Friday, March 30, 2018

Bring On The Mud and Music!

It's a rainy day here at the farm. I have to head out for a hay pickup shortly, and am hoping to hear back from a possible lamb customer, but besides that it is a very quiet weekday. The house has muddy paw prints and the fire I lit this morning during chores has died down. It's far too warm out these days to use the bit of firewood I have left on luxury heat, so I am letting the embers do their quiet dance and bow out till dark.

Most of the snow is melting and being replaced with the smells of dark soil and wet hay. The horses were both soggy this morning from the soft rainfall. While feeding out their morning rations Mabel shook and made sure to share the wealth of muck and shedding hair on her back, covering my whole front and splatter on my glasses. I laughed for a solid minute!

It is such a joy seeing this horse that I was told would be too lame to do anything above a walked trail ride jump and run and boss around Merlin like the queen of the pasture she is. I can't wait for the snows to melt on the mountain and the ground to firm up again so I can spend summer afternoons with her again out on the trail.

Last night I met up with three friends at the Depot, (our town's train-station-turned-brewery) and worked up the nerve to ask the regular players of the Thursday Night Celtic Jam if I could play with them? I didn't have my fiddle but I did have a tin whistle and so I joined in for a song or two. It felt so great to meet the crew, shake hands, and see some of their amazing instruments. One man has a vintage Gibson J-45 (the guitar my dog is named after) and some vintage fiddles were there. Author Jim Kunstler was there as well, on his guitar and fiddle. It was a lovely night of music, and Friday was with me asleep at my feet while we played.

I am going to be positive as possible about the farm. I don't know what else I can do? Be calm, and positive, and hope for the best. Keep playing music and enjoy the gift of a beer bought by friends every once in a while. Outside the Depot everything was wet and windy last night, but inside were friends and dogs, beer and music, stories and song. I don't know anyone so anxious about money who manages to feel so wealthy.

May sunlight, luck, and good work find us all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Could Do Worse

Winding down the month of March and the farm is still covered in snow. It is melting in sections, but living on the eastern side of a mountain means shade all summer but winter gets an extended stay. Things here are volatile but hopeful. A part-time job I have been working at just considered hiring me for 20 hours a week instead of 8-10. That could happen in the following weeks, but if it doesn't, at least the cold will have passed and energy and money put into heating the homestead can go towards seeds and gardens and chicks. I am so ready for spring I am tuning my banjo.

Earlier today my bread dough flopped. Maybe the flour or yeast I pulled from winter stores was too old? Maybe the kitchen was too cold? Instead of trashing it I rolled it into donuts, boiled it in salted water, brushed it in olive oil and sea salt. Baked into "bagels" which they technically aren't but damn if I didn't make the best out of a mediocre situation. Story of my life, baby.

Right now I am trying every trick in the book to stay solvent. I would be lying of just making it wasn't the goal. I hope things turn for the better, that some luck swoops in, or sales pick up. If not I know I have stale bagels and sunlight on the way. A girl could do worse. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Eight Years of Gibson!

Gibson recently had a birthday, eight years old! He was the dog I dreamed of in the first paragraph of my very first book. The dog I secured online for a farm before I even bought a place to call our own. And the dog I picked up from the Albany airport in early summer of 2010 and brought home to his own 6-acre sheep-filled abode! Gibson means the world to me, and has been there for every triumph and tear on this land. I love you, Gibson. I love you every minute of your life.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Curated Lives

I have been thinking a lot about curated lives, a discussion I was introduced to via Dax Shepherd's podcast. In an interview with his wife, Kristin Bell, they talk at length about how much our society has changed and how modern social media effects our mental health. I'm paraphrasing but the gist was this:

We used to live in groups of a couple hundred, at most. When human civilization was new—and our social brains were forming—we were used to being celebrated for being best at something. In groups that small you were the fastest runner, the best fisherman, the best squash grower, the best hunter... You could excel and be awarded by your community for your contributions.

But now we are constantly on social media and instead of comparing our lives to another hundred people we're comparing them to several million. And we're comparing the real selves we know to the curated lives of strangers - people showing the pictures they want you to see, and ONLY those pictures. It's a recipe for a real bummer.

So now you're no longer content knowing you're the best goat herd in your village. Even if that is true you can scroll through the Instagrams of several thousand goat herds online. Goat herds with perfect lighting, effects filters, personal stylists, etc. None of us can compete with the best of the best in a selection pool of the millions, certainly not while looking at models with goats on screen while we eat our second bowl of oatmeal in our stained yoga pants...

As a blogger and memoirist I thought about this a lot. My Instagram is guilty of this, too. My blog, books, and Twitter account certainly aren't. (Arguably, I'm sharing too much of the imperfect on those.) Am I part of the problem? Even if you don't like reading what I am going through is it giving you the inevitable comparison hangover?

This is what I am thinking about heading into another Lambing Season Sunset. Should I post a lamb covered in placenta and out of focus on Instagram? Probably not. I should probably just focus on getting that lamb fed, warm, safe, and docked. But as a farmer sharing her life and story online I'm also mildly responsible to be realistic as possible. Kristin Bell's often on Instagram without any makeup talking about the raccoon ruining her yard. And she posts the entire process and team of people it takes to get her ready for an awards show: the spray-on makeup, boob tape, hair extensions, stylists, etc. I hope this blog does that for you, showing you the real story behind the chaos of a dream. The boob tape of a farm.

Misery is comparing ourselves to others. But as the podcast shares (and I can't recommend this podcast enough, especially this episode and the one with Ellen - Ellen is great but the discussion about the 4th Step in AA and how to better deal with people you resent is AMAZING) - it shares that while we may feel horrible comparing ourselves to the best stranger - we can often be happy comparing our current selves to our past. We get better as we get older.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Making My Bed

I keep writing and deleting posts here. It's been two days of starting passionate confessions and then removing them. I begin with this brutal honesty about my insecurities and real doubt I'll be able to keep this farm. How it's been too long without a book deal, loan, or lucky break. I write about not being able to sleep at night, about how long that has been going on, and how if I was in a relationship with anyone who mildly cared about me they would have convinced me to quit years ago (probably around the time both the toilet and hot water both didn't work).

I write about my winter angry as if I'm treating someone I love horribly. I made an enemy with my morning reflection. I haven't slept through the night in weeks. The stress eats you. The responsibility claws into you. And the fact that every mistake and failure is shared here or on Twitter makes it more like a public self-flagellation than anything else.

You get the gist.

These are not upbeat posts. Few posts this winter have been. It's been horrifically cold. An obsessed troll sent police officers to my door. I have managed to *just* keep ahead of foreclosure every month, which gives me about two days to exhale before I realize I'm already in trouble again with time. Rapid heartbeats and cold sweats are normal. I got sick recently and I don't think it had anything to do with disease.

Some times I'm glad it's just me here, because I mean to stay. I mean to see this place through till summer comes home. I have no idea how that'll happen but I know that every morning I wake up and I make my bed. I make it even though no one else will ever see it but me. I make it because it starts my day with the tiniest courtesy, the choice for order in a life so tenuous I started getting chest pains. I walk down the stairs to begin my day and remember these three things:

I am not a victim and never have been.
This is my fight and I chose it.
I can either keep going or quit.

And for some reason I choose to keep going.

I chose this life because it taught me the meaning I was searching for: a reason to exist. I know that sounds whimsically pretentious (at best) but my luckiest moment in life was when I found the upside-down puzzle piece of farming by accident and realized it fit perfectly into the hollow piece inside of me. Agriculture connects me to my ancestors, to myth, to religion and sex and celebrations and death! It lets me be civilized and an animal at the same time. It gave me strength and skills I could never even imagine while sitting in a college typography class forever ago. It brought me horse feathers and hawk talons and the glorious drunk-exhaustion of checking for babe lambs at 3AM in a snowstorm.

This life makes me feel wealthy in ridiculous ways. I recently got an email from friends swimming with whales on vacation by some steamy archipelago. All I could think about was how sad it was they could just pick up and leave a home that didn't need them. The poverty of their reality was palpable. Island vacations feel like a distraction to happiness, a job someone has to do to appear normal. That is, of course, my crazy belief. They feel the same poverty and pity for my story knowing I can not leave. We are both correct. We are simply different religions.

Living on this mountain with this particular mix of animals gave every season a story. Spring is for new livestock being born, shearing sheep, the first cold crops planted and prayers for warmer days. Summer is for fast horses, trout fishing, running across long stretches of farm roads, and lazy river swims. Fall is for eating all the hard work of summer, for bonfires, for ghost stories, for hunting, for preparing for long cold nights ahead and the real fear of not making it through. And winter is for flying trained hawks, snowshoeing through the forest, and proving those fall fears false.

Homesteading requires the sacrifice of presence. That cost is too high for most people to pay, at least on their own. Travel is social currency. Fill your passport and you're considered worldly. Stay on six acres by choice and you're a bumpkin. I'm a college educated, several-times-over published author but in any social setting of consequence that means very little when people hear I haven't spent a night away from my farm in over six years. My lifestyle goes from earthy and quaint to a recluse, or worse, prisoner.

Everyone I know that does leave their farm does so because they aren't alone. Most blogs sharing the country life include a husband, some kids, and an off-camera a second income, health insurance, and a 401k. Let me be clear - none of those things are bad. They just aren't mine.

Cold Antler Farm is not a 501c3. It is not getting checks from the government, not in subsidies or any other form of assistance. It isn't funded by a spouse, or my parents, or some cashed-in investment or magical inheritance. It's one woman waking up and making a list, hoping for luck, and having the brutal audacity to believe she'll do it again the next day.

I have a couple hundred bucks in my checking account, a heart, and two working hands. They're all backed up by a head running on fumes and the proof positive of eight years of figuring it out alone. I let that be the reality I believe in.

We aren't the sum of our mistakes. We're a collection of the lessons we learned from them and person we are trying to become. Every year I become stronger, smarter, more certain, more ready to do whatever it takes to legally keep this place in my name. And I need to believe in that version of me because the other option is leaving the only thing that ever gave this world sense behind. 

I made my bed and I plan to lie in it,
 even a few weeks from now,
even alone,
even afraid.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Hard Snow

This dispatch from the mountain comes under a blanket of snow. Three storms in the past ten days, all with significant snowfall. All hitting after a glorious week of grass showing and 65-degree days. Spring exploded onto the scene and neighbors were harnessing their draft horses to spring harrowing. Dogs were dragging in muddy prints. Lambs were born, roads cleared, daylight savings and all that jazz...

Then snow. And that burst in nice weather had me running and feeling great, but I may have outdone myself as I'm dealing with a tight chest and shortness of breath doing things my body rarely even notices doing before - like picking up water buckets or moving haybales.  I am worried it's the flu or pneumonia but I think it's just anxiety. The only cure I know for that is putting my head down and dealing with one issue at a time. The farm is out of firewood, and all income is going towards hay, feed, and bills right now.

In other farm news the little lamb, Bette, is doing well and so far no new lambs have arrived but I am checking every night and day on the flock.  Benjen was outside in his our graduate pen—now a 40lb pre-teen buck the size of a small Labrador—but the intense snow has him outside only when the dogs are I are outside doing chores. So every morning when I come downstairs there is the sounds of wailing cats demanding breakfast, a hungry lamb bleat, a screaming goat, and dogs circling my legs to go outside. It takes about an hour to get the livestock (indoor) cages cleaned out, sanitized, and lined with new hay. Then the work of the farm outside takes over.

If you don't see me writing here often it's because of stress. Everyone wants to share about their passion when things are looking hopeful. When things are a fight writing about them makes me even more stressed out. It's like mowing the lawn on a house you're struggling to pay for - you do it, because that's the kind of mental and community action a responsible homeowner does - but the whole time is mental dribbling about what's next? How will we get through?

My comfort is that this feeling is normal now. That things will get better, or at least, warmer - and complications of fire and snow will recede. I'm mostly worried I am getting sick, but that's not really an option even if I am sick, the farm comes first. So I'm taking it slow, breathing deep, dealing with one problem at a time the best I can, and keeping on.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Keep On Truckin' Thanks Kiva!

Good morning from Cold Antler Farm! Thanks to Kiva this farm was able to buy this truck years ago, the same summer I picked up Friday from the airport in Albany. It's an 1989 F150 and if a vehicle could be an avatar, this truck is me. I love her. I started her up this morning and she roared like a happy tiger kitten. This will be our third summer together and it was all because of that loan.

That loan was paid off early and this past summer a second loan was taken out for farm updates/truck repairs - happy to report this morning that second loan is 20% paid off! Staying up on those repayments to the people who have faith in the farm is so important. Those lenders are what keep this going and I am so glad. I hope to pay it off early as well. I also make sure the money I put into Kiva is recirculated back into other farmers around the world. I think I have re-loaned the same $75 seven times now? Helping people in the US and abroad with their farms and businesses. I'm posting this today not just to say thank you and to share the update on the loan but to encourage those of you who haven't logged into Kiva to relend some of the money that was repaid to you. It's just sitting in your account today, and if you don't need to return it to your own bank you can help make a farmer's life easier. Never loaned money with Kiva? Check them out and see who you can help shine!

Or, maybe you run a farm and need to apply like I have in the past. If you do apply and get approved, please let me know via email or Twitter/Instagram. I will signal boost your story!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sunday Off

After a week of oddly warm weather I'm a little off balance with the return of the snow. I was getting back into the habit of daily running and even flirting with the idea of riding my horses, but the storm has covered this place in a new coat of snow and winter has returned. It has snowed lightly all day.

I spent most of this Sunday taking time off from my work and besides packing up some books and soap for the post office - wasn't very productive outside farm chores. I need to remind myself it's okay to take a Sunday off once in a while. When you work for yourself it's hard to know when to stop or when to allow yourself to slow down. Especially when clients waiting on illustrations or designs are off from their work and have time to email changes and updates over the weekend.

So I have an under bite and grind my teeth when I sleep. Apparently this is the perfect storm for destroying non-silver fillings. I just flossed and an entire root-canal porcelain filling popped out the size of a peppercorn. This isn't pleasant but since it just happened I thought I'd share about it since I'm worried about it and have manifested a headache. Looks like I'll be on a liquid diet till it's repaired. Fun.

No new lambs have arrived since Bette.  I am checking a few times through the night and hoping for good mothers. The goats aren't due till near the end of April to May, depending on how well Rocco succeeded in doing his one job. He is mighty short compared to them and so I am only half expecting kids.

Geez, the tone of today's update sounds dark. It was a cloudy day running on little sleep with a broken filling. But it was also a day I woke up on my own farm, cared for a crew of healthy animals, bottle fed a baby lamb and bodacious goat, and still managed to get some boxes ready for the post office. And those warm days will come back, and maybe a liquid diet of juice is exactly what I need to aid in my running and fitness goals. You known what, just writing this paragraph helped.

Sunday off!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Chess In The Storm

It's lambing season and I am dealing with a snow storm on four hours of erratic sleep. Every time I did fall asleep I woke up an hour later, went to the window with Gibson (Friday stayed in bed) and listened for the cries of lambs. Every 4 hours we are outside checking, more often if a ewe seems to be close to the big show. I'm kind of a mess right now but presently dry, in clean clothes post a hot shower, and my nail polish is only slightly chipped so bring on the world.

I was up until Midnight last night. I was finishing up my last check on the ewes before bed when the first fat flakes of this storm started to fall. My friend Leah was over for a Girls Night, and we had just finished a movie with the dogs when I asked her to help me put on Mabel's blanket before she headed home to her own farm. She held the flashlight while I attached the snaps and buckles that secured the big mare's blanket. Mabel stood so well for us both, despite the snowfall and dogs racing around her legs. She's a good one, her.

I woke up for the day around 4:45. I went out to check on the flock again and the storm was in full force at that point. I walked up into the fields with a flashlight and my two collies, racing around me. When they got too far they were lost in the squall and my heart beat too fast for comfort. The sheep were in their shelters and the horses were under the old apple trees. Merlin refuses to use the pole barn unless there's hail or meteors. Mabel's blanket was her bulwark against the elements. I said hello to them before heading back inside to make breakfast and start the day's first cup of coffee.

Now that you're here, let me explain why I'm bottle feeding Bette Midler. Here's why: I'm just one person. It was after 8PM when I got home and discovered her. I wasn't expecting lambs for a week or so at the earliest. When I tried to see if her mom would claim her; Hannah ran off - a black sheep into the black night. She was leaping across a three-acre hillside. Time for decision...

 I knew I could set up a jug for her in the smaller sheep shelter and put down fresh bedding. I could run inside, gather supplies, set up heat lamps and extension cords and tarp up the wall with the loose boards that let snow in. I could install a water bucket on a snap clip, build a gate, and then run around the field alone trying to catch the ewe on the lam (Off the lamb?!). I could try to bribe her with grain but that seemed impossible without including two big horses and six other sheep also gathering in a tight space for grain. I don't have health insurance and I wasn't going to try and pull one 150lb animal out of a flurry of grain crazies in the dark with a bossy 1200lb mare. So instead of that "easy" option I would have to chase, corner, trap, catch and drag Hannah into this jug setup I built in the 25º dark. Once her and her lamb were inside said jug I'd have to pin her against the wall and force her to let the lamb nurse. If I managed all that I would sit with them and repeat the process into the night hoping they would bond so Hannah could raise her. You know, the easy way for us shepherds!

But I didn't do any of that. You know why? Because it was easier on every animal on this farm to just bottle feed the ewe for a few weeks and then bring her to the flock. I wasn't going to play social worker to a deadbeat young mom. I would bring the lamb inside, wrap her in a towel, dry her, feed her, and have her asleep in my arms within two episodes of The West Wing. I have done it many times before. I took a vote of all the residents in the house and no one cared if a lamb joined our living room menagerie so that's why Bette Midler is inside. And with this storm raging I am glad. Her next bottle feeding (and my next coffee infusion) is set for twenty minutes from now. I'm all about that schedule.

I have two ewes left to lamb. Hannah gave birth to little Bette and Marnie and Jessa (same age as Hannah) have yet to deliver. My oldest ewe, Brick, is now pushing 13 and I don't think she has a lamb in her which is a shame since some of the finest ram lambs this farm ever produced were her own. So unless I get two sets of twins I'll be buying in some meat lambs to raise on pasture and grain, which I did last spring to fulfill shares.

That's how spring goes on a farm like this. The ol' chess board gets dusted off and set up and the strategy for a summer begins. Lambs are one piece, piglets another, chicks, poults, ducklings, kids.. all pieces. My chess board would be just the knight pieces - but instead of horse heads they would be every beast I raise and able to move in every direction, levitate, and then die or make more pieces...

Actually, now regular chess seems like a breeze.

I just got off the phone with the electric company about a payment plan to stop the power from being shut off. Not a pleasant way to spend a snowstorm but I don't want any of you thinking this is some ski resort in the mountains. I put all my energy and sales into the last mortgage payment and fell behind on the electric bill, which spiked rocket high during the intense deep freeze in December/January. Another chess piece on the board, another problem to solve.

Guys, farming isn't for everyone.

Whew, I am so messy right now. A little raw, a little anxious. I put a big pot of dark roast coffee on the stove and have another ten pounds stored in the larder. The does aren't freshened yet to be providing cream on tap here, but I do have powdered creamer and 20lbs of stored sugar. That's a true comfort at a broke place fueled by caffeine fumes. The storm might be howling out there but inside things are comfortable enough. A good song, hot drink, and dry socks make all the difference in attitude around here.

Onward into the storm, into lambing, into choices and luckless slinging and all the dirty joy.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

One Half Lamb Share Left!!!!

If you live locally (I am north of Albany, NY) and are interested in a whole or half lamb (with option to buy tanned fleeces off your lamb as well, if you buy the whole) - please contact me now! My lambs are either born here from my stock of Scottish Blackface/Romneys or they are bought in from local farmers in the spring and raised until butcher time in October or November. Expect a whole lamb to weigh 40lbs in meat (not live/hanging weight, but actual packaged meat). You are also welcome to choose your lamb from photos once they are born/purchased. CAF lamb are raised on grass, outdoors, with sunlight and rainfall and two bossy horses keeping an eye on them. References on request if you need them.

To inquire:  message me through email, Instagram or Twitter! I have 2 shares to sell for the coming spring. Thanks for your interest!