Monday, June 29, 2020

Babes and Beans

It's been a week of babies and gardens at this farm! A trio of Yorkshire piglets were delivered and are settling in just fine. They are small and too new to be set into the pig pen, so their short quarantine is in another pen where they are set up with good food, a small shelter, and fresh well water to learn to be a Cold Antler Farm Pig! You can see them here piled up on some hay in the old dog crate that used to be Jazz's (my passed Siberian Husky I adopted in Knoxville) with a MY GRASS IS BLUE bumper sticker fading and flapping in the wind. They are sweet babies and will eat strawberries right out of the palm of your hands! My girlfriend was here for their delivery and helped carry the squealing babes to their new quarters. I don't think she was prepared for how loud they can get when they feel confined! But glad to have some new blood on the farm with a proven breed that delivers the bacon.

And the gardens are doing so well! Already enjoying sides of green beans in butter and diced basil over goatcheese! Peas have been coming in strong and so have all the lettuces and greens in the kailyard! It's been a good year if you remember to water, the strain of the drought is making some of the blossoms wither but the fruits like tomatoes and berries should be strained enough to be extra flavorful if they don't drown or dry up.

Went to a local You Pick for strawberry picking on Saturday. For $3 a quart it's hard to say no and together we made jam, canned it, and froze two big bags of ripe berries for the winter. It feels good to start putting up for the cold months already, though it does make me nervous about firewood - which isn't brought in or started yet. One stress at a time. I need to also enjoy settling in piglets and jam on the end of a spoon or spread over some homemade bread!

Still haven't made the June mortgage. It's a little scary, and I am constantly worried I'll fall back behind but if I stay relentless in my promotions and emails and work and hustle I know I can make it soon. Sometimes all it takes is one really lucky break in sales to make an entire month's goals. And with 2 days left, I can still make this month happen. Gods willing and pigs squealing, may it be so!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Summer Light

Breakfast around here is never complicated. Most mornings it's just coffee. I am not the kind of person that wakes up hungry. And since right after that first cup is consumed there is usually a lot of physical work to be done — I get right to it. But yesterday started with rain and I slept in an extra hour, lulled by the sound of it against the box fan in the window. When I woke up I had that magical cup of coffee and I wanted breakfast. I knew I wouldn't be heading out on a run in the rain. I knew the chores could be done a little slower. So I grabbed two fat eggs off the spiral rack in the kitchen and a large slab of bacon end in the fridge. I sliced off a few pieces of bacon off the pig brick and set them into a skillet to fry. In a large mug I whisked the eggs with cream and added a little salt and pepper as air filled the eggs, promising a fluffy scramble when it hit that sizzling fat. Once plated and doused with enough sriracha to cause concern - I sat cross-legged in the living room to enjoy it the way I love best - in a bowl with chopsticks. If I have it, I throw on a dollop of sour cream to cut the heat but this morning I just poured my coffee over ice. That was a fine summer brekky. My farm's eggs and bacon, fueling a day of work indoors and out. It still hasn't got old.

They say you don't realize you've been in a slump till you're out of it. That's true for me. The second half of winter is when I stop running and hiking. It's when I just want to eat cheese in the dark and fill cold days with comforting meals and eating becomes less about fueling the day mindfully and more about an anxious response. But with the sun bright and running nearly every day I am starting to feel more like the summer self I crave all March. A body that has no problem running six miles in the heat after a mug of coffee. Skin tanned, scarred, and bitten by bugs but bright in its own way. And this farm...

Guys, I don't think she's ever looked better.

Maybe part of it is falling in love? Maybe it's looking at this house and land with the fresh eyes of another person? Maybe it's finally trying to figure out how to pay this month's mortgage instead of trying to stay no farther than three month's behind? Maybe it's just eggs on a rainy morning... but I feel out of the slump. The farm looks it, too. The place was never without care. Even at my saddest moment's the grass was cut and the sheets got washed, but right now walking around the farm feels like a team of professionals helped plan it. The pasture is green and lush and the lambs and goats are romping along in it. Their electric netting stops a few feet from the garden where it meets the horses' gate so moments happen like last night - where I walked outside to check the garden at dusk and just beyond the hanging snow peas and tomato blossoms a fat ewe ripped into grass to the sounds of owls and crickets while a horse beside them nickered for hay. And those horses look so good and have been ridden so much! Everyone on the farm is being active! And with meat birds and piglets on the way (having piglets delivered for winter shares) there are projects and meals to come!

I'm not out of the woods. There is still that forever anxiety of making the bills. I know I write about money a lot, it's because it's the thing I worry about the most. I have my home. I have my health (so far). Figuring out how to make a living every month is the low-grade panic I still have. But it's the kind of panic that helps more than it hinders. It makes every morning a mission, every day a set of goals to make to keep the farm moving forward and feeding people. Sometimes people write me and tell me not to talk about money. That people don't want to hear about it. Well, until I don't have to worry about it you're gonna hear about it. Best you find another farm blog, as there are thousands. This one is about just making it and being grateful as hell I did. And that gratitude makes the reins on my pony feel magical and walking out to the chicken coop feel like a red carpet. The struggle sweetens the pot. Hunger is a good sauce.

I still have a ways to go to make this month's bills, but even if they are late I will be just a few weeks behind and not months. Outside dapple light is falling over the pumpkin and potato patches. The lawn is freshly cut, making even the dandelions and plantain look elegant, all cropped neat. After this coffee is downed I'll finish up the late chores (bedding replacement and fences get worked on after animals are fed and watered) and then hit the pavement for a solid run before heading to the post office to mail out soap and artwork. My girlfriend will be here soon and I am so excited to spend time with her on this piece of land in the mountains. She makes my home feel like something more, something safer. I feel like when I am around her I can actually relax. She calms me like a shot of whiskey, just as fiery.

There's a lot to do today. A piglet hut to construct. An old coop to clean out and prepare for twenty meat birds. There's gardens to weed and early crops to harvest. It's the time of year where trips to the market are for four, butter, seasoning, garlic cloves and olive oil. Everything else is in the field or freezer. I know I'm still trying to make the month but this feels insanely wealthy, it always has. And with over a decade of farming in my bones now, it still fuels me to keep going and keep up the work of this place.

Bowls of eggs with a side of iced coffee. Who knew it had the power to rocket hope?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

June's Almost Over!

Hey there! Do you like having a body free of germs, gently moisturized by a 3-ingredient bar of pure handmade goatsmilk soap that also keeps a woman in her home with working utilities!? ME TOO! June is almost over and this farm has yet to make this month's mortgage before falling back behind, something I do not want to do, at all. So! Offering a sale on soap bulk orders!

SALE ON 10 BAR ORDERS! Usual price for 10 bars and shipping anywhere in the US is $75. Soap is $6 a bar and shipping in a medium flat rate priority mail box is $15 - now on sale for $65! I still need t sell a lot of soap but all sales help pay the bills, the mortgage, and keep dog food in bowls and lights on in this farmhouse! Message on social media or email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Quick Update

June is already heading towards a close. The days are long, the fireflies are flashing, the days are hot and I am up at 6AM for chores, coffee, and a run. There isn't much new to report outside of a few young meat bird chicks and moving sheep fencing around. Lots of sun and not a lot of rain so buckets are carried to the gardens and the horses are drinking more than their usual amounts but they seem otherwise unbothered! Lots of time in the shade swishing their tales. I get it. My hammock is the embodiment of a swishing tail in the shade.

No mortgage paid for the month yet but I am getting there, with bills taken care of through most of this month I am about halfway and hopeful. Part of me is very scared of getting behind again, it was such a hard few years being always scared of foreclosure. But another part of me knows all there is to do is keep doing what I can, be smart as possible, and keep trying. So I do.

Hay was delivered yesterday to patch up the holes where pasture is lacking. It is mostly to supplement the horses, but the pigs also like to chomp on hay every few days and I like to add a little variety their diets. Pig feed can get boring, even with the occasional baked good or kitchen scraps.



I am grateful I am back to my regular running, sometimes more than once a day. It soothes me so much. On hot days like this is reminds me how warm my body can get and still be okay, and that metaphor helps when anxiety feels overwhelming. It forces me to be tired in the right ways, which I am very grateful for.

Hoping to update soon with good news and good tidings. With a paid June mortgage and miles on my shoes and stories of campfires and trail rides and dreams of a September hawk and October perfection. Right now it's about making it to Sunday. And that is fine by me.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

One Short Life

The last few weeks have had this farm looking the best it has in years. The lawn is mowed and the fields are lush; so grass is growing and being thwarted in all the right places. The lambs are hearty and hail and my little pack goat is fitting in like a gem. They are all enjoying the portable fences, which have replaced the old woven wire that was sagging and useless most of the time. I don't have to worry about them jumping out if I leave the farm. I don't have to worry, at all. The horses are sleek and shiny and more friends are joining me for rides on the mountain. It's been so nice to share them and use them, which the more and more I meet people with horses around here the rarer that seems to be?! I don't understand why you'd want a horse if you aren't going to ride it, but then again there are people who furnish entire rooms they don't use in their home so whose to say. Around here, we ride.

The good news is that the farm is healthy and so am I. I am heading out on a run soon, about 5 miles, a favorite summer activity after chores and coffee. After that I am packing soap orders and working on some logos for clients before heading to the snake ridge, possibly, for a hike with Friday. It's summer so I want to move. ten or fifteen miles a day across the landscape, especially while hiking, is a joy I can't get enough of. I am grateful all the things I like to do around here are free, at least once you have the sneakers, boots, and fishing license.

Haying season has begun! Over 400 bales lifted this last week, getting it up in the barn with neighbors is a good feeling. I never mind the work, but I always mind the people who volunteer to help and complain the entire time. There's always one. But grumps aside, I was able to hay alongside my girlfriend this year and I have to say I prefer sharing a load. Creating a mountain together, what a thing. What a thing!

The truck seems to be running okay, but I know she is on her last legs. Rust is getting worse. She needs new tires. I am pouring in oil every week to make up for the leak that has been repaired three times now. But I can't think about a new vehicle until I get through some basic bills here. Once the (LAST!!) payment to a credit card is made this week and my truck insurance is in I'll be back to a double digit bank account and building up the mortgage, feed, groceries, gas and such from there. It is always scary not being sure how this farm will make it. IT is scary not being sure if I can manage to keep the mortgage up to date and not fall behind again. The faith is in the work, the continued trying, the proof of ten years of making it so far and the blooms in the peonies along the yard's edge. There is much to look forward to. A whole summer and I refuse to let money be the thing that turns every month into a slog of fear instead of gratitude just to be able to run and walk and enjoy this one short life in this one short body.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Something Good

June has become all about the weeds, as it has been since gardeners ever planted the first seed. Mornings are about waking up, coffee, feeding animals, and then WEEDS. I like it. Time in the garden slowly weeding is a meditation and a time to focus on something else, like an audiobook or podcast and mindlessly pull out baby grass shards and jewel weeds while learning something or getting lost in a story. I'm not the best person when it comes to details, so I set a timer for each bed making myself stay put for at least ten minutes in each smaller 6x6 garden area to really focus. I use a weeding hook I hold in one hand and crouch there like a cat about to pounce. If anything, it's good for the butt to squat and crab crawl around so much.

And weeds aren't the only garden battles to fight! The beetle problem seem to be falling away but new challengers arrive like curious chickens, snapping geese beaks over the fences, aphids, groundhogs, and other various thieves in the forms of wild birds and vermin. Little things are done to deter them. Dingle Dangles that clatter on the fences. Diatomaceous earth helps protect young plants from beetles and bugs. Soapy water on leaves can deter the aphids. A plastic hawk set up keeps the little birds away and confuses the crows. It's all a distraction from the larger world which feels like it's falling apart. This small space I can at least pretend to control. I can water and weed and care for it. It's something good in all the madness.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Scared of Heights

Here's a lesson for sheepdogs everywhere: don't climb up into the hayloft if you're afraid of heights! Which was what Friday learned when she came along with me to get hay yesterday at Livingston Brook Farm. She usually has zero issue leaping up hay bales, but yesterday was different. The usually packed loft is a city of hay. You could leap off the loft and land safely at any point. But this is right before the first cutting of June, and all that is left in the loft is the stragglers of last summer's hay. So the loft is barren with a handful of bales making a smart little step ladder up to more in the loft. Friday came into the barn with me, and watched me scramble up the simple narrow (2-bales wide) steps to the second floor and I thought she wouldn't follow. After throwing my third bale out of the loft window she was beside me. I laughed and applauded her bravery and together we looked out the barn's high door to the green and lush farmland around us. Grateful for this chance to get the last of the hay, and looking forward to filling the barn up again in a few days time.

Then it was time to leave. So I easily walked down the happy stairs and Friday just watched from above. I patted my leg and called to her, but she laid down on the loft's floor watching me with her little eyes and ears over the edge. She didn't want to come down! This was not a mighty height, just a few stacked bales, but something about the once-filled hayloft being empty and seeing all those hard planks below kicked in her self-preservation. She wouldn't budge.

I ended up having to sit beside her as she belly-crawled, on her own, down each of the four bale stairs to the floor. It was hard not to giggle. The steps were safe as could be but for her, it was a moment of having to trust me and face a fear and when all four paws hit the planks she lit up and smiled back at me like a wolf. "That wasn't anything at all, Lady!" as she trotted off to see what the barn cats were up to outside. What a little firecracker.

I am in spring cleaning mode. Friends that recently painted a room gifted me their leftover paint and are teaching me the right way to paint a room, which in my case is the bathroom. Taking off baseboards to paint and learning to work with electrical outlets and such. It's been a wonderful lesson and really makes that room look brand new. It's something I wouldn't have been able to do without the offer of paint and now I am learning some new homeowner skills. Lord knows this place needs a woman's touch.

Besides hay and paint: things are pretty standard around here. The fireflies are out early and the barn owls hoot into the night. I am still worried about making the month and falling behind. The farm is settling into June under unsteady footing. Yesterday I was able to sell some soap which got the farm out of the red, but just, for the first time in this month. Now my mind is set on making daily income goals and keeping things safe and sound. I did make a small donation of $10 from the sale to BLM as I said I would every day this farm makes sales. I know it's a drop in the bucket, but every drop rises the level.

Luck to all the brave ones today, fighting for a better tomorrow.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Bright Red

It's the first day of June and everything feels like it's on fire. America is at a turning point, a time when you can stand up for equality and fight injustice, or sit still and do nothing.

My platform is small. My audience is small. But I do have a few thousand people I can reach through social media. I am trying to use my voice there for good. But most of the time I feel helpless in how I can help affect change. But that shouldn't shut me down, or give me the lazy permission to give up. There are places and people I can donate to when I am able to. There are books, authors, videos and lectures I can educate myself with. There are everyday conversations with everyday people I can speak up in. There are things I can do, that you can do, that we all can do to help change the system in America that feeds racism.

I am trying to figure out how to do that and how to simply pay the bills around here. But every single time I post about something this farm sells, something made from a white woman safe from pandemic and prejudice, I feel like an ass. How insanely unimportant I am in this, my farm is in this. But the reality is we all have to keep paying our bills and figuring out how to keep our banks accounts in the black. I am not there today. This farm is starting June in bright red. I need to fight my own fight just to keep this place from sinking back into delinquency or danger. And I will. But keeping my farm above water isn't exactly the most pressing issue in the world right now.

So I will be donating part of what this farm earns this month to Black Lives Matter. I will be using my voice on social media more to educate and make people in my position (the majority of us white, female, farmers or future farmers) aware of how they can help as well.  I will still be running my one-woman business and hoping to have luck there just staying safe. But not without bringing attention to resources and voices more needed than my own.

I will still be sharing stories of the farm, hiking, nature, gardens, and the work and animals around it. I will be spending a solid 4 hours today just weeding. I will share the story of a giant ask tree that fell in a storm a few days ago and how my friends came together to help repair this place and even secret a little firewood. I will talk about dealing with internal and external struggles, as I always have. But I will also talk about what is happening outside this farm. In places my old pickup can't carry me too. And the people who don't have the luxury to write about weeding and tree removal because they're in the ER with tear gas complications.

And it is also the first day of Pride. June is the monthlong celebration of gay pride parades, events, celebrations, parties and city streets painted in rainbows. As a gay woman, that is practically Christmas and I love seeing my Instagram feed filling up with online gatherings and events and every company under the sun celebrating civil rights for LGBTQ folks when just a few decades ago you'd never even imagine a Fortune 500 company saying a single word in support of queer people. But you know what brought on that change... Stonewall. Riots. Fighting for civil rights. It was mostly people of color in the queer community that stood up against the corrupt and demanded visibility and freedoms other citizens took for granted. As a lesbian I can't imagine celebrating pride and ignoring what is going on in cities across the world today.  Remember, and note, it was after the 6th day of riots in 100 cities that the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1968.

I encourage you to use your own voices I your own families and communities as well. Don't discount the power you have. Don't forget simply standing up in a conversation where someone says something racist or untrue and saying, "I don't think that's correct. Why don't you explain what you mean?" usually shuts someone down who doesn't want to admit the reasoning behind and off hand comment that drips of racism. This is no time to be shy, or meek, or want a break from the news and conflict. This is a time that every one of us can stand up for peace and equality.

Move forward in love and kindness. Take care of your and others. Stand against hate. Open your arms and hearts to different views and lives. Don't assume the worst. Be open to hope.


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Few Pork Shares Left for Winter!

I have 2 shares of pork left for winter! If you are interested please send an email to me soon as possible to reserve them. Sales are really needed and I would love to start planning towards the fall months. Full details available via email for prices and how it all works when you co-own an animal on a CSA model like this for freezer meat. And if you want to support the farm and can't pick up a meat share there are meat donation options, too.

Friday, May 29, 2020

So Many Gardens!

The last few days have been a delightful preview of summer. The days reaching the mid eighties and the humidity I so miss all the drab winter returned. Moss covering rocks in the brook glistened in the mountain sunlight. The local bird population erupting with the color of oriels and buntings and warblers. And of course, everything is so amazingly green. The kind of green that shouts JULY not May and that had me mowing the lawn for the first time this season!

All the animals are well and the gentle progress of the spring moves into summer grazing. I am rotating pastures regularly for the sheep and Cade the goat. I am weeding and planting like mad, which is part of the influence of my girlfriend who has promised to assist me in weeding (which she will certainly regret). I put in a patch of Holden pumpkins yesterday with a broken hoe and had to electrify the kailyard because of a family of groundhogs. Cucumber beetles are overtaking my zucchini and butt nuts and that won't do. So measures of all sorts of warfare are happening in the gardens and that is a happy complaint because I daydreamed of these issues in the dead of winter the way we think about being grounded in our childhood bedrooms. Sure, it sucks but what a time of wonder in our lives.

I am still trying to move pork. I am pretty sure there won't be any government assistance coming in the mail this June and that is what covered last month's mortgage. A loan covered the back months before that. So I have to start earning to keep ahead of trouble and soon. I'm promoting the soaps, meats, and logos online and hoping to hear back from some people who sent me queries but most people back away when they realize the cost of a quarter pig or owning a professional logo, but not all. Enough are supporting this farm so far to cover the farrier and hay and feed and butcher bills that ended May and if I remain diligent and a little lucky I will make it into June and past it.

I am really excited about this summer. Just the heat and days of it. I know there will be a lot of work outside with the herb garden, dipper garden, kailyard, pumpkin patch, and the kitchen gardens and potato patch (and possibly sweet corn too?!) but that is still happy work and even better meals ahead.

All the lambs have dropped their tails. A friend gifted me four pounds of espresso. Another friend is helping me repaint my bathroom in the ongoing attempt to make this bachelor pad more suitable for a woman (which has taught me how dusty the tops of picture frames above my 5'2" reach can get in a decade.) But the point is things are slowly repairing, decluttering, improving, growing, hoping and changing. My little hobbit body is getting more time out hiking and running and that feels lovely, too. Right now just 5 and 10ks but a start into my summer of running - which feels great, is free, and rewards me with stronger lungs and legs and a killer farmer tan!

So here's to all that. I am trying. I am still here. I am hopeful.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Oink to the Future!

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 22, 2020

Pack Goat!

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Pasture Healing

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

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

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

Monday, May 18, 2020

Hello From A Little Slice of Jackson

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

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

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

Saturday, May 9, 2020

May Snowfall!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Get Yourself a Girl That Can Castrate a Goat

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

GREAT NEWS!

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

Monday, May 4, 2020

Old Red Door

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Rest Cure

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

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

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

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

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

Help and Subscribe!

Readers,

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

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

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

Thank you,
-j

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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Sunshine

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

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

MORTGAGE UP TO DATE!!!

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

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

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

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

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

This is good, guys.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Only Good News!

Monday's Legacy Returns to CAF!!!!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Onward

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Winds

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

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

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

Sunday, April 5, 2020

97.9

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

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

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

Friday, April 3, 2020

Mortgage Sold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Highest Stakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

From Home

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

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

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A Better Future

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

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

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

Friday, March 20, 2020

Brighter Notes

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Same Song

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 16, 2020

Gibson's Tenth Birthday!

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

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Cold Antler and Covid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wash your hands and be kind.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Shovel and hoe

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Today while shaking out rugs

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

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

“The cancer wants to live, too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I see you.
I love you.

I only want you to live, too.