Monday, April 15, 2019

Little Rituals

Last night a thunderstorm and high winds ripped through the farm deep into the night. I know because I was woken up by Gibson slamming into me, and it wasn't his usual desire to be close while scared of the noise. It was as if he was trying to get through me to the other side, shaking as if something had shocked him when lightning struck. Friday was so wigged out she chose to sleep on a dog bed on the floor - giving up her prime spot to not be bothered. I wish things were easier on him, but he has to ride through it. And in the morning we both know things will be easier, the mind and body can focus on work, and a belly full of food and a job to focus on takes away the anxiety.

Wait? Am I border collie?

Huh. Well, I woke up with Gibson beside me and Friday watching the window at the sorry sight that is a mug spring farm. Water was pooling all over, the hill was a mudslide. The horses heard us getting ready because they were close to the open windows and Merlin hollered for hay. I was glad I repaired the sump pump. Flooding was likely, if not certain. Here goes the day...

The month is halfway over and I am scrambling to figure things out. I haven't been posting as much for that reason, which is what I tried to explain. I'm 20% there and I have 14 days to earn the other 80%. I'm doing my best to stay on top of things, the farm coming first. This morning I watched the geese (4 of them here now) guarding their nest as I walked by them with buckets of water to refill the horse trough. The chickens are laying eggs like mad. The horses are almost half shedded out. The other Day a friend came over to ride Mabel while I road Merlin and the black rope reins are now splotched with her white and brown hairs. Both the horses are barn sour to be left alone in the pasture if the other is taken out, so I am trying to take them out together while I get my riding legs back and get used to a muddy ground instead of a frozen one.

The chicks I am raising indoors are doing well and outside all day. Then at dusk they jump to the door to be let inside to their roosting spot in a brooder in the living room. Chickens never stop impressing me how clever they are about where they belong. All I need to do is open the door to the brooder and let them inside and they jump inside the wire cage and rest in the hay together. It is a lovely little ritual. This is their home, too.

I am putting together a book proposal, working on logos and portraits, gathering up leads on lambs and piglets, calling farriers, butchers, and veterinarians. I am going through all the motions a woman would go through on a spring farm as if this is exactly where she will be when summer hits. I hope that is the case. And I hope I have better news soon, at least news that things are still scrappy and constant. Things have to get easier at some point. Or maybe they don't? Maybe that's not what I signed up for and would be a fool to assume?

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

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Fires

Checking in quick to let people know I am okay. I am trying to spend every single day working, walking, practicing music and figuring out how to get through the month. There are lambs and pigs to secure, a book proposal to write, art and soap to create, and sales to promote. This is what I am focusing on with all I've got. If you have a kind word of encouragement, it is priceless. It'll be a while before I am out of the woods but right now I am focusing on foraging herbs and making fires to survive while in it.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

PSA

I am a bit worried my blog posts are getting a bit too dire to keep posting them, and I don't want every single post to be about the same concerns related to the struggle here. I will be checking in more when things are better, but things are not better yet. Right now I need to put all my energy into making sure things are okay today. I appreciate your understanding. Posting often on Twitter. Not as much on Instagram since my camera broke when dropped 4 feet a few weeks back.

Keep going out there. I will too.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Sturdy Bread

These last few days have felt like waking up from a long nap, just as slow and sore, but insanely grateful. Spring is really here. The nights are still chilly, but my firewood made it through. I am out now but that is okay. I can collect little scraps of dead dry from the lawn and make a cheer-builder at night if I want. The bank cashed my mortgage check, which let me exhale for the first real time in weeks. They only cash it if they aren't moving forward with any foreclosure proceedings, and so when I saw my bank account plummet this morning online I hugged the dogs. I raised my mug of coffee high to any ancestors that might take any passing interest in me. I mailed my health insurance check yesterday, had it post marked for the day it was due. I don't know if they'll let me keep it or cancel it for being a week late. I will find out. If it does cash and I manage to keep it another month I'll have less than ten bucks to my name, but I don't care. I can earn back the money towards the next month's goals slowly. Today, I celebrated this find spring day. I let myself enjoy the exhale of getting through March.

I did the best thing I know for my own worried little heart: work. I did all the morning chores, which right now focuses on keeping the pigs penned and not exploring the wider forest. I carried hay, grain, and feed. I carried buckets and when I needed a break I pulled the little tin whistle from my pocket to play a tune. Once chores were done I set into the logo clients I have scheduled, five this week to work on. I have a donkey running logo, a knitter's croft set of comps, and a beautiful dragon family crest to design. I inked a woman's grinning dog and sketched another clients cat. I made a batch of soap that should fill two orders once they cure. This is my trio of winter work: design, draw, and make soap. Every day some part of that is worked on. Slowly I am catching up on orders and clients neglected during the worst of the last week's worries. It felt good.

With most of my clothes in the laundry pile I dusted off an old canvas kilt and tied it around my waist. I forgot how much I love them. How they fit me like a second skin, the most comfortable farm clothing there is. I have them in a few sizes, and thank a thousand tiny gods that the one I grabbed was too big for me. I welcomed the tiny boost of confidence, feeling my summer body slowly coming back to me. (I am still walking every day, at least 4 miles.) I let it hug my hip bones as I went along with the spring work. Besides chores and inside work; I tended pea seedlings, and collected eggs. I paid for and picked up some hay. I baked bread, went for a long walk with Friday, and wrote with Gibson sleeping by my side. Later in the afternoon I practiced my fiddle, shot 2 dozen arrows off a light bow, and worked with the horses. Feeling overly confident, I tacked up Merlin to enjoy a short ride. As I trotted him away from the barn Mabel hollered in protests as if I was taking him to slaughter. He flicked his ears back to her and yelled back. Two horses hollerin' and mud under our feed. Not a bad way to spend a spring day.

I am now into April, the creepiest month, my least favorite. But I am here. I am still here, and with good work and high hopes. Things feel better and if I am lucky and smart I will get to stay here. I have good projects of all sorts ahead of me. I have shoots of grass, two healthy (and loud) horses, and all the flour and eggs I need to survive off french toast if I have to while I save up for another month. Which starts today. Which starts in earnest. Which starts with coffee mugs raised high and bow strings and old kilts and horse neighs and good, sturdy, bread.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Old Friend

A few days ago I restrung my fiddle and replaced the battery in my tuner. The fiddle was already wiped clean and fussed over, as was the old case I have had since I lived in Idaho. Even free of dust the case is so beaten and the stickers all over it are fraying. Rightly so, as it has been with me for over ten years, throughout this country from Idaho the New York. The old Smoky Mountain stickers are fading right next to the Sandpoint and Vermont ones. One clasp is broken entirely so I use and old dog collar as a belt of sorts to keep the thinner neck section shut. It is as scrappy as this farm and my fiddler's education. I like it.

I am keeping a small handwritten journal of my practice sessions. I titled the journal 50 Songs Till Summer, and the goal is to relearn and sharpen 50 beloved tunes to the point of flawless playing from memory by June 21st. Through out the journal I mark songs I am working on, giving myself little musical rewards when I hit a certain goal. For example, when I have memorized and perfectly performed the first five songs I am working on - all in a row without a single mistake - I am rewarding myself with a new container of Hill Dark Rosin. In ten songs I will replace the broken bow I am using, which I stepped on by accident last fall. It still works but you can't adjust the tension since I somehow stepped on the frog.

These goals are all depending on if I have the funds to get such things, but I am pretty sure I can figure out the rosin at least. The bow won't be a fancy bow, by any means, but it will be encouraging to have these small victories and presents to look forward to. And I am glad I am at a point in my life where I am not interested in picking up new hobbies or instruments. I want to get better at the things I have.

As for my playing? Well, If I am honest, the notes that first came out were awkward and tired as a drunk cat. I cringed, trying to remember how to match the balance, tension, fingering and sawing motions. After twenty minutes or so I could hear pieces of the D scale fall into place. It was like jumping off a stone bridge into cold water - relief.

My old friend is coming back to me. Some things can't be helped and some can. The new strings, the bridge alignment - these adjustments are better after the weeks of neglect. Other things like the way the cold of winter altered the shape and curves of the wood - even slightly - that changed how a note sounded. I played through it. Adjusted. Practiced.

I got through many renditions of Ida Red and Rain and Snow. One or two of them even sounded good. I decided that the rest of this week was theirs. I would play those songs a lot, so many times the dogs would confuse them with their own names, and get back the trust of that fiddle through regular conversation. It's like starting a relationship from scratch after three months of the silent treatment, literally.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Laughing At Coopers

While walking today I saw a Coopers Hawk and laughed in delightful defiance at the site of her. It was like seeing Winter himself trip on a banana peel. It felt good to laugh, like I had been holding my breath. The walk was partially a celebration as I had already been into town and handed Wendy at the post office my mortgage check. I asked her to please get it out today, and postmark it too. She happily obliged. I had pulled it off. If I was lucky I would even be able to make the health insurance payment before the end of the month. I would try. Holy Crow, would I ever try.

I was on my way to Shushan. A little village tucked beside the Battenkill River. There's a few houses, an old train station, a post office, a general store and antique shop. That's it. But part of this celebration was going to Yushak's for a lunch to go and eating it beside the river while I rested before walking the four miles home.
I wouldn't have been able to laugh a few miles ago. A mile into my walk—as I was crossing the small highway at the bottom of my road for the dirt roads across from it—I heard the familiar sounds of the mail truck. It turned up my road. Anxiety hit me like a hard slap.

How can I explain this to you? Have you ever left your pets or children in the care of a new babysitter and an hour into your date night you see sirens of ambulances head towards your home? Your rational mind knows that there is a very little chance that their destination is your house, but it could be. What if my mail carrier was holding a foreclosure notice in her mailbag right now. What if I was too late? What if there was any number of threats in red envelopes? What if bad news was happening and I was a mile away.

I felt the waves of a small panic attack start to invade my logic like little tremors. Anxiety doesn't care about logic. It certainly doesn't care about statistics. I wanted to run back up the hill for the relief of knowing what was in the mail. I wanted to know that on the day I finally mailed the Hail Mary mortgage I managed to skate past danger once again. I needed to know.

I forced myself to keep walking. Anxiety is the entire reason I walk. I have too much energy, and my brain uses most of it to worry. I knew if I tired out my body, if I made myself walk, the waves of panic would leave. It was a matter of being too tired to use energy for stress.  So I made myself listen to the audiobook of The Wise Man's Fear and keep walking.

I walked past farms and houses. I walked past pigs and turkeys, deer and squirrels, and I saw many birds. So many ravens and crows right now are collecting anything stringy and soft for their nests. I saw the ravens near my farm taking the piles of black fur that I brushed off of Merlin yesterday away in their beaks. Somewhere near my farm baby ravens would hatch among black pony fur. This didn't make me laugh at all. It did make me smile like a good glass of whiskey tastes.

While walking I met a great dog named Winnie and watched

When I made it into Shushan I ordered a sandwich and grabbed a butterbeer off the chilled shelves. I walked over the to river and sat beside the water. No one else was there, as it was a week day and March. Trout season would see it packed but right now it was just for me.

I sat and ate and listened to my book. Good gods it was lovely. The butterscotch soda and amazing roast beef was perfect. This is all I want in life. I want a home that feels safe, even for a little bit. I want a body that can carry me across roads to new towns. I want to be able to enjoy good simple food and hear stories. I let out a long sigh.

By the time I got home I wasn't worried about the mail. My brain was too tire to race me there. I walked up the mail box and pulled out a letter from a friend in the PNW, a student loan payment reminder, and an LL Bean catalog that looked like clothing for white people on boats. No pressing threats. I was also too tired to feel anything close to fear. I was grateful for the walk.

It's now almost dinner time and I am not hungry at all. I got soap orders packaged, evening chores done, and this written to you. Now I am going to take Friday for a 2 mile walk to end out the day. When rainy days come in the days ahead I won't be out for ten miles so I better enjoy it now.

Thank you for reading. And thank you for your kindness, support, stories, encouragement and interactions. I am grateful for you, too.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Saddle For Sale

Collegiate Saddle for sale. English, trekking style. Nice high padding. Older but in good condition. Recently cleaned, scrubbed, oiled and in good order. Has been fitted with new bio leathers, stirrups, and rubbers. Also comes with a gently used large padded faux-fleece girth. Make an offer via email or social media. MUST SELL!

A Fiddler's Shame

I have pulled my fiddle out of the case and carefully removed the old strings. One was broken, it happened earlier this winter. I slowly removed them and carefully cleaned the dented and small instrument. It's been sadly neglected. The last time I played in public it was three tall mugs of beers in and too loud. I didn't know any of the songs at the Celtic session in town. They mostly played contra dance tunes, New England style of folk music. Everything I know is from southern mountain music. Songs like Shady Grove, and Blackest Crow, and Rain and Snow and Wayfaring Stranger. These are not like the high and fast reels of coastal Canada and below. I fumbled and was tipsy and basically embarrassed myself as a musician. My friends were supportive and clapped when I played but that was a kindness for my bravery. When I saw a video of that night I cringed and haven't played since.

But as the days grow a little longer and a little warmer I am finding myself missing music. I plan to start from scratch. Start with basic scales and the simplest songs. Play Ida Red, the song I teach beginners, twenty times a day until my fingers can draw it out like a yawn with my eyes closed. The only reason I was shamed out of playing was because I wasn't prepared, and I let my playing slack to the point of being unable to keep up with new tunes. Time to remedy that.

I'll start as a beginner, relearning all the old songs and slowly adding new ones. I seem to crave it like food by noon each day, and now that my fiddle is prepped for new strings and clean it is only a matter of time before I rosin a bow and get to it.

Things have been encouraging, but moving slow. It seems that every single time I make some headway there's money in the bank something comes up. The electric company sends a threatening letter, the internet/phone bill is due or it'll be disconnected, Friday's vet visit for worm meds... usual life stuff. I am exactly where I was a week ago with my bank account. I was not able to buy in any lambs or piglets. I have kept the fires low and only after dark, because I am not getting any more wood until late summer.

The bank account being in the same place isn't necessarily bad news. It means that I am not horrifically behind and was able to get in the sales I needed to cover a couple hundred dollars worth of urgent needs. If I am realistic, and lucky, it will be a tiny miracle if I do pull this month off and I don't think there will be any way to cover health insurance and the mortgage at this point. Which is a bummer but I have gone years without having any insurance at all. Having three months of it was already a small victory, and you know how I care for those small victories. They got me this far.

I know it isn't fun to keep reading about hardship. It is even less fun dealing with it here by myself. I ask for patience with things like soap orders or artwork. I am doing my best to get them out but I really need to get all of my energy towards keeping this farm out of threat of any possible foreclosure, which legally the bank can move forward with if a check isn't postmarked by the 31st. The roof over my head is my number one concern right now. More than updates here, or anything else. I hope to report back with good news as soon as possible.

Till then I will be practicing on a dented fiddle and finding music again as time allows. Wish me luck.



Friday, March 22, 2019

Pork Shares Still Available! Lamb Sold Out!

Okay guys! Still looking to move shares of pork! Get some amazing meat for yourself or buy a share to be donated to my local food bank/elders' home!

This farm needs to make the sales to stay solvent and the clock is ticking louder by the day. I have less than ten days to pull things off towards this month's safety net.

This is the time to support the farm if you are at all interested in doing so. Please send an email. I'll be in touch withe everyone who isn't clearly a troll!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Preventative Measures

It's been a gray day on this farm. Right now the rain is falling steady and I am just inside from evening chores. Paws are wiped. The candles are lit. The wood stove is sputtering to keep the chill off the rainy, windy, weather outside. Despite the weather things are steady, if not gaining on the mood front. I made the whole Kiva Loan payment on time, keeping that promise to my lenders. Now I can focus on the mortgage, and gods willing, the health insurance. Sales are at a trickle which is a damn fine flow better than no water at all. I have a ways to go to make it. Fingers crossed.

And you know Murphy's Law never needs a reason to not come calling... Soon as the payment was made to Kiva I took Friday out for a nice walk before the rain came. She stopped to do her business and what I saw was not pleasant. She has worms. Not a tragic case but she has them for certain and I made the call to the vet and was told she was also due for her rabies shot so tomorrow she heads down to the vet clinic. Never a dull moment on a farm. Keeping me on my toes.

The good news is that I was able to get hay loaded up in the truck and unloaded before the rain. I was also able to get some needed house repair supplies at the hardware store. I saw the weather report was calling for intense rainfall between tonight and Saturday, and I already saw what a rainy morning can do to my basement. A few days back I was able to reroute the sump pump but the hose was so damaged from Gibson's teeth (certain it was a deadly black snake I guess) that when water came out it spit and squirted most of it like a sprinkler system. I got a new cheap hose at the hardware store and replaced it from the basement out to the drainage area outside. Finishing that up felt like a very good preventative measure.

Preventative measures seem to be how the ball game has changed here. While things never go as planned I am getting better at preparing for most of them. Yesterday when the truck started and promptly died, I didn't call the mechanic. I lifted the hood and saw a relay box has slipped off the clamp and was laying in a weird position. I set it right an tapped it a little just for encouragement and the truck started again. I wouldn't even know what a relay box was if I still drove a newer truck. I'd also be without a farm since it was $400+ for a payment and insurance (not including gas and repairs) on the past Dodge. Taylor might not be pretty but I know how to dance with her. I love her. If things ever pick up I'll get a smaller car to jet around with for things I need to do. Right now that isn't the plan. RIght now the plan is hold on for dear life to what I have, keep it close, mend and make do, and work hard towards better things.

If I wake up tomorrow to that intermittent hum of a sump pump motor and find it working well I will raise my coffee mug high to preparation. Here's to all of that. And to March going a little slower so I can keep the hustle moving and the bills paid.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Eggs and Partners

Lambs of springs past, now being born at Moxie Ridge Farm
Spring is slowly stalking this farm. This morning I collected the 6th goose egg while the four geese that reside here walked up into the horse pasture to nibble on the very first exposed green bits of grass. Snow and ice is still splattered everywhere, but those nibbles are bites of hope for easier days ahead. Easier on the the weather, the mind, and the body. I'm collecting the eggs to save for a farm friend that wants to barter for rabbits. I am gingerly planning getting back into rabbits and have a new used hutch system reserved from one of Patty's older setups (needs a new bottom) and beautiful stock from a local lamb and pork customer who has a hankering for some geese. I pick up the giant eggs and carefully bring them inside to set in a protected cabinet. If all goes as planned and luck keeps shining on this farm, by June I will have a green landscape I need to mow, slick horses running on the hill, rabbits in hutches eating hay, piglets and lambs running about, and a sense of belonging I am always clawing towards. That is what I want, what I am actively praying for.

There are ten days left in the month to make a mortgage payment. Not this month's, a late payment. This has been the MO for a while now and will be until I catch some sort of amazing break. But right now the farm is in survival mode to keep ahead of foreclosure, the electric company turning off lights, the internet provider from shutting off my services, that kind of thing. Yesterday I sold a logo and all the money went towards a loan repayment with Kiva and the electric company. Those were the loudest screaming needs and once those are satisfied I can focus on the mortgage, lambs, and if I am lucky - keeping my health insurance. It seems unlikely that I will. I can't not pay back my loan, or not buy in the lambs and pigs I need, it's not an option. The health insurance - while wonderful - it seems selfish compared to those louder screams. That said, I am going to try. It makes riding horses, hiking, working with hawks feel safer. It makes everything feel safer. But that feeling might be a luxury I can't afford when the alternative is losing home.

I woke up today with a weird feeling. Both excited about the spring and all the plans of warmer weather, and the very real notion that time might be up here. It is getting harder and harder to keep the ship floating (or more honestly, plugging holes in the boat). To beat this metaphor to death: the landfall I am hoping for seems less realistic every day while I get better at mending. I don't know what that ends up as? What I do know is I hope to keep writing about it, whatever the outcome. And as I am heading towards my 37th birthday this summer I no longer want to do this all alone. There was a real moment of sadness during coffee today when I thought about how I have no idea what it is like to have a partner in life, for support and to share the burdens and joys of making a home or working towards a goal. Being broke is something I am used to. I gave up the idea of financial security when I came out as a full-time farmer, but I never thought I'd be going solo for so long.

That is where I am at right now. Determined and lonesome. A little scared about making it into summer, or what might happen. The usual. May luck carry me a few weeks more. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

100

dreaming of Spring Greens and Donuts
Good morning from a crisp and sunny Cold Antler Farm! I am finishing up morning chores and checking in between tasks to write (and warm up my hands). I had a lead on some lambs, bottle babies I'd have to feed, but the seller found someone else to buy them while my truck was being repaired and I couldn't get to them in time. Maybe that's for the best, as right now all income needs to focus on the mortgage after I earn back these recent repair bills, but the price was so good it makes me wince I missed them. But the good news (and in this life you must focus on the good news) is that lambs are popping up for sale everywhere. Few people are able to deal with bottle lambs and the time they take so I will try and jump on some more as they become available and I'm able to scoop them up.

I was able to worm Merlin this weekend but the Mare is trickery. She sees that apple paste tube an acre away and scrams. The trick: I buy 2 jelly donuts. I give her one and let her enjoy every perfect bite. Then I make sure the second has been filling-scraped-clean and instead piped full of apple paste. She eats it up like candy. Donuts have gotten me far with Mabel. Merlin, on the other hand, doesn't care for donuts. He's more of a fruit guy.

Things are shaky but optimistic. I have until the end of the month to cover the farm and keep her safe, and I feel like it's possible to achieve the sales to do it. What else can I think? It is frustrating to be right back where I was this time last month, dealing with truck repairs, and behind on everything. But if there's any comfort in that it's that I got through February and was able to retain my farm, health insurance, heat my home and keep all the animals healthy and content.

And I also need to remind myself that this May will be nine years on this farm. That's going to mean well over A HUNDRED mortgage payments made. I managed that so far by myself, mostly self-employed, and following this dirty dream. When I wake up nervous I need to look at the statistics and remind myself who I am dealing with. I wouldn't bet against me. Not yet.

If you are interested: meat shares and handmade farm soaps are still available. Private beginner lessons in fiddle and archery are available.  Logos and illustrations are available. Just send an email!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Gibson's Birthday!

Happy Birthday Gibson, who turns 9 today. We have never spent a night apart. We have never spent more than 7 hours apart, actually. We never will. He is my best friend, soft and gentle herder, farm hand, blanket, story, and song. I love you.

SPRING!!!!

It was 65 degrees here yesterday! What a gift that was! I saw turkey vultures for the first time soaring (the REAL bird sign of spring) and local sap is running like mad. I got the horses their spring worming paste and a new block of minerals to replace the crumbles of their old one. Merlin is shedding hair like nuts. Mabel is slowly getting her old coat back as well.

Mighty proud that the sump pump had issues and water was filling the basement by the bucket full after a morning thunderstorm here, and I was able to repair the hose and reroute the water as if I was making toast. This house isn't anything fancy but it is solid, and I have learned how to mend it when it needs band aids. At least so far. 

Yesterday afternoon I even got my truck back from the mechanic. They added another relay and road tested it several times. It seems to be okay now and once I got it back I took her right to the laundromat/car wash in town. I had been waiting 2 weeks to finally get this laundry done and while the clothes were agitating I hosed off her dust and vacuumed the cab and today I'll clean the windows and dash. She's back and she's all I got. As much trouble as she has been this winter I can be grateful that this is a truck I own in full. I am paying for maintenance and what I spent this month on her repairs is what I used to spend in one month to pay the loan and high insurance on my old truck, which I didn't own. So the bright side is as rough as it has been, at least it is my own truck in that driveway and as far as I know she's okay to drive to the post office later to mail out some soaps.

I got a lead on some bottle lambs, and spoke to a farmer about piglets. It seems like getting a hold of stock for the summer won't be an issue. I may be trying some new breeds out to see how they do and using the pasture in new ways. The geese started laying eggs and I am collecting them to barter with a friend for rabbits. I want to breed rabbits again, and have a new set up I can put together for them soon as it has a new floor installed. I also want to plant a lot of sweet corn and move the horses off the front pasture by the house. There will be a lot of repairs and work to do to see this all through, but I can't wait to be outside with a list of outside chores instead of just indoor chores. And with clean socks and a clean truck... I feel a spring in my step.

Right now I am working on selling the last of the meat shares so I can buy this stock and start bottle feeding lambs! And I need to earn back the money I spent on the truck while still juggling the same monthly bills and this new habit of having health insurance. I am working on it. I have my income goal set for the day, my list of work to do, my silly hope, and 2 very good dogs. With all this and hot coffee, what can't I accomplish?!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Truck Update

Just spent $370 on truck repairs and it literally died five times on the way home from the mechanic. This is the only vehicle I can afford right now and it needs to go back to the shop tomorrow. I'm going to let myself have a good long cry about this and take a walk.

Nine Miles

past springs had kids in the living room, but lambs will be here soon!
Morning from a farm that feels a lot more like spring than it has in quite some time! The chicks in the brooder are getting feathery, the peas I planted are sprouting, and I have been spending more time outside walking...sometimes even in sunlight!

You just don't realize how much you need time in the sun until you force yourself to meet him every day. After a winter of so much dark and cold and time indoors—to walk and actually feel sun-warmed skin and start to work up a sweat—to need to squint from the brightness of glare off snow... what a wonderful gift of realizing how much I missed all of that.

I walked nine miles yesterday, my most yet. Since the truck has been in the shop for a few days (needed a whole new fuel pump and filter) I walked all the way to Shushan to visit Yushack's store and get some supplies. It sure changes your grocery shopping when you know you have to carry all your groceries four miles home. But I did bring back what I needed and then took the dogs for a walk up the mountain quick. I'm sort of a walkaholic now, if you can forgive that hacky phrase.

Walking on trails and roads has been changing how my body deals with hunger, anxiety, and food. I move so much now I am basically a machine in motion, and food becomes more fuel than anything else. This is how I always dreamed of living. Like a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail - tired and always hungry and sleeping without stress. I've been slimming down and eating without any restrictions and I've not felt this good in a while. I'm sure a month without any alcohol is also a big part of that, but all of it is helping me feel better. Being sober, lots of water and exercise, and not counting calories or feeling guilty about eating half a small pizza after walking nine miles... and still losing lbs... I have to admit I'm a happier woman than I was mid winter. And stress is a lot less.

Well, it would be a lie if I said I was without stress. I am still trying to stay ahead of any bank threats and keep the farm moving till I manage to land some sort of real luck - like a multi-article freelance contract, book deal, or family of 5 that wants private archery lessons for a whole weekend. But I will get there at some point. In the meantime I just racked up a $370 truck repair bill and that doesn't include the tow truck, but at least with all this walking I am too tired to not sleep through the night.

In the meantime, this little farm is working on catching up on soap and illustration work, logos and freelance writing, selling CSA shares, pitching article ideas to editors, considering rabbits and bees again, planning the kaleyard and possible sweet corn on the hill and new pasture ideas... A lot. But I do well with a lot on my plate. I always have.



Sunday, March 10, 2019

Truckin'

Taylor during a summer sunset, not yesterday...
Yesterday was a sunny and bright day here in the W.C. I got outside for over 6 miles of walking with my hounds by my side and after a morning of cleaning up around the farmhouse I loaded the back of my trusty pickup with bags of trash and sorted recycling fore the dump and a basket of laundry for the laundromat. Most Saturdays I make time for this exact combo of home chores. I don't have a lot of clothes I wear so a weekly washing is important, and no one wants bags of trash in their mudroom enticing possums and other bitty mammals, now do they? So with cheery spirits I pulled out of my driveway - full of hopes of discarded garbage and clean sheets and....

The truck died 200 feet from my house.

Great.

I attempted to troubleshoot and restart the truck, I even got it to back up 5 feet, but then it was done. One of the gifts of having an old truck like this is learning a lot about them. I already knew it wasn't fuel, the fuses, or the battery. I did know that the fuel filter was overdue for being changed as was the regular oil change. There was some problem with the truck getting what it needed to start, starved of gas, and so it acted as if it was out of gas on a nearly full tank.

My friend Dave, the same hero from before, was over shortly after I emailed him because he is a saint and he helped me get the truck back in my driveway and out of the road by towing it up the hill and showing me how to steer without power steering, which should be included in every "arm day" for every gym person. Then he gave me a ride into town to get all the feed I'd need for the pigs and a gallon of milk (for myself) and here I am stuck at the farm while I wait for the tow truck in the morning. I just hope it's an inexpensive fix. Right now I only have a couple hundred bucks to my name while I save up for another month of bills and the mortgage and I'm worried that won't even be enough to get Taylor running again.

But right now, in the middle of a snowy Sunday morning, I know this. I know that myself and the animals have all the food and comforts we need. The house is warm and I have bread rising to bake later. I just fed the dogs a breakfast of eggs and kibble and the cats are running about like they always do pre-nap. It is snowing outside, but it's a late winter snow that wants to be rain, and the forecast is for kinder weather ahead. This truck issue can't be dealt with until tomorrow so instead I will try and sell meat shares and soaps and start saving for repairs and bills. That is what I can do today. That is what I will do.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Shares Still Available!

Still have one lamb share and two half pig shares for sale! Get yourself some New York State small farm meat from Cold Antler. These shares are for piglets and lambs coming this spring, raised here, and price INCLUDES butchering, smoking, and packaging! VERY COMPETITIVE RATES!

And if you want to make a HUGE difference to this farm and community, but are too far away to pick up a share, you can purchase a share to be raised here and donated to my local food bank to feed people in need! Just send an email to inquire!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Heroes With Pigs

Yesterday afternoon I found myself driving the truck on some farm roads outside of town. I was trying to find the location of a farmer, Dave Brushett. Dave mentioned he had some nice square bales for sale and I was buying. My usual hay banks were getting politely conservative about their quantity with winter still hitting hard in March. So with directions described in an email from Dave pulled up on my e-reader, I headed out to the new roads after lunch. I should mention it was a cold day. The high was forecast to be around 16° and Dave's farm was a hundred acres on the top of a sweeping hill. I'm so used to my tiny farm being tucked halfway up a mountain, protected from high winds and the worst of March weather. This was a wilder place, even just a few miles away. I felt the wind hit the side of my truck as I made the third turn off a small country highway and saw the landmark described in the email: a big red barn and a regal white house. His place was the cabin a road behind it. Almost there.

And then my truck sputtered, coughed, and died.

It just died. As if some magical being watching had a remote control and simply turned it off. It felt like it had run out of fuel but I knew there was some gas in, I had slid a few dollars worth in the night before? What gives? unable to get it to start I grabbed my gloves and decided to walk the mile or so in the wind to the cabin on the hillside.

One of the disadvantages of not having a cell phone is not being able to save yourself this kind of hike, but I was prepared. I had three layers, the outermost being a wool sweater my friend Tyler handed down to me and a scarf my mom bought in Paris. Over that I had on a big hooded Carhartt canvas vest, insulated and tough. My fleece had snug on my head and boots laced: I was a bundled-up hobbit on the hillside with my eyes on the prize. No matter what I needed to get some hay and myself back to the farm and that truck running again. My plan was to get to Dave's, ask to call my mechanic (number is memorized, of course), and if needed - maybe a ride home?

Dave was already in his truck planning to look for me, since I was over half an hour late. I waved from his driveway and quickly explained the state of the truck. The first thing Dave did was offer me his lunch, which I declined having just eaten at home. When I declined he asked if I wanted to take it with me? Insanely kind, but if there was one thing I have covered it's calories at my farm.

Dave, a father and grandfather, burst into Dad Mode. We drove back to the truck and he said it was most likely about fuel. That if I was running on a low tank eventually condensation and water build up and freeze and block fuel lines. He was right. Because we drove back to the farm and within moments he was adding gas from a fuel container and stabilizer. That was enough to get the girl started and up the hill to his farm. There we loaded up the truck with the bales I came to buy and he showed me his sow and her new piglets. They were the brightest thing in the barn.

So many farmers around here are farrowing, kidding, lambing, and calving. This is my first winter in almost a decade not joining them. I don't regret selling the breeding sheep to Lee at Moxie Ridge or the goats to the homesteaders last fall. But I do miss them and the work. I already talked to my friend Dona of Northern Spy Farm about helping with kidding this spring. She agreed, and I'll be so thrilled to have those babies in my arms again.  It's just not spring without them.

Dave followed me all the way to the gas station and back home to Cold Antler, making sure there was no more issues with the truck. I learned to never have the tank below half-capacity in very cold weather and he got to not only make some cash and help keep a farm gong - he also kept this farm going. They say not all heroes wear capes. Well, that is very true. Hell, some heroes farm pigs.

The truck is working and hay is here. It's a dark-green second cut and enough to last my two horses a while. I'm damn lucky to have these kinds of neighbors and friends. And lucky to have broken down a short walk in the wind from help. Also, lucky as all get out to have the truck working without a trip the the mechanic! That Ford is the arteries of this farm - pumping in feed and fuel and getting me around town to places like the post office and my tiny social life.

That's the biggest news I have for today: a small adventure and a kind farming friend. But hopefully soon I'll have lambs and piglets here of my own bought in to raise all summer and get this place back into full production. There will be green hillsides before we know it. At least that's what I'm telling myself.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Black Horse Sun

The check cleared and the sun is shining! This farm moves forward with another month of chance and hope! Right now as I write to you there's a fire roaring and the house is heating up after a night of good sleep. I didn't wake up worried. And the trick seems to be making myself physically exhausted, as I mentioned before. Yesterday I walked each dog down the mountain road and home, a 2-mile trip each time and one half being a climb in elevation. My body isn't used to moving across the landscape so much. It has been months since I really hiked or ran beyond a few miles a week. The last 2 days I've gone 9 miles all together. My shins hurt from the run, my thighs hurt from the walking uphill. My body is slowly getting back into a state of locomotion and actually feeling tired—the NEED to sleep because the body demands the rest—seems to be the only thing that helps the anxiety since I have stopped drinking. I'll be a month without a sip of alcohol soon. Not sure how long I'll stay off the hooch but right now I am liking these good sleeps, bright mornings, and clear-headedness.

Anyway, back to this morning. I woke up in a chilly house (50°) but the sounds of baby chicks in the brooder and knowledge that I did the ultimate act of preconceived kindness for myself (prepared the coffee maker the night before) felt like waking up in a hotel. Okay, that's a stretch. Felt like waking up in a very posh glamping platform tent. And camping is the right metaphor because this past summer I bought a Kelty sleeping bag on clearance from REI, for backpacking. Turns out it is way too heavy and impossible to compress for any reasonable backpacker but it is WARM. On nights like last night I used to load up the daybed with blankets and wool fleece and now I have this bag that cleans up and heats up in moments. Around 4AM Friday realizes the warmest spot is in that bag and she paws at me until I let her in. The bag is roomy enough that we fit in there together, snug and snoring, head on the same pillow and creating enough heat to melt ice on the roof. Good lord I love my dog.

And after I roll out of that sleeping bag I have to shuffle over and make a fire, heat up coffee, and get ready for some physical activity outdoors. There are people who have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail whose winter mornings are more civilized. Hoo! Do I love it though! I love the way the coffee and fire warm me up. I love starting a list of work and goals. I love solving problems, searching for spring lambs, watering seedlings, feeding chicks, collecting eggs, scratching pigs, and inhaling that amazingly warm summer scent of sunshine on the back of a black horse...

This place is wild and safe for a little. I am working to keep it that way. May the sun shine and spring find us all sooner than we could possibly fathom. And till then, more coffee.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Soap Sale!

Hey there readers! I am offering a soap Sale! Get6 random bars (plus the $14 flat rate USPS box shipping) for $45 and will throw in a signed book with one random order picked out of a hat! Help out this farm, get clean, order soap! To do so just email me at dogsinourparks@gmail.com and put soap in the subject line. I would love to share some of the products this farm makes to start getting ready for another month as we all march towards spring!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Spring Forward

Last night, sometime around 2AM, I was outside in a snows squall looking for a chicken with missing butt feathers. Friday had already chased off the fox/fisher that had chased the hen off her roost. I could hear her in the night. I could see the feathers in the snow. But even with my headlamp I was having trouble locating the bird. It turned out she wasn't on a bank of snow or the hay covered by the tarp - she was on the roof of my truck. I picked her up and brought her inside. I was so tired and knew a chased-hen wasn't going to calmly return to the place she was nearly ganked. I set her inside the dog crate and tried to go back to sleep. My brain wasn't having it.

I don't know what it is about those early morning hours of 2-4AM but my mind is running at a faster frame rate than logic. Things that seem so easy to overcome in daylight are terrifying. I started a full-flown panic attack. Worried that I won't be able to make it through another month. Worried that something bad will happen. Worried that every choice I made that lead to this farm was a foolish escape from reality or a prison sentence of loneliness and isolation. I couldn't fall asleep till around 3:45 and when I did it was from exhaustion, not peace.

When morning arrived the night terrors had passed. The sun was shining on a freshly snow-covered farm. Within moments of letting the dogs run outside to play I had coffee hot on the stove and was watching the six new laying hens in their brooder eat their feed, beside them some snap peas I started in a small planter. I baked a frittata with my hens eggs and enjoyed it thoroughly. With some sleep, food, coffee, and daylight everything felt so much better. The vitamin D, caffeine, chirps, seedlings... the fact that in a few days the clock strikes forward... I felt so much calmer. I was happy with my choices. I felt like I belonged.

But I realized I need to burn more energy during the day. I need to fall asleep already too tired even fight back against the adrenaline of panic. So today I started running again, a modest 5k. After that I made sure to hike on the mountain with the dogs. Together I managed to move 5 miles across the landscape, in the cold, with this body. By 5PM I was showered and took a 45 minute nap and woke up feeling so much better. I need to burn off this anxiety. Being outside does that. And without the work of gardens, lambs, piglets, goat kids, etc right now I need to create time outside. So I did. I am glad I did.

I am springing forward, ahead of the clocks. I am raising some new hens while protecting others in the night. I am planting seeds, running roads, hiking at sunset, and resting my body more. There's a good chance I'll wake up doubting and afraid again. That's okay. That's part of this experience. But the truth isn't fear in the night. The truth is how you feel with the certainty of morning.So here's to hopefully finding another light in the dark, for all of us.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

MADE IT!!!!

We made it! The farm made it! I mailed in the check at least. And once it cashes I will have about $9 in my account, but it is MAILED! What a relief! I spent the next 24 hours decompressing in relief. The exhale that comes with figuring out another month, knowing for at least a few days I don't have to worry if the bank cashes the check. So I had a proper weekend. Little promotion, barely any non-farm work, and a lot of time walking in the woods with the dogs. In a few days the clocks move forward and grant an extra hour of sunlight, making it not truly dark here until 7PM. Spring is coming and now is the time to dig in and try like nuts to catch up on all I have fallen behind on.

I can't thank you enough if you read this blog and encouraged me. Thank you for keeping up. Thank you for buying soap or artwork, lamb or pork, or just kicking in a few bucks towards these free words you are reading now! Slowly, and never simply, this farm will get to year ten. Starting in May this farm is heading into its TENTH YEAR! Ten years of making it last, keeping the dream alive, of friends and farming and trails and stories! Please keep reading and watch what happens next!

And as always I try to remind you - for faster updates always check in on Twitter for the newest of news! I update there dozens of times a day. Here once every few, unless things are more exciting. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Sun And Luck!

The farm is within spitting distance of making the mortgage and the sun is shining. I am feeling very hopeful in general. I think a huge part of it is the community online, reaching out to offer kind words, buy soap, hire me for logos, etc. Another part is the past few days of sunshine and time on the mountain! I have been getting sore in the legs again, for the first time since I lost Dash and spent a nervous day searching all over the mountain for him. I got a great workout that day but it certainly wasn't pleasant. Yesterday was smiling dogs and hot coffee and time outside on the mountain as a break from the computer and the farm.

Yesterday was an example of a very good day here. I farmed, I made soap, I mailed out soap, I worked on 8 logo designs, I handed over writing to my editor. I pitched articles and I promoted my work, all of it. I promoted the meat I raise and the soap I make. I promoted my skills in writing and design. I wasn't afraid to ask you or others to hire me, to get a portrait, to read what I have to say. And to do all that and still have an hour to walk among the snowy trees and soak up rays... Amazing!

The farm is within $200 of all the goals for the month and for putting last year's bills to rest. All of them. And I did mail in my health insurance which means I will have maintained it for 3 months straight, a record for this farm since being self employed in 2012.

And in more exciting news, there are bigger things rumbling under the surface. I am working hard on a new book, the most personal and important thing I have ever written. If I'm lucky I'll be able to sell it and share it with a lot of people who will find comfort and inspiration in the 3,000 mistakes and fears I made ahead of them! And with the days getting longer and actual sunlight in the mix I feel so much more optimistic then I did in January. Back then I was literally writing to you with two holes in my teeth big enough to fit a peppercorn in (both are repaired) and unsure if I'd have the firewood to stay warm. Well I am whole and warm and the sun is out and I am a few sales away from knowing this farm is safe and ready to work like mad for spring. Time for chicks and lambs and piglets and more!

If you want to contribute to the farm, here's the Paypal.me link. You use this to purchase soaps, workshops, illustrations, design work, meat, etc!  

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Cold but Cheery!

My only news to share today is that last night was very cold, well below zero. I stayed up late with the fire and tended the pipes and none of them froze! This is always a small victory for this farm! Besides that, as you can already guess, I am trying like mad to make this mortgage and health insurance payment before the end of the week. That is basically all I am thinking about. I did mail in the insurance because it has to be cleared by March 1. I didn't mail in the morthage. I'm still a couple hundred short but feel like if a few of these folks who asked about meat and artwork respond to my emails - I may skate by. I'll take a skating by. This month had two truck repair trips to the mechanic, dental surgery, regular dentist filling appt, and so had none of that happened I'd have this mortgage up to date. Instead I am still trying to keep the farm's head above water.

Someday, when I am far more stable when it comes to these things, I am going to make sure I start a fund for single female farmers. I will go out of my way to find them. I will do whatever I can to encourage them. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing every thought, fear, joy, and story online. But many quietly do share the same roller coaster of highs and lows this farm does. When this ride starts to glide smooth I am going to dedicate as much time as I can to straightening other women's tracks. Goodness knows so many have helped me do the same.

All that aside, I do try to get away from the notifications and emails at least an hour during the work day. I take the dogs out for a hike up the mountain, wind or rain or sun or snow. I am trying to get back into shape for summer and get my body used to moving across the landscape with a back on my back. Today we were able to be out from 4-5PM and it wasn't even dark yet! I mean, there was snow everywhere and it was 15° but that longer daylight means spring is on the way. She's trudging towards us all.

Onward!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Gallop

A few months ago, back when the world was a lot greener, I took Friday back to Merck Forest for a morning hike. The plan was to make it to a view called The Gallop. It wasn't as popular of a hiking destination as the other side of the vast property. People usually only go there if they are on a larger loop or with a group. I wanted to make it there just to see the mountains from a couple thousand feet in the air.

We ended up taking the wrong trails. The wind was moving clouds fast and I was worried about a storm nailing us five miles from the safety of the visitor's center parking lot where the truck was parked. It was a day hike so I didn't bring any sort of tent or shelter. I looked at Friday, who seemed to not mind the wind or humidity at all, and we kept making our way towards the look out. The whole time I was growing more worried. I wanted the view but I also wanted us to be safe. Why didn't I bring a simple tarp and paracord? I could make a lean to in minutes that could shed a downpour? Friday bounded along happily. As far as she was concerned we were safe and fine and she was with her Alpha and her heart was beating. Life was good.

The clouds parted. The storm passed us to the south. We skated and by the time we made The Gallop there were still winds and racing clouds in the sky but we were safe and resting. I poured Fri some water for her bowl. I munched on some jerky. All that worry, all that sweat, all that self doubt... And we still made the view.

What is the point of constantly struggling to keep this farm? Why put yourself through the constant anxiety? Don't you want to have a dependable income? It's okay to change your life? Please, stop.

These are the kind of messages I get regularly, and rarely are they sent without true concern and care. Some of you have known me for a decade. You've watched this farm go from 25-year-old's fresh passion on a rented property in Idaho to my everyday life as a 36-year-old. You watched me become and adult, really. And through those years my energy has moved between different activities and stories but always remained rooted in this farm and nature. I am a farmer, a hunter, a horseback rider. I am a shepherd, a falconer, a hiker. I am a runner, an archer, and river swimmer. I'm all of these things and they happen on these 6 small acres carved into the side of a mountain.

Every once in a while I manage to catch up. Not just financially, but emotionally. Usually in the summer when I am through the work of keeping the farm house warm and don't need to be inside to be comfortable.  And on those days when I am feeling sun-warmed and tired. When the grass is green on the hill and I smell like dirt and horse sweat and river water... When the bank has no reason to drop by and knock on the door and I realize I have all the food, water, entertainment, work, and worth I need... I am home. I am happy.

I think actual happiness is insanely rare. I have had it in my grasp here. I know it is real. I know if I figure out how to stay here I can have it again. And the best thing I ever learned from this farm was that there will never been an end of the rainbow. There will not be in inheritance or lottery win. There will not be a romance or partner. There will not be a spiritual enlightenment or overcoming of every personal demon. What there will be is the gift of remaining.

That is not a small thing. The fact that I have managed to buy a farm as a single woman, almost a decade ago, and have managed to remain here is what fuels me and refreshes me every day. Every day this farm remains mine is another shovel of coal in the fire in my belly. As hard as it is some times, I know that I have become a person who has taught herself constant resourcefulness and adaptability to make this place work. All of these scary days, like now, are what make those June nights so sweet. And in my deepest places I know I can find that safety again if I refuse to give up.

This farm has a few days to mail in a mortgage payment to stay out of the danger zone: the red area where the bank can choose to foreclose the property. I've been running just in front of this zone for the past few months. Unable to catch up, but able to keep my head above water. I am in that part of the summit hike where the storm is brewing and can either hit us or pass us. I don't know what kind of Gallop this will be, at least not right now. But if the past is any indicator I can quietly and secretly feel safe knowing I am the woman who made it this far. If statistics matter, they are on my side. Yes, we may be blown away without a tarp for shelter but we may also get by thanks to shifting winds. Get down from the mountain, add a tarp to the pack for future hikes, and keep walking.

I want to keep walking. So I will keep walking.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Mountain Trails

I had been working inside most of the morning. My time outdoors only for morning chores and carrying buckets of water. The sky was gray and the wind was whipping down the mountains. After that short visit with the animals, I had a list of work to do and all of it involved writing, editing, designing or drawing; skills that do not require boots. After a few hours I was growing moody and tired sitting in front of the computer. I kept checking emails and Twitter, hoping for an inquiry about a job. Maybe the person who turned down a CSA share because of a gas bill changed her mind? Maybe the nice lady who didn't think she could eat a whole lamb with her husband didn't realize a "whole half lamb" is still just a lamb and can easily fit in a regular above-fridge freezer. Maybe the person who never replied to requests for art prices or logos will get back in touch? Maybe a brand new email will show up with someone wanting to take an archery class with her son in July?! I am addicted to the checking and every time there isn't word - I get more nervous. This is not good for me. Being so attached to the dopamine of social media and email was more draining than a 10 mile run.

Earlier in the morning, during my coffee, I wrote down the list of things I wanted to get done today and I made "Walk in the Woods" part of the list. I did it because I needed to make myself get up and move my body. I know as the days get longer my desire to move more becomes crucial. If I ignore it I get even more introverted and glum. So I bundled up in fleece and canvas and took the dogs out for a mile or so walk up on the mountain. I am so glad I did.

It was so windy that the power was flicking on and off and trees were swaying. The hills were ice, but I had slid on the chains over my boots, making it safe to traverse. We didn't go far and were probably only on the mountain for an hour or less but I got my heart rate up and watched snow swirl past trees and the dogs ran enough to grow tired instead of restless indoors. I think this year I will still run on those roads, especially in the spring when I need it most - 2 hours in the sun sweating after this cold winter. But I will also spend more time hiking among trees with dogs on mountain trails. That is where I always come back to. 

Dead of Winter!

For years now, Game Night has been a regular tradition at the farm. My friends Miriam, Chris, and Chris's son Keenan have been coming here, once a month to set up a very intense board game with an accompanying potluck, soundtrack, and stories. Last night as the winds howled and the farm grew darker in its icy rest, we played a game called Dead of Winter. In this co-op board game (meaning everyone plays as a team not against each other) we were assigned characters living in a post-apocalypse zombie-ridden small town in winter. We collected canned food from the abandoned grocery store and sent our golden retriever Sparky out into the snow to dodge zombies as he searched for fuel cans. We braved it all while listening to an action movie soundtrack and eating homemade pizza and curry. Keenan made goofy voices for his characters. I envisioned my firefighter braving the cold squall with his axe over his shoulder. It was like being in a movie, but it was us, and there was pizza.

Dead of Winter is an epic, edgy, and fun night that comes in a box. As a homesteader I can't express how much I love turning my living room into an adventure. How no one looks at their phones or a screen - it's us around a table sharing a meal and laughing. And it reminds me how lucky I am to have found the good friends around here who have been a part of this farm for years.

I linked a video about Dead of Winter above with a sample game by Wil Wheaton and Co. Check it out and if you can get a hold of one of these games - either buying it or renting it/playing it at your local game shop - give it a try!

Pic by Miriam Romais!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Spikes

In this short life there are few things I will care about as much as hot coffee in the morning. Today while I check in I am sipping some sitting beside me. It is nothing special. Folgers on sale in the big blue tub, some powdered creamer. This morning I slept in till 8 and I didn't whip up a latte or even brew a fresh pot. This is what was left over from yesterday on the stove in the percolator. The used-coffee still makes the day seem a little more real. I am enjoying it, both the lazy start to the day and the hot drink after a rainy and cold morning outside.

Chores were slippery and what was crunchy snow is now a sheet of ice. I am so grateful I have these little micro spikes for my boots. They are also nothing special - cheap and from Amazon, but recommended to me by local farmers. They make you feel like another species, something with crampons built into your hooves. I used to use those rubber yak bits, you know what I mean, but a pair of those barely made it a winter on the farm without breaking. The springs used for grip were meant for sidewalks and parking lots and not carrying 80lbs of water up a hillside. I always slipped and snapped the rubber like a rubber band pulled too tight. These new spikes are the mountain goat's gloat!

So the coffee isn't fresh and the weather is gloomy but so far things are really going so much better for the farm than earlier in the week. I have made my daily income goal every day for the past three. Twice I even surpassed it! If this continues and luck is with me in three days I will be able to mail in my mortgage payment and health insurance check. If I can do that I will be rolling up my sleeves with new energy and verve for spring. If I can't, then I'll also be rolling up my sleeves - just out of panic instead of excitement. Either is an action boost, for sure.

Thank you to everyone who took a moment to send encouragement. I can't tell you how needed it is, and how much it makes a different on days like these.

If you want to contribute to the farm, here's the Paypal.me link. You use this to purchase soaps, workshops, illustrations, design work, meat, etc! 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Come to Cold Antler & Leave a Fiddler or Archer!

Come to this farm this summer (or fall) for a special trip to see this place and leave with a new skill and the tools to practice it at home. I offer half and full day workshops in either fiddle or archery for beginners. The requirements are easy - come willing to learn with the ability to hold a fiddle or draw a bow, and we take it from there. You don't need to have any athletic or musical experience. These two passions of mine can be taught to anyone with the will to learn, a sense of humor, and the stubbornness to practice at home. I provide the instruments (class comes with your own longbow or student fiddle!) and you leave learning how to play your first song or safely shoot your first bow.

These classes also make great gifts! Want to give your spouse the ability to play a song or shoot a bulls eye? You can buy them from me and get a printable pdf emailed you can set into a card or wrap as a gift. The card lets the gift receiver set up their own date and time for the class at their choice. Classes here include:

Fiddle Indie Day: A student fiddle, spare strings, bow, and case. Class covers care and feeding, tuning, your first scale, your first song, and practicing at home. Play among sheep, goats, chickens and horses on the side of a mountain. Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time, a second song and scale as well.

Archery Indie Day: A palm wood long bow and string. Class covers care and feeding, safety, equipment and range rules, instinctive archery shooting and aim, target practice, and beginner tips and lessons in bow and arrow fitting.  Half or full day options - full day includes more practice time and a woodland field course shooting through cover, down cliffs, and at animal targets on trail.

You can also sign up for both in the same day, which means a morning of music followed by an hour lunch break and then an afternoon of archery. Prices vary by amount of students and times. Base price for a half day with fiddle/bow is $250. Email me to sign up at dogsinourparks@gmail.com

P.S. I also have done custom classes in Chicken 101, Goats & Soapmaking, Mountain Dulcimer, Beginner Horsemanship & Driving, Rabbits, etc. Ask for a custom class if interested!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Spitfire!

Good morning! Yesterday was SO ENCOURAGING! I got kind emails, messages on social media, and a sweet note/magnet in the mail! Folks emailed about orders and I made the daily income goal and half of the previous days! I can't tell you what good news this is! And today I am waiting on responses from some other inquiries about portraits and logo design. It really is a turnaround from earlier this week. Goodness it is such a grand relief to get a little footing on a goal. May this momentum continue!

I don't have much else to share this morning other than this story about Mabel from yesterday. Since the weather has broken a bit I removed her blanket. I don't know what got into her (though I suspect it has to do with Cole the Fox) but shortly after the blanket was removed she started flagging her tail and prancing with her head up high! She did little kicks and trots in circles, as if she was protecting her ground. Merlin stood back and watched as if a Rhino was observing a gazelle trying Zumba for the first time. So did I. She just got full of it! It was a nice sight to see. With all this ice and snow the horses aren't the summer spirits of constant running and rolling and exploring the big pasture. She got over it a few minutes later and went back to her hay.

Cole was back at 4AM. Friday has decided this is her main enemy. He stalks about brave as can be and then when he sees a dog he takes off. It's a big time for all mammals involved. Mabel snorts out air like a spooked deer and Gibson joins Merlin in thinking we are all crazy. What can I say, family is family.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Give it My All

No ponies escaped in the night, but Cole, our resident Fox, was in the front yard bothering the geese asleep by my front door. Friday got to chase after him in an icy rain at 3AM and is still proud of herself while we are all waiting for the coffee to get started. The dogs are chomping on kibble, the horses and pigs fed their breakfast a while ago. Everything outside is crusty and coated with ice. Later in the day I hope to only leave the farm for laundry and feed pickup. It's a mild Thursday with mild goals. I am hoping luck finds me. No new sales happened yesterday but I know I can make up for it today or tomorrow if I split the goal amounts and tack them onto each day. So I am starting the day with tough goals to work towards, new projects to work on that inspire me, a place I love and am proud to fight to keep, and an optimistic attitude. This is a lot to pull out of your heart before coffee but I am giving it my all today.

Over on Twitter I am offering a deal for beginner archery or fiddle workshops! Sign up today and you can bring a friend for FREE! It's 2 for one for a beginner class in archery or fiddle for a 4-Hour workshop at the farm this summer or fall!! You joining me here for an event helps me stay here!

Hope you are all safe and warm wherever you are. I am happy to share that I have all the firewood I need: paid for and stacked dry. I have all the food and coffee I need. I have all the dogs I need. I am a happy woman with a mission. And even if you have zero interest in supporting this blog financially - sending a kind word of encouragement via email or social media is such a gift. Knowing people are rooting for the farm is a game changer on an icy day like today. I have no qualms asking for encouragement when I need it. I sure need it this week!

If you want to contribute to the farm, here's the Paypal.me link. You use this to purchase soaps, workshops, illustrations, design work, meat, etc!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

To the Other Side

Woke up at 1AM from my dog pile by the wood stove to dogs barking their heads off. It was a full moon so it could be anything from a coyote trotting up the far hillside to a late-night car driving too slow down the icy road. I told them to come back to bed but they wouldn't quit. So I looked out the window with them (slightly grateful, as the stove needed feeding) and saw a half ton of black draft pony standing in my driveway. Merlin was eating hay out of the back of the truck. Oh, fun.

It took a little bit of grain to lead Merlin back inside his fence. Mabel watched the whole thing. She won't dare step or jump over a barrier. She has a gnarly scar on her hind leg that my farrier thinks came from a tangle with bad fencing when she was younger, maybe back in Ohio where she originated from. The woman I bought her from said she didn't know what it was about either. When horses go through several states and owners their stories turn more into mythology than anything else. Anyway, Mabel didn't leave the pasture. And Merlin walked back in past the gate he knocked down to walk through. SO at 1AM in the 4° weather I repaired it. Threw them a bale. And then was WIDE AWAKE so I sat by the fire and watched a documentary.

I so enjoy these guys who create beautiful, free, seasonal adventure documentaries around the world. Watching them winter camp through a blizzard made me feel a lot better about my few minutes of pony-induced inconvenience. I watched for a while while sipping hot water spiked with some lemon juice to warm me up inside without any sugar or caffeine. I fell asleep a while later. The horses stayed put.

I am feeling less afraid and more determined about the farm's ongoing precarious state. Worrying does nothing. Action does. I sat down and did all the math. To get through this month—the last 8 days— which means making a mortgage payment postmarked by the 28th and mailing in my health insurance premium (I really want to keep having health insurance) I need to earn a reasonable amount every day for the next 7 days. About $194. Which for me that's as simple as one meat share, 2 logos, or several pet illustrations or soap orders. I have already made the utility/internet bills. I figured out the dental work. I had the truck repaired. And now I am wearing blinders on to get this goal met so the farm stays out of danger's maw and I get one step closer to spring - roof over my head and health insurance secured. So I am going to try like hell to make the sales and get through this, one day at a time, and keep going as I have for the past 9 years on this farm.

May marks the 9th year here, can you believe that?! I need to believe in the statistics of past struggles and making it through. I need to only focus on the work, on being optimistic, and that something/somehow will lead towards a solvent spring.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Mountain Barista

Recently I was over at Livingston Brook Farm, picking up hay, when Patty brought out a vintage box from the back of her truck. It was around the size of a small toaster and on faded cardboard I could read the name Via Veneto Espresso Maker. I wasn't even sure what it was? I had never seen this sort of device before? She found it while cleaning out her mom's closets on a recent visit, no one in her immediate family wanted it. Since she's a confirmed tea drinker it was my turn to take it or pass. I took it. Oh boy do I not regret that choice.

This little device is amazing. It works on the stove top using pressure, steam, espresso and magical engineering to make smooth cafe-style coffee at home. It took me a few forums and videos to learn the best way to use this beast: but I have it down now and finally learned how to steam milk without scalding it. In the morning I can set it up to perk out a few shots of espresso and then I can pour the foamy milk on top for a true coffee-house style latte! I wake up looking forward to this new ritual. Sometimes I add some vanilla and sugar. Sometimes I just dump 2 shots of the high octane into a regular cup of coffee. It's a caffeinated dream come true.

I never knew this type of coffee maker existed. I knew of the high end mini-fridge sized machines people buy or indie bookstores use at small cafes. I knew of the tiny inverted triangle styles of high-pressure espresso makers and other small percolators. But I didn't know of these pressurized coffee/steam combinations that don't need an outlet to do everything the coffee hulks at Starbucks can do. If you're a coffee person like I am, might be worth looking into this bad boy. There are used ones just like this on ebay for around $90 and a newer version called The Bellman is over $300!

I'm going to try and hold onto this. So often when something like this comes my way I end up neglecting it or selling it. This was a gift from a friend and it's special. It makes snowy mornings in an uncertain life brighter. It makes vanilla lattes part of my morning using drug-store coffee and milk from Stewarts. It fits this joint just fine.




Icy Light

It's been an interesting couple of days! Yesterday was supposed to be a proper storm but instead a few light inches covered the ice crust instead. Around the farm that just meant you can't see the slippery parts, and Friday taught me a lesson by running full speed towards the barn and sliding in circles like Bambi. She was fine but you've never seen a collie look more confused! And this morning the farm is covered in fresh powder and light from a sunny sky. Man, did I ever need that bright morning!

But through it all the animals seem content and the pigs have mastered winter in the goat-turned-hog pen. They have made one section their hay nest, another their bathroom, and the outside area the meal bowls and water stations. They are so orderly and hierarchical in everything they do. Soon the largest sow will be butchered and then the others will follow. Spring will bring new piglets and lambs (I am looking already) and chicks will beat them all to the punch. I am still outside every day with the horses, sounder, poultry, and enjoying time with the dogs in the snow but it's not the same as past years with Lambwatch nights and getting milk pails ready for the goats. I miss it all horribly, and while I am glad all the flock and herds are doing well I feel this break from breeding is only making my true love (and need) to homestead nest into me even harder.

I am hoping to use the more time I have to work on a new book I am trying to sell, a very important book to me and this farm's story. I also want to get outside more. Yesterday I went snowshoeing for an hour and then stopped to cook lunch under the cover of evergreens while the snow fell. It wasn't much time away from the stoves and computer - but enough to remind me how wonderful exploring nature again. I am already working on the plans and permits for me and the dogs first group backpacking trip this spring! It will be low mileage, local, and at a wilderness area that doesn't allow campfires but I'll have us and friends and camp stove cooking and the stars and that stolen idea of freedom being away from the animals for 14 hours or so. If I leave late in the afternoon after chores, have a friend check on everyone at night and first thing in the morning - it should be okay. But that isn't something I have to think about right now. Right now I have my current goals to keep this place mine another month, get the animals growing and comfortable, and keep my eyes to the sky just in case Dash does come back. I miss him so.

Stay warm out there, friends.

P.S. Considering bringing back the YouTube channel!? Thoughts?

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Luck and Stubbornness

It's been a rough month and I am doing my best to get through it. The farm is warm and the animals are well but the same anxieties are filling every corner of my day. It's why I don't write here as often. It will be the same content: fear of losing the farm. It's been especially frustrating this week with three people messaging me about meat shares (one even committing to buy) and then all of them backing out. Which is understandable. Everyone is trying to budget and figure out their lives. I am going to try and find some things I can sell online or auction off. I have 11 days to have that mortgage payment postmarked before the house is back in the foreclosure zone. This is all I am thinking about. If you are looking for lighter farm content you should check out my Twitter or Instagram pages - but here on the blog where I feel I am talking to people that know me - I feel like I don't have to just share a pretty picture of a pony or a joke. I can be honest. And the honest truth is if something doesn't turn around here fast, some sort of real luck like a book contract or a big freelance, I'm in real trouble. Living a life where you are always just ahead enough of the pacing danger chasing you means working your ass off just to stay out of failure's cross hairs. Yesterday, while working on a book proposal sample piece I wrote this: Anxiety is a monster, no doubt, but some of us bridle it and jump on its back to get where we need to go. We need it to carry us towards the next foothold of relief.

Yes. That is my basic state. It has been for years.

The farm is warm today. Not outside, but in. The sun is shining on the icy hills and so far I only fell over once today. I am home and working. I am ready for the snowfall that is predicted and I have all the firewood and dogs I need to feel safe and warm. I've stopped drinking and plan on being dry for a while. It is helping with my sleep and making coffee all the more precious.

I am hoping for luck and stubbornness. I am hoping soon I am writing you about spring lambs and piglets and not about being anxious and somewhat lonesome for a partner in all of this. Both seem like such long shots: financial stability and romance. I'm okay if both are. But every so often you need to reach those footholds for your own sanity. So you are encouraged to keep trying when Spring seems so very very far away.