Thursday, March 23, 2017

Summer Is My Fuel

Good news to share all around from this scrappy farm on the mountain! Birchthorn backers got their books this week and the novel launched on Amazon for download. Over 50 copies sold the first day, and if you were one of those people - thank you! So far the feedback from readers has been wonderful and encouraging. I had no idea how to write a novel and it was the hardest writing I have ever done. I am not sure I am cut out for it, since I wrote and rewrote that small story for over 18 months to puzzle together. A lot of struggle for what takes just a few hours to read. But it seems most people enjoyed it, and that was my highest goal. I have a whole new respect for anyone who tackles fiction. This is why George RR Martin takes decades between books! How is he not insane?!

In other good news: I am just a few sales away from making another mortgage payment this month.  If I can do that before the 28th (bank deadline) the farm is out of hot water going into full blown lambing, kidding, planting and milking! I believe I can pull it off, and that is the only attitude I can have in this situation. My coffee is hot, the sun is shining, and winter is almost behind us. Bodes well for this Reckless Optimist.

Guys, I can not tell you how much I am looking forward to summer. Summer has become my driving force as I try my damnedest to look forward without fear. I think of days waking up to milking and farm chores, then (already dripping sweat) heading to the river to dive into the water as if it is my own private oasis. I bring a book and a fly rod and read and fish and dry off in the sun for an hour. This is my air conditioning. After that, head home by 10AM to sit down to work in front of the screen and take breaks when I need to step outside and scratch Sal's chin or watch the kids use the chicken tractors as trampolines. This is paradise.

My summer days are the perfect mix of sitting down to work on creative projects and feeling that fever-dream energy of endless sunshine. Running 10 miles at a time and training for a marathon. Shooting arrows till my arms burn. Feeling all that summer hibernation weight fall aside and loving the blessed humidity. I will always love humidity. It brings green lush life to this mountain. It brings fireflies. It brings thunderstorms. That amazing sheen of life on a world that had to fight all winter just to keep fires burning... Summer is the pay off.

I am writing you this morning with a smile on my face. The novel is out, and people seem to like it. The farm is at the home stretch of being okay. Winter is almost over. Almost time to run free.


Get Your Copy of Birchthorn Now for $4.99!

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary donation. The photo was taken by Miriam Romais.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Birchthorn Has Arrived!

For those of you who backed the Kickstarter, the eBook has been mailed to you for download! Enjoy! For those who did not and would like to read this historic, paranormal, thriller - the eBook is now available for Kindle download on Amazon for $4.99!

My highest goal for the project was to create an entertaining story including the community of this blog. I hope you are entertained for a few hours!

Monday, March 20, 2017

I Don't Want to Travel


If you want to feel out of place tell your friends you don’t want to travel. The looks you’ll receive in return will run the gamut from shock and disgust to quiet pity. Admitting this is pretty much declaring ignorance and isolationism. It’s tripping down the stairs while crawling back into your doomsday bunker. Good, self-actualized people travel. If they don’t, they want to.

Somehow getting on a plane and going far away became the highest form of purchasable enlightenment. To experience real life is to experience it somewhere else. As a homesteader I chose the opposite. I haven’t left this farm for a single night in over five years, but I think my experiences have been just as life changing as the inkiest passport.  

To love travel is to love the feeling of being uncomfortable in a controlled environment. It’s a very expensive roller coaster ride. You board the plane knowing that some new experiences will slide out of your comfort zone, but they are usually still choices you made. We’ve all seen the Instagram feeds of zip lines, SCUBA trips, long hikes, and drinks on the beach. Whatever the itinerary it’s understood there’s a safe hotel room booked, plenty of cash set aside for meals, and soon they’ll be home again to explain to you how the temperature of beer served in restaurants varies based on region.

I see these pictures and feel nothing. No sense of envy or desire. I always saw travel as something anyone can do with enough money, time, and the will to book a flight. By its nature travel is flirting. There is no commitment to the destination, only pleasure. Guest is a title travelers learn to accept. That word makes me cringe.

If travel is being recreationally uncomfortable in a controlled environment - I chose the opposite. I’ve spent half a decade being cozy in a very volatile environment. I nested hard on a few acres on the side of a mountain. I run a four-season livestock farm alone. 

Imagine taking yourself out of your regular career and sticking yourself on a mountain farm with a flock of sheep. You have lambs to raise, a horse to ride, pigs to butcher, poultry to sell, vegetables to grow,  honey to harvest and your without a spouse, children, or family members. It's just you, baby. You and the network of fellow farmers and friends you managed to cultivate. Now throw in hobbies like falconry, fly fishing, river swimming, archery, home brewing and the fiddle. Welcome to your new vacation! Now don’t leave for 20 seasons and see what kind of person you turned into after all that. Beer temperatures vary based on exhaustion levels.

Both sides sound romantic and unrealistic to most people. Few people can afford the time or money to travel the world or buy Heidi’s Grandfather’s place on the side of a mountain and get rid of their cell phone. The traveler and the homesteader are two sides of the same escape fantasy. Rivendell or the Shire? Do you want to relax around a different culture without responsibility or dig into your own so deep you’re weeding your tomatoes for fun?

I see how people could assume my farm is a cage. Some people bluntly call it that to my face which is a funny thing to hear from people who will get in trouble with another adult if they aren’t sitting in a particular chair on Monday morning.

I don’t want to work a job I tolerate just to afford two weeks of entertained distraction from the previous fifty. If that means choosing this life that feeds me, needs me, and keeps me learning from mistakes and celebrating constant resourcefulness - so be it. My vacations come two hours at a time every day. I can leave my computer to ride my horse up mountain trails outside my front door. I can gear up for a hunt with my hawk. I can choose to take a ten mile run across the landscape I know as well as the sidewalks I strolled to school as a child. I can just nap in a hammock or watch a movie. Not as sexy as a story about band I loved in a Dublin bar, but tangible every day. I chose commitment over flirtation. It suits me.

Travel if you want to. Don't travel if your couch and a Game of Thrones marathon makes you happier. No one is winning if they're chasing someone else's idea of happiness even if they were tricked into thinking it was their own.

The truth is you can't buy enlightenment from a travel agent or garden it from the vegetables in your own backyard. We grow over time. It doesn't matter if you're in an Ashram or Akron - becoming a better person is putting in the work of getting older. For some it's raising babies. For others, it's taking up political causes, art, athletic endeavor or public service. Finding what you want out of life and working to keep it is the trick, without being sold any fantasy as salvation. You can't speed up life lessons by changing your coordinates or refusing to chart them. But you can feel happiness if you learn how to read your own damn compass. Mine points to here.



Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary donation. The photo was taken by Tara Alan.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chicks Ordered

First chick order of the spring was arranged yesterday. Two dozen egg laying hens are coming in the mail from Stromberg’s Hatchery. They will get here closer to the end of next month. I already have plans set for their brooder I’ll arrange here in the farmhouse. The spot is picked out for the wooden box with the heater, close to the pot of snap peas I planted. That little pot already has inch-tall shoots coming up which is a beautiful thing next to the glass doors holding back a foot of snow. Chicks and snap peas, these are harbingers of summer coming in few months. Dust off the banjo and relearn some favorite waltzes and you have a powerful combination of tools to welcome the Solstice. Winter is almost behind me, and I say good riddance. A box of chicks coming in the mail is no different than starting seeds - it is the intention of keeping on. It's choosing to grow.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ides

This would be a wonderful and important time to support this blog and farm, you just can't know. This month is a scary one and if you enjoy what your read here, consider contributing towards the words. If you can't, no fuss. I will always keep this blog free. But I will ask for contributions towards the words, especially when its most needed to keep the place going. If you already have, thank you.

If you do contribute to the blog, please write a note explaining what you would like to read more about this spring? I will take notes into consideration and write about what people mention the most frequently.

https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

STORM!

What a storm. 20"of snow and the farm is literally plowing through it. I hope you are all safe, your animals are comfortable, and we all remember how glorious July is when it hits us in a few months.

Lots of updates and photos over on twitter!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Come in, sit down.

Welcome new readers and old friends, I often post this: Come in,  Sit Down, which means introduce yourself here on the blog by your name and location, and maybe share a little more about yourself as far as homesteading dreams or goals are? If you don't feel comfortable giving your name online, you could always just leave your location and perhaps a suggestion for the blog. It's a way for me to see who I am writing to and say hello. It makes the place a little more friendly on this side, as you know so much about me, but I know so little about you. A simple introduction makes it feel like I'm talking with a group rather than writing to the sky. If you never comment this post is an exception worth making. You might even make a friend or two...

It's also a way for you guys out there to connect with other folks with like interests. If you're sitting in your Sausalito apartment dreaming of mini angus bloodlines and rototillers you might just see another name from Sausalito a few comments down dreaming about coop plans and explaining his container gardens.... and before you know if you've made a farming friend. The internet is great—you'll never hear me say otherwise—but it keeps us inside a little too much. It should be a tool to network and learn from, not a replacement for three dimensional conversations and relationships. (I am talking for myself right now as much as anyone) and by saying hello here you might just spark book clubs and dinner potlucks, meetups and work parties, farm visits and advice, or just someone to grab coffee with in the Philadelphia Barnes & Noble and pour over the new issue of Hobby Farms together while chatting about why your husbands think chickens are ridiculous.

So come on inside, pull up a chair, and say hello.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Logos!

I am offering a sale on logos, $50 off, all this month. The price drop is to help get this farm solvent and safe going into spring. I am happy to answer any questions and send you all the information if you email me. The logos are flat rate, meaning there is no hourly charge at all. You send me the company or farm's name, details on the style you would like, and I begin a sheet of comps. It is all done online, and so your location doesn't matter - it's a way to support this farm from afar and make your own brand look amazing!

Don't need a logo? Consider buying a logo gift certificate. You pay the sale price and I email a gift vouvher they can send me at anytime in the future for a free logo design! A great gift for friends with farms, to use in the future for yourself when you do need a logo, or as a gift to grads for their resumes and personal stationary/websites going into the professional world. Logos can be tee shirt designs for family reunions, an inside joke or quote you want to frame for a friend, the possibilities for custom design work on endless.Thanks for reading and considering!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Training Horns

Sean Connery, this year’s first (and so far only) lamb is doing so well. His tail is almost cropped. His training horns are very dashing. Today he walked with the flock past the fence into the woods a while to gnaw on bushes and see the view from the mountain. He’s growing up sturdy and Brick is such a great mama.

This shepherd still has four ewes (I hope!) to go. Tonight the lows drop to single digits. The hawk is already inside on her perch. All the animals have been given extra bedding and the heated lambing shed on the hillside is ready for any newcomers. I will be staying up till midnight, checking the flock through the night. Snow is possible, not much, but enough. Enough to cover the ground with a half inch on a 5 degree windy night - lamb killing weather. So wish this farm luck as the season marches on like the drunk lion it is.

Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing and photos are worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary contribution.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Underhand Pitches

It’s International Women’s Day. A day dedicated to celebrating and appreciating the women in our lives and the women that we are. What an odd thing? I'm not being flip. It is genuinely odd that a gender taught to be quiet, nice, and agreeable would be given a pride day and expected to actually celebrate it. I can't think of anything I have been told (over and over again) is more unattractive as a woman than being proud of yourself. 

We’re taught not to boast. If you live a life you are proud of you’re supposed to sit quietly and wait for praise. It doesn't matter if you're the happy mother of two in a small town or the CEO of a Fortune 500; every black-mold infested corner of society wants women to be humble above all else. Pride isn't something you should claim. How dare you take time to share what you have accomplished. That is the message constantly slung at women through underhand pitches our entire lives. We are supposed to wait to swing.  Chances are lobbed at us with a smile, "Go ahead and hit it sweetheart, you earned it" and only then do we endeavor to accept recognition. Only when it is permitted.

Here’s what I have to say about that. Stop waiting and boast.

I'll start:

It all began with a fiddle. I moved cross country alone ten years ago, from my first job after college in east Tennessee for a job in the Rocky Mountains. I missed Appalachia so much that winter I ordered a cheap fiddle on eBay with no idea how to play it. All I knew was I wanted that place back. Mountain music was teleportation I could afford. So I taught myself. It took a few months and patient dogs, but I learned to play. Now that instrument is an old friend, something I can pick up and play anytime - breathing a heartbeats into this quiet farmhouse. I can play songs that are slow and sad or bright enough to dance to. I started teaching hesitant beginners, making the wildness of the fiddle tame and manageable to others. Over a hundred people have come to this farm to learn to play. I am proud of those songs.

I am a homeowner, at least so far. It's always touch and go being self employed—there have been some serious scares—but for the past six years I have managed to pay off 20% of my mortgage and five of those years, I was self employed. That is no small accomplishment. I did this alone. I did this without a spouse, checks from in-laws, government assistance, or borrowing large sums of money from family or friends. Month by month I figured it out. I am proud I bought this farm as a single woman and am keeping it as one.

Outside my front door is a dark horse behind a sagging fence. He was born in northern England. Through luck and circumstance he was sold to me on a 2-year payment plan which I paid off in full a few years back. Merlin is his name. I have learned to ride because of him. I learned to tack him up and fit the human inventions of bridle and saddle to a half-ton of stubborn sentience. I can leave my property on horseback via saddle or cart. I have an animal I trust and care for that saved me from the worst times in my life. This was unimaginable to the 25-year-old girl looking at glossy photos of Fell Ponies in a bookstore coffee-table book a decade ago. I'm proud of the ownership, skills, trail stories and the animal.

There’s a hawk resting here on a perch above me. I learned how to trap, train, and hunt beside her and others in four years of training as an apprentice falconer. It amazes me that the girl too terrified to look people in the eye at the slightest compliment can now take a beast from the sky and train it to fly to her fist. When I look up I don't see wildlife, I see roommates. I'm proud of the time, the training, the hunts, the game in my freezer, and the hawks that touched my life.

I learned archery by joining a local historical society and joining their longbow team. I learned the skills of hickory and yew, sinew and string. I learned the tools, the care, and even landed a part time job teaching archery a few years ago a local resort. Now the longbow is as much a part of my life as the bow of my fiddle. I teach beginners the stance, the aim, the way anyone of any age can learn to meditate and become strong from this ancient weapon. I'm proud of every shot.

I learned to farm. How to raise sheep from lambs, chicken dinners from eggs, honey from hives, clothing from wool, bacon from piglets and salads from seeds. The knowledge of homesteading came loud and slow. I wrote about it for ten years here, TEN YEARS, with equal parts criticism and praise. I don’t believe either side, but inhale the middle deeply. Farming is the love of my life. It gave me the freedom to pursue the passions that give this shorty life meaning. The collage of skills that come with a homestead are too long to list. A few are brewing ciders from this farm's apples, baking fresh bread from scratch, midwifing a goat, or butchering a rabbit. Farming taught be to be human in an ancient way. To live with seasons and time as stalking monsters and perfect gods. I am proud of every single mistake, more so than the accomplishments.

I learned to stand up and fight, both for my intellect and body. A decade of being told how awful you are by strangers online has created a rhino skin against the anonymous. They mean nothing. I also became a martial artist as an adult, dedicating years to learning to protect myself and teaching other students. I have my named recorded across the world in Seoul as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I am more proud of this than my college education.

This is some of my story. I've done other things, too. I've earned a BFA in design, published five books (soon my sixth - my first novel). I ran a half marathon. I own the title on my pickup truck. I paid off 4 credit cards, re-negotiated my student loans, and trained a border collie to herd sheep beside me. But out of all of this, I'm mostly proud that I’m still here. I'm proud of the dozens of people I have met along the way. Every paragraph above is a set of faces, friendships, mentors, and bar stories. I became me along the way.

Okay.

How did reading that make you feel? I guarantee if you are a woman and read this you either felt bad about yourself or bad about me. That what we've been taught. I know because I read all that aloud to myself after writing it with enough self hatred to lubricate Scottsdale. Is this empowerment or self indulgence? Am I scaring people away? What if they realize I was scared the whole time? Do they know this is ten years of fear of regret, not Disney Princess adventures? Am I a hero or a child? Am I living the dream or avoiding responsibility? Etc, forever into anxiety and sleeping pills...

Women reading this, I am asking you to worry less about what people think and be proud of what you have accomplished. Stop apologizing for it. Stop being quiet about it. If it means doing so on a random holiday that grants you permission (exactly what I just did) then let this be our collective invitation. Stop waiting for someone to announce you to a stage that doesn’t exist for an audience that isn’t waiting for you. It’s not happening. You need to write the play, build the stage, invite the audience, hand the announcer you hired the card with your name on it - and then take the applause knowing half the audience hates you for doing it in the first place. Welcome to being a woman in 2017.

It’s time to ignore the chastity belt on your self esteem. It's time to create, to sing, to march, to shout, to live a life not hindered by permission - especially your own. Celebrate your stories and the mess that got you there. Be brave about your mistakes and forgiving of the ones you can't wait to make next. All the best stories start out this way. Stop listening to other peoples'. Write your own and brag like hell about it.

I want to hear it. I need to hear it. Millions of women like me are howling for it. The forced humility we have been taught is bullshit. Be proud of the good work you have done and hold your head high. We're all counting on you.


Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary donation. The photo of me and my hawk was taken by Miriam Romais.

Farm Update

Good morning from Mud City! The farm today is mostly water, and while I wait for new lambs I wanted to share this picture Miriam Romais took of Joseph, Sean Connery, and Chase the rooster. This little guy's a bit soggy right now, eating his breakfast in the rain - but otherwise in good shape.

I am still waiting on more lambs. Usually they are a few days apart, but perhaps Brick was bred an entire cycle ahead of the others? It's possible since Monday was off the farm in all of November serving a neighbor's flock (we switch rams to keep the breeding varied). Lambs could be here in ten minutes, ten days, or next month. It's my job to keep a vigilant eye and hope there is luck coming my way with twins or triplets.

In other news the farm has managed one of the payments needed this month and I have a plan in place to make more. For details on classes, illustrations, logos and workshops, etc please defer to social media. And if you have zero desire for a logo, don't want an illustration, or can travel to the farm for a class and wish to simply contribute here as a way to compensate for the writing you enjoy, I have signed up for paypal.me/JennaCAF That link will replace the troublesome (and depending on your browser, invisible!) paypal donation link on the sidebar. It is encouraging to see a dollar thrown into that pot. It shows there is an audience happy to support a blog like this. Not a bad way to shed some light on a muddy day.

More lamb updates on the way as soon as they arrive!

 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lambing Season

I got around three hours of sleep last night, maybe 3.5? I was planning on going to bed around midnight and waking up at 3Am and 6AM (my usual lambing check times) but this weekend the chill is too real - 15° today and that's the HIGH! So when I noticed a string of (what I thought) was a mucus plug coming from a hogget ewe - I knew I could not tuck into sleep. I put on coffee and was outside 6 times that night.I cleaned the house up, did dishes,couldn't rest - from what I have read and heard, being on Lambing is a lot like being on meth.

If you follow me on social media, you saw the madness. I was posting all sorts of stuff to keep my brain entertained. Mostly making lists. It was fun, but man, am I feeling the drag of only a few hours of sleep. Tonight will be tougher. lows below zero, four ewes to go, and a house to keep the pipes thawed, fire roaring, hawk safe, and dogs comfy. I managed to get a lot of work done yesterday, art commissions mailed out, logo clients caught up. Today my to-do list is lighter. I am going to try and get a nap where I can so I am ready for the ring tonight. It's Jenna vs Lambing2017.

Why the all-nighters? Because I don't have a lambing barn. I have two sheds. One is large and holds the whole flock (or a bossy horse), and the other is what you see above. A small shed with a heat lamb and hay and when the next new mama is with lamb she'll go in here with a gate. It's a comfy lambing jug for the new ladies or wee lambs. Could I shove all the females in the large shed and lock it with a gate and heat lamp. Sure. But the point of a smaller lambing shed (jug) is to keep the mom and offspring close and alone together - so no other ewe can try and "adopt" the lamb who isn't producing milk yet and the likelihood of the new mothers abandoning the newborn is less. So having them all in the same bulk container doesn't solve the problem of necessary attachment going askew. And if I filled the larger shed with jugs it would mean no shelter for the other sheep who might need a respite from wind, rain, and cold.

So this is what I do. I check every few hours for the duration of lambing season. It's once a year. It's tough but this is the life I chose. I don't have to worry about raising kids or a spouse or getting to the office on Monday AM. I am here. The mandatory presence is okay.

Sean Connery, the new (and so far only) lamb out of Brick is doing well. He's tough, having spent this new cold world beside his woolly parent and enjoying his breakfast on demand.

I hope you are all staying warm and have good support around your lambing/kidding/whatever you raise. I joked on Facebook with a local farmer that we need to start a Farm-Midwifery-Potluck-and-towel wagon. When one farmer is done with their babies coming into spring they volunteer laundry and meals for another farmer in the fray. I think it is a fine idea. Though to be honest, if you showed up with food here I'd say thank you, put it in the fridge, and be happy that was 30 minutes of napping I gained not cooking. then take that nap and forget to eat anyway. Farming!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lambs, Cold, and Peas

Lambing season came early to the farm this year. Earlier than ever before. It was a surprise to see Brick with her sturdy little ram lamb a few days ago. (Twitter followers named him Sean Connery.) Even with the night temperatures dropping into the single digits last night, this little guy was okay. I know because I was out there at midnight, 3, and 6 checking on him. He was always in a tight round ball beside his mama's wool in the shed. When it is this cold, and you have three new mothers (gods willing) - you get out of bed. A lot.

It’s going to be a long weekend. Maybe the last real cold spell of the winter. I think my firewood will last but I have a guy I can call if it gets low. I’m trying not to spend the extra cash if I can manage to luck out. By Monday temperatures will rise back into the fifties and the wood stove and I can rest a bit. Nights that aren’t so frigid don’t require the constant field checks. But even then, bad things happen.

Last year I was out three times a night and that didn’t help the lamb born after I was back to bed and wouldn’t be discovered until three hours later. She didn’t make it, but her sibling did. Had I slept through the night both would have most likely passed.

I have learned over the past half-decade of breeding sheep here that they are the most delicate of any other livestock (except maybe rabbits). I have never lost a goat or kid. I have never had a pig die unless it was butchering day. Birds seem to feed raccoons or foxes far more than any disease. Merlin hasn’t ever so much as limped (knock on wood). But sheep aren’t those beasts.

Sheep are born to blend, to look strong and part of a flock even when they start to fall ill. I learned to read their faces over the years - look for signs of thinning or checking eyelids for color. You need to feel backs for their weight number and get your hands on them in ways you don’t with pigs or goats. Trust me, a sick goat will let you know she is miserable. A thin pig is a sad thing to see and can’t be confused with a dairy animal’s hip bones. But sheep are masters of “Really, I’m Fine.” And even the little lambs can seem somber and tough when what they need is a headlamp and a bottle.

I am not chancing anything with Split Ear’s lamb. She is a poor milk producer and her lamb will be bottle fed, if she has one. She is acting like it. Spending the day away from the flock up in the shed, rubbing her sides and breathing slow. I am prepared inside for bottle lambs - with diaper pads and bottles and milk replacer for days.

Alas, no lambs inside yet. Right now I have coffee by my side and a day of getting hay in the barn, fires roaring, design clients sated, and hopefully making more sales before quitting time. Wish this farm luck with both lambing, sales, and the coming cold! May you stay warm and prosperous as well! I promise to update soon as any more babies hit the ground.

Oh, and I planted snap peas already. Indoors and out. I am a crazy person.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Learn The Fiddle (and take one home) for $200

Have you always wanted to play the fiddle or shoot a bow?  I am offering one-on-one classes here at the farm. These are half or full-day events meant for complete beginners in archery or fiddling. You can come not knowing how to read music or nock an arrow, (in fact I prefer it) and leave with a your new instrument or bow in hand. The point is to come with an open mind and a sense of humor. I have yet to have a fiddle or archery student not leave this farm being schooled enough to play a tune or hit a target. This is a chance to learn a skill, support the farm like me, and come see the beautiful mess that is CAF. Right now, you can sign up for a half day with fiddle or bow for $200.

Both day's cost includes the tools needed -  fiddle (plus case, bow, supplies) or longbow (for your right or left hand, string, 3 arrows). If you buy a workshop as a gift in the next few days I'll overnight you a hand-painted postcard to give to the receiver. Classes are set up by you so a day in the spring, summer, or fall you wish to learn and travel here is up to you. Can be set up after the holidays!

If interested email me!

One Down!

The winds were so intense this morning they literally blew the door off the house. It slammed against the siding, barely held in place by a tired top hinge. It scared Merlin, who whinnied at the noise of it and had the dogs barking their heads off. It was time to wake up, I guess.

First things first. Before door repairs animals all need to be fed and checked on. As I was in-between the food and water portions of AM chores I went inside to warm up a bit. It was at that moment the person from the bank chose to come by and photograph the house. I have a writhing disdain for this person, regardless of who it is. They are the human avatars of my fear of losing the farm. They are sent out by your bank to document your home from the road and make sure you didn't abandon the property or what the condition is. Of course, my house had a door swinging off the hinges when she snapped it. Great.

The door is now repaired. It needed stronger, longer screws and a few moments with my screwdriver. The animals are all prepared for the cold nights coming these next two days. Temperatures are dropping into the single digits. I double checked on the lambing jug set up in the smaller sheep shed. It has clean hay, a heat lamp, and a bucket for water with extra electrolyte powder. Little Sean is in it a lot with Brick. You can see him up in that picture herd learning. He's doing well and has his tail banded and a fluffy mama to sleep beside while the winds blow.

Good news! I was able to mail a mortgage payment yesterday! I am not out of the woods, far from it, but it is a huge step towards resting easy.  The monster is being slain, jab by jab. Spring has enough going on with lambing, kidding, spring butchering and meat pickups, chicks to get in brooders, seeds to plant, and a hawk to get dropping feathers - the last thing I want to worry about is my address. I am sticking to daily income goals and leaving some room for luck - good and bad - in my actual and emotional budget. But this is a huge step towards getting this place to solvent and comfortable, my loftiest goals.

Thank you to everyone who has been so kind with messages, comments, stories and emails this week. Thank you to the snarky people, too - which is really a very small percentage of my readers but they are providing a consistent service to me - someone to prove wrong. Cold Antler has made it six years, and as confusing as that may be to the people hired to keep taking its picture from the road - it still belongs to that weirdo farm woman who rides the dark horse. And it will a while longer if I have anything to do about it!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Good Morning!

Good morning from Cold Antler Farm! This little guy is doing so well. Brick is an amazing mother, she really is. Looks like rain all day, but I will be staying close by the flock to watch over them in case another ewe gets inspiration to lamb as well. With three new mothers I am preparing the lambing jug area as well. Such an exciting time on the farm!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Monster Battles

I just came in from checking on the flock and hawk - all of which were doing well. Most of the sheep were out in the damp air on the hillside. Only Brick, her lamb, and Split Ear were in the shed on the fresh bedding of hay inside. The little guy was curled up with a fat belly. Tomorrow I'll crop his tail and get him some baby shots, but besides that, it will be Brick doing most of the raising. She's my best ewe. She's older and a little surly. She has a permanent Elvis lip curl from a rip she got from thorns a few summers back. I remember Yesheva from Common Sense coming up and sewing her back together as I held her in a shearing position to patch her up. I had my head down the whole time and when I lifted it I got dizzy. It was an intense day of sheep work, but Brick had three beautiful lambs since. Farming is mostly trying.

As far as getting my head wrapped around this issue of keeping the farm, I'll say this much. I write about it here because it's what is happening. And being honest makes me feel less isolated. So I will share the month's progress towards getting out of this ditch. I have learned over the years you can't look at problems as a whole monster. If you are scared of anything - be it debt, a marathon, a relationship, a job interview - anything - you need to tackle one part of the monster at a time. No mere mortal can wrestle a monster and win. But you can learn to trip a foot, or dodge from a claw. You can spend your time being overwhelmed or spend your time figuring out how to beat him.

Today I ran short of my income goal, but I still made a sale. Some of you signed up for blog subscriptions or sent contributions (thank you!), and some just plain emailed me or commented in support. All of these small actions add up to enough ammunition to maybe blow up a big toe on the monster. And since today's goal was "blow off foot" (so to speak) it's start. You don't have great balance without your big toe. It hurts the monster. He's less stable and I'm more confident. Is this metaphor too much? I'll stop.

Point is, some people never think about taking out big toes. They can only see the whole monster. They can't allow themselves to believe in the chance they had. I'm at the point in this dream that it is harder to not believe in myself. The evidence that I will be okay feels real. Losing the farm doesn't. Which isn't to say that it isn't possible, just that I know how to take out toes. If I have enough time and wit and luck by this time next week I may have already sent in a payment, basically putting Gamera in a wheelchair. (I have been picturing Gamera this whole time). Still deadly, but far less of a threat. A giant turtle in a wheelchair is still terrifying, but I can run up the stairs. I gain some advantages when all I could see is impossible.

If all that was too long to read. Here's the gist: Today I woke up scared. Then I went outside to the surprise of the first lamb of the season. A lam on my own farm, one I have managed to pay 20% of the entire mortgage off in my six years. Then later I had a pop tarts for dinner.

Success isn't always a straight line.

Lamb!

This morning in the sunny, early-spring work of chores - I saw a lamb on the hillside. I was not expecting it! Never had my sheep lambed so early, and to see this guy peaking out of the sheep shed with his mother Brick, was encouraging. The farm keeps going. The seasons keep changing. It's my job as steward to keep it appeased as they do. With winter nearly behind us (though I do expect more snow before daffodils) I feel tougher than I have going into any other spring. I treaded water for years unsure of how I could pull this life off. Instead of panicking I always found a way - be it changing how I make a living or changing how I live. For example, when I bought this farm I had a new truck with a huge monthly payment and insurance bill. It cost over $400 to own and drive that beast. Now I own a truck outright and pay $48 bucks a month insurance wise. Other things like giving up a cell phone and its costs, using firewood instead of oil heat, bartering whenever possible, and focusing on design and illustration instead of fighting for a new book deal - all of this is adapting for the love of a dream. The sun is out this morning. My pony is starting to shed. Soon I hope for days of saddles and archery practice and river swims in the evenings. But to have those things means doing the work to keep it. There is no free lunch. I'm a One Woman Farm with a mortgage and college debt and the expense of owning a home all one one set of shoulders. Those shoulders used to be forever slumped. Now they are held back. I made it this far. This is home.

Yesterday I got a letter from the bank throwing down a timeline (one month) to gather a certain amount of payments to stop foreclosure. It was scary. But it wasn't a red letter saying to move out. I have some time. I have skills in design and illustration and an ebook coming out soon. I have wits and friends and people who love me. Most importantly, I have a life I love and that I am willing to work to keep. Right now I have a daily income goal set and a plan. I'll be promoting logos and illustrations like nuts on social media, so unfollow me if that is bothersome to you. Here on the blog I'll keep it more about the daily farm life. The only reason I don't post here is because I am stressed out and can't focus on writing for pleasure about a place I am afraid of losing. As my morale and hope rises, so do the words here. In this case I might have to fake it till I make it, but that's okay. There are lambs and seed packets here. There is enough optimism to sink an airship. There's me. And I am one tough woman.

(P.S. Lamb naming contest going on over at twitter!)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Little Seeds

I bought two seed packets yesterday at the hardware store in town. They're from a local seed company and will be planted in containers, a quiet tradition here at the farm at first signs of spring. I will get them in small containers and they'll be crawling up windowsills and flowering by the time spring is actually here in full force. They were on sale for a dollar a packet. Not a bad price for hope.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Part Wolf

When I was in Jr. High (that is what we called middle school in small-town America in the 1900's) I had a huge crush on a boy who seemed unattainable celebrity, even then. He was tan, fit, and had the kind of dreamy hair boys illustrated on the cover of Babysitters' Club books would envy. Friends of mine dated him and for that they were my heroes.

His older brother was in the same class as my cheer-leading sister, three years our senior. In a high school of 400 kids, everyone knows everyone. We were friends the way chubby girls who read too much are friends with boys- which is to say more like golden retrievers then actual human women. I was the non-threatening, unsexualized, funny girl who was supposed to leave the room at parties so my more attractive friends could fool around. I wasn't a monster - but I was me.

At 13 I was built thick, with dark hair and a max height of 5'2". I was into the outdoors and dressed mostly out of the LL Bean catalog-school of inspo and it looked about as flattering as you imagine. I never ever thought of myself as sexy or pretty. I wanted to be - but in the high school play I was cast as the family dog (literally). Point is - I was not the girl on the cover of the Babysitters' Club. I did not run my hands through wavy boy hair.

One time this crush of mine fixed a necklace I was wearing in a computer lab. He stood behind me, gentle hands on my nape as he repaired the latch while I sat frozen. My whole 13-year-old-idiot body shook internally. I didn't know people could do that to each other. Having felt the hormonal shock; I fell hard for this boy who was so nice to a golden retriever. (Little did I know at the time, a pretty breed of dog was too high a bar to set for myself.)

I never dared tell him, or anyone. It was mine to hold close. So later that year at a party when he was waiting for his brother to pick him up I felt lucky to be sitting next to him while we waited for our separate rides. We chatted. I pined. Then my ride came. My sister walked in with a smile and a very fashionable pea coat. He shook his head and laughed to himself behind her. (Know my older sister was perfect in my eyes. She was thin, blonde, and smart as hell. So I got his awe, but didn't get what was so funny?) She headed out back to the car and before I grabbed my coat I made the mistake of asking him why he was laughing?

"Oh, you know. I just was looking at Katie and you, well, you know, the nickname.... Your nickname?"

"What?" (I didn't know I had a nickname.)

At this the boy balked a little. He was self aware enough to realize he walked into something uncomfortable. I put on my coolest we're-just-buddies! voice and told him it was okay to tell me.

"We call you the Friendly Beast. You are so nice and funny and everyone likes you, but your sister is, well, your sister - and you're you."

I didn't cry or say anything back. I just laughed. I was well trained in my role. This is what the boy I liked thought of me. This was what his whole pack of boys called me. I swallowed air and smiled. But that was the first night I ever cried myself to sleep over how I looked.

"Friendly Beast" has always been in the background, the label that explained why every unrequited romance didn't work out. Of course boys didn't want me - I wasn't even human. I was something else. All through my teens this was a part of me. (Later on I did find a boyfriend who was very sweet and put up with a lot of eagerness, but that was a long way from the 13-year-old in computer lab.)

That nickname became my identity. I wish I could say it was some amazing Fuck You to teenage boys who called their girlfriend's bestie a beast - but it was more of an escape. I embraced it as armor and fell in love with werewolves. I had nearly fifty werewolf movies in my collection. When I drew myself, I was a werewolf. If people saw me as a friendly monster then that was exactly what they would get. It was easier to give into the role then fight it.

Genes from a Slovak mother and pan-Germanic father made me short - but strong. This was my only vanity. When other girls in high school had trouble picking up bags of dog food I felt like a superhero not breaking a sweat carrying a fifty-pound bags over each shoulder. In my mind I was a beast. I was the cinematic daughter of Simba from the Lion King and William Wallace from Braveheart. Those were my weirdo-teen idols. They were strong, leaders, animals. I drew that picture of "me" up top in college. I was 21 then and still saw myself as the Friendly Beast.

photo by M. Romais
Now I'm in my thirties. I'm still a beast, but I don't cry about it anymore. What once made me feel manly and monstrous in the worst ways is now a sense of pride. This werewolf ran a 5K yesterday in 16° weather for the hell of it. I felt the pain in my thighs while doing chores this morning, and welcomed it like an old friend. Instead of taking a day to heal I ran some more (14° today!) and did A LOT of pushups after -just to feel that howl inside. What used to bring me shame now brings me so much pride. I love being strong. I love that a hundred pushups is cake. I love that I don't flinch working with a ton of draft horse or worry about throwing hay bales all day. The teenager who used to wish so so hard she would look like Rachael on FRIENDS some day.... well, now that bitch owns a pair of yellow wolf contact lenses. I wear them and mean it.

I am still only 5'2" and weigh around 186 pounds. Even when I was training for the half marathon last summer and running 40-50 miles a week - I never weighed less than 178. At that weight and height, an 8/10 capri is my go-to jean size, but some bitchier critics online think that is a lie. (Listen, my body is a mystery to me, too, but I really am mostly muscle). My waist is 33" and my arms are 15" flexed. I remembered hearing trivia that Ben Affleck's arms as Batman were 17" and was unimpressed. Grrrrrrr, baby.

My body is thick, but that no longer makes me feel less then more conventionally attractive women. I don't want to be a tall, blonde, model who has trouble holding her groceries. I want to be the most kick ass version of me. Which is why I run long races, earned my black belt, ride draft horses, shoot archery, hunt, train hawks and run a farm alone on the side of the mountain. It takes a part-wolf to do all that.

I still deal with the same body issues so many women deal with— and some far more serious than most— but as an adult I am proud of what the Friendly Beast has accomplished. I have no idea what happened to that boy and I honestly don't care. But I hope if he has daughters he raises them to value their own gifts, whatever they might be.  Not everyone gets to be an LL Bean model or even look good in a fleece vest - but we all have something to offer, something to be proud of.

Some of us are a little too feral to make most people comfortable. Some of us are born gorgeous. Some of us get to grow up touching wavy hair. Some of us are friendly beasts who would've killed for Golden Retriever status at their lowest points. Life has a lot of possibilities. What I do know is I no longer doubt there's a person out there who will find me beautiful, as is. I know because one already does.

Me.





Monday, February 20, 2017

Sun!

Hannah and Marnie at Breakfast
A couple days of sunshine sure does a lot to change a gal's mood. So does coffee. I am reporting from a productive morning here, fueled by caffeine and a menagerie of hearty critters in sunny snow. And I gotta say, that sunshine makes all the difference.

The break in the weather has been a godsend here at Cold Antler. Time outdoors feels a little like spring (which isn't too far away)! Chick orders and seed catalogs are on my mind - and as the days grow longer they feel less like wistful pornography and more like tangible reality. Considering that this time last week I was on my third round of raking snow off a precarious roof - that is a delightful turn of events.

Sometime to keep in mind is that things change quick. We all know this, and yet we often are surprised when a day becomes crappy or amazing before our eyes. We have zero control over the weather, the passing of time, or other people's brains - but we do have the ability to throw on a sweater, learn to knit to combat anxiety, and to realize other people's brains are none of our business. So get your armour class up a few notches. The best advice I can offer is to choose to be excited when life sends you the tiniest nod. Also choose to be excited about something else, if it doesn't. If you have food in your stomach, a roof over your head, and the ability to hold someone you love close you're pretty much nailing it. Everything else is preferences or godbothering.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

THIS WEEKEND ONLY!!!!

Offering a half day fiddle workshop for yourself (or yourself and a friend) anytime after June 1 (you pick the date). This price includes the 4 hours of total beginner lessons (come knowing NOTHING at all and leave playing your first song - promise) and YOUR OWN FIDDLE!!! A brand new student fiddle with case and bow. Lambs or kids hanging out with us while we learn together is a total possibility.

One person (dogs welcome, no charge) - $175
Two people - $300

Email Me to sign up!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bull!

Before I let the dogs out to run around the farm this morning, I made sure there weren't any rogue bulls on the front lawn. That isn't a joke. Yesterday an automated call came from the local Auction Barn letting neighbors know that a very "agitated" bull escaped and instructions on how to avoid it were also given - as well as contacts to call in case you did happen to see it in your backyard. I live a mile from this barn, so not a far fetched thing to look out for.  Never a dull moment.

Snow storms came and went, leaving this place gorgeous and tired. All the animals and I came through the blizzard and right now as I type thick, wet, flakes are falling outside my French doors, snow-globe style. It's a pretty scene. But even in the quiet reverence of it, I am keeping my eyes peeled like the unwilling matador I might become at any moment...


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentines Day From Us!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Work Arounds

So I am by myself and the truck won't start. If the wiring doesn't dry out it will need to be towed and repaired. I am holding out hope. I have a feeling my great grandparents have an eye on me; as they lived rurally and had chickens and know all about Fords with bad attitudes. I was low on feed and got a number of a local who delivers feed to a farm door, a two-bag minimum. So I arranged for 40lbs of dog food and a 150lbs of farm feed. What a blessing! I also called the guy who delivers my firewood - a pony trainer named Rob. Rob is moving to Alaska to work with his ponies as a logger in the big North. Before he does, he will be delivering some more firewood as I am getting low as winter winds down. These are work arounds. Farming is rarely ideal. To have a network around you that serves your needs both makes homesteading alone possible (even with a bum truck) and helps support other small businesses. I am happy to pay the small delivery feed to keep this farm going. I am excited for Rob and his journey northwest! Everyone around you has a story to tell. Just ask!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Snow Day

A blizzard hit the northeast today, and this farm got a nice coating of fresh snow. While we didn’t get nailed as much as other parts of the state - a decent 5-8 inches (depending on drifts/wind) came and changed up our usual routine. When snow comes in any measurable amount my chore list gets doubled. Today was a constant rotation of checking on animals, shoveling paths, raking roofs, checking fences, feeding, bedding, water, repeat. Lots of coffee. Meals are fast and infrequent.

Between outside trips I managed to work on my daily minimum of three clients. I wish I had done more. The work is certainly needed since the truck isn’t starting, which happens whenever the air gets really moist. It’s the starter wiring - which is as old as Taylor Swift and needs to be replaced. I just can’t justify the repair right now.

I snapped that picture of Merlin first thing in the morning. We got hit with the snow around dawn, and it came hardest between then and 9AM. Merlin doesn't wear a blanket, never has. He has access to a pole barn (2 actually) but he chooses to be out in the snow most of the time. That thick white covering is there because his body is insulated by a thick coat. His body heat isn't hitting the snow to melt it. He looks like a Game of Thrones character, but really that's the sign of a warm pony. I'm glad I got this pick because moments later he shook most of it off.

Now it's evening and the day is behind me. Around dusk the farm becomes two colors - blue and orange. The color of dying light and the burst of flames from the stove. 

You might notice a specific tone in the posts this winter. A voice based on getting work done, being proud of what’s been accomplished, and keeping on. That’s because I need to hear it. I need to write it to myself. Read it to myself. Check off lists. See it. I tend to either write at the end of the day or early in the morning, and both of those periods need the balm of personal inspiration. I know I am not alone. All of us have some sort of demon nipping at our heels. Some of us are dealing with anxiety over our jobs, relationships, kids, money, school, spouses, illness, family, etc. All of us are fighting our own fights. You might not have farms or blizzards, but you have stories and obstacles. I hope sharing this story shows you what a stubborn person can accomplish.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Family Portrait

Perks

I started using percolators back in college. It was an accident based on my love of antiques and the crew I hung out with in college. Some gals spend their college years experimenting in all sorts of sex, drugs, and other normal youth activities. My crew? We went antiquing. We were weirdos at an art school that was part of a state University surrounded by the Amish. Old junk was cheap and I was barely a person. But I knew I adored every second of rummaging through old things in dusty shops. I was raised understanding coffee was a regular infusion and life necessity - not a simple beverage - and started collecting coffee antiques.

I've had electric ones and stove stop ones. I've used little ones like this perfect one-mug teal beauty that was a gift from a beloved farmer friend. I have one that makes 30 cups a reader mailed me! Coffee is a lifeblood and special drink here. It starts the day with energy and stories and memory. A good cup means a lot. It's something to look forward to when you'd rather stay in bed. It keeps you going.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

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 here, 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. Or if you stopped subscribing for whatever reason, you sign back up. This is a time that the farm needs support from those who wish to see it remain the home of Cold Antler.  Please only do so if you feel the writing has value (as entertainment, inspiration, etc) and you can manage it.

Thank you,
-j


Or make a one time contribution if you don't wish to subscribe.
 

Time Travel

The summer I left my 9-5 job is still the longest summer of my life.  I swear time slowed down. The days felt as though all the hours I used to spend indoors at an office had to make up for what I missed. Daylight seemed to last 30 hours instead of 12.

I think I was in some kind of highly-functional shock. I'd never had that amount of time under my control before. I wasn't the kid who took a year off in college to travel. I also didn't move back in with my parents, join the Peace Corps, Armed Services, or move in with a boyfriend. My first job in the real world started a few weeks after my college graduation. I moved there from my college apartment. My entire life was school, college, work. It wasn't until I was nearly 30 that I learned what a summer was.

We're told it's our childhood summer vacations that are sacred. They aren't. You don't have agency, or money, or the ability to do anything without permission. It's just day care, supervised play. Going feral was very different. Quitting a life I had grown to despise for the terrifying freedom of self employment felt like breaking all the rules. It wasn't a summer off from school. It was Lord of the Flies. But instead of a bunch of boys fighting over a shell it was one badass bitch who just bought a British draft horse she didn't know how to ride with an inkling towards falconry.

(2012 is an insane year on this blog, I realize now.)

I look back on that first summer with such fondness. I also have a Time Traveler's excitement of getting it back. It will take sharing a first summer off like that with another person to get it. Like if I fall in love with someone and they quit their job and moved in. They would get to experience exhausting morning chores/milking/fence repairs/poultry moving and what coffee tastes like covered in a humid sweat. Then we'd for a few hours with neighbors and realize only after we're done that it is only 11AM?? WHEN DID TIME STOP! They'll feel it too. This amazement that not even half the day is gone and so much life has been lived. How could we sweat so much? How could a person do that much and forget to eat? And we'll eat great food we know and raised. Then take a break at the hottest time of the day to jump into the Battenkill and feel the entire world's temperature become comfortable again. Maybe a nap in a hammock before afternoon chores. End the long day with a good meal, cold beer, and a fire and music and barely believe we can wake up and do it all again. That summer will be glorious, and get the benefit of edits from my first one - mistakes avoided, better swimming holes, better food, better me.

Being a farmer is like being in any long-term relationship. It starts out with romance and energy and it's hard to believe any other world exists outside it. I have no idea what was happening in the world when I first fell in love with farming. It swallowed everything about me. I was this shy, farm-curious girl just flirting with the taboo of an Agricultural life. Experiments in bees, chickens, rabbits and a rural address were exhilarating changes to a suburban life. The I dove. I jumped into this dream of farming full time without the proper preparations or income to do so safely.

A few years in you realize the honeymoon is over and the little things that excited you and drove you, are now everyday. This is the point in any relationship where things either solidify or fall apart. For me, it was both. I was falling apart but it was the farm that kept me going, standing up, forcing strength from a scared girl. I made bad choices, thought book deals would never stop coming, and dealt with some personal demons I am not comfortable sharing just yet. Some day. That's another book.

I didn't leave. I didn't walk out on this relationship to pursue another lifestyle. I see this happen a lot. I see young women and men dress up in their coveralls and fill their instagram accounts with baby goats and mason jars on hay bales only to be sharing photos from a month in India a year later, or their city loft's new red sofa and french bulldog. I think agriculture was a fad for a few years. I think a lot of people wanted that feral summer. They got it, loved it, and then grew tired of it. That's not a bad thing. The presence this life insists on is insane. My mom always said even soldiers got leave every so often. Farmers do not.

I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. This summer will be (I think?) 6 years of self employment. It has been hard, exhausting, nerve-wracking, and life changing. It turned me into a woman who knows she can count on herself. Who is thicker skinned, harder, and more determined then ever. I am still here.

I am waking up every day now hoping to make a sale (which is really hard. Most people ask and back out) and figure out how to not hate the guy from the bank who drives by to photograph my home from the road to decide what the foreclosure market value is. But if you play hopscotch with disaster long enough you realize you PLAYING. You are still in the game. You haven't fallen. Focus on the next bill. Figure out the next sale. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't give up.

Every winter I think about the coming summer. To get there means catching up on so much. But if I can figure out today, and put more money in the bank than I take out - I can hold my head high and keep my promise to my dogs of a full belly, roof, and love. I get through one day at a time. They add up to a life you can be proud of. A life worth fighting like mad to keep.

I want to stay here. I want to keep playing hopscotch a little longer. I only want that game to end when I win it - when solvency is the new reality instead of resourcefulness.

I will get there. I'm certain.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Germ Freaks & Ice Cream

If you are a Germaphobe I am your remedy. Just follow me around for one day as a farmer/falconer/dog roommate and you will see the myriad of horrors the human body can experience and still only suffer one minor cold a year.

This was my line of thinking yesterday as I used a heavy ash walking stick to break open the rib cage of a dead fawn half buried in frozen snow. Blood spattered and got on my lips and eye glasses. I wiped it off with my sleeve and didn't think about it until now. I was too busy trying to help Aya get to the rest of the liver she had started on. Hey, a gal's gotta eat.

We were at Common Sense Farm hunting. After two dives for rabbits (one dive so gorgeous and perfect it will be remembered the rest of my life the way some dancers never forget the first time they saw Swan Lake) Aya had found this treasure. It was fresh. I knew it was fresh because not only did the corpse look good, the liver smelled and looked exactly like fresh liver. A smell and thing I knew intimately from helping out with many livestock slaughters on this farm. Even though I hire people to shoot, gut, skin, and halve my hogs -  I am there to collect pieces I want in bowls. I have been handed countless livers, tongues, and hearts and set them in pretty vintage Pyrex in my fridge, awaiting vacuum sealing later. Sometimes I forget about these treasures, and when new company wants to grab a beer they are surprised to see the heart and tongue bowl. Their level of discomfort is a litmus test for how long they might stick around my life.

Aya Cash had scored big and the hunter in me wanted to snatch her off the carrion and hunt somewhere else. Once a hawk is fed the hunt is over, just like in nature. Release her on a full stomach and the best you can hope for is she'll sleep in some close pine trees and you can bribe her back with breakfast the next morning. Worst case - you never see them again. But that seemed like a horrible lesson to teach a bird I would eventually release. If a wild red-tailed hawk found a stash of protein gifted to them this way OF COURSE they would eat their crop full. This was fine for me. That dive I witnessed was better than 100% of the sloppier game scrambles that ended in meat in the freezer. So I watched her eat what she could and then then she looked up at me. "Oh, you want help?" I smashed into the picked ribs so she could get more. Thrilled, she dove in. Her beak was covered in bright blood and her neck filled up with organs. She was happy. So was I.

Apparently this is not a good week to be a small deer.

I took her off the deer when she was full and hopping around aimlessly. I slid her hood over her head and walking back to the car. She let out a hawky burp/mouth stretch. Hawk breath always stinks but cold deer liver breath might be the worst. We headed home in the truck. I had chores and fires to start.

Once home, I got Aya settled in her mews and handed her a defrosted rat. She was due to be gorged and full. Some falconers keep their hawks thin all winter and I will not. I secretly love the heavy days when all we can do is watch movies together inside. Hunting and flying is great but a fat bird is a great reason to spend a night Binge watching Netflix. The rat meant skin and bones and fur and other goodies needed to create and eject a pellet - important digestive help after a meal of just offal. She happily started eating the rat's face. She was happy. So was I.

I went around the farm and did the usual chores. This means things like clearing frozen mud and pig poop by hand away from electric wires. It means carrying hay and realizing one bale was all dust and mold and throwing it aside for mulch. I never think about the poop or the mold. I just keep going. If humans were so fragile we'd all have died thousands of generations ago - is my thinking.

After these hours of hunting, chores, dead things, poop, and mold I went inside and made a cup of afternoon tea and didn't wash my hands or worry about residual deer blood on my lips. I was grateful for no longer moving. Later that night I would invite my working dogs in my bed —under the covers if they liked — and fall asleep breathing in black silky fur and feeling toenails rake past my naked body. I will not have showered first.

If this all sounds gross, that's fine. I'm not everyone's ideal partner, for sure. But I can assure you there are five sets of clean sheets in this house, which are changed every single time I shower (twice or thrice a week) and I never get sick! Okay, I rarely get sick.  Which seems to be very different from my Facebook feed, which is littered with sick parents of kids or urban friends dealing with the actual germ festival that is a city. People are either often ill or use feeling imperfect one day as an excuse to take off work and lie down. I get it.

Out here things are usually just gross - not dangerous. You get over it.

Part of all this is the mental and physical training a farm grants you. You can't get shit done when you're done every time you get shit on you. I have lost any and all disgust about the insides, fluids, and excrement of animals. So far this winter I got one cold (from other people) this past week, and I still farmed and slept and did all the same stuff. The training comes in here. You can't call in sick to five hogs, eight sheep, two goats, a hawk, a horse, and random bitchy poultry. The dogs and cats still want to eat and be entertained, too. So you just do the same thing slower.

All of this is why I think people who constantly worry about infection or disease from other animals should shadow me for a day. Not to do what I do, but to understand how tough the human system is. How much of that fear is in your head. Face your fears! I'm still alive!

I have limits. I don't roll around in dead animals like Friday will, but I also don't freak out if I have to clean her up afterwards. But I wasn't always this way. I remember listening to Joel Salatin talk at my first ever Mother Earth News Fair about every time they finish butchering chickens they handed out ice cream sandwiches as a treat to the crew. Everyone just dug in. No one ran off to simonize themselves first or rinse their hands. As someone who got Campylobacter from chicken harvesting I cringed hearing this. But I was inexperienced and doing it wrong. (I broke open intestinal fluid and a gall bladder.) Today I would eat the ice cream (as long as my hands didn't have intestinal fluid on them) and be glad the work was done. It took nearly a decade to get there.

Being aware of germs is good. But not living your life because of them is silly. I am proof positive the human species isn't a fragile little dove of certain decay amongst grossness. It's actually pretty cool - hunting with hocks and knowing your bacon's first name. And if all this really grossed you out, you're probably just new to livestock, parenthood, or hunting. Give it some time and you'll also enjoy the ice cream with dirty hands.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Vicious Songs

alexandra-loesser
I was heading down the mountain feeling really good. My truck was running after a morning of not, and the sun was shining. I had a list of work checked off, took some time to really focus on my eyebrow game, and had gotten dressed up nice enough for an evening out with friends just for a trip to get some fuel and groceries. I like looking like I tried. I do it because it makes me feel better. When you work from home it is easy to go hours in what you usually only wear to sleep or work out in. As I sat at my computer working on designs and illustrations — I just hoped no company stopped by. My hair was greasy under a fleece cap. My face and lips a mess of fighting off a cold, peeling dry skin, and ruthless chapping. But half an hour in the bathroom and some slightly-looser jeans and I was feeling glad enough to crank up the truck’s speakers and sing along with My Girl Friday.

Around a winding turn there was a lot of movement in the woods. Black shapes scattered at the sound of Kendrick Lamar coming too fast in a truck too old.  At first I thought it was a flock of turkeys but it turned out to be crows and the mountain’s resident pair of raven. Among that murder I saw a body surrounded by too-red blood. It looked like a dog. Whatever happened to the dog it wasn’t pleasant. The body was about 30 yards from the road. I made a note of it and decided to check it out on my back from town. He certainly wasn't going anywhere and ravens need to eat, too.

It was easy to spot on the way home. I pulled to the side of the road and left the truck running. Friday watched from the window as I made my way into a ditch and across a stream. I knew the landowners and I wasn’t worried about anything but the victim. As I splashed through calf-deep water I thanked my boots for the thousandth time and made a promise to oil them that night if I didn't fall.

I hoped it wasn’t a dog I knew. I didn't want to have to tell neighbors. When I came up to the carrion, I blew out a cheek full of air.

I'm not ashamed to say I was relieved when I saw it was a very young deer. I will always feel relief when I see a dead herbivore as a opposed to a predator, especially a larger canine. A coyote would have to come at me with a knife while I slept in my own bed to dare hurt it. I have shot mangy (literally manged) young foxed that have stolen birds in broad daylight, but never would I dare shoot a coyote. I love those song dogs. I once saw one trotting up a dirt road on this mountain in late summer. It was large as a German Shepherd and moving casually between two walls of goldenrod. When it shook out its coat I gasped at how thick it was and how it caught the sunset and turned flaxen. If Beyoncé was reincarnated as a coyote, this was her. It made me happy for about 2 weeks.

I really do love these beasts. I have laughed seeing their pups play in the middle of my road. I fall asleep smiling at their jocular yodeling. If I hear someone hunts them for sport I instantly want nothing to do with them. It's like hearing someone shoots stray cats from their porch. Coyotes are friends. Dogs are family. Wolves are sacred.

This hunt happened this morning. The blood was still bright and everywhere. If I was the set designer for a CSI-type nature show I would tell the crew to rein it in a little. Too much. It was dramatic and horrible, but the hunter in me felt some serious pride for Beyoté and her family. The canine paw prints were plenty and large. I could see each toenail on the large prints (something you never see in the rounder and far-more menacing) cat tracks. The fawn was fresh and there was no smell. It had no eyes (the crows) but other than that looked healthy and braw. It had on a good winter coat. It was around the side of a Labrador. Born to die.

The pack had taken this small whitetail, dragged it, feasted. I made note of exactly where it was. If Aya saw this from a decent soar she would leave me and land on it. What would take me half an hour to hike to would take her about 50 seconds to fly it and land on. Aya and I were also hunters on this mountain. We'd cause just as much carnage to other mammals. I nodded to the prints in respect, red and silent and perfect. I was glad I didn’t have a camera. I didn’t want to document it that way.

I’m proud of these fellow hunters. They managed what I haven’t in years on this mountain - which is hunting a deer. I also know plenty of my readers dislike coyotes, have killed them, and perhaps feel the need to share some story about poor lambs, goats, or chickens. Please don't. I’m not defending wild dogs I am sharing my feelings about them - and I’m not going to argue with anyone. You can’t argue with someone about how they feel. You can just react.

Before you do that, understand this wasn’t a campaign. It was a moment of country life I chose to share because it moved me. I hope you saw what I saw in your own mind. I hope the next time you see a coyote you see what I see in this stunning mountain pack - breathing August and vicious songs.

*Note - I have never lost an animal to a coyote. They are nervous of my farm and keep away. I have found other deer killed this way on the outskirts of it. Which is interesting since my fat sheep would be A LOT easier to kill than a healthy deer. They also don't get along well with foxes and tend to not share the same territory. Foxes have killed livestock here. Raccoons have killed the most. I am grateful for song dogs as police, crooners, and hunters.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Evil Gods & Pizza



Last night some good friends; Miriam, Chris, and Chris's son Keenan came to the farm for a Game Night. We ate a meal together, caught up, and then after appetites were sated we got out a trio of games to play together. If you aren't away there is a renaissance of board games happening now. Not the old standbys (which I hated and still hate) but clever, weird, culty, and quirky new games.

For example: I'm a fan of HP Lovecraft's horror stories. The game in the video above, Elder Sign, is a about pretending to be a team of Victorian Investigators in an ever-changing museum of horrors fighting evil gods before sunrise. The ratio of luck and strategy are pretty even. The nerd level is off the charts, since it's is a far stretch from passing GO and collecting $200. But you get to slip into a living story and be a character and forget about anxieties for a while.

What I am saying is give these a chance. There are endless how-to videos and live videos like the wonderful Table Top above to see how they play before you invest.

Game Night here is a regular winter occurrence and while I have talked about it before I wanted to reiterate how good it is to get around a table, pour some wine, put away the cell phones and work towards a common goal. If that sounds weird (a common goal? Aren't board games recreational competition?) I thought I'd suggest some team-based board games. These are called Co-Op Games since you need to cooperate as a team to beat the challenge together.  Favorites here are Pandemic, Elder Sign, Forbidden Island, Shadows Over Camelot, and The Resistance. If you never played any of them I strongly suggest the least expensive and most kid-friendly - Forbidden Island.

Right now things in the world are cold, political, and families are stressed. To spend a few hours a week just working to solve a problem and realizing your ability to help and solve a problem - even a fictional problem - is good for the brain and heart. So get a game, order some pizza or host a potluck, and enjoy a night in. We do. We love it.