Saturday, February 6, 2010

of kits and goslings

Last night I visited in a friend in the nearby town of Shaftsbury. Mel and her family have been watching Bean Blossom, Benjamin, and four new French Angora kits for me. They've also been raising the goslings that Saro hatched before thanksgiving. The deal was she would happily watch the animals but would either keep the rabbits or the kits if a litter was born. Her teenage son Ben wants to learn more about what goes into raising animals, which I think is grand. I was stopping in to drop off the pedigreesm see the kits, and pick up the three remaining goslings. Two of the original five already had new homes, but the three left were still freeloading. Her new dog was giving them the eye, and they were now a canine liability, so it was time for them to move on. Mel has done more than enough for me already, and I was happy to take them off her hands. The trio would come back to the farm until I could find them new local homes or moved to a new farm. Honestly, I was thrilled to have them back in my arms.

To be in her beautiful farmhouse drinking coffee near her woodstove while her new Lab chewed on a rope toy on the floor-felt wonderful. As we sipped our coffee and went through some fiber books I brought over, I couldn't help but look around her 160+ year old home. Mel was living my dream. A loving family, her own farm, a good dog, and a barn and truck outside the door. I used to look up to famous graphic designers and Iditarod mushers as my role models. Now I look up to people like Mel. Everyday people who made their lives what they wanted. People who raise children, go to work, and come home to make sure the pipes don't freeze. Fame or fortune doesn't prove self worth to me like it once did. There is nothing more extraordinary than what happens every day when people choose to be kind. Amen.

When the truck was loaded, and hugs given: I drove home to Sandgate. The back bed was loaded with bedding straw and feed bags from an errand on my lunchbreak. A six-pack of hard cider was chilling between the bales. Up front in the warm cab I was singing with a backup of mandolins and banjos on the radio while three young geese honked in a box. I was wrapped in wool, from my socks to my scarf. In the Vermont dark, my Ford's headlights beamed across the birches and faded red barns. My eyes scanned for deer and suicidal cats. My head was warmed by the Jacob hat. I had just spent an hour with the animals of my farm being selflessly watched by a friend. Soon I would reintroduce children to their parents—to the place they were born where I held them as babes in one hand.

The concoction of emotion was thick. The drama of wanting this farmhouse and the nearness of it all makes my heart race. But the peace of this life as is, and how far I'd come to feel this way, was so comforting. The fact I was already a farmer—yet so scared and uncertain—made me break down and cry as I winded up the notch to West Sandgate. I want to know how this story ends so I can begin another. Sometimes it's too much.

It is hard to cry very long when your passenger seat has french geese children in it. Their honks made me smile.

I wish I had more to update you on, but right now it's a waiting game. Waiting for the score to rise, waiting to weigh all the financing options, waiting to show the farm to my parents when they come to visit next weekend. They're happy for me, but want to see the place for themselves. My dad has fatherly concerns about insulation and fuel consumption and my mom is convinced if I buy my own working farm I'll never meet a man. Both are valid concerns, but the house is sound and believe it or not—I've met more decent men since getting involved in agriculture than I ever did in the city. Between sheepdog trials, workshops, clubs, and trips to feed stores, you get to tip a lot of hats.

And last, thank you to everyone who helped out last post. Your many small efforts have saved this process. I am now prepared (at least on my end) to step inside this new farm. My own farm. There are still obstacles to overcome, such as getting approved for that loan, home inspections, and the logistics of transplanting all the animals—but as far as being sound in the bank - I am. I could not have done it without you, and I thank you with the echoes of a thousand future lamb's heartbeats.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Thursday, February 4, 2010

the hail mary

So here is the updated story so far. The house is mine. The mortgage is (by some grace of god) totally affordable. I could own my own farmhouse, acreage, and small barn for what my rent in Sandgate is combined with my old car payment. It is totally doable.

Paying my mortgage isn't the hard part folks—it is getting in the door in the first place. The realtor is moving forward as if all is perfect. The contract is on the way to the lawyer, the home inspection is getting set up, and the broker is frantically hunting down a mortgage with the USDA. But here in lies the drama. My credit score is seven points below the number the Lender wants to finance my loan. Seven measly points.

So, In a last ditch effort to try and raise my score, I took all my (non-house-buying allotted) savings and paid down my last credit card this morning in hopes it will report to the credit bureaus in time for the home loan to go though.

If I do not qualify for the USDA mortgage, it means I need to go through the FHA program. This is good and bad. It means I may still get a fixed rate mortgage and get the farm, but I would need that 3.5 percent down. I have that saved, but it's all I have saved. I was planning on using that money to cover the home inspections, closing costs, and all the other things you need to take care of when moving in. Things like U-Hauls and updating the outbuildings. If is use it to pay for the house, which I can, it leaves me high and dry. You get the jist.

It may very well come down to how much I can dish out. I am within a wolf's breath of this farm, friends. I can taste that Jackson Dirt. I don't want to lose out on the perfect home right when I need it because of seven points.

With all that said (taking a deep breath) if you are motivated to help. Here are some things you can do.

1. If you live nearby, and can help set up the new fences, move the sheep shed on the back of your trailer, help take down CAF VT, or lend a hand with boxes. Let me know.
2. If you want to sign up for the fiddle workshop the weekend after President's Day, please do. I only have two so far. It is a hundred dollar donation for four hours of instruction, materials, and an amazing first step in becoming a mountain fiddler. You just need to bring the violin.
3. Buy something off the Etsy Shop (though the wait may be a few weeks or until all this dust settles)
4. Order a watercolor (though the wait may be a few weeks or until all this dust settles)
5. If you own a business that caters to the homesteading community, consider advertising here. Email me for rates.
6. Or, if you are so motivated, just put one dollar in the donation jar. If each reader does that, I am home free.

I don't mean to sound selfish, crass, or rude. I am just trying to pull off some sort of Hail Mary at this point. I may get some mean emails for this post. In fact, I'm certain I will. But in the long run, owning my own farm wins over pride. A home for my flock, geese, chickens, Finn, and bees on the way is too important to worry about public perception. Farm > me. For those of you reading, know you're at the climax of this story. Let's try and change the ending together?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

this just in

Just got a call from the realtor. The house is mine if I can aquire the funding. The sellers agreed to my terms and the contract goes through to the lawyer on the tenth. Now, it's all about the mortgage. Wish me luck.

it's not looking good

I don't think my broker can pull off this mortgage, even if the offer goes through and the place is otherwise mine. I have to wait and see. Right now, it's not looking good.

in the back bed

Woke up earlier than usual. I think the stress and excitement sped up my metabolism and my body couldn't handle being horizontal anymore. I found myself outside in a light snowfall, moving hay bales off the back of the truck. It was dark. The only light came from my lantern and the glow from the dim garage bulb. Snow was falling in front of it, making it flicker. It was 5 AM and the world was quiet, but the farm was not. I could hear the sheep bawling for morning hay. The roosters moaned. I sang the words to Pretty Saro as I pulled hay from the back bed. While the rest of the nation is sleeping, and the forest is quiet–a farm is alive.

I felt like I was the only member of a secret society.
I felt like I belonged.
It's why I farm.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

worse than love

I should know better than to get emotionally invested in this house. I should be solid steel during these meetings. I should care about it as much as I care about the filing cabinet in the office. Poker face. Stiff upper lip. Walk away like a champ. But getting emotionally invested in my lifestyle is what got me where I am today. It's what drove me to move cross country (twice), start a renter's homestead, write this blog, author books, and try to make some sort of difference in how I consume. So I've been attached to this house before I even knew it existed, before I ever saw it. It's the embodiment of a life I crave so deeply—I'm certain my claw marks are already on the deed.

I just want to go home. I want it so much it physically hurts.

Another person is being shown the house tomorrow. I found this out moments ago. I made my offer, did my level best, and they countered. We came an an agreement that made them happy and only cost me fifteen more dollars a month. We're not out of the woods yet though. The other people can beat my offer, and take it to a lawyer or something. Plus, I still need to be approved for a mortgage, which is the razor's edge of this whole thing. Since I've been dedicated to fixing my credit I've raised it 20 points, but it's still twenty points below what the lenders wants. If they decide no, I'm basically out the dream. That's going to be a very bad day.

I just hate the thought of it going to people who won't use the land. So now I feel like a jr high girl who just passed the cutest guy in class a paper with Do you like me? Circle yes or No. and I'm waiting on pins and needles (more like a horizontal stegosaurus) to see if I get my dream or need to start figuring out another year of importance and renting.

This is ridiculously stressful. I know in my logical mind that there are other homes and everything happens for a reason, but to lose out on this place, at this price, near my work, with a ticking time bomb of eviction over my head....

Buying a farm is worse than being in love. Especially for me. At least with a house, I have a shot.

If you pray, please pray. If you meditate, please meditate. If you can send good vibes, voodoo dolls, spells, rosaries, nods to the east....anything, please do it with a scrappy girl in Vermont trying to find home in mind. People say they're pulling for me, well, It's time to start yanking.

things are moving fast

I have a meeting with a realtor today to talk about possible offers on the Jackson house. After the cabin fall out, I called a mortgage broker who specialized in USDA rural housing loans in Washington County. We figured out that if we use the Dept. of Agriculture's loan terms, get the seller to kick in closing costs, and get them to come down even a little on their asking price - I could be living in that 6.5 acre farm in Jackson for roughly what I spent here on rent and the car payment. It would be mine. Originally I thought the payments would cripple me, but with this program it's equivalent to what I spend here already. Not to mention the USDA program doesn't require a down payment, so that lets me save more of my money for starting the farm up again...

It's all hypothetical at this point. I'm still looking at other properties and part of me is foolishly worried about leaving Vermont. Jackson is literally two miles from my current cabin, it's not exactly like I'd be moving to Arizona, but even if it is just a line on a map—I'd be leaving a state I love.

However, I'd be leaving it by about seven miles, and finally able to live the life I always dreamed of at a property I can't believe I would be able to afford. All those doubts I shared with you earlier were half truths, said by a hopeful person who never thought she could live on that farm. My heart was set on the cabin because it was in a town I was comfortable with and it was a cabin: two things I love. But that small lot couldn't hold my dreams or even my current animals without renting more land from others, once again making my life dependent on others. This farmhouse in NY is more than enough room for Cold Antler and much more. I could own the land big enough for market lambs and a profitable garden. I'd be part of the most pro-agriculture part of New York. I could finally get my black puppy. I could put a few Scottish Blackface ewes in the pasture. I'd only be an extra twelve minutes away from work, with two coworkers of mine on the same road.

Is this actually happening?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

this just in

Everything is going to work out. I know it will.

losing my footing

I have some sad news. I just got off the phone with the sellers of the cabin. They aren't interested in any option but buying the cabin outright, as is. They do not want a rent-to-own situation and they don't want to invest in winterizing it either. Honestly, I don't think they want the place to leave the family yet. It's understandable, but heartbreaking. Sadly, their decision makes it impossible for me to buy it since no bank will approve a mortgage on it since it's not a full-year home and therefore would not pass an USDA/FHA-required home inspection. So it's a catch-22. Neither the banks or the owners want to bend even though I'm willing to become a contortionist to make it work. I tried explaining to them options like they hold the mortgage and me buying within a five year bubble. That this meant I would be the owner, and pay the taxes and upkeep and they just get a deal in writing that I will get it up to code and buy it in a few years. I also explained that I could winterize it this summer, saving them the cost and they'd still be getting checks in the mail. They just aren't biting.

There's a slim chance that they'll consider a mortgage holding proposal if I come up with a lawyer and the contract for their consideration, but even then, who has 600 bucks to hire a lawyer for a shot in the dark? I think I lost my footing on the Foothold. Which is emotionally devastating since I'd been secretly banking on it working out. It was my parachute in this foggy mess of finding a home. For a while there I had myself fooled that everything was going to work out and that was going to be home. I was already sketching out garden plans and talking to neighbors about renting pasture next door....

Maybe it just wasn't meant to be. I don't know. But New York State just started looking a lot better. That house I looked into today would be a perfect place to turn into Jenna Woginrich: Small Farmer. Maybe the sellers of that place will come down to my price range if the checks in their hands? Like I said, I really don't know anymore.

I'm back to square one, again.

another possibility?

I have an appointment with a realtor at noon. I'm going to drive over to a 144-year-old farmhouse in Jackson, NY and look around. The house is in amazing shape and the current owners completely updated it. All the electric, floors, and windows have been redone. It has a new furnace, a new woodstove, new artisan well, and over 6 acres with an orchard, pond, and pasture. The septic is nine years old. It has the original dirt-basement root cellar. It comes with a small barn, out building, chicken coops and a water pump. Once it was a thriving sheep farm, and if I moved there, once again lambs would return to those fields, which is poetry. It's only half-an-hour away from here. It could be perfect.

However, even at the discounted price it's about forty thousand dollars out of my realistic price range. The bank may happily approve me for the house, but I may be living by the skin of my coffee-stained teeth. If the stars align and I can get some sort of deal and a bank actually gives me a mortgage - well, maybe I have a shot? But part of me worries the bigger house, longer commute, heavier mortgage and taxes, and larger grounds may be too much for a single girl... And part of me doesn't want to leave Vermont. I'm torn even at the possibility.

The plot thickens: I came home from my errands yesterday to a message from the cabin owners in Oregon. All it said was, "Thanks for the package, and I've made a decision." I'm on pins and needles over this. If the cabin could me mine, my heart would be lighter. The place feels right. It just needs some hard weekend and friends to help get it ready. I could have my gardens, bees, birds, and hooves back. I could rent the neighbor's barn and land. I could (and my heartbeat speeds up just at the thought) finally get my border collie puppy and get back into the sheepdog club. I could become a real resident of Sandgate. The taxes are a joke.

I could do all this and more in New York too, but as pristine as the place is (I drove up to it yesterday, and it is breathtaking) would it be too much? Would all that land, all that space force this barnheart-infected woman to fill it up with too much too fast? Would I be house poor and then stuck with a flock of sheep to winter over? Would I be living in my dream house and not even able to afford the garden seeds to compost? Would the forty minute drive from the office mean I could never go there on my lunch break? But dear lord....all that land. It's also closer to my hay dealer and there's a tractor shop down the road... The pro/con list is a dead heat. This farm I'm seeing today is a place I could grow into, make a living off of eventually. But unless some act of god or amazing grace blesses the probably won't happen.

Regardless, I have a date with destiny at high noon. I'll go there and either fall in unrequited house love or know it's not for me. On my side, I know the Jackson house has motivated sellers that want to move and soon. It may be perfect and I may be stubborn and scared. If I love this place, should I go for broke and just hope Nora Ephron calls me to make the Cold Antler Farm movie or Oprah suddenly gets into backyard chickens? Should I be simple and stick to that sweet little cabin with a hammer by the river?