Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Goat Days of Summer

It's almost September and the farm is getting ready for fall. It's a mixed bag for me, since I adore this season above all else but don't feel prepared. So much to do before the real cold sets in. I need to get cords of firewood purchased and stacked. I need to get my truck back from the mechanic, (who is repairing it from last Thursday when it wouldn't start in the hardware store parking lot.) And it means getting in hay, the chimneys swept, appointments with the Butchering Crew, and a couple dozen other things that weave into the work of preparing a multi-species homestead for cold months. So while I am just as excited as the next gal for cooler nights, pumpkins, scary stories and cider pressing - there is the balance of preparation, expenses, plans, and phone calls to make. One day at a time.

As for today, part of fall prep means drying off the goats, which I only milk seasonally. I know some people milk their dairy animals for years, but I don't want to do that to me or the goats. I like that kids come in the late spring when the grass is up and green and the lambing is behind me. I like that there is a summer of soapmaking, cheese, fresh milk, and daily milking. But I also like that there is an end to that and the girls go from twice daily milking to once daily, to every other day, to every few days. This eases them off of lactating and by true Fall they will no longer be producing. They will be thinking about breeding with a buck and come the -13 degree mornings in February - I won't be heading out to milk in a snowstorm. Dairy farmers are tough folk, no doubt about that. But I am a dairy tourist. A snowbird. I'm okay with that.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Pull

The following is an excerpt from the manuscript I am writing now. The working title is Dark Horse. It is about how the last five years changed me. The horse was the witness. 

I like riding on an empty stomach for the same reason I like listening to good music on an empty stomach; it pulls your center better. There is something to be said for how hunger sharpens you. Not starvation, not suffering, just enough to feel strong in the hollowness. The pleasure delay. The balance shift.

When I ride Merlin on nothing but a day of farm work, running, and caffeine fumes I get that pull. The best way I can explain it is this crude exercise: imagine that your torso is empty. No bones. No entrails. Your chest is a locker space and it is a third full of blood. Stick with me. Really try to feel this. Imagine that emptiness partially occupied with the fuel that runs the whole show. You are emptiness and energy.

Now imagine sitting on the back of an animal you know better than any human being you have ever met. An animal you can tell is going to take a shit by the way he flicks his ears and rolls his hindquarter muscles after a few slow steps. You are comfortable and calm. You are not expecting to fall off any more than you would expect to be thrown from the seat of your car on a trip to the grocery store. You know it could happen. Accidents happen every day. You are still comfortable, despite the statistics. You don't think about turning ignition or flipping dials and switches - everything is habitual and automatic. You trained for years to earn that ease.

So picture that same state of comfort and that fishbowl center. And as a half ton of draft animal moves at a walk your blood swirls and swishes calmly inside your alveolated core. His steps make ripples in the blood. It knows what is happening. You feel them and their echoes.

When he picks up pace to a canter you lean forward with the motion’s hope. That blood moves entirely forward too. It isn’t splashing and chaos in there, blood is thicker than water after all. It moves with decision. It isn't being pushed. It is pulled by your eyes.

A turn is just ahead. As your left heel and right hand whisper the blood screams need. It is alive in you. GO LEFT! GO LEFT! Your insides know what to do, and all it takes is looking and leaning. There is no choice, just that same habitual ease. You balance feet in the stirrups, distributing weight. You feel that blood all shift left, again calmly, as if there is meter and rhyme against the impulse to move left with him. He collects his muscles and since it is an incline, picks up speed. He is turning at a gallop and you can not stop yourself from laughing at the absurd joy. You understanding this better than anything else in the world. Centaurs have nothing on you, and you would pass a polygraph if you were asked if you could fly.

This is how never ending feels. Do no confuse it sex, chemical reactions, or other thieves. Those are great things, but slight of hand dealing you experiences of the present. The pull is the real work of Forever.

When the speed of a straightaway come you feel your lower back circled by warm air. The heat and pulling your blood bank and pressing your ribs a second ahead of your own understanding. It is anatomy and repetition, but it never, not for one second, does it stop feeling like magic. That is why you skip a few meals and ride hungry.

You are not a flailing backpack on the back of a skipping simpleton. You are the fucking back. A back with a brain that communicates its needs and desires to one thousand pounds of freewill that is for some unknowable reason tolerating you. The forest floor moves below you so fast. When you finally do glance down it feels like you are still and the earth is moves backwards. His hooves and legs are reaching impossibly forward like grappling hooks pulling time back into you. You are allowed to feel that, smell that, be that.

The pull is all you are now.

Your hollowness and blood took over because it has always been the part of you in control. We do everything we can to make it shut up, drunk, lazy, or stupid but the center knows. If you somehow manage to listen to it - even if it is just seconds a lifetime - you take it.

Eat when the world slows down.

Eat long after the lullabies of those first ripples are memory. Right now cherish the pull and the hollow. Life is only about that pull and the hollow. Remember it. The nostalgia is potent and will coat your regret like cough syrup over a rotten apple. Find that pull however you can manage to get it without taking from another person's chance to feel it. That's what we are all doing here. Now you know.

A dark horse taught me this. I did not deserve the lesson.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Home Fires Burning

This blog is a free to read and will remain a free, as it has for the past decade of the adventure. But if you are interested in contributing to the work you read here, you certainly can. Some of you have hired me to create illustrations or logos. Others who are more local, support this farm through shares of meat. But for those of you who do not wish to buy a picture, commission a logo, or are too far away to pick up a share of pork - I will occasionally post encouraging you to contribute if you feel the writing deserves to be compensated. If you don't feel it does, do not contribute.

As the farm heads into Autumn, it can make a huge difference, which is why I am asking now as the days grow shorter. You can either make a one-time donation of a few dollars or sign up for small monthly contributions through the subscription option on the right side of the blog.

I'd like you to see this website the same way you see your local NPR station or a long-time running novel series you pick up from time to time to check in with the cast of characters and hijinks. You can always listen for free by tuning into the station or grab the book from the library - but at the end of the day it takes support from the people who consume what artists, authors, musicians, storytellers, photographers, and other creative fields to keep the home fires burning. In this case, literally.

Thank you so much for reading and considering.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Take a Bow

Sketch in watercolor,pencil and ink of a rooster taking a bow. If you'd like to take it home, email me. If not, enjoy some whimsical poultry art created on the side of a mountain with my morning coffee today!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

An August Day

Yesterday, around 6PM, I found myself sitting on my lawn playing the ukulele for piglets. They weren’t a great audience. Occasionally they would come up and sniff my boots or eat a tuft of grass, but besides that they didn’t have any notes. That was fine by me, because I was too tired for constructive criticism and just wanted to strum. And if I’m honest the “performance” was just the two chords I have memorize and a few more I discovered by bastardizing some previous guitar knowledge. It was a diorama of a Languid Summer Evening.  Cardboard cutouts flapping in the breeze. I loved it. The nylon strings sounded pretty and the percussive snuffling was nice backup. It was a good day and I'm going to tell you all about it.

I woke up around 7AM with a headache and the voices of Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson. I fall asleep listening to podcasts and theirs was last night’s. I also had a headache, which had nothing to do with them but did have something to do with drinking a Moscow Mule (heavy on the Moscow) the night before. I have drank so little over the past few weeks that one decent serving of vodka was enough to wake up feeling it. What can I say? It was Friday night and I own a copper mug. 

Coffee. Coffee is the thing.

When Friday realizes that I have remembered that coffee exists in the world she crawls, army-style, from her spot at the foot of the bed to directly between Gibson and I and licks my face. Gibson is out cold. I don’t know if this is common for Border Collies but Gibson’s sleep schedule is mine, and unless I stop and take a nap during the day he is up and moving when I am up and moving. So after a long day of being a sheep dog and helping run this joint he sleeps like a corpse. He sleeps so hard sometimes I don't even see his breathing and worry he's died in his sleep. Friday is happy to nap any time any place -  so she is fresh as a daisy. (She's also just one year old so this morning thing is still new and exciting to her.) She's eager to run outside to bark at geese and jump in the creek. Gibson is still a log. His back is to us with his head on a pillow. Friday rootched right up between us and puts her head on my chest and looks at me with her coyote yellow eyes to finally get up. I do. Gibson rolls over in a disturbingly human way so he’s on his back laying in the exact same position as a person sprawled on a bed would, yawns, stretches his front paws up in the air and looks at me for decision.

"Coffee. Let’s go."

“Let’s go” is the trigger and before I am dressed they are downstairs waiting at the front door. I let them out and the cats run in from their night of red-painting or whatever it is farm cats do. (Cats and I have a very strict don't ask don't tell policy.) I load up the percolator and feed the kitties their chow and then head out with the dogs. They are right by the front door. Gibson is watching the last place the light’s reflection landed from the glass pane on the dirt. Friday is watching Gibson. If it wasn’t so obsessive compulsive it would be cute. They have paws, so okay, it’s still cute.

Chores are done in our usual fashion. I grab a bucket from the well overflow and carry it to the barn. I rinse and refresh the pig’s water and feed the five piglets in their pen. Wait, there are only three in the enclosure? I turn around to the sound of oinking and two black gilts are parading into the barn, dogs trotting behind them. I watch them sneak back into the pen with their tails wagging, watching me for their breakfast like nothing wrong just happened. They found a way to jump and squeeze in and out of the pen at will, but were close enough not to miss their morning Postmates chick. I make a note to let all the piglets out later to see what they do. If all they want to do is graze and snuffle like chickens I can let them out when I am there to mind the sounder.

Piglets accounted for and eating, I go about the rest of the morning chores. I do the same for the goats (who share the barn) and make sure they have plenty of water. It’s supposed to be a hot one today. Before I get my coffee, everyone else gets theirs. And so I run about tending to the farm. I feed the poultry and collect eggs (6 this morning). I check the goats to see if I should milk them this AM or evening (the are in the process of being dried off from daily milking going into fall). Then I carry some fresh second-cut to the sheep and horse. They are splitting a supplemental bale each morning along with their pasture grazing and minerals. I make sure they all have water as well, and then head inside. I call the dogs and they come running. Somehow Friday’s face is solid brown with mud and Gibson has a tail full of burrs. I laugh as we march inside, thinking of how the realtor was so apologetic that the house had linoleum floors. Darling, Farm life demands a home that can be hosed down.

Coffee is heaven. I drink it and sit in front of the computer in the living room while the dogs chew on their breakfast bowls with a fresh egg cracked into each. That floor spot is my station ever since my laptop died. I check email, update logo sales & deals on fiddle lessons on Facebook. Most mornings are about marketing. My eyebrows raise at a note send via Facebook message and I get excited when a woman and her daughter show interest in a day at the farm for Fiddle 101. We chat and set up an appointment. I see some interest in the sheep I am selling, too. There is a promise of income and I feel victorious for the possible sales and my Russian headache is now gone. Caffeine and hope is an amazing cure-all.

I turn on Chelsea Handler’s talk show on Netflix and enjoy a second cup. I grab a Fiber One bar because I don’t feel like cooking up eggs and don’t want to eat anything substantial. I find the more active I am and the hotter the day is going to be - the less I want to be weighed down with food. The energy bar is more than enough. I feel the sun coming through the big glass doors and look down at my tanned arms flecked with hay chaff and a chicken feathers and I hear my horse blow out a sigh outside. That alchemizes into a gut desire. I want to go riding.

It has been over 2 weeks since Merlin and I tacked up and I miss it. All the marathon training has really taken away from my horse, and I could put off my run and shorten it today for some saddle time. I make a list of clients to work on before I head out and watch the rest of Chelsea while drawing an Akita, updating a sheep for a logo, and tending to a Grizzly bear kissing a dragonfly. I love that I can create designs and images while watching things. Movies and Netflix help make the work fly. Then I post a quick update to this blog because I am excited, damnit. I really want to be out there and I wanted to share that news with whomever online was listening. You're never alone when you have the internet.

I head outside again, this time in proper riding boots instead of farm muckers. No wait, my riding boots are my farm muckers. I really need to buy new boots but have been putting it off. There are cracks and holes in the much-loved Dublins I am wearing, but these boots are true fighters. I have splashed through creeks following my hawks, ridden hundreds of miles, mucked pens, delivered hay, butchered pigs, and a thousand miscellany farm chores in them. They did more than I should dare ask a piece of clothing. So I forgive my choice of shod and head outside in a tank top and favorite jeans. I head to the pasture to get my horse.

I ride Merlin for an hour. We take our usual route through the trails on the mountain over on my neighbor's property. When I bought my land I had no idea I had moved next door to a large animal vet and a retired chief of police. I also didn’t know that I’d be allowed to ride my horse and hunt with my birds on nearly everyone's property. Sometimes this whole mountain feels like my own. I feel amazing as he runs up the mountain. It's just starting to get hot out and his black neck feels warmer than the sunlight. His face and mane have gone a little whiter this year but he’s still fit and lovely. The bugs aren’t so bad either this early in the day. I ride to the outcrop of field that looks over the whole valley, the highest point we can reach. We take in the view, all clear blue sky and summer’s promise. Then I look behind me and see that my neighbor’s parents are at the cabin up high on the hill and I wave to them and they wave back at me. I ride off back to the trail to give them their untarnished view. The tiny imposter in me feels like I shouldn't be on their hillside and I feel a little guilt as we trot away.

We ride and I think about the next bit of the book I am writing. Merlin picks up speed and I get the idea to write about the perfect hollowness I have learned from riding and/or listening to music when hungry. How it pulls my center better. I know that makes no sense right now, but I’ll come back and hash it out on my computer. I make a mental note and keep riding.

We cross through field and wooded paths. We duck under trees and jump fallen logs. Merlin stops to drink from the creek and splash in the water. We hear the cries of a red tail hawk and both of us look up to see a juvenile bald eagle fly above us. There is drama in the skies, but here on land there’s just a horse, a girl, and some cottontails in the brush. No signs of young bears but the plott hound hunters are out and about. I see the trucks with the dogs in box crates in the beds and know they are out baiting bears and training their dogs to tree them. I don’t know enough about bear hunting to have an opinion on it, but I know I don’t want those dogs near my farm again. Last year they tore apart the chicken tractors and tried to eat $600 worth of meat birds for sport. Bear dogs my ass.

I ride home and feel good. So good I throw on running gear and head out for 6.5 miles. I'm fine with admitting right here, right now, that this was a stupid idea.

I love running but the temperature and humidity had risen hard and fast. It's easy to not notice in the shade of mountain trails on a horse. But by the time I was pounding the pavement I had spent a morning doing farm chores, freelance work, and trail riding all on one energy bar and two cups of coffee. I should have at least drank some water before I headed out with my old iPod nano. I didn't. I was on a pony high and feeling summer in my bloodstream. I just wanted more heat.

About an hour into the run I realized my headache was back and I was ready to throw up. This isn't normal. Monday I ran 13 miles without so much as a side stitch, but this morning I was low on energy, sweating bullets, and very dehydrated. I ran home feeling dizzy. When I got there I sat in the shade of the large maple and felt my heart rate slow down as I counted slow breathing. My skin cascaded in goosebumps as I shivered through the cooling down process of body temperature regulation. It's a weird thing, to feel yourself get chills on an 88-degree afternoon with 78% humidity. Too hot, not enough fuel, alcohol the night before and coffee in the morning and zero water. I told you it as a stupid idea.

I recovered fast enough though and drank enough water to smite a small god. I stretched and let the dogs out of the house to run around the yard. I checked all the critter's water supplies and that no more piglets were rampaging. When all was five by five I threw on a swimsuit and headed to the river. Take that, heat stroke.

When I got to the river I saw a lot of cars at the Georgi's Parking lot. Maybe 10? For a public park that is practically empty but being a weekday swimmer I am used to being in the river by myself. What can you expect though on a hot Saturday afternoon? I walk out in my flip flops, swim suit, and running shorts. No towel. I walk past a retired gentleman on a bench overlooking the river. He is sporting a pony tail and playing Champagne Supernova on acoustic guitar, singing his heart out. I love it.

I jump in and my body nearly convulses from the cold. Holy crow! The recent rain and the cooler nigh (it was 56 degrees when I woke up) gave the river a chill and more speed. I am swept down and glide into a breaststroke, dodging rocks and enjoying the ride. Some people just find pools to lollygag in but I love jumping in upstream and swimming with the current. It's the opposite of running - which is all fighting to stay forward. Here I am being carried by ice and power. I enjoy each extreme and can see brown trout five feet below me, swimming in the clear river water as I hover past like some fresh-water sea lion.

Now I am tired. Something about the baptism and restoration of the cold water (which now is just pleasant, not cold at all) makes my body want to curl up on a blanket in a sunny spot and pull off a cat nap. I walk back to my truck and sit, sopping wet on the towel - which is only there to protect my seat cushion from getting river wet. I roll down the windows and blare the Hamilton Soundtrack as I air dry on the 4 mile ride home.

At home I flirt with the idea of a nap but realize only my body is tired, not my brain. I change into a kilt and clean tank top and let my hair air-dry in the sun. I slide on a bracer and archery glove and grab my bow and arrow. I shoot a few dozen arrows into my target near  the barn and am happy with the accuracy after a few days off practice. If the target was a deer it would be dead. I relate most of my successes with whether or not I'd be fed.

Now it's heading towards late afternoon and there is another round of evening chores to head into. I let out the dogs and notice the two cats lounging in the sun like a pair of lions on a hot rock. They have zero interest in doing anything at all. I nap vicariously through them and head back into chores, but this time before I feed the piglets I open their pen. They run out like hooligans and do wonderful piglet things. The dogs, who are not used to herding swine, just watch them like fellow canines they don't want to associate with. This is how my collies feel about Labradors and Terriers - they cut them a wide berth. So the dogs are doing dog things. The pigs are doing pig things. The sun is out. The chores are mostly done. And I decide to go and fetch my ukulele. I sit and strum for them.

My evening winds down. I don't dare drink a Moscow Mule or any sort of booze at all. I do enjoy an easy quick dinner of steamed broccoli and seasoned beef tips. One meal a day, usually in the evening, always plants and animals - is my new normal. I decompress with a movie.  I a working my way through Edgar Wright's list of 1000 favorite films (not in order, but as inspo) and feel the way I did in college being introduced to new experiences and titles. I consider myself a movie buff, but not 1000-favorites-of-a-favorite-director list. I resent Up in the Air not being on it. I get over it, quick. So far this week I've seen Walkabout and Phantoms of Paradise for the first time and fell in love all over again with Love and Death. God, I love movies. And I love them even more tired from a long day with food. I watch the glowing screen like a child, all wonder.

I head to bed when I see Gibson head up first. If a border collie is ready to pack it in, take the hint. We turn on the fan in the window and fall asleep in clean sheets. Tommorrow looks like rain but there is still a hay delivery to get into the barn before the storms, and a couple coming to see sheep they might buy. I'm taking the day off running but not off caffeine. I fall asleep already excited for coffee and another start. When your adventure is your backyard and your neighborhood is your sound stage for the movie of your dreams - you sleep well.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Feel the Wind

It is a beautiful Saturday morning here in Veryork. Absolutely beautiful. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and all the animals have been fed and tended to. I am wrapping up work on two illustrations for clients before I head outside to slip a halter over the handsome head of my horse and start preparing for a trail ride. I have an urge to get lost in the woods. I want to bring along the ukulele and thermos of hot coffee and a book.

Fall isn’t far away. Here that means a pile of heavy responsibilities getting a farm ready for snowfly. It's a list I have faced before, but still can feel daunting as the Dog Days crawl to closure. It’s hot and lovely out there right now. The trees are green and the river is warm. I want to ride, swim, play music, and read stories but I also know that the clock is ticking and daylight is waning. In a few weeks tanktops will turn to hoodies and jeans and the corn stalks will turn brown in the fields.

I emailed a friend about the first cord of winter wood (my heating fuel) being delivered next week. I have a few days to gather the money for it, which I will hopefully do through some more logo and art sales. This morning—before I adjusted a single saddle strap—I worked on the lines and contours of the face of a beloved, late, Akita named Kitara (posted a photo of the sketch on twitter). The reader sent beautiful notes and stunning photos of the dog and while I know she was a dog, I drew her with the spirit of a lion. So I started my day with coffee and sketches. Now it’s time to feel wind.

I hope you all have a lovely, lucky, and well-spent Saturday!

Photo by Miriam Romais

Friday, August 19, 2016

This Little Book

One Woman Farm is a small book. It's small in every way. It doesn't take up much space, take much time to read, nor did it shock the world in sales records - but I love this little book so much. It's got images of my home, animals, life and love drawn throughout. It combines stories, music, art and agriculture to showcase a weird little world. It's all these things but it is also fall captured. It starts in October and ends in October - the holy month on this Homestead. Pick it up if you haven't, or if you order from my local bookstore, Connie will call me and I'll literally drive down there with Gibson and we can both sign it for you and send it to your front door.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Young, Scrappy, and Hungry

True & Lovely

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Team Love & Selling Sheep

I was driving in town and pulled up to our one stoplight. Stopped across me was another classic Ford truck. It was a few years earlier than my own, maybe an 84? And it was a glorious brown that to most people looks like the worst parts of a seventies roller rink, but to those of us who love these trucks reminisces more along the lines of a favorite, well-oiled, baseball mitt. Point being: It was great. It had 100% better typography, an outline of FORD in white on the back bumper and I wanted to trace it with my finger. I loved this man’s truck the way I love my own. The way a dog lover of a certain breed can’t help but admire a healthy animal of the same type when it crosses their path, and nod to the owner in appreciation and fellowship. Which is exactly what happened next.

When we pulled past each other (he was in his twenties, I’m guessing?) we did what everyone does with a beloved, older, truck does around here. We nod, wave, or smile. There’s an unofficial club here in Washington County, and while we don’t have a name or regular meetings - we know our own when we meet. It was another rural person who opted out of the payments, GPS navigation screens, buttons, possibly working AC and heat, and enforced emission laws. We choose to ride in an older truck and keep it going. We have our titles. We have our mechanics numbers memorized and send them thank you cards. We have learned the sounds and sways of our rigs the way cowboys know their horses gaits. We love our trucks. We know our own. I beamed at that man.

Also! I am selling a starter flock! Looking to cut back on the flock going into winter. I have 2 four-year-old wool ewes a Merino/Romney cross and a full blood Romney) and they come with an older wool sheep (Cotswold/Border Leicester cross) whether. A great starter flock, and if you want to wait for them (the ewes) to be bred before you pick them up that is okay too (ram is a Scottish Blackface). Please let me know if you are interested. They can keep your lawn mowed, lamb in the spring, baa at you, give your sheepdog a workout, grow sweaters, etc. Looking for $150 a ewe and $100 for the whether. or $350 for all three. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

First Strums - Picking Up the Uke!

I have been sitting down with my uke a few minutes a day all week, and I do mean minutes. Time isn’t exactly a disposable asset right now and I honestly don't have an hour set aside to take up a new instrument. Good news is that doesn’t seem to matter in the slightest  because in a few days of giving this a go (literally minutes a day) I have learned four actual chords, a finger-plucked melody, and my first song!

When I do sit down with it all I do is check the tuning is correct using my trusty little Snark tuner, and read a few pages of the book/cd combo I am using to learn it. Like all my other experiences with Native Ground (the same people who taught me the fiddle and whose methods I have used to teach hundreds of others here at CAF over the past five years) I am once again treated to a casual and fun way of learning. The book expects the reader to not know the first thing about tuning, reading notes, or even playing a kazoo (Ergo the title, Ignoramus) - so the stakes couldn't be lower folks. If you want to learn an instrument and feel you just can't - I dare you fail at this. You won't.

Wayne Erbsen’s books are made to be digested in small doses, and they down easy. You can read all you need to know to get strumming in fifteen minutes. And not just how to play it, but the history and culture around it. I learned is a Hawaiian creation based on the stringed instruments of Portuguese immigrants, shortly after the American Civil War. So as far as acoustic music, it’s a new kid. I like that.

I’m impressed by this little instrument. It’s a soprano uke, so the smallest of the four sizes available to play (and probably the size you think of when you picture it). Just four nylon strings over a tiny guitar-shaped frame. When I strum them I find myself momentarily transported. I am not the Jimmy Buffet type. I’m much more drawn to rocky coasts and colder climate than the home of this instrument, but it’s 86 degrees outside with 70% humidity and there is something really whimsical playing this tropical instrument with a cold drink in a hammock on a hot day. 

I'll update with videos of my first songs and more details on how I am learning a few minutes a day. If you want to learn along with me,  you can, and help support a company that supports Cold Antler! I got an email from Native Ground letting me know they are selling the exact same package they sent to the farm - Uke, Book, and CD as a set for $59 plus S&H.  (It's the same set you see in this post's picture.) You can call them and have music delivered to your door at (800)752-2656. 

More every week on my summertime adventures with this new little friend. And good luck to those of you willing to strum along with me across the internet!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Another Use for a Pitchfork

My friend Patty taught me this and it is brilliant. She has several stuck in a large beam in her kitchen in her 1700's farmhouse holding wine glasses. I use mine for coffee mugs, tankards and Moscow Mule coppers (more valuable commodities than wine around here). A hole drilled into a beam, supported wall, etc can be a great place for antique or broken pitchfork heads to now be used to hold your dinnerware. Just drill it into a place higher than the foreheads of most people, which around here is anything over 5'2"

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Challenge Accepted

For the past four days I have been posting photos for the "Love Your Spouse Challenge" on social media. I've been posing with Gibson, my 6-year-old Border Collie and co-farmer. At first, it was a joke. All these couples were posting photos of their committed relationships and I wasn't paying much attention to them. I saw them in my feed and thought they were kinda sweet. Then I realized one of the couples on my Facebook feed had been dating, married, and had a baby in less time then I have know my dog. At that point, I decided to commit to the bit and get out the camera. We might not be romantically involved, but me and this dog are 100% a couple.

I picked up Gibson at the Albany Airport in May of 2010. He was flown here from RedTop Kennels in Idaho, a breeder and trainer of sheepdogs I highly respected. His father was an amazing trial dog named Riggs who was tearing up the circuit. His mother, Vangie, was also a hell of a working dog. It took months to make the payments to Patrick at Redtop, which I will forever be grateful for his patience and understanding with. I paid what I could when I could. That winter of 2009/2010 I would find myself in need of a new home, find and buy a farm, and realize a long-time dream and freedom as a farmer - a place of my own. The serendipity of Gibson arriving just a few days later was frosting and fireworks.

Over the years he has been the heartbeat of this farm. He has seen it and me change; through some very dark times and now far better ones. He's never left my side, never ignored my voice, and never left me alone in laughter or tears. He has been there, always. And one of the things that keeps me going is that every single night before bed I promise him that he will never go a day without food in his belly, a roof over his head, or love from my heart. Yes, cheesy. Still 100% of the reason I make myself promote logos, illustrations, subscriptions, and freelance some days. Even if I feel like throwing in the towel I got a dog I love with a sheep problem and I'm not methadoning him off it with agility or flyball.

As a puppy he came with me to work every single day when I still had an office gig. He's been with me on every road trip, sleeping in hotel beds at speaking gigs or author events. He's raced alongside Merlin as I rode him through mountain trails.  He's watched me train hawks in our living room.  He's tolerated torn paws, emergency vet visits, men in our bed, and yowling cats... And he's even learned to mentor that scrappy little pup named after Rosalind Russell.

Lassie, step aside.

It has been six years now. I have never been away from him for more than a handful of hours. He has never slept in another kennel, home, vet's office, or away from me. I would not travel without him, unless circumstances were dire and even then I'd feed 99% of people to the zombies first. If anyone hurt him, I would go to jail for what happened to them next.

I'm not sure that is ideal dog ownership, and maybe all I have truly taught him is severe co-dependence? I don't care. I am just as dependent as he is. That is the truth of our situation. We're a team and I love the hell out of him.

So yes, for the next three days I will continue my love letter in self-portraits of me and this dog. Not because I'm mocking couples out there in committed relationships. And not because I think my dog is a person. He's not. But he is my best friend and I love him unconditionally. He's the single longest relationship I have ever maintained in my adult life. As a single woman perfectly happy with being single who NEVER wants to have kids, a wedding, or more than 2 cats - I'm in this for the long haul, baby. He's all mine.

Challenge, accepted.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Top Ten Life Hacks For Busy Farm Women

1. Jeans aren't dirty but not at all fresh? Put them in the freezer for 15 minutes. It does wonders - stops smells.

2. Dry Shampoo. Oh my god, Dry Shampoo. Removes grease, adds volume, takes moments. Baby Powder is a "homemade" (read: cheaper) version.

3. Lip balm comes in shades now. You can add some color and still not technically be wearing makeup.

4. Dog or horse hair all over your clothes? Keep a roll of duct tape in the car if you need to travel into civilization to peel it off. Or just do what I do and accept animal hair as a food group. Save money on Fiber One Bars!

5. Dry your hair with a tee shirt instead of a towel and it won't get insanely frizzy in humidity. Really.

6. If you actually have time to do laundry, lemon juice on pit stains or any sweat stains eliminates them if rubbed on them before you throw it in the wash.

7. Conditioner makes a killer shaving cream for your legs and armpits in a pinch.

8. If you get a lot of crap on something, gum, placenta, anything gross and chunky on your clothes put it in the freezer and peel it off once frozen. Freezers are great, guys.

9. Your colored lip balm, chap stick, lipstick is frozen in your truck or jacket pocket? Stick it in your bra to defrost in moments. Also, those heated hand warmers you see for pockets, those can go all over your bra in hunting season.

10. 90% of to-go coffee lids also fit wide mouth mason jars. You're welcome.

Al Fresco

While out this morning doing chores, I noticed this little guy out and about. He was standing in the barn door, watching the Freedom Rangers and Bresse chicks scratch about for grain. I ran back inside for my camera and was able to catch this moment of my bacon and eggs truly al fresco. Out in the open air, indeed.

That little white-nosed barrow is one of five piglets here, a barter with Joshua at West Wind Acres in exchange for archery lessons for his wife and child. I love to trade whenever I can, as sharing skills for goods is always a better option when it comes to community. The piglets are doing great, but still on the little side. So they are growing, they are in a pen in the barn until they upgrade to the woodland pen.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Tweet Away with Me

Many of you follow or friend me on Facebook, but I am moving more and more away from that platform and spending most of my passing thoughts over on Twitter. Feel free to follow me there @coldantlerfarm. I post lots of photos, blog posts, sales, random thoughts, and retweets from the people I adore.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Fearful Beekeeper

I’m going to say this right up top: it’s okay to be a beekeeper and be scared of bees. You’d be a fool not to be a little nervous out there. You are literally stealing the food stores from a couple thousand kamikaze career women survivalists. They are willing to die to keep their little compound intact and even if they are only the size of a nickel, they friggin' hurt when they give you the 'ol right there Fred.

So yeah, being a fearful beekeeper is okay. I think that is something rarely talked about, and the reason some people don't have a hive. I want to point out that being fearful of bees isn't a reason to not keep them. Unless you are allergic or have a severe phobia - your hesitation about keeping bees might be exactly what means you'll be a mindful and respectful beekeeper. I am always scared suiting up for the hive. But you know what? Honey is worth it. Real, sun-warmed, raw honey collected from your own hive is worth the occasional sting and trepidation-filled morning pre-extraction. It really, really, is.

This spring I got over 16 stings installing my wintered-over nucleus colony from Betterbee. It was my own fault. 100% foolishness. I treated that nuc installation like it was a package of bees and not a fully-formed community with brood and honey to protect. So I just threw on my bee jacket and gloves and without a smoker opened the box of five frames. I set them into the hive with the same ease and gusto like they were books on a shelf. You know, like an idiot would. The first stings happened around my thighs and kept happening - but I had to complete the installation, there was no turning back on a new community in a strange place. And let me tell you guys, 16 stings hurts. My body inflamed and heated around those bumps and once they calmed down they itched like the dickens. It sucked. Yet I still keep bees and always will.

I have been keeping bees for almost a decade. I started in Idaho and have had hives in Vermont and New York. This year has been the most successful colony by far and their production is insane compared to the previous years of three-pound packages of bees. The nucleus colony cost double, but a few friends pitched in so we could all share in the harvest together. Buying the established colony of New York State bees that survived the winter was the smartest choice we made. They have filled two deeps and a shallow since May, and the reason I harvested five frames was to encourage them to refill their replacements instead of swarming off. I'll collect five more next week. The honey will be used to brew mead and go into winter storage for the owners of the hive. Our winter teas, breads, and meals will have summer in a jar. That's worth at few stings.

Over this summer I got to watch my friend Trevor (a Betterbee employee) work with my hive and I took note of how he acted, moved, even breathed around the hive. I watched him use the smoker, remove frames, and keep calm amongst the buzzing all around him. Part of me felt envious of his demeanor, but I had to remember - that yes, that’s Trevor keeping bees. But that is also Trevor drinking with friends, fly fishing in the Battenkill, or watching a movie - he is a calm and considering person no matter what he is doing. I, however, am a fever dream of a person compared to him. Thinking too fast, talking too fast, constant motion, and sidetracked with questions. I keep bees like Jenna. He keeps bees like Trevor. If I wanted to be better beekeeper I needed to be a little more Trevor.

So when I went to the hive a few days ago I did just that. I dressed right. I had on the white loose pants, high boots, goatskin gloves tight enough to use my hands, jacket and veil. I had the smoker ready to go with cool smoke that would last more than five minutes. I had taken time to make slow long exhalations, slowing my heart rate. I will always be nervous around bees. Always. But I can hide it for ten minutes. I tried to channel Trevor. It worked.

I approached the hive with the five replacement frames in a plastic food-grade five-gallon bucket. I smoked gently and set the smoker on the ground, like he did. Then I used the hive tool to loosen the lid and slowly set it on the ground beside the deeps.  I used some more smoke and then went into the calm and even-paced work of removing and replacing frames. Not once did I get stung. Every minute I worked the hive I reminded myself that I was not yet bothered, was not being threatening, and even if I did get a hundred stings I was not allergic to bees. Like anything in homesteading, you need to always understand that doing the uncomfortable in the present has rich rewards in the future. It isn't fun for me to work the hive, weed gardens, trim hooves, muck stalls... but doing so means a future of  mead, vegetables, healthy goats, and happy piglets. You do the work, period. It means cultivating pride and luck along the way.

I am proud to say I got the honey out and removed the bees from the frames with one of Lucas’s big primary feathers gently brushing them back into the hive. Almost fifteen pounds so far, and with more ahead before I start prepping the colony for winter. Now I am enjoying the little thrill of looking up small batch mead recipes and swapping tips with other brewers and bee keepers. I provided some beautiful food to the people who trusted me to be a little more Trevor and a little less Jenna. And I get to look forward to amazing drinks and stories come snowfly, when hot summer days around the hive are something we are all shifting in our seats a little, missing around the woodstoves and wool sweaters.

Keeping bees is worth it. It's okay to be afraid. Just be a little brave and enjoy the well earned and sweet reward for your hard work.

Sketch Sale!

Running a sale on all sketches, get a custom sketch mailed to you of your pet or favorite animal for just $38 (includes shipping!) Great gift and will email image for your approval before it is mailed. Support a small farm and get something cool! Goal is to sell as many as I can draw tonight! Are you in?!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sweet Music, Little Songs

A package came in the mail last week and I was delighted at what was inside! The folks at Native Ground sent along this book and instrument. I'm a dabbler and lover of acoustic strings, but I have never even held a ukulele before. I'm not worried though, because it was Wayne Erbsen's books that taught me the fiddle and clawhammer banjo and they were fun, easy, and the farthest thing from intimidating. I'm excited to learn this little guy with his method as well!

I’ll be learning the strings, strums, and stories about this simple but lovely beast and hopefully inspire some of you to take up an instrument you love along the way. Music should be a part of any life that wants to make it. It isn't hard, expensive, nor does it require hours and hours a day of practice. The fiddle, guitar, banjo, and uke just take a little love and care every day. The time you spend watching commercials is enough time to learn tunes on any of those guys if you so wished.

I am looking forward to learning. I love the toughness and portability of the uke. It literally fits in Merlin's saddle bag, and the price point for even the nicest ukulele is meager compared to fiddles and banjos. (I think this book and instrument together is around fifty dollars.) This adventure in a new instrument should be a relaxing and joy-filled way to spend some downtime on the farm.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Stand Up and the Farmer (A Love Letter)

Dear Comedians,

I'm a small farmer and I love stand-up comedy. I don't get out to shows, and for that, I apologize. It's not for a lack of enthusiasm, it's just hard to make a night of it. The closest cities to me are hours away and I have animals on milking schedules, a 5:45AM alarm, and my only employees are a pair of border collies - so the opportunity to get out for a night in the city is about as likely as you doing a show at my local Grange Hall. But I have some things I want to tell to you.

I live alone on the side of a mountain. I manage six acres of sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, beehives and vegetables. I have a draft horse instead of tractor and my internet connection is a weak high-five above dial-up. I make some of my living from my farm, and some from my writing - neither of which is very lucrative but I feel like a success having figured out how live the life I want. I am waking up tomorrow doing what I love and being my own boss, which I think you can relate to. (I also know the import and pressure of having to sell yourself constantly. Everyday is a hustle, and we both know if we slow down there's a cubicle waiting with clammy palms to shake our hands.)

And that's why I connect more to you feral people behind microphones than other professions, including those in agriculture. In Stand-Ups I see my Tribe; people a little broken and a lot stubborn. Fiercely independent and determined to live the life they dreamed of despite the likelihood of success. You have no idea how much those of us out here on tractors respect that. We are that.

Stand up right now is incredibly personal, at least from the folks I listen to. I know about your spouse's coma, how you lost your virginity, your coming-out stories, your horrible dates and shattering divorces. I know your blunders and victories, your pets' names and your crash diets, and through it all I cheer for you weirdos like other people cheer for sports teams when I hear about your movie or TV deals. Your success is proof positive that we can want a ridiculous life that fulfills us without hurting others. That is not a small thing in this turbulent world.

These days laughter is needed more than ever. With the news constantly smiting us with the latest mass murders, police brutality charges, an atrocious presidential candidate....  I depend on an alternative. Thank you for providing it, generally for free or at little cost. I am constantly encouraged by the voices of people who observe and mock an insane world to help keep the rest of us sane. We depend on each other to be sated more than you realize.

When I put in earbuds to spend a few hours fixing a fence line to a comedy podcast - it is your lives I am sharing. Hearing hardworking people who made it following an equally unreasonable dream as my own is part of getting through another hard day. And the ease I am granted hearing the sound of a voice that I know is doing what it loves is a quiet thrill. Thank you.

Guys, I've heard all the self-effacing bits about the need for validation, attention, and the selfish desire to fill a hole inside your hearts. But you managed to find a way to do those things by making other people happy. And we live in a time where some people who want validation and attention are reloading cartridges. Your way is better.

We are strangers. We will never cross paths because we lead drastically different lives, but we're still in the service industry. People need to laugh and they need to eat. We're both doing what we love and fervently hoping we get to do it a little longer.

Stay hungry,

Cold Antler Farm
Jackson, NY

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Okay, time to put a latch on the screen door...

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Farm Cats

Bree and Bo are the farm cats here, and they live the life most cats dream of. The house and farm is theirs to roam. They spend most of the summer outdoors, and hunt most of their meals. Having these guys on patrol has kept this farmhouse rodent free for the past two years. Bree seems to focus on the kinds of things I don't want around - mice, rats, moles, voles. But Bo is a monster and seems to prefer birds, rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels these days. I remain a fervent dog person, but appreciate the fine work these two do and as much as I try to come across as someone who isn't into cats - I spent a good hour last night making sure they were both inside and safe before the storm came.

Monday, August 1, 2016

And Now a Word From Our Sponsors

I will be checking in from time to time to talk about some of the supporters of this farm. I’m sure you have noticed the ads that run along the right side of this blog? Well those people are part of what makes this farm tick. Selling ads is one of the many ways I make a living here at Cold Antler, and I want to make sure these fine people get the attention they deserve!

There are two I’d like to talk about tonight, and I encourage you to click on their blogs and websites and learn more about them. If you perhaps need what they are selling in the future, send a sale their way - as it only helps this farm in the long run if sponsors get some love.

A Life in the Wild

This is a blog, and it is a dandy. It’s the home online of Robin Follette of Maine. She’s a 50-something woman in the north woods. Her homestead is her full time gig, but unlike a lot of bloggers there is a real outdoorsy flare to her work. She focuses plenty of her animals and gardens, but also a lot of living with nature as a hunter and angler. It’s a website that is often updated, and her presence on twitter and social media is also very active and helpful. I followed her adventures in bear hunting (and what she ate from those hunts!) totally immersed. I see updates on garlic pesto in my twitter feed and wish I was eating pasta like a normal person. She’s been a reader and a friend online for a long time and I am grateful for her support as a sponsor as well. Check out A Life in the Wild, you won’t be disappointed. Follow her on twitter and feel free to ask her questions, she knows so much about living alongside animals and hunting!


Niffer's is a little herbal apothecary in the heart of Tennessee (My favorite state!). Founded in 2013 Niffer's All Natural Products has been developing and offering natural skin care and home cleaning products made from 100% natural materials. I was personally mailed some of their bug repellent, which I was honestly skeptical about. I mean, I have been using some heavy duty stuff from the drug store while fly fishing and I wasn't sure a tin of natural bug go would work - not with the way deer flies and mosquitoes have been on the river this summer. But I promised to try it out.

Guys, that little green tin worked. In all fairness, I needed to reapply it a few times (3 times in 2 hours) but I was applying things like essential oils, beeswax, and vitamin e and not literal poisons like I had in the past. It smelled like mint and citronella, but not overpowering like those candles you used to have in metal buckets as a kid on picnic tables. This was pleasant while being nostalgic. And it actually worked really well as long as I had it on hand in case I got wet or overly sweaty.