Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Mailbox

“Well, girl, you don’t have any brain tumors!”

....was what my Optometrist said to me, after inspecting both of my dilated pupils with those giant alien-autopsy face machines they are somehow allowed to use on us civilians. Not exactly normal patient/doctor chit chat, I know, but it was warranted. Before the exam I told her how I always am nervous about going to the eye doctor and have been ever since I was eleven years old... 

I'l never forget my first eye appointment. I was a chatty kid. (I am a chatty adult, too. And I talk fast and often to others when I get nervous.)  I was telling my hometown Optometrist about how I thought what she did was so great, because nobody ever leaves her office worse off. Everyone she helps out; through glasses and contacts and what not. What a great gig! Then she went grim, looked me right in my 11-year-old eyes and told me sometimes she has to give people horrible news. Sometimes she can see right through to the brain and see a mass of cancer that will kill a patient in weeks. They come in expecting a new pair of frames and leave with a death sentence.

If she wanted me to stop talking, it worked. 

And that's why till this day I prefer the Dentist to the Optometrist, both of which I had to visit this month. I had a hole in a molar the size of a peppercorn that needed to be filled in, and my last pair of contacts were about to wear through my retinas. My eye wear prescription was out and I couldn't chew. You can only put off self-care for so long.

I know the Eye Doctor and Dentist isn't a big deal to most of you out there, but to me these are watershed moments. Heathcare was the biggest boogeyman of self employment to me. It was the monster under the bed that even the most hearty of friends and supporters warned me about leaving behind for a life of farming. But if you can live your dream life and afford a new pair of glasses - that is my humble definition of success. So today I had my first eye exam in over four years. I paid the $170 bill for the doctor's time and effort, and was happy to do so. I earned the money for that visit. I had $20 in reader subscriptions come in through Paypal and I sold a piece of artwork for $150. This day I made exactly what I needed to cover that visit. So I felt amazing. I felt like I was doing it. I felt like this was something I could pull off....

And then I went to check my mailbox.

It wasn't a big mail day from the USPS. Inside was a package from a blog sponsor, a bunch of pamphlets about my wood stove to hand out at workshops or to inquiring guests. The other piece of mail was a plain, white, letter addressed to me (with my last name spelled wrong) and instead of my house number it just read:

Jenna Wogenrich
Cold Antler Farm
Cambridge, NY 12816

There was excessive postage and no return address. Inside was a blank, generic, job application printed from a website hosted by the state of Maryland. I pursed my lips. There was no note, not explanation at all. Then I got it. I sighed.  It was clearly a next-level internet troll sending a reminder to my physical home that I should get a job. That I should stop expecting to live the life I am living, pack it in, and return to a 9-5 office life.

And I will admit it had the EXACT effect intended. This person pressed my shame button, hard. They basically were saying; Jenna, how dare you live this life? Stop talking about it. Stop celebrating it. Shut up, Don’t expect patronage, get a job. Go away. And I felt small. I stood there, by my metal mailbox that I painted Cold Antler Farm on six springs ago. I stood there holding that job application on the land I am facing foreclosure on if I don’t get lucky, soon. It made me feel sick inside. Who the hell does this?

This was a kick in the ribs while I was already down. I folded up the blank application and went inside the house. On the doorknob was a hanger notice from the electric company: final disconnection notice. Another kick. I wanted to throw up.

All the good news about lack of brain tumors, the art sale, the pride of self care, and hope for new glasses in the future went out the window. I went inside, sat down in the living room floor, and cried. Gibson came to me, instantly, and collapsed in my lap. Friday watched from her crate, head cocked and curious. I had a prescription in my pocket, a head without cancer, and I still let a nameless stranger knock me down a peg. How long before the lights went out? How much longer before I quit, sell the animals, leave the farm, go away?

Not sure what else to do, I took care of some farm essentials, let out the dogs, and then changed into running clothes and ran five miles. These days, that is a very short run. It was a hot day, and it didn't take long for sweat to coat me like the mandatory baptism I demanded. I ran and I thought. Did I deserve that? Was it a sign? What am I doing here holding onto a ghost like this? Maybe I should throw in? Maybe I should start over?

When I got back home in record time, I finished evening chores early. I refilled everyone's water and checked the flock, goats, and horse. I moved the chicken tractors.  Then I came inside a dripping mess to that job application on my bench, like it was supposed to be dissected for posterity. I gave it a closer look.

What? It was totally blank.

I looked through the pages, all of them.  It had no assigned job. The person who mailed it wasn't clever enough to fill in a position they thought I belonged in. They thought the gag was enough, but what they gave me wasn't a scolding - it was a canvas. And I sat down covered in deerfly bites, sunburn, and sweat and applied for the job I wanted:

 I filled out the application as if I was asking for my dream job, which is to make a living here as an author without fear. So when the space offered me a position, I chose World-Renowned Author. (Which I know is ridiculous, but if I get a blank check I am cashing it in) - And then I went through the rest of the application, all the pages, and filled out my hopeful salary, my experience, my history and resume.

It turns out that this 33-year-old woman actually has a decent shot. I have put out five nationally circulated books from two major publishing houses, and was working on wrapping up my first self-published novel. I had a BFA in communication design from a four-year University with a minor in Illustration - two degrees I use daily to help keep the lights on (literally!).  I had traveled around the US and been to both coasts promoting books, speaking at huge events and fairs, and had nearly a decade of farming experience under my belt. My order didn't seem that tall now that it was all on paper in front of me. That piece of snark mail turned into a spell book.

After the application was done, I read it as if I was the person hiring (I kinda am), and felt pretty great. I set it down like it was a decree of faith, gently and with love, and then went to my rotary phone to call the electric company. I called them with calm confidence of a tumorless eye patient, and we worked out a half-payment now and the rest in two weeks. It is a pinch but the lights and internet stay on so I can continue to work from home. I let out a silent prayer of thanks. Someone out there has my back.

People send things like this and want to hurt me. They want me to feel shame for the life I want, work for, and crawl uphill with bleeding fingernails to keep. Fine. I get it. You aren't happy, and you don't think I deserve to be either. But honestly? What were you thinking? You don't send a box of kindling to an arsonist. You don't send white gloves to a mime. You don't send a 6-pack of beers to an alcoholic - these are not avatars of shame. These are evidence of validation!

I am well aware I don't have a normal job you Agents of Caution associate with the kind of approval that helps you nod behind crossed arms. But your stupid letter was a badge for my sash, a light in the dark, and it made me feel strong.  Really, really, strong. And I say that as a woman farming alone for nearly a decade.  I say that as a five-time author.  I say that as the qualified applicant in the running for the most amazing life of all time, and I am just getting started. Did you think your adorable letter was Kryptonite? Well, it wasn't.

It was spinach, bitch.

And I am framing this application and putting it on the wall. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Your Vote Could Make This Happen!

If you follow me on Social Media, then you have heard about the Beekman 1802 Mortgage Lifter Contest. This awards a $20,000 prize to one of the farms entereed and an automatic $2,000 prize to the farm most voted for. This would literally save Cold Antler Farm, which is at a very scary place right now in its own story.  Winning ehe smaller prize would help catch up on the mortgage in a very, very, important way. All you need to do is vote by entering your email address, and that vote counts towards Cold Antler's shot at the $2k.

I was the first place farm for while, but now have fallen to number 2. I ask that you vote because such an action could make a world of a difference to a farm on the edge like this one. Any prize money would absolutely go towards actually Lifting the Mortgage!

Vote Here, Vote Every Day!

Hannah Horvath Wants to Die

Hannah Horvath wants to die. Or at least that is what she's been communicating to me, her very tired farmer. This little black lamb is constantly getting stuck in fences, trapped in briars, separated from the flock, and tangled in sheep politics. She's a klutz, basically. Unlike all the other lambs who seem to have a handle on their choices, Hannah doesn't. Her hollers have their own little panicked tone, to which this human and her two border collie roommates understand means; "It's me, HANNAAAAAHHH I DID IT AGAAAINNNN!!" And then I go outside, look up the hillside, unplug the electric fence, and see what she's gotten herself into. Yesterday she was fine but dragging around a piece of rose bush off her butt that scared her as it "followed behind" her every step. The day before her head was stuck in the ONE SPOT in the fence her head could fit. A few days earlier I was about to leave to visit friends and before going I stopped to listen... sure enough Hannah was in Merlin's Paddoc - a coal black lamb next to a coal black horse - just yelling because whatever shoot or ladder got her into that mess she wasn't about to find again and crack the case herself. I had to open Merlin's gate, call her to come, and let her back to the flock.

I'm not worried about her. She seems to only make her mistakes once and then figure it out. I am home and here to keep an eye on her and Gibson loves this new intense "Black Sheep Opps" work in his life. I feel that if I can get her through these awkward teen years of reckless youth she'll turn out to be a fine little lamb. Her peers: Marnie, Caroline, and Jessa are never stuck or flailing. They're just fine. They have this sheep thing down. Hannah still has some explaining to do...

P.S. I am so happy about Marnie and Ray (the characters). So, so, happy. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Thursday, June 23, 2016


Tonight after chores were done and I wrote that last bit, I gathered up Merlin and took him for a ride up the mountain. I live on the eastern side of this little bump and even in June the sun slides out of view by 6:30pm. So I took Merlin to go find it. I'm glad I did.

Fell ponies fit me. I mean that in many ways. Being 5'2" tall they match my height, but also we share the same build. We're mostly muscle and resentment, stubborn love, luckless slingers. When I am on his back, even when he is acting up or awkward, I feel safe. I feel like I'm at a place I belong. And I need to remember it's a place I found through a lot of time, effort, work and determination. I didn't discover a home in the saddle with Fells, I built it one brick at a time.

80 miles, 8,000 words

These days most of my energy is going into running and writing. Since last Sunday, which is what? twelve days ago? I have ran 80 miles. I think running has become a balm for anxiety, a way to physically beat it out of myself. Today's ten mile run was steady and slow, but mostly comfortable. My body wasn't fighting me this time, asking to stop. I try to run in the morning after chores and then the rest of the afternoon is for other obligations of writing, logos, illustrations and clients. Writing right now is less about this blog (sorry) and more about getting a proper start on a new book. A book deal is crucial, so very much so. Not only for financial security but because it's been too long and I have a lot to share and say. I want to tell an entirely different story about myself. So far an 8,000 word proposal has made its way to my agent's hands and he is shopping it around. If luck is with me more books are in my future. Fingers crossed, ale poured, hopes high.

Right now just making it to that point is my biggest concern. That is why I am running so much. I need to feel that even if there are threats or scary phone calls about my home, that I am working towards a larger goal and removing the stress best I can. That is why that Indiegogo was launched. If I can meet that goal there is no threat of losing my farm. If I don't, real trouble is ahead. In exchange for larger contributions you will be mailed hand-drawn art in the home you are supporting from the author asking for your patronage. If you like me, it's a kindness. If you dislike me, it's a cheap way to keep the person you dislike creating content you can be upset about. Fun!

If you don't want to support it, that's okay too. I appreciate you just being here to read this.

News on the goats, the sheep, the bees, and more tomorrow. I will be taking a little 36hr break from running for my legs to harden up from all the work they have been doing. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Icelandic Horse

Yesterday I sat down and drew this Icelandic horse, with runes beside her. If you would like a portrait of your own horse or to purchase this 9x12" original artwork, you can email me! Happy to create art for the readers of this blog.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bo, Anne, and Jodi

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Bo Burnham, or how many of you are into Comedy at all? I know this is a farming blog, but this farmer is into it. Thanks to podcasts I know more about the stand up scene in Los Angeles than I do about the beef prices at the livestock auction a half mile down the road. I wanted to be at Cameron and Rhea's wedding. I am more excited for Kumail and Emily's story becoming an Apatow movie than I am about anyone's baby pictures on Facebook. I jog to episodes of Harmontown. I fall asleep listening to Bill Burr on Youtube. And I cried watching Bo Burnham's ending song in Make Happy.

Jodi, a 50-year-old reader from California messaged me on Facebook. She was a wilderness firefighter for years and is now in a wheelchair, but she follows along with my books and blog. We haven't talked before, but she came out of the blue to talk to me today and I am so glad she did. She said she saw the fundraiser with the postcards and wanted to contribute, but would rather get a signed book from me? We got to chatting and she bought a paperback copy of Made From Scratch (all I have here are a few copies of that and Chick Days) and after she sent along the paypal and her address, the last thing she said to me was this:

"All will be okay trust me!"

Oh, Jodi. I so needed to hear that. You have no idea.

Today started off poorly. Before coffee, before morning stretching or chores; I read random internet comments about me on another person's Facebook page. I am a professional writer. I literally make a living feeling things and then writing about those feelings for anyone who wishes to read them. Why would anyone expect someone like that to brush off unkindness? Because I'm supposed to be used to it? I'm not used to it.

So these comments about my worth, that is how I started my day. They cast a shadow on everything else. Instead of feeling like I could take on the world I started the day feeling scolded. Which lead to a panic that stole my appetite, energy, and joy. I could barely finish my three mile jog - exhausted and worried that time away from the computer would miss an email for work or fiddle lessons. My stomach churned and my mind reeled. I was so angry at myself. Not the good kind of angry that inspires change and manic writing sessions - the sad, defeated, imploding kind of anger.

I was angry because I did it to myself. Those comments are people's thoughts who I have never met. Their thoughts about me are none of my business and I was a fool to read them. The stakes couldn't be lower, as they have zero interest in supporting me, my work, or my farm. To them I am a character on a reality show they enjoy watching fall apart. Unfortunately, Chase Bank doesn't accept payment in I-Told-You-So's.

So I ran my crappy, short, run and came home feeling awful. Since Sunday I have ran 26 miles, and only three of them happened today. I should have hit thirty. I'm training for a half marathon at some point in the fall. I don't know if it'll be an actual event with numbers pinned to my shirt and medals or just a fine day that I run 13 miles on my own here in the Shire. Comfort with the distance is the goal. To feel totally okay running that far, in one shot. Maybe that woman won't have her day ruined by flinching at strangers comments? Eh, worth a shot.

I am scared these days. Really scared.

My neighbor Anne stopped by. She just wanted to check in on me. She drove from town and just talked to me, which is something so rare these days. She didn't want anything but to listen, and she she did. She offered support and just let me know she was there and I wasn't alone. She used to read this blog from a home in Key West. Now she has five acres here in Cambridge. 

I need to laugh so I listen to the comedians, all of whom I relate to more than any neighboring farmer. Around here farmers are trying to sell food. I am too, but no where near as hard as I am trying to sell myself. I want to make a living writing about what I love so I can live the life I love. I happen to love a life of homesteading. But if I was into building car engines or collecting stamps you'd be reading about that instead. I love the telling. I need you to read it.

I need to focus on the Bos, Annes, and Jodies. I need to realize there is more compassion and cheering for this farm and this insane person than there is vitriol. And I need to love myself enough to not go fishing for drama because I am scared that somewhere far away an asshole is complaining about a stranger.

It is interesting and exciting, to wake up with such a singularity of purpose. Every morning is a mission to get solvent. I want to catch up, stop the fear, and sleep a full night. Some women out there want to get married. Some women want kids. Some women want to win the Superbowl. Me? I just want to know the home I made for myself is safe. That is what I want. That is part of what is driving this new book I am working on so intensely. But with every morning of gusto and writing, design and illustration, there is this constant fear of judgement that slithers into my evenings.

All will be okay, trust me.
But I'm not sure I can handle this right now. 


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Art for The Farm

I had this idea yesterday, and today I woke up and sat down to ask you about it. The two fires I wrote about last night? They need to be put out. The one I can work on through writing, words, editing, and self promotion. The other one - it is causing nothing but sleepless nights, anxiety, and fear. Months of pushing to catch up have not hit the mark, so I am offering artwork via the post to anyone who wants to take part in this fundraiser. All funds go towards keeping the farm. To learn more about it, Click Here!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Two Fires

I got the mail today and there was a package from a reader. It was so kind. Inside was a Notre Dame tee shirt (my family’s football team, and mine forever) and a sweet card. A little note of encouragement. I don’t know if you guys understand how much that means to me, how much it means to all of us. We have this ability as people to give gifts, and I don’t mean tangible gifts like tee shirts or money, but gifts of kindness, joy, love, appreciation. It is a currency we all have, and our checkbooks have no limit. We can buy coffee for the stranger behind us in the Veteran cap. We can tell the lady at the library how beautiful her earrings are. We can put out our fists in solidarity when we drive past a runner trying to make it up a hill. We can tell someone their dog is beautiful. We can send a card in the mail for no reason at all. We have the power to make other human beings feel good. We can write unlimited checks for other peoples’ smiles.

Encouragement sure is needed around here. I am writing a new book, and it is the most excited I have been about writing in a while. In the past every project was bought before it was written, meaning every book you have seen with my name on it was a contracted deal. They paid me half up front to agree to write it and I got the second half when the manuscript was edited and approved for publishing. So I was writing because I was legally obligated too, and that (for me at least) does two things: sets a fire under my arse and turns passion into obligation. I still write, but it is coming from a place of duty some days and not the quiet thrill of needing to write.

This book I need to write. I have to make myself stop writing it at night.

Now, my excitement certainly doesn’t mean a publisher will match it. Right now the book isn’t sold and this is actually a total rewrite of something I already had about twenty thousand words in. But I am excited. And getting little messages with tee shirts and kind letters, it makes me feel like that is one book already sold. Someone out there will pay me American Tender to write down my feelings about a farm and a stubborn horse. I have the evidence in my hand, a note and a shirt.

My life right now is a combination of trying to figure out how to keep this farm and how to create this story I am burning to tell. It is a dangerous alchemy. Half of my fire is fear of losing the roof over my head. The other half is passion to talk about the darkest parts of myself publicly, and how this farm and a dark horse helped me through them. The last five years have been more life-changing than the rest combined. I am a very different woman than the girl that started this blog, who walked out of the corporate world and started this experiment. I refuse to give up, if it doesn’t kill me first.

That is where I am. Fighting fear and writing words. I am proud to say the farm has never been better, animal wise. The flock is bonnie and braw, the goats happy and producing so much milk! The piglets will arrive soon (a trade from a local farmer for archery lessons for his wife and daughter!) and the hive, gardens, rabbits, horse, dogs, and cats are all hail. There is green grass, new friends, hard work, personal goals, and good food ahead. There is regular music lessons and a fiddle that stopped collecting dust. There is joy, and sometimes other people give it to me for no reason other than they can.

The fireflies are out. Summer is here. The farm is magical. Gods willing, I get to stay a little longer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Win a Brand New Strumstick!

I have been playing the Strumstick since I first encountered one, back in college. That was over a decade ago and these little instruments have followed me through five states and my entire homesteading adventure. McNally has supported CAF since this blog started and I am proud to say how much they mean to me and this farm.

The first time I pucked one I loved the ease, I loved the sound, and I loved that the whole thing was flawless for beginners. Set up like a dulcimer the strings are tuned to match each other and make simple chords. It is made for fireside, hammocks, sunsets and I am giving away one of their beautiful instruments in the key of G (with a soft case)!

Strumsticks are as simple as the dulcimer, but with the feeling and twang of a banjo. It is set up so that the entire instrument is in tune with itself, making wrong notes impossible. My Strumstick is always in my pickup truck, at the ready for lunchbreaks at the office, campfires, or any place that needs a little music. My favorite tune to play on it is Wild Mountain Thyme.

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment in this post sharing what instrument moves you, and you wish you could play. Or, tell the story of how you started playing the instrument you now consider a loyal friend. Inspire those who are toying with the idea of a mandolin or banjo to grab those beauties and start pickin!

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with these guys, check out the site and their videos, because their instrument is the perfect way for the non-musical homesteading-lovin' persons to pluck out some simple mountain tunes without any experience with stringed instruments.

Everyone can only enter once via comment, but if you are willing to share the link to this blog on Facebook, then you may enter a second time posting, "SHARED!" and you'll be in the running again, doubling your chances for one of these amazing little beasties. Winner will be picked Saturday night!


The Bresse chicks have grown into their quirky selves and spending their days outside the tractor now, learning to chicken. The breed is supposedly the best tasting chicken, ever. In France they are started on pasture and their last month they are fed only milk and ground corn, which is supposed to effect the meat flavor and tenderness. I am not sure if that's true but it is lovely seeing these birds grow and thrive.

Saturday, June 4, 2016


A friend left my home after a visit with a box. Inside it was a bottle of fresh goats milk, some garlic chèvre ready to spread, a bag of salad greens, and a half dozen eggs. I thought nothing of it at the time, mostly because there is such an excess of those things here that I am just glad when someone else can enjoy them. Milk is for drinking, gardens are for eating, eggs collect in the fridge like fungus taking over shelves and crispers if not taken away. Anyway, he left and he left with food and I was reminded again that my home is a place you can get things.

My life is different and I like it. I like that my home is lived in and comfortable, with little plastic and little modernity. I like that there’s no dishwasher, microwave, cell phones, flat screen TV, tractors, air conditioning, or drip coffee makers. Instead there’s a sink, a stove, a rotary phone, a computer, a draft horse, window fans, and percolators. And that isn’t some quasi-luddite (can you be a quasi-luddite?!) stance of superiority. It’s just what I like. It’s how I prefer to be in the world. I have plenty of shortcuts and modern conveniences in my life I never want to go without. Things like my old iPod, my pickup truck, my internet, and services like traveling butchers with power winches on their trucks. I like modern medicine and I like modern booze (same thing) and I like learning about pop culture at the same time I am learning about falconry. The point of all this is: be yourself. What a cliche, right? But it’s a mantra that terrifies us all. What if “myself” isn’t what people want, or like, or approve?

Well, then you end up on a farm in upstate NY. You could do worse.

So my home is this weird place and you can get things here. You can place orders here. Friends and neighbors can get in on some bacon, chicken, eggs, lamb, milk, cheese, wool and honey here. They can join me fly fishing or horseback riding or go hawking or shoot arrows with me. We can hunt, we can watch Pitch Perfect, we can get dressed up in heels and eye shadow and go to Saratoga for Karaoke. I subscribe to Black Belt Magazine, Countryside, and Vogue. Allow yourself to contain multitudes.

Most women, hell most people, spend most of their life apologizing. We’re so used to being scolded and accepting that behavior from other adults as okay. We don’t speak up when someone tells us they were ahead of us in line when we weren’t. We don’t accept compliments without explaining why we don’t deserve them. We let people assign us rolls. We let people happen to us. Not around here. I don’t let Candy Crush happen to me, much less people.

I spent the past ten years learning to homestead. Now this farm is thriving. This morning at 7Am I met the slaughter team and helped take care of some large pigs. By 9AM all the chores were done, water hauled, hay moved, goats milked, dogs fed, and I was in the Battenkill River fly fishing with a friend. It costs nothing to fly fish, which is good these days when money has never been tighter at the same time I never felt wealthier. This June marks 4 years of self employment.

I know what I am doing and that is not something I am ready to apologize for, not anymore. I know that horse, those sheep, my dogs, the goats, the bees, the rabbits, the chickens, and the pigs. I know my fiddle. I know how to make bread and cheese and a killer deep dish pizza. I have plenty to build on and there is always room for improvement, but I am no longer a beginner at these things. As of tonight the lights are still on and the wolves are pacing far away enough from the door I can exhale between the sharp inhalations. I made it four years on my own in this house and I figured it out enough to remain. Tonight that is all I need to know to fall asleep a little less afraid.

I am still here. Wish me luck.

Also, you can get things here.