I should probably just focus on getting that lamb fed, warm, safe, and docked. But as a farmer sharing her life and story online I'm also mildly responsible to be realistic as possible. Kristin Bell's often on Instagram without any makeup talking about the raccoon ruining her yard. And she posts the entire process and team of people it takes to get her ready for an awards show: the spray-on makeup, boob tape, hair extensions, stylists, etc. I hope this blog does that for you, showing you the real story behind the chaos of a dream. The boob tape of a farm.

Misery is comparing ourselves to others. But as the podcast shares (and I can't recommend this podcast enough, especially this episode and the one with Ellen - Ellen is great but the discussion about the 4th Step in AA and how to better deal with people you resent is AMAZING) - it shares that while we may feel horrible comparing ourselves to the best stranger - we can often be happy comparing our current selves to our past. We get better as we get older.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Logos and Illustrations On Sale!

Running a special sale on logos or pet art. Buy a logo or illustration for yourself and get a gift certificate for free for a second! You can give it to a friend or use it on yourself! If interested please email!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Making My Bed

I keep writing and deleting posts here. It's been two days of starting passionate confessions and then removing them. I begin with this brutal honesty about my insecurities and real doubt I'll be able to keep this farm. How it's been too long without a book deal, loan, or lucky break. I write about not being able to sleep at night, about how long that has been going on, and how if I was in a relationship with anyone who mildly cared about me they would have convinced me to quit years ago (probably around the time both the toilet and hot water both didn't work).

I write about my winter angry as if I'm treating someone I love horribly. I made an enemy with my morning reflection. I haven't slept through the night in weeks. The stress eats you. The responsibility claws into you. And the fact that every mistake and failure is shared here or on Twitter makes it more like a public self-flagellation than anything else.

You get the gist.

These are not upbeat posts. Few posts this winter have been. It's been horrifically cold. An obsessed troll sent police officers to my door. I have managed to *just* keep ahead of foreclosure every month, which gives me about two days to exhale before I realize I'm already in trouble again with time. Rapid heartbeats and cold sweats are normal. I got sick recently and I don't think it had anything to do with disease.

Some times I'm glad it's just me here, because I mean to stay. I mean to see this place through till summer comes home. I have no idea how that'll happen but I know that every morning I wake up and I make my bed. I make it even though no one else will ever see it but me. I make it because it starts my day with the tiniest courtesy, the choice for order in a life so tenuous I started getting chest pains. I walk down the stairs to begin my day and remember these three things:

I am not a victim and never have been.
This is my fight and I chose it.
I can either keep going or quit.

And for some reason I choose to keep going.

I chose this life because it taught me the meaning I was searching for: a reason to exist. I know that sounds whimsically pretentious (at best) but my luckiest moment in life was when I found the upside-down puzzle piece of farming by accident and realized it fit perfectly into the hollow piece inside of me. Agriculture connects me to my ancestors, to myth, to religion and sex and celebrations and death! It lets me be civilized and an animal at the same time. It gave me strength and skills I could never even imagine while sitting in a college typography class forever ago. It brought me horse feathers and hawk talons and the glorious drunk-exhaustion of checking for babe lambs at 3AM in a snowstorm.

This life makes me feel wealthy in ridiculous ways. I recently got an email from friends swimming with whales on vacation by some steamy archipelago. All I could think about was how sad it was they could just pick up and leave a home that didn't need them. The poverty of their reality was palpable. Island vacations feel like a distraction to happiness, a job someone has to do to appear normal. That is, of course, my crazy belief. They feel the same poverty and pity for my story knowing I can not leave. We are both correct. We are simply different religions.

Living on this mountain with this particular mix of animals gave every season a story. Spring is for new livestock being born, shearing sheep, the first cold crops planted and prayers for warmer days. Summer is for fast horses, trout fishing, running across long stretches of farm roads, and lazy river swims. Fall is for eating all the hard work of summer, for bonfires, for ghost stories, for hunting, for preparing for long cold nights ahead and the real fear of not making it through. And winter is for flying trained hawks, snowshoeing through the forest, and proving those fall fears false.

Homesteading requires the sacrifice of presence. That cost is too high for most people to pay, at least on their own. Travel is social currency. Fill your passport and you're considered worldly. Stay on six acres by choice and you're a bumpkin. I'm a college educated, several-times-over published author but in any social setting of consequence that means very little when people hear I haven't spent a night away from my farm in over six years. My lifestyle goes from earthy and quaint to a recluse, or worse, prisoner.

Everyone I know that does leave their farm does so because they aren't alone. Most blogs sharing the country life include a husband, some kids, and an off-camera a second income, health insurance, and a 401k. Let me be clear - none of those things are bad. They just aren't mine.

Cold Antler Farm is not a 501c3. It is not getting checks from the government, not in subsidies or any other form of assistance. It isn't funded by a spouse, or my parents, or some cashed-in investment or magical inheritance. It's one woman waking up and making a list, hoping for luck, and having the brutal audacity to believe she'll do it again the next day.

I have a couple hundred bucks in my checking account, a heart, and two working hands. They're all backed up by a head running on fumes and the proof positive of eight years of figuring it out alone. I let that be the reality I believe in.

We aren't the sum of our mistakes. We're a collection of the lessons we learned from them and person we are trying to become. Every year I become stronger, smarter, more certain, more ready to do whatever it takes to legally keep this place in my name. And I need to believe in that version of me because the other option is leaving the only thing that ever gave this world sense behind. 

I made my bed and I plan to lie in it,
 even a few weeks from now,
even alone,
even afraid.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Hard Snow

This dispatch from the mountain comes under a blanket of snow. Three storms in the past ten days, all with significant snowfall. All hitting after a glorious week of grass showing and 65-degree days. Spring exploded onto the scene and neighbors were harnessing their draft horses to spring harrowing. Dogs were dragging in muddy prints. Lambs were born, roads cleared, daylight savings and all that jazz...

Then snow. And that burst in nice weather had me running and feeling great, but I may have outdone myself as I'm dealing with a tight chest and shortness of breath doing things my body rarely even notices doing before - like picking up water buckets or moving haybales.  I am worried it's the flu or pneumonia but I think it's just anxiety. The only cure I know for that is putting my head down and dealing with one issue at a time. The farm is out of firewood, and all income is going towards hay, feed, and bills right now.

In other farm news the little lamb, Bette, is doing well and so far no new lambs have arrived but I am checking every night and day on the flock.  Benjen was outside in his our graduate pen—now a 40lb pre-teen buck the size of a small Labrador—but the intense snow has him outside only when the dogs are I are outside doing chores. So every morning when I come downstairs there is the sounds of wailing cats demanding breakfast, a hungry lamb bleat, a screaming goat, and dogs circling my legs to go outside. It takes about an hour to get the livestock (indoor) cages cleaned out, sanitized, and lined with new hay. Then the work of the farm outside takes over.

If you don't see me writing here often it's because of stress. Everyone wants to share about their passion when things are looking hopeful. When things are a fight writing about them makes me even more stressed out. It's like mowing the lawn on a house you're struggling to pay for - you do it, because that's the kind of mental and community action a responsible homeowner does - but the whole time is mental dribbling about what's next? How will we get through?

My comfort is that this feeling is normal now. That things will get better, or at least, warmer - and complications of fire and snow will recede. I'm mostly worried I am getting sick, but that's not really an option even if I am sick, the farm comes first. So I'm taking it slow, breathing deep, dealing with one problem at a time the best I can, and keeping on.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Come to Cold Antler & Leave a Fiddler or Archer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Keep On Truckin' Thanks Kiva!

Good morning from Cold Antler Farm! Thanks to Kiva this farm was able to buy this truck years ago, the same summer I picked up Friday from the airport in Albany. It's an 1989 F150 and if a vehicle could be an avatar, this truck is me. I love her. I started her up this morning and she roared like a happy tiger kitten. This will be our third summer together and it was all because of that loan.

That loan was paid off early and this past summer a second loan was taken out for farm updates/truck repairs - happy to report this morning that second loan is 20% paid off! Staying up on those repayments to the people who have faith in the farm is so important. Those lenders are what keep this going and I am so glad. I hope to pay it off early as well. I also make sure the money I put into Kiva is recirculated back into other farmers around the world. I think I have re-loaned the same $75 seven times now? Helping people in the US and abroad with their farms and businesses. I'm posting this today not just to say thank you and to share the update on the loan but to encourage those of you who haven't logged into Kiva to relend some of the money that was repaid to you. It's just sitting in your account today, and if you don't need to return it to your own bank you can help make a farmer's life easier. Never loaned money with Kiva? Check them out and see who you can help shine!

Or, maybe you run a farm and need to apply like I have in the past. If you do apply and get approved, please let me know via email or Twitter/Instagram. I will signal boost your story!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sunday Off

After a week of oddly warm weather I'm a little off balance with the return of the snow. I was getting back into the habit of daily running and even flirting with the idea of riding my horses, but the storm has covered this place in a new coat of snow and winter has returned. It has snowed lightly all day.

I spent most of this Sunday taking time off from my work and besides packing up some books and soap for the post office - wasn't very productive outside farm chores. I need to remind myself it's okay to take a Sunday off once in a while. When you work for yourself it's hard to know when to stop or when to allow yourself to slow down. Especially when clients waiting on illustrations or designs are off from their work and have time to email changes and updates over the weekend.

So I have an under bite and grind my teeth when I sleep. Apparently this is the perfect storm for destroying non-silver fillings. I just flossed and an entire root-canal porcelain filling popped out the size of a peppercorn. This isn't pleasant but since it just happened I thought I'd share about it since I'm worried about it and have manifested a headache. Looks like I'll be on a liquid diet till it's repaired. Fun.








No new lambs have arrived since Bette.  I am checking a few times through the night and hoping for good mothers. The goats aren't due till near the end of April to May, depending on how well Rocco succeeded in doing his one job. He is mighty short compared to them and so I am only half expecting kids.

Geez, the tone of today's update sounds dark. It was a cloudy day running on little sleep with a broken filling. But it was also a day I woke up on my own farm, cared for a crew of healthy animals, bottle fed a baby lamb and bodacious goat, and still managed to get some boxes ready for the post office. And those warm days will come back, and maybe a liquid diet of juice is exactly what I need to aid in my running and fitness goals. You known what, just writing this paragraph helped.

Sunday off!


Friday, March 2, 2018

Chess In The Storm

It's lambing season and I am dealing with a snow storm on four hours of erratic sleep. Every time I did fall asleep I woke up an hour later, went to the window with Gibson (Friday stayed in bed) and listened for the cries of lambs. Every 4 hours we are outside checking, more often if a ewe seems to be close to the big show. I'm kind of a mess right now but presently dry, in clean clothes post a hot shower, and my nail polish is only slightly chipped so bring on the world.

I was up until Midnight last night. I was finishing up my last check on the ewes before bed when the first fat flakes of this storm started to fall. My friend Leah was over for a Girls Night, and we had just finished a movie with the dogs when I asked her to help me put on Mabel's blanket before she headed home to her own farm. She held the flashlight while I attached the snaps and buckles that secured the big mare's blanket. Mabel stood so well for us both, despite the snowfall and dogs racing around her legs. She's a good one, her.

I woke up for the day around 4:45. I went out to check on the flock again and the storm was in full force at that point. I walked up into the fields with a flashlight and my two collies, racing around me. When they got too far they were lost in the squall and my heart beat too fast for comfort. The sheep were in their shelters and the horses were under the old apple trees. Merlin refuses to use the pole barn unless there's hail or meteors. Mabel's blanket was her bulwark against the elements. I said hello to them before heading back inside to make breakfast and start the day's first cup of coffee.

Now that you're here, let me explain why I'm bottle feeding Bette Midler. Here's why: I'm just one person. It was after 8PM when I got home and discovered her. I wasn't expecting lambs for a week or so at the earliest. When I tried to see if her mom would claim her; Hannah ran off - a black sheep into the black night. She was leaping across a three-acre hillside. Time for decision...

 I knew I could set up a jug for her in the smaller sheep shelter and put down fresh bedding. I could run inside, gather supplies, set up heat lamps and extension cords and tarp up the wall with the loose boards that let snow in. I could install a water bucket on a snap clip, build a gate, and then run around the field alone trying to catch the ewe on the lam (Off the lamb?!). I could try to bribe her with grain but that seemed impossible without including two big horses and six other sheep also gathering in a tight space for grain. I don't have health insurance and I wasn't going to try and pull one 150lb animal out of a flurry of grain crazies in the dark with a bossy 1200lb mare. So instead of that "easy" option I would have to chase, corner, trap, catch and drag Hannah into this jug setup I built in the 25º dark. Once her and her lamb were inside said jug I'd have to pin her against the wall and force her to let the lamb nurse. If I managed all that I would sit with them and repeat the process into the night hoping they would bond so Hannah could raise her. You know, the easy way for us shepherds!

But I didn't do any of that. You know why? Because it was easier on every animal on this farm to just bottle feed the ewe for a few weeks and then bring her to the flock. I wasn't going to play social worker to a deadbeat young mom. I would bring the lamb inside, wrap her in a towel, dry her, feed her, and have her asleep in my arms within two episodes of The West Wing. I have done it many times before. I took a vote of all the residents in the house and no one cared if a lamb joined our living room menagerie so that's why Bette Midler is inside. And with this storm raging I am glad. Her next bottle feeding (and my next coffee infusion) is set for twenty minutes from now. I'm all about that schedule.

I have two ewes left to lamb. Hannah gave birth to little Bette and Marnie and Jessa (same age as Hannah) have yet to deliver. My oldest ewe, Brick, is now pushing 13 and I don't think she has a lamb in her which is a shame since some of the finest ram lambs this farm ever produced were her own. So unless I get two sets of twins I'll be buying in some meat lambs to raise on pasture and grain, which I did last spring to fulfill shares.

That's how spring goes on a farm like this. The ol' chess board gets dusted off and set up and the strategy for a summer begins. Lambs are one piece, piglets another, chicks, poults, ducklings, kids.. all pieces. My chess board would be just the knight pieces - but instead of horse heads they would be every beast I raise and able to move in every direction, levitate, and then die or make more pieces...

Actually, now regular chess seems like a breeze.

I just got off the phone with the electric company about a payment plan to stop the power from being shut off. Not a pleasant way to spend a snowstorm but I don't want any of you thinking this is some ski resort in the mountains. I put all my energy and sales into the last mortgage payment and fell behind on the electric bill, which spiked rocket high during the intense deep freeze in December/January. Another chess piece on the board, another problem to solve.

Guys, farming isn't for everyone.

Whew, I am so messy right now. A little raw, a little anxious. I put a big pot of dark roast coffee on the stove and have another ten pounds stored in the larder. The does aren't freshened yet to be providing cream on tap here, but I do have powdered creamer and 20lbs of stored sugar. That's a true comfort at a broke place fueled by caffeine fumes. The storm might be howling out there but inside things are comfortable enough. A good song, hot drink, and dry socks make all the difference in attitude around here.

Onward into the storm, into lambing, into choices and luckless slinging and all the dirty joy.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

One Half Lamb Share Left!!!!

If you live locally (I am north of Albany, NY) and are interested in a whole or half lamb (with option to buy tanned fleeces off your lamb as well, if you buy the whole) - please contact me now! My lambs are either born here from my stock of Scottish Blackface/Romneys or they are bought in from local farmers in the spring and raised until butcher time in October or November. Expect a whole lamb to weigh 40lbs in meat (not live/hanging weight, but actual packaged meat). You are also welcome to choose your lamb from photos once they are born/purchased. CAF lamb are raised on grass, outdoors, with sunlight and rainfall and two bossy horses keeping an eye on them. References on request if you need them.

To inquire:  message me through email, Instagram or Twitter! I have 2 shares to sell for the coming spring. Thanks for your interest!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hello Dolly!

The first lamb of the season arrived last night and there she is! She's a bottle baby and doing well. She is eating, pooping, walking and communicating just as a bonnie little lass should. as her mother Hannah wants nothing to do with her. That's another story for another post but right now I want to share the sweetness of this black sheep. I named her Bette Midler, just because when I first saw her I said "Hello Dolly!"

She surprised me. I wasn't expecting lambs until next week at the earliest. But when I got out of the truck after having dinner with friend's at their farm I heard the distinct bleating of a baby. I darted my eyes into the dark pasture and saw this tiny gal navigating around Merlin's plate-sized feet! Forever a gentle giant, he side stepped without hurting her and I scooped up the loud and eager lamb and realized she was still damp. Whomever gave birth to her didn't even have the mothering instinct to clean her off. It wasn't freezing out but the temperatures were dropping fast so I wrapped her in a towel, defrosted and warmed up some goat colostrum, and she took to the fireside and bottle right quick.

Lambwatch 2018 has begun!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Still Hawking!

It's been a wonderful falconry season here, and not because of the hunts (which are always great) but because of the people. The new apprentices in the area have been so fun to get to know. When I get a chance to help a new falconer their trapping and training it brings back the first feelings of excitement I had for the sport. It's magic and feathers. But besides the new kids; friends I have had for years in the sport are becoming more like family. I think if you're the kind of person that wants to take on a bird of prey you have a lot of in common with others of like mind!

I am so in love with these animals, this sport, these people. I hope to do it for the rest of my life, and learn to work with other raptors like kestrels, goshawks, merlins, and falcons of other sorts. I am in no rush, and truly love the partnerships I have had with all three of my redtails - but new species and stories are out there. What a magical and heart-beating sport outdoors!

Earlier this week my sponsor Leigh and his other apprentice, Liz, and I all got together for a hunt. Aya Cash did so well, chasing a rabbit at least twice her weight up a hillside. It slipped but hearing all the whoops and cheers from the group was a rush! I also got to watch the excitement of Liz taking her bird Auburn out for the longest session of free flying it ever did. That bird of hers was in the air and trees for a good 40 minutes and Liz came home with her. I could tell she was getting nervous but the relief on her face when the bird flew back to her at the end of the hunt was like watching someone win a medal. What an accomplishment for a 17-year-old! What a day of snow, friends, hawks, rabbits, and hard workouts! And it all ended in a friends' kitchen with cookies and bourbon (for the adults) and cocoa for those who do not imbibe. A fine day.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sunshine and Good News!

Hello from the sunshine-filled and ice-melting slush paradise that is Cold Antler Farm! I am so glad to report today is 67-degrees and the horses are rolling and romping in the mud! The ice wall around the electric pig fence melted and let me repair and get it working again. That alone is a reason to celebrate since one smart pig had learned how to escape and it was a matter of time before they all caught on if the shock wasn't back in action. Also, I can walk across the ground without spilling water buckets all over the slick ice. If you have ever spent grueling hours trying to tend to livestock on a luge track, you understand. Crampons don't cut it, not on a slant like this farm. So earth below my boots was a gift from the gods. Whew!

I am just home from a run to the dump and post office. I was sorting recyclables and mailing out books, soap, and artwork. Yesterday I was able to mail a mortgage payment. It was late, but if I am lucky in will cash in time to avoid any fear of foreclosure. I am fighting up against that line, having only been able to afford on mortgage payment a month and I am playing catch up best I can. Even so, every check mailed is a victory. Every month paid for on this farm as a single woman makes me feel like Wonder Woman.

Good news, I just got a part-time gig (8-10 hours a week) working as a small-farm content consultant for a local Marketing Agency! It's not a lot of money, but the same as selling another logo or two a week and that helps. Heck, that could cover feed and hay for the week! So I feel encouraged. Things getting even a little easier around here is a blessing.

So today is good. It's tenuous, as it has been all winter. The important thing is to stay positive and keep working toward summer sunlight that will come - when life isn't all about fires and ice, but instead about rivers and hoof beats on mountain trails. I am hopeful a book deal will come with the new project, as my agent is working hard on it. And while I wait there are lambs coming soon, along with (I hope) kids. I am dubious about the shorty Rocco and his ability to seal the deal with the ladies out there in the goat open but a determined mind can accomplish much, right?

I'm updating all the time from Twitter and Instagram if you want to check in there for an hour by hour play of the farm. Today I hope to get out with the bird and let her feel some sun under her wings if possible. I am taking her to a falconer friend's home to get her beak coped later. That just means trimmed back from overgrowth, some of you with chickens have done the same on birds that overgrow their beaks.

Last, if you are interested in a logo or illustration, NOW would be a great time to get one done! If I can catch up on the mortgage going into spring I can meet it with excitement instead of fear. Happy to earn the money through the talents I have. Email me at dogsinourparks (at) gmail.com for rates and info!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Long Winter, Make Light

This morning, when I walked downstairs into the living room the first thing I did was light the candles that decorate the small altars and various dark corners of my home. They make this place glow. Their flickering cheered me up from the ice, muck, wet hay and gray sky outside my window. After that I turned on the white Christmas lights I haven't taken down yet. I know it's a little late to keep them up, but they frame the entrance between the rooms and make an otherwise dull place at 7AM seem magical. Last I put on music, something soothing. I played this collection of tavern music and let the work of morning on this farm have a soundtrack.

The dark days of winter never bothered me until I reached my mid thirties. And as someone who does not deal with clinical depression, but does run on the general setting of low-grade panic thanks to anxiety - I find light and music is a balm. We can't change the season or the weather. We can't do anything about the darkness of night. But can make small spaces of light and music. We can choose not to feel overwhelmed, even if it is a lie. Even if it is just for a little while.

Every choice you make to create light, is not a choice wasted.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lots of Love!

Happy Valentines Day from Cold Antler Farm! May you find your farms and homes filled with all the love you need! It's important
to reach out to those you care about and to take time to honor and love yourself if you're in the game alone like myself. Today isn't about couples, it's about love. So enjoy a favorite book, hot bath, extra nap, or maybe even a special treat. You deserve it.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Canter to Trot

A heavy snowfall came down on the farm all day yesterday and last night. It gave me a morning of hard work and happy animals. No time in the gym compares with wading through knee-deep snow and raking roofs. No feeling of handing in a manuscript matches returning indoors, knowing your beasts are content. Most mornings this is a solid hour of feeding and care, but a heavy snow is not most mornings. The regular canter slows to a trot - and even a walk - and you give yourself permission to work slower to preserve the energy you need to carry on with the day. It is a small kindness, this permission. It took me years to grant it.

And so it was longer than usual until the animals were all fed this morning, the roofs bare (I still have to get to the barn roof, the house and mews are sound), and the fires lit. I didn't even have the time to make breakfast (I had pancake fantasies) so I'm running on a cube of cheese and coffee. That isn't a complaint. I could live off coffee and cheese forever.

I am digging into the indoor to-do list, which today includes a librarian's logo updates, inking a cat illustration, packing a soap order that is cured, working on recreating the typography on the side of an old farm truck for a modern logo, promoting work on social media, praying for sales, and asking my ancestors for some help.

That last one is special to me. It requires walking outside to the King Maple in front of the farmhouse. There rests a snowy stump with a wooden bowl set on it. Inside my home there's a little holy place with photos of my family, grandparents, aunts, and such and symbols of their heritage and past. There's a candle and a bowl and every day I pour some cream, honey, a cracked egg, wine, or whiskey into it and tell the people pictured, unpictured, and lost to family history that their descendant is here. She's trying to make this land and place something they are proud of. Can you guide me in hard work, wisdom, good deeds and effort on this place? May I be worth being remembered some day as well? And then the next day that bowl of tiny offerings and prayers goes outside to the tree bowl. I hope the land wights, songbirds, and anyone else who needs it takes note and imbibes. It doesn't really matter if they do or not. What matters is having this daily ritual of being grateful and remembering. A tangible act. A connection to blood and stories I never met. A little wine is the least I can do.

Back to farming: I have learned to pace myself on snow days. It is just me here. On days like this chores aren't one block but set in order of import and done in smaller pieces. Coming inside to warm hands and numb toes by the fire and refill the tank with black coffee is my pit stop. It took from 7AM till 9AM to finished all the water carrying, fence digging, hay hauling, feed rationing, and such. Now I am about words and design and I hope that will carry me through till I am creatively drained around mid afternoon. Then the work of evening chores begin and I leave the labor of the mind for the body and carry on tending flock and snout.

I think it is important to give your day meaning. It is important to try to be a little better than you were the day before. It's important to forgive yourself of faults and keep promises, even if late. It is important to be kinder to others - you have no idea how hard the person taking too long in the checkout line ahead of you worked before noon.  It is important to ask for help, even if the ceremony is private and lapped up by a sordid squirrel when you aren't looking....

And it is most important to be grateful, patient, and good to those in your care.

Here's to another snowfall, luck making a late mortgage payment to fend off the wolves at the door, and to luck with book deals, sales, lambs, and soap! And may your farm and family find the luck you asked for, too.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Dead Horse Words

I have been working on a piece about a dead horse for days, which I plan on sharing here but it is alarming me how complicated it is. My closest friend here in Washington County lost her 22-year-old Warmblood. He lived a good life as a rescued horse, but his end was sudden. Every time I try to write about the death, it turns into a winding series of essays. There's the experience of a 1200lb animal dying in a winter barn and the logistics of removing it. There's the way it effects an entire farming community connected to it, from the traveling vets to neighbors with tractors and chains. There's friends and local florists, other farms that want to help right away but can't without shirking responsibilities to their own livestock. There's the simple sadness of the horse that was his stablemate, the herd animal surviving without a herd. There's the owner's strife and guilt. There's the weather. It keeps turning into so much more, this one diseased horse.

Out here the connections involved in one loss changes the tectonics of a community. It's amazing and beautiful, but also sad to realize how that is changing. As people become more distant from neighbors - even in places like this that demand codependency - I see how one dead horse could be dealt with via a cell phone and a credit card. That isn't the world I want to live in, which is also interesting to understand. Because it is that same world of technology and digital payments that makes my life here possible. Do you see what I am saying here? One dead horse has had me reeling.

Besides the dead horse I am trying to do what I always am trying to do, keep the farm going. Common Sense Farm delivered firewood on Friday and said I could pay them for the half cord when I had the money. That's an example of the networking between farms I am talking about. A friendship forged over years means a warm house in tight times. And they are the ones who brought me Benjen the Kid (who is still in the house and not an outside animal yet) another gift to this farm. When I drive down to their farm to buy hay or hunt with my hawk I am touched to see their flock of sheep - all from CAF stock. I think of our ram-swapping between farms, the shared meals, the times I ran down here with anti-toxin for kids in emergencies and the times Yesheva has ran here to help me. That's one farm. The farm that loss the gelding has another gorgeous web of stories like that, as do many between our lands.

Part of me feels this is the best time in history to ever begin raising food in rural places as a beginner. The resources and options of the modern age make it almost magical. But we can't lose the community that makes us whole - the backbone of this life.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Silk Sky

I was standing outside in a light snowfall tonight, and I was poorly dressed. It was 20 degrees and snowing and I was wearing a three-year-old Carhartt plaid button up and some old cargo pants. The wind hit like a slap. I knew it was temporary so I ignored it. The greatest farming advice I ever received kicked in - don't prefer to be comfortable. The door to my farmhouse was 35 feet away and I had a task to do.

I was standing in front of 1200lbs of half Belgian Draft Horse/half paint. Compared to Merlin Mabel is a giant. I was buckling Mabel’s blanket against her thick coat. I don’t know if she needs the protection, but this is my first winter keeping her and the previous owner kept her blanketed on cold nights last year, so in respect of that person and promise - I cover her. She’s so big. I’m 5’2” and 180lbs. That is the height and weight of one of her rear legs. Merlin fits me like a glove but this mare is a beast.

I would be lying if I didn't admit my fear of her. We are still new to each other, and while we have spent a lot of time in saddle and trail together - I have spent about 500% more time with the British Lad. I would put your 2-year-old on Merlin. I would advise you not to stand too close to Mabel. That's not an accusation, just familiarity. That and a thousand years of sayings about chestnut mares...

I smile as I settled her into the final snaps. I can see the moon over her back. The weather is odd - a light snowfall but misty clouds and the moon looks like it is hiding behind black silk. I pull the hair out of my eyes and adjust the last strap - she’s protected. This is a Tuesday night and I feel lucky and sharp. Before bed I have more chores to do. I will bring in the hawk to perch indoors for the night. I will make a camp bed by the wood stove beside the bird and create nests for the dogs, too. I'll start the truck in the dark, slinging luck that it encourages it to start again in the morning. I'll set all the faucets on drip to keep water moving all night. I'll pour a glass of wine and watch strangers I have no business caring so much about talk about a romance novel - that is my reward for comfortable beasts and a farm on its haunches.

It blows my mind that there are people to which an eight degree night means nothing. They just adjust the thermostat, pour out some cat food, and order take out like any other night. They might consider the weather if they are going out to meet someone for drinks or dinner, have a class or kid to pick up from practice - but basically this single digit night means a slight inconvenience - at most. Here it is an event with more preparation and presence than most Easter Sundays. My only witness is that gauzy moon, some snow, and hope for tomorrow.

I am not sure I am better off but I am happy.

Growing Up Fast!


Warm Fires, Warm Friends!

With January nearly behind me and the long stretch of February and March ahead, I am leaning into the mess that is the remainder of winter. My firewood is almost gone, but I made calls with some locals who have sold to me before and am crossing my finders. I went through an entire cord and a half in that stretch of Winter’s Bottom, running two stoves so hot I nearly burned the place down for a fortnight. Next year I’ll have four cords stacked and ready by October, I hope. Either way it's good to have goals.

But besides that things here are okay. The last few days have been mostly Ice Capades and hilarious if you could see me trying to balance on the sheet of frozen water (formerly known as Cold Antler Farm) every morning. I have those spikes for my boots, but lost one hunting with Aya in the woods and so now I am down to one. So imagine a one-legged spike-hoof farmer balancing two five gallon buckets of water uphill... Some of the falls are fast and hard. Some of the falls are long slides that seem to happen in slow motion. Once I got covered with spilled water and had to change before heading out to visit another farm, but being late due to clumsiness is nothing new.

What is new is how sore I am from starting running again this past weekend. I went seven miles in two days, nothing heroic but a shock to my 35-year-old system. The next two days my thighs were so sore from pumping up the mountain roads it hurt laying down. Glad to say that moment passed, but all weekend was a game of how pain would hit next! Fall? Stairs? Ice? Driving the truck? I promise I’m fine and while it was an uncomfortable weekend it was worth it for two days above forty degrees and to run with music in my ears. The best advice I can offer - make friends witch people who have nice hot tubs. Soaking in the heated water with sunshine on your face is the closest I get to therapy these days and it is more appreciated than I can say.

On a brighter chord; yesterday was so special! I finally got to introduce Patty Wesner (long time best friend here in Veryork) to my old neighbor in Sandgate - goat farmer/photographer Dona McAdams and her husband Brad. Brad wrote an amazing memoir about their farm called Goatsong, which I can’t recommend enough. Dona and I recently reconnected over photography and I wanted these two powerhouse women to meet. So yesterday Patty and I drove there to look at some of her amazing work in her darkroom and studio (Dona doesn’t work digital) and share an amazing meal of their farm’s cheese and preserved garden goodies. We hat melted tome on toast, stewed Italian beans, pickles, and a fresh salad. The coffee and conversation were equally strong. And all of this among the company of the farm’s two stunning black standard poodles. Good weirdo friends are hard to find. When you find some, hold on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Exhales Joy

I open the front door and in runs two dogs and a goat kid. They were let outside after a large meal to relieve themselves outdoors (which is the rule for indoor quadrupeds, in general). The dogs ran to the overstuffed chair and daybed, but the kid ran right to the wood stove to warm up. Just a few weeks old and his routine is down. His black satin coat shimmers in the flickering firelight. The dogs, just as dark in their own fur, jump to my side and slink close to me like pacing wolves. The chair and bed are too far away from me. I'm exhausted and slump into the chair, and the dogs are by my side like Freyja's cats. The goat sees the attention and jumps into my lap to curl into a ball and sleep. The dogs allow the herbivore on my lap because they know tonight they'll be the ones sprawled on the bed while he sleeps in a pile of hay in his crate by the stove a floor below us. Politics is everything around here. The dogs know they win.

The goat is recovering from a little scare of bloat. Nothing to worry about, as I had seen in in lambs before. It's when too much grain or milk gets consumed with too much air and the belly of the beast swells like a balloon. I mixed baking soda and warm water in his bottle and he was better in 24 hours. Now he's munching on the first-cut June hay delivered from Common Sense Farm and ready for bed. I am also ready. It'll be a cold night but I am okay with it.

The house is warm and the faucets are all dripping. The mare has her blanket and Merlin has his thick coat. The sheep, goats, pigs, and birds all have warm beds of new straw and full stomachs. Everyone is tucked in and content. I am watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, which is the television equivalent of mac n cheese and a fishbowl of red wine. This day has been exhausting and frustrating, but it ended with comfort and that's more than most have so I am grateful.

No sales today. No new luck. But I am warm and hopeful. I am excited for what could be. I don't know what is worth more than that? So this farm exhales joy, and that is plenty for the day.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Melting Muck

Things here have gone from snowy wonderland to slush palace. The farm is starting to look the way it does much of the time; in transition. And as much as my design-trained eye loves those four glorious days a year (about once per season) that make this place look like a storybook, the animals much prefer the days I cringe at. I see a house that needs power-washing and dog poo peeking out of the snow - but the animals see spring. The slightly longer days, mud, and melt brings life back to the farm. Little bugs start to flutter about and crawl on warmed bark. The chickens are out of the barn and poking around the goats' discarded hay for them. Benjen is outside more - hopping around without a shiver and bothering the adult herd (who want nothing to do with him). The pigs sunbath and sigh. The dogs love the traction their paws grip on the softer ground - no longer ice and deep powder. And the horses are happiest of all - with blankets off and sun on their backs. Mabel rolls in the snow like the world's worst snow angel maker. It might look like a tornado hit but the beasts and bold!

If you backed the writing and publishing of Birchthorn, books have begun mailing out in order of backer amount. Locals and higher-level backers have received their copies or can expect them in the mail soon. Sending out batches every two weeks. Thank you for supporting this project! It's been bittersweet, as I have learned that self-publishing is not for me. There are too many moving parts and easy mistakes and too few agents and legal help involved. I prefer to leave this to the professionals at the National Distribution level from here on out, at least for print. I may consider another ebook at some point.

Today I am taking advantage of this mild weather to go hawking with some new friends I made at the MLK Weekend Falconry Dinner. A teen falconer I helped trap with this fall is also coming along with her parents to hunt with her bird. It'll be a day of ladies on the land, hawks on their fists and chasing quarry in the slush! Not bad for a Sunday afternoon! I'm excited and have coffee and hot chicken stew ready for anyone who needs an infusion of either before the hunt!

Following up on a past post, the person who is cyberstalking the farm has not removed their sites and social media accounts after fair warning. As soon as I am able to afford the legal fees the call goes into the law firm I have consulted with to begin the restraining order process and possible lawsuit. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Flexible, Persistent, Sliding Comforts

One of the gifts this life has given me is constant resourcefulness. On mornings like this when there's a real panic about making it through the weekend and jumping over hurdles to solve problems - this crouched wolf inside me springs into decision. I think the ability to perform under pressure is key to this chosen life. Anything involving animals, agriculture, and weather demands it. It's also necessary to creative lives with auditions, deadlines, and audiences. Constant command performance without burnout is 99% of keeping an operation like a small farm going. And it's the same for a small theater, or a road comic, or a writer receiving rejection after rejection after rejection. It's about keeping what you have while moving towards a goal at a glacial pace. The show must go on.

There's a problem. Okay. Well, Jenna, you can keep pacing around a cold farm house or you can get some coffee, spark a fire, write out a plan, make some calls, and fix it. I do let myself pace a little - then I get to work. This morning was just the case. I made some calls and figured out what I could do right away and even if those things don't work out - there is action in place to start working towards a solution. Sometimes trying is enough to begin change.

That's the biggest secret I can share with you about continuing in tough times while working towards a dream- stay flexible, persistent, and keep comfort on a sliding scale of preference. What I mean by that is know that some options aren't ideal - but can carry you through. Let me explain:

Be okay with being flexible on accepting solutions. Maybe you don't want a rubber raft to float you across the river. Maybe you prefer a nice wooden boat? Well don't wait for a wooden boat when someone offers to loan you a raft right now. Get across, return the raft with gratitude, and keep moving in the direction of your destination. Waiting for the perfect boat to be prepared so you have assurance of security is what stops people dead from following a risky dream. Why cross the water if it isn't safe? The only anwser is because waiting is more painful than that risk to some of us. Govern yourself accordingly.

I've been at this farm eight years come May. It has been rare that the mortgage was current, bills are all caught up, and the place is financially thriving. But I am still here because deep inside me I believe this place will succeed as long as I keep working, growing, learning, and sharing about that story to make it. I do not believe that struggling to keep water running and lights on is my permanent status. That doesn't feel real. Even if it it my current life there is no service to me or the farm in believing it can fail. My optimism and passion for this life is the battery. If that battery dies this place will crumble. I didn't work this hard and long to let that happen. Stay charged.

The last is the most important, at least to this specific life. Comfort needs to be a sliding scale. If I called it quits whenever things weren't perfect here - like hot water being off for months, or plumbing out for a while, or heat or cooling not ideal - I would have thrown in the towel years ago.  Learn to not prefer comfort the way you prefer not to eat fish or wear orange. If eating fish and wearing orange won't kill you - even if you strongly dislike the experience - shut up and deal with it. Sometimes you'll be cold. So be cold. Put on a sweater, run around, sit by the fire and dream of July. Discomfort is temporary as comfort is so I accept it as rare and seasonal. If I want to work from home, have these animals, have this life of hawks and horses and rivers and trails - it means wool hats and a 47° morning in your January living room. It means solar showers some summer days instead of indoor ones. It means eating out of your food stores you bought ahead instead of joining your friends who want to meet up for dinner at a restaurant. It means constantly being aware that I am lucky for this life I chose. I am never a victim of it. I am a fighter protecting it.

During tough times that is how I get through. I needed to write that for myself this morning. Wolf up and start your day.