Thursday, February 27, 2020

kinder weather

It was early this morning, before sunrise, that wind roared down the mountain and blew the front door off the hinges and shattered the wood. Gibson jumped up into bed and held onto me so fast I am not sure he wasn't what woke me instead of the BANG. I tried to screw the dented hinge back on, but it broke once again in another gust. Now, a few hours later, the bluster has turned into a squall of snow covering everything on the farm in fresh powder. Including the broken door. Including the truck.

Yesterday while driving home from the post office I felt my truck's brake peddle collapse all the way to the floor. It was as if the brakes were disconnected from the tools that work them. A bit panicked, I realized they worked at a tap or a stomp, but no play in between. The brake lines were shot. I drove home slow and nervous, but safe. She's parked in the front yard and I am waiting to hear back from my mechanic. I know I need to get a newer vehicle soon, but right now that isn't an option. So she'll have to be repaired again - back in the shop the second time this month. Going outside to a muddy farm, a broken door, a broken truck...

I want this month to be over. I need the next 48 hours to last forever.

I have a doctor's appointment for an infection on Friday. Even with decent sales coming in this week I need to decide if it's smart to go and get a prescription or wait it out. Yesterday I thought I was going to *just* make it. But I am hundreds below the mark now if I want to go to a doctor and drive. If I wanted to just mail in a payment I am still a coupe hundred below unless I want to risk the check bouncing. This is America. Feeling safe is for people with bigger bank accounts, stronger hinges, newer vehicles, and health insurance.

Feeling capable without those things is for me.

I do feel like I have the energy to keep going. I am writing this without a fire going this morning because even though it's cold outside it isn't cold enough to use what is left of the firewood. But the coffee is hot and if I can make the money today and tomorrow I need I can push through. I can post date the check at least for this month and earn the cushion I need in the meantime. I have been here before. You all know that. I know that. It's getting harder on me.

But I do want to know what it is like to be a little more comfortable. To have some savings. To know that every bill this month and even next month is paid for. I haven't had that level of safety in nearly 8 years. I don't regret my choice. I don't regret the farm. I don't regret going outside half an hour ago and using a screwdriver to force longer screws into the frame of a broken door. But I do need it to get easier soon. This is wearing me down creatively, physically, emotionally, and I can't tell if that's winter's ending making me feel helpless or a sign that I need to write and write NOW. Write something that will save this farm.

I feel pretty beaten this morning. Soon as I think I'll be able to mail in that mortgage check something like a doctor or dentist appointment, a truck repair, a screaming bill I can't put off - those things take over and set me back again. Which is everyone reading this. I know my life isn't any harder than any of yours and we are all figuring out what to prioritize first, how to get through the day.

So that is what I am going to do. I'm going to keep trying and figure it out one day at a time and hope for kinder weather and luck soon as possible.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Close

Things are not looking good as the month comes to a close. More later. I need to finish up some orders and work and get my head right. Worried.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Still Have Time

Yesterday I planted some snap peas and lettuce seeds. I am hoping to get these and more starts going indoors, ready for the earliest possible planting outside. Even if I am jumping the gun it'll be a little boon to the soul to see small lives starting out as the days grow longer. I hope chick orders, lamb pickups, and even a possible goat kid follow. I want to stay here and stay farming. I was that very bad.

Not much else worth updating. I had had the truck repair and dental bills this month, along with feed and hay delivery and hopefully more firewood. But even with those expenses I am halfway to making a house payment this month to stave off wolves at the door. I still have a week left in this month to figure it out. I still have time.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

In a Sprint

Farming for a living is the most amazing choice I have ever made with this small life. If you've done the same, you understand. It's heroic and hard, but also foolish as hell. Because every single one of us knows that we don't have to do this. Every single one of us knows there's a desk or a ditch out there calling our names and we don't have to struggle with making our land work. We can sit down to a spreadsheet or pick up a shovel - yet we remain.

Maybe we're wrong? If the comments and emails I've received over the years are any metric to go by, I certainly should have stopped farming 8 years ago. The minute this farm went from joy to fear I was told to either get married to a man for help, sell the farm, get back to the job and life I hated, or turn my home into an air bnb (this last one is always suggested by people living with a partner that do not live in an isolated farm house alone and without the fear of strangers on the internet that have stalked them for years anonymously online!).

I've done none of those things and I'm still here. This May will be a decade since closing on the farm and making these 6.5 acres in Jackson NY mine. I did it with the help of an amazing community - on and offline. I did it by being vulnerable and honest about how hard it was. And so that is what I am doing this morning over this first cup of coffee. It's what has kept me sane and present.

This was one of those mornings where I lay in bed knowing everything I need to accomplish by the time I return to it tonight, and it's borderline impossible.

I'm not talking about the regular winter morning chores like carrying buckets of water and sleds of hay around the farm. I'm not talking about stacking firewood or tinkering with my 30-year-old truck. I'm talking about the staggering reality of keeping this farm mine and how it has been increasingly hard to do so. Because getting up (which I did), and the chores (which I also did) was the easy part. Now I am sitting down with my emails, messages, client work, bank account balance, bills, dental appointment later today, and knowing I have ten days to make this payment happen to avoid any possible foreclosure.

This farm has been right up against it every month for a very long time. Years of stress trying to figure it out, and sometimes the only comfort I have about that is I'm still here after all of it. That there's this past of check receipts from house payments and butchers and firewood cutters and truck repairs and I am still here.

But I also know what doing that took. And I know today I need to do it again. I have a number I need to make to be on track and cover this broken tooth repair (not surgery, hopefully under $200) and what I need to make in sales today to cover that and keep building up the savings for the mortgage on time. But I got out of bed and put the coffee on, so I must be willing to do the work, right? I'm writing about it here to both help convince me and to vent my stress about it.

I know this blog went from hopefulness and joy of country living to the constant uphill clawing to keep what I have. I know half of you think I should quit and the other half need to hear I should keep going. And I'll tell you this for free. If this next book doesn't sell, or flops, then I will. I will have to. Or change my life drastically in some way because waking up ready for battle every day just to keep a roof over your head and your house warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing is worse than smoking three packs a day. This is why I wasn't updating much. Because hearing that every day isn't any kind of inspiration or fun. But it's what I was going through, and I did. I made it through the darkest part of this winter and now bird songs are changing and the light is sticking it out a little longer and so am I.

This is what I focus on every day. It makes maintaining more than a handful of relationships impossible. I can't keep up with everyone I care about or was a huge part of my life. That creates guilt, which compounds into stress, which only adds to making getting out of bed harder. If you know someone who has fallen out of touch with you, be mindful it probably has very little to do with you and a lot to do with them. I have no more than 6 people at a time I can manage a close, reliable, reciprocal friendship with right now. Because 90% of my energy goes into simply figuring out if I get to keep my house this month.

Every day I need to decide if this fight is worth it. If i's fuel or poison. Today it is fuel. All the panic and stress tearing at my heart isn't making it weaker. It's breaking down and repairing the muscle like lifting weights. I am so much stronger for it. It may look tired but it is so determined it could beat Secretariat in a sprint.

I'm going to keep trying.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Three Perfect Days

Dusk at Livingston Brook Farm Feb 15th
Had the most amazing weekend right here in Washington County. Three days without checking email or social media very much. Three days of local music, local smiles, and local beer. Sometimes I need to be able to do that, right here at home. Take a few days surrounded by friends and sunlight. Take time to be quiet and caring of myself and others. Take time to not worry about the mortgage for three days and have faith I'll find a way to make the month work. And that is what I did. I had three perfect days. And now, back to work.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Help and Subscribe!

Readers,

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

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

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

Thank you,
-j

Want to make a one-time contribution?
https://www.paypal.me/JennaCAF

For a monthly contribution to the blog and to be a regular patron:


Thursday, February 13, 2020

Warming Up

Today was a long day of preparing for a few quiet days off. I have plans for romance and adventure, and I am hoping both go well. But a farm isn't something that wait for either and today was spent doing three times the usual client work and emails than a usual work day to make up for it. I also ran out to get the feed, hay, and groceries needed in case the coming cold makes it for a weekend more indoors than out and about. I have been really lucky this winter with the plumbing. I am hoping that luck continues a few more days!

I am starting to plan out this farm season and I think I want to try raising meat birds on a small scale again. For myself and perhaps some local pickup customers. I also won't to double the amount of lambs raised from last season and have Auburn the hawk released before mid May. This way I won't have a hunting bird until fall, most likely and let me focus more on the horses and farming I have in mind. Friends have some projects in mind with me as well. One handy friend wants to rebuild the deck off the living room (sorely needed the current one is in very bad shape, has been since I bough this place). Another friend wants to help me cut down some brush and make space for pigs to roam in new areas. I want to have bees here again, but I may have missed that timeline to purchase a nuc. I want larger gardens. I want to possibly raise a male goat or alpaca for packing, as in backpacking with - a dream I started back in Vermont a long time ago and wasn't prepared to follow through with. But these things are all swirling in my mind. It doesn't mean they will all happen but they are active. A few months ago I was in such a dark place I couldn't image thinking about spring. Now I am thinking greener thoughts.

The firewood situation is getting hairy. I am done with all the utility, truck repair, hay, feed, and insurance bills for the month but only halfway to the mortgage and no cash for firewood. I will get to both. I have to. Sales have been picking up and I have been living in a warm house with running hot water all winter. That isn't always the case here so I already feel ahead of the game. One day at a time and soon there will be mud and lilacs and distant thunderstorms. I crave them like bourbon after a long hike.

I hope all of you have a lovely Valentine's Day tomorrow! I will be spending mine and the whole weekend with friends and food at our farms. It may be cold but our hearts and spirits are warming up.

P.S. Thank you to everyone who has sent letters, emails, messages, and social media comments letting me know you're still out there reading. Those messages are why I am still here. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Carry a Hammer

Art by Milo Mars
Remember when I told you about the reader who sent me a notecard asking me to please write more? She sent me a thank you card yesterday for doing so, and you have no idea how much I needed that little boost!

It was a rough weekend - for farm and personal reasons. Two of my closest friends lost one of their close friends. I sat in a state police office, filing a harassment complaint. The weather hit hard. My truck broke down getting hay. My nerves broke down shortly after.

So getting a letter in the mail with a few sentences just sharing that she was happy I was writing again, and how her electric blanket was like her version of the space heater in the bathroom… I know it doesn’t seem like much but knowing that there are still readers out there who want a connection has been a powerful reminder.

It has encouraged me to write more, both here and to really bare my teeth and focus on this new book. I care more about this new book than I’ve cared about anything I have ever written. It is taking so long to feel good enough to send to my agent. But I will get there. I will write this book. It’s the book I so needed ten years ago when I was so afraid of all of you, and more so, myself.

Back to my truck. I was stuck Saturday in my friend Patty’s driveway in my 1989 f150, tires spinning from ice and then she stalled out. Since I was on a hill and sliding backwards and the brakes did nothing I panicked and stomped on the emergency brake, which snapped into place and stuck, broken. The last few days of worry over friends, winter, wood, bills, and already still paying off the last truck repairs… I started feeling the uncontrollable shaking and tears and weight in my chest from a panic attack. They come on like an assault over every security. By the time Patty walked out to my honks she saw a shaking, crying, woman in her stuck truck unable to even make it up her driveway. She talked me down, leaning her calm and kind arms on the driver’s side door through the open window. She talked my foot off the brake and assured me it was safe to come out and no one would be hurt if I left the truck alone. She walked me up to her farmhouse, holding my shoulder, helping me not slip on ice.

We got into her farmhouse and she let me cry it out. She went through all the simple steps to get the truck unstuck and repaired. For people with anxiety, not nerves, but real anxiety, this is better than anything short of a prescription pad. To have someone listen and help solve the issue that caused the attack to occur (even if it has nothing to do with the underlying anxiety) is a godsend. I don’t know what I did to deserve Patty and her husband Mark. But they have been in my life since Patty showed up at a local Barnheart book event in Cambridge a lifetime ago.

The truck remained unable to drive but we got it to slide down the driveway and off the main road. She helped me get hay for my animals and loaded it into her truck, and she drove me to get anything else I needed in town while I didn’t have a vehicle. She took me home to my farm and helped me unload and stack the hay out of the weather. And I felt a lot better. Yes, because I had all this farm could need for a while and didn’t have to worry about my truck at the moment, but also because I have a friend like her in my life. I have the luxury of breaking down every once in a while and being okay.

Part of what keeps me going when times get like this is the hard data that I made it this far. That I bought this farm in 2010 when I was a terrified, inexperienced, attention-hungry, overly-enthusiastic, highly-imperfect human being terrified that she liked girls in a world that told her to just find some strong farmer guy to take care of her. And now, a decade later, I am still often terrified, but more experienced. I’m still attention-hungry and overly-enthusiastic, but tempered by a mountain farm that taught me patience and self-reflection. I am still off-the-charts imperfect, but I am not scared to like girls. In fact this is the first Valentine’s Day I’ve looked forward to in 37 years. Keep going, it gets better.

Yesterday while I was finishing work inside I heard a sound I’d know anywhere. Taylor, my pickup truck, was pulling into the driveway. The dogs barked and I whooped! Patty came out of the driver’s side and threw her hands in the air in victory with a hammer raised above her head. THIS IS WHAT FIXED IT! She laughed like silver coins rattling, so bright and happy. I couldn’t believe she did it, and I hugged her so hard. She saved me having it towed to my mechanic and more truck bills on top of the regular winter struggle. I cried again after she left, but not from fear. From grace.

You gotta judge yourself not on the fear sliding backwards in driveways or the lowest points.You need to judge yourself on the people in your life, their character and love. My friends and chosen family in this small farming community have helped me become such a better person, and such a stronger woman.

Last night I sat in a friend’s living room in Cambridge and listened to her talk about her lost friend. I hope I was in some way of use to her, and made her feel better. I hope if I ever write a book that pays off this farm I make sure Patty and Mark have the most comfortable elder years a human being can experience. And I hope all the people that remind me that even at my most vulnerable and weak moments, that I am loved, that they know I love them too.

Happy Valentine’s week to all of you out there. Thank you for listening. Now go love someone, be kind, send sweet notecards, and carry a hammer just in case.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

SNOWSHOEING!

Hiking With Friends is Better

Get Your Pet Mailed to You as ART!

Hello from a very chilly farm! The storm came and this farm was ready! I am inside from a little adventure with Friday. We went on a snowshoeing trip around our mountain and then came home to rake the snow off roofs, feed the animals, and check all the water and hawks! All is well here, at least so far. There are no frozen pipes yet(though tonight will be down to 2°). And I still have about a month of firewood left to earn up the money for more on top of the other bills. I have truck repairs (Had new wiring to the battery in the truck last week) and between towing and the parts and time it was over $280 dollars. So to help earn up that money on top of all the other bills like the mortgage, electric, firewood, etc - I am offering a sale on sketches!

If you want to help out this farm fast, send an email to me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com and in the email send a picture of the pet or farm animal (or wild animal) you want to have sketched. The cost is only $20 (via PayPal) but the catch is the sketch is a surprise! Not sending proofs to you for approval, but I promise it will be based on your picture and a fun, animation-style version!

My goal is to sell 10 of these this weekend. That's $200 towards bills. I already did this same sale on Twitter and earned half of what I need through pet sketches alone so if I can keep it up I can make up the rest and get back to focusing on lights, the mortgage, and heating!

IF you want to add-on to the sketch, it is $40 for it to be inked and some basic shading and line work. Full color is $75 - and that means watercolor and ink. All are 9x12" and shipping is FREE anywhere in the world. Mailed in a stiff cardboard mailer. Thank you for reading and considering!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

space-heater prayers

A snow storm is settling in and I am prepared for it. I'm about to do one of my new favorite pre-storm rituals, which is this: after the firewood is cut and stacked inside, the animals fed, mare blanketed, and the barn crew safe from the ice and wind I go to a little spa space. It's just my bathroom. But I close the door and crank the space heater and set a towel on the floor in front of it. I take a hot shower (which isn't always a given here in winter, this house has seen some very frozen pipes in winters past) and then sit with my towels in a little ball of warmth by the heater until I'm plain hot. Till I need to take off the terry cloth and put on some lotion and maybe even a face mask and sit there in this little warm oasis of extreme comfort before the roof raking and ice-breaking begins. And I'll read, or watch a video on my tablet, or I'll just message the girl I can't wait to see next weekend and remind her how beautiful she is. And for a little bit, in this very old farmhouse, I forget how much winter is ahead of me. How much I still need to cover car repairs and new firewood deliveries and all the bills and banks and woes. I forget about how scary it can be and breathe slow. I take a moment to be grateful for the hot water and the hardy animals. I take a few more moments to be grateful for the neighbors who provide the hay and feed I need to sustain these critters. I take long moments to be grateful for the friends, readers, and promise of warmth ahead outside this little room of space-heater prayers.

May we all find our way to warmer times.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Auburn and I

picture by Katie H.

gather wood and sit

I am grateful for the mild weather most of January gave us. There wasn’t a week of nights 20 below zero. There wasn’t a storm that caused trees to fall or ice coat the farm like a test. There’s been days in the 30s and 40s and mild snowfalls and I have been able to hunt with the bird, do ground work with the horses, and yesterday I even went for a short run outside. Today I hope to walk a 5k with Friday and pick up some hay after the morning client work online. It’s been this every day.

But what I want, what I hope for? I hope for the kind of security that lets me start planning for spring. The kind of luck that lets me start planning spring chick and seed orders. The kind of luck that lets me sigh and not be behind on the mortgage and scared of losing my home or being scolded by strangers for not doing things the way they have. I hope for the kind of luck that starts saving for a new vehicle. I hope, mostly, for the kind of luck that encourages and invigorates me to write, draw, teach, and make the things that bring the luck I need. I don’t expect luck in the form of any kind of magical gifts. But what I need is the will to make things happen. I think that is what has been lost most of all in these hard winters. The desire to find the version of me that never gave up on her dream. That always figured out the next bill, or the next step, and rewarded herself with jars of strawberry jam she canned or a quiche from her hens’ eggs.

That person is still here but she’s cold as hell. And she’s trying to gather the energy to make it through the month safely, and it makes all the creative energy I muster and have to go towards other people’s work - logo and pet portraits and art - not my own. And at the end of the day I just want the lights to stay on and the house to remain warm. It’s scary here. And I worry writing about that prolonged scariness will just invite more criticism or the same “Just get a job!? Emails I always get from people that don’t realize I do have several part-time jobs because I don’t write about them here in detail.

Mostly I don’t write here because I’m not at the place yet where I can be excited about chicks and seeds and I am not sure I will. I don’t know what will happen to me or this farm. I don’t know if I will sell this book. I don’t know what March will be like. But I know today I can work on the people I have planed to work for. I can promote what I have to offer. I can take care of my animals, my home, my body, and be there for my friends. I can do the kind work of being a person not interested in hurting anyone else. I can be patient with people. I can gather wood and sit quietly.

I am not sure these are the posts you want to read. But I am still here.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Signs of Spring

It’s a slow start today. Most mornings start slow this time of year. In the summer months I wake up to open windows, sunshine streaming past the lace curtains and this boiling blood excited to do everything at once. I want to do the chores, plant things, ride horses, run for miles, swim in rivers and fall in love. In the winter… Well, last night I made and ate a Hawaiian pizza and watched Netflix. Both have their merits, but I miss the part of me that buzzed in the morning.

But this morning there was bird song. Different bird songs. The kind of songs you hear when you have to check chicken butts first thing in the morning for pasty bums. The kind of whistles and calls that snap pea vines swirl around and banjo tunes are plucked with. It’s slowly becoming warmer, brighter, and better. I am slowly preparing this farm for another season of hope and work.