Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Escape Pony

I walked around the far pasture shuffling slowly and head turned to the ground. If any neighbors drove by they might think the Zombie Apocalypse had finally arrived. I wasn't undead, I was frustrated. I was scanning the edges of fences and posts for yellow insulators long abandoned or pieces of old electric wiring - the kind used for string fences. I needed to set up an electric barrier fast.

I was scavenging for what I needed because spending money at the hardware store on new wire and a new charger was out of the question. I had already spent a third of all the money in my bank account today paying towards the electric bill's balance, a prescription for my lymph node issues, feed, and some AAA batteries. I needed to not spend another nickel until the farm made some sales. I've got till the end of the month to mail the mortgage payment and what I have now in my checking account couldn't pay for half of a Yeti Cooler. Zombie life here I come. 

Merlin has been escaping through extraordinary feats of ponyism. He's learned to leap over low fences and slide under high ones. If the space between two areas isn't electric he will find a way to push through it. He is liquid, fitting into spaces most equines would never dare tread.

His reasons for wanting to escape the paddock are because over half of his normal grazing area has been fenced off. He feels shorted. I've been giving those areas time regrow and heal from years of overgrazing with sheep, horses, goats, you name it. So the whole front area of the pasture has been seeded and sectioned off and Merlin wants in at those precious new shoots of grass. He's been a very ponyish pony lately. The mare has been perfect. Mabel wouldn't so much as cross a line drawn in chalk.  Merlin has a parkour that astounds.

So I have been slowly thwarting his escape routes, every day he finds a new one. It is a miserable game of chess and makes leaving the farm stressful. I worry he'll get into the road. So today I watched him leap over a divider and knew it was time to start electrifying the entire 2 acres he is in now, starting with the easiest areas to escape. It was the area without woven wire, just stretches of t-posts. I was using non-electrified horse tape, 2 inches thick which he minded for a good long while until the grass literally became greener. So now I had to get a wire across that 40 yard stretch of pasture.

It took about an hour to find, set up, and get the fencing, insulators and wiring all in order. I don't have any other chargers that work but the pigs'. So in an act of reckless choice I unhooked their charger to use for Merlin's fence. I know this is asking for trouble but I am hoping one night doesn't get me a runaway sounder. I set it up and used my fence tester to make sure it was hot. It was.

I am hoping this does the trick. I'm glad I was able to set up that fence without spending a dime. And now I am going to get back to the stress indoors in hopes for less stress outdoors. And hey, at least it wasn't raining. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Blossoms and Storms

The little lambs that have been sharing the farm house with me are finally sleeping outside in the lamb pen on the hill. The first night they were outside I also camped out with them, sleeping under the stars with my dogs in a tent. We got out of our nest three times that night to check on them. I was mostly worried about predators because Ser Pounce is so very small, but they were fine. I still need to add 2 more sheep to the flock this summer but these three are hail and hardy and sheep are back on Cold Antler soil!The apple blossoms are falling like snow in the wind after thunderstorms. They decorate the nursery pen on the hill. It feels like summer is stalking me and I love it.

Good news! My test results came back and I don't have any of the five tick-borne diseases I was tested for! And just as good news: the heat is on! The last few days have been hot enough to work up a glorious sweat just doing light yard work outside! Thunderstorms are every day (the mild, benign, northeastern sort that cool off a hot day) and I am back to running and hiking regularly.

If you remember last year when I decided to sell the dairy goats and breeding flock of sheep, the reason was for a little more freedom - financially but also time wise. I think at the heart of it I missed the small adventures of not being so tied down to one place. I have no desire to leave the farm or stop raising food - but I do want to be able to travel and hike a bit. That is what this summer is about. There will be small, brave, solo backpacking trips with the dogs and whatever I can carry on my back into the local state parks and Appalachian Trail. There will be camping, fly fishing, beautiful trips that cost me nothing since I already have the gear I need to be comfortable outdoors. It's not exactly amazing travel plans - I am talking about a few nights in the forest within an hour of the farm - but for me it is a big deal. I hope to spend one weekend in the White Mountains of New Hampshire when the lambs are older. I hope to enjoy the trail with new friends. I hope to feel healthy and safe.

Besides the usual fears of making the bills, this farm is okay. I am healthy. The animals are well. All my limitations right now are set by what I can earn and create. That is an amazing place to be. It makes you resourceful, careful, frugal, and most of all: grateful. I am hoping for more of this, all through the long hot summer. And as someone who spent the last 5 months heating a house with wood on many cold, dark, nights I welcome the heatwaves and harvests to come!

P.S. All of the recent photos here and on social media are thanks to a cracked-screen 2010 iPhone I found in a drawer. My most recent camera, a reader-gifted Canon G9 - sadly has broken so I am without a camera or new phone for pictures. I'll do what I can when things are better to have better images for you. 

P.P.S. If you want to contribute towards this blog, the medical tests, the farm, any of it - it is always appreciated and encouraging.  Do so by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Blood & Kailyards

It’s been an interesting couple of days. Since being tested for Lymphoma I have been to my dentist for x-rays to see if there were any complications/infections in my teeth. There are not. I have also been tested to Lyme and other Tick-borne illnesses and waiting on results. I am glad to be taking care of this, having the tests and appointments, but also quietly dreading the bills. It's hard enough making the money every month to fend off the worst of the stalking threats. Now this.

While waiting to figure out what is going on with me, I am actively trying to ignore it. I’ve hoed up and started setting up the kailyard behind the barn. It’s been such a cold and wet spring I haven’t had the weather or want to get out there and clear up and compost. Now I am. I have spinach and lettuce and kale to plant and tend. I have 8 plants of butternut squash to start my fall squash pile with. I have all the laying hens raised as chicks outside all day foraging and being proper chickens (though they do tap on the glass doors at dusk to come inside to sleep in the brooders at night. I let them.

The three bottle lambs are doing so well. The smallest one, named Ser Pounce, had a rough start and was very skinny and took a while to train to the bottle. Now he’s a small tight ball of energy that rivals a kitten! Podrick and Lyanna are also doing well. When it is over 50 degrees they are outside in the lamb pen on the hill. Otherwise - in these windy, rainy, and sleet (yes SLEET filled days) they are inside on a pile of hay in the dog crate in the living room. Across the room from the chicks gathering at night, of cats curled up by the wood stove, and of me and the dogs sipping tea and watching a movie before bed. Quite the peaceable kingdom, even if the outdoors are savage lands.

So I am moving this farm towards its goals, CSA, customers and seasons. I am worried about what is going on with my body but it isn’t like the flu - not anymore. I am able to go on gentle hikes and walks, but I am not running. I am sleeping more than usual, but not a worrying amount. I am trying to rest and heal. I have these medical costs to deal with on top of the normal farm bills and mortgage and that has lit a fire of frugality and shameless promotion. I am actively looking for art and soap sales. I am hoping these warming months will encourage people to come here for fiddle or archery lessons. I am also looking forward to long hikes, hot runs, cool rivers and the real heat and humidity I so love.

Basically I am trying to keep the farm going among all this dreariness. This has been one of the coldest, wettest, springs on record (since 1895) up here. Grass won’t grow. Mud collects and pools. What I would give for a sunny afternoon on dry earth… A chance to get some pasture back I already fenced off from the horses (who are not happy about it) and to play fiddle with the lambs once they are outside full time on the hill.

Hoping for luck with better health, easier times, and a lighter heart. For now I am grateful for the hoe and bottle - meaning gardens and young lambs - they are keeping my heart turned towards the farm and better, easier, warmer days.

I am best at the keep going. So I am going to keep. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Scare

Yesterday I decided to go see a doctor about a swollen lymph node under my collar bone. It had been sensitive for days, inflamed, and I was starting to get the same reaction near my throat. I felt tired, unusually so, and weak. I was worried I was in the early stages of mono or Lyme. I have health insurance for the first time in years and decided to have it checked out. I thought I would have a boring office appointment and be home for lunch.

What proceeded was a day of being screened for cancer. It was a terrifying couple of hours from the concerned physician at the clinic  explaining to me that a node so inflamed rarely meant something good to being sent to the local hospital for chest x-rays and white blood cell counts. I ended up getting hours of tests and driving all around southern Vermont in the rain.

I am very relieved to say the tests came back negative for signs of Lymphoma. I found out late in the afternoon. That releif will set me back about $600 in medical bills but was worth every penny. To know that fast that I was okay, instead of worrying and saving up for the tests over months - I am so grateful I was able to get results back soon.

Now I am not sure if my body is fighting off some sort of infection, a root canal that's reinfected? I go from feeling like the top left corner of my body is fighting with itself to fine. Today I feel mostly fine, if a little foggy. I did a gentle hike with Friday to clear my head and process what happened yesterday. When you're being screened for cancer there usually only two outcomes to that process. Yesterday the news was lucky. Who knows how many lucky days any of us have left?

So I walked with Friday in the new spring woods. We stopped at a view overlooking farms and mountains as far as I could see. My body brought me there and home, and without any pain. It was a celebration and release of that tense day yesterday. And the joy of knowing those bills were being sent to my insurance company and not a demand for payment on the day of service. If that was the case I couldn't get tested.

Quite the day. And now I am back to the work of soap and art and the farm. I am bottle feeding three little lambs - all are doing well. I have a lead on some more. I am so encouraged by your kind emails and letters. People are contributing to the farm in so many ways and it really, really, makes a difference. I am very grateful for that, too.

Back to work for now. I'll call the dentist Monday morning to see about x-rays for the broken fillings above root canals. I'll figure out what is wrong soon as I can. And be gentle while I wait.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Gibson to the Rescue!

It was already a busy farm day when I got Patty's message. I was just home from a trip into town to mail off some soap packages. Before that I had my farrier here trimming the horses' feet and spent an hour sectioning off my pasture for better rotational grazing/regrowth. I felt the farm part of the day was done and was planning on an afternoon of writing and design work. You know, the kind of gentle, quiet, work done hunched over a computer screen with a cold drink and music playing. But when I went to my computer to check my messages I read:

I need help. Bring Gibson - the lambs got through fence
Patty

I didn't think twice. I wrote back I was on my way and Gibson and I jumped into the truck and headed to Livingston Brook Farm.

I wasn't too worried. If there's one thing I am used to it is sheep escaping. Gibson, Friday, and I have helped return many a stray sheep to this farm. But most of the time it was animals that were born, lived, and knew my farm. It's a whole different story when the lambs are brand new to a place and have no idea about the lay of the land and no familiar shelter to call home. Patty picked up her three pasture lambs this morning. They escaped during the re-homing process. They were in a strange place and out of sight. This is scarier than sheep outside a fence. This is three animals that have no idea where they are, why they've been taken there, and suddenly loose and wild in the big wide world.

So you call in a sheepdog.

When we arrived at Patty's farm no cars were in their familiar places. The horses were restless. They snorted at Gibson and pranced alongside us as we jogged towards the far field. I saw Patty's truck out in the pasture - she had driven in the direction they had ran.

I called out and she seemed okay, but worried. She had a recording on her phone of the lambs' mothers call and was, I think, just happy that reinforcements had arrived to help. She explained she was unloading three very boisterous young Romney ram lambs out of the back of her capped pickup truck and they found the one spot in the fence to escape and made a dash for it. They took off into the woods, across a stream, and away from her property. She lost sight of them in the fray and now they'd been gone about half an hour. She didn't know where they'd gone off to.

We split up, her driving with a bucket of grain to neighbors' homes. Gibson and I took for the road and decided to walk along the long, winding, driveways of adjacent properties. This area of the county is real farm country. Where I live - on a mountain road - there are small pieces of yards and lawns cut into the forest - but this was a place where people mow with tractors and 30 acres is a driveway. I didn't know where Patty had gone but I took Gibson where I thought sheep would go - to grass on a high spot.

Gibson and I followed a long driveway for a while and then I decided to cut into the field, walking up a small crest of hill. Then, by luck or tactics, we both came across three lambs laying down in the middle of the grass in the sun. I was certain Patty didn't see them if she drove by. They looked like a pile of brown dirt, almost level with the ground in tall grass. What luck! They were here! All together!

I told Gibson to move forward and the sheep exploded up from the ground, taking off. Gibson made a wide circle around them and gave chase - keeping the trio of runaways inside the perimeter of his herding. It was a beautiful thing to watch. He ran with such focus and intention. It reminded me of the lessons we took together when he was a puppy. We had found the sheep. They were okay. We weren't even a mile away from the farm! We could get this to all work out!

Soon Patty's big black truck crested the hill. I waved and pointed to our prizes. She poked her head out of the window asked what was best to do next? My first thought was for Gibson to herd them into the garage up the hill towards the neighbor's home. But I could tell Gibson had the sheep under control. He had been a living fence for about five minutes now, weaving and chasing and keeping the lambs more and more trustful of me and less of him. As they got closer to me the idea of grabbing them made the most sense. We could scoop them up and carry them to her truck.

Moments later Patty came out to us with a few leashes in hand. Together - two women and a dog - we were able to catch all three ram lambs and carry them to her truck. It probably only took another ten minutes but felt like The Battle of Woolterfell.

To Patty's credit she caught the first one and then grabbed the second with the other hand! I nabbed the third. Mission accomplished! Gibson, who had been running, trotting, or sprinting non stop in the sun had his tongue out halfway to his chest. He needed to cool off, fast. He's a damn good dog but not used to this level of intense work

I called Gibson into the pickup, he was panting up a storm. He had not herded this hard in a year. On the way back to her farm I had her let us out at the edge of her property where the Livingston Brook winds through her pastures towards the Battenkill River. Gibson knew what to do. He slid his over-heated body into the stream near a culvert letting the water slowly float him towards some soft stones. He floated like Baloo the bear and drank as his black fur floated around him. It was the prettiest thing I'd seen in years. When he felt better walked out to be beside me.

This dog. A thousand tiny gods could not offer me eternal life in exchange for him. What a perfect beast. He was a true hero. He was there in a pinch, performed, and saved the day. If he wasn't with me we'd still be chasing those lambs.

We got the three runaways into their shed with shade, water, grain, hay and a scolding. Patty set up the fencing to a better system. We went into her kitchen to clink glasses of iced tea in celebration. We got the livestock back and home safe. They weren't lost, or in the road, or feeding a generation of very grateful coyotes. The shepherds managed to keep the flock. Honestly it was a shame it was too early to drink.

I am glad the sheep are back, but really it was all Gibson. A trained herding dog became the transportable fence we needed and did so without hurting the sheep or himself. He worked hard and I gave him two glazed donuts on the way home (his absolute favorite thing in the world).

And it felt wonderful to be helpful to Patty, and to be useful and there when she needed the help. That woman has rescued this farm so many times. I hope she always knows she can count on me to do the same. That's what friends and farmers are for.

And very good dogs. 




Good Morning

Morning all, thank you for the kind messages and encouragement that came my way since the last post. I want to be clear that while the post was very personal, it wasn't meant to portray that I am unhappy, in danger or without supportive and wonderful friends. The post was about a very unconscious and normal sort of isolation women feel at a certain age when they don't fit into assumed roles. There is a sadness to it, of course, but please do not think I am saying my town isn't great - it's just adapting to a changing society the best it can. As every town is.

I wanted to also share that the farm is becoming brighter, greener, and more alive as I search for more lambs, plant, rake, prepare for summer guests and friends and do the everyday work of making this place scrape by. I have projects indoors and out. I am slowly working towards a new book, repairing fences, planning around restoring lawns and teeth - all the regular things!

I so appreciate every email, letter, card, message, contribution, story, DM and interaction. But what is most important to convey this morning that I am okay, and writing about the times I don't feel okay - is important to feeling that way.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Selfish, Broken, or Trouble

One time a man came to my door and asked to talk to my husband. He was perhaps in his mid fifties? He had gray stubble and an impressive beer gut and held forth with the confidence of a boy about to climb into his tree fort. I stood in the door, nervous. When I said there wasn't a husband here right now he asked to talk to my mother, Mrs. Woginrich.

Confused, I asked what he wanted. I was 28 and had not owned the property very long. I didn't know why this complete stranger knew my name or why he thought my mother (who lives hours away in Pennsylvania) was visiting me right now? He balked when I said it was just me here. This wasn't the correct anwser.

He eventually explained he was looking for permission to hunt on my land. Since someone recently bought the property he needed to talk to the Jenna Woginrich listed on the tax map. It was a woman's name so he assumed it was an older lady, a wife or widow, not a twenty-something in ripped jeans and bare feet.

I explained that I was the owner of this property and neither my mother or any sort of Mr. Woginrich lived here. I was the one hunting the property now and two is a crowd on six acres. He left after that, disgruntled and dazed.

That was the first of many times people would act uncomfortable around me when they found out I lived alone on a farm on purpose. I've been asked by neighbors, strangers, road crews, and bar patrons the same question for years: who is my husband?

When I explain I don't have one - everything changes. When straight men find out I'm alone they either take a step closer or a step back, but never remain in place. I am not claimed and therefore fair game to chase or a distasteful thing that should be avoided. Either way, I am not safe.

When straight women find out they change their tone. Almost 90% of the time it's a faux you-go-girl-approval masking their discomfort. I don't take it personally, but it is as loud as a stop sign. I am not claimed and therefore undesirable for partnership or a possible threat to their marriage. Either way, I am not safe.

For women residing in small farm towns the correct anwser to who are you? is daughter, wife, or mother. This is an unwritten, but well-understood rule. If a woman isn't one of those things she is either selfish, broken, or trouble. Someone either purposely avoiding the adult responsibilities of marriage and motherhood or someone not fit to fill them.

This unwanted caution is not loud. No one goes out of their way to be unkind. There is a veneer of politeness out here that is necessary in rural places. You don't need to know who the person plowing your driveway voted for or sleeps with as much as you need snow removed. But the unspoken assumption is women my age should be straight, married, and raising a family. Not doing those things waves warning flags and every year the flags wave harder.

Which is wildly aggravating because if I was a 27-year-old man who moved here from out of town, bought land, started farming, wrote books, paid taxes and never showed up on a police scanner—I would practically be voted in the new mayor. But I'm not. I'm a 36-year-old woman alone on a mountain with animals. I'm one step away from neighborhood kids telling each other I'm a witch and daring to knock on my door at Halloween.

So I own it. I don't want a husband or children and I'm okay with being alone. I would prefer to be in a relationship, but that seems pretty unlikely anytime soon. I have twice as many Twitter followers as there are people in my town - which, in case you were wondering, is the perfect algorithm for not getting laid.

Being a public figure in a small town is one thing. Being a single, newly-out, woman in a small town is another. There are things people do now they didn't used to do.

I drive a big ol' red pickup with a rainbow decal on it and everyone knows what that means. I'm damn proud of the work it took to put that sticker on my truck. Happy to let others know (who may not feel comfortable being out) I'm here. I'm here as your neighbor, as your farmer, as a fellow homeowner, as a friend, whatever. But I'm here. Reactions were mixed.

Small things started to happen. Not just because of that sticker, but because word gets around in a small town like fog on a cold night. People that used to wave when I drove by stopped waving. Women at red lights go out of their way to avoid eye contact with me, as if looking a gay woman in the wild will be met with a leer? Men blatantly stare like a hyena is driving a truck. No one paid attention to me before that sticker. I used to be a part of the background and now I'm one of "them."

Conversations changed. People that used to always joke about "new single men they met" do not talk about "new single women they met" the same way. Once I came out all joking about dating and sex shut off. It's not that they are upset, not at all. I think people aren't sure how to joke around anymore when identities change (to them). This quiet tension breeds a hissing caution that screams YOU ARE DIFFERENT NOW.

I am well aware that careful distance isn't homophobia and I'm not saying it is. My sexuality has very little to do with people's general wariness of me. Mostly I am avoided because I am single and past the age most women are partnered up. I think being a woman alone is far more off-putting than being gay.

I don't know what to say to this? I'm not single because I want to be. I'm single because I haven't met someone I love that loves me back. Pretty much the reason anyone is single. But when you're single for a long time in a little town; that is where the broken comes in. I must be alone because something is wrong with me. That, or I am something to be avoided altogether. So I am.

Which makes me so much more anxious around strangers now. I don't know how they feel about me when they find out I'm not partnered, that I run a farm alone, that it's not successful. I worry just existing in the same space will be seen as aggressive.

I avoid talking to other single women at all costs. I am afraid that anything I do or say will be seen as hitting on them, any sort of kindness or compliment or eye contact will be rejected, that I disgust them. They terrify me.  I never used to be afraid of people when I didn't want them to love me.

It's primal, lizard-brain, reactionary thinking. I know this. We all know this. So much of this is subconscious and never with ill-intent. No one means to ignore or distance themselves from women that don't make us inherently comfortable, that do not fill a social role. But that doesn't mean it isn't happening and it isn't isolating.

I moved out here to follow my dream of being a farmer and to find a safe place to hide from the person I knew I wasn't ready to be yet. I threw myself into sheep and horses, hawks and arrows because I needed a distraction from who I was, which was alone. And as long as I'm a part of this social primate species that lives in packs and hunts by daylight - I'll be considered an outsider for a very long time. At least in this place where belonging to a tribe's social placeholder is more important than any bumper sticker or tax bracket.

I'm okay with this. I'm fine with people keeping me at a distance. I'm fine keeping my distance from them. But to pretend it isn't exhausting is a lie. Everywhere I go I know people that look me directly in the face and smile think I am selfish, broken, or trouble. Eventually it changes you. It makes you more afraid and more bold at the same time. It makes you wistful and defensive. It makes you hopeful and lonely. It makes you someone who thinks women are avoiding eye contact at red lights when the truth is you're too afraid to look.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Encouragement

Podrick! First lamb of 2019!!!
I can not tell you how loudly I cheered in this living room when the farmer I emailed about delivering large bales (3'x6' of hay) to the farm was willing to barter for graphic design work. He was an ad on Craigslist, and was hard to find to begin with. People are almost out of hay up here, and all of my usual sources were out and politely explained I needed to get my bales elsewhere. I found this farmer in a nearby town and after he explained the price and delivery rates I countered with an offer of my logo work. A farm is a business, and sometimes people want a logo or a flyer or tee shirt design. Eric let me know he did need some graphic design work done and would deliver the bales the next morning. On a handshake we traded a few hours of my time and professional skills for all the hay I need for quite some time. I also didn't have to spend a dime, which is a HUGE bonus. I needed this kind of good news.

To celebrate I did some planting in the recently cleaned up Kitchen Gardens here at the farm.  Lettuce and other springs greens were planted alongside some kale. Not the biggest garden push but a start and food in the ground. They say a garden is the strongest act of hope you can offer. My hands have soil on them and the gentle week of rain is encouraging them on.

And the big news: the first lamb of the year is here! I still need three or four more but I bought a bottle lamb this morning at the May Poultry Swap. He's a darling little cross of Icelandic and Dorper, I think. They weren't really sure. His name is Podrick. I hope he has company soon as I can find them for sale around here. I need to make more stops at sheep farms, phone calls, and such. But to have sheep back! Even a singular sheep! This is also great news.

I am still dealing with broken teeth. I am eating just soft foods. I have a checkup with my endodontist this week and I'm terrified he'll need to redo the root canal. I am trying not to think about it if I am honest. The good hens of this farm are laying well and the chicks I raised to add to the flock are outside now - being scrappy CAF hens like the should. I have all the scrambled eggs I could eat.  I am grateful I am not in pain.

I wrote yesterday on Twitter that the problem with always figuring things out is eventually everyone assumes you'll always figure things out. That even if every month is a white-knuckled struggle the fact you keep doing it is all the proof they need to not worry about you. I get more messages saying "I'm sure you'll be fine!" than I care to admit. These are worse than messages where people urge me to throw in the towel, at least those people are being realistic about how dire things are. Even the guy who wrote to tell me it was pointless getting root canals if you can't cap them because you'll lose the teeth meant well.

I feel like people that send me the most panic-inducing emails are the ones that don't have to worry about being home alone all night, or have a regular checks coming in. Guys if your advice is "Oh well, you're screwed" it's okay to keep it to yourselves...

So on this Sunday I am trying to figure out what I can figure out. I have plants in the ground, a lamb to bottle feed, and feelers out for more. I have a mortgage and livestock to raise. I have a mission to wake up to and fight to keep every morning. And this bit of luck - the hay trade and new lamb - these things bring in a fresh wind of confidence. Not the kind of arrogance that assumes I'll be okay - but a rung on the ladder out of panic.

If you are out there and can support this farm, please do. I need the help. Holy Crow, do I ever. This year has been the hardest and I just want to get through each month, I'm fine with it being hard I just need to know I'll be okay.

If you want to: contribute to the writing or buy some soap or artwork. And if money is out of the question because your as up against it as I am - send a nice word of encouragement via email or on socials. I always ask for that during rough times because I need it. I need it as much as I need to make sales. Maybe one or two of you will do so, and when that happens the world seems kinder and the readership feels realer and I feel so much less scared.

Thank you for reading. I hope this spring leads to something better. I am getting there slowly with this hay and lamb and some planting. Fingers crossed and hands dirty in hope.


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Grass, Eggs, and Teeth

Teeth and grass, that is what I was thinking about today. I recently found an old iPhone from 2012 of mine in a drawer. I charged it and saw it worked okay, even if the screen was broken. It didn't work as an actual phone (no plan or sim card) but it would dial 911 in an emergency and since my camera is broken, I could use it for pictures for here and Instagram. While looking at the photos I saw pictures of this place back then and what struck me was how lush the lawn was. I had forgotten. Since farming I have walked over the soil in places so many times, and rain from the hillside eroded, most of the soil and earth that allowed for grass in a lot of the front lawn area under the maple tree. It's where I go to fill buckets several times a day. I hope to reseed and add topsoil over the summer, the best I can. But I probably would have not even noticed if it wasn't for the time travel the phone granted. I'm not sure I am grateful for it or not?

Part of me is really proud of this farm and how wonderful it can look in July. That's when the lawn is greener and the gardens are lush and I don't have to worry about heating the house or cooling it. And with some flowers in the wash bin by the door and a little paint here and there it is lovely to me. Plain, but lovely. I was especially proud of it last summer when my friends Danielle and Sarah came to stay. I had just mowed the lawn and the siding was power washed and door painted and the pictures they took while here make me beam.

But this place in April, when the mud is just drying out and the lawn is packed clay and we are a long way from July, I have to give myself permission to be patient. Growth is slow.

Eggs are not slow. My hens are laying well every day, at least half a dozen eggs. They are keeping me and the neighbors supplied. This is important because I think the bulk of my protein for a long while will be coming from scrambled eggs, at least 2 meals a day...

Today while eating some trail mix I bit down on an almond and a large chunk of my molar broke off. It was painless, since it's the same tooth I had a root canal on a few months ago and the nerves are gone, but I hadn't been able to get it filled in properly because it's another couple hundred dollars over the initial root canal cost which is already more than a mortgage payment. So over the months it got weaker and weaker now I am worried that it will expose the roots and get reinfected and need a second root canal. It is now the third broken filling/tooth in my mouth hiding back in the molars. My dentist said the combination of genes, my under bite, and grinding in my sleep I didn't realize I was doing until a few years ago is what caused most of my problems.

I am doing what I can but right now, like everything else, it's a problem that has to be dealt with in order. I don't know what to do but not eat anything that requires chewing until I can afford to fix it. That, on top of everything else that is going on, allowed me a good, long, cry. The kind of cry you hold in for a long time while you roll up your sleeves and pretend everything is okay. I am literally falling apart.

I wish I had different teeth. I've had bad teeth my whole life. Far as bad body parts go, I'll take it. They are something that can be repaired and replaced. But to me they are a reminder of failure and status. There's a reason people on TV have veneers, dentures, whitening, and straightening - because a person with a smile in order is a person with their life and health in order. If I ever "make it" in any sort of way I am getting a new mouth.

Tomorrow I will call the dentist and tell them what happened. Hopefully they can patch it, or do something that I can afford to keep the actual root canal safe. There is nothing I can do about it tonight but write about it, which is what I am doing here to help with my anxiety. And also, to ask for help.

What I mean by that is help relieve the anxiety through kindness. If you can send a kind word through email or social media, a cheer, encouragement, please do. I don't always reply but I do always read them. It really means so much to me. It's the difference between setting my shoulders into the plow or setting it aside.

Want to help with the farm in general, well if you ever bought soap or artwork or meat shares and want some more (and are not in a hurry for any of them) do let me know. Sales are what make bills, the mortgage, all of it possible and what I need most.

I hope to write about new books and lambs and piglets and summer gardens soon. I hope to get through all of this. But tonight I just want someone to say it'll be okay because this is getting scarier every year. And while I do think all of this will be worth it, and that I will find a place of comfort and peace on this farm - right now knowing this night will be okay is all I need to get through the worst feelings of doubt.

Thanks for reading all this.

Still here.








Sunday, April 28, 2019

Permission

The most common feedback I get these days is permission to quit. It never comes from a place of ill intent. The senders of these emails want to see me find a sense of peace and less panic. They want me to know that I owe nothing to the readership and they enjoyed the story regardless if I keep the farm or not. Some want the trying to stop, as if it makes them anxious. Others are genuinely worried about my mental or physical health. But most of you read quietly and keep your opinions to yourself. I assume a great many of those of you reading quietly also understand if I wanted to start changing directions.

That said:

I got through this miserable winter and am slowly getting through each and every month. I am almost through this one. A few more small sales and I will have the mortgage to mail in. Today a person came to make sure I was here and take photos of the house. That always hits me hard, a reminder that mailing in a late payment every month isn't a victory - it's treading water until I am past caught up and saving for the future. Solvency is the dream of this farm and thousands of others. I know a lot of you out there are also trying to make it, to keep your land and animals, to manage whatever scraps are left of the American Dream we were promised.

I am not quitting. I am not giving up. I am not selling the farm. I have a real chance to pull something good off this summer and I will figure out a way to pull that off. I do not care if this is the hardest stretch of my life and every single month is a panic and prayer. That is what I signed up for when I put my story online to share with strangers. I made that unofficial handshake, that I would keep telling the story of this farm in the hopes you keep reading about it. I can't tell you how powerful that is, knowing that someone out there is listening. Even if you read this blog hoping I fail and lose the farm, it is comforting knowing someone is reading this. Maybe you find life a little less lonely reading this, too.

I feel close to being okay. I've come so far. I've grown up so much, changed so much, got stronger and harder and far more focused and determined. I hope I can figure out these next few days. I will try.

You can always count on me to try.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Little Rituals

Last night a thunderstorm and high winds ripped through the farm deep into the night. I know because I was woken up by Gibson slamming into me, and it wasn't his usual desire to be close while scared of the noise. It was as if he was trying to get through me to the other side, shaking as if something had shocked him when lightning struck. Friday was so wigged out she chose to sleep on a dog bed on the floor - giving up her prime spot to not be bothered. I wish things were easier on him, but he has to ride through it. And in the morning we both know things will be easier, the mind and body can focus on work, and a belly full of food and a job to focus on takes away the anxiety.

Wait? Am I border collie?

Huh. Well, I woke up with Gibson beside me and Friday watching the window at the sorry sight that is a mug spring farm. Water was pooling all over, the hill was a mudslide. The horses heard us getting ready because they were close to the open windows and Merlin hollered for hay. I was glad I repaired the sump pump. Flooding was likely, if not certain. Here goes the day...

The month is halfway over and I am scrambling to figure things out. I haven't been posting as much for that reason, which is what I tried to explain. I'm 20% there and I have 14 days to earn the other 80%. I'm doing my best to stay on top of things, the farm coming first. This morning I watched the geese (4 of them here now) guarding their nest as I walked by them with buckets of water to refill the horse trough. The chickens are laying eggs like mad. The horses are almost half shedded out. The other Day a friend came over to ride Mabel while I road Merlin and the black rope reins are now splotched with her white and brown hairs. Both the horses are barn sour to be left alone in the pasture if the other is taken out, so I am trying to take them out together while I get my riding legs back and get used to a muddy ground instead of a frozen one.

The chicks I am raising indoors are doing well and outside all day. Then at dusk they jump to the door to be let inside to their roosting spot in a brooder in the living room. Chickens never stop impressing me how clever they are about where they belong. All I need to do is open the door to the brooder and let them inside and they jump inside the wire cage and rest in the hay together. It is a lovely little ritual. This is their home, too.

I am putting together a book proposal, working on logos and portraits, gathering up leads on lambs and piglets, calling farriers, butchers, and veterinarians. I am going through all the motions a woman would go through on a spring farm as if this is exactly where she will be when summer hits. I hope that is the case. And I hope I have better news soon, at least news that things are still scrappy and constant. Things have to get easier at some point. Or maybe they don't? Maybe that's not what I signed up for and would be a fool to assume?

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:


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Fires

Checking in quick to let people know I am okay. I am trying to spend every single day working, walking, practicing music and figuring out how to get through the month. There are lambs and pigs to secure, a book proposal to write, art and soap to create, and sales to promote. This is what I am focusing on with all I've got. If you have a kind word of encouragement, it is priceless. It'll be a while before I am out of the woods but right now I am focusing on foraging herbs and making fires to survive while in it.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

PSA

I am a bit worried my blog posts are getting a bit too dire to keep posting them, and I don't want every single post to be about the same concerns related to the struggle here. I will be checking in more when things are better, but things are not better yet. Right now I need to put all my energy into making sure things are okay today. I appreciate your understanding. Posting often on Twitter. Not as much on Instagram since my camera broke when dropped 4 feet a few weeks back.

Keep going out there. I will too.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Sturdy Bread

These last few days have felt like waking up from a long nap, just as slow and sore, but insanely grateful. Spring is really here. The nights are still chilly, but my firewood made it through. I am out now but that is okay. I can collect little scraps of dead dry from the lawn and make a cheer-builder at night if I want. The bank cashed my mortgage check, which let me exhale for the first real time in weeks. They only cash it if they aren't moving forward with any foreclosure proceedings, and so when I saw my bank account plummet this morning online I hugged the dogs. I raised my mug of coffee high to any ancestors that might take any passing interest in me. I mailed my health insurance check yesterday, had it post marked for the day it was due. I don't know if they'll let me keep it or cancel it for being a week late. I will find out. If it does cash and I manage to keep it another month I'll have less than ten bucks to my name, but I don't care. I can earn back the money towards the next month's goals slowly. Today, I celebrated this find spring day. I let myself enjoy the exhale of getting through March.

I did the best thing I know for my own worried little heart: work. I did all the morning chores, which right now focuses on keeping the pigs penned and not exploring the wider forest. I carried hay, grain, and feed. I carried buckets and when I needed a break I pulled the little tin whistle from my pocket to play a tune. Once chores were done I set into the logo clients I have scheduled, five this week to work on. I have a donkey running logo, a knitter's croft set of comps, and a beautiful dragon family crest to design. I inked a woman's grinning dog and sketched another clients cat. I made a batch of soap that should fill two orders once they cure. This is my trio of winter work: design, draw, and make soap. Every day some part of that is worked on. Slowly I am catching up on orders and clients neglected during the worst of the last week's worries. It felt good.

With most of my clothes in the laundry pile I dusted off an old canvas kilt and tied it around my waist. I forgot how much I love them. How they fit me like a second skin, the most comfortable farm clothing there is. I have them in a few sizes, and thank a thousand tiny gods that the one I grabbed was too big for me. I welcomed the tiny boost of confidence, feeling my summer body slowly coming back to me. (I am still walking every day, at least 4 miles.) I let it hug my hip bones as I went along with the spring work. Besides chores and inside work; I tended pea seedlings, and collected eggs. I paid for and picked up some hay. I baked bread, went for a long walk with Friday, and wrote with Gibson sleeping by my side. Later in the afternoon I practiced my fiddle, shot 2 dozen arrows off a light bow, and worked with the horses. Feeling overly confident, I tacked up Merlin to enjoy a short ride. As I trotted him away from the barn Mabel hollered in protests as if I was taking him to slaughter. He flicked his ears back to her and yelled back. Two horses hollerin' and mud under our feed. Not a bad way to spend a spring day.

I am now into April, the creepiest month, my least favorite. But I am here. I am still here, and with good work and high hopes. Things feel better and if I am lucky and smart I will get to stay here. I have good projects of all sorts ahead of me. I have shoots of grass, two healthy (and loud) horses, and all the flour and eggs I need to survive off french toast if I have to while I save up for another month. Which starts today. Which starts in earnest. Which starts with coffee mugs raised high and bow strings and old kilts and horse neighs and good, sturdy, bread.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Old Friend

A few days ago I restrung my fiddle and replaced the battery in my tuner. The fiddle was already wiped clean and fussed over, as was the old case I have had since I lived in Idaho. Even free of dust the case is so beaten and the stickers all over it are fraying. Rightly so, as it has been with me for over ten years, throughout this country from Idaho the New York. The old Smoky Mountain stickers are fading right next to the Sandpoint and Vermont ones. One clasp is broken entirely so I use and old dog collar as a belt of sorts to keep the thinner neck section shut. It is as scrappy as this farm and my fiddler's education. I like it.

I am keeping a small handwritten journal of my practice sessions. I titled the journal 50 Songs Till Summer, and the goal is to relearn and sharpen 50 beloved tunes to the point of flawless playing from memory by June 21st. Through out the journal I mark songs I am working on, giving myself little musical rewards when I hit a certain goal. For example, when I have memorized and perfectly performed the first five songs I am working on - all in a row without a single mistake - I am rewarding myself with a new container of Hill Dark Rosin. In ten songs I will replace the broken bow I am using, which I stepped on by accident last fall. It still works but you can't adjust the tension since I somehow stepped on the frog.

These goals are all depending on if I have the funds to get such things, but I am pretty sure I can figure out the rosin at least. The bow won't be a fancy bow, by any means, but it will be encouraging to have these small victories and presents to look forward to. And I am glad I am at a point in my life where I am not interested in picking up new hobbies or instruments. I want to get better at the things I have.

As for my playing? Well, If I am honest, the notes that first came out were awkward and tired as a drunk cat. I cringed, trying to remember how to match the balance, tension, fingering and sawing motions. After twenty minutes or so I could hear pieces of the D scale fall into place. It was like jumping off a stone bridge into cold water - relief.

My old friend is coming back to me. Some things can't be helped and some can. The new strings, the bridge alignment - these adjustments are better after the weeks of neglect. Other things like the way the cold of winter altered the shape and curves of the wood - even slightly - that changed how a note sounded. I played through it. Adjusted. Practiced.

I got through many renditions of Ida Red and Rain and Snow. One or two of them even sounded good. I decided that the rest of this week was theirs. I would play those songs a lot, so many times the dogs would confuse them with their own names, and get back the trust of that fiddle through regular conversation. It's like starting a relationship from scratch after three months of the silent treatment, literally.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Laughing At Coopers

While walking today I saw a Coopers Hawk and laughed in delightful defiance at the site of her. It was like seeing Winter himself trip on a banana peel. It felt good to laugh, like I had been holding my breath. The walk was partially a celebration as I had already been into town and handed Wendy at the post office my mortgage check. I asked her to please get it out today, and postmark it too. She happily obliged. I had pulled it off. If I was lucky I would even be able to make the health insurance payment before the end of the month. I would try. Holy Crow, would I ever try.

I was on my way to Shushan. A little village tucked beside the Battenkill River. There's a few houses, an old train station, a post office, a general store and antique shop. That's it. But part of this celebration was going to Yushak's for a lunch to go and eating it beside the river while I rested before walking the four miles home.
I wouldn't have been able to laugh a few miles ago. A mile into my walk—as I was crossing the small highway at the bottom of my road for the dirt roads across from it—I heard the familiar sounds of the mail truck. It turned up my road. Anxiety hit me like a hard slap.

How can I explain this to you? Have you ever left your pets or children in the care of a new babysitter and an hour into your date night you see sirens of ambulances head towards your home? Your rational mind knows that there is a very little chance that their destination is your house, but it could be. What if my mail carrier was holding a foreclosure notice in her mailbag right now. What if I was too late? What if there was any number of threats in red envelopes? What if bad news was happening and I was a mile away.

I felt the waves of a small panic attack start to invade my logic like little tremors. Anxiety doesn't care about logic. It certainly doesn't care about statistics. I wanted to run back up the hill for the relief of knowing what was in the mail. I wanted to know that on the day I finally mailed the Hail Mary mortgage I managed to skate past danger once again. I needed to know.

I forced myself to keep walking. Anxiety is the entire reason I walk. I have too much energy, and my brain uses most of it to worry. I knew if I tired out my body, if I made myself walk, the waves of panic would leave. It was a matter of being too tired to use energy for stress.  So I made myself listen to the audiobook of The Wise Man's Fear and keep walking.

I walked past farms and houses. I walked past pigs and turkeys, deer and squirrels, and I saw many birds. So many ravens and crows right now are collecting anything stringy and soft for their nests. I saw the ravens near my farm taking the piles of black fur that I brushed off of Merlin yesterday away in their beaks. Somewhere near my farm baby ravens would hatch among black pony fur. This didn't make me laugh at all. It did make me smile like a good glass of whiskey tastes.

While walking I met a great dog named Winnie and watched

When I made it into Shushan I ordered a sandwich and grabbed a butterbeer off the chilled shelves. I walked over the to river and sat beside the water. No one else was there, as it was a week day and March. Trout season would see it packed but right now it was just for me.

I sat and ate and listened to my book. Good gods it was lovely. The butterscotch soda and amazing roast beef was perfect. This is all I want in life. I want a home that feels safe, even for a little bit. I want a body that can carry me across roads to new towns. I want to be able to enjoy good simple food and hear stories. I let out a long sigh.

By the time I got home I wasn't worried about the mail. My brain was too tire to race me there. I walked up the mail box and pulled out a letter from a friend in the PNW, a student loan payment reminder, and an LL Bean catalog that looked like clothing for white people on boats. No pressing threats. I was also too tired to feel anything close to fear. I was grateful for the walk.

It's now almost dinner time and I am not hungry at all. I got soap orders packaged, evening chores done, and this written to you. Now I am going to take Friday for a 2 mile walk to end out the day. When rainy days come in the days ahead I won't be out for ten miles so I better enjoy it now.

Thank you for reading. And thank you for your kindness, support, stories, encouragement and interactions. I am grateful for you, too.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Saddle For Sale

Collegiate Saddle for sale. English, trekking style. Nice high padding. Older but in good condition. Recently cleaned, scrubbed, oiled and in good order. Has been fitted with new bio leathers, stirrups, and rubbers. Also comes with a gently used large padded faux-fleece girth. Make an offer via email or social media. MUST SELL!

A Fiddler's Shame

I have pulled my fiddle out of the case and carefully removed the old strings. One was broken, it happened earlier this winter. I slowly removed them and carefully cleaned the dented and small instrument. It's been sadly neglected. The last time I played in public it was three tall mugs of beers in and too loud. I didn't know any of the songs at the Celtic session in town. They mostly played contra dance tunes, New England style of folk music. Everything I know is from southern mountain music. Songs like Shady Grove, and Blackest Crow, and Rain and Snow and Wayfaring Stranger. These are not like the high and fast reels of coastal Canada and below. I fumbled and was tipsy and basically embarrassed myself as a musician. My friends were supportive and clapped when I played but that was a kindness for my bravery. When I saw a video of that night I cringed and haven't played since.

But as the days grow a little longer and a little warmer I am finding myself missing music. I plan to start from scratch. Start with basic scales and the simplest songs. Play Ida Red, the song I teach beginners, twenty times a day until my fingers can draw it out like a yawn with my eyes closed. The only reason I was shamed out of playing was because I wasn't prepared, and I let my playing slack to the point of being unable to keep up with new tunes. Time to remedy that.

I'll start as a beginner, relearning all the old songs and slowly adding new ones. I seem to crave it like food by noon each day, and now that my fiddle is prepped for new strings and clean it is only a matter of time before I rosin a bow and get to it.

Things have been encouraging, but moving slow. It seems that every single time I make some headway there's money in the bank something comes up. The electric company sends a threatening letter, the internet/phone bill is due or it'll be disconnected, Friday's vet visit for worm meds... usual life stuff. I am exactly where I was a week ago with my bank account. I was not able to buy in any lambs or piglets. I have kept the fires low and only after dark, because I am not getting any more wood until late summer.

The bank account being in the same place isn't necessarily bad news. It means that I am not horrifically behind and was able to get in the sales I needed to cover a couple hundred dollars worth of urgent needs. If I am realistic, and lucky, it will be a tiny miracle if I do pull this month off and I don't think there will be any way to cover health insurance and the mortgage at this point. Which is a bummer but I have gone years without having any insurance at all. Having three months of it was already a small victory, and you know how I care for those small victories. They got me this far.

I know it isn't fun to keep reading about hardship. It is even less fun dealing with it here by myself. I ask for patience with things like soap orders or artwork. I am doing my best to get them out but I really need to get all of my energy towards keeping this farm out of threat of any possible foreclosure, which legally the bank can move forward with if a check isn't postmarked by the 31st. The roof over my head is my number one concern right now. More than updates here, or anything else. I hope to report back with good news as soon as possible.

Till then I will be practicing on a dented fiddle and finding music again as time allows. Wish me luck.



Friday, March 22, 2019

Pork Shares Still Available! Lamb Sold Out!

Okay guys! Still looking to move shares of pork! Get some amazing meat for yourself or buy a share to be donated to my local food bank/elders' home!

This farm needs to make the sales to stay solvent and the clock is ticking louder by the day. I have less than ten days to pull things off towards this month's safety net.

This is the time to support the farm if you are at all interested in doing so. Please send an email. I'll be in touch withe everyone who isn't clearly a troll!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Preventative Measures

It's been a gray day on this farm. Right now the rain is falling steady and I am just inside from evening chores. Paws are wiped. The candles are lit. The wood stove is sputtering to keep the chill off the rainy, windy, weather outside. Despite the weather things are steady, if not gaining on the mood front. I made the whole Kiva Loan payment on time, keeping that promise to my lenders. Now I can focus on the mortgage, and gods willing, the health insurance. Sales are at a trickle which is a damn fine flow better than no water at all. I have a ways to go to make it. Fingers crossed.

And you know Murphy's Law never needs a reason to not come calling... Soon as the payment was made to Kiva I took Friday out for a nice walk before the rain came. She stopped to do her business and what I saw was not pleasant. She has worms. Not a tragic case but she has them for certain and I made the call to the vet and was told she was also due for her rabies shot so tomorrow she heads down to the vet clinic. Never a dull moment on a farm. Keeping me on my toes.

The good news is that I was able to get hay loaded up in the truck and unloaded before the rain. I was also able to get some needed house repair supplies at the hardware store. I saw the weather report was calling for intense rainfall between tonight and Saturday, and I already saw what a rainy morning can do to my basement. A few days back I was able to reroute the sump pump but the hose was so damaged from Gibson's teeth (certain it was a deadly black snake I guess) that when water came out it spit and squirted most of it like a sprinkler system. I got a new cheap hose at the hardware store and replaced it from the basement out to the drainage area outside. Finishing that up felt like a very good preventative measure.

Preventative measures seem to be how the ball game has changed here. While things never go as planned I am getting better at preparing for most of them. Yesterday when the truck started and promptly died, I didn't call the mechanic. I lifted the hood and saw a relay box has slipped off the clamp and was laying in a weird position. I set it right an tapped it a little just for encouragement and the truck started again. I wouldn't even know what a relay box was if I still drove a newer truck. I'd also be without a farm since it was $400+ for a payment and insurance (not including gas and repairs) on the past Dodge. Taylor might not be pretty but I know how to dance with her. I love her. If things ever pick up I'll get a smaller car to jet around with for things I need to do. Right now that isn't the plan. RIght now the plan is hold on for dear life to what I have, keep it close, mend and make do, and work hard towards better things.

If I wake up tomorrow to that intermittent hum of a sump pump motor and find it working well I will raise my coffee mug high to preparation. Here's to all of that. And to March going a little slower so I can keep the hustle moving and the bills paid.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Eggs and Partners

Lambs of springs past, now being born at Moxie Ridge Farm
Spring is slowly stalking this farm. This morning I collected the 6th goose egg while the four geese that reside here walked up into the horse pasture to nibble on the very first exposed green bits of grass. Snow and ice is still splattered everywhere, but those nibbles are bites of hope for easier days ahead. Easier on the the weather, the mind, and the body. I'm collecting the eggs to save for a farm friend that wants to barter for rabbits. I am gingerly planning getting back into rabbits and have a new used hutch system reserved from one of Patty's older setups (needs a new bottom) and beautiful stock from a local lamb and pork customer who has a hankering for some geese. I pick up the giant eggs and carefully bring them inside to set in a protected cabinet. If all goes as planned and luck keeps shining on this farm, by June I will have a green landscape I need to mow, slick horses running on the hill, rabbits in hutches eating hay, piglets and lambs running about, and a sense of belonging I am always clawing towards. That is what I want, what I am actively praying for.

There are ten days left in the month to make a mortgage payment. Not this month's, a late payment. This has been the MO for a while now and will be until I catch some sort of amazing break. But right now the farm is in survival mode to keep ahead of foreclosure, the electric company turning off lights, the internet provider from shutting off my services, that kind of thing. Yesterday I sold a logo and all the money went towards a loan repayment with Kiva and the electric company. Those were the loudest screaming needs and once those are satisfied I can focus on the mortgage, lambs, and if I am lucky - keeping my health insurance. It seems unlikely that I will. I can't not pay back my loan, or not buy in the lambs and pigs I need, it's not an option. The health insurance - while wonderful - it seems selfish compared to those louder screams. That said, I am going to try. It makes riding horses, hiking, working with hawks feel safer. It makes everything feel safer. But that feeling might be a luxury I can't afford when the alternative is losing home.

I woke up today with a weird feeling. Both excited about the spring and all the plans of warmer weather, and the very real notion that time might be up here. It is getting harder and harder to keep the ship floating (or more honestly, plugging holes in the boat). To beat this metaphor to death: the landfall I am hoping for seems less realistic every day while I get better at mending. I don't know what that ends up as? What I do know is I hope to keep writing about it, whatever the outcome. And as I am heading towards my 37th birthday this summer I no longer want to do this all alone. There was a real moment of sadness during coffee today when I thought about how I have no idea what it is like to have a partner in life, for support and to share the burdens and joys of making a home or working towards a goal. Being broke is something I am used to. I gave up the idea of financial security when I came out as a full-time farmer, but I never thought I'd be going solo for so long.

That is where I am at right now. Determined and lonesome. A little scared about making it into summer, or what might happen. The usual. May luck carry me a few weeks more. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

100

dreaming of Spring Greens and Donuts
Good morning from a crisp and sunny Cold Antler Farm! I am finishing up morning chores and checking in between tasks to write (and warm up my hands). I had a lead on some lambs, bottle babies I'd have to feed, but the seller found someone else to buy them while my truck was being repaired and I couldn't get to them in time. Maybe that's for the best, as right now all income needs to focus on the mortgage after I earn back these recent repair bills, but the price was so good it makes me wince I missed them. But the good news (and in this life you must focus on the good news) is that lambs are popping up for sale everywhere. Few people are able to deal with bottle lambs and the time they take so I will try and jump on some more as they become available and I'm able to scoop them up.

I was able to worm Merlin this weekend but the Mare is trickery. She sees that apple paste tube an acre away and scrams. The trick: I buy 2 jelly donuts. I give her one and let her enjoy every perfect bite. Then I make sure the second has been filling-scraped-clean and instead piped full of apple paste. She eats it up like candy. Donuts have gotten me far with Mabel. Merlin, on the other hand, doesn't care for donuts. He's more of a fruit guy.

Things are shaky but optimistic. I have until the end of the month to cover the farm and keep her safe, and I feel like it's possible to achieve the sales to do it. What else can I think? It is frustrating to be right back where I was this time last month, dealing with truck repairs, and behind on everything. But if there's any comfort in that it's that I got through February and was able to retain my farm, health insurance, heat my home and keep all the animals healthy and content.

And I also need to remind myself that this May will be nine years on this farm. That's going to mean well over A HUNDRED mortgage payments made. I managed that so far by myself, mostly self-employed, and following this dirty dream. When I wake up nervous I need to look at the statistics and remind myself who I am dealing with. I wouldn't bet against me. Not yet.

If you are interested: meat shares and handmade farm soaps are still available. Private beginner lessons in fiddle and archery are available.  Logos and illustrations are available. Just send an email!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Gibson's Birthday!

Happy Birthday Gibson, who turns 9 today. We have never spent a night apart. We have never spent more than 7 hours apart, actually. We never will. He is my best friend, soft and gentle herder, farm hand, blanket, story, and song. I love you.

SPRING!!!!

It was 65 degrees here yesterday! What a gift that was! I saw turkey vultures for the first time soaring (the REAL bird sign of spring) and local sap is running like mad. I got the horses their spring worming paste and a new block of minerals to replace the crumbles of their old one. Merlin is shedding hair like nuts. Mabel is slowly getting her old coat back as well.

Mighty proud that the sump pump had issues and water was filling the basement by the bucket full after a morning thunderstorm here, and I was able to repair the hose and reroute the water as if I was making toast. This house isn't anything fancy but it is solid, and I have learned how to mend it when it needs band aids. At least so far. 

Yesterday afternoon I even got my truck back from the mechanic. They added another relay and road tested it several times. It seems to be okay now and once I got it back I took her right to the laundromat/car wash in town. I had been waiting 2 weeks to finally get this laundry done and while the clothes were agitating I hosed off her dust and vacuumed the cab and today I'll clean the windows and dash. She's back and she's all I got. As much trouble as she has been this winter I can be grateful that this is a truck I own in full. I am paying for maintenance and what I spent this month on her repairs is what I used to spend in one month to pay the loan and high insurance on my old truck, which I didn't own. So the bright side is as rough as it has been, at least it is my own truck in that driveway and as far as I know she's okay to drive to the post office later to mail out some soaps.

I got a lead on some bottle lambs, and spoke to a farmer about piglets. It seems like getting a hold of stock for the summer won't be an issue. I may be trying some new breeds out to see how they do and using the pasture in new ways. The geese started laying eggs and I am collecting them to barter with a friend for rabbits. I want to breed rabbits again, and have a new set up I can put together for them soon as it has a new floor installed. I also want to plant a lot of sweet corn and move the horses off the front pasture by the house. There will be a lot of repairs and work to do to see this all through, but I can't wait to be outside with a list of outside chores instead of just indoor chores. And with clean socks and a clean truck... I feel a spring in my step.

Right now I am working on selling the last of the meat shares so I can buy this stock and start bottle feeding lambs! And I need to earn back the money I spent on the truck while still juggling the same monthly bills and this new habit of having health insurance. I am working on it. I have my income goal set for the day, my list of work to do, my silly hope, and 2 very good dogs. With all this and hot coffee, what can't I accomplish?!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Truck Update

Just spent $370 on truck repairs and it literally died five times on the way home from the mechanic. This is the only vehicle I can afford right now and it needs to go back to the shop tomorrow. I'm going to let myself have a good long cry about this and take a walk.

Nine Miles

past springs had kids in the living room, but lambs will be here soon!
Morning from a farm that feels a lot more like spring than it has in quite some time! The chicks in the brooder are getting feathery, the peas I planted are sprouting, and I have been spending more time outside walking...sometimes even in sunlight!

You just don't realize how much you need time in the sun until you force yourself to meet him every day. After a winter of so much dark and cold and time indoors—to walk and actually feel sun-warmed skin and start to work up a sweat—to need to squint from the brightness of glare off snow... what a wonderful gift of realizing how much I missed all of that.

I walked nine miles yesterday, my most yet. Since the truck has been in the shop for a few days (needed a whole new fuel pump and filter) I walked all the way to Shushan to visit Yushack's store and get some supplies. It sure changes your grocery shopping when you know you have to carry all your groceries four miles home. But I did bring back what I needed and then took the dogs for a walk up the mountain quick. I'm sort of a walkaholic now, if you can forgive that hacky phrase.

Walking on trails and roads has been changing how my body deals with hunger, anxiety, and food. I move so much now I am basically a machine in motion, and food becomes more fuel than anything else. This is how I always dreamed of living. Like a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail - tired and always hungry and sleeping without stress. I've been slimming down and eating without any restrictions and I've not felt this good in a while. I'm sure a month without any alcohol is also a big part of that, but all of it is helping me feel better. Being sober, lots of water and exercise, and not counting calories or feeling guilty about eating half a small pizza after walking nine miles... and still losing lbs... I have to admit I'm a happier woman than I was mid winter. And stress is a lot less.

Well, it would be a lie if I said I was without stress. I am still trying to stay ahead of any bank threats and keep the farm moving till I manage to land some sort of real luck - like a multi-article freelance contract, book deal, or family of 5 that wants private archery lessons for a whole weekend. But I will get there at some point. In the meantime I just racked up a $370 truck repair bill and that doesn't include the tow truck, but at least with all this walking I am too tired to not sleep through the night.

In the meantime, this little farm is working on catching up on soap and illustration work, logos and freelance writing, selling CSA shares, pitching article ideas to editors, considering rabbits and bees again, planning the kaleyard and possible sweet corn on the hill and new pasture ideas... A lot. But I do well with a lot on my plate. I always have.



Sunday, March 10, 2019

Truckin'

Taylor during a summer sunset, not yesterday...
Yesterday was a sunny and bright day here in the W.C. I got outside for over 6 miles of walking with my hounds by my side and after a morning of cleaning up around the farmhouse I loaded the back of my trusty pickup with bags of trash and sorted recycling fore the dump and a basket of laundry for the laundromat. Most Saturdays I make time for this exact combo of home chores. I don't have a lot of clothes I wear so a weekly washing is important, and no one wants bags of trash in their mudroom enticing possums and other bitty mammals, now do they? So with cheery spirits I pulled out of my driveway - full of hopes of discarded garbage and clean sheets and....

The truck died 200 feet from my house.

Great.

I attempted to troubleshoot and restart the truck, I even got it to back up 5 feet, but then it was done. One of the gifts of having an old truck like this is learning a lot about them. I already knew it wasn't fuel, the fuses, or the battery. I did know that the fuel filter was overdue for being changed as was the regular oil change. There was some problem with the truck getting what it needed to start, starved of gas, and so it acted as if it was out of gas on a nearly full tank.

My friend Dave, the same hero from before, was over shortly after I emailed him because he is a saint and he helped me get the truck back in my driveway and out of the road by towing it up the hill and showing me how to steer without power steering, which should be included in every "arm day" for every gym person. Then he gave me a ride into town to get all the feed I'd need for the pigs and a gallon of milk (for myself) and here I am stuck at the farm while I wait for the tow truck in the morning. I just hope it's an inexpensive fix. Right now I only have a couple hundred bucks to my name while I save up for another month of bills and the mortgage and I'm worried that won't even be enough to get Taylor running again.

But right now, in the middle of a snowy Sunday morning, I know this. I know that myself and the animals have all the food and comforts we need. The house is warm and I have bread rising to bake later. I just fed the dogs a breakfast of eggs and kibble and the cats are running about like they always do pre-nap. It is snowing outside, but it's a late winter snow that wants to be rain, and the forecast is for kinder weather ahead. This truck issue can't be dealt with until tomorrow so instead I will try and sell meat shares and soaps and start saving for repairs and bills. That is what I can do today. That is what I will do.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Shares Still Available!

Still have one lamb share and two half pig shares for sale! Get yourself some New York State small farm meat from Cold Antler. These shares are for piglets and lambs coming this spring, raised here, and price INCLUDES butchering, smoking, and packaging! VERY COMPETITIVE RATES!

And if you want to make a HUGE difference to this farm and community, but are too far away to pick up a share, you can purchase a share to be raised here and donated to my local food bank to feed people in need! Just send an email to inquire!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Heroes With Pigs

Yesterday afternoon I found myself driving the truck on some farm roads outside of town. I was trying to find the location of a farmer, Dave Brushett. Dave mentioned he had some nice square bales for sale and I was buying. My usual hay banks were getting politely conservative about their quantity with winter still hitting hard in March. So with directions described in an email from Dave pulled up on my e-reader, I headed out to the new roads after lunch. I should mention it was a cold day. The high was forecast to be around 16° and Dave's farm was a hundred acres on the top of a sweeping hill. I'm so used to my tiny farm being tucked halfway up a mountain, protected from high winds and the worst of March weather. This was a wilder place, even just a few miles away. I felt the wind hit the side of my truck as I made the third turn off a small country highway and saw the landmark described in the email: a big red barn and a regal white house. His place was the cabin a road behind it. Almost there.

And then my truck sputtered, coughed, and died.

It just died. As if some magical being watching had a remote control and simply turned it off. It felt like it had run out of fuel but I knew there was some gas in, I had slid a few dollars worth in the night before? What gives? unable to get it to start I grabbed my gloves and decided to walk the mile or so in the wind to the cabin on the hillside.

One of the disadvantages of not having a cell phone is not being able to save yourself this kind of hike, but I was prepared. I had three layers, the outermost being a wool sweater my friend Tyler handed down to me and a scarf my mom bought in Paris. Over that I had on a big hooded Carhartt canvas vest, insulated and tough. My fleece had snug on my head and boots laced: I was a bundled-up hobbit on the hillside with my eyes on the prize. No matter what I needed to get some hay and myself back to the farm and that truck running again. My plan was to get to Dave's, ask to call my mechanic (number is memorized, of course), and if needed - maybe a ride home?

Dave was already in his truck planning to look for me, since I was over half an hour late. I waved from his driveway and quickly explained the state of the truck. The first thing Dave did was offer me his lunch, which I declined having just eaten at home. When I declined he asked if I wanted to take it with me? Insanely kind, but if there was one thing I have covered it's calories at my farm.

Dave, a father and grandfather, burst into Dad Mode. We drove back to the truck and he said it was most likely about fuel. That if I was running on a low tank eventually condensation and water build up and freeze and block fuel lines. He was right. Because we drove back to the farm and within moments he was adding gas from a fuel container and stabilizer. That was enough to get the girl started and up the hill to his farm. There we loaded up the truck with the bales I came to buy and he showed me his sow and her new piglets. They were the brightest thing in the barn.

So many farmers around here are farrowing, kidding, lambing, and calving. This is my first winter in almost a decade not joining them. I don't regret selling the breeding sheep to Lee at Moxie Ridge or the goats to the homesteaders last fall. But I do miss them and the work. I already talked to my friend Dona of Northern Spy Farm about helping with kidding this spring. She agreed, and I'll be so thrilled to have those babies in my arms again.  It's just not spring without them.

Dave followed me all the way to the gas station and back home to Cold Antler, making sure there was no more issues with the truck. I learned to never have the tank below half-capacity in very cold weather and he got to not only make some cash and help keep a farm gong - he also kept this farm going. They say not all heroes wear capes. Well, that is very true. Hell, some heroes farm pigs.

The truck is working and hay is here. It's a dark-green second cut and enough to last my two horses a while. I'm damn lucky to have these kinds of neighbors and friends. And lucky to have broken down a short walk in the wind from help. Also, lucky as all get out to have the truck working without a trip the the mechanic! That Ford is the arteries of this farm - pumping in feed and fuel and getting me around town to places like the post office and my tiny social life.

That's the biggest news I have for today: a small adventure and a kind farming friend. But hopefully soon I'll have lambs and piglets here of my own bought in to raise all summer and get this place back into full production. There will be green hillsides before we know it. At least that's what I'm telling myself.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Black Horse Sun

The check cleared and the sun is shining! This farm moves forward with another month of chance and hope! Right now as I write to you there's a fire roaring and the house is heating up after a night of good sleep. I didn't wake up worried. And the trick seems to be making myself physically exhausted, as I mentioned before. Yesterday I walked each dog down the mountain road and home, a 2-mile trip each time and one half being a climb in elevation. My body isn't used to moving across the landscape so much. It has been months since I really hiked or ran beyond a few miles a week. The last 2 days I've gone 9 miles all together. My shins hurt from the run, my thighs hurt from the walking uphill. My body is slowly getting back into a state of locomotion and actually feeling tired—the NEED to sleep because the body demands the rest—seems to be the only thing that helps the anxiety since I have stopped drinking. I'll be a month without a sip of alcohol soon. Not sure how long I'll stay off the hooch but right now I am liking these good sleeps, bright mornings, and clear-headedness.

Anyway, back to this morning. I woke up in a chilly house (50°) but the sounds of baby chicks in the brooder and knowledge that I did the ultimate act of preconceived kindness for myself (prepared the coffee maker the night before) felt like waking up in a hotel. Okay, that's a stretch. Felt like waking up in a very posh glamping platform tent. And camping is the right metaphor because this past summer I bought a Kelty sleeping bag on clearance from REI, for backpacking. Turns out it is way too heavy and impossible to compress for any reasonable backpacker but it is WARM. On nights like last night I used to load up the daybed with blankets and wool fleece and now I have this bag that cleans up and heats up in moments. Around 4AM Friday realizes the warmest spot is in that bag and she paws at me until I let her in. The bag is roomy enough that we fit in there together, snug and snoring, head on the same pillow and creating enough heat to melt ice on the roof. Good lord I love my dog.

And after I roll out of that sleeping bag I have to shuffle over and make a fire, heat up coffee, and get ready for some physical activity outdoors. There are people who have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail whose winter mornings are more civilized. Hoo! Do I love it though! I love the way the coffee and fire warm me up. I love starting a list of work and goals. I love solving problems, searching for spring lambs, watering seedlings, feeding chicks, collecting eggs, scratching pigs, and inhaling that amazingly warm summer scent of sunshine on the back of a black horse...

This place is wild and safe for a little. I am working to keep it that way. May the sun shine and spring find us all sooner than we could possibly fathom. And till then, more coffee.