Saturday, December 12, 2009

clawing uphill

I spent the morning doing the odds and ends that make a small farm run. I bedded the chicken coop and sheep shed with fresh straw and filled up the grain bins with new feed. I carried out fresh water in heavy buckets to the sheep, dumping the old rubber bin of the spaceship of solid ice inside it. I put weight in the back of the pickup and called a tire store about getting snow tires on the rear wheels. After the spaceship incident I called a few feed stores to price water tank defrosters and found a sale at Tractor Supply. For twenty bucks a small device can be hooked up to an extension cord and float in the sheep's water and keep it from freezing solid in the night. That's money well spent, but money isn't being spent like it used to. I was never in a position to spend a lot of money, but from time to time treated myself to a lower end guitar and that used truck. Now that I'm saving and planning for a house in the spring, everything is taken into consideration of frugality and common sense. Things I used to never even blink and eye spending money on I now pass by. No more coffee at stores, the pot stays at home. No more renting videos or buying new clothes or toys I don't need. Christmas presents will be humble and I hope it doesn't offend anyone when they are. I understand if you want something (and lack a trust fund or inheritance) you need to work, sacrifice, and plan for it. So that's what I'm doing: the work that needs to be done and building my small nest egg for a down payment on that farm.

I'll be announcing my Etsy shop re-opening soon. I'll be selling a mix of watercolors, antiques, knitting, knick-knacks, instruments... anything I can part with. My banjo will be up for sale with a great backpacking case and extra strings and a strap. I'm also offering beginner fiddle and dulcimer workshops for locals, so please email me if you're interested. And if you have a watercolor ordered, but have not received it, could you do me a HUGE favor and email me a reminder with your name, address, and subject matter. My web-email program runs on slow dial-up. It makes looking through old emails a long, long, process. I'll be painting all weekend so be assured if you write, 'I'm the gal with Popeye the cat! Here's my address! Here's that photo again" you'll get it mailed next week. Just make sure files are small, like I said, dial-up.

I'm going to see Abi, Greg, and Finn today. I'll be brining his hay and hoof-trimming shears to show Abi how to do it for her alpacas, and to maintain hooves. If you go to her blog, Spiderwomanknits, you can see photos of Finn and her boys Hayden and Indy. It's a cool site and her taste in design, antiques, and her Etsy business are all top shelf. We have the same Lincoln Bread box in our kitchens. (You can trust people with like taste in retro kitchen appliances.) I'm beyond grateful for their help and yours as I claw my way into my own farm. When I get there, and I will, we need to throw a proper Antlerfest and celebrate.

Say you'll come? This farm stopped being just mine a long time ago...

P.S. I'll still be at Northshire Books tomorrow, is anyone still coming? The snow may be an issue?

photo by abi, off spideerwomanknits

Friday, December 11, 2009

annie loves the truck

Thursday, December 10, 2009

the hot middle

The storm took out my hollow's electricity last night. It also created a sheet of ice on my little private road that has just taken my truck hostage. Coming home from visiting neighbors, I started up my hill and it spun its tires till it (and I) gave up. My orange truck is currently fighting off the wailing wind, left where it was stuck a hundred yards from my cabin. In the morning my neighbor Roy (I hope) will rescue it with his big tractor. In my defense, I tried to get it unstuck for half an hour before chalking it up as a loss. Lesson 32,784 learned: the 2WD Ranger is a three season work horse.

The last two days have been focused on Finn. I brought him to work with me yesterday in hopes I could deliver him to his foster home on my lunch break. In preparation I turned the entire back section of the station wagon into a small barn stall. While the storm raged outside my goat lay quietly in his small den of hay, chewing cud and watching the storm from his warm front-row seat. Every so often I'd walk out to check on him, give him water or walk him on lead to stretch his legs, but he seemed to have other plans. Every time I came out to walk him he'd leap back inside and curl up in his nest. I didn't fight it. I'd wrap my scarf around my neck, dig my chin into my chest, and shiver and walk back inside myself. (I think Finn had the right idea there...)

When I got back inside I emailed his foster home, trying to make plans for the drop off. After a few back-and-forths both Abi and I agreed risking death to deliver livestock in a blizzard was a bad idea. So our plans were postponed till today. I won one last night with my goat.

When the work day was over the storm had passed and the temperature rose to nearly 40 degrees. The office parking lot was shining under the street lights, and not a single person was around when I returned to my car. I opened the hatch and watched him yawn and stand up. I snapped the lead to his collar. Together we walked in the perfect stillness of the corporate blacktop. A girl and her goat, in the glow of a street lamp, walking side by side in a weird place. This lasted moments but will stick with me the rest of my life: these days when the farm and my job melted into beautiful gasps of saturated instances like this. I wanted someone to see us, because it must have looked comical, then realized it was better alone. That was for him and me and it wasn't funny at all. It was goodbye.

When we got back to the cabin I let him leap out the back of the station wagon and knew the next time I would let him leap out of my car, it would be when I was bringing him to my new farmhouse. That sliver of my future was barely tasted, but understood. I have learned the subtle divinations a small farm grants us, not in tea leaves or tarot cards, but in the split second a goat jumps from the back of a beat up car. The whole world's in there I think—between the hairs and flash of black horn.

Finn went away today. He's in the loving and capable hands of Abi and Greg and their three children. I took him there on my lunch and let him run around the enclosure with two suspicious pacas. I could only stay a few moments, but that was best. When we started to leave the yard and Finn ran after me to follow me inside. My heart cracked a little at the fault lines. I waited till he was lost in close inspection of a dryer vent blowing warm air outside the house to slip away.

I cried on the drive back to work, half out of sadness for feeling like I abandoned him, and half out of gratitude for the kindness of his new family. The collateral damage from knowing I have to sink or swim is starting to wear me down and build me up at the same time. I'm treading water like never before, and feel like someone punched me in the jaw. I white-knuckled the steering wheel and promised myself I'd get my farm and get him back. He was going to jump out of this car again, no question.

No one tells you this stuff when you buy goat care books at Borders.

I spent most of the day fretting about Finn. Worried he'd be too much for the alpacas, that they'd reject him from their small herd. Or worse, that he'd head butt a toddler or eat the house paint. But tonight when I checked my email I found this:

Hi Jenna :)

I just panicked b/c I couldn't find Finn outside. So Greg went out to look for him and we couldn't see him because he was wedged between two Alpaca Fleeces! Snug and cozy in the hot middle! Lucky little guy!

Abi

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

watercolor update

Just wanted to check in and update you folks on the watercolors. I have painted five, started three more, mailed three, and more are on the way. I can't do them as fast as I thought, and last week I didn't paint any (due to the fiasco). But now I'm back in my groove and wanted you folks to know I haven't forgotten you, and if you asked for one you can expect it in the next few weeks. I would like to have them done by Christmas. Thank you again, for all of you who took part in this. I also have a few just floating around I may post and see if anyone is interested in giving a home.

what a storm...

40 mph winds, 6+ inches, horrid roads, and a goat in the back of my Subaru...

more tonight.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

the red kettle and big plans

The snow that fell here Saturday night never melted. Outside a thin inch still coats the farm. Only the hundred tiny triangles of goose feet line the path between the coop and the cabin porch. It feels like winter is finally here. In the mornings I have to fill up the red kettle with water and let it whistle before I can go outside. I use the hot steaming kettle to melt the ice on the bird font and Finn's bucket. I learned that Finn will chug cold water and start to shake from the influx. Like how you and I get the chills after eating icecream on a cool night. So I pour hot water in with the cold from the outside faucet and let him drink luke warm water from the big white bucket. Maybe this is babying him: but no one should start their day shaking. Saturday I plan on taking him to his foster home long as Abi and Greg oblige it. I'm really going to miss this little guy around here.

But like so many of you have noticed, this is good. All this business since Thanksgiving has given me some beautiful tunnel vision. My head is down and I'm working hard towards this goal of having my own farm by late spring. So far I've talked with financial advisors, realtors, mortgage lenders and neighbors. The town of Sandgate knows I'm looking. Word is out, homework is being done, credit cards are being paid off and information is coming at me from every direction. I believe this will happen. I'm just not completely sure how yet...

There are a few places for sale in town but the only one in my possible price range is right on the road with once acre. It doesn't feel right. Specially when for a little more there are places scattered all over eastern New York and other parts of Vermont with 5+ acres. I found a 144 year old farmhouse across the state line in Jackson NY with 6.5 acres, a barn, pasture...the works! Knowing these places are around, even if they aren't or can't be mine yet, is comforting. I just have to hope that soon my life and finances will be in order. If the world can offer me something simple, something humble, I will make it into an empire. A small house and three acres with these hands...my god, I could make that place sing! Mark my words. If I get my own place. There will be lambs.

Keep me in your thoughts. I'm not all that superstitious, but I do think if enough good intentions can focus, amazing things can happen. I mean, crikey, today I got a Christmas card from France. FRANCE!? Someone in France is thinking about this cabin and thought to mail me a card? I read it in the headlights of my truck and just grinned like an idiot. If friends who have yet to meet me an ocean away are keeping Cold Antler in their thoughts, maybe some locals around here with hints about houses and land may be too. I'm just going to keep my head up, nose clean, bills paid and do what I have to do. I'll sell the truck, all my instruments, whatever it takes. This girl is getting her home. Hers and no one else's.

When I'm ready the right place will be available, right? It'll happen?

alan and suzanne's new sign!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

a snowy potluck

I got to the potluck sometime around 4:45. The line of trucks and Subarus outside let me know I wasn't alone. It had been snowing for a few hours and Town Hall was covered in proof. I parked, grabbed my pie, and walked inside. Any tension I may have been carrying from earlier in the day came off with my insulated vest. I hung it on the coat rack and took a long look at the scene. Inside the place was full of children running around, a decorated tree, and adults setting up the covered dishes. There was hot coffee (which I gravitated to like a moth to the flame) and familiar faces everywhere. Alan, my neighbor (and fellow musher) was there in a santa hat. He called me yesterday to remind me about the potluck and I was glad he did. How could I have missed this? I walked over with my pie and told him about my day and all the news I had about my place. He told me about their new sled dog, Tarot.

When I moved to Vermont the Tschorns' had one dog, a little coyote look-alike named Nina. Three winters later and now they have six. Six dogs and a dog box built on the back of their truck, a dogsled, and a Siberian Husky now graces the sign of the family business in Arlington. He showed me video of running a cart on the train tracks earlier in the week with a giant team. He showed this to me like grandparents show baby pictures. Allan's love of his dogs, and his new sport, makes him and his wife Suzanne glow.

As I mingled and shook hands with neighbors. When I wasn't talking I'd stop to and look around the walls of our small meeting place. Photos of men working with horses in the field, maps of the town lines, photographs of the old matriarchs and patriarchs of our village, lined the wood paneling. And here I was in a snow fall, after a long day with friends, and ending it with a hot meal in community celebration. There's feeling lucky, there's feeling blessed, and then there's being a resident of Sandgate Vermont. Why would ever I want to live anywhere else?

Then a knock on the door and a ringing of sleigh bells! Santa came inside in full regalia and walked around the entire room shaking hands and ho ho hoing. The little kids looked up in awe. The older kids smiled, probably remembering what the whole thing was like when they were four. Santa took a seat under the tree and parents lined up with their kids for wishlists and goodie bags. I sat in a folding chair in the back, spectating.

Those of us without children made the night social. I talked with my friends Phil and Marybeth. Phil plays guitar in my open mic night band along with Steve (who you remember from the death of Chuck Klosterman). I also got to meet some neighbors I didn't really know all that well before, like Joan and Valerie. Valerie, a local farmer a few decades older than me, talked sheep and animals with me and when I mentioned I was looking for my own farm in town her ears perked up. I told her I wanted to become a permanent resident she replied in a stoic, Vermonter kinda of way. "Good. We want people like you around here." and then returned to the business of pork roast and sautéed potatoes. I tried not to bust into a grin. It was like being stamped and approved at Ellis Island.

We all sang Christmas Carols with Santa and waved him goodbye and he walked out into the snow. Kids ran around inside and out. A local farmer handed everyone a gift of a dozen brown eggs and I gave my goodbye hugs and headed home. I had nothing planned for the evening but Ken Burn's National Parks Disc One, but damn, I was excited to get back to the cabin. Events like this make me feel lucky to have landed here...I know my future's a little shaky right now—but god willing I'll be able to buy some of this place in the spring, even if it's two acres for my three sheep and a garden. I want to show up to Town Meeting next year voting on the road crew and budget as a tax-paying, home-owning, resident.

And if I'm at that town meeting, you can rest assured I'll motion it's followed by a potluck. There just aren't enough of them.

sunday community brunch

Next weekend I'll be in Manchester for sure, doing laundry and errands and such. I was thinking with so many readers in the local area, we should get together. Want to have a CAF meet-up at the Northshire Bookstore? Nothing formal, just coffee and talking. They have good local food and we can get together to talk about our interests in homesteading, talk about farm issues, or just laugh with caffeine. It'll be warm and toasty in there and we can bring knitting, photos, or fiddles that need tuning. I think it'll be fun and a nice break from all the crazy holiday shopping and running around going on in town. So if you want to get together, let's meet at the bookstore in Manchester at noon next Sunday (RSVP in the comments please). No requirements to own chickens or a cow to attend.

lamb's first snow