Thursday, February 27, 2014

Italics & Me

photo by Tara Alan

Game On

This is the infamous Red Box. I debuted in the early 80’s and it has been changing lives ever since. Inside there are no action figures, video games, boards, toys, costumes or satanic rituals. Instead there is just a handful of books, a few dice, a map, and some sheets of paper that if you start playing, will matter more to you than you could possibly realize. This is the starter box for the game Dungeons & Dragons and I’m going to explain why getting this box (or one like it) could be the best decision you make all year.

Most people have no idea what D&D even is. Even mentioning the game around the suspicious raises eyebrows and brings all sorts of stereotypes to mind. I promise playingt this game does not require wearing cloaks or talking in affected British accents. You do not have to live with your parents and they do not need to have a basement. Forget all the garbage you have heard about this being lame because starting a campaign it is the most fun a group of creative people can have.

You begin by creating a character. This is incredibly fun. You get to choose the sex, age, race, class and other details explained in the Player's Handbook and it is an exercise in secret desires and self esteem boosting. Most people pick the character they always wanted to be. My first character was a short and strong warrior named Piper Crowe, a dwarf fighter (think Tolkien, not Sleeping Beauty). Piper was one tough chick but had a softer side as well. She loved animals and archery and rode a pony named Blackthorn. She had a complicated family backstory and motives for being on the road. She was searching out her own name in the business of traveling mercenaries. Piper was loner now, but had hope for love and fortune, trying to earn enough money to start her family farm and bowyer shop in the forest.

But in D&D you don’t get perfect characters. Just like in real life they have flaws you can't always control but need to accept. And when you create a character there is the random chance of the dice. You roll to figure out how smart, strong, clever, kind, and rich you are. This adds a really fun element of storytelling. For example, Piper turned out to be plenty strong and smart but not very likable. She had zero charisma and little cash. This meant she couldn’t buy stuff she needed and was useless talking herself out of a tight spot. So unless a problem could be solved with violence, she was confused and intimidated. But in D&D you're not alone. Her faults that matter because another person's character might be a sweettalker who can’t even pick up an axe and is terrified of spiders. The game is genius in creating these well-developed people who need together. And that's how a new game starts!

Creating your character is a blast and if you are even mildly creative it only gets better when the dice start talking and choosing your abilities for you. And if this sounds confusing that Red Box takes you through the character-building phase step by step. It’s all laid out in a book that says READ THIS FIRST and I can honestly say sitting down with my first character sheet and that booklet was a quiet thrill. I set out all the stuff on my living room table, played thematic music on the computer, and let my imagination flow. I started leading her through the sample story (a solo adventure) to figure out how she made decisions and who she was. Eventually I figured out her alignment (her philosophy and conscience). She was what the book called Chaotic Good (pretty much the Han Solo attitude of D&D). And within twenty minutes I had this person (well, Dwarf) I knew like I knew Harry Por Katniss or Tyrion Lannister But she was mine, and her future was totally unknown and waiting for me to discover.

To start playing you just need a table to sit around, excited friends with their own dice and character sheets, and a good storyteller. That’s the heart of this game; storytelling. And that story starts when the person running the game sets the scene. The storyteller is called the Dungeon Master(DM) and if you have a good one startinga new game is like watching the opening scene of an epic movie. Then something happens you need to react to and start using your wits and abilities on your character sheet. This is a roleplaying game so you are speaking for the character you created. At first this is soemthing that feels weird if you are new to the game or a timid person but that quickly fades away as the story unfolds.

dice, dice, baby
For example: You might be walking down dark forest path with these people you just got with to arrest some local thugs. While walking along the road, getting to know each other and chatting, you happen upon a recently ransacked tavern. It startles you with its desperation. The windows are busted open, the door is swinging on one broken hinge, and a dead horse lies outside without any sign of human life around, anywhere. But wait? What's that? In the distant hills there’s a small light in the dark green of the overcast summer night. It looks like a campfire but you can't tell for sure.

Piper doesn't mess around, also: sweet abs
So what do you do? At this point the DM might announce a Perception Check and all the characters roll dice to see how high their numbers are. The DM knows that anything over 12 might be a clue, anything over 14 might be a VERY good clue, and anything over 18 might be an answer. He knows this because DM has this story in front of him in the form of a mystery book only he knows. He read it in advance and planned out exactly what would happen over the next hour or so, but he can’t control your dice rolls or choices. So maybe Piper rolls and gets a 15 and everyone else rolls under 10. The DM tells me that Piper can see figures around the campfire and hear drunken laughter. I tell him my character sheet says I have great night vision (racial trait of dwarves, score!) and I want to look closer. He nods, happy I read my sheet and knew my race well enough to start getting into the story he crafted. Piper squints and the DM explained how she notices sacks of stolen goods, weapons leaning against trees, and some horses tied to posts. Loot! And just as me and the other players are deciding whether to ambush the theives or steal their stuff while they sleep an old man comes lumbering down the road with a limp and an eye patch. Piper might be strong but she’s awful at talking to strangers so I let someone who rolled a higher charisma ability when they created their character sheet talk to him. An elf sorcerer named Auran can't hit the broadside of a barn with a crossbow, but he can sweetalk his way into anything. Auran rolls high and it turns out he gets this first-hand account of the tavern's demise by this sole survivor who ran and hid in the nearbye forest before fleeing the scene. And now all of us are leaning on the DM's every word. We're taking notes and writing down clues. The story gets better and the choices get harder. As the adventure continues you collect items, clues, money and are able to buy and sell gear. You get points for winning fights and solving problems and when you get enough you level up. Levels mean you learn new skills (now Piper can read weather pattterns and unlock doors) and more gols to buy things like weapons, horses, and armor. In a few nights of playing you and your fiends have a plot line and characters better than anything on television. And you’re doing it without smart phones, or computers, or even anything you have to plug into the wall. It’s just your imagination, and it's more than enough.

Throughout this adventure you need to fight and that means getting hurt. Characters can be wounded and also die. So there’s risks involved in a way you never experienced reading a book or watching a movie. This adventure is in YOUR hands, your choices matter. I could mess up and kill Piper and then she’s dead. Really dead. This isn't a video game with endless lives and restarts. I mean, if watching characters on Game of Thrones or Walking Dead die is hard on you imagine if it was YOUR character you’ve been playing every other Sunday night for three years. In that time your friends know Piper as well as you do. There are inside jokes, stories, mistakes and victories you tell like college party stories. A good D&D game becomes more than just agame and that is why there are the stories of people showing up in costumes or taking with fake accents. They do that because they get excited and invested, as much as any actor on stage playing a role or any author writing the next best seller. For some reason we respect and admire Andrew Lincoln for pretending to be fighting monsters with a fake accent but if we do it in our own living rooms with our own stories it's considered lame? Perhaps because we're told we're not allowed to imagine, or tell stories, or be creative as adults unless we are getting paid to do it. I think that is a dangerous thing to believe, and even more dangerous thing to live. I've had the time of my life pretending to a dwarf with a bow riding a black horse. It gave me the courage to actually do those things in real life (minus, you know, being a dwarf). Nobodies perfect. I'll keep being Jenna in real life and Piper on the gaming table. I’ll do my best to steer her in the right direction and not mess up, but as I explained so much of this is up to chance. Which is part of the fun. And, just like in real life, it’s anyone’s game.

So thinking about starting a game? You can begin with the Red Box, but they are harder and harder to find. Some show up on eBay and Amazon and others might be in your friendly neighborhood Game Shop. Another option is the Pathfinder Beginner Box, which is more affordable and common. Pathfinder is the nerd-improved and beloved 3.5 version rules of D&D (which is now in the 4th version). Both beginner boxes come with everything you and your friends need to get started even with no experience. And if you (or one of your friends) don’t want to create characters they even come with pre-built character sheets inside. Easy!

There are also RPGs that take place in space, in the wild west, in 1940’s jungles running from Nazis or in nightclubs in the 1970s. They can last one hour or several years. They are growing in popularity like never before in the gaming renaissance going on right now under your noses.

Have I peaked your interest but you know your spouse, kids, and friends don’t want to take up a new bag of dice? Check out The Game’s Website, which has a beginner tutorial, character sheets, free downloads, name generators, and a Find a Game feature that lists local game shops and meet up groups of heroes in your neighborhood. Here in Veryork (the middle of nowhere) I know of at least 4 gams going on now in Game Shops and homes alike.

Here are some helpful videos:

PBS did this piece on why D&D makes you a better person

Here is a sample of a similar game, called Dragon Age

Goat Midwifery!

Yesterday three new kids joined the herd at Common Sense Farm! Common Sense is a farm a few miles away from Cold Antler and it is where my Alpine doe Bonita came from, where she is bred in the fall, and where I learned the ropes of Goats and home dairying.

I was there to help and learn alongside my goat mentors. I had only planned on being there a few hours but like all things in farming, another plan trumped my one. One big mama named Opal was in the middle of labor with triplets when I arrived and I stuck around all afternoon and into the night waiting on her third to join us in the world. It was edge-of-the-seat exciting since all the kids were presented wrong. The experienced farmer present needed to turn the kids around inside the doe while the rest of us were getting ready with electrolytes in buckets, clean bedding, notes, and the barn full of kids running around with the human children.

I have birthed a lot of lambs and a had three healthy kids born at the farm last year (in the middle of Fiddle Camp, which is most likely going to happen again this year!), but there is always more to learn. Every birth is different and seeing how the farmer turned the kids inside the mother and carefully pulled them correct was the kind of thing you can't learn in books. It's certainly Dairy Season now around these parts and your parts, too. So if you are thinking about goats see if you can tag along for a birth or two. Bonus: goat kids are the most adorable animals on earth...

It was wonderful and magical and part of why I think Spring is just around the corner! Are any of you expecting kids soon?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Planned on posting a new chapter of Birchthorn tonight but didn't finish it due to being called down to Common Sense Farm to help with kidding! Spent the whole day with a lot of pregnant goats, adorable kids, towels, blow dryers, bottles and smiles. Pictures and more tomorrow!

Cold Antler Farm Trailer!


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hatchery Order Soon!

It's that time of year to order chicks! I am getting excited because I already ordered the bees and now it is time for the birds! Between the talk of the Snap Pea Challenge, a little mud earlier this week, and now a chicken order I am humming to place - it feels like spring is in sight! I will be placing my order in the next few days but would love to hear any recommendations or stories you have about a breed that surprised you with either its proficiency in egg laying, meat production, or broodiness. Actually, I am looking for that trifecta. I already know that a leghorn will lay a storm, and a Wyandotte can pack on the pounds, and that a silkie bantam is an amazing mother.... But have you met a breed that does all three?

I also am going to check in with our sponsors here, I bet the hatcheries on the blog would be willing to offer giveaways so stay tuned and CAF might help get that box of 25 meat birds or rare breeds right to your door! P.S. If you are thinking about chickens for meat or eggs, consider attending the Chicken Workshop Weekend here at the Farm!

Monday, February 24, 2014

How to Make a Hay Mason

A Hay Mason is the signature CAF drink. Take a pint mason jar (though that is not why the drink has that title), fill it with ice, and fill it 2/3 with hard cider and a 1/3 with bourbon. You're welcome.

No Hunt Today: Weather Life

After the morning chores were done and the farm was humming a content song—I decided to go hawking. There was no wind and just a slight snowfall outside. It was absolutely breathtaking. So instead of lighting a fire and sitting down at the computer to write, I grabbed my leather shoulder bag, slid into heavy canvas pants, and headed outside to the mews. It didn't take long to weigh and inspect Italics, make sure he was fit to hunt. I put on his hood and loaded him into the truck inside the safe carrying crate. I noticed the snow was picking up but didn't worry about it. I needed to stop for gas anyway and knew by the time I was done I'd know if the plan was safe to follow through with.

I had plans to hunt over at Patty's farm, which is in a beautiful open area. I already called and made plans with her and I think she was excited to come along for the hunt. But as I made my way along route 22 the wind picked up and a hard snow started to fall. I checked the weather when I got home and it looked like a system was passing through all day. It was calm here on my protected mountain but it is a lot windier in Patty's area and it simply wasn't safe to take the bird out. A high wind or sudden storm could mean losing the bird. So I sadly declined the invitation and headed home, trying to explain why I was baling on the plan. Patty was gracious as ever, but I think I disappointed her. There wasn't anything for it, though. So I brought the bird inside and set him on a perch in my office while I attended some emails. Then I fed him and made sure he had plenty of water and set him back in his comfortable mews. Later in the evening he'd get a second meal and some indoor flying time for exercise.

Weather is part of the game in hawking, but it's also part of the game in life here as a homesteader. Weather dictates everything I do. My life here at Cold Antler would be considered primitive to some, and not because I don't have an auto-drip coffee maker, washing machine, or microwave. What's so primal about my life is how much it depends on weather and how close to home I spend my time. These things are related. The only heat in the house comes from my wood stove, and if I want to be comfortable indoors it means keeping a fire going starting at the pre-dawn hour of 4:45 AM. At that time the house is around fifty degrees and a fire is welcome. I use the stove to heat not only me, but also a kettle for tea and humidifying. While the stove starts out I say my morning prayers and stretch a bit. I put a percolator on the stove and head up my morning coffee, too. It doesn't take long to have a warm blaze and a whistling kettle. That is a sound Merlin knows, and he can hear it just fine from his paddock gate. When he does he whinnies for his hay alongside Jasper. That means it is time for me to take one last sip of coffee before I head outside.

i feed the horses first of all the livestock, mostly because they are loudest and not all my neighbors on the echoing mountain need to listen to Merlin's roar. He and Jasper get hay and around 10-20 gallons of water to refill their heated trough. Then the sheep eat, followed by a trip to the barn for goat grain and mineral, chicken feeding, rabbit feeding and water bottle wrangling. I bring the frozen bottles inside and set them by the hot stove to sputter and whistle in their way and enjoy a second cup of coffee. And I know that all sounds ideal and such, but remember that this is a MOnday morning. I am not at an office or able to leave for vacation. My life is right here. The animals depend on me to keep this wintertide flow of water and green grass. At least two ewes and Bonita the Alpine goat are pregnant with youngins on the way. I am needed here, for care and heat and to serve the animals that serve me. That means feeding and weighing a hawk, polishing and treating leather horse harness and tack, keeping the dogs' and cats' bellies full and the general care and winter maintenance of barns and roofs.

There are nights I can't drive 6 miles away to spend a few hours with friends, because it is too cold. Heat means being here to tend a fire and keep pipe water moving. Earlier this week when we had rain and thunder and a day of melting snow it meant digging out and defrosting the sump pump hose to keep the basement from flooding! Cold Antler is my number one priority, my job, my family, and my whole life. And that's just not normal these days.

Sometimes it feels weird. To cancel dinner plans because the temperature was too low or to see friends leaving for vacations all over the world while I am here tending 6 acres of cold earth. In our modern luxurious lifestyle of cheap energy and transportation, staying close to home seems either crazy or selfish. Even the most understanding of friends get tired of it when they depend on thermostats instead of locust and Ash. But this is the life I chose. I created a life I adore right outside my front stoop. There is hunting, horses, hawks, riding, gardens, animals, campfires, cookouts, hives, dairy, and more just a few paces from the bed I woke in. How dare I ask for more? There is nothing I want on a plane or across the glove, nothing at all. Everything that is me is alive here, and thrives here, and on hot summer days when the nights are full of fireflies and distant thunder I am humming with the energy of satisfaction.

This life is anything but simple. It's a complicated hot mess most of the time and staying here in this home to pursue a creative life has been the most stressful fight of my life. But if you go into battle with gratitude and determination as your weapons, and acceptance of limitation as your shield…. you become unstoppable.

So I didn't hunt today. And I might have let down a dear friend. No adventures took place except the ordinary kind of lighting fires and writing stories and taking care of my dear animals. But it's Monday, and that used to mean a very different thing not that long ago. I am happy even when I am struggling, and for that reason alone I see a reason for morning prayers and high hopes.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ear Mites!

One thing I wanted to share as a rabbit-care tip was how to get rid of ear mites. This is a fairly common rabbit illness and it isn't serious, but you need to treat it quickly. If you catch it soon enough something as simple as mineral or tea tree oil can suffocate the mites and clear it up, but if the infection starts to spread into a secondary bacteria infection you are going to need some bigger guns. My oldest doe (brough from Vermont as a pregnant mama, so well over five now) had a case that got fairly ripe quick. The ear was bent over and her head started to tilt. So I used something fairly common called Rabbit RX. If you can't find that almost any over-the-counter cat ear mite medication is safe to use as well.

If it gets really bad, I have heard you can take a syringe of Ivomec (black box antibiotic with steer head on box) and spray a couple milliliters on the ear topically to clear up quickly. I've seen this totally erradicate the mites seemingly overnight but it is a harsh treatment for certain. Have any of you dealt with mites in your own rabbitry? If so, how do you deal with them?


The Guest Room

When I moved into the farmhouse this was the previous resident's main bedroom. I can't blame them either, just look at that morning light! The rear window looks over the barnyard and the side window faces east, letting in the morning light. It is a guest room now. The room next to it has new carpeting and a big comfy bed and that has become my abode. But this room remains with clean sheets and a small desk for any guests that may visit.

I woke up to the sun shining and it really got me into a better mood. I don't know what it is about daylight that makes fear slip away so fast. This morning I felt the change in temperature, the near tropical weather (almost 40 today!!), and decided to get the chores done, house cleaned, and get myself dressed up like I was going out on a date. I find that if you get ready for the day with the same enthusiasm as if you were getting ready for a rock concert you rarely are disappointed at the results. You carry yourself differently, which makes people treat you differently, which is almost always better since you have a little more confidence. Smile at strangers and walk with a sweet dog and you might as well hand me a baling twine tiara. Oh, the fine gifts of sunlight after a very long winter, a hot shower, and some eyeliner.... bless 'em.

I thought I'd share some domestic photos today. Photos of my life and corners of my living space while I work on some sewing. I think all the cloak orders are out but some folks are still waiting so please email me if you have not received yours yet. Working on two today for sure. '

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why Georgia, Why?

I ordered a package of bees yesterday. It was a celebration and a treat. (I'll explain why in a bit.) The farm could use pollinators again. I didn't have any honeybees this past season and I missed keeping them, very much so. The garden missed them, too. Their hive has stood like a tomb out there for too long. It's empty and in need of cleaning and clearing. It was slowly covered with invasive honey suckle all summer. It is going to feel a special kind of good getting that weed hacked back from its current Jurrasic-Park-Extra status to moderately awful. The hive will be cleaned, new frames ordered, and I'll pick up my bees at Betterbee in May.

The fact that I live ten miles from a live bee supplier is reason 1,128,912 I don't believe in coincidences. I just don't. I'm not saying everything in the life is a Deity's Big Plan or meant to be, but I do think people end up in the place they are heading - be it good or bad. For half a decade I dedicated myself entirely to this imagined life on my own farm in a farming community. Here I am. Read the introduction to Made From Scratch and you'll see what I mean. There I write about how not everyone has a cabin on five acres and a border collie falling asleep on a feed bag in the sun and when I wrote that it seemed like some far away vision of paradise. I sure as hell didn't have that when I wrote it. I wrote that sentence in a rented house in Idaho on a hideous pink carpet with a stack of Countryside Magazines on my coffee table and now idea how to get there. But I went from wanting it to renting it. And from renting it to buying it. And here I am, a small farmer living her own scrappy dream one mistake and success at a time. When I watch the trailer for the next book and see that footage it seems like another person, too good to be true. But it's me and my life, my sheep, my horse, and my sleeping border collie in the sun...

Cold Antler Farm Trailer from Roost Books on Vimeo.

Looking back to those pink carpet days I'm not sure how I even got here, how I became the girl in that book trailer. It seems overwhelming to actually think about all the perfect little acts of kismet that happened in a life fueled mostly by hope and force. All I can say is every choice and action was a small step towards getting here and then when I finally got here every action was a small step towards working here full time and quitting my office gig. And now every choice is a HUGE LEAP towards trying to keep it. When I get really scared I always remember this quote from Georgia O'Keefe:

"I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do."

Right on, Sister Suffragette.

And that's how it has been this past year. Really terrifying. You must have picked up on that in my writing, as it swallowed everything about me. I was feeling particularly low this past Saturday when I got this letter in the mail. It came to the most basic of addresses that still reach people in small towns. There was no signature, no return address, just a note and a newspaper page. It was a sheet of the Gardener News with a cheery image of two red New York apples on a toboggan. With the happy scene was this handwritten note:

Whoever wrote this, thank You. It was such a simple and random act of charity. The same goes for every encouraging email, blog comment, or visit to this farm. When I opened this email I had $1.97 to my name in my checking account. That Tuesday morning my publisher sent along the final payment towards the book in the trailer above and it was enough to pay two mortgage payments, a truck payment, and buy a box of bees! Better Days were here and enough to stop certain folks from calling and keeping that dented pickup in the driveway. That money will be gone shortly, as I have other things to pay but to know so many things were taken care of by writing about this place is a huge blessing I do not take for granted. That letter came because of this blog. That check came because of it, too. And this blog is not a girl, her dog, and her farm. It is YOU. It is the readership that keeps me going and shows me through your amazing support and love that Cold Antler is worth the fight. Thank you so much for that. Thank you for the subscriptions, the workshop attendance, the stories, the emails, the comments and reading along. Thank you for putting up with the sordid emails about being scared and broke and the joyous ones about holding newborn lambs and soaring hawks. Thank you, over and over. Better Days are ahead as long as you guys are out there.

One of my favorite authors, Patrick Rothfuss, once described a certain type of anxiety like ice on a pond. He talked about how it felt to walk out on thin ice and feel a hundred small cracks happen at once, all these little angry veins and splits about to collapse. But the emotion he was describing was not the feeling of standing on thin ice, but being the ice itself. Feeling like this strong yet simultaneously weak thing that explodes with decision and possible collapse at any second. He was describing love, of course. How real love makes you feel like this broken thing that is so impermanent, but also strong enough to hold heavy weight. That sense of cracking ice is how this farm makes me feel. It has never been easy and it has recently been awful, but it has always been worth it. My worst days on this farm are better than the best days I had at that office. And in the next few months I plan to sell some more book ideas, launch a crowdfunding campaign for Birchthorn, announce new workshops, and keep promoting Indie Days and whatever else keeps me in the saddle and a roof over my head. I'm staying put, and I thank you for reading along. When my world settles down and I can finally let out that sigh of a person who has paid off her debts, has a purse of savings, and a power-washed front of her house I will be one happy woman. And I write about that now the way I wrote about that dream of a farm on a pink carpet. I had no idea back then how the hell I would get here. And right now I honestly have no idea how I can keep this up, but I know I will.

I trust Georgia O'Keefe. I trust me. I trust this life that brought me horses, hawks, and towns with bee merchants. I trust the Horse workshop will sell out, that the spring sun will melt all this snow, and that you guys will be there to see a real American Success Story. Most of all, I trust you. You are the reason I am getting up tomorrow to feed a pregnant goat, pick up hay for sheep and horses, ordering fiddles for camp and spending the day editing, farming, constructing stories, caring for critters, and keeping this place healthy as possible.

From a place of HOPE everything looks different. And John Said it pretty good, too. Before he was the star he is now I used to listen to him in the early 2000's. Here is a recording I used to listen to in a red Jetta in Kutztown, PA. I wondered the same things then as I do now, only I'm asking O'Keefe for strength these days, he was asking Atlanta. Life happens. It's pretty neat.

Am I living it right, am I living it right?
Am I living it right
Why, why Georgia, why?

That Moment....

When you realize that Birchthorn is Maude. And she's standing right behind you...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hawk Print!

I shared this on Facebook a few days ago, but I didn't post it here! I wanted to show you what I happened upon while out hawking with Italics and my friend Joanna. We were on my mountain, on a neighbor's property looking for rabbits and I found this. I guess someone bet us to it!

P.S. No Birchthorn tomorrow, I'm working on a main outline before I write more and fixing up the stuff I wrote so far thanks to the help of volunteer editors in Australian and New York! So thank you Cath and Cathy and soon as I figire out what is happening next, you will too.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sleep Naked

The best lessons I learned in the past few years:

If you have the urge to correct someone for a statement that makes them happy or excited and isn't hurting anyone, don't. All it does is make them feel embarrassed and you sound like an asshole.

Silence is better than 99% certainty.

Everyone is going through a different kind of hard time. Never assume the poor are scared, the rich are happy, the married are in love, or the loners are lonely.

If Sriracha is an option - opt for it.

Most people would rather be hurt than bored.

When people tell you you can't do something that doesn't harm yourself or others picture them saying it while buying adult diapers.

Frowning people driving past you in air conditioning should make you jog faster.

Mistakes leave scars, regrets leave wounds.

Community seasons 1-3 is the best comedy writing on network television, ever. Do yourself a favor and watch all of that.

Nice derives from Latin, it means ignorant.

People want sex, food, sleep and hope.
They need encouragement.

If you're going to hit someone, make sure they aren't getting back up soon.

Look up. You never look up.

Fools rush in, but at least they moved forward.

Don't trust men whose only obligations are pets that can be left alone for a weekend.

It's okay to lose friends to entropy.

You don't have to do everything you say you want to do, but you better do some of it.

I'd rather be known for admitting mistakes than avoiding them.

Cat litter: you get what you pay for.

Anyone who tells you violence and suffering should be avoided at all costs are more dangerous than most people realize.

Get hungry.

Smile at strangers.

Forgiveness is a good first choice. A right hook is a decent second, but always follow up with the first choice.

Running is bad for your joints. Diabetes is bad for your everything.

Liberals and conservatives are people that haven't realized yet that punching under water is distraction from the sharks.

Saying you're going to stop eating meat to prevent animal suffering is like saying you're not having children to prevent child abuse. Pacifism doesn't create change. Ever.

Gay rights matter.

You do not have the right to be recreationally offended. You have the privilege, dick.

Don't be a snob about music. It's the worst.

Make the locals nervous.

Sex is not dirty, shameful, or bad - it was made by the creator of fireflies and thunderstorms.

Bourbon is important.

Kale is important.

Put down that goddamned phone.

Guns don't kill people. Lannisters kill people.

If you think public speaking is scary you are grossly underestimating the public's apathy.

Most people who enjoy gory movies have no idea what the inside of a freshly-killed pig smells like.

You have no idea how terrified most people are.

Hug your lover from behind when they are making breakfast on the stove.

Entertainment costs money. Having fun is free.

If you can get a horse, get a horse.

Tennessee is the best state in America. Hands down.


Money and time isn't stopping you, but that excuse is.

Food tastes better if you grow it.

Don't hang out with people who don't let dogs in their car. Christ. Just don't.

Happiness is a choice. You need to make it every single minute.

If you and your family would be dead if you were forced to stay home for 2 weeks without electricity or running water you are doing this all wrong.

Religion is not legislation. Legislation is not safety. Law and comfort don't listen, they are reactions.

Don't confuse acquisition with accomplishment.

Play more.

Sleep naked.

Leave the light on.

Visit Elkmont.

Don't prefer to be comfortable. It ruins everything.

You're not a coward if you don't jump out of a plane with your friends. You're a coward if being called a pussy is all it takes to make you.

Eat more meat - less bread.

If you can get a dog, get a dog.

Moving to a new place isn't personal growth, but if it grants perspective it's a start.

Instagram is not required validation, for anything really.

Drink more water.

Never hold back kindness.

Expect good.

Take risks.

And remember to look up. You never look up.

This Farm...

Is going to save me or kill me.

I won't allow the second option.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

Like Lavender

The light before dark is different with every season. Tonight,on this full moon after a snowstorm it is blue. Not a cheery blue or a hazy blue but a blue like calm. It's party gray and quiet. It is heavier than air and sinks below it, swirling just above the snow about to be lit by stars. I can see it from my living room where my house is warmed by the orange fire inside the wood stove. The contrast between the hot orange and cold blue is beautiful. It looks the way lavender smells.

I have learned that a hot cup of tea with a bit of honey bourbon is a the perfect nightcap. Tonight it is a peach fruit tea with a hint of mint and the honey bourbon is like the blue light outside, heavy and temporary. It also tastes the way lavender smells.

I am tired and happy. I spent the day working outside to get the farm turned into a place with working food, water, and walking systems and it took all I had to offer. Soon as I woke up and saw all that snow outside I knew I had to pace myself. I started with shoveling a path from the front door to the hay pile I stacked and tarped the night before. Somewhere near the pile was my truck, I assumed, under the snow as well. I fed the sheep hay and then started shoveling a path to the horses. It is maybe twenty yards, no huge distance, and the snow was light and fluffy. I did that work, fed the horses, and came back inside. It was time for coffee. After coffee I dug out a path to the barn (double the distance to the horses), fed the goats, rabbits, and chickens, and then headed inside to defrost and plan the roof raking. The house and barns needed to have a lot of heavy snow removed and I knew that would be the lion's share of the effort this morning. By the time I had that work done I was tired in ways I rarely am, but the cold and the wet and the sore arms and shoulders had caught up with me. I listened to a Song of Ice and Fire on audiobook and shoveled and raked away. Nothing I was up against was as bad as the white walkers.

I ate a lunch of rice with cheese and broccoli, and fried up some bacon to go with it. It was the first and only meal of the day. It was so filling I nearly passed out at 2pm from sheer contentment. I was reposing for a while, watching something online when I head Gibson barking. Someone was outside? I went to the window and saw my neighbor, Sheriff Tucker. He was using his big tractor to clear away all the snow in my driveway! I walked outside and waved to him, thanking him. He greeted me by saying, "I don't mean to insult your Pioneer Spirit, but here I am!" and I told him it was no insult at all and thanked him again. I offered to pay him and he declined, said he had a few hours before he had to pick up the grandchildren and liked his toys. I wasn't going to argue.

I think the Bacon Fairy might visit his mailbox though….

Last night my good friends came over for a Game NIght, we had planned it all week. No storm was keeping Tyler away from a game of Libertalia (which I think is his favorite game) but other gamers in our group had farther to travel in worse weather, so the plans got ruined. Tyler, Tara and I have a default to game night - Scary Movie Night - and we had just sat down to start a horror movie when the power went out. The only reason we knew the power went out was the ten-year-old iMac in the living room went black. I thought it was part of the movie at first. I am blessed to have a home where heat comes from fire and the light around us came from oil lamps and candles. And while there would be some inconveniences if the power never came back on that week, it would still be a warm, dry, place full of light, food, and friendship. That is a hell of a feeling of comfort, far more so than any 401k plan or health insurance I ever owned.

The power stayed off for hours so instead of staring at a screen together we put a kettle of hot water on the BunBaker and I got out the cocoa mix. We sipped our drinking chocolate and told stories instead, starting with a wikipedia read-through (thanks phone!) of the rest of the movie. When we found out our ghost story was just a slasher film, we weren't sorry we missed it. But I don't think I ail forget anytime soon reading a scary story by the wood stove while my friends listened to me tell it. We ended up just sharing stories that whole night, showing photographs from scrap books and hearing about the people we were before we met each other. It was delightful, better than most nights I can remember in recent history. We didn't get to play a board game (though we could have!) but we did sit in a warm house while a storm threatened us and we laughed back at it. Fire and friends and wonderful weapons.

So tonight I have my tea, and the blue light before dark. I know it is a full moon and a holiday for lovers, too. I hope all of you are feeling as happy and warm as I am tonight. I hope you tell the person you love how much you love them. I hope the moon shines bright, the snow melts fast, and the owls go blind at the sight of your chickens. I hope you have sore muscles, good friends, cold weather, good stories, and learn how to smell colors the way this farm as taught me.

When it is good, it smells like lavender.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cold Antler Farm Trailer!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Terrified Girl

Patty sent me this picture of my first-ever trail ride on my very own horse. It's from just two years ago, the first spring I had Merlin to myself. He was being boarded at Riding Right Farm in Cambridge because I signed the contract to buy him before I had a barn, paddock, or plan. I went with my gut, because I believe in love at first sight and Fool's Rush In. But no one told me how scary it would be learning to ride a horse outside the safety of lessons, arenas, and guided trail rides. At this point I still had health insurance, at least!

In that picture I am terrified. I really am. I am certain Merlin knew it. Patty had trailered Merlin from the stables and brought him to her farm. We rode from her property over to the large estate across the road, hundreds of acres and tractor roads in a beautiful place with views that wash all across the surrounding farmland and faraway Green Mountains in Vermont. It was a big step for me, that first ride. It probably took another two hundred miles in the saddle to be at ease and feel mildly competent in our relationship, temperments, and control.

I looked at this picture and smiled. I wrote back to Patty, "Look how scared I was!" and she wrote the best reply possible, the honest truth about achieving any goal...

"But you did it."

Waystones & Weather

Around here things are getting colder, but my heart is set on spring. If you have been reading this blog a while that should raised some eyebrows. April is my least favorite month of the year, a fact I am very vocal about. The whole muddy, wet, month creeps me out. Since I was 17 years old and first discovered another way of looking at the world, October has always been the season of life and celebration. It's the big fireworks and beauty before the cold, dark, winter. There is a whole harvest put aside, the larder is full, the goats and sheep are breeding, and the freezer has enough pork, chicken, rabbit, and game to feed a banquet hall. All the local farms can't give away the excess tomatoes and kale, prices are so cheap it is astounding. Did I ever tell you that this past year I didn't go to a grocery store once from June until November? That's not saying I didn't buy food or a diet coke at the gas station, here in Jackson but real food was cheaper and closer to home. At Stannard Farm a beautiful free-range chicken was around seven or nine dollars a BIRD! And there was bags of potatoes, garlic, and onions. I could take the horse cart in October for a ride to that farm stand and buy everything I needed for the week or an outing. The days were golden, the light was perfect, and I was in a world of chilly nights and glowing bonfires. There was Dumb Supper on Samhain with my closest friends fiddle tunes, and the dream of catching a hawk from the sky. October is a celebration.

April is barren. I always felt that way, even before the Agricultural Wheel of the Year was my waystone. I know it is the time of warming weather, new life, and started gardens but it is so bleak to me compared to fall. It was the time I read scary stories with flashlights in my closet and watched hungry birds pick at rain-soaked roadkill on the way to school. I know it is a necessary and important time, but I only understand that in the most logical way - not emotionally. Spring is a hungry time for everyone, be it hungry for the warmth of summer or hungry because you ran out of winter storage. It wasn't that long ago that a light larder meant dead children and grandparents. Grocery stores have only been around since the 1940s and they won't be around forever….

April was something to achieve once, proof you made it through the cold, long, bite. But it was just as much as struggle - if not more so than the time around the Solstice when days were shortest. Because in December there was a lot of firewood and food. Right not on Facebook I read a thread about many of us running out of firewood already, not expecting such a cold winter. I'm doing okay wood wise but its not very dry or very abundant.

So for the first time in my life I am looking forward to April. Looking forward to a spring with a garden planned, baby goats, some lambs and a lack of frozen pipes and 45-degree mornings in the farmhouse. And by April I hope to have met some serious personal goals which I fear sharing here because I really believe in what Hemingway said, "You lose it if you talk about it."

I can say that things here are churning creatively, if notjhing else. Books are being planned and proposed, Birchthorn stays on track with updates every Wednesday, and old bills are being paid and debts caught up. I am not yet planning spring but will be soon. I have high hopes, and that has always proven to be my rocket fuel.

I can't wait to start riding every day again. You just can't know.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Winter is Still Here

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Carnivorous Songbirds

Yesterday afternoon I loaded my .22 and headed outside. With the safety on, the sun shining, and fresh snow covering the endless acres of forest beyond the farmstead I felt like a new woman. I was really looking forward to my hunt. Though "hunt" doesn't mean what you may think. In all honesty it is more of a winter hike with a gun. The point isn't to take game as much as it is to track it, pay attention, be outdoors and possibly get lucky. I had warm socks on, waterproof high boots, a second-hand wool sweater, and a pocket full of ammo. I had high hopes for a fat rabbit or a bushy-tailed squirrel but that that was the extent of the hope. What I really hoped to get was some Vitamin D.

I did not take any game that day but I watched much. I watched a trio of doe head south by the creek. I watched a small flock of turkeys waddle uphill. I stepped in deer paths that were just left behind, looking at their prints and tracing them with a gloved finger. I looked for tracks of smaller game and saw none. That let out a small sigh but even learning where animals aren't is a lesson towards learning where they are. I listened to birds and watched woodpeckers dart through the trees. Something about being outdoors and paying attention makes me warmer. I was grateful for that, and for all the wildlife around me. Fate and luck both brought me to this farm. A house in a safe part of the world surrounded by water, plants, fish, game, and livestock. To some people I am am scrambling to make a living—but to me (and to people who think like me)—I am beyond wealthy. Resources matter. In the end, nothing matters more.

I stopped at the looney place underneath an old orchard where the heads and guts of the pigs I recently slaughtered were left to compost. A chickadee landed on a frozen pig ear sticking out of the snow and then landed on a bit of frozen intestine some creature had snarled up from the shallow grave of leaves and compost I covered them with the day after friends and I dragged them out. The little darling bird ate a bit of flesh with gusto right off the intestine and flew off. I watched the tiny animal amazed. How did I ever think something that lived in the north woods did not have the ferocity of a coyote when it came to meal time? Songbirds and Songdogs alike need the sacred fuel that is other living things. I had a belly full of pulled pork for lunch, the chickadee had some as well. My meditation on the carnivore of songbirds was interrupted by the scream of a hawk.

I looked up and saw two neighbors I know well. There are two adult Red-tailed Hawks on my mountain, a mated pair. I see them almost every day. I have named them Huginn and Muninn, after the pair of crows that sat on Odin's shoulders. Their names mean Mind and Memory in an old Norse tongue. I saw Muninn then, about fifty yards from where I stood in the forest. I know this hawk well. She was the first Red Tail I ever caught in my falconry career and I remember both the thrill and honor of that first capture. When I saw her beautiful red tail I knew she was a Haggard (lingo for a mature hawk). I could not keep her so I calmly removed the noose from her foot and released her back to the sky. Today I did not hold her, I just watched her. She screamed once more into the cold air as she flew away. Red tails make a sound so royal it is now used in place of Bald Eagles in pop culture. (If you watch the Colbert Report you know the sound of a Red Tail in the opening credits.) I stood there in the snow, on a weekday, with thoughts of squirrel tracks and whitetails in my mind and tried to remember a life when it was more common to go on a first date than to hold a hawk against my heart.

I didn't take any game that day. If I had I would have brought it home, cleaned it, and wrapped the human-yummy parts in my freezer and saved the hawk-yummy parts for Italics. I wasn't worried as I had a freezer and fridge with plenty of hawk food and a larder with plenty of human food, but the point of hunting isn't necessarily dinner. It's a skill I value above many as a meditation and a blessing. To ignore the predator part of your omnivore soul is a dangerous omission. Hunting is part of what makes us human, what brought our body and minds to this point in our evolutionary story. We too are animals, apex predators, and have a dance card to fill in nature. To learn that dance and enjoy it with all the respect, excitement, and certainty of a happy animal is huge part of being a complete person (in my eyes). And while I know not everyone wants to go out and shoot a rabbit, we can't argue that creating food—be it a homegrown tomato soup or a stag steak–is possibly the most primally satisfying activities we can endeavor. After all, food is what keeps us alive, keeps us going, and keeps us looking for carnivorous song birds and pulled pork sandwiches.

It's a wild life outside your kitchen door. Go out and find it.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Coop Door

Well, It Took 5 Books...

But Maude has finally made it to the cover! Not bad for a ten-year-old ewe on a summer day, huh? The rest of the sheep headed into the shed when the photographer climbed the hill, but not Maude. She was happy to stand in all her miserable glory. Bless her heart.

Big news! I got the Advanced Reading Copy of Cold Antler Farm in the mail! My fifth book about farming and life among animals, seasons, cycles, and story on a scrappy farm. This one goes a little deeper into faith and farming and the Wheel of the Year. I feel it is my best writing yet and I'm darn proud of it. You can preorder signed copies from Battenkill Books already if you click this link here. It comes out in June, I believe. And the book trailer is beautiful, scrappy, and involves a lot of me running around. I'll post it soon as its ready!

Storms & Stories

A fair-sized storm hit Veryork on Wednesday. Now that the farm is covered in nearly a foot of powder and the sun has returned the morning chores were slow and magical. I know winter is a dark and cold time of year but I know of nothing brighter than snow sparkling in sunlight. It was a little bitter out this morning but that just makes the coffee taste better when you get inside by the fire.

I didn't update from the storm because I was working on Birchthorn, trying to figure out fiction. It's a lot harder than I ever imagined and right now the 11,000 words or so written only make up a few chapters and have need of all sorts of planning and repairs. It really is a living draft here on the blog and while I work on new stuff and go back and change older chapters based on things you and I both notice—it will continue to evolve and change on that blog. I have no idea how long it will be, how long it will take to finish, or if it's even going to be worth the effort but I find myself more excited about telling a story correctly in an engaging way then any sort of literary appeal. I'm not Steinbeck, I'm telling a monster story. Which is comforting then sitting around a pile of outlines and going back to the first or second chapter to change sentences or character descriptions.

So I spend the storm with the storm of Birchthorn in my head. At least the bulk of the day, anyway. I did the usual morning chores (and the extra snow chores that come with it - like raking roofs clear of the snow and defrosting water) and then spent the rest of the day cleaning house. When some friends stopped by yesterday to visit for tea they looked around in mild shock and later that night my friend Joanna came over for our new tradition of decompressing, drinking, and a chick flick - she asked if I redecorated. I guess it was overdue! But a clean house always cheers me up and tricks me into thinking I have my shit together. Fake it till you make it, I say.

Hope you guys are staying warm. Did anyone else get nailed with snow?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Keeping Up With the Caldwell's...

A little more of the story is posted over at the Birchthorn Blog. I don't let comments on there but not because I don't want you to comment! I just don't want to keep track of comments on three blogs, so please feel free to post feedback or ideas here on these announcement posts by emails. I am planning on adding more to Birchthorn every Wednesday (appropriate, don't you think?) and most likely it'll be a partial chapter at a time.

Cold Antler Confidential! 1 Spot left!

So quick note about this workshop, the response has been amazing. People are coming from Indiana, New jersey, Maryland, and ALASKA! It'll be a winter farmhouse full of inspiration, friends, plans and dreams. If you can make it to this one, do so. Season passes are still on sale, so might as well join in for one of the last Fiddle Camp or Archery spots too. Email me to sign up!

Cold Antler Confidential is a workshop for anyone dreaming of a farm of their own, but isn't there yet. It's a day dedicated to serious discussions on making this happen and building a plan to do so. It's a ruthless workshop, a place for dreamers who are ready to become doers. We'll start out with introductions and our stories but quickly dive into a step-by-step list for making it happen. You won't leave the workshop with a farm, but you will leave knowing how to make it possible and surrounded by support, success stories, and the honest truths about what this life is like - good and horrible.

The Confidential part is this: sometimes our farm dreams are secrets, or the intensity of them. Too many of us are told how ridiculous it is to want to "Go Back to the Land" or get chickens in our suburban backyards. We're told it's nice to think about farms for a retirement goal, but to actually pull up stakes, buy land, and start ordering from seed catalogs in bulk is considered reckless by some and idealist tripe by others. This is a workshop were you can rest-assured everyone shares your disease. Everyone there will have barn heart and will want to laugh, vent, share stories, and more. I know i'll want to do the same. Come and ask me anything, about the public life and the blog verses the hard realities of living alone on the farm. This will be a place all of us can get out some of the frustrations we've come across. There are things I just don't feel comfortable writing about on the blog. Some things are just easier to talk about in your living room, you know? It'll be that kind of session!

And we'll figure out plans of actions for us. What are your current limitations (remember, current is just that, CURRENT) and what can you do now? We'll discuss grants, crowd funding, bartering, blogs and special programs for new farmers or rural development.  It was just such a program that got me on my land and knowing what to ask for and how to find it could have you planting your own kale patch next fall.

I'll try to have local farmers and neighbors join us, explaining how they got started and what caused the mental shift to make it happen. It'll be a flurry of conversations, inspirations, stories and plans. Some of you may have all you need to start a market garden now. Some of you have more than enough space to start breeding meat rabbits and poultry. Some of you may have cottage business talents, waiting to pop out. The truth about making a living out here is diversity, frugality, and flexibility. So you can leave with a list of ideas, resources, and steps you will start taking that very day to get towards your goal.

Everyone's story will be totally different, everyone will have different limitations I'm sure. Some won't be able to move. Others will be picking up local real estate flyers. I hear about local places all the time, through chatter and messages. The realtor who sold me this farm recently emailed me about a homestead for sale up the road, just in case anyone is asking. People ask all the time.

This will be in indoor winter workshop here in the farmhouse. It'll be from 10AM Saturday to 4PM that night with an hour break for lunch. Bring notebooks, pens, and you'll have a little homework to do in advance but not much. There will be a fireside conversation, literally, and warm dogs and cats in your laps. I will do my best to clean up the dog hair.

SO! If you share my dream. If you are scared to "come out of the tool shed" to your family about wanting a rural life. If you have been reading enough memoirs and want to create your own story, come to Cold Antler Confidential! It's a day about doing.

Cold Antler Confidential
Sat. January 18th 2014
Jackson, NY
Cost: $100

Cold Antler Confidential
Sat. April 5th 2014
Jackson, NY
Cost: $100

Monday, February 3, 2014

Photographic Evidence

...That July did exist! It happened right here on this farm! There was a time when grass was so lush it needed constant mowing and animals used the lawn like pasture. There was cold spring water flowing free and a black horse that didn't look like a wooly mammoth with a saddle on its back. There was sunshine, tee shirts, and long days of fiddle and banjo tunes. There was hay cutting and fireflies, thunderstorms and sweet tea. There was all the goodness I took for granted, the way we all do by July. I sure am looking forward to the springtime ahead, a first for me. I can't wait for warmer days. I just need to survive April, worst month of the year. We'll make it. We did it before and I have the photo to prove it!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Comfortable Beasts

Last night I found myself driving in a slick snow squall to Joanna and Greg's place. The weather was a little dodgy but I was going slow, being careful. I had a crockpot in an insulated carrier riding shotgun and that was all the comfort I needed. Inside it was slow-cooked barbecue ribs from the pigs I had just harvested a week earlier. I had big plans ahead, a night out. I was on my way to share special food with special people. I was dressed perfectly for the night ahead - which meant I was comfortable. I had on old green canvas work pants, a peasant shirt I bought at the feed store on clearance (five dollars!), and a brown vest. I threw on a wool cap and braided my hair and called it well enough. I smiled to myself, hands on the steering wheel and the smell of ribs filling the car like a blessing. I was downright excited. Tonight was all about catching up with exciting young people - authors, farmers, world-travelers, cooks, businessmen, and artists. It was quite the hip scene and it was happening 30 feet from a chicken coop.

Joanna and Greg have a small farm just a few miles from my place, and yes, their dining room table is in view of their flock of laying hens. It was Game Night. If you've been reading this blog for a while then you already know the Veryork appreciation for European-style board games. Tonight was all about Agricola, a farm-themed strategy game we adore. When I ordered it last winter it sat in the box for months, intimidating me with its rule book, weight, and thousands of little wooden pieces. But Joanna felt up to the challenge of learning it and teaching the rest of us, so I told her to keep it. Now all Agricola games are held at We Grew That? Farm. It's a tradition I hope we never stop participating in.

I arrived in the snow and recognized Tyler and Tara's car, Greg and Joanna's SUV, and felt warm all over. These were my people and they were amazing. I'm so lucky to have them in my life, far luckier than they are to have me in theirs. The five of us have all lived all over the United States, have different backgrounds, careers, and totally different pasts but tonight we converge to play a game, drink cider, eat pot luck and laugh. Everyone is the avatar of comfortable. No one has the slightest interest in impressing anyone with their hair, makeup, or clothes. Far as we're concerned fashion is fabric that keeps us warm on cold nights. That's not to say we don't have our own styles, but on Game Night none of that fuss matters. We're here to have fun.

We play a few games, tell stories. I talk about nearly losing Italics while out hunting rabbits with my sponsor and Joanna talked about a greenhouse she nearly bought on impulse. Tara is knitting a hat for Tyler before he heads off on a business trip to Boston and Murray the cat plays with the yarn at her feet. As I try to figure out if cattle or sheep are better for my family of three (in Agricola I am always married to Tristan from Legends of the Fall and we just had a baby (in game) which I need to figure out how to feed by next harvest in 3 turns….) Anyway, I am figuring out Tristan's and my future when I stop to take a moment to look around.

Shit. I am lucky.

These people are some of my closest friends. They are so talented, beautiful, intelligent and independent. I had been thinking over the past few days of people I used to call my closest friends who have been lost to entropy. I miss them and wish they could share this table. But that's not how it works, is it? We all have people we lose along the way, or most of us do. My friend Raven told me that everyone you meet is in your life for a reason, a season, or forever. The reason isn't always pleasant, and the season can last just a few episodes - but few stick around for the long haul. But those ones that do stick it out, those people are the most valuable things in the entire world. I have certainly learned that much.

I have only known these folks a few years now. When I moved to Vermont they weren't even on my radar, some weren't even in my country. Joanna and Greg would have been sitting around another table in Portland, Oregon. Tyler and Tara were in the midwest planning a world tour on the back of a pair of bicycles. I was starting a career in web design at a fly fishing company, working on my second book and as excited about backyard sheep as a drugged-up pet store puppy. But somehow chance and luck have brought us into each others lives, around a little table in a house without a television. Damn, I am rich. It's all I can think about as Greg places his game tokens on assigned spaces and Tara tells us about a recent conference about trees she listened to in Vermont. We joke, jab, tease and smile. We are buzzed and full of good food from good farms. The snow has stopped and turned to rain and we make plans for the days ahead. I send Tristan fishing and move a sheep into the cottage because the barn is out of space. Murray attacks my feet. These people are wonderful. I hope we last a few seasons, I really hope we last more.

My last five years have been a rocky journey of changes, successes, flirtation, depression, anxiety, fear, joy, wins, losses, love, mistakes, and failures. I'm not talking about the farm either (though that certainly applies). I'm talking about relationships, family, romance…all the stuff I never write about here. I'm an entirely different person than the girl who moved to Vermont five years ago. I could easily kick that girl's ass. She wouldn't even see it coming.

She also wouldn't know how lucky she is to be spending the southern tier of middle age with such amazing people. To not have to worry about impressing these people, competing with them, or worried about any of the judgment I manifested in past friendships. These people love me for me and I love them for them. Tonight we're 17th century farmers but we would be just as happy around a campfire or in line for a movie. We're five adults who no longer need to shed layers of our skin over and over to figure out who we are and that is a powerful combination. I know this because I'm certain there are other people our age planning dinner parties a lot fancier, spouting off the verbal vacation slides of career and travel accomplishments between sips of drinks I couldn't mix if you paid me. They are living the life best for them but I don't envy them. I love my crockpotluck. I love the cat bites. I love people who talk about training turkey poults to return to shelter between bites of ribs I knew on a first-name basis. And for the first time in my adult life I have people around the dinner table whom I admire but don't envy. I respect the hell out of them and think their lives are beautiful but I don't want their lives and they don't want mine. We are our own beasts. If you can find a Game Night Table of Comfortable Beasts I suggest you hold onto them. They are magical beyond knowledge.

They are worth sharing your pork with.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Quiver