Monday, January 22, 2018

Illustrations and Logos!

If you are interested in a pet illustration (or favorite farm animal!) or a logo from Cold Antler Farm at a reduced rate I am offering sales for work started right now, and half price if you can wait two months to begin the project. Both of these offers - illustrations and logo design - can also be given as gifts via gift certificates. This is a great time to support Cold Antler Farm at a reduced rate. Sales like this are what keep the lights on between book sales or farm booms. Email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com if you are interested!

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.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Needs for Restraint

This morning I woke up to a snow-covered fairy tale of a farm.  I looked out the window and watched the silent flakes fall against the cold glass and hugged my dogs close. I set coffee on the stove, got dressed, and started morning chores. I lit the fires in both the wood stove and my rib cage to get the work done that needs doing.

Besides the animals’ breakfasts - there are freelance clients to work on, errands in town, articles to pitch, book proposals to sell - the life I made here is half creative and half body; a perfect combination that gets me outside, moves my bones, gets sunshine on my face, and gives me a way to express myself and feel useful and needed by others - even if it is just a tail-wagging goat kid that screams for his morning milk.  I am content here, and love this life. And that is what I need to realize when this place is attacked online...

Since this blog began it has had critics. That is nothing new and part of being a public figure. But recently a site has gone too far - moving into the realm of cyberstalking and harassment under New York State Law. This is taken seriously up here, since in the past New York has had slanderous websites and blogs end up in murders, life sentences, restraining orders, and suicides.

In recent months an obsessed person has followed my every move online. I can not use any social media without her watching or commenting under several usernames and accounts. In some cases (twitter, reddit) even creating accounts for the sole purpose of defaming me. She doesn’t only discuss the farm, animals, and my writing - she discusses my dating life, appearance, weight, sexuality, friends, family, and finances. She knows the brand of jeans I wear, shampoo I use, and what my keychains say. This person has not kept her stalking activity online either. She has reported me to my local Police and DEC sending officers to my front door. Her website admits to doing this.

She stalks me in online places that have nothing to do with my books or farm - like those in my religious community. Responding to my posts about my faith with links to her website or accusations. Hating me has become her favorite pastime. A reader sent me a screenshot of them conversing in the comments section stating they can't wait to see my "justice unfold."

Yikes.

People like this assume that making anonymous accounts to accuse public people are protected by their anonymity. That is not the case. Yesterday this page and the person were reported to both the NY State Police and the FBI. Since she resides in another state, it has reached the level of Federal involvement. I will continue to make these reports as long as these pages exist online. Reports warrant a federal investigation and at the very least - a restraining order from me and possibly suit for damages as well.

By the way, these are not anonymous restraining orders/suits. It will be public information that you have spent your time online dangerously obsessing over a woman with intent to hurt her and have been legally forced to stop. I will publish your name and why the restraining order exists.

This type of recourse for authors has legal precedent, and I have contacted a lawyer and spoke to him at length today. He specializes in such cases just like this in NY State. He assures me we have all the information necessary to move forward. I am not taking this anymore. If this site and ones like it remain up, prepare to be served.

I ask that you readers join me in reporting this site and ones like it to Blogger, Facebook, and Twitter as harassment. If these people want to hate me under alias they can do so spaces created for that kind of vile activity - like GOMI. But creating your own website, comments, emails, accusations, false reports to law enforcement, multi-platform stalking, and lifestyle obsession is not what a normal person does. This has gone from snark into abuse and harassment and will not be tolerated any longer. 

Tuesday, January 16, 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!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Get Art! Support Cold Antler!

Hey Readers! If you want to support the farm and get a really cool gift in the process, I am running a sale on illustration gift certificates! You buy now and get a pdf emailed you can print or forward as a gift! This sale is for artwork started in March. Email me then to redeem for a full color, 9x12" hand drawn, inked, and painted pet portrait for $50!!!

Discount if you buy multiples.  Free shipping anywhere in the world! Get a great gift and help keep this farm going!

Email dogsinourparks@gmail.com

House Goat

I woke up to a rooster crowing about twenty feet from my face. Falkor, the Silkie Rooster, was brought in last night because he got his feathers too wet in the stream and was dragging icicles on the ground around his underside. I set him in a cage across the room from the foodstove on clean hay. He closed his eyes and went to sleep, tired from a day of Chickening. I was glad to have him inside to defrost.

He was on top of the Livestock Winter Quarters inside the house. His cage was resting above the hay-lined crate Benjen the Nubian kid was fast asleep in - ignoring the crows of Falkor the way I ignore gentle rain. Beside him was the rabbit who is here on loan. The dogs didn't seem to mind the crowing either and were tucked around me on the daybed, all of us sleeping near the stove on this -6 degree morning. Falkor (now dry and ready to head outside to his ladies) bellowed again and I was up.

When Benjen sees me and the dogs rise he starts to bleat (an improvement from screaming). His little sounds are kind and I let him out of the cage to run around. He wants his milk and so I set some on the stove to warm up while I take care of relighting the wood stove, feeding the yowling cats, and letting the dogs outside to relieve themselves. He is getting very good and kick flipping off the furniture. It's a sight to behold.

The house is a crisp 50° and while it isn't toasty, it's warm compared to mornings at The Bottom. I kept the sinks dripping steady and so far nothing seemed frozen so I set coffee to perk and started my day.

Chores were next. I carried water in buckets to refresh all the animals' stations. Hay delivered to all (even pigs like to chomp on a little hay), grain in bags, and eggs not collected (Chickens are on their winter production holiday). The truck started this morning and coffee is moments away so I am glad. I'm still riding the high from yesterday. Wait till you hear about this hunt!

While out hunting rabbits with Aya Cash she flew away - hundreds of yards across a marsh and we all thought she was lost. It was a group hunt with the Falconry Meet and she had been flying free for an hour or so and had two slips. She was probably running out of gas and the weather was frigid. While not paying attention to the ground and looking for her in the air I slipped (thigh-deep!) into an icy stream. My feet went painlessly numb and I kept hiking through the snow towards her. I ended up calling her with a rabbit-fur lure and she flew back to me from across the wilderness. I wish I could explain that feeling better - how it fills a body so cold it is literally numb and replaces it warmth and excitement - to see a wild animal trust you enough to come home. If I get through my work list we'll go hunting again today. If we're unlucky I have a rat defrosting for her regardless. No hawk goes hungry in this home!

I feed Benjen his bottle and take him outside to pee. He joins me and the dogs running in the snow while I carry in firewood. It's impossible not to smile at his floppy ears and warm face. Soon as we are back inside he runs right to his favorite spot: in front of the stove. His shiny black coat reflects the kiss of flames behind the safety glass. He closes his eyes and I am in love with this farm all over again.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Come Fly The Friendly Skies

This weekend is the 4th Annual Martin Luther King Jr Falconry Meet here in Washington County. It's a wonderful excuse for local falconers (and people interested in falconry) to get together for a few days to hunt, hike, and learn from each other. We share stories, meals, and toasts with full mugs. We talk about the raptors we so enjoy having as part of our lives and encourage others to come into the feathered fold. It's a magical tradition in our sport and I wish I could attend more of these meets. They happen all over the country (I bet there is one or two happening near you this winter!) Yet as a single farmer the idea of leaving for a half day is near impossible much less a long weekend. So I don't travel to any sort of event - bird, book, or vacation-related. But this event is ran by my sponsor, Leigh Foster, and takes place right in my own backyard. I attend the hell out of it!

Yesterday was the kick off. Leigh, Jeremy (friend and neighbor), and myself got to offer an in-studio interview (with birds!) at our local NPR station. Albany feels like a bursting metropolis to me. Walking through the city streets into the radio station (With hawks!) felt like an album cover. You can listen to us in the link above. My radio voice is too fast, but excited!

Because of that interview we got to meet so many new people last night at the local brewery. People who are raising eyebrows of interest at the sport are coming out on these cold nights to meet falconers and ask questions. This is a dream come true for me, for all of us at this event. We want people to know about what we do as falconers and how to get involved. We want misconceptions about the sport, these animals, and hunting out the door. The only way to do that is talking to people.

Last night we (falconers) were talking about how if it wasn't for meeting someone that showed us it was a possibility to make falconry a part of our everyday life - none of us would have even considered pursuing it. My friend James saw a falconry show (by chance) at a mall as a kid. I went to a class as a resort in VT while on a job interview. These were random acts that lead us to an amazing journey most people believe only exists in storybooks. And last night so many children got to learn about our sport, meet us and the birds up close, and get inspired!

I hope if you're local and interested in this sport you reach out to me, or one of us, and find your way. Come fly the friendly skies!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fallout of The Bottom

Dan the Plumber is here at the farm today. We're trying to get water back into the house. I'm checking in here quick since he just ran into town for parts. It's been two hours so far and while one of the four busted pipes has been repaired, we have more to go. Their position in the wall is tricky. I am really hoping that we can at least get water into the kitchen faucet. It's stressful and frustrating. I didn't realize the damage was this bad but I guess I should be grateful that a repairman is here and the water heater/furnace are okay. It could have been a lot worse. And it sounds like it was for a lot of people around here based on the stories he was telling me. At least I knew how to shut off water to my house when it came pouring out of the walls...

I am happy to report the weather is practically tropical right now. It's almost 50° which is a SEVENTY DEGREE difference from just a few mornings ago. I didn't even start a fire this morning! This flush of warm weather is why we are able to get into the now-thawed pipes. The mare is running around without a blanket and Merlin is rolling in the snow. The sheep are feisty and active. The chickens have finally braved outside the safety of the barn and are walking around the snow-packed paths my chores and dog paws have made. It feels less like a survival camp on the side of Everest and more like a farm again.

I found this photo from last winter this morning. Sal, a favorite sheep of mine, is now passed away. That hurts my heart but what mends it is knowing big paint mare would be in this shot if it was taken this AM. That is the song and verse of a small farm. It changes, animals come in and out of it, and you the farmer take the lessons and stories from all and try to make the place better every year. I miss that kind sheep but I also adore that new horse. I was lucky to have him in my life and to have found her.

Okay, Dan is back and we are going to try and fix this. Wish us luck!


UPDATE: Shortly after Dan got back we got the water working again! At least to the toilet/sinks. The pipes not yet repaired were capped off to be done at a later date. I am so so so glad to have it back!


And if you ever want to pitch in for hay/feed/plumbing 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.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Bottom's Up!


The regular temperatures are back and I am relieved in ways no orchestral soundtrack could understand. Mid morning I was out carrying in firewood and felt the sun on my back, filling up the threads of my long-sleeve dark tee shirt and understood why my horses just stand in the sunlight for hours. It almost felt too warm for long sleeves, which is a crazy thing to think on a 34° day but there you have it.

This morning the plumber came by and cut open some pipes and assessed the damage. Most are frozen, one is burst behind the wall. I have till Friday to defrost the pipes and then he is going to cut into the wall and see what needs to be done. The goal is to at least get water back into the kitchen for cooking/dishes/washing and worry about the shower/washing machine later. I'll be thrilled to have a working faucet indoors again.

Some good news! The water heater in the basement defrosted! The little space heater down there did the trick and even though that basement is dark and has stone walls it felt as good as the sunshine to realize it was okay. I'll take whatever one-less-thing-to-worry-about that's offered.

The emails, notes, letters in the mail, and packages have been so encouraging! Thank you for taking the time to write in. I am doing my best to reply and thank everyone I can.

Photo by Miriam Romais

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Day Twelve Update: Ruined Water

I think I really messed up. When I had the burst pipe I shut the water off to the house and made sure all the of pipes were as empty as possible. Someone online told me that if my water was shut off I should turn off my furnace if that is what heats the water, and so I did.(I assume everyone out there with an opinion on home water repairs knows more than I do.) But now the hot water tank is frozen in the basement and gods know how many pipes are frozen around it.

Having the water heater broken/cracked will be impossible to replace anytime soon. I was trying to just figure out the burst pipe I didn't think the basement, underground and insulated, would also freeze. I didn't think about it at all with everything else going on.

I was up all night keeping the fires going. I am exhausted from double and triple checking everything here. I'm afraid if I fall asleep for too long and the chickens' water bowl freezes or the horse tank runs low and water and some police officer shows up I'll be in trouble or have my animals taken away. So I am outside all the time now, and carrying in as much wood as I can manage along the way. Realizing what would be a minor repair is now possibly a huge home repair is too much. I'm having a good cry about it and I'll go on from there. I need to see if the truck will start (wouldn't this morning but it was very very cold).

I was so happy this morning thinking I had beat this cold streak. That mostly all of us came through it. Now I realize I may have ruined way more than the cold could along. I called a plumber to ask for advice and was told to set up a heater in the basement so I set up a small space heater a few feet from the water tank and will check it every few hours to see if anything is expanding/broken.

I am so tired. Taking a deep breath or twenty. One day at a time.

Day Twelve of Winter's Bottom

Good Morning from a -20° Cold Antler Farm! Coffee is on, fires are lit, and I am so happy to report that all the animals are fine and made it through Winter's Bottom's worst night. The sheep (even my eldest ewe, Brick) and the goats (old Bonita) are okay. The horses were standing waiting for hay at their usual spot this morning. The chickens, pigs, poultry all pulled through and so did I. I didn't sleep much in the night and kept the fires roaring but the house is still only around 45°. Sounds cold, I know, but that is 65° warmer than the temperature outside!

To review since this Bottom started I nearly burned down my house with a chimney fire, had the pipes burst and stop all running water into the house, adopted a baby goat, sailed through firewood like paper through a shredder, had state police inspect me and got through a -20° night and we made it through it all. Ice and fire and now it is time for coffee and naps. Now I can focus on repairing the pipes, the truck, and getting things back to normal around here.

8AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -19° F
Tonight's Low: 11F
Indoor Temp: 46° F
Truck: Haven't tried her yet
Pipes: Burst. Water shut off.
Toilet Bowl Water: Flushing with bucket, tank empty.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Day Eleven Update: State Police

Someone complained to the NY State Police that my animals were in bad care and should be inspected in this cold. How do I know this? Because an officer just showed up here, unannounced, and told me. He said so from my front door while gesturing to the woolly sheep and the blanketed mare eating hay behind a near fence. "They seem okay to me," was his response after explaining the complaints. Merlin kicked up snow and ran up the hill in a pony explosion of energy. I explained that he was never blanketed because of his thick coat but the mare was, as this was her first winter here and she's new. He nodded. He seemed to realize this wasn't the a bad place to be livestock.

He didn't ask me to but I walked him around the farm anyway. I showed him the horses and the sheep, the barn full of chickens and goats, the water stations and defrosters in the tanks. He apologized for taking up my time and said all was fine and they probably wouldn't drop by again without calling. I am sure they are used to people complaining about public figures (several farming authors live around here) and petty vendettas between locals. They have more important things to do.

It still has me so angry and feeling violated. Imagine if people called the police on you because you shared your story online? I have enough to deal with this weekend, and plenty to worry about besides drop in visits from the police. This all happened as I was inside making soap, pouring it into molds, and planning chicken stew for a late night dinner as I plan on staying up with the farm.

Listen, just because I share my worries on here about the animals doesn't mean they are not well cared for. My worry is about the weather and things I can't change or guard against - not their level of general welfare. You're not a bad shepherd if you're worried about freak lightning during a thunderstorm. You're not a bad parent if your in-laws stop by the day before grocery shopping and all that's in the fridge is take out, milk, and leftovers. But YOU ARE a bad writer if you hold back your feelings and concerns because of what other people think. I write exactly what I feel and that candor and vulnerability shouldn't feel censored by anonymous phone calls. That is how I feel right now. Like being honest is being punished. Like sharing what happens here is welcoming trouble.

I am heading outside to carry in firewood till I'm not so livid. Should take quite the stack...

Day Eleven of Winter's Bottom

When I stepped outside this morning there was a dead chicken laying in the driveway, frozen solid. It was one of the younger jungle fowl birds, the ones that never go indoors and roost in the trees no matter the weather. Her friends were all okay, resting on sheep's backs with warm feet being insulated by wool, but here this one didn't make it. The cold was too long, too much for her. I sighed and set her on the back bed of the snow-filled pickup truck. I spent the rest of morning chores worried I'd come across my elder goat, Bonita in the same state. Or that Merlin would be down in some far stretch of field. Luckily everyone else on the farm made it through the penultimate night.

Tonight is the worst of it. I am most worried about the horses - even with their thick coat and blankets, wind breaks and shelter - it's just so cold. I know horses live all over America in far harsher climates, and that right now in parts of the Midwest there are ponies that laugh and play in -30° weather - but it isn't a contest of statistics - it is about what every animal is used to.

Mabel and Merlin seemed okay this morning, no different than any other morning be it summer or Winter's Bottom. I will be doing my best to get them and the rest of the animals through tonight without any more loss. I am sorry about that young hen but am glad the other chickens in the barn, Eglu and house are okay. I'm glad the four goats, four pigs, and seven sheep are healthy as can be. I'm proud of the dogs, the cats, the horses, and the geese (are geese indestructible?!) and the hawk warm on her perch above me as I type.

May we get through this and focus on repairs and the other half of winter.  May all of you be safe as well, and keep Cold Antler in your thoughts tonight. We can use all the good vibes you can offer.

8AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -5° F
Tonight's Low: -20F
(-31° F with windchill factor)
Indoor Temp: 47° F
Truck: Started this AM
Pipes: Burst. Water shut off.
Toilet Bowl Water: Flushing with bucket, tank empty.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Day Ten of Winter's Bottom

Yesterday and today have been all about preparing for tonight and tomorrow. Record lows are sweeping in with a windchill making the temperature here as low as -30° tomorrow night. That is scary. And while unloading hay and a new delivery of firewood earlier this afternoon I was talking with two local farmers who told me they have never experienced this length of sustained cold, not since their childhoods. If I already wrote that to you guys, sorry, my brain is freezing.

Part of me is relieved the pipes have already burst and the furnace is shut off. The plumber still hasn't made his way here and I assume it's because there's nothing to be done about any of this disaster 'til the world thaws. And my mind was distracted from home repairs because I had enough to do with roof raking, preparing for the cold, shoveling snow, loading firewood, bottle feeding the goat, illustration/design clients and keeping the house warm. I did get out for half an hour to snowshoe through the forest behind the farm to look at the animal tracks. I wanted to associate some of this stretch with more pleasant memories. Tonight I am feeling very tired, since all day has been constant activity with the fresh dumping of 10 inches on this farm. Everything takes longer when you need to shovel paths to find your barn doors or hay piles. I hope you are all warm and I hope we make it through this killer cold okay. Thank you for checking in. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to contact me on email, Instagram, or Twitter!

6PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 3° F
Tonight's Low: -11° F
Indoor Temp: 59° F
Truck: Drove into town!
Pipes: Burst. Water shut off.
Toilet Bowl Water: Flushing with bucket, tank empty.

And if you want to pitch in for hay/feed/plumbing or just general morale support you can do so at: https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF If you don't, that's fine too. I'll be updating here through the worst of this winter weather daily.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Day Eight of Winter's Bottom

Today felt like a tiny vacation from Winter's Bottom. The bank thermometer in town said 30° and while I think it was a little high, it was amazing to be out in the sun and not need a face mask to stop my lungs from hurting.

The plumber still hasn't made it here for an evaluation and while I wait to hear the damage of repairs, I have not only shut off the water into the house but the furnace that heats it. I am hoping that the empty pipes and dormant hot water heater will ride through this coming weekend's record lows better. Saturday night is supposed to hit -20°F. There is no sense hiring someone to come before then to do copper pipe welding just to have them burst again. So I am carrying in buckets for dishes, cooking, and washing sponge-bath style. Today I cleaned up myself, the house, and did a load of laundry at the mat in town and just having clean socks, sheets, and hair made the morale in this house sky rocket.

Speaking of which: I can't thank you enough, those of you who sent words of encouragement, or contributions, kind words, or advice on Twitter.  It's just me here and most of the time this blog feels like writing into the wind so hearing back from you feels like someone out there cares, and knows what is happening, and checks in on me. It means so much.

Snow in the forecast tomorrow, another storm. I have ordered more firewood and hope what I have lasts. I can't believe how fast I am running through it.

 On a farm note: I am worried Rocco - the yearling Alpine buck here is too short to service my does and there might not be kids and milk here from Bonita and Ida in the spring. I have personally assisted in several attempts at breeding Ida and unless he was on a substantial incline piece of ground he couldn't "connect" so to speak. Let's hope at least one of the tries made it. Though Benjen the Nubian Kid is making Winter's Bottom so much more enjoyable. No matter what his bottle schedule, bleats, and companionship make the days brighter.

Also, I really am grateful to be back to daily blogging.  

9AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 7° F
Tonight's Low: 11° F
Indoor Temp: 50° F
Truck: Starts!
Pipes: Burst. No water to house.
Toilet Bowl Water: Flushing with bucket

5PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 22° F
Tonight's Low: 10° F
Indoor Temp: 58° F
Truck: Drove into town!
Pipes: Burst. Water shut off.
Toilet Bowl Water: Flushing with bucket, tank empty.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Day Seven of The Bottom

In April of 1815 something happened on a mountain in the East Indies that caused a bit of a fuss. Mount Tambora erupted. It was the biggest event of its kind in over a thousand years. It shot enough smoke and sulfur into the air that the climate couldn't digest it. The sky went dark and dirty low clouds sunk across the landscape like tired ghosts. What little sunlight got through wasn't strong enough to grow crops or let animals know when to breed or lay eggs. And it all happened on one day, in one place, and made ripples that changed the world.

The darkness moved across the globe like a plague. By spring of 1816 something called a “dry fog” was floating across the Eastern United States, right where Cold Antler resides. It was so dark during the day that sunspots could be seen from earth. Do you know what that means? It means there was such a thick fog of pollution you could look directly at the sun and see it blazing with its own eruptions with your naked eye. People were terrified, certain it was the End Times the bible had predicted. And then things got worse.

It was called The Year Without a Summer. The name fit because frost covered New England fields through all of May. Nothing would grow and it SNOWED on June 16th. Frosts continued through July and August. Nothing was able to be produced that year, livestock died from the lack of fodder, and many people starved. This was 1816 after all. You ate what your community produced or could afford to buy in. Farmers left for the Midwest in droves, hoping it would be better. Only those with heavy larders and deep pockets survived. The rest died or fled.

It wasn’t just North America that was affected. While it was snowing that summer in Veryork people in Europe were also experiencing insane weather thanks to the volcano. It was cold, rainy, and otherwise well-off people in southern Britain were begging in the streets. Germany had record spikes in food prices. Rivers turned to ice. Panic was the new normal as people accepted summer wasn't returning and amidst all this chaos some writers thought it would be a good time to get away from the cities. They gathered on Lake Geneva (near the Swiss/French border) to ride out the cold, rainy, summer on a cold, rainy, lake.Writers are the worst.

A man named Percy brought his mistress (at the time) with him to the house he was sharing with his writer friends. Her name was Mary. She was so bored, so dishearten by the awful doomsday summer she suggested a scary story writing contest. There she wrote a book you may have heard of; Frankenstein. And Science Fiction, an entire genre, was born because of a volcano and a lot of dead farmers, cows, and wildlife. 

It all makes a burst pipe seem like a lot less of a big deal...

That’s why I’m sharing this story. Sometimes horrible things happen when Mother Nature gets pissed off and you don't know the reason until farther down the road. Right now all this winter is to me is something to survive, something to just get through. This house is cold, the fires are fighting, the plumbing is shot, and I have a bucket of water near my toilet so I can refill the tank to flush. It sucks, but at least no super volcanoes erupted last April to black out our sun!

A gal's gotta take whatever silver linings she can gather, folks.

I have food. I have water. I have sunlight, friends, and zero need to call for a scary story contest to become the figure head of a literary genre. It's a relief. I am mostly excited just to see this coming Monday when temperatures might rise above freezing for the first time since December 22nd. And I was able to order more firewood from Common Sense Farm, drive the truck to the IGA for water, and right now I'm dry with a roof over my head. If the world could get through that savage year and end up with Science Fiction - I can get my plumbing repaired and keep a blog going. I'm okay. I know when the plumber comes later this week he won't shake his head and tell me "It's world-wide famine" - It's just a burst pipe and the well is sound.

This is nearly the 200th anniversary of The Year Without a Summer and Frankenstein. Read the original again and picture Mary writing in while having an affair at a French lake house during a summer when most people thought the world was ending. You might appreciate it a little more. Or at least it will make this winter a little more tolerable?


Monday, January 1, 2018

A Pipe Exploded

A pipe exploded in the wall. It shot water out of a hole in the drywall all over the mudroom. It covered the mess of mud and melting ice from the groundwater spring and chips of wood from tending the fire. It felt like turbulence - the drop in my stomach when I saw it. I didn't know what else to do so I ran to the basement and shut off all water into the house. That stopped the water from shooting out. I called the plumber who helped me out this summer, a friend of a friend. He said he could come by over the next couple of days. Which means I have no water for anything from the toilet to drinking. So tomorrow I will (if the truck runs) get into town for a few days supply. Get a bucket for the bathroom for flushing. And hire this man to saw into the wall and repair the damage done. I have no idea what that will run or what is going to break next but I really, really, really want this cold to stop. It hasn't been above freezing since December 22nd.



Day Six Update

This afternoon the truck started again! It took 48+ hours on a trickle charger but she started in 5° weather! The good news is I can probably drive her to the shop for her new brake lines/coolant leak repairs instead of paying for a tow. I am on the hunt for firewood that is dry and fits my small stoves and tonight I am just happy that more good happened today than bad.

6PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -5° F
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 61° F
Truck: RUNNING!!
Pipes: 1 of 4 thawed.
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid/needs tank filled to flush

And if you want to pitch in for hay/feed/plumbing or just general morale support you can do so at: https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF If you don't, that's fine too. I'll be updating here through the worst of this winter weather daily.

Day Six of the Bottom

Last night I fell asleep in a 60° home by a roaring fire. I didn't stay up for Midnight, but I did have a Guinness and a goat in my lap. The little guy is healthy and eating well from the bottle. He was dropped off with a gallon of milk, bottle, towel and his voice. Nubians are famously vocal goats and he's no exception. He was quiet as a mouse until around 2 in the morning when the screaming started. His screams (which sound so much like a piglet I might name him Wilbur)set off the rooster, Chase. So when I was supposed to be in deep sleep I was listening to a goat in a dog crate and a rooster in a cage holler. I woke up around 4AM to feed him and check the water/stoves and all seemed well. The house was colder as we slunk into the deep freeze of the night - but at least the fires were lit and the kid had warm milk in his belly.

I woke up to a different situation. The house was cold enough to see my breathe and the cats had figured out how to remove the plastic window from the top of the chick brooder and ate every chick trying to hatch from their eggs. They also killed the smaller chicks in the living room, including a baby Silkie Bantam I was nursing from a rough hatch. I was livid at the cats and wouldn't look at them, just stared at their full bowl of kibble with glowing eyes.

All the pipes froze. The ground water created a tiny iceberg behind the washing machine that will spill everywhere as the room heats up. As the house woke up the kid started screaming, rooster crowing, and I realized I had no way to make a fresh pot of coffee. In all the events of yesterday I didn't think to do the dishes and prep the pot the night before - failing at my own advice. Friday and Gibson had to be separated since she's in heat and so I had one dog crying to be let out of a crate, a goat screaming like a pig, a rooster crowing (now just walking around the mudroom because to hell with everything) and no coffee.

The good news is this. I just put my head down and got to work. I added water from the tea kettle to the percolator and made a half pot of coffee with old grounds. I put in earbuds and listened to an encouraging podcast while I cleaned out old ash in the stoves, lit fires, carried in wood, checked on the farm (all outdoor animals are okay save for one old hen that passed in the night), did morning chores outside, tended to the hawk and goat kid, and slowly got my life back together. It's 10AM and so far one line of the four water lines is thawed - the kitchen hot water. I filled containers, topped off dog bowls, did the dishes and made a fresh pot of coffee.

Right now I am writing this just to feel like I am doing something else. And because sharing the story of Winter's Bottom helps me feel less alone in it. I so look forward to sunshine, a working truck,  and rising temps indoors.


10AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -7° F
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 46° F
Truck: Still won't start
Pipes: One line thawed
Toilet Bowl Water: Frozen/not flushing
 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Day Five of The Bottom

You have to decide what attitude you're going to have about a bad situation. You just have to. Because if you let your emotions take the reins you'll end up pulling out all your remaining hair or screaming as you run naked into a dark forest. Or worse, commenting on someone's Facebook page with a correction. So when I was standing in my mudroom earlier today—watching the pooling water slosh around my feet—I chose to be very happy that I owned my very own indoor spring. Because during the night groundwater had erupted below the dirt floor behind my washing machine and there was nothing I could do about it save pump it out if it got too deep.

And so with that level of gratitude I started lighting the fire again in the wood stove, feeling my rubber boots splash about on the fairly new indoor/outdoor carpet I was folding clean laundry on a few days ago. I got the fire going, hoping it would help dry out the joint or possibly stop something horrific from happening to the system of tubes, pipes, and valves going into the new-to-me washing machine. Let's just put a pin in that sad little hope for now.

My truck still isn't running but that doesn't mean the farm doesn't need provisions - so I arranged for feed and hay deliveries and a friend drove me into the town of Shushan to get some heating oil for the furnace (which keeps the water heater happy). When I got home with the heating oil I saw 200lbs of feed in the back of the truck along with a 40lb bag of performance dog chow. I was grateful for Ron Decker and his local feed delivery service, and that I could just tape a check to the front door. A yellow hand-written receipt was in its place.

I was in my basement restarting the furnace when I heard the cascading water start to pour above me. It was more confusing than anything else and I ran up the concrete steps from the basement to see what was happening. It wasn't the spring of trickling groundwater at all. It was the washing machine (which was turned off by the way) shaking and when I opened the lid I saw it was nearly filled to the brim with water?! I turned off the water to the machine. Thank the gods it instantly stopped. Why is my water haunted?!

Thanks to the fine people of Twitter it was suggested that the valve froze open or was pushed open by other pipes that froze sending pressure through? I have no idea what caused it to happen but I was very grateful that I got there before my kiddie pool became a cistern. Now on top of all the other chores and stresses I had a washing machine to bail out and a room to heat up enough so it wouldn't freeze. I took a few deep breaths. I could hear the furnace heating the water and knew that problem was solved. I did that. Jenna from a decade ago could not do that. And the same gal who restarted a dead furnace could stop a water ghost.

So I bailed out my washing machine and cursed a lot. I felt better.

It was soon after that fresh hell that hay was delivered. While stacking the bales the farmer said in a nonchalant tone, "Hey, You wouldn't want a baby goat by chance, would you?" And without giving it any thought at all I said yes. So they drove back to their farm in town and returned with a week-old Nubian buckling that was dumped at their farm this morning by a local who pity-bought him at the Auction and wasn't allowed to keep him. I figured with everything going wrong I better accept the homeless goat of New Year's Eve the Universe was throwing at me. I needed the karma, if nothing else. He is all black save for white ears and nose, a reverse panda.

So as I type I have a flooded mudroom, a possibly-ruined washing machine, a 56° house, a -13° night ahead, a dead truck, am low on firewood (thanks to extreme cold and two stoves running at once), AND Friday is in heat.

But you know what? I have never felt more calm and capable with the problems being thrown at me.  My animals are well. I have plenty of feed and hay. I have a living room that feels like a movie set with all the cages, baby chicks, perches, dogs, cats, and now goatling and I'm okay.

This is my 8th winter on this farm.  I know how to solve these things (or at least deal with them) and I know who to call if I don't. I have locals who know me and care about, friends a phone call away, and professionals who can repair the truck on a payment plan, deliver feed, get hay, or unload goats. And I am smiling right now knowing that soon as I post this I'll be sitting back with a goat in my lap drinking from a bottle and firelight keeping us warm enough to pass for comfort.

It'll be okay. And if it won't be - at least there are baby goats.


8AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -3° F
Tonight's Low: -11° F
Indoor Temp: 52° F
Truck: Still won't start
Pipes: Refroze again
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid so far

6PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 2° F
Tonight's Low: -13° F
Indoor Temp: 56° F
Truck: Still won't start
Pipes: Refroze again plus ground water eruption
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid so far

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Day Four of the Bottom

This started off cold here. The house was around 49 degrees, and both fires were out with cold ash. The winds were high last night it drew the flues so strong that the house actually wailed. If you were snow shoeing in the full moonlight on this mountain you think that down in Antler Hollow there was a Yeti having an orgasm. Which, I assure you, wasn't the case.

I am getting ready for company (Friends are coming for Game Night) and trying to figure out hay and feed delivery from local services while my truck still won't start. I think the severe cold straight up killed the battery and I need a new one. Me and friends (two local falconers were just here trying to jump the Ford) have tried over and over but it is plain dead.

But that means getting a ride to NAPA and back, which I hope I can manage by Monday. I don't mind staying put on the farm but having zero mobility is a little scary in case of an emergency. And as hay and feed starts to get lower my anxiety swells up. We are okay for a few days, but I would feel better being okay for a few weeks. Who wouldn't?

I am grateful for the friends coming by tonight and for today's weather being in the double digits. I can not wait for April, if you can believe it. I still can't.

8AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -5° F (Snowing)
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 49° F
Truck: Won't start
Pipes: One Refroze
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid

4PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 13° F (Snowing)
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 60° F
Truck: Still Won't start
Pipes: Thawed again
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid

And if you want to pitch in for hay/feed/plumbing or just general morale support you can do so at: https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF If you don't, that's fine too. I'll be updating here through the worst of this winter weather daily.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Day Three of The Bottom

The farm is getting the hang of this level of discomfort, or rather most of us are. One exception is my oldest rooster, Chase. He's been spending the past few nights indoors. Two nights ago I found him roosting on top of the Silkie's Eglu, covered in snow. I picked him up and set him by the fireside to regain some feeling in his gizzard. In the morning I set him back outside (crowing indoors is jarringly loud). Then yesterday at dusk I stepped outside to get more firewood and nearly stepped on him. He was right on the front stoop. I scooped him up (he screamed the whole time) and set him into the mudroom where he spend the night on the two little steps descending into it. Every single time I walked past him to feed the mudroom stove he screamed more, but didn't move. Farming is magic.

I have managed to thaw out the bathroom pipes and the toilet that wouldn't flush yesterday, now does. It took high-level space heaters hitting the air-exposed pipes under the floor. My dream is later on the truck starts and I can take it into town for some basic human provisions. If it doesn't work look like sponge baths and strong tea. I could do worse.

Tomorrow is supposed to be nicer out, maybe as high as 13°F if we're lucky. That should be enough to jump the truck. If not I want to hunt the hawk on the mountain via snowshoes and enjoy the sunshine on my face.

7AM Stats
Outdoor Temp: -6° F
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 52° F
Truck: Didn't try her yet
Pipes: Only one pipe left to thaw!
Toilet Bowl Water: Liquid & FLUSHING!

1:45 PM Stats
Outdoor Temp: 4° F
Tonight's Low: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 59° F
Truck: Tried to Start! (needs more juice/less cold)
Pipes: THAWED!!!!!
Toilet Bowl Water: FINE!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Day Two of The Bottom

The day started out as I reported earlier; with frozen pipes and a dead truck. I had fallen asleep too early the night before (11:30PM) and let the fires die out. That choice turned my 60-degree living room to a chilly mid-forties by 7AM. I was curled up under a pile of blankets and collies. I stayed under the covers for a few stolen moments pretending everything was fine. Then Friday jumped onto my chest and started licking my face and the day began proper.

The work of the farm is heavier with the frigid-weather chores. Extra feed, bedding, and water carried to make up for the energy the animals use to stay warm. There's about a half foot of snow out there, and ice below it - which makes for some really solid agility tests. So far I only fell down once.

Several attempts of restarting the truck failed. (I've added extra coolant and have a trickle charger on the battery.) Some of the house pipes are thawed (kitchen, not bathroom). But even with the  encouragement I was gaining in degrees in the farmhouse I was feeling beaten down. This doesn't really bode well for day two the The Bottom. I tried to snap out of it. Coffee was hot and ready. I had lined up the day's work indoors and out and made my list of little goals. I was okay. The problems I had I was trying to fix and had fixed before. Chins up!

Then I nearly burned the house down...

I was over zealous with my heating and nearly started a fire this afternoon by letting too much air stream through the mud room stove. I came inside from hooking up the truck's charger and smelled that battery-acid stench of burning stove paint. It tastes like rust and chemicals in your mouth, makes you feel sick all over. I shut the flue and clamped the stove's air supply down much as possible and checked the attic and outdoor chimney areas - all seems safe but I'm gun shy now to leave the farm even if the stove is fine. It was scary.

And all it took was dry wood in an overworked stove I neglected for twenty minutes of outside work. Imagine if I had left the farm or was doing an extended outdoor chore like digging out the pigs' fencing?! I have chills just thinking about it. I need to have both the chimneys and stoves cleaned and inspected.

In lighter news the incubator I borrowed from a friend hatched a chick this morning! Out of the dozen or so eggs in there only one that hatched but I hope for more. Hearing those peeps from the Styrofoam box was so unexpected and joyful to hear. I was filling soap orders and focusing on adding fats to milk when the sound hit me like a record scratch. Babies! New chicks on the coldest day of the year so far!

The house now smells more of mint and crockpot goodness again. There's a loaded crock pot of Silkie Bantam Stew and egg noodles and I have been hydrating with warm mugs of water with lemon juice in them. It's soothing just to have the warmth inside. I feel a little better that the house didn't burn down. It's been here since 1860 and I hope very very hard I'm not the end of the story for it.

Tonight will be colder than last. I am hoping I can get the pipes cleared and running and the truck started. More updates often over on Twitter @coldantlerfarm

Current Stats:

Outdoor Temp: 3° F
Tonight's Low: -9° F
Indoor Temp: 59° F
Truck: Turns now! (still won't start completely)
Pipes: Kitchen thawed/Bathroom frozen
Toilet Bowl Water: Liquid
Also: Friday got her period & hates her diaper

And if you want to pitch in for hay/feed/plumbing or just general morale support you can do so at: https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF If you don't, that's fine too. I'll be updating here through the worst of this winter weather daily.

Here We Go...

The AM stats are as follows.

Outdoor Temp: -8° F
Tonight's Low: -9° F
Indoor Temp: 46° F
Truck: Not Starting
Pipes: Frozen
Toilet Bowl Water: Icy

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Day One of The Bottom

The farm is in good shape for Day One of The Bottom. I spent the morning with the usual chores and work, focusing on illustration and firewood. When the house seemed okay enough to leave for short errands, I got gussied up for town. With my hair braided in pigtails under an over-sized beret and a semi-clean fleece jacket I felt presentable enough for civilization.

The sun was out so several thin layers and the jacket were enough to keep the 3° weather from biting. I picked up hay and provisions from Livingston Brook Farm. Then came home to check the fires. Once stoked I headed out again to mail soap, books, and artwork at the post office. I'm so glad the truck is roaring proud. She runs!

I bought extra calories in the form of sweet feed for the livestock. I emailed my firewood provider. I got the pigs bedded deep, the horses and sheep eating extra hay, and the goats set up with the loaned water defroster. For the first day of this stretch things have been okay.

When I was coming home from town I saw my neighbor and his team of Percheron Mares. His family owns a woodlot next to my property so he drove his team (named Belle and Bright) into my driveway to chat. I told him if he was ever in a pinch I had harness, hames, leather, chains, single trees and other horse-working gear right on hand so feel free to knock on the front door if he needs something. There was a moment of local pride with that. Most of us working horses and other draft animals (I have friends that plow with donkeys, ox, and ponies) are younger - in our thirties and twenties. It's nice knowing neighboring farms once again keep horse working gear on hand.

I'll be up into the night feeding fires and continuing my Gilmore Girls binge. It's such a comforting show that I can't not relax. Every episode is around 45 minutes and between them I check stoves, get a snack, bring in wood, check pipes. I fall asleep around midnight and by morning the hard work of making it to 65° and is cashed in for four hours of straight sleep on the daybed with the same crew as the night before. Wish us luck out here.

The PM stats are as follows.

Outdoor Temp: 11° F
Tonight's Low: -7° F
Indoor Temp: 58° F
Truck: Ran hay and errands today!
Pipes: Dripping/thawed
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid

Winter's Bottom

Tara Alan
I can not stress enough how impactful it is to general morale of a homestead to have the dishes done and the coffee prepped the night before. When I woke up in the living room—in the center of a pile of dogs, one brave cat, and a hawk perched above us all—I was so elated that there was no coffee pot to wash out and load or dishes to deal with, because if the pipes froze there would be a longer process of heating up water collected on the stove the night before in pans. (After that was used up - collecting, boiling, and preparing mountain stream water for indoor use.) But the sink was dripping smartly onto the thawed black body of Japanese Silkie Rooster the butcher had prepared for me weeks earlier. I had taken it from the freezer the night before. After I finish the morning update here I'll be setting it into the crock pot whole - surrounded with chicken stock, stored potatoes, onions, and some carrots from the fridge. A little olive oil and herbs and the lid clamps shut. In a few hours meat will be falling off the bone and a stew will be prepared to serve over some Amish egg noodles from the larder. I feel ready for the day.

This morning is the beginning of Winter's Bottom. The stretch of cold that usually hits this area in mid to late January but has chosen to arrive here in Washington County early. The following ten days will go from slightly negative numbers (like right now) to well into the double digits. Locals are saying we could be looking at -20° this weekend if it's like it was back in the nineties when the cold came and stayed this long.

This might be standard fare for some of you, but here that is colder than usual and the animals, the house, the chores, the insulation, the pipes... all of it isn't ready for this much cold lasting this long. Sure we get hit hard a day or two - but two weeks of never nearing the temperature water freezes isn't normal. And when you raise animals it is all about what they are used to - not you. Swings 30 degrees are hard on all of us. It's my job to get it ready and to see the farm through till it the weather breaks.

As of right now the AM chores are done and all the animals seem fine.The dogs did not want to stay out long. They went out, peed, and then were waiting by the living room glass doors to be let right back in. I didn't blame them!

The fires have been cleaned of last night's ash and restarted. The coffee pot is taunting me and I'll get a fat cup of it between writing this and rereading it before posting.

The hawk will go back outdoors when the temperatures are in the positive (an hour or so) and be fed a warm meal. She won't come back indoors until after dark. She's inside now because she's at her hunting weight and I'd rather be safe than sorry. Plenty of young red tails out in the wild won't survive this spell.

The horses and sheep have their water tank defroster sending light steam into the air.  They are eating hay like proud beasts and the jungle fowl birds spend most of their time on the sheep's backs. (Chickens are not stupid.) The goat's water was frozen solid but I cracked the rubber tub and refilled it (same with the pigs).

Today the new animal work is setting the goats up with a heated bucket I'm borrowing from a friend and getting the pigs 2 bales worth of bedding in their pigoda. They will bury themselves deep in it to create a heat igloo of porky goodness in their home. The chickens - they are all in the barn being fed and watered there. I'll be loading and stacking hay in the cold, driving the truyck around the county, mailing soaps, and getting the regular work done indoors as well. I'll be up late, sleeping less, and worried more.

More updates in the evening. I need to pick up that hay and arrange for more firewood.

The AM stats are as follows.

Outdoor Temp: -3° F
Indoor Temp: 50° F
Truck: Started up! - needs extra coolant.
Pipes: Dripping/thawed
Toilet Bowl Water: liquid

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Below

The next two weeks are going to be scary. Temperatures are dipping well below zero for the longest stretch of days ever since I have lived here in New York. I am worried sick about this tonight. Worried about the animals, the dogs, the hawk, the truck, the wood supply, and on and on. All I can do is dedicate myself to staying here to stoke fires, keep the animals comfortable, and soldier through but nights this cold have never lasted this long before.

Cold like this means changing everything. It means keeping the fires at hot-coal status all day which means devouring wood like a maw compared to the yuletide log blaze you picture when you imagine a fire. It means plugging in every water heater, defroster, space heater, etc I have. It means frozen or exploding pipes. It means livestock needing up to double the calories to stay warm. It means old hens or sheep might die. It means the hawk at hunting weight in indoors at the coldest times. It means horse blankets, ice chipping, faulty electric fences, and ordering extra firewood. It means not sleeping through the night for days on end. It means enough general anxiety to make cocaine seem like a mediation supplement. It means I'm scared.

I'll be writing about it all here. Please keep an eye on the farm through the blog. And follow along on twitter where I post every hour or more on the state of life, love, politics and pop culture if you're interested in hearing exactly when the pipes burst or the toilet water freezes.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas From Cold Antler Farm!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cave Fires

For three days the truck wouldn't start. Today the weather was dry enough to get it charged and hope for the best. A friend came to pick me up for errands in town so we left a trickle charger on the battery and a prayer on the hood. Later in the day she did start and ran, but promptly turned off as if the engine was a light switch. It's frustrating and a little scary. But the starting up was progress and I'll take the tiredest hope. The truck is my only vehicle. I want her to be okay.

The Ford's antics were nothing new. It's been acting like this (not starting in damp weather) for years and several attempts at repairing this issue have failed. I took the concern for the truck and slipped it into the back pocket of my well-worn, flannel-lined carhartts. They are  too big for me now but I wear red suspenders and keep them going. That's the motto this winter and every winter before it - keep going.

It's the home stretch into the Holidays. I make myself stop thinking about the truck. The last thing my heart needs is another thing to raise its pulse. I dread the days leading up to the 25th. It's hard to sleep. Hard to focus. Hard to do anything.

As the day started to sink so did my mood. I grabbed Aya from the mews and brought her inside for weighing/feeding. Then I did the normal evening rounds of firewood hauling and livestock feeding. I'm grateful for the work this place demands. My farm fights sadness and anxiety with decision, horns, and talons. If I give into the fear too much, if I decide giving into sadness is more important than stove wood and carrying hay - pipes freeze and animals die. There's no wallowing. Wallowing is for smarter people who have thermostats, landlords, spouses and a pair of cats. A life that could care less if they napped four hours straight. Here the work is constant, demanding, cold, and honest. Around Christmas I'd hate it if I didn't need it.

I went and got Mabel's blue blanket. The temperatures would drop to the single digits tonight, even though the day was bright and sunny. Walking into the pasture with the folds of fabric and flashes of reflective bands caused the sheep to scuttle and the mare to pin back her ears. She stands for the b;blanketing but I'm always cautious.  One side step, kick, or fall and I could hurt myself enough to lose the farm. I don't have health insurance yet but I did sign up for the ACA this past week. Soon as I can set aside the first premium I can start being covered. That's a goal of 2018. 

Most of the year I feel nothing but a fighting spirit and joy for this life and farm, but right now I feel like a kicked dog. The reasons are private but the result is a heavy loneliness. Not the kind of loneliness remedied by a night with friends or even the kind the excitement a first date can squash. No, it's something older and bigger; a cave fire that's gone out so the monsters can walk in.

Be kinder to people this week. You have no idea what the Holidays do to them. It might be really hard for them to be sitting at their desks, or shopping for groceries, or pretending your favorite holiday movie makes them laugh, too. There's nothing for it, but there is a gentler way we could all treat each other this week. Allow more patience to those you suspect have it harder right now (we need that social berth more than a hug or second helping of spiked nog). Don't take distance personally. Let us Irish Goodbye at your party or dinner. Allow us to use an excuse to go home to our dogs. We'll restart the truck engines and cave fires in good time, but right now just be kind.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Hot Coal Wealthy

After morning chores were done and the fires were considering turning from flames into rolling coals; I was just starting my first cup of coffee. As I poured it from the well-worn metal percolator on the stove top I was reminded of the wisdom of buying winter supplies ahead of time. My income is volatile, at best, so to have a winter's worth of food stored feels like money in the bank. With some large bills just paid (and two more due, plus the truck needing new brake lines) it leaves no wiggle room for spontaneous provision acquisition. I have at least seven more pounds of coffee in the larder, five pounds of sugar, and a couple jars pf powdered creamer. Not the most high-brow cup of coffee but between that and the wood piled high outside the house - there's a certainty of warmth and caffeine that grants me a long exhale. Hot coal wealthy.

Snow started to fall a few hours ago and I started to go through the usual Monday morning routine of work indoors. It was interrupted by the sound of a large truck pulling into the driveway - Othniel of Common Sense Farm was here to deliver hay. I was so grateful for that delivery, as my supply was low and the truck isn't running today. And while we unloaded the bales into the barn another vehicle pulled in -  this time it was my friend Dona McAdams of Northern Spy Farm. She wanted photos of Merlin in the snow and had some beautiful host guests of her farm's cheese and a potted Hyacinth in a glass dome to apologize for the drop in. We ended up talking for a good while, catching up on our lives and stories. And now with the guests gone I am back to the work of words, drawings, designs, and promotion of classes and lessons here at the farm.

Life is good here, if nothing out of the usual. I traded security and certainty for hay deliveries and afternoon visitors and potted plants. The house is finally over 60° and I am heading out to check the mailbox. Thank you all who sent holiday cards to the farm!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Stay Warm

Cold's come to the farm and has overstayed his welcome for a few days now. Nights were in the single digits and days below freezing but the farm came through the worst of it last night just fine. This morning the pigs were bouncing down the hill for their grain. The horses were frost-bearded but bright eyed. The goats were chipper and welcomed me in the 4° sunshine with bleats and songs.

As tough as it is some days to bundle up and head outdoors, there is a real mood boost in the work. When you have others depending on you  - you can't not have worth, can't not be needed. Even something as simple as grain in a bucket, or defrosted water on a blue morning - these things depend on me. To come inside from this work to a sated farm of content animals means that before I had my first cup of coffee I was of use. It feels good. Never stops feeling that way, a decade later.

Things are busy and good here. This whole week was mostly illustration work and soap making, meetings with my agent about the new project, and a Holiday party for friends yesterday. I had a great first date, too. Today as the sun heats up the snow a bit I plan on spending it gathering hay for the farm from one of my neighbor's, tending fires, and keeping hawk, home, and horse happy as the weather exhales towards better climate.

Stay warm, friends. Find your light and smile.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Soft Snow

A storm is on the way. The afternoon was dedicated to preparing for it. Right now as the world outside waits for snowfall I am inside feeling proud of the Silkies, who all managed to find their home tonight and are accounted for in their roost. The pigs have extra bedding. The mare has her blanket. The firewood is stacked. The homestead smells of pasta and mint soap - which is curing on the kitchen counter to mail to readers all over America and Canada. The entire morning (before storm prep) was spent working on illustrations for clients, I am trying to get everything in the mail - soap and art - out by the 15th. I think I am almost out of milk for soap (at least from this farm's goats) but I have been pushing art and logo sales on twitter. I am so close to making a mortgage payment I can taste it. Falling behind creates the anxiety that fuels good writing and a decent hustle - but is bad for my heart. What else is there to do but promote, work, and try? So tomorrow when the animals are set and the roof raked I will draw, draw, draw. The coffee pot is already set. I hope the storm is gentle for us all.

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

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Missing Storm Hen

Yesterday was special here, the first real snowfall of the season was coming to Cold Antler and I was ready. I had spent the morning stacking and covering the last of the firewood delivery. (Happy to say I am wealthy in firewood right now!) I had doubled-down on the pigs' bedding, the goats' grain and comforts, and made sure all the sheep and chickens were fat and ready to sleep the snow away in their respected barns. Mabel had her winter blanket fastened and Merlin had his prehistoric coat donned. Before I had left the farm to go hunting I filled the indoor firewood stack to the brim, did the dishes, and prepped the coffee maker. Baby, I was ready.

What I didn't anticipate was a trio of white hens who had never seen snow before losing their minds.

When I returned home from my hunt the roads were bad. The seven miles took half an hour, the roads became sheets of ice and sleet so fast I had to count my breaths to stay calm. I was so relieved to pull into the dark driveway I went straight into the house and hugged my dogs. I re-stoked the fires that had faded to coals while I was not-shooting deer. I let out the dogs, did a quick head count of the sheep and horses, and then headed inside for a quick dinner of chicken and angel-hair pasta from my winter food stores and started a movie to watch while I ate. Maybe watching a movie while eating is low class but I live alone. I like the company of a story.

After my meal was done I set the dishes on the counter in the kitchen and did what I do every night around this time - Night Rounds on the farm. It's just a walk to make sure everything with hoofs, tails, claws, paws, and talons are safe and settled in for the night. I bring a flashlight and the dogs and we make sure Aya is on her perch, the chickens in their coops/barn, and the sheep settled in from the now raging snowstorm! two inches had covered the ground in the hour I was home and eating. And it was during this nightly routine that I realized there was only one Silkie Bantam chicken in the Space Coop (the Eglu) - Falkor the Rooster. His three hens were all gone.

Sidenote: there were Five Silkies but I had the second rooster without a name butchered with the meat birds a few weeks back. Too much testosterone in a small coop.

Where had his hens gone?

I realized then that this was the first time these spring chickens had ever been around a true snowfall. It had started in the daylight and covered the farm before the sun set. That meant what was a familiar world turned into a foreign moonscape to the three hens. So it was time to find them, as I was certain a night out in the snow for birds used to the comfortable, wind-proof, Eglu was a death sentence. the dogs and I began our search.

I found two of the hens quickly, and by listening more than looking. Chickens aren't always easy to see but most chirp or coo if a person comes close. The pair of hens I found were covered in half an inch of fresh snow, in the snow, next to a truck of an old tree. They were nowhere near their coop. I picked them up and felt the ice on their feathers and instantly brought them inside to the brooder. The living room brooder has a trio of just-hatched chicks on one side and a spare room, so to speak, on the other. It doesn't have a heat lamp but it is dry hay ten feet from a woodstove.

One to go.

The dogs and I searched two more times for her. There was no sign. We checked the pasture and every white lump on the ground. We checked the barn and around the coop. We checked the woods, the trees, every dry spot from the nook below a wheelbarrow to the back of the woodshed. No bird. I figured she was picked up by a lucky owl, or had been unlucky enough to stray from the other hens and laid down to die in this hellscape. With a heavy heart I accepted the loss.

I took the hens back to Falkor before bed. They had a meal inside, water, and were dry. While out I checked again, all the spaces and places a bird might be. No luck. This was not a year for venison or white hens. I tucked into bed with the dogs accepting I was now down to three silkies.

Then came the morning light!

Alas, no hen. I didn't see her. All I saw was a farm glowing with the radiance of sunrise and fresh snow. I went about the usual chores, looking for her. No sign, none at all. The goats, pigs, sheep, horses—everyone else—seemed fine with the new snowfall. This last hen was still gone.

So I gave up on her. It's sad when this happens. Sometimes you fail your animals. Sometimes you just can't be everything to everyone on a farm - regardless of the size. The health of the entire farm comes first, always. It mattered more to me that all that prep of bedding, feeding, stacking, fires, food and water came before the mad hunt for the snow hen. I could have spent the night looking for her and then came inside to a cold farmhouse late and slept until 9AM missing the morning appointment to feed the animals on time - but why? The care and import of the majority always rules. So I went to bed normal time the night before. I gave up.

 ... But luck was on my side. The hen made it! She had found a roost deep inside a honeysuckle. The snow covered it, creating an igloo of sorts, and she was okay. It wasn't until later in the day I found her. I was happy and glad she was okay but didn't regret the choice I made to give up the hunt the night before. The farm is a big, moving, hungry animal. You stop to stare at a toenail too long and you miss the beautiful gait as it trots by.

Here's to snowfall, lucky birds, luckier deer, and a warm night ahead!