Saturday, January 26, 2013

Welcome Home

Thanks, Ash!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Share the Story

It's cold here. What makes us warmer isn't just firewood and cats in our laps, but each other. I would like to ask that anyone willing share a special sort of story. Have any of you had something bad happen to you that you turned into something positive? Tell us.

This question was inspired by this post on reddit

On My Belly in the Dirt

So yesterday was a rough one. I went to bed the night before cold, right down to the bone. It wasn't so much a matter of temperature, as morale. I was really tired, and really frustrated by some personal issues I have been going through. I decided (like a fool) that I was going to be miserable and no one was going to talk me out of it. It's when you get into this mindset that you start chipping away at yourself, and you've just created a monster out of thin air. So I fell asleep cold, lonely, and scared and when I woke up the next morning a lot of bad things happened. It was as if my crappy mood had summoned them into being. Pipes froze, fuses blew, bill collectors kept calling, the oil ran out, and I just started sinking into that emotional and useless place called victimhood.

I sat on the cement floor of my mudroom (somewhere around 37 degrees) and just started crying. You can't help these things, sometimes. I was second guessing every choice I had made over the past year. If I had not left Orvis I would have more money. I would have health insurance. I'd still have my 401k. And besides all those financial things I would be in a warm that I wasn't paying to heat, place surrounded by people who made me laugh. Instead I was broke and cold, crying on cement. I was nearly out of firewood, almost out of hay for the animals, and probably out of oil. I was a mess, trying to figure out how to thaw pipes when I couldn't even thaw out my own head.

I started thinking about all the things I was supposed to be doing instead of crying on the floor and felt instantly guilty. I had design work, writing, and work outs planned. I had errands in town, chores outside, and people to call. The NOFA conference was this weekend in Saratoga and so was the Draft Horse CLub's winter sleigh ride - both of which I wanted to attend but both required time and cash I didn't have. So I was just feeling stuck.

It's at these moments when you either keep crying or start working.

So I started working. I had problems to fix. I either could call a plumber and start trying to fix them myself or I could keep crying on my cold butt. I stood up, and I got to work. And I think it was becoming a farmer who switched that ability inside me. When you take care of something or someone else, you can not dissolve into any sort of negativity long. It is not only pointless, it is negligent. My goats and dogs could care less about my relationship history or arguments with my family. All they know is that hay should be here by now and the water heater is on the fritz. So I threw myself into work, into repairs, into chores and started calling plumbers. If I couldn't fix it, I'd find someone who could.

That became the theme of the day. I went out and fixed all the water heaters, and changed their power sources to avoid any more blown fuses and shorting out. I wrote a list with each animal's species and then what I would want if I was a sheep, chicken, horse, etc. I gave the sheep extra hay, extra bedding, and some sweet feed and corn for the calories to burn in this cold weather. I double checked the coop for drafts, made it more comfortable, and refilled water fonts and feeders. I brought rabbit bottles inside to defrost and hugged Bonita. I did the same things I do everyday, really, but I did them with this higher purpose of love for the critters. Some people see therapists their whole lives hoping for someone to pull them out of a funk. I wish I could hand everyone of them a dairy goat.

I posted on Facebook about the pipes and someone mentioned a hairdryer. I read it and scoffed, but then reread it, soaking up that wisdom. knew I couldn't get into the crawlspace with a hairdryer because I could not fit. So I devised a ridiculous plan to build a "heat arm" which meant duct-taping a hairdryer with an extension cord to a broom handle and laying on my stomach in the crawlspace's maw until I heard the water run. It was in those ten-fifteen minutes on my belly in the dirt that I got a lot of thinking done.

Folks, I am fine and the farm and the house is fine. No one should ever read this blog and pity or worry about me. Everything I go through is my choice, as is my life here on the farm and all the hassles and hardships that go with it. I don't write about these things because I want to be saved. I write about them because I want what I realize to leave this head and go out into the world where *maybe* it can help someone else and make it something bigger. I had a few shitty days, but I am fine. I really am. In a few hours a new wood delivery will be here and I'll be laughing with Tom, stacking it outside the farmhouse. In a few days I'll have enough cash set aside to order a 50-bale truckload of hay from Nelson. I'll catch up on my bills, I always do. And no part of me wants to be spending weekdays in someone else's office living my life on hold. But every now and then doing all this alone eats me up inside, and when a stretch of cold days get to you you can't help but suffer a little breakdown. But I always snap out of it, and such sad days are grower fewer and farther between. This is growth, and healing, and while it may mean reaching deep conclusions crying on your belly in a dirt-floor crawlspace — at least I reached them. And the difference between the person I became and the person I used to be is that the girl five years ago would know the same things, but not act on them. The girl in the dirt yesterday realized some heavy shit, and will be fighting to resolve them with all she's got left to give.

Stay warm, friends. It gets better.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Frozen pipes, frozen water, frozen Jenna. Trying to solve the problems here and trying to get a hold of a plumber but without luck. I have the heat turned on in the house, but I may be out of oil and I don't know if it is working? As for the pipes, heaters are aimed at them and the faucets are open. Getting wood delivered this afternoon and hoping Tom Brazie can help me. If anyone knows a local plumber who is available close to cambridge NY with one of those heat tube things for crawl spaces, please let me know.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Make Your Own Spring!

It certainly is cold, but it is spring inside this farmhouse. Temperatures are in the fifties (up from forties this AM) and there are chicks and seedlings mucking about. If the cold has you down, run to the nearest garden center and get yourself a bag of soil and some seeds and plant a pot of snap peas on your windowsill. They'll climb up it just fine and in a few weeks blossom into white flowers. By the time all your neighbors are just digging into their lettuce gardens you'll be crunching into the first veggies of spring! Now, throw in a banjo tune and you might just cause a little thawing out there in bluster. You want spring? Go make your own!

Dangerous Risk

A Month At War (plus tax advice)

A few weeks ago a friend introduced me to the online game, World of Warcraft. I thought (because of the title) that this was some sort of battle game where all I did was run around shooting things with guns. It didn't sound very appealing so I never tried it. I grew up watching my brother play intense single-shooter style games and grew bored quick. I'm not a gamer and no respectable gamer would count me among those ranks. But I have fallen in love with WoW. It's just so much fun!

What I like about it is the stories. I am a lover of stories. WoW is mostly a sequence of stories, and it is your job to explore this mythical universe online finding what happens next. You decide what kind of character you are, and what your role in the game will be. And then you enter this super easy beginner level where you get your feet wet. As you progress (and trust me, it's easy) you start to collect more of the story, and interact with other players. WoW is not just you and a game, it is you and thousands of other people playing together. I've chatted with accountants from Ohio, dog trainers in Missouri, and a teacher from Ireland all while trading cheese for wine or waiting to take on a group game of capture the flag.

I created a werewolf character and put her into the world of Gilneas. As a lover of dark fairytales it was like being transported to the keep of the Brother's Grimm. I run around as a wolf gal amongst old German townhouses and riding horse carts through the night to get to the next chapter of the story. I am amazed at how rich, involved, and fun it has become. If anyone of you are just curious, I totally suggest making a worsen character like I did and stepping into Gilneas. Then sit back and enjoy the ride!

I know what you are thinking. It's too addictive or time consuming. Well, it could be I guess. But for me it's gotten me inspired to do even more in my real life. It was creating that character you see above, an archer, that got me outside practicing archery every day in real life. It was my chubby little Panda character that I watched kicking and punching on screen that gave me the gumption to enroll back into TKD classes. Watching these imaginary characters train, ride horses, be in stories…well, it just inspires and excites my real life adventures. It has me writing Birchthorn again, and I dropped five pounds and rediscovered my spinning hook kick. 14 seasons of the Biggest Loser couldn't do that. A month of being a werewolf in a make believe world could.

And while the game itself is fun, I was able to join a small group of players (called a guild), thanks to the friend who introduced me to the game. It's a group of real-life friends from the northeast. At night when the chores are done here and the house quiet,instead of watching a movie I can log onto a voice chat room and the game, and spend the night talking with new friends from all over the US. Not chatting, not texting, but actually talking! I have a little microphone and me and these six other people are talking like we're all in the same room. (Think conference call, but less horrid.) My guild gets together a lot in real life as well, and since a few of us live in the Veryork area, I look forward to meeting them if I can.

So I suggest, and I mean this whole-heartedly, downloading the free trial and giving it a whirl. You use your mouse and keyboard and it doesn't take long to figure out how it all works. It's free to try, so if you don't like it, you have nothing to lose. If you do like it then you have to pay a monthly fee of 15 bucks, but for me it's worth it. Hell, just the other night a member of my guild saved me about $600 in tax advice and I got amazing new music suggestions from another. It's a way to connect, to be creative, to feel a little thrill of accomplishment, and unwind. You can call it geeky, it is, but it's also a damn hoot.

Hoot hoot hoot.

Staying Put in the Cold

I woke up in the farmhouse this morning and the temperatures were in the forties. That's the temperature inside, folks. Outside was around two degrees. Whenever I think my home is cold I think about how it is usually fifty degrees warmer than the farm outside and suddenly wearing a sweater and socks in your living room doesn't seem like such a hardship.

Up here the week has been bitter. Not horrible, we haven't gotten below zero yet but it doesn't zoom high above the teens and tonight is supposed to drop well below aught. For someone who lives with a farm full of animals and heats with wood stoves, that means you don't stray farm from the home place. Even a few hours cut into the middle of the day isn't a good idea, because it doesn't take long for my fires to stop pumping heat. And if I leave mid-morning to have lunch or run errands and the house isn't above sixty degrees, it will drop back to the high forties by the time I return and it takes hours to get back to that level. So I stay home, and that's okay because home is my job. You couldn't ask someone to leave their office for five hours, could you?

But this is the kind of cold that stops you. Stops you from doing things most people don't think twice about doing. Things like visiting folks for a few hours, or running into town for feed and coffee at Stewarts. I am not doing those things this week. I went to my TKD class last night and paid for it with having to stay up till 2AM to warm up the house enough to feel comfortable with the pipes and slumber. When you wake up fitfully at 6AM to start all over again you suddenly realize you could have avoided that four-hour adventure and did pushups in the kitchen…

How cold is it where you are? Does it hamper your plans? And are a lot of people around you getting sick? So far I have been lucky, but I also am not around a lot of high-density people places. From the online news it sounds like a flu pandemic out there in the hinterlands?!

So here I am with my luddite heating system I adore. I'm staying put and I'm sticking to it, baby. If you want to see me in this weather you'll have to stop by for a bowl of chili or a cuppa. Admission for drop ins is one bale of second cut hay and a good sense of humor about frozen goose poo.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Upward Over the Mountain

Mother, don't worry.
I've got a coat and some friends on the corner.
Mother, don't worry.
He'll have a garden we'll plant it together
Mother, remember the night the dog had her pups in the pantry?
Blood on the floor and the fleas on their paws
And you cried 'til the morning?
So may the sunrise bring hope
Where it once was forgotten
We are like birds
Flying upward over the mountain

Monday, January 21, 2013

Talking with the Butcher

Mark snapped this picture of me talking to the butcher after the pig slaughter. We are going over the cut sheets, slice by slice. Since I am sharing the pork with the people who helped pay for the piglets and feed you need to explain everything from how thick you want chops sliced to how many pieces of bacon per package. It took a good while and Mark caught me perched on a hand-me-down bench from Bedlam Farm.

Live Like Fiction

I live a life I am proud to say sounds like something out of a novel. I spend my days shooting arrows, riding horse carts, and walking through the woods with a dog or ram lamb by my side. I go on small adventures with friends, usually in the saddle, and bigger adventures in my heart and mind. I spend long summer days fishing in a river and then working in the garden or making hay at neighboring farms. I'll do this until I am so hot and tired I need to return to the river for its blessing. I love how it grants tired skin and bones revival. Fall now is a time of holy reverence and thick gratitude, surrounded with cider making parties, farm festivals, and the fireworks of Autumn foliage. Winters are spent wrapped in wool by warm fires, dogs curled up with me on sheepskin as we read the Mabinogion by candlelight with a tankard of stout beer. I can do a spinning hook kick, shoot a bullseye, and holler behind a galloping horse in a red cart up a mountain road. This sounds like fiction, but it is very real. It's possible because I believe in magic and I believe in love. And I have just enough wisdom to realize they are the same thing. No one will ever tell me otherwise.

I'm all heart and music. I'm all dreams and firecracker. I am hope and force, manifest. I know what I am capable of and what I can help others achieve. I know where I am weak and where I need to ask for help. Most of all, I remove myself from negativity and anger. I think surrounding yourself with support and love is the only way to grow happier and to achieve the fictional life of your dreams. For me it is this earthy, Robinhoody, Celtic, farm life. That's me. For you it may be sitting in a cafe in New York City typing your novel, sailing out to the cape in your own boat, or winning the game with that amazing Hail Mary pass. The point is, whatever your fantasy life is, in some way it is already real because it is inside you. It's the wanting that sparks life into our desires. It is the work and positivity that manifests them. Our fictional lives are real because they are avatars of our emotional ones. Few things are as powerful as our feelings. What you put out into the world always finds its way back to you. Always.

And that is why this will never be a place where others are criticized or torn down. I refuse to put any of my energy or heart into such dangerous acts. This will never be a place where anger howls. This blog, like my farm, is a work in progress and always positive. I have learned that anger is a disease, as much as any illness in the body. You need to acknowledge it, heal it, and find a way to remove it or it becomes cancer and your life is taken over. I know so many angry people, and my heart goes out to them. I do not engage with them, it's pointless, but they have my prayers for healing and happiness. You can not keep those prayers for yourself alone. They grow weaker if only self-inflicted.

I think the more positive and good-hearted you are the healthier and happier you and the people around you become. Listen, I know I'm not pretty. Far from it. I'm short, and stout, and thick limbed. I swear my body has the density of a dying sun. But dying suns pack a hell of a punch, folks. I may not ever been a damsel or a princess, wrapped up in someone's arms but thats okay. That's not my story. I am not pretty, but I dare you to tell me I'm not beautiful. A stag leaping across a field is pretty. The dire wolf chasing after it is fucking gorgeous.

So dear friends, live your life like it's fiction. Love like a romance novel, seek like a good mystery, hope like an underdog story and fight like a fantasy warrior.

Non-Fiction people, get out of our way!

A New Day

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Happy Pigs, Good Deaths

There are a lot of sighs on a harvest day like today. You sigh when you hear the first shot of the .22 rifle and watch the animals you knew as piglets drop to the floor and spasm. You sigh when their throat is slit open, and the blood hits the hay like a child spilled a bucket of paint. It's intense, not enjoyable at all. You sigh those sighs and accept them. They are decision exhaled. You own them, and you move on. Better sighs are just around the corner.

Like I said, the sighs that follow are not sad. What happens next isn't delicate, but it is wonderful. You get to see the entire process from dead animal to hanging sides of perfectly split hogs. And when the work is done and the pigs are on their way to the butcher shop you let out the best sigh of all, happy gratitude and relief you pulled it off. Today was a dark day in the story of these pigs, but a bright one for this farmer. It could not have gone better and I'm very glad with the results.

This is my third year with pigs at Cold Antler. I'm proud to say it was my best ever. These pigs had the largest pen, the most sunlight, and well-rounded diet. They grew fast, fat, and true. The guys who were doing the bulk of the work said they were the cleanest, best-looking pigs they had seen in a while. They applauded the clean pen and the fact that the only grime and mud on my pair was on their trotters. They said my place was scrappy, but it was clean as all get out, and that counted for a lot more than sagging fences and visible garbage bins.

I did what I could to help but there wasn't much for me to do besides pile up the heads, skins, and offal I wasn't saving and remove it from the scene. I have lost any squeamishness around this sort of task, not thinking twice about picking up an intestine or lung and setting it aside. Blood is no longer horrific or confusing, but the living form of so many buckets of water I carried. I now know what the smell of a body cavity is like, and it has grown less obnoxious. Today it wasn't bad at all, since not a single piece of offal was pierced or torn. No unpleasant scents of digestion-in-progress wafted around and since the pigs were off feed 12 hours previous they didn't have any last spoils either.

I spent the afternoon puttering around collecting trotters, livers, tongues and hearts. The trotters went into a bucket of cold water and the organs I was saving piled up in a clean heap inside a baking dish. Most of the time we just chatted, and I asked a lot of questions about the knives they were using, skinning techniques, and recipe ideas. It was a lively bunch out there, and anyone who drove by saw not a sordid crime scene but a laughing foursome of friendly people doing some honest work. (Well, one woman drove by slow shaking her head in disgust, but just the one.) I was beaming though. I am really getting the hang of this. It was the cleanest, quickest, slaughter ever at this farm. I can't wait to split up the shares!

When all was done and the fellows were packed up with my porkers I waved them off, and brought the baking dish of saved organs inside. They were wrapped and frozen. I have plans to slow cook the hearts and tongues for Valentines Day as a special treat. (Seems fitting, no? It's inspired by a recipe from Beyond River Cottage!) The livers were sliced open by myself and inspected in detail. They were perfect, that brown/maroon of health. I sighed a long sigh of relief there, and then smiles. I did it. I saw them through.

Feel free to ask any questions about the process, or the deaths. I will answer them openly and honestly. If anyone was upset by the images or story, know that wasn't my intention. The point of this blog is to bring people into what my life is like here and all the goings-on that transpire. Today was about the death of some fine pigs. Soon you'll see baby goats and the first chèvre of spring and lambs running past the thistles on the mountain. But today was about death, and good deaths they were. I'm proud and grateful and very tired. It's one hell of a happy combination.

P.S. And a warm thank you to Mark Wesner, who not only helped me with the pig pen and wrapping up organs for the freezer, but cut me some firewood with his trusty chain saw and shared a Bunbaker pizza with me in the farmhouse! Good friends, good pigs, good help, and good spirits all around today.

Hog Slaughter Day

Pig Slaughter and Firewood

Today is the day the pigs will be harvested. It's unusually warm, or was this morning anyway. As the day goes on the temperatures will drop and the wind will pick up and by the darkness before dawn, we should be well into the single digits. Today I'll be preparing for the cold, stacking firewood and preparing the house. But before any of that (or pig slaughtering) could start I had an errand to run. I needed hay, bad. Down to two bales the horses, sheep, and goats were counting on me.

I was with Gibson, driving north with the windows were down. Daydream Believer came on the radio, and I sang along with it. Gibson wagged his tail. I was in a great mood. Heading up route 22 to fill up a truck with bales, my right-hand man riding blunderbust. The sun was out and the thermometer read 45 degrees. If you are going to kill pigs, this would be the day to do it. No frozen hands today. No sir.

A trio of experienced traveling butchers will be arriving and taking care of everything from the hog's death to their disembowelment, their skinning and halving. I feel blessed to have folks like this a phone call away. Most of the stress of slaughter for these animals isn't the moments of agony in death, but in the transferring to the abattoir. Animals get confused and scared from such change, and may spend a day or two waiting in concrete stalls, cramped or stressed while they wait their ending. My pigs will die in the same place they have spent the last three months sleeping and eating. It will surprise the hell out of them. There are worst ways to go.

It will happen so fast, and be just a sliver of their time here at Cold Antler. I won't pretend slaughter day death isn't horrific, it is. But done right it is quick as possible and from the moment the gun is fired to the animals are bleeding out and gone from this life, is literally two minutes. I don't like watching it, but I always do. I feel it is my responsibility to be a part of the whole process, from piglet in a dog crate squealing in my arms to the day their heads are on a snowbank.

It's a day I look forward to, and I mean that without any harshness or disrespect. Today is the day the work of raising the animals is done and they will serve their purpose. I started the day singing, and I will end it a bit more somber, but not without joy. The death of the pigs is a cause for celebration, feasts, and the promise of more piglets soon. Pork shares help keep this farm going strong.

Photos and more to come throughout the day.